The idea for this was prompted by someone (I'm really sorry, I can't remember who!) who suggested that Sick Fic asked a lot of questions; how exactly did John fall from a rooftop? What was Sherlock doing in Southward Cathedral when he took an iron bar to the back of the head? How did Sherlock come to be drowned? In short, what happens next?
This story is going to be a collection of cases that look at some of those questions. I'm vaguely hoping that the tone and so forth stays true to sick fic, but by nature of these being longer stories, there will be more variation.
Broken leg 1
John settled back on the sofa, paper ready to be spread across his legs, cup full of delicious coffee in his hand, and honeyed toast on the coffee table. He sighed contentedly, reflecting that if it weren't for the god-awful weather, this would be just about the perfect Sunday morning.
He enjoyed it for a good twelve minutes before the front door slammed and the sound of clattering feet rattled up the stairs. He braced himself for the onslaught, and sure enough Sherlock barged through the door and into the room, shaking the rain from his hair and soaking John's newspaper in the process.
'He wasn't in the cemetery,' he announced.
'Watch it! Get a towel and dry your hair properly.'
Sherlock huffed, but did stalk through to the bathroom for a towel. There was the sound of muted conversation, which increased in volume as Sherlock came back into the room. He dropped the towel onto John's armchair.
'So the museum next, yes?' He stood with his hands on his hips, looking expectantly at John.
'The museum, of course, like we just discussed.'
'Just discussed what?'
Sherlock threw his head back impatiently before turning on John and then stopping again in surprise.
'What's going on? Why aren't you dressed?'
John sighed and pushed himself up into a sitting position.
'Now look, and by 'look', I actually mean 'listen very carefully to the words I am saying.' I want to be involved on cases, and I'm happy to help you out in whatever capacity I can. All I ask, is that if we're working together on a case, you bloody well tell me so at some point!'
'But I told you all about this!'
'When we were…' A glazed look appeared in Sherlock's eyes.
'Yes, you see, I've been at home, in bed, all night. You may have thought you were having a conversation, hell, you might even have voiced the words aloud, but, and I'm fairly sure I've mentioned this a couple of times, if I'm not there to hear the words you're saying, then the conversation has not actually happened.'
Sherlock looked mildly chastened.
'I mean, you do know that I'm not haunting you?' John said.
'I'm not a spectral form following you around. I'm not, as far as I understand it, a figment of your imagination. As such, I need to be present if you're giving me information. Otherwise, from my perspective, you're not giving me any information.'
'Fine, you've made your point.' Sherlock sat huffily down on his armchair. 'What sort of information do you need?'
'Well, for example, that we're working on a case! Seriously, Sherlock! I thought you were in bed!'
'Well I wasn't.'
'No, I know that now. You were, apparently, in a cemetery. Why? Has someone hired you?'
'Not as such. It's just something from the newspaper that interested me.'
John looked at the newspaper. The vast majority of it was full of some love scandal involving some MPs.
'No, not today's paper,' Sherlock said. 'It was last year.'
'OK. Do you think you can narrow it down for me?' John picked up his coffee and put his concentrating face on.
'Fine,' Sherlock gave John a look that suggested he thought that John required far more effort than he was duty bound to give. 'Twelve months ago precisely, I noted an article that one of the graves in Wandsworth Cemetery had been disinterred. I noticed particularly because it reminded me that during a previous Easter, or around that sort of time, there had been another exhumation of a grave. I remembered the rough date because the weather had been as charming as is usual in British springtime, and when the grave was found, the coffin was exposed and open, and the corpse inside was covered in several inches of muddy water.'
John did his best not to grimace at this. 'OK.'
'Well, a little further investigation found that there had been seven similar events at seven different cemeteries in London, all of which happened on the 24th April.'
'Right, so what were the similarities?'
'There were none. Just the date.'
'So nothing connecting names or ages of the deceased then?'
Sherlock rolled his eyes. 'Yes, when I said there were no similarities, I meant other than the fact that they were all called Smith and were all twenty seven when they died.'
'Sorry. So if it was a different cemetery each time, and a seemingly random grave, then where did you go last night?'
'Well, as I pointed out, last year our grave-robber was at Wandsworth Cemetery.'
'And the year before that, he was at Margravine Road, and the year before that, Kensal Green and before that, Willesden, and before that, Hampsted…'
'He's moving south!'
'So last night you were at, what, Wimbledon Cemetery!'
'I see you follow me.'
'Good, so that's why we have to go to the museum.'
'No, I'm afraid you've lost me again.'
'Seriously, John, I'm prepared to spell some things out for you, but you do need to try to keep up!'
John looked sternly at Sherlock. 'Which museum, and why are we going?'
'British, of course, because each 25th April, there is a break in in the British Museum in their Egyptology department.'
'So you want to give them fair warning?'
'Oh heaven's no; they should have already worked it out for themselves. I want to go there, commit their current layout to memory, and then tomorrow I can work out what they attempted to take, and from that, I can work out why.'
'Right. OK then, let me get dressed.'
'Finally. Thank you.'
John shook his head, but he did go up to his room and get dressed pretty sharpish. When he got back downstairs, he discovered Sherlock chewing the last mouthfuls of his toast.
'Did you even put more in for me?' he asked.
Sherlock swallowed. 'More of what?'
'Never mind. Right then, let's go.' He pointedly picked up an apple from the bowl on the coffee table. Sherlock failed to either notice or comment. He just marched out of the door and back down the stairs.
John joined him on the pavement and started looking for a cab. Sherlock took shelter under the awning at Speedy's and was suddenly busy texting or researching on his phone. It took a full five minutes for an empty cab to drive down the road, and by that time, John was thoroughly soaked.
'It's going to be one of those cases,' he said as soon as Sherlock, still glued to his phone screen, joined him.
'What do you mean?'
'One of those immensely frustrating cases where I have little, if any, idea what is going on, and during the length of it, I just get soaked or filthy or hungry or all three.'
'You really didn't need to come.'
'You thought I already had! Apparently you had a whole bloody conversation with me in a cemetery.'
'Oh no, we were suitably quiet in the cemetery. I didn't want to disturb anyone.' He gave John a half smile. 'You really are very helpful to me. Even when you're not actually present.'
'Not all the time.'
'Yes, all the time. I am very grateful for all of your help.'
There was a proper smile now, and though John couldn't help but feel it was almost entirely to make him feel better, he accepted it anyway.
'OK, so what help can I be now?'
'A second set of eyes at the museum would be most helpful. Also, at some point I'll need more information on the inhabitants of the disinterred graves. I have names, addresses, birth and death dates, and I've been letting that all stew around, but so far there is no obvious connection. I don't know anyone like you for finding non-obvious connections. Or at least illuminating the pertinent points.'
'Yeah, all right. You can stop with the flattery now.'
'Good. I was rapidly getting to the part where I point out how spectacularly wrong you usually get it.'
'Thanks. Well I'm glad you stopped then.'
'Yes, it seemed prudent.' Sherlock's phone rang noisily. 'Lestrade,' he said, before answering it. 'Yes…. Where?... Lambeth? Lambeth! Yes, fine, all right.' He hung up and scooted forward to address the driver. 'Change of route; we need to go to Lambeth Cemetery.'
'Lambeth?' John echoed. 'That's south of Wimbledon, isn't it?'
'I would have said so. Unfortunately, our grave-digger disagrees. It is, arguably, to the north and south of Wimbledon, in that it stretches further. I also think he's veered east.' He looked most put out about this.
'Well, anyway,' John said, 'we at least have a crime scene to investigate. That's something, isn't it?'
'It's not as good as having an actual criminal.'
John rubbed his face. 'Any chance I can go back and enjoy my peaceful Sunday morning?'
'Did you want the list of grave occupants now or later?'
'Well I can't do much with them right now.' From the look on Sherlock's face, John suspected there was a mammoth sulk just on the horizon. ' Though, if you give me your notebook, I can take the list now, and start the research as and when.'
Sherlock took his Moleskin from his pocket and handed it to John with a pen.
'Right, first year there was Abigail Jeffries, born 2nd April 1964, died 14th May 2005. She was followed by Jennifer Snells, born 4th September 1976, died 20th March 2006. George Lyons the following year, born 15th September 1932, died 9th December 2004, Sarah Dixon, born 7th April 1952, died 12 December 2006, Joseph Collington, born 6th June, 1960, died 17th January 2004, Neil Stephenson, born 2nd March 1934, died 25 April 2006, Joanna Kingston, born 12th May 1923, died 8th November 2004, and the first of all was Adrian Chappel, born 14th November 1945, died 14th March 2003. Let me check your spelling.' John handed the notebook back. 'Stephenson has a 'ph', other than that, it's all correct.' Sherlock held the book back out. 'Your penmanship is terrible.'
John took the book back and looked for himself. 'So, all of the people dug up were buried in the past few years.'
'Neil Stephenson particularly,' he commented. 'He'd barely been in the ground six months.'
'Yes.' Sherlock's forehead furrowed into a frown.
'What does that mean?' John asked.
'I'm not sure yet. The logical explanation is that something happened in 2003 to trigger the whole thing.'
'Right.' John tore the page from the book, folded it, and put it into his pocket. He gave the rest of the book back, and Sherlock pocketed it.
'Am I right in thinking that you hadn't noticed that until I wrote them all down?' John asked, innocently.
Sherlock's frown deepened, and John left him to his daydreams for the rest of the journey.
The vast space of Lambeth Cemetery stretched out calmly ahead of them, and it took a moment for John to recognise the police tent as a crime scene rather than just something that goes along with cemeteries. Sherlock charged crossly towards it, muttering about the rain and how it did so mess up a crime scene, so John followed not voicing his current concern that the rain also made you cold and wet.
They nodded at Lestrade and went into the tent. Sherlock pointed at the gravestone at the head of the open hole.
'2007,' he said.
John nodded and noted the rest of the details. Sheila Cook, died 71 years of age, devoted wife, mother and grandmother. For the first time it occurred to him that though Sherlock had given him the basic outlines of the grave scripts, he'd left all of the familial things out. He made a note to go and check whether there were similar notes on the other graves.
Other than that, he stood very still and out of the way and let Sherlock get on with things.
'So then,' Lestrade said, 'how did you know?'
'What?' John asked.
'Him. How did he know that there'd be a grave disturbed in South London?'
'Say what you mean, Inspector,' Sherlock answered.
John looked at Lestrade, who was looking vaguely embarrassed. He didn't say anything though.
Sherlock squatted and used a mini tape-measure to measure a footprint.
'What the good inspector means, John, is 'what can I tell my nosy colleagues when they ask how he knew that there would be a grave disturbed in South London?'' He looked up. 'You can tell them I was paying attention. You'd have been here first if you'd been concentrating properly.'
Lestrade frowned. 'I was here first.'
'Yeah,' John said. 'You were over in Wimbledon.'
'Only because the grave-robber veered east!' Sherlock snapped, and he straightened up. 'We're looking for a man with size 10 feet.'
'Well that narrows it down,' Lestrade muttered.
'It wasn't me,' John said.
Sherlock looked at him up and down until he noted John glaring, and he stopped.
'I was just trying to visual what he might look like based on height and weight…' He trailed off and cleared his throat. 'Have you taken pictures?'
'Yeah, all done,' Greg replied.
'Good. In you get, John.'
Sherlock nodded at the grave. 'I need a closer look.'
'You get in then.'
'I obviously can't get in.'
'Well I'm not getting in.'
Sherlock stamped. 'What happened to you wanting to help in exchange for me giving you information? I've kept my end of the agreement!' John stood firm.
'Er, what information did you get?' Greg asked quietly.
'You're a medical man,' Sherlock reasoned. 'You'll see things more readily than the rest of us.'
Sherlock waited. John sighed and stepped towards the grave, trying not to notice Sherlock's triumphant face. He looked down. The edges were quite ragged with shovel marks, and it narrowed towards the bottom. The lid from the coffin hadn't been removed, but it had been smashed through, clearly by someone who didn't want to take the time to fully uncover it. Through the broken, polished wood, John could see a skull with teeth, hair still looking surprisingly strong and showing the colour of black with grey streaked through it. He'd have preferred for the corpse to be a little more skeletal than it currently was. It was far from preserved, that was true, but the bits of clothing he could see were complete and relatively fashionable, and the fact that there were still vaguely ears with earrings still attached was unsettling. He shuddered.
'The quicker you get down there, the quicker you can come up again,' Sherlock said.
John sighed. 'Fine then, give me your hand.'
He wasn't entirely sure what he intended to do with the hand, but he certainly didn't fancy getting down there without being slightly attached to something that was very much out here. Sherlock held his hand out, and John had no more delaying tactics. He took hold of the hand, put the other to the floor, and carefully digging his feet into vague footholds on the sides, made his way down into the grave.
He was very pleased that when his feet touched the coffin, the top of his head was still outside the grave. His eyes were in line with the grass and Sherlock's feet. Sherlock let go of his hand and straightened up.
'What can you see?' he asked.
'Give me some gloves.'
Lestrade appeared in view with a pair of forensic gloves, which he dropped into the hole.
'What can you see?' Sherlock asked again.
'Let's have a look then.' John pulled the gloves on and squatted and found his feet were annoyingly slippery against the slick of the wood and soil beneath them. He leaned and looked into the coffin. 'What should I be looking for?'
'Well, I'm in a grave, looking at a smashed up coffin with a woman in it. That certainly doesn't happen every day.'
'More's the pity.'
'Well, then you'd be more able to help.'
John looked in. His clothes were already well muddied now, so he gave up and knelt to get a better look.
'Well, she's been moved. I think.' He looked up at Sherlock who was looking in on him. 'I think it's more than what you'd expect by the coffin being carried and lowered anyhow. She's sort of… pushed. I mean, it could be poor handling of the coffin, but it would have to be pretty damned poor.'
'Fine, she was moved. What else.'
'Hold your horses. Well, I obviously can't diagnose her with anything.'
'Other than her being dead,' Lestrade chipped in.
'Well yeah, that hadn't actually escaped me. I mean, I can't say if there was anything particular that was relevant to her death.'
'Well we'll obviously have to autopsy her,' Sherlock said.
'Will we?' Greg asked.
John stood up and looked up at them. 'What is the usual procedure with this sort of thing anyway? Do you just…' he mimed shoveling.
'Well, no, we've got to be a bit careful. We'll let the family know that there's been a disturbance and put the body into a new coffin, and then we'll replace it properly. You know, in a dignified fashion, and respectfully.'
'Hm.' John frowned. 'So you'll avoid telling them that there was an ex-army-doctor literally dancing on her coffin for a bit.'
'Not literally,' Sherlock said. John looked at him. 'Well you're not dancing yet, and I don't suggest you start now. Look, if you're getting her out anyway, why not autopsy her?'
'Why though?' Lestrade asked.
'Because if something was missed, something medically relevant that connects her to the other corpses, then we'll need to know.'
'But not all of the other corpses were autopsied before burial. Some were, some weren't.'
'Then you'll have to dig them up to do them now!'
'Now wait a second, we can't do that…'
'Yeah,' John agreed. 'I'm with…' he turned to face Sherlock, and as he did so, the ground beneath his feet groaned ominously. 'Er…'
Sherlock squatted and looked down. 'Move that mud. How long does that crack extend?' Sherlock asked, pointing to the left side of the coffin.
'No, you pull me out of here.' John grabbed onto Sherlock's wrists, but he was shaken off.
'You're there now! We can't leave it half done just because you're getting unnerved.'
'Fine, you get down here then.'
'Don't be ridiculous; it clearly won't take both of our weights. Just move the mud.' Sherlock looked earnestly at John and blinked a lot. 'Please.'
John shook his head. Very gingerly, he moved the mud from the side of the coffin with the side of his shoe. The crack extended beyond half way down the coffin, and was a good three inches wide at points.
'Well, I'm glad I didn't see that before I got down here,' John commented.
'It's clearly taking your weight. Have a closer look.'
John carefully squatted again, and looked at the side of the coffin. It was clear quite quickly that the person had worked their way inside and moved the woman's left arm. John quite quickly found the hand, and he moved it very carefully.
'He's been at the hand. It's been pulled about.'
'Are you sure?'
'Pretty sure. Most of it's intact, but a digit's been pulled free.'
'Oh, Christ!' Lestrade said, and he paled and moved away.
'Is there any jewellery?' Sherlock asked.
'Nope. Certainly none I can find.'
'Is the detached digit still there?'
'Yep. Her ring finger, but no ring on it.' John stood up and looked at Sherlock. 'Anything else, you'll have to wait for her to be out the hole. OK?'
Sherlock looked as though it was some distance from 'OK', but he nodded anyway.
'Good,' John said. 'Right, help me out.'
'You're all muddy. Can't you just pull yourself up?'
John glared. He did start to pull himself out though. Lestrade returned to hook a hand under his armpit, but the grass was slick and he lost his footing. He let go rather than be pulled into the hole, and John slid and tumbled down again, landing back on the coffin lid, which gave a resounding crack.
'Oh, shit,' John said, and he started scrambling up again, clawing at the grass and soil to get a purchase.
Sherlock did finally join in, and he and Lestrade together pulled him from the grave. The sudden movement caused the three of them to tumble down together, right on top of the next grave over.
'Well, this is dignified,' John said.
'You're covering me with dirt,' Sherlock replied.
'But you're out the grave, so that's a good thing,' Lestrade added.