John stood at the top of the small hill that overlooked the main section of the park. Through the wispy fog he could barely make out the outline of Thor Bridge. Walking in his military way, he quickly followed the paved path down the gentle slope that wove its way through barren patches of grass. His nose told him he was approaching Thor Pond.
Park planners had hoped the shallow pond would be a tranquil place for quiet reflection. They carefully landscaped around it with colored gravel and ornamental grasses to add to the atmosphere, not taking into account that a species of grass would take over the pond and make it an ugly, odorous bog. Not even yearly cleanings could completely rid the water of the thick, reedy plant. Like a cancer it fought its way back to life and quickly overtook the water again within weeks. On this early spring morning, however, the cleaning hadn't yet taken place and the reeds and grasses remained thick, dead, and slumped over.
As for Thor Bridge itself, it was nothing remarkable, just simple stonework with a slight rise in the center that traversed the pond at the far end. John crossed it in a matter of seconds then stopped when he reached the spot he knew Maria Gibson's body had been found. Thinking of this young mother, he took in his surroundings and felt a deep despair for the dead woman.
"This is not the last thing she saw."
Sherlock's voice rang out from the mist. With his dark coat surrounding him, the detective resembled an avenging angel on the scene to mete out justice as he stepped out of the fog in front of his best friend.
John rolled his eyes. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
Sherlock put his hands on his slim hips. "From your sad and overly sentimental facial expression. And because you are staring at the crime scene, I can deduce you were imagining Maria Gibson's last moments. But on the morning of her murder, it was clear with no fog. Everything would have looked differently."
John peered through the haze. "Then coming from that hill, she could have seen her attacker, unless he was waiting in that copse of trees over there. But that doesn't make sense, because her body was found here."
"Or," Sherlock proposed as he half walked, half slid down the bank to the water's edge, "he could have been waiting down here. There is an open space under the bridge."
John joined him and the two walked along the boggy water's edge to a shadowy unpleasant patch of dirt that stretched from the water up to the foundation of the bridge. Observing the number of cigarette stubs and beer cans under the bridge, John concluded that if people gathered there to party, passersby would be none the wiser.
"Yes, the killer could have been here, but how did he get out of the park without someone noticing? There would have been a large amount of blood spatter," the doctor commented.
"I thought of that," Sherlock said. "This crime does not seem like a spontaneous attack. It was well thought out by someone who knew Maria's routine. There are no heavy branches or metal work in the vicinity he could have picked up on the spur of the moment. The murderer brought his weapon with him, therefore he could have also brought and hidden a change of clothes. Because it was early on a brutally cold morning, there may not have been many people in the park."
John agreed. "And he more than likely didn't take the main way out, either."
A cat, very close nearby, let out a warning growl. Sherlock moved a discarded cardboard box, revealing a feral tabby with a litter of kittens.
"She probably witnessed the whole thing," Sherlock murmured and placed the box back. He took his mobile out of his coat pocket and quickly sent a text. A moment later his phone chimed in response.
"Our client will meet us at the Gibson home to facilitate our talking to Grace Dunbar."
As they walked back up the bank, Sherlock crouched down and rubbed a little soil between his fingers, then looked at it and even sniffed it. "Bog. Reeds. Make note of that, John."
"Why am I noting it?"
Sherlock focused on an unseen object in the distance. "She said something at dinner last night."
"What did Molly say?"
"Not Molly. Our client."
John held up his right hand like a teacher commanding a student to stop. "You had dinner with Ms. De Silva last night? But you were with Molly."
Sherlock stood to his full height. "I was with both."
"You invited another woman on your date with Molly?" Even as the words left John's mouth, he couldn't believe they could be true.
"It was not another woman. It was our client, who really should have contacted you in the first place." Sherlock snapped a tall reed in half and tossed it on the ground before glancing at his fuming friend. "Not good?"
John felt so angry on Molly's behalf that he didn't trust himself to speak for several seconds. When he did, his voice was low and controlled. "Not good? I can't believe what a colossal jerk you can be! So what happened when you took Molly home? You at least did that, didn't you?"
"Of course I took her home," Sherlock replied indignantly and climbed to the top of the bank.
John quickly followed. "Did you tell her you had a great time? Did you compliment her? Did you kiss her good night?"
Sherlock's eyes flickered downward for a second.
An exasperated John said, "Please tell me that you at least acted like you wanted to be with her!"
"She knows I want to be with her."
"Actions speak louder than words. And in your case, you don't even say the words!" John crossed the bridge briskly. "You need to apologize to Molly, if she'll even listen to anything you have to say."
"Why are you concluding that Molly will be so angry that she will not listen to me? That is not true. You yourself have told me that Molly cares for me."
John stopped and spun on his heels. "You can't continue to treat her badly and expect her to keep coming back for more. There is a thin line between love and hate, Sherlock."
Seeing the wounded look on his friend's face, John softened. "You really are the most clueless git in the world, aren't you?"
The Gibsons' townhouse was not what John Watson expected. From the outside it looked like any other home in the quiet and lovely neighborhood. But when Luciana De Silva opened the door for him and the detective, the doctor saw the inside was incredibly lavish.
Noticing his expression, Luciana leaned in. "This is nothing. You should see the country estate or the New York apartment."
"Is Miss Dunbar here?"
"She is in the game room, waiting for the children." The petite woman led them down a flight of stairs to a room equipped with a pool table and every type of gaming system connected to a large flat screen TV. In a large blue recliner sat a young woman.
John's first impression of Grace Dunbar was that one of a quiet country girl who was out of place in such an opulent home. She was of average height with long strawberry blonde hair that she wore parted on the side. The color of her cornflower blue eyes was lovely, but she had applied heavy black eyeliner to the point that they looked small and close together. She wore blue jeans, white Nikes, and a ruffled top that looked a little too fancy for someone spending the afternoon watching two children.
"This is Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. They have a few questions to ask you about Mrs. Gibson," Luciana said authoritatively.
The change in the girl was subtle, but Sherlock noticed how she folded her arms across her chest.
"Certainly, Ms. De Silva," she said woodenly. "John and Sophie are upstairs getting their coats for our bike ride."
Luciana nodded. "I will see to them while you talk."
After their client had left the room, Sherlock gave Grace an endearing smile.
"I know you want to be with the children, so we will not take keep you long," he said in one of the friendliest tones John had ever heard him fake. "You must be a great comfort to them during this terrible time."
The girl visibly relaxed. "Thank you. I'm going my best to keep things normal for them. What would you like to know?"
"How long have you worked for the Gibsons?"
"Eight months. Before that I was in school back home and worked part-time in a daycare."
"It must have been quite an adjustment to get used to London life," Sherlock said sympathetically.
"Yes." Grace smiled slightly. "It was a big adjustment to leave my mum and my brothers."
"And your father?" John asked.
Her smile quickly faded. "Never knew the bloke."
Sherlock cleared his throat. "Tell me what you thought of Mrs. Gibson."
"I don't want to speak ill of the dead." Her voice trailed off demurely, but her eyes hardened.
"We just want the truth, Miss Dunbar," said John.
Grace studied her hands with interest. "Mrs. Gibson could be demanding. I've never seen a man work as hard as Mr. Gibson does, but Mrs. Gibson always complained. She didn't appreciate him at all."
Sherlock forced his expression to be one of shock. "But I heard Mr. Gibson was mean while his wife was kind and supportive."
"No! That's what his business enemies want you to think," she said angrily. "The truth is Neil is kind."
"Interesting," Sherlock stared at the ceiling as if he were working things out. "So Mr. Gibson would have no reason for wanting his wife dead."
"None at all," Grace said definitively. "He was on a Skype call when Mrs. Gibson went for her Sunday run."
"How do you know that if Sunday was your day out?" John asked.
She flushed, but unlike Molly's frequent blushes, Grace's was blotchy and unattractive. "Mr. Gibson must have told me about it the night before."
"Mr. Gibson is in the habit of discussing his business meetings with you?" Sherlock asked, pretending to be puzzled.
Flustered, the girl said, "We talk sometimes."
"Back to Mrs. Gibson. What else can you tell us about her," Sherlock said.
Grace drew herself up in her chair. "She thought very highly of herself. Always primping. Never passed a mirror without looking in it," the nanny said with a jealous tone.
"Some say she was a remarkably beautiful woman," John said nonchalantly.
Grace crossed her legs. "Perhaps. I never thought so."
"Just one more question, Miss Dunbar. What had you planned to do that Sunday?"
Grace smoothed down her hair. "Spend time with my friends. I have a room here of course, but I also share a flat with some girls. That's where I was. At my flat. All morning."
"Of course that all changed when you received that call from Mr. Gibson," the detective said compassionately.
Grace nodded. "Yes, of course. I came right over. John and Sophie needed me."
"It sounds like you must care very much for those dear children," Sherlock said.
"They are like my own kids."
"Thank you, Miss Dunbar. You have been ever so helpful. Oh excuse me!" Sherlock's mobile flew from his hand and landed at the girl's feet.
The detective and the nanny both knelt at the same time to pick it up. "Thank you so much," Sherlock said as she handed it to him. "Will you also be riding a bike with the children?"
"No," Grace said. "I'll be walking Roscoe, our terrier."
"Do the children have other pets? I hear they can be soothing during upsetting times."
The nanny smiled briefly. "No, we only have Roscoe."
"Thank you again," Sherlock said and pumped the girl's hand. "Have a good afternoon!"
As the girl ascended the stairs, Sherlock's countenance resumed its normal intense focus. "That is what I needed to know."
"She's obviously in love with Gibson," John whispered, "but I don't see how anything else she said could be of use to us."
"You see, but you don't observe. Come, John. We need to visit Lestrade."