North by Northwest
Disclaimer: None of it's mine. The mystery herein is a bit of a nod to Hot Fuzz.
Dedication: Happy birthday, dear Nocturnias! Sorry this is so close to to being belated! I hope your day was wonderful, with lots of happiness and cake.
Undercover work was not Sherlock Holmes' bailiwick.
His disguise as a bumbling solicitor was not a complicated one to adopt. He had styled his hair a little, dug out some wire-framed glasses, and borrowed several of his brother's waistcoats (or stole; it was all a matter of semantics). Costume complete, Sherlock thought he fit the part of "city boy starting over in a small town" rather well. He'd even read—well, alright, skimmed—a couple of council law books in preparation. He would have to remind his client just how far above and beyond he'd gone for this case.
The case. How astoundingly dull. By his ranking system, this one had hardly even rated a six, but Sherlock was trying to repair his reputation after the damage done to it by Jim Moriarty. Grudgingly, he'd accepted the client's request for help, packed his bags, and boarded a train for Peddler's Heath.
He arrived at an idyllic English village in Lancashire whose villagers were mysteriously disappearing in small batches, their houses emptied of all belongings, with no warning or forwarding information provided. The town constabulary had shown no inclination to investigate, which was why the Council Chair, a Mrs. Regina Babcock, had sought Sherlock's expertise.
"You were once the best," she'd explained to him as she daintily sipped from her teacup the afternoon she approached Sherlock at 221b Baker Street.
"I still am the best," he'd corrected. Normally, he would have turned Mrs. Babcock down for that slight alone, but his landlady had taken to daily visits to inquire about rent. Needs must.
After a week in Peddler's Heath, Sherlock had felt certain he'd cracked the mystery just by looking at the forlorn town. Who would want to stay there? The missing villagers had likely packed their bags and absconded in the middle of the night because they couldn't face another day in the industrial hell.
He was about to pack his own bag once more, close up his newly established law practice, and return to London, when the body was found.
The corpse belonged to Robert Lennox, the most recent villager to disappear. In fact, he'd gone missing just as Sherlock had arrived in town. His ostentatiously painted house had been the first Sherlock visited, with few results other than discovering Mr. Lennox's habit of hiding rather lurid pornography under the floorboards like a guilty teenage boy.
A local farmer found the naked body in a hay crop just south of town early one morning as he herded his cows in for milking. Sherlock questioned him twice after the corpse had been hauled away to the local funeral parlor (the village was too small to accommodate a hospital, let alone a morgue).
Farmer McNab was more annoyed by the interruption of having a dead body on his property than concerned that a person had died. "I'm sure he was alright, but he didn't do me any good today. Lost the day's supply of milk, and the bloke didn't even have the decency to decompose into fertilizer."
Sherlock had to concede that McNab had a point.
But Mr. Lennox's life loss was Sherlock's gain. Finally, his interest had been piqued. He began digging into the lives of the other missing people. He developed a theory to explain why those particular townsfolk had been taken (and had met similar fates as the departed Lennox, he was sure). When he heard that the emergency inquest had ruled the death as a natural one (heart failure), Sherlock knew just what he needed to prove that there was something rotten in county of Lancashire. Or rather, whom he needed.
And she just happened to be travelling to Blackpool right when he needed her.
When the National Rail service for Blackpool pulled into stopover at a tiny station only twenty miles from Peddler's Heath, Sherlock was waiting impatiently on the platform, frequently checking the pocket watch he'd lifted from his older brother at the same time as the ill-gotten waistcoats. Mycroft was stuffy and pretentious enough to use the pocket watch earnestly, and Sherlock borrowed liberally from the older Holmes' mannerisms to play the part of David Cargill, small-time solicitor.
The moment the train came to a halt, Sherlock hurried up the nearest car's steps and made his way further into the train. He knew his target well enough to anticipate that she would choose a seat close enough to the food service car that it would be easily reachable for her morning fix of coffee, but far enough back that the noxious fumes of disappointing train food wouldn't reach her during the remainder of her journey.
Once again proving his point to Mrs. Babcock (not that she was there to witness it): he was the best. Not that this was a surprise.
He only had to go one car further before he spotted Molly Hooper, slumped in a forward-facing seat, nose buried in her e-reader. Just as he was about to hurry forward and quietly get her attention, he spotted one of his new "clients" boarding from the other end of the car, who raised his hand in cheerful greeting to Sherlock.
But Sherlock was nothing if not adaptive. He would simply have to bring into play the supplemental side story he'd concocted for just such a happenstance.
"Darling!" He exclaimed loudly, causing several faces to turn toward him. He rushed the rest of the way to Molly, who was staring at him much like Farmer McNab's cows stared at the good agrarian as he came at them with a milking machine (Sherlock was party to that unpleasantness the previous day when he'd returned for further questioning). He beamed at her. "My sweetest, I am so glad you finally made it! And isn't it just like you, almost missing your stop?"
Perhaps he was laying it on a bit thick, but he could hardly be blamed for it. He was under a bit of pressure.
Molly's eyes had widened to comical proportions as she watched him making his way toward her. Sherlock pulled her from her seat, lifting her and twirling her as best he could in the narrow aisle. Just as her lips started to form the startled 'Sh' of his name, he crushed his mouth to hers, hoping that his larger frame hid the fact that her eyes still bore their stunned surprise and she was most certainly not returning the passionate embrace or kiss.
He wasn't that bad, he huffed to himself. He only hoped that her squeak of shock would be mistaken for a happy exclamation.
Drawing back, Sherlock placed a second kiss on the shell of Molly's ear and whispered, "My name's David," before he pulled away, a wide smile still stretching his lips.
To her credit, Molly didn't hesitate or compromise Sherlock's cover, in spite of the fact that he'd nearly floored her with his onslaught. "Hello, David," She murmured, smiling only a little uneasily. She arched her eyebrows, waiting for Sherlock to take the lead again.
He finally released her from his grip, winking at the old biddy sitting across from Molly's seat, who was watching them owlishly. "Let's get your things, my love," he said, stooping to gather Molly's purse, coat, and tablet. "We don't want to be on the train when it pulls away!"
Sherlock grabbed her hand and started tugging her to the door. She pointed weakly down to the other end of the car. "My suitcase is in the luggage nook. I need to get it."
"Oh, let's leave it. You won't need many clothes for what I have in mind," Sherlock chortled gaily.
Amidst the titters of various passengers, Molly drew up short, refusing to budge. Sherlock rarely felt cowed by anything, but the minute the pathologist scowled (a little too mutinously, by his way of thinking), he felt a nervous itch on the back of his neck. He heaved an impatient sigh and shouted down to the other end of the compartment to his purported client. "Mr. Johnson, would you be so kind as to grab my lady's suitcase? It's the—" He looked over at Molly.
"Red," she supplied.
"The red one," he parroted more loudly. "There's a chap. Thank you kindly."
Molly only had time to squawk a hurried thanks to Mr. Johnson as he passed her the suitcase before Sherlock took possession of her hand once more and pulled her from the train. Once they were clear of the doors, Molly dropped the charade. "What the hell is going on?" She hissed. "This is weird, even for you."
"I'll explain in the car. No use standing about here." Sherlock gave her head an affectionate pat as he hustled her along the platform. "It's lovely to see you, Molly."
He'd never realized that rolling eyes could actually have an audible sound until that moment.
"I'm due in Blackpool today. My Auntie Eunice is expecting me," Molly said the moment she was buckled into Sherlock's rental car. "Why did you make me get off of the train? How did you even know I'd be on that train?"
Sherlock quickly pulled the car out of its parking space, ignoring an angry shout from another motorist coming down the lane as he ponder how much he should answer. "Your Auntie Eunice hates you. I distinctly remember you telling me. Something about you giving her prized sheepdog a haircut when you were a child."
"It couldn't see through all that fur in its eyes" Molly mumbled. "And I'm almost certain she's forgiven me. It was twenty-six years ago."
"I'd hate for you to find out otherwise now," Sherlock said cheerfully. "I'm sure old Eunice has at least another three years in her. Plenty of time for a visit." He let his gaze casually skitter away from Molly's appalled stare as he merged onto the village's main thoroughfare. She emitted what may have been a growl, but Sherlock decided to believe it was her stomach rumbling, instead.
After a minute of tense silence, Molly repeated for the third time, "What is going on?"
"Oh, I thought you'd never ask." Bad idea, Holmes. Don't goad her. But he was genuinely enjoying himself. He was about to solve an almost interesting case, his mind wouldn't sink into entropy, and he was getting a rise out of the often-unflappable Molly Hooper.
Sherlock couldn't say why he enjoyed poking at her so much, but it was something he'd discovered quite recently. Though he was loath to admit it, he suspected it might have to do with the fact that, when pushed, she became a rather engaging sparring partner. He actually had to think before he could rejoin. Some of times she managed to surprise him into silence were mortifying, but not so mortifying that he could make himself stop.
It was an uncomfortable conundrum when he let himself think about it too much. So instead, he continued to say things tailored to spark Molly's ire or interest in equal measure.
His passenger did not see any humor in his gentle teasing. "Tell me now or I'm on the next train out."
Sherlock sighed. "I was hired by the Peddler's Heath Council Chair to investigate several disappearances. I nearly quit the case, because I could find nothing to indicate that they'd left for any reason other than a desire to get out of this hellhole. That is, until the body of one of the missing persons was discovered two days ago."
"Couldn't that be a coincidence?" she asked.
"In the grand scheme of things, anything could be coincidental, Molly," Sherlock said loftily before remembering her dwindling patience. "But the man was found naked in the middle of a field. I don't think there was anything natural about Robert Lennox's death."
"Coincidental… like you happening to find me on the train, you mean?" When Sherlock refused to answer that, Molly sighed and went back to asking about the case. "Does the town have a coroner or…?" Molly questioned him.
"A coroner, yes, who is just a glorified funeral home director," he explained. "They held an emergency inquest yesterday morning and declared Lennox's death accidental."
"And you want me to do what, exactly? Perform a second postmortem?"
Sherlock nodded. "The trick is going to be getting you access to the body. It will require some cloak and dagger maneuvering, so we'll save that for tonight. In the meantime, I need to go back to the victims' houses and question the neighbors."
The neighborhood they pulled into was a sprawling one, filled with neat gardens and even neater houses. The only house not to match that bill was the one that had belonged to Helen Gisborne, the first villager to disappear. Here house now sat vacant and its front garden was a barren patch of dirt amidst the general splendor of every other lot on the street.
"See if you can find a key; I'd rather not pick the lock unless I absolutely have to," Sherlock instructed Molly as they walked through the front gate. He could tell she was still not thrilled to be doing any of this, but she set about feeling above the front door jam and looking under windowsills and rocks for a hidden key.
Sherlock, meanwhile, circled the house perimeter, peering into the windows. The interior was just as barren as the garden. There weren't even curtains hanging in the windows. Beyond that, he couldn't make out much without closer inspection, so he headed back to the front of the house. Just as he reached Molly, he heard someone calling out from up the street.
"That's the vice chair of the town council," Sherlock murmured to Molly while the approaching figure was still too far off to hear him. "Remember, I'm David Cargill, you're Emily Smith. You're visiting me from Chester over a long weekend."
Molly nodded slightly as Sherlock raised his hand in a merry wave.
Winston Oliver was a portly man with a thick shock of red hair hidden under a porkpie hat. His breath wheezed a little as he ambled toward the couple on the front stoop. "Mr. Cargill, to what do we owe the pleasure?" He boomed, holding his hands out in benevolent welcome.
"Good morning, Mr. Oliver. How are you today?" Sherlock offered him a handshake and a cheerful smile. "I've been asked by Ms. Gisborne's daughter to look around the house, see if we can find any sign of the dear lady's whereabouts." Sherlock spared a moment to feel glad he'd done some research into the victims' families.
Oliver gave a grave nod, but seemed altogether disinclined to discuss such unpleasantness. He turned a dimpling smile on Molly. "And who is this charmer?"
Sherlock looped an arm around Molly's shoulders, drawing her close to his side. "This is the light of my life, Emily Smith. Emily, this Winston Oliver, future town Council Chair, if I'm might be so bold."
Oliver shuffled his feet in a poor affectation of bashfulness as he limply took Molly's proffered hand. "Oh, that's some time away, my boy. How is life in our happy, little town treating you?"
"Very well so far, thank you. Emily's here for the weekend, so I'm floating on cloud nine while I show here my new home. Trying to convince her to join me here permanently, aren't I, darling?" He ducked his head to place a tender kiss on Molly's temple. He wasn't sure the peck was necessary, but all in an effort to put on a convincing show, he told himself. Even if her hair did smell rather pleasant.
Molly hmmed in the affirmative, batting her lashes at him at little cloyingly. He knew he'd not hear the end of this later.
Oliver eyed them with a cheery expression, though Sherlock wasn't sure there wasn't a bit of a calculating gleam in his eyes. "Well, you couldn't have picked a more peaceful village. You're in a bedsit right now, aren't you, Mr. Cargill? Will you be looking to buy if the little woman joins you?"
Sherlock felt Molly stiffen at the moniker. Oliver had noticed, too, for his eyes narrowed on her face. "Is there a problem, sweetheart?" Oliver asked.
"No, not at all," she demurred. "I'm just thinking about the stress of moving. But it'd be a wonderful place to settle down with my Daveykins."
Daveykins? Sherlock fought to keep his lip from curling, as Molly knew he would. He felt compelled to offer a little payback. "We're going to need to decide soon, Sugarplum, what with the baby coming," he cooed, smoothing a hand over her stomach.
He had to force down a jump as her fingernails dug sharply into a ticklish spot at his waist.
Oliver was watching them with wide-eyed fascination, and his face split into a jovial grin. "You've a baby on the way? Well that's just wonderful!" He hurried forward and stooped down so that his face was level with Molly's navel, his nose nearly buried in her blouse. "And who knows, maybe a future Peddler's Heath Council Chair is in there as we speak!"
"Um… could be," Molly agreed with a grimace that she managed to disguise as a smile at the last moment.
Sherlock beamed proudly, gloating inwardly. Daveykins, indeed.
Oliver backed up, lifting his hat to wipe at his brow. "Well I'd best be off. Have to meet with some Council members for a business lunch. Didn't Ms. Gisborne's daughter give you a key to the house?"
"She couldn't find it," Sherlock explained hastily.
"Ah, well, it's a shame the dear lady took off that way. She will be missed, though I can't say the same for her ceramic gnome menagerie!" Oliver guffawed at his own joke, clapping Sherlock roughly on the shoulder before he took off back down the front walk.
"So you have no idea where she might have gone?" Sherlock asked the departing man's back.
Oliver turned as he stepped through the gate, sighing in a befuddled way. "Couldn't for the life of me say. She was here one day, gone the next." He tried for a haunted look in his eye as he continued. "A bit of a metaphor for life in general, innit?" And with a tip of his hat, Oliver walked back the direction from which he'd come.
Sherlock maintained his pleasant expression until he was certain the other man wouldn't turn back again and then let the smile slide from his face. "Arse."
He hadn't realized he still held Molly close to him until she replied. "You're the king of understatement today."
Sherlock looked down at her. "Not usual for me, I'll admit. Maybe this pit is getting to me." He cleared his throat and dropped his arm away from her, stepping back casually. "I suppose we should go to the other houses. I think I know what's happening here, but it wouldn't hurt to verify my suspicions."
They left Helen Gisborne's empty, dejected house, closing the gate behind them with a final click.
The pair spent the remainder of the afternoon asking various people about the missing victims. None of those who'd disappeared had much in common with each other, beyond one small factor, leading Sherlock to a conclusion that was so daft that he wasn't sure he should believe it.
He would have to wait until he and Molly could see Robert Lennox's body to find out if his suspicions were correct and that the man had been murdered. From Farmer MacNab's description, Lennox had looked wholly unscathed beyond the very obvious affliction of being dead.
The pair had supper at a ramshackle pub located in the city center. He and Molly, in an effort to keep up the façade of being a couple in love, squeezed into one side of a two-seater booth. Around their dinners of rather good bar food, during which she stuffed chips in his mouth (at least the pretense of being tender and flirtatious was a delicious one), she showed him some ridiculously silly card tricks with a worn pack they'd found stuffed in with the vinegars and mustards on their sticky, mahogany table.
"You're not supposed to peek at the other cards when you slide the one you picked back into the deck," she complained, after her latest trick was foiled.
"Molly, you betrayed the secret just by telling me not to peek," he said, giving her a superior smirk as he picked up her Cider and Black and took another sip. He'd been filching the drink the entire evening, and he wasn't sure why he'd even bothered ordering his own, untouched whiskey. "Besides, it's a shaved deck. You could be doing tricks far more complicated than this."
"I tried that. You caught me flipping the deck around," she reminded him as she started shuffling the deck once more.
Raucous laughter distracted Sherlock. He looked over to the bar, where a small party had gathered to watch a football game. They all looked rather inebriated, swaying slightly in their stools. One woman even tipped out of her seat as Sherlock looked on. She bumped into a man sitting morosely to her right, clearly not a member of the merry-makers.
"Well now, isn't that interesting?"
"Isn't what interesting?" Molly asked around a spoonful of mushy peas.
Sherlock's nose wrinkled at her poor etiquette (not to mention her poor taste in food), but he returned to the subject at hand. "See that man at the bar in the Peddler's Heath Funeral Parlor jacket?"
Her eyes followed his subtly pointing finger. "What about him?"
"You're looking at the town's honorary coroner and Council member, James Dunkirk. Bellying up to the bar is not his usual Thursday night activity."
Molly frowned as she looked over at the man. "You've seen him on more than one Thursday night?"
"Hardly," Sherlock scoffed. "But look at him. Fidgeting hands and refusal to make eye contact; the man suffers from a not-small case of social anxiety, not to mention he's clearly here alone. His clothes are assembled carefully for a day at work, not an evening at the pub. And a game night is certainly not the ideal time or place to procure clientele."
"The shaking hands could be a sing of withdrawal. He could be an alcoholic," Molly pointed out.
"Perhaps if they were tremors, not a nervous shake, which he didn't have when he and I spoke," Sherlock explained. "There are no other signs of alcoholism. Capillaries on his face are intact. He was quite sober at the time. No, Mr. Dunkirk is drinking his sorrows as they say. Not typical for a man who is around death on a regular basis as part of his livelihood."
"Are you going to go ask him what's wrong?" Molly asked concernedly, her brow furrowing.
"Why would I do that?" Sherlock wasn't one to offer comfort, after all.
"I just thought he might be feeling vulnerable. Maybe give you more information than what he gave during the inquest."
"Well, that is decidedly unsympathetic of you, Molly," Sherlock said, looking a little impressed. "I like it."
Molly preened a little, and then she scooted out of their booth. Sherlock frowned at the cool air suddenly hitting his side, but he stood and followed her without voicing his complaint. They ambled up to Dunkirk's side, pretending to study to game on the telly.
"Manchester needs to rally, eh?" Sherlock said casually.
Dunkirk jumped when Sherlock addressed him. His eyes flicked up to the game, and then back down to what appeared to be his third pint of ale, if the empty glasses by him were any indication. "Sure," he replied disinterestedly.
"I'm sorry, I should have reintroduced myself. We've only spoken once before. I'm David Cargill. I just moved here last week. This is my fiancée, Emily."
"I remember you. 'Lo. Nice to meet you, 'Mily." If he wasn't already drunk, he was well on his way.
When Dunkirk didn't say anything else, Sherlock floundered, trying to figure out what to bring up next that would sound chatty (he suppressed a shudder at the thought). Fortunately, Molly stepped in.
"Are you a big fan of football?" She asked gently. Dunkirk only shook his head before taking another swig from his glass. She continued, "I've never gotten my head around it, honestly. My father is a real Arsenal fan. He'd be distressed to see me taking in a Liverpool-Manchester game." She offered the coroner a guileless smile, as if ashamed to be making such a torrid confession.
"Listen, I don't want to seem rude," Dunkirk exploded suddenly, "but I've had a bit of a bad day and was wanting some time to myself, if you don't mind."
Molly blinked at him, looking horrified to have made such a gaffe. "Oh, I'm so sorry. We didn't mean to bother you. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Unless you've perfected time travel, I'm afraid not. But thank you for the offer. Now, if you'll excuse me." Dunkirk stood from his stool, swaying as he got his bearings before he moved off in the direction of the men's loo. He stopped midway and turned back. "For the record, I think it's dangerous."
Sherlock leaned forward, eager to hear something damning, insightful, or both. "What?"
Dunkirk waved toward the general vicinity of Molly's abdomen. "A pregnant woman drinking alcohol. Rather selfish of you," he slurred and then stumbled away.
Molly slowly turned and stared at Sherlock. He offered her an affable shrug. "Looks like news travels fast around here."
"Well that was unhelpful," Sherlock complained as they stepped out into the cooling night air. "The least he could have done was give me some titillating local gossip. Instead, he had to act all forlorn and depressed. Some people…." He turned suddenly and set off without telling Molly he was leaving. He heard her feet scuttling to catch up with him, so he shortened and his stride until she was beside him again.
"We should probably try to look like romantic partners," Sherlock decided. The town had, for the most part, shut down for the night. With the exception of the pub, all storefronts and restaurants were dark, their lack of metal bars or barricades belying just how far from London he and Molly truly were. The likelihood of anyone spying on them was quite low, but he took her hand with his anyway, weaving their fingers together. If she pointed out the decided lack of audience, he would tell her that the buildings had eyes. It might even be true, but mostly he just wanted to hold her hand. Not that he would ever, ever admit that to her.
Fortunately, Molly simply tightened her grip on his hand and said nothing else.
By the time they reached the tiny funeral home, full dark had fallen over the village. Sherlock tugged Molly around to the back of the building. He glanced around as he set to picking the lock on the rear entrance.
"Oh, this doesn't look at all shifty," Molly whispered, looking wildly about for any spies.
"We're fine. No one has any reason to suspect us," Sherlock whispered back as he wrestled with the lock. When he finally managed to get it open, they stepped into the tiny back room that doubled as a morgue for the village's infrequent deaths.
They quickly located the drawer that contained Robert Lennox's remains by his toe tag; it was an easy enough matter, the refrigeration unit only consisting for four compartments and there was only one body in residence. Molly set to work gathering supplies while Sherlock watched her follow her pre-autopsy procedure as best she could in such a jerry-rigged setting.
Though they'd stood over several bodies together, this was the first time Sherlock had actually observed Molly as she carried out a postmortem. When he showed every intention of standing close by, Molly insisted that he put on a surgical gown, cap, and mask. He balked, but she reminded him that various and sundry organs tended to squirt. With a huff, he did as she asked.
While he fought with the strings of the gown, Molly returned to the cold drawer, hauling the slab and body out. "You said they completed a postmortem and ruled the death as the result of natural causes?" She asked casually as she pushed the body onto a rolling gurney.
Sherlock grunted in the affirmative, now struggling not to tie hanks of hair in his mask. He added, "Awfully hurried of them, if you ask me."
"I'll say," she agreed pleasantly. "Particularly since there was most definitely no postmortem done on this body."
He hurried over to where she was staring down at the blank face of Robert Lennox. Sure enough, the corpse bore no signs of any type of autopsy. No Y-incision, no skullcap removal. It looked like the authorities had deposited his body at the funeral home, where he was promptly forgotten.
With a roll of her eyes and a mutter about shoddy police work, Molly began examining Lennox. She didn't have to look far before she found the punctures over his femoral artery.
"Was he exsanguinated?" Sherlock asked, trying not to let his ghoulish excitement show too much.
"No. He wasn't washed postmortem. You can see tracks on his face where he salivated as he died. There'd be blood on his leg. These look like catheter placement sites for hemodialysis. He doesn't show signs of prolonged renal failure," she said as she palpated the area around his kidneys. "Though they do feel like they're hardened, so maybe there is some slight hematuria."
While Molly muttered to herself, Sherlock examined Lennox's hand. He found proof that the man had not died in the field where he'd been found through quick examination of his fingernails, and then he waited patiently for Molly to begin the dissection in earnest.
He enjoyed watching the sure way with which she worked. Though she often sought his advise in the lab at Barts, here, she was rather oblivious of Sherlock. She paid no mind to him standing across from her, as though she didn't even realize he was still in the room.
It was all rather illuminating for Sherlock. Clearly, Molly had mastered the art of compartmentalizing. Not only was she a gifted pathologist; she still led a life independent of those skills. Sherlock would be lying if he didn't admit that he envied her for it just the tiniest bit. And admired it.
Molly did what she could with limited space and time. After two hours of work, she set to reassembling the body and sewing it back up. Sherlock shifted his weight on his feet, hoping she would break her silence soon.
Finally, she pushed the gurney and Mr. Lennox back over to the drawers. He hastened to help her heft the body back up on its designated slab and tuck it away. Sherlock could only hope she'd found something, because it would be awfully hard to explain away a body that suddenly bore autopsy incisions in the event that they got caught with no proof.
"Well?" He asked impatiently.
Molly started stripping out of her gown and other surgical paraphernalia. She looked at him steadily over her facemask as she worked. Sherlock didn't care for it. It obscured his ability read facial cues. Fortunately, she removed it just before she spoke. "I can't give you a huge certainty, since I have no recourse for toxicology, but everything points to poisoning. Narrowing it down because of the hardened kidneys and enlarged liver, I'd say it was chloral hydrate poisoning.
Sherlock thought on it. "It makes sense. You need to knock the victim out before you transport him from his house. Chloral hydrate will work like its brother chloroform, and will do the whole murder job at the same time. But what about the punctures in the femoral artery?"
"Hemodialysis catheters," Molly shrugged. "It's the only thing I can think of without having seen his medical records." When Sherlock clearly didn't see where she was going, she actually sighed at him. "Someone tried to save him, Sherlock."
Momentarily put off from his umbrage at Molly being impatient with him, Sherlock frowned. "I suppose that would explain why his body turned up. Whoever tried to save Lennox panicked and didn't or couldn't finish moving the body to wherever it is all of the other victims have been stowed. "
Nodding, Molly walked over to the sink to wash her hands. "Any theories about the identity of this poisonous murderer?"
"A few. But, again, I'm not certain. " He got lost in thought for a few moments. When he came back to himself, he rememebered he needed to show appreciation. "Thank you for your help in the matter, Molly. I apologize for interrupting your trip.
Molly stared at him, a frown on her face.
"What?" Sherlock queried. Perhaps she'd had a sudden epiphany about the case.
"How did you know I'd be on that train? It's been bothering me. I told John and Mary that I was leaving town, but I didn't specify my itinerary."
Sherlock fidgeted. "Stamford must have mentioned it to me. Shall we be off?"
But Molly was shaking her head. "No, he knew even less than the Watsons."
"Oh, who can remember those types of things?" Sherlock actually gave a false laugh, trying to make it sound casual and airy. Unfortunately, Sherlock Holmes had never laughed casually or airily in his life, so it came out sound more like a hacking cough.
He watched as she leaned against the drawer front, her eyebrows raised in skepticism. "Sherlock," was all she said
"Molly," he mimicked. Perhaps that was a bit childish. He sensed that this was one of those moments that would have had John burying his face in his palms, as if he might find himself in a different situation when he lowered his hands again. It was a good thing he wasn't there to witness it.
Molly wasn't amused. "Tell me."
With a sigh, Sherlock came clean. Or at lease a facsimile of coming clean. "I did some research, that's all."
"What kind of research?" Molly asked, her voice deceptively sweet.
Perhaps if he mumbled it lowly and quickly, it would fly over her head? "Ireadyouremail." Daring to look at her again, he gave her a flippant smile. "Well, let's get back to my home away from home."
He started to move past her, but she seized a hold of his belt as he edged by, yanking him back to stand in front of her. "You read my email? Sherlock, that is beyond 'completely wrong' in the gradient of wrongness."
He had felt quite bad about it while he did it. But it had been important! Couldn't she appreciate that there were lives at stake?
But when he pointed this out to her, she remained unimpressed. "And you couldn't just call me?"
"Why would I do that? You told me where you were going last week, so I knew where I needed to look. Why bother you?"
Molly made a muffled sound of frustration. "If we're going to be fake-married and have a fake-baby together, you have to respect my privacy. Boundaries are important in fake marriages! More importantly, you have to respect it in real life, too. Did you hack my account, or have you figured out my password?"
He briefly thought he might try to win her over with tales of hacking and deduction derring-do, but he figured he should try to be a bit more forthcoming. "I saw the password written down a few months ago. You must have just switched it and hadn't had time to hide your reminder note. I made note of it, too. And to answer your earlier question about why I dragged you out here, I wanted your help. Not just because John couldn't come, but because I value your opinion and you have been invaluable in the past." For good measure, and because he genuinely felt chagrinned, he added, "And I'm sorry I invaded your privacy, Molly."
Though he'd had several occasions to realize this, Sherlock was struck anew that simple honesty seemed to go a lot further with Molly than any circumlocution. She sighed and shook her head, but then turned back to face him, looking a little less angry. "You wanted my help? What would you have done if I hadn't been traveling in the area?" she asked curiously.
"I would have come to London to get you," Sherlock answered as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Molly's cheeks flushed bashfully. Sherlock thought that was the end of it, but then she moved over to him. He looked down at her confusedly, only to have that confusion replaced by surprise and something else when she pulled his face down level to hers by hooking her fingers through his vest shoulders and tugging.
The kiss she gave him was just as bashful as her blush. He felt a corresponding rush of blood to his cheeks as their lips met. Blushing. It was different, but not entirely unpleasant; at least not when his only audience was Molly.
She drew back and smiled shyly up at him. "Thanks."
He nodded mutely. Before Molly could draw further away, Sherlock decided he wasn't ready for it to end. He dove in again, kissing her more firmly. Fortunately, Molly had no objection to this, winding her arms around his neck and pressing her chest to his.
This was a more than acceptable substitute for arguing with her, he was quickly coming to realize. He continued to tease her mouth with his, deepening the kiss as Molly lightly pushed him back until he was leaning against the refrigerated drawers. He braced himself against it, spreading his outstretched legs so she could stand between them. Resting his hands on her hips, Sherlock decided the pseudo-morgue was a perfectly acceptable place to thoroughly snog and intimately learn Molly Hooper. The brush of her tongue against his made him think she almost agreed. She rocked her hips against his as he kissed away from her mouth and down to her jaw and neck.
Her hands tugging on his hair gave him any number of ideas. And Sherlock had always been known for his brilliant ideas. As she repeated the motion in conjunction with another pull of his curls had Sherlock's hips rocking a little and his eyes trying to roll back into his head.
With only a little regret, he dropped his hands from around Molly's waist and moved them toward the fly on his trousers. If he could stop fumbling, he chided himself, this would go a lot more smoothly and he'd have his hands on her once more. He could feel Molly moving her own hands up to the buttons of her blouse.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Before the could strip down, Winston Oliver stepped into the room.
"Children, I know this isn't exactly a church, but there are plenty who might take exception to you two getting your kicks in the funeral home.
Sherlock couldn't believe their luck. Oliver had provided them a tailor-made excuse. "This is terribly embarrassing," Sherlock stuttered, only hoping his face matched his mortified tone. Molly turned away, wiping at her dampened lips and trying to provide as little of her profile as possible for Oliver's scrutiny. "We just lost ourselves in the moment."
Oliver's red eyebrows disappeared under the brim of his hat. "Why don't you two come with me? We'll forget this ever happened."
Sherlock and Molly nodded in embarrassed acknowledgment and thanks, and then they let Oliver lead them out of the same door they'd entered.
At first, Sherlock wasn't sure what he was seeing in the building's rear car park when Oliver, Molly, and he stepped outside. But then it finally registered, and Sherlock groaned. Forget his earlier relief. Molly's and his covers were well and truly blown.
"I found them canoodling in the exam and holding room," Oliver explained heavily to the other seven Town Council members, who stood in a semicircle in front of the door. "Some people have no respect for the dead."
Sherlock could only hope Molly had missed the knowing, sotto voce whisper of "Pregnancy hormones," from one of the gallery. Mostly because of the repercussions it would have on him.
Oliver turned back to face Sherlock. "Isn't it time you explained to us why you're here?"
So Mrs. Babcock either hadn't told her council that she was hiring a consulting detective, or the Council was just playing dumb. It was so hard to tell with government bodies.
"Isn't it obvious?" He asked incredulously.
"You're necrophiliacs," supplied an unidentifiable voice. Sherlock decided it was probably best that it was dark so that no one could see his eyes rolling.
"No! For god's sake, we are not necrophiliacs. I'm here to investigate the disappearances of several villagers. I was hired by Regina Babcock."
"That was going to be my next guess," replied the sullen council member, whom Sherlock was still having a hard time spotting.
"Not sure what there was to investigate," chortled Oliver. "Flighty people sometimes leave without explanation."
"Oh, give it up," Sherlock sneered. "You lot killed them."
Several of the spectators mumbled and shifted, whether in denial or dismay that they might be caught, Sherlock couldn't tell.
"Come now, Mr. Cargill, don't spread damaging lies," intoned one of the many neighbors Sherlock had questioned earlier that day. In fact, as he looked around, realized that each of the Council members surrounding him and Molly had lived next door to one of the missing persons.
"Tell me which part is the lie," he demanded to the crowd. "Each missing person had some idiosyncrasies that you found objectionable. Instead of asking those people to keep their private lives private, you simply removed the problem permanently."
"We did ask them," shouted the same idiot as before. How on earth had he become an elected official, Sherlock wondered. A glance a Molly's pained expression told him she was thinking the same. "They had their chance," the fool continued to dig, "when they ignored our polite requests, we simpl—mmmph."
"Come now, Barry, that's enough," Oliver said warningly, keeping his hand pressed over Barry's mouth.
"No, let Barry talk. He's making my job that much easier. It was going fine for you. People were suspicious, but no one made the connection until it came time for Robert Lennox to die." Sherlock looked sternly around, noting that some of the members looked like puppies being scolded for piddling on the floor. "A man with a habit of buying rather kinky pornography, who painted his house a virulent shade of purple. Not quite in keeping with the Victorian stature of the neighborhood. He had to go."
Oliver shook his head, puffing out a regretful sigh. "These are all wild theories. But I am afraid I'm going to have to ask you and Ms. Smith to leave now. We'll make sure your belongings are all packed up and taken care of." On this pronouncement, the group started closing in on Sherlock and Molly.
"It should have been easy enough to accomplish," Sherlock continued, ignoring the encroaching threat. "The other murders had gone of without a hitch. But one thing happened that you didn't count on."
"Robert Lennox didn't die right away," Molly supplied, picking up where Sherlock had left off. "And a member of your Council tried to save him. He was unsuccessful. And was terrible at placing a catheter, I might add."
Sherlock beamed at her proudly before turning back to the matter at hand. "This Council member was dragging the body through a farmer's field, trying to get to the disposal site, when he spotted the landowner heading out to herd in his cows. So he dropped the body and fled. Farmer MacNab was none the wiser, but he did suffer a nasty shock when he found the dearly departed Mr. Lennox."
"It's a nice story. Too bad you won't be telling it to anyone. Now, if I might ask you to be peaceful about this, it'll be better for all of us," Oliver rumbled, stalking toward them.
"It's a shame I called the police and asked them to meet me here, then," spoke a voice from the small grove of trees behind the car park. Out of the copse stumbled James Dunkirk. "I told them everything; where to find the bodies, who killed whom, and whose idea it was. I can't live like this anymore."
Dunkirk appeared to have sobered some since Sherlock and Molly had left him at the pub. Though unsteady on his feet, his voice had strengthened with purpose, and he stood firm even as several appalled Council cohorts turned on him in dismay, shouting abuse, pleas, and even one "I trusted you! Those lawn gnomes were hideous and you agreed!"
Fortunately, Molly and Sherlock had stepped to the side as soon as the baffling in-fighting began, so they were well out of the way when several police constables swarmed the area, effectively cutting any escape attempts before they could even be made.
Winston Oliver, who tried to flee, was tackled to the ground. While to constables handcuffed his hands behind his back, Sherlock knelt by his head.. "I never really could get why you did it. Being annoyed and maybe even angry, sure. But murder? What did that accomplish?"
"Have you seen this place? Everyone hates it. The least we can do is try to help with its beautification," Oliver explained frankly.
With a roll of his eyes, Sherlock straightened once more and wandered off in search of Moly.
Several hours later, they stumbled into Sherlock's bedsit. His unpleasant landlady, whose purpose in life appeared to be to providing sharp contrast to Mrs. Hudson, was waiting at the door. Not out of any concern for her tenant, of course. Just in general disapproval.
"It's two in the bleeding morning. I hope you appreciate the level of rudeness it takes to wake someone up with you stumbling in at all hours."
Molly squeezed Sherlock's hand in warning when she saw him inhale, preparing to land a crushing deduction. He squelched it, and managed to say, instead, "We're sorry, Mrs. Havisham. We've had an arduous night. All we want is to go to bed."
"Well you best do so and quit keeping an old lady awake, then," she snipped.
Sherlock gave her a jaunty salute with his free hand as Molly tugged him up the stairs with his other.
"And don't think I won't charge you extra utilities for the time that your guest stays here," Havisham shouted after them. "Another thing: I won't like it if you have a squalling baby in my nice, quiet home. I expect you to find your own place well before it's born."
Molly stopped dead. Turning, she edged around Sherlock, stomped back down the stairs and past Mrs. Havisham, threw open the door and shouted rather loudly into the quiet night, "I would like to establish for the record that I am not pregnant! So everyone can stop bringing it up. Good night! I can't wait to leave this horrible place!"
Gently, Molly closed the door, careful not to slam it. She sweetly wished Sherlock's landlady a good night as she passed her for a third time, and then regained her hold on his hand and hurried up the remaining stairs. When they reached the top hallway outside of his room, she murmured, "I don't actually know where I'm going. I'd appreciate you telling me if I am going to have to retain my righteous indignation while we backtrack."
"You're in luck," Sherlock assured her. "My room is the last one at the end of the hall.
Molly nodded, pleased. Sherlock quickly let them in and set down Molly's suitcase, turning to face her. "I would like to see your Auntie Eunice offer you this level of excitement. You're welcome."
Her mouth opened and closed like an angry puffer fish for a moment until Sherlock could no longer maintain a straight face. His mouth curved further as she finally cottoned on that he was teasing her.
Wrapping her arms around his waist, Molly laughed with exhausted humor. She kissed the center of his chest before tilting her head back to say, "Thank you. You're too good to me."
"I really, really am, I know." Sherlock agreed as he backed her to the bed, pushing her to the mattress and covering her body with his.
He and Molly would take the earliest train they could get out of Peddler's Heath. It was an odious little village and he agreed with Molly's eagerness to leave. But it also held some good memories for him.
He would almost miss it.