Had the world’s worst time figuring out chapter 47. Utter nightmare. I wrote the bit about going to the morgue, decided to have them stop off at the Fortune of War pub because it was nearby (and it’s super close, I’ve got a lovely 1818 map to refer to from here http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/1818map/1818map_linkc.htm) and also a picture reference of the place from 1910 before it was torn down http://oldebreweryrecorder.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/fortune-of-war-public-house-giltspur.html which was an awesome find, and thanks to the person who posted it! 🙂
Mostly my problem with the chapter was that I really had no idea what I wanted to come of the visit to the pub. I wrote a few paragraphs, liked some things, disliked others, couldn’t think of a way to get things to work out without screwing with my entire plotline. I imagined who they would meet there, threw out possibility after possibility. Mostly I just want to post what will now be chapter 49, which has been written pretty much since I started this fic and has been put off AGES now. The solution I came up with, finally, does preserve this chapter. I would have hated for it to be an outtake.
Ah, outtakes. I do have a vague plan for when I’m done to post a few outtakes in a chapter of their own, just for fun. Shame to conceive of or write chapters that ended up being redundant or not fitting into the scheme of things properly. So I’ll probably post them anyway.
When John woke, the haunting strains of the violin had long since ceased to drift through his door. He felt rested, though a glance at the clock on his mantle showed it was still early afternoon. After he rang the bell for Matthews, he shuffled to the cold tea tray left by the fireplace. The tea was long past being drinkable, but there was nothing wrong with the breads and sweets.
Matthews arrived promptly to help John dress, though he could have done so himself since he wasn’t planning on leaving the house. Matthews helped him into a long pair of trousers, fresh muslin shirt, soft leather shoes, and one of the thick sweaters knitted for him by Mrs. Phillips instead of a waistcoat. The wool felt warm and comforting.
Before Matthews swept away with the forgotten tea tray, John requested that a cold meal be served in the sitting room. He’d gone to bed hungry, not having so much as tea the night before, and hadn’t been in the mood to request anything special from Mrs. Hudson in the night.
“And ask Mr. Holmes if he would care to join me, if he can be separated from his laboratory.”
“Mr. Holmes is currently in the sitting room, sir. I believe he has taken over the small dining table for his experiments.”
If Matthews hadn’t said so, the smell of the sitting room would have immediately given Sherlock away.
“Feeling improved, John?” Sherlock didn’t lift his head from the dropper and test tube in his hands.
“Much, thank you. You know, you have a perfectly good lab downstairs, Sherlock.”
“But there’s no room for you there until I have the time to organize everything and I need for you to read while I work.”
“Anything in particular?”
“De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius by Luigi Galvani. Should be on the bottom right shelf, fourth book from the end.” Sherlock tentatively sniffed his concoction.
“Should I open a window or shall I trust you not to poison yourself?”
“I work out all the chemical combinations on paper, first, before mixing them together. I am not working with completely unknown chemicals. I shall not inadvertently kill us both.”
“I hope I may trust you on that.” John found the book in question and brought it with him to the chair by the fireplace, one facing Sherlock’s direction. He settled himself, cane hung on the chair’s arm, bad leg elevated on a faded hassock near the fire. “Might I ask why Galvani is on the last shelf?”
“Purchased it yesterday.” Sherlock added a drop of something new to his test tube, observed the results, jotted down a note.
“You haven’t had time to place it properly in your organizational system?” John gestured to the multitudes of books that had appeared on the shelving the morning before.
“It is properly placed. I shelve chronologically.”
“Chronologically? By publication date?” That would make it a challenge to find anything, but it made John grin.
“By date of interest. I wished to refresh myself on Galvani’s theories of biology and electrochemistry. It has only become relevant recently.”
“How, precisely, is it relevant?”
“He made certain conclusions about animal electricity that Alessandro Volta disproved; however, I seem to remember something about an electrical fluid in the studies. What if one could create this electrical fluid and inject it into a body?”
“Is that what you think this mystery liquid is? An electrical fluid of some sort?” John had come across some of Galvani’s experiments during his schooling, and of course the medical students found great delight in the ghoulish application of electricity to frogs and other simple creatures that populated the anatomy lab, but the full detail of his theories was unfamiliar.
“I will not guess, no, but it is one of several working theories.”
“And that means that the man who attacked you is filled with this electrical fluid instead of blood?”
“Electrical fluid, or perhaps some sort of preservative.”
“Sherlock, what are you saying? That this man who attacked you, that this creature, was resurrected from the dead, or is an artificial construct of a man?”
“A homunculus, perhaps, named by Paracelsus, and created by someone for a purpose I cannot say. Really, John, you do surprise me. I had thought to have to explain a lot more of this to you.” Sherlock turned to him, looking more than pleased. “You are certainly not as dull as the masses.”
“It’s impossible, Sherlock! Alchemists have been trying to create life for centuries. None have ever been successful!”
“Not impossible, John. When we have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
“That’s crazy, Sherlock. There is a man, a real man, killing people and leaving their bodies all over London. A crazed, sick, evil man, but a normal man. What you’re suggesting is the impossible notion, that which should be eliminated.”
“What we have, John, is a collection of body parts meant to be grafted onto another body.” Sherlock jumped up and delivered a sheaf of notes he’d taken the night before while examining the heads. “You noted the excess skin yourself. On the heads, not only was there excess skin but there were stitch marks on both the skin and in the musculature that would support the head. Foolish, in my opinion, to remove the head completely since the spine is such a delicate and complex part of a man, but there you have it.”
“Sherlock…” John paged through the notes where Sherlock had carefully marked the location of each hole piercing the skin.
“I’m not saying that our scientist-cum-necromancer was completely successful.” Sherlock returned to his seat and added two test tubes rather haphazardly into a larger flask.
“But you are saying exactly that if you think the man you saw last night is filled with electrical fluid.”
“And the result is apparently a mix of mental deficiency, loss of fine motor skills, and homicidal tendencies.” Sherlock sniffed at his concoction again and sighed, setting it aside as a failure. “Read aloud please.”
John opened the book and glanced down at the first page.
“It’s in Italian, Sherlock.”
“Of course it is. With a first name like Luigi, do you expect the book to be written in German?”
John rolled his eyes. “But I do not speak Italian.”
“You speak Latin and, most probably, at least some French. I think you can make do with those and an enthusiastic accent. Besides, I’m not asking you to translate. Simply read.”
John chuckled to himself at the ridiculousness of the request, but started his awkward recitation of the syllables on the page.
By the time Matthews returned to light the lamps and remove John’s supper tray, Sherlock had become frustrated with his rack of improper formulations. He tossed his scrupulous notes aside on the floor. He scraped a mark on his coat, sniffing it carefully before announcing that Matthews could certainly take it to be cleaned now; there was nothing more to be done.
“Pace back and forth, just here, John.”
“Beg pardon?” John had been sitting, bad leg on a stool and warm near the fireplace. He’d been excused from Galvani’s writings half an hour ago and had begun to read through the pile of newspapers Sherlock had delivered.
“Why, Sherlock.” His husband rolled his eyes, but answered.
“I need to observe something.”
When it became clear Sherlock wasn’t going to further elaborate on his demand, John heaved himself out of the chair with the aid of his cane and paced in the six foot area Sherlock indicated. Sherlock’s eyes focused intently on him for a few minutes, but then they glazed over and he bounced out of his chair.
“Oh!” he declared suddenly. “Oh! If the man who dumped the body parts is a construct, then he was possibly one of the missing persons in Lestrade’s files. Matthews! I must dress and go to Bow Street at once! If I can re-sort the possibilities, I might be able to identify our murderer!”
John still thought the idea of a resurrected man ridiculous, but Sherlock’s enthusiasm warmed him. Sherlock shot up the stairs to his bedroom, Matthews following briskly but in a much less flurried manner. Matthews clipped down the steps a few minutes later, following Sherlock’s loud, “Dress John, too! That jumper is positively pedestrian, even for Bow Street!”
John did not expect Lestrade to be at his desk when Sherlock burst into his small office at Bow Street, (with John following sedately behind, of course), yet the man was there, reading through stacks of papers and mussing his short-cut salt and pepper hair.
“Good evening, Mr. Lestrade,” John said as Sherlock stole the papers out of Lestrade’s hand. Lestrade sighed resignedly and returned John’s greeting.
Lestrade’s eyes danced over the two of them: Sherlock’s muttering, highly-focused demeanor; and John’s good-natured grin as he made himself comfortable in the corner chair again.
“Yes, yes, clearly your advice worked, Lestrade. Stop gloating and start helping,” Sherlock snapped.
“Advice?” John asked.
“Go through these,” Sherlock directed, ignoring the question and dropping a pile of papers on John’s lap. “Sort out any that fit the description.” John nodded and started a ‘no’ pile and a ‘maybe’ pile for Sherlock to look through later.
Lestrade raised his eyebrows at the two men.
“Sherlock thinks one of the missing persons may have been… coerced into being an associate or henchman to a greater criminal mind,” John clarified, since Sherlock didn’t seem about to explain their intrusion.
John shrugged helplessly. “Killed and reanimated resulting in a highly suggestible mind.”
If Lestrade had been drinking, he would have choked on it.
“Reanimated? You’re pulling my leg.”
“No, actually John has the right of it. It is possible that an unknown scientific genius has made a breakthrough in the mysteries of life and death. What his further purpose is, I do not have enough data to postulate. Now, if we can just sort through all the files again, removing the ones which could not possibly be our killer or henchman…”
“The young boy from the morgue,” John answered. “Sherlock concluded that the man from his attack last night and the boy’s killer are one and the same.”
“And that he’s a reanimated corpse.” Lestrade weakly attempted sarcasm failed miserably.
“Yes, Lestrade, do keep up,” Sherlock said sharply, abandoning one stack of papers for another. Lestrade slapped his hand down atop them to keep them from spilling across his desk.
“I am not entirely convinced,” John said with an uncertain tone.
“One thing I’ve noticed about working with Holmes is that the more outlandish his theory, the more likely that he’s right.” Lestrade did not sound too particularly excited about this particular outlandish theory.
During the ensuing silence, as Sherlock and John started glancing through the handwritten reports, Donovan rapped a meaty fist on the doorjamb.
“Oi, Lestrade, I’m supposed to tell you that a body washed up this afternoon near the King’s Arm Stairs.”
“Why are you supposed to tell me that?”
“Dimmock thinks you’d like to see the body. Said you were poking your nose into a lot of missing persons.” Donovan shrugged in a ‘why should I care?’ way. “I see you’ve made up from your little tiff with the husband already, Holmes. Can’t imagine how that happened. Or does a little slap and tickle make it all better?”
Donovan nearly danced with glee that Sherlock flushed red and had no response for him.
“Oh ho! You look like a fish, Holmes, with that gaping mouth.”
John was the one who stood quite suddenly in front of Donovan, who was more than a head taller than him and nearly twice as wide.
“If your messenger duty is done, Mr. Donovan, then I suggest you leave.” John’s Captain Watson voice slashed through Donovan’s crude crowing and the beefy man blinked down at his underdog adversary.
It only took ten seconds for Donovan to decide not to take his chances with the grim-faced, militaristic man standing chest-to-chest (sort of) with him.
When Donovan left without another word, Sherlock glared at Lestrade as if he would tear the man’s tongue from his mouth.
The glare didn’t disturb Lestrade. “Gregson from the night watch reported to the river police before he stopped by Bow Street. Nasty little gossip,” he said. “When would I have spoken to Donovan today? And why would I have done, if it wasn’t necessary? The man is an ogre.”
Sherlock sheathed his mighty glare with a bitter, “I know that,” but still the papers he sorted through experienced a small amount of his wrath. His face remained flushed and he wouldn’t look at John until he was distracted enough by the reports to put the incident aside.
“No likely candidates,” Sherlock decided after another hour. “This one,” he said, holding up a file on Charles Bellows, might have been a possibility if we had not identified his head in the night.”
“Well, perhaps he was missing longer. How far back do these files go?” John asked Lestrade.
“Only three months. If this fellow was taken longer ago than that, or was never reported missing, we wouldn’t have a file.”
“Perhaps it was a natural death, or given the stitching on the neck, a convicted criminal. If our mystery scientist had been granted autopsy on a criminal, that would surely solve this with a simple inquiry. I know it would be unlike the others, but if it was a first try the madman is trying to replicate, perhaps he robbed a grave or, more likely, hired someone to do it for him like any other anatomist. We could ask around at the Fortune of War pub, see if there are any murmurings among the resurrection men.”
Both Lestrade and Sherlock looked at John, surprised.
“What? I am a doctor. I’m not ignorant about where my lecturers got bodies for autopsy.”
“There was no stink of the grave on the body, just that strange chemical odour,” Sherlock mused. “Of course, he was relatively well-groomed for a walking corpse, wore well-made clothes. If the body had been exposed to the cold weather, slowing putrefaction, and the blood quickly replaced with this remarkable fluid, then perhaps that theory should not be completely disqualified. This will certainly open up avenues for investigation, though I had been hoping to be closing in on the culprit by now.”
“Did he just say you could be right?” asked Lestrade with a gentle smirk on his face.
Sherlock had delved deeply into his own mind and wasn’t paying attention.
“Yes, Mr. Lestrade, I do believe he did.”
“John, Lestrade!” Sherlock barked, halfway out the door. “Are you coming to the morgue to check on the body?”
The three men shared a hack again on the way to the morgue, reminding John of his recent wedding day: Lestrade pleasant and chatty; Sherlock distantly in thought; London passing outside the window, bustling with life. John wished for a moment alone with Sherlock so they could talk about what Donovan had said. Of course, Sherlock would likely deny all importance of the insult and his uncharacteristic reaction to it and stride away if possible. All in all, having the conversation entirely in John’s head would be about as effective.
Instead, John merely patted Sherlock’s arm.
“What is it, John? I’m thinking.”
“Nothing, Sherlock.” John was glad the darkness inside the carriage hid his blush. “Just checking to make sure you were still with us.”
“Where else would I be?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time you jumped from a moving carriage and ran down a suspect you just happened to pass by on the street,” Lestrade supplied, his grin nearly audible.
“The door to the carriage has not opened, Lestrade. Surely even you can observe that. Now stop interrupting my thoughts with such trifling inanities.”
The hack rolled up to the morgue entrance of Bart’s. Sherlock hopped out with his usual energy and left John and Lestrade to bring up the rear. John passed a coin to the driver. He’d found his small purse filled this morning, so either Sherlock, or more likely Mycroft through the servants, must have seen fit to supply him with a bit of walking around money.
By the time Lestrade and John had arrived at the door, Sherlock was already coming back out.
“Suicide,” he said with a certain dismissal.
“Are you sure?” Lestrade asked.
John hid a smile. It was unlikely that Lestrade doubted Sherlock’s verdict, but Sherlock did seem to gain satisfaction from listing off his deductions to an audience, for he puffed up when he began to explain.
“Young woman, maybe all of twenty. Her dress has had panels added to the sides yet she does not currently need the full expansion. I’d estimate she gave birth less than a month ago. Likely she has left the infant with a sympathetic sister because the father of the babe was disinterested in making any formal arrangements or offer. She might have ended her life sooner, but she thought that the man would change his mind upon seeing the child. He did not. Thus she filled her pockets with stones and either jumped off Westminster Bridge, or, given the quick current, walked into the river at some other upstream point. No real point in dallying. Her identity will become known shortly; she was not in the water long enough before discovery to disguise her appearance with bloating. Not your division, Lestrade. Dimmock was either deliberately wasting your time, or he’s too dull to see what is in front of him. Care for a drink?”
Sherlock was already striding down the street, making quite a distance between them with those long legs of his.
“The Fortune of War is that way,” John said as he and Lestrade exchanged looks. The revelation made them both follow Holmes with just a little bit more haste.
There was very little special about that public house on Pye Corner except that its very location so close to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital made it a convenient location for surgeons and resurrection men to meet. John had never been there himself, though he’d spent a short time completing his surgeon’s training at Bart’s before he entered the army medical corps. The pub and its traditions were whispered about in the hospital halls, however. Several of the surgery lecturers were known to have a steady stream of incoming bodies for their students to observe and occasionally practice on, despite the law.
The only legally available corpses were convicts sentenced to hanging and dissection and those sentences were becoming quite rare in comparison to rising demand by medical colleges. John considered the practice of stealing the dead from their rightful resting places despicable, but a necessary evil. After all, one shouldn’t be cutting for the first time into a living patient. He couldn’t avoid the practice, as it was so pervasive, but he understood it.
Sherlock paced outside the public house when they caught up to him.
“Something the matter?”
“Corbeau is working. He won’t be helpful.”
“What did you say to him?” Lestrade asked with an eye roll.
“I needed some leverage and may have threatened to tell some of the resurrectionists exactly how much he was skimming off their profits. It wouldn’t have been a threat at all if he hadn’t been lying to them about it.”
“Mr. Lestrade and I can go in,” John volunteered. “What should we look for?”
Sherlock didn’t answer him, just paced back and forth along the short side of the building.
“You burned a bridge, Holmes,” Lestrade scolded. “This is what happens when you don’t think before you speak.”
“I always think before I speak, Lestrade.” Sherlock flung his hands out in irritation. “The information was well worth Corbeau’s current and future hatred at the time. Unfortunately, that situation is long past and we need his cooperation now.”
“Sherlock, just tell me what you need.” John placed his hand on Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock stared at it until John pulled it away.
“Ideally? I’d ask Corbeau to send someone with experience in fulfilling special requests around my direction. Also, if there was anyone rather new to the trade, someone unusual. And a hot toddy would be spectacular, if I thought he wouldn’t poison me.”
“What address should I give?” John slightly rumpled his clothing, pulling at the knot in his neck cloth to loosen it as if he’d been fighting with it all day.
“Ours would be fine.” Sherlock gave John a rather mystified look. “He won’t recognize the address.”
“Fine. Coming Lestrade?” John gave a wide smile to the other man and held open the door for him.
John and Lestrade ducked into the Fortune of War. It was moderately busy, but there were a couple seats near the bar. The pub landlord looked John and Lestrade over from behind the bar. A few of the men around the room did the same before turning back to their pints.
“What can I do for you gentlemen?” Having taken his stock of them, the landlord clearly didn’t think they were there for a drink. Lestrade and John swaggered up to the bar, taking a couple of seats closer to the landlord’s suspicious glare.
“Just stepped out of lectures at Bart’s,” John lied smoothly, affecting an Edinburgh accent. “Doctor Knox told me once this was a friendly place for surgeons to unwind at the end of a long day. Worked with him at the Brussels Military Hospital last year.” John lifted his cane to demonstrate his point.
Lestrade kept his mouth shut and his truncheon tucked carefully beneath his coat. He had no idea what John had in mind, but Lord knows he was a patient man.
“Knox sent you by, you say?”
“Aye,” John agreed, still mysteriously Scottish. “Watson’s the name. Taking some lectures up at Bart’s before I head into private practice. This bloke’s Doctor Russell.”
“Corbeau. Couple of pints?”
John slid a generous coin across the smooth wooden bar. “That would take the sting out of hours observing in the theater.” Two dark glasses slid back shortly.
John gave Lestrade his bright, jovial grin at being accepted; Lestrade just raised an eyebrow in return and sipped the ale he was served.
“So what do you suppose Himself was doing here that he got in trouble with the publican?” Lestrade said conversationally when Corbeau walked away to pull a few drinks for a table in the corner.
“He wasn’t working with you?”
“He never mentioned this place. Then again, that doesn’t mean ‘no.’ I try not to ask too much about his methods; makes him stroppy.”
John chuckled, twisting around in his seat to view more of the patrons. He hoped he looked like he was just propping up his bad leg with the bar rail.
“Plus, more often than not, I’d prefer not to know how he gets his results or where he goes for them.” Lestrade looked like he finally remembered the reputation of this place and glared at his ale as if it were tainted.
“It’s fine.” John grinned again, taking a swig of his own brew. His eyes began to lightly glance over each patron, thinking Sherlock would certainly have quite a field day deducing the occupation and status of each one. There were a couple of tired-looking but well-dressed men who were certainly the type to be medical men from Bart’s, though John didn’t remember them from his time there. Several men were burlier, laboring class, and they sat together at a long table with occasional companionable laughter. A few friendly women livened up their party. Two fairly young men, barely in University if John was any judge, sat nervously in a corner, emptying their glasses faster than was good for them.
“So how’s it going, anyway, sharing bed and board with Himself?” Lestrade carefully avoided using the name Holmes, just in case Corbeau would happen to overhear. “Oh, er, if that’s too personal, just tell me to shut it. Too nosy for me own good.”
“I suppose you’re allowed to be nosy. I’d still be in a strop myself if it weren’t for you.”
“So he did apologize? I’ll have to ask Lord Sherrinford about having the Regent make today a national holiday.”
“He mentioned that it was, and would likely be, a rare occurrence. He also told me you put him up to it. Thank you for that.”
“Purely selfish motivations, I assure you. Can’t have him sulking over you when he’s working on a messy case like this.” Lestrade winked at John to show he wasn’t entirely serious and tossed back half of his drink. “I’ve known him a while. Can’t say I’ve entirely figured him out, but there’s a balance between letting him do what he wants and telling him what’s right. You seem to be doing better than anyone expected.”
John nodded absently, still sipping his ale.
Lestrade veered off the topic and tried to come up with a more innocuous topic. When their drinks had dwindled, Corbeau swung by and inquired if they desired another. John accepted, with another generous coin.
Corbeau narrowed his eyes at his unfamiliar customers.
“If you’re fattening me up for the kill, gentlemen, I’d rather you dropped a sovereign on the table and had out with it.”
“With information at that premium, sir, it is a wonder you are not retired in a nice country house by now,” Lestrade muttered.
Corbeau bit the coin John passed over, examined it, and tucked it into a pocket. He leaned against the bar on thick forearms.
“That price doesn’t include taking your insolence. Now get on with it.”
John cast a quelling look at Lestrade and leaned in to make his inquiry more private.
“I’ve a certain expertise I’m expected to demonstrate next week. I need a subject for my lecture, but I have a requirement that may make it a bit of a challenge.”
“At the Fortune of War, you take what’s brought in, no questions,” Corbeau answered dismissively.
“My reputation in this field would be worth the generous finder’s fee I’m offering. Certainly there is someone you know who might be willing to do a little legwork in order to gain the loyalty of a wealthy patron. Someone new, perhaps, willing to go some distance to secure a stable future?”
Corbeau sized John and Lestrade up again. Lestrade passed for an average man, but John’s clothes were new and very fine, expertly attended to despite his attempts to appear slightly disheveled. He’d so far handed over several coins with absolutely no haggling or question of price.
“Thought you were off to private practice, sir?” Corbeau squinted his small dark eyes even further.
“One must keep infrequently used skills sharp, as well as train assistants. I also have designs on the Royal Society.”
More of that bird-eyed gaze. “In that case, I suppose I might know someone, at that.”
“Excellent. I’m currently staying at Doctor Russell’s home on Baker Street. Two-twenty-one. Send this friend of yours around to that address.”
“Might take a couple nights. He’s not exactly a regular.”
“The sooner, the better, Mr. Corbeau. Any evening this week shall do fine.”
Corbeau gave them a curt nod and stalked off. It didn’t appear that he’d gone to pour them another draft for their coin, and neither John nor Lestrade really wanted another anyway.