John's first impression of Black Books was that this was a place one could imagine escaped dinosaurs and mutated book worms. It was everything the sterile, soulless bookstore was not. It had nooks and crannies, a smell of dust and age and cigarette smoke. And a bit of blood, a smell so familiar that it perversely brought with it a thrill of comfort and adventure.
His first impression of Manny Bianco from the phone was that he was indeed bearded and hairy. He was also unexpectedly bald on the top of his head but his hair was grown long everywhere else. He had a strangely young and innocent expression in his wide eyes as he showed Sherlock to the crime scene, appealing to him to fix it.
"It was the Thing that told me something was wrong," Manny explained, "I was doing my tai chi when it started making a racket. So I shouted at Bernard to see what's wrong."
"The thing?" John asked, since Sherlock was completely ignoring the story in favor of inspecting an ominous dark stain on the floor near the shop's desk, finally settling his attention upon a single wine glass perched precariously over a corner. "What 'thing'?"
"We don't know," Manny answered, "But it sheds orange fur on Bernard's secret library under his bed, where he keeps all the books he won't let me sell that I'm not supposed to know about. He doesn't trust me not to sell them, you see. I wouldn't sell them, though, honest." Manny had such an earnest, wounded expression on his face that John decided to just not ask and let him get on with his story.
"So…" John said, "The…thing…was making some noise?" Sherlock was sniffing the wineglass delicately, bringing out his pocket magnifier.
"A loud noise. And Bernard didn't answer me. He's usually asleep now, so I thought he was sleeping, and I better chuck a banana under the bed before he wakes up and gets shouty. The whole bed was shaking when I came in, but Bernard wasn't in it. I thought maybe the thing had pulled him under after all, and I looked, but all I saw were books."
"So the…thing…made a noise, shook the bed…and then vanished?"
"Yeah I know, weird isn't it? So I chucked the banana under anyway, just in case. And I came downstairs looking for Bernard. He sometimes sleeps down here, if he's reading late. Or drinking. Or gets lost coming to bed. He wasn't down here though, nor in the bath, nor the cupboard. I thought it odd. And then I noticed the smell…and the wine glass. And the stain on the floor. And I thought, that's blood, and then I thought, something's happened to Bernard. And I called you. And you came over. And I told you about it and he looked at the blood, and now you have to find Bernard." His voice started to rise a bit on the last bit, starting to approach the same hysterics he had achieved on the phone. "YouhavetofindBernard!"
"John," Sherlock said, completely ignoring Manny's crazed breakdown, "Come look at this and tell me what you think."
It was with some horror that John looked at the wineglass and discovered that the red substance within was not wine. No wonder the smell of blood permeated the entire shop even though the stain on the floor had dried some time before. John gagged before he forced himself to look at it objectively, as he would any crime scene. Sherlock was still waiting for John's observations, his expression fascinated in the face of his whatever-Bernard-was-to-him's forced bloodletting and capture.
"It's blood…in a wineglass," John said at last.
"Yes…" Sherlock answered, a hint of impatience in his voice, "I was hoping for something a bit deeper than that. How long would you say it's been sitting there, doctor?"
"You know, doctors don't actually sit around studying the congealing rate of cups of blood," John pointed out. He purposefully didn't mention what doctors in training did do, which was probably quite as morbid but not at all relevant to the case at hand.
"Maybe it's not his blood," Manny suddenly suggested with an air of painful hope.
"That's…possible," John answered carefully, attempting at the same time to trod on Sherlock's foot before he could react and shatter Manny's fragile attachment to sanity. He missed.
"Possible," Sherlock agreed without looking away from his consideration of the wineglass, "But unlikely. This was not some random act of violence; this was a carefully thought out act designed to inspire fear and disgust. Look, there's still wine in the glass as well; you can smell it."
"I thought I tasted something, but then I thought Bernard drinks enough to have wine in his veins," Manny agreed, his expression disturbingly blank as he stared at the glass. John and Sherlock stared at him. For once, not even Sherlock seemed to know how to react to that statement. In the end he simply ignored it.
"…So they mixed the blood with the wine," Sherlock said. "Either there is meant to be some religious symbolism or they knew him; they knew his loves and his weaknesses."
"Right," John said, "Well what if it's just…"
At that moment the door to the shop opened. They all turned, calls of 'we're closed' already on their lips when they saw who it was.
"Fran?!" The call came in surround sound from John and Manny at once, John in a surprised questioning tone and Manny in a relieved frantic shout.
The woman in the doorway had a startled expression on her face as she looked at the two men, like a deer readying to bolt. Manny and John looked at each other, then back at Fran again. Sherlock spared her a once-over before wandering away, studying the ground. Eventually, Fran managed a nervous smile.
"John!" she cried, settling her attention on him, "What are you doing here, in this shop I visit often enough that the assistant, who I definitely don't know, at all, happens to know my name?"
"What?" Manny asked, looking utterly confused while Fran continued to smile at John, making the occasional odd facial twitch in Manny's direction. John looked back and forth between the two of them, a dark if unlikely suspicion worming its way through his gut.
"She's not cheating on you."
"What?" That word came from three directions this time as Sherlock had unexpectedly popped back up in their midst.
"Your girlfriend, the one you're always sleeping over with and said under no circumstances were we to meet. She had a similar discussion with her friends, not wanting them to scare you off."
"What?" Fran said, "How did you…who are you?"
"Sherlock Holmes, John's flatmate. You needn't worry about Bernard scaring him off; Bernard's the reason we're here. He's gone missing, you see."
"What?" Fran said again, this time looking towards Manny. "What do you mean missing? As in he got drunk somewhere and forgot how to get home?"
"As in he was taken," Sherlock continued, "Roughly an hour ago, I'd say. Can you tell me of anyone who would want to kidnap Bernard Black?" Fran gave him an incredulous look before turning back toward the others.
"Manny," she said in an aggressively direct tone, "What's going on."
Manny began to babble out his story for the third time that day with Fran expertly guiding him to keep him on track and John just stood and wondered how his girlfriend had somehow, despite all his precautions, become part of one of Sherlock's investigations.
Fran went from confused, to confused and concerned, and finally she just looked a bit blank. John wondered if he should be doing something, offering his support as her boyfriend, but honestly he hadn't been seeing her for that long and had no idea how to go about it.
"Right," Fran said, her voice slow and almost as empty as her face of any sort of emotion, "I think that first, I'm going to need a bit of a drink. And then second you," and here she pointed abruptly towards John, making him jump at the unexpected gesture, "are going to give me a bit of a cuddle. You are going to do your investigation and find Bernard…" this towards Sherlock, though the gesture was wasted as he was now ignoring them in favor of reading a book that had been left on the desk, "And you are going to contact the police and explain to them again how you lost Bernard." The final jab was at Manny, who looked pathetically lost, like a child who didn't quite understand what was being said. And then Fran cast her eyes around, finally settling upon the wine bottle and the glass full of red substance. She picked up the glass.
"ADNOANANT!" was more or less the sound the other three made before the substance could reach her lips. She stared. Delicately, Sherlock reached over and plucked the glass out of her hand.
"Please do avoid contaminating the evidence," he said, a tone of admonishment in his voice. "Now…I need to see his bedroom."
Five minutes and one mostly silent argument later, Sherlock and John were kneeling on a dusty and suspiciously stained floor to peer under an equally dusty and stained bed. Between Sherlock's flashlight and John's penlight, they were just able to pierce the shadowed gloom to make out an unexpected arrangement of shelves, an even less expected crystal chandelier, a pile of clothes and a veritable mountain of banana skins.
"Is the thing there?" Manny asked anxiously from behind them, "Did it eat Bernard?"
"The dust would be far more disturbed if that had been the case." It was Sherlock who answered this time, in a surprisingly reassuring tone, while John continued to stare in disbelief at the arrangement of the miniature library hidden beneath the bed.
"Is it like a TARDIS or something?" he asked, his eyes roaming the shelves as he read over the titles. "Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Manny the Manservant Saves the Day, The Giant Rat of Sumatra, The Storykeepers, The Lost Continent… fond of old books, is he? Oh wait…here's The Lost World…oh…by Doyle, so not Jurassic Park then…who's Doyle? I've never even heard of most of these authors. Half of these are children's books…I wonder how long he's been collecting them? Is that one in Russian?"
Sherlock, meanwhile, had simply accepted the library as existing and was already delicately retrieving several orange hairs from the pile of clothes. He sat back, bringing them into the light while pulling out his pocket magnifier. He peered at the hair.
"He gave me Heart of Darkness for my birthday last year," Manny said, "Well…I say gave. He threw it at my head and said it was to match my heart. He knows I liked jungles, you see."
"Why is there a chandelier?" John asked, still staring into the library.
"Right," said Sherlock as he hopped to his feet, "I think I have enough here. Come along John!" And he was halfway down the stairs before John even managed to scramble back up. Manny and Fran were still in the room as well, both looking a bit bewildered.
"So…that's the detective Bernard's always on the phone with?" Fran said as they all slowly began to follow Sherlock back down to the bookshop.
"And that's why we never go back to my flat," John answered.
Someone knocked on the door to the shop just as they reached the downstairs.
"We're closed!" Fran and Manny called on instinct.
"Nonsense," Sherlock said, "That'll be Lestrade." And he opened the door. As usual he was right. Lestrade walked in, looked slightly worn and harassed and basically how he normally looked when he had to put up with Sherlock's antics.
"Lestrade, meet Manny and John's girlfriend. Manny and John's girlfriend, meet Detective Inspector Lestrade."
"Her name's Fran," John hissed at Sherlock, but the statement was lost in the utter flailing panic of Manny's response.
"Police?! You can't call the police! Why'd you call the police?"
"This is a crime," Sherlock pointed out.
"We were going to call them anyway," Fran said soothingly, "The important thing is to find Bernard, right?"
"But but but it's a kidnapping! You can't contact police in a kidnapping, it's in the rules!"
"What rules?" Fran demanded.
"The the, well, The Rules. You know, for kidnapping. And then you meet in a graveyard and give the money and there's a gunfight. You know. The kidnapping rules."
"That's just on the telly," Lestrade tried to explain, while he took in the room searchingly, obviously at a loss for what was going on. Sherlock probably hadn't bothered to explain, of that John was certain.
"Hello, Greg," John greeted him, "You know those phone calls Sherlock always takes, no matter what?"
"It turns out his name is Bernard Black, he owns this shop, and he's been abducted. That's all we know, so far."
"Well…" Sherlock said, "I wouldn't say that's all we know."
"Right," Lestrade answered, getting his bearings with admirable swiftness, "Sherlock, exactly how well do you know the victim." Sherlock frowned, obviously sensing where this was going.
"I'm perfectly capable of doing the investigation," he answered. Lestrade gave him a stern look.
"I need to know. Is he an old friend? Your cousin? …lover?" At the last, Sherlock scoffed. Everyone watched him, scrutinizing his reaction. Sherlock crossed his arms and looked annoyed, but the looks in his direction were unrelenting.
"If you must know, we're related on my father's side." If anything, that proclamation just made the others stare harder, no doubt trying to find a resemblance. Fran was the first to break the silence.
"But you're not Irish."
"Are you so sure about that?" Sherlock asked, his voice taking on an unexpected and completely accurate impression of an Irish accent. John scowled at him.
"There's no way you've been Irish all this time," John insisted. Lestrade still looked suspicious.
"Exactly how are you related on your father's side?" he demanded. With a great huff of annoyance, Sherlock finally relented.
"If you really must know, he's my brother. On my father's side."