Part Two: Of Floor Joists, and Vindaloo
(Section One: A Morning in the Life and The Case of the Aged Yorkie.)
Sally caught a grand total of two hours and thirty-nine minutes of sleep on Nan's couch before the herd of school aged boys came thundering in on their way to the kitchen for toast and jam. Aunt Marg's boys were always up, alert, dressed and ready to go out the door without prodding; her brothers, however…
Little Janie, Marg's youngest, and the only girl in the batch came and bounced on Sally's stomach and pushed a tattered Paddington Bear into her face with a big 'smooch' as a morning greeting and Sam and Johnny came scurrying in, running late, as usual. They were never completely combed, tucked or tied and Sally did a little straightening on each as they gave her a morning kiss.
"Where's Danny?" Sally asked the other two.
"'E's being a lay-about again," Sam was proud to announce to his big Sis, tattling was something he had recently rediscovered to the chagrin of both his older brothers. Sally looked for confirmation on John's face; when confronted Johnny always gave in and admitted the truth.
"Says he's n-not going to school today," he stammered slightly. "He says he's sick."
"Is he sick?" Sally asked with her best authoritative adult voice. Sam all too quickly nodded a 'yes' and Johnny reluctantly shook a 'no' with both of them looking at each other sheepishly. That told her what she needed to know.
"Well then, we'll just go and see about that, won't we? Off now, you two, before all the jam is gone, don't be late to school." She added a last minute, "and drink some milk," after them.
She gave Janie a big smile as she set her down, patted her on her way and got up to go rattle the eldest of her younger siblings out of bed.
Nan's couch was a bit too small and soft for a proper bed and Sally was still working the expected kinks out when Nan came in with coffee. She had already taken a deep drink when the face came. Sally normally took her coffee white and Nan boiled the grounds to within an inch of their lives, always.
"Sorry, dear, out of milk. I'll get some on my way home." Nan said collecting little Janie. "That's all of them off except this one and…"
"I know. I'll take care of it. I'll drive him to school, too." She said grimacing over Nan's strong brew. "Need to see that he gets there," she did not trust him to get there on his own on days like this, all too often he didn't. "No worries, Nan. You need to be off now too, before the Tube gets crowded." Nan nodded and was out the door, little Janie and Paddington in tow.
Sally took another draught of Nan's strong coffee and started up the stairs to deal with her brother, the problem child.
Danny would be thirteen next month and Sally was still quite capable of handling him, but she had already begun to worry about the day she would no longer be able to and that day was coming all too soon.
"Oi, lazybones. Up. Now." She gave the blankets a tug.
"Piss off!" the muffled reply came from underneath. He yanked the blanket edge from her hands.
"Right then, this again," Sally said quietly under her breath. She took a deep breath; crossed her arms in authority, and calmly tapped her toe and began to count to ten. At least… four… give him a chance… five… to…six… She only made it to seven before she grabbed the carry handles on the mattress and gave them a good pull and a flip, rolling her brother to the wall on the box springs.
Danny popped out of the tangle of bed covers looking venom at his sister, but got up and stepped over the disheveled mattress.
"Fifteen minutes, I'll drive you, and make the bed." She said, arms still crossed and toes still tapping.
Danny opened his mouth to reply but was stopped by Sally's best scowl. He grabbed his clothes and started for the loo.
"Fifteen minutes!" She said after him, firmly, and then headed back downstairs to finish her coffee. Maybe I'll see if there is any toast left for him, she thought.
Twenty-five minutes later, Sally was standing by the door of the flat, coat over pyjamas and keys in hand.
"Come on or you're going to be late." He was already on his last truant, next slip-up and he'd be out of the house, in temporary care somewhere, or worse.
"Well look at you, all decked out like some 'gangsta rappa'." She said teasing him a bit. "You look alright, could smell better; you smell like a pub."
Sally's nose was well trained from her years on the drugs squad and that was coming in quite handy in dealing with her little brother; she gave a subtle sniff, it generally worked better than asking to find out where he was and what he was doing last night. He had only washed up, not showered and his clothes while looking clean were not freshly laundered, he'd worn them before. The hoodie in particular, could stand a wash, it was his favourite but it told on him quite well.
Old smoke, just tobacco, this time…she did not want to give her 'I still can arrest you for that, you know' speech, yet again, not this early… spilled beer and possibly some gin… out playing grown-up with his mates again.
Danny was still young enough to be embarrassed by the teasing comments about his looks from his sister and it showed as he grabbed the toast she offered on their way out the door and popped it into his mouth. But, he was also old enough to feel resentful of all the 'parental' attention from his older sibling, she was not his mother, no Mum was in jail. Sam and Johnny always looked to him for answers as to why their Mum was there, why they had to stay first at Sally's, then all of them at Nan's.
But big Sister Sally just had to be a copper and a nosey one at that. He had been so proud of that fact when he was little, just as Sam and John are now, but since he had started to have his own run-ins with the local police – not so much.
Conversation during the trip to school dwindled down after the usual barrage of 'do you have your assignments done for today' and 'how are you getting on in maths,' and the equally usual mumbled answers to the same, into awkward silence for several minutes as they sat in traffic.
"Going to see Mum on Sunday," Sally said.
"Right, tell her I said 'cheers.'" He found something apparently extremely interesting out the passenger window and fixed a hard gaze there.
"You can tell her yourself, you're going."
"Not going. 'M busy Sunday."
He shrugged. "Don't know yet, going out with my mates."
"But you don't know what you're planning on doing, something for school?" Sally hoped it was, but deep down, she knew it wasn't.
He did not answer just kept staring out the window.
"I thought not - just trouble then. You know your mates won't stand up for you. They didn't last time and they won't now and you know it. And you know you've been tagged and have to be in on the weekends. You are coming with us to see Mum, we haven't all been since school started."
"You aren't even going to be there Sunday. You're moving out this weekend, remember."
"Yeah, I am, maybe, probably, but I'll be there to get you and you had better be there too."
He mumbled something that sounded like 'why should I?'
"Because me and the blokes from work will come and find you that's why and it won't be pretty, you know, you've been arrested before. It was all Nan and I could do to keep you with us then, I can't do anymore. Look, Danny, you know that you've got no more credit with your social worker; you've used it all up. One more stunt and you are gone, out of the house, in foster-care, and we can't get you back this time. Nan can't get you back and I can't get you back and where does that leave Sam and Johnny? There won't be much family left when Mum does get out - will there?"
"No 'buts'. You are going, and you had better be there and ready when I come to pick you all up. "
There was silence until the car door slammed. The slam wasn't as loud as Sally was expecting and she watched the school doors close behind her brother. She waited there, parked in front, for a few minutes just to make sure he didn't sneak right back out. Convinced that he didn't, not through that door at least, she pulled out. Not a hundred metres along a light came on the control panel.
Damn, need petrol again. Sally pulled into the station a little later and realized that they had probably never seen her in anything other than pyjamas.
By the time she got back to Nan's there was just enough time to shower and change and get to work for the dinner relief shift.
The afternoon proved to be light on the workload: one case, an eighty-six year old man found with his head bashed in with a stepstool; door locked from the inside. Holmes was called in; it seems locked door cases where one of his specialties.
Sherlock had taken one look at the crime scene and launched into a tirade on the absolute stupidity of the entire Yard. Lestrade and most of the forensics team were in the fray with the Consulting Detective taking the brunt of it.
Sally stayed out of shouting range as best she could and took advantage of the time to look around.
The angle of the body was odd, she noted. There had been a tussle though from the looks of it; the coffee table was pushed at an angle against the sofa and its contents, the old man had been an avid magazine reader, apparently, scattered about the floor. The throw rug beneath it bunched against its legs. The hem of the old man's pyjama bottoms was damp and ripped; something had spilled, she thought, and looked around for a glass or cup, none to be found.
She noted that the couch had been reupholstered long ago and had exposed nail heads - that could have caused the rips during the tussle. There was a trail of blood from the old man's head to the stepstool which was several metres away. She asked the forensics photographer if that was where it was when they came in and the photographer nodded a yes.
The distance precluded a simple fall from the stool, but maybe, if he was changing a bulb or something, and there was a ceiling light directly above. But no, all the bulbs were burning; though, she thought there might be a slight flicker in the one.
The stool was old and wooden and had been painted several times by the looks of the chips and scuffs on it. It was a bit worn on the legs, like something had been chewing on it. Some of the marks had been painted over, others looked more recent, but overall, it seemed sturdy enough.
He could have just fallen while changing a bulb, but the stool is too far away. Where's the light bulb, then? It could have rolled under the couch. Or -someone was here, they tussled with the old man, hit him over the head, killed him then, what – jumped out the window? No, window is shut, presumably locked. Killer is still here then…silly, no one here that isn't supposed to be, except…
"Are you going to arrest the dog then? She's the one that did it." Sherlock was shouting.
"What dog?" Lestrade and the others asked in unison.
In a most timely fashion, shrill and fierce yips came suddenly from beneath the couch as the coroner's team lifted the stretcher with the body to remove it.
"Little thing's been huddled, shivering in fear, under there the entire time."
One of the coroner's team tried to grab the aged and greyed Yorkshire terrier who was now rather vehemently defending her master's cold body and nearly had a finger snapped off in exchange for his efforts.
Sherlock snatched the dog up, gave it a quick scratch behind the ears to quiet it and shoved it toward Sally who happened to be the closest. He turned to storm out in a huff.
"Wait, Sherlock… the step-stool?" Lestrade said. "It was the blunt object," he paused and turned to forensics and asked, "Correct?" Forensics all nodded in concurrence. "It was found over there, too far for him to have slipped off and hit his head on it and," he added, "…it looks as if there was a fight, as if he was resisting someone."
"Plus, if he was changing a bulb, where is it?" This came smugly from one of the junior forensics' team members, a cocky chap named Anderson.
"Maybe it rolled under the couch?" Sally offered, after all, it was what she had been thinking.
The comment had the entire room staring at her, the Yorkie still squirming in her arms. Lestrade gave a nod to the other members of the team to move the sofa. Amidst several half eaten dog treats and well chewed chew toys was one shiny, new light bulb.
Sherlock gave a disgruntled 'humph' and turned to face the wall while they considered the new found evidence.
"Sherlock, walk us through this," Lestrade finally asked.
"You lot wouldn't see the obvious if it bit you, would you?" Sherlock directed that last at forensics; they had been the most adamant against it.
"Just, can't see the dog doing it, okay," Lestrade added calmly, "Now, give it. Please."
After a moment, Sherlock walked to the center of the room, just under the light fixture and just over where the body of the old man had lain.
"He was trying to change the bulb on the…" Sherlock squinted at the ceiling fixture trying to determine which bulb had started the whole thing, "…left, it's intermittent. Flickers every three minutes, or so," he was a bit hesitant on the timing; it was intermittent, after all.
"The stool would have been about here," he gestured. "And the coffee table there next to it. It would have been a stretch for him; therefore he probably had shaky footing on the stool. The dog was barking at him, she wanted him down; more sense than people sometimes," he added half under his breath. More confident now, he continued. "She jumped and caught this pyjama leg. Its damp, dog slobber, and the tears in the hem will match the Yorkie's teeth. That threw his balance off, he started to fall. He tried to check the fall by stepping on the coffee table but slid on the magazines, pushing the coffee table into the sofa. Hit his head on the stool."
"But the stool was found over there. How'd it get there?"
"Dog dragged it away. Look at the blood patterns on the carpet, splotchy. It was moved little by little leaving the blood in patches as she pulled it along. The teeth marks on the leg of the stool, they are hers. Check it, you will find the freshest ones occurred just shortly after time of the fall."
"I don't think that little old thing is capable of dragging a step-stool that size." Anderson argued.
"I don't know about that, " Sally added, trying to contain the fidgeting Yorkie. "She seems pretty strong."
Sally caught a faint twitch of Sherlock's lip that could be construed as a smile, just as she had to lunge to keep hold of the struggling Yorkie.
Sherlock took full advantage of the opportunity to take his leave, but not without having the last word.
"So if you are charging the dog with murder, then the Sergeant there has your suspect in custody and you should get on with it. If not, then you have just spent the better part of your afternoon, and mine, investigating an old man who fell while changing a light bulb. That should go down in the annals of New Scotland Yard. Good day." He turned and strode off.
Lestrade could not quite keep a straight face, even though the insult was, in effect, directed at him; it was both so accurate and so utterly absurd that he could not help it.
Sally still wasn't entirely sure that the dog did it; she was a cute little thing. This was definitely looking like an accident, not murder, and it did all seem a bit silly. She was left in charge of the Yorkie until the animal control unit arrived.
Late afternoon progressed quietly into evening as the lull in cases allowed for the persistent backlog of paperwork to be attended to. Sherlock had popped quietly into Lestrade's office several hours after their earlier row, looking a bit disheveled, as if Dolce and Gabbana would ever look bad, not on that… justa quick visit, Sally noted, and apparently neither man bore grudges over case disagreements. The Consulting Detective emerged from Lestrade's office looking a bit more normal and was now going over the report on the Yorkie case and a few others he had snatched from the DI's in-box.
"Sherlock Holmes," Sally said, louder than she had intended, trying to get his attention.
"Yes. Donovan, is it?" He stopped shuffling through the reports and eyed her once over, not bothering to disguise the fact that he was doing it, then went back to paging through the reports.
She was used to people eyeing her over, men especially; they had been doing it since she was ten. This was not that, definitely not. She wasn't a sex object to him; obviously, she thought … why is it that the good-looking, interesting ones always… where the hell is that thought coming from! Get a grip Detective Sergeant! Now! No, she wasjust an object and not a particularly interesting one at that from the looks of him. She wasn't exactly sure how to take this - Sherlock Holmes person, not at all.
"It's 'Sally'," she said.
It wasn't a nicety, more of a pre-programmed automatic response. She could tell by his tone. Alright then…
"Lestrade said you might have room at your flat for a temporary lodger?"
"I might, provided that they are not an annoyance to me."
Well, if he isn't a right git…
His eyes flashed at her, just then, like cold forged steel, as if he'd heard her thoughts and was offended by them. It sent a chill through her.
Those damn eyes, those chameleon eyes… Magnus Donovan had eyes like that. Mum always said that was what attracted her to him - that and 'drunken merchant marines - just something about them', she had always said.
"I assume you will want to see it?"
It took a few seconds for his question to register, a few seconds for her to shake away from the icy draw of those eyes.
"Oh, um, yes… soon. I really need to find something by Monday."
"Tonight, then," he said, finally returning his attention to the reports.
"Actually, I can't tonight. There are some family issues I have to attend to." She particularly wanted to make sure Danny was going to settle down a bit and not give Nan any trouble after she moved out – she would have to have the 'why I'm moving out and away from you, when I still love you all' talk again, probably to all three of them, as Sam and John were both very susceptible to Danny's moods. "Tomorrow…" she suggested.
"Tomorrow's fine, I'll be home all day unless something more interesting turns up. Lestrade did give you my mobile? The building can be tricky to find, ring if you need directions."
Oddly, that conversation had gone better than she had expected and she hoped the next one would as well.
Miraculously, Sally got home a little before midnight and was able to catch her oldest little brother before he went to bed.