My word count for Regency Sherlock is 72,507 including notes, something around 67,000 for posted, finished material. Last night, writing chapter 58, I had to go back through my chapters and take brief notes as to what happened in each one. I also counted which days had passed so that I might have some idea how long the boys have been married by the end of this section (4 days, jeez, it’s been a BUSY four days). I wasn’t overly fond of this housekeeping but I found I couldn’t keep the plot altogether straight in my head. The romance is easy. The mystery plot, not so much.
I even found in doing this that I’d introduced a plot bunny and then completely forgotten it. I honestly would have gone on to finish the story (after a few weeks/months) and just never mentioned it again. Which is funny, in a way, but also a good reason to have a central outline, whether done before or after the writing of the chapters. Helps keep track of what happened and what you need to do yet.
At any rate, I finished my chapter, started a little of the next (and the chapter after that is mostly written already mainly because I just really wanted to write that scene) so perhaps it won’t be ten days until I post another chapter! I can’t believe how long it takes sometimes. I really need to be better at writing on days I work. It’s hard, though, because either I work early and don’t get enough sleep and I’m tired, or I sleep in and just putter around until it’s time to get ready for work.
I also want to add a project. I want to Camp NaNoWriMo my Ethne story, finish it up and get it ready to publish. Goals are helpful! Not quite sure how I’m going to divvy up the daily goals. Maybe 2000 words a day, since it is editing, and post the sections in a new file to keep track. I’m not starting it today, though, since I’m yawning and have to be up for work in five hours. At least most of the really hard work is already finished, the writing. Not that editing is easy, but it’s not quite as terrifying as creating completely new content.
Also had some fun research tidbits pop up doing chapter 58. In 1815, bodies generally weren’t embalmed and when they were, it was using poisonous chemicals that would be fairly harmful to those that worked with the bodies after, like medical students. Modern American embalming methods arrived just as the American Civil War started, developed by a man named Thomas Holmes (b. 1817). None of my research really talks about European embalming and it really wasn’t something I needed to know anyway. 🙂
Also, receiving houses are places set up by the Royal Humane Society along bodies of water like the Thames. Attendants were trained in resuscitation and would try and revive victims of drowning, whether accidental or intentional.
Anyway, since this section of chapters is rather long, I’ll stop yammering. Um, Chapter 56 is smutty. Forewarned is forearmed. 🙂
Sherlock gripped himself firmly once John’s footsteps down the stairs ceased to be audible. His hand worked his cock quite efficiently, taking only minutes to relieve the pressure that had built up. Momentarily, the pleasure whited out his mind. When his eyes blinked open again, Sherlock felt more ireful than sated. He cleaned himself with the soft cloth John had left for him then threw it across the room. That Mycroft was downstairs proved Matthews was a well-paid minion of Mycroft’s, though that was no surprise. Let Matthews find the defiled cloth in the morning.
Previously, Sherlock had always felt much more amiable on the drug – of course, he had never deliberately denied himself pleasure while imbibing, either. The effects of abstinence were insufferable. However, the thought of indulging was inconceivable.
So, intermittent self-release was clearly the only course of action. This is infuriating, intolerable, unforgivable, Sherlock seethed. The aftereffect of climax in his condition was a blessed moment of clarity, a brief respite before the agonizing desire ramped up again. The cold lucidity wouldn’t last long, however, and in between, he’d soon begin to deteriorate into little more than a mindless beast.
This was the very reason Sherlock had deliberately shunned Victor and his drug – the constant arousal, the senseless drive of lust, the glee Victor had displayed when preparing the injection. Sherlock had seen himself becoming little better than an animal, consumed by a maelstrom of carnal lust and rutting between any set of legs Victor opened before him. It had taken too long to recognize Victor’s depraved divinity over Sherlock, the puppet for pleasure. He’d been so stupid.
But John, John tended to him, stubbornly ignoring every shout, every insult, every declaration that Sherlock wanted to be left alone. He didn’t see this loss of control as entertainment or a sign of Sherlock’s weakness. He understood how this is an attack – how it had always been an attack even when it was self-inflicted. And most importantly, he was not taking advantage.
Mycroft, his own brother, would have simply locked a couple of prostitutes in the room and let Sherlock shout abuse at them or indulge as he saw fit. He would not have been caring. He would have been disappointed in Sherlock’s failings. He was likely downstairs voicing his disapproval this very minute.
Why was John behaving as he was? Concerned. Doting, even. Sherlock pondered John’s own recent illness. Clearly he recalled his own need for comfort in his distress, appreciated being cossetted, cared for. Still, it seemed a trifle unlikely; John had burst out in a temper when Sherlock had pandered to John’s bad leg too much. So what was the reason?
And John was being so insufferably kind. Really, it was the most horrid thing.
But John’s presence was comforting; it was the only reason Sherlock had not yet gone mad. John’s gentle voice distracted him from the burning in his veins, the heartbeat that seemed to throb outside of his body, the desperate feeling of dozens of hands all over his body. The cool water John bathed him with eased the feverish symptoms, if only slightly, and made Sherlock feel warm in an entirely other way.
And why was he thinking about John anyway? It was unlike Sherlock for his thoughts to be consumed by another person – not a criminal or a puzzle, that is.
It’s the drug, it’s all the drug, Sherlock tried to convince himself. He wasn’t really enamored of John. He didn’t really require John to smile at him, to assist him, to work by his side, to listen to his deductions. He certainly didn’t want invite the man to his bed, rut with him insensibly, hear his moans and gasps of pleasure, hear that soothing voice crack when panting, “Sherlock.” No, he didn’t want that at all; he needed it.
Sherlock heard John’s footsteps pause outside the door to his room. John was apparently listening since the pause between his final footfall and his soft rap at the door was more than generous.
“It’s fine, John.” Sherlock was in his finest sulk. Not only was he stuck in bed, useless and unable to focus on anything but the sensations fogging his body, but he was embarrassed. He was never embarrassed. Annoyed, yes. Indignant, wrathful, incensed, even, but not embarrassed.
John walked into the room, moving first to the fireplace where he shifted the coals around. The firelight haloed him from Sherlock’s perspective. He had removed his jacket while he was gone, left it in his room with Matthews most likely, and now exposed his shirt sleeves and his cream and gold waistcoat to Sherlock’s hungry eyes. The winking golden threads reminded Sherlock of John’s hair, fair and glinting in the sun. Sherlock saw himself bracing John against the wall, the man glowing in front of him like an idol. He knelt behind him, worshipping him. He could almost feel John’s firm arse in his hands. He could feel the curve of it against his cheek as Sherlock poked his nose underneath that waistcoat to snuffle at the small of his back.
Sherlock blinked rapidly and took a deep breath. The vision faded away and John stood there with a rather worried expression.
“I’m fine,” Sherlock assured. “Hallucinations starting.”
John hid the worried crease of his brow, ducking his head, and moved to the desk to write this down very carefully.
“What did you see?”
“Irrelevant,” Sherlock answered.
John did not respond. He carefully checked Sherlock’s temperature with his hand before laying the cool cloth on Sherlock’s forehead out of their established time frame. Sherlock didn’t argue.
Sherlock went over the hundreds of details of the found and missing people in his head, trying to keep his mind occupied, going over and over each detail of the body parts being strewn so deliberately along the Thames, until the symptoms became too much. Then he tried cataloguing each symptom and its intensity, dictating to John a scale of numbers which John dutifully recorded at the little writing desk. Hopefully his observations wouldn’t be a hopeless jumble by morning, the ranting of a madman.
He ignored the needs of his body as much as possible, trying not to writhe against the sheets to pacify his over-sensitive skin, trying not to feel the discomfort, nor respond to the soothing pleasure of John’s repeated cool bathing of his forehead, neck and shoulders.
John read aloud for a while, and that was pleasant, when Sherlock could not direct his own mind anymore. He could focus on that soft voice, the delighted hum that he added when something was amusing or ridiculous. But there came a point in the night when even that was too much and the innocuous words seemed to float over his skin and the voice caressed him, blew softly in his ear, entered the most vulnerable parts of him. He tried to beg John to stop, to be quiet, to leave him to his sensual misery, but he wasn’t sure if John heard him or if he’d just been babbling and moaning.
Sherlock wanted John in here with him, except that he didn’t. Really, his mind was so horribly abuzz, how could he know what he wanted? John gave Sherlock periods of privacy once an hour, discreet even in the leaving of a small jar of silky lotion on Sherlock’s bedside table. Sherlock missed his calm presence when he was gone. Still, he wouldn’t meet eyes with John when he returned, ashamed in his lucidity. They did not speak of what happened in the interim.
Sherlock dozed for a short while sometime after the downstairs clock struck eleven, and when he woke, he demanded of John, “Have you been checking every fifteen minutes, John?”
“I let you sleep. It seemed to… disturb you if I touched you too much. You need to rest.”
John laid a cool hand on Sherlock’s forehead again before bathing away the heat and sweat. Despite the sweat, he felt dry, so dry, like every drop of liquid was being forced from his body. John made him drink each time he checked his pulse, but Sherlock imagined he would have to take a bath and let every inch of his skin drink in the water from the tub before he’d be satiated from his thirst.
“I’m awake now.” Sherlock imperiously held out his arm for John to take his pulse. When John had recorded his results and checked Sherlock’s pupils with the aid of a lamp, he bathed Sherlock’s forehead with fresh, cool water which Matthews must have brought up while Sherlock was asleep. The radiating chill and clean scent overwhelmed Sherlock’s senses for a second. If he reacted outside his own head, though, John showed no sign of it. He merely wiped the sweat from Sherlock’s face and neck and replaced Sherlock’s damp, flat pillow with a cool, fresh one. John’s pillow. Sherlock buried his face in it and breathed in the scent of his husband. He wanted nothing more than to do the same to John himself.
Sherlock tugged the sheet loose from the other covers and rolled himself up in it. The fabric pulled tight against his skin – if he shut his eyes and let his mind truly wander, he could imagine it was another body pressed against his. John’s. No real point fighting it, though he still tried.
His fevered, drugged mind took hold of the fantasy and John was right there next to him. Had Sherlock fallen asleep and woken to find John taking a well-deserved nap in his bed? No, when Sherlock opened his eyes, he saw two of him. Hallucination, then. John the doctor had fallen asleep in the chair at Sherlock’s bedside, fully dressed with his robe wrapped over his waistcoat and shirt sleeves; he’d donned the robe as the night chilled. John the lover was in Sherlock’s bed, bare and smiling. He pressed against Sherlock’s back, arm around Sherlock’s chest holding him tight, giving kisses and little nips on the back of Sherlock’s neck.
Each little touch sent sparks through Sherlock’s body. There was no mind now, no thoughts to interrupt the pure feeling. John was pressed up to him; John was kissing him; John’s hand was stroking over his chest, his belly, lower and there was only John. Sherlock turned to John, unable to resist kissing that clever mouth, tasting him, swallowing the other man’s moans and whimpers of pleasure.
Sherlock touched John like he could never touch him enough. His hands skimmed over bare skin, firm muscle, scars, yes, even the scars on his leg. Beautiful, so beautiful. But John’s eyes were the most captivating. Pale blue irises surrounded open, dark pupils. They were crinkled at the corners from marching in the sun and from general good humor. John’s eyes fluttered closed when Sherlock kissed him, opened to follow Sherlock as he moved to kiss John’s neck, shoulder, chest.
Sherlock pushed him flat against the bed, and John accepted Sherlock’s weight above him. Their heated fumblings pushed Sherlock’s drawers down over his hips; once freed, Sherlock pressed his erect cock against John’s. John’s moan of pleasure brushed against him like a sultry summer breeze.
John’s thighs rose around Sherlock’s hips as he thrust down against John. Splayed beneath him, wrecked with pleasure, whimpering – John was as gorgeous a creature as Sherlock had ever seen. He needed him, needed all of him, needed to be inside of him. Sherlock abandoned his desperate movements to slip a finger into John, then two. John urged him to hurry; he was as impassioned and frantic as Sherlock. Sherlock eased inside with no more lubricant than was provided by his pre-come. John didn’t seem to mind. He implored Sherlock to move, that he couldn’t hold off, that he needed Sherlock.
Sherlock needed John, too. And now he had him.
John’s hard cock rubbed between their bellies as Sherlock rocked into him. Sherlock breathed hard against John’s skin, covering him so close and tight that he finally understood the ‘beast with two backs.’ They were one being together, writhing and grunting and moaning, but most importantly, one.
It ended too quickly, though the climax shuddered through Sherlock for long moments until he thought he wouldn’t be able to stand another wave.
“John, John,” Sherlock cried out, rutting against the rumpled sheets. The empty sheets. The lover John had disappeared and the doctor John was beside the bed to comfort him.
“Shh, I’m here, I’m right here.” John must have woken from Sherlock’s exclamations of passion. He was warm and sleep-rumpled, but he stood by the side of the bed quickly. He soothed Sherlock with a cool wet cloth on his forehead, his neck, his chest. What Sherlock wouldn’t give for that same treatment by John’s lips, but he can’t have that. His breathing calmed as John bathed him, stroked light fingers over his brow and along the delicate skin beneath his eyes to judge his temperature – still elevated, but improved. Hopefully, the drug’s effects would soon abate.
John untangled the sheet from Sherlock, stripped him of the linen drawers he’d managed to wear the entire night. He cleaned Sherlock emissions most professionally and Sherlock lay still, unable to assist or resist. Then John covered Sherlock with a clean, dry sheet and a thin quilt and sat down, eyes firmly on the pages on the writing desk.
Reality came to Sherlock as he surfaced from the fever-dream. He rolled over, facing away from John’s patience and kindness. Knowing John, feeling him wrapped around him, hot and welcoming, had been so gut-wrenchingly real. He wanted John, every bit of John, but he doesn’t want this hormone-driven, lust-addled life. He’d put it all aside, filled himself with the purity of the work. The work had been enough, until John. Now it would never be enough.
A faint knock at the door woke Sherlock. The sun was beating against the drawn curtains; it was an unusually sunny day for this time of year in London. A strong wind rattled the shutters just as Sherlock noted that there must be one to rid the city of the ever-hanging fog and smoke.
John slept on, oblivious to the sun and the visitor at the door. He was going to be sore and stiff when he awoke, having slept in the chair all night. He had his robe on and his feet propped up on the edge of Sherlock’s bed. At some point, John had found a blanket as well, or Matthews had draped one over him. Despite his uncomfortable position, he was sleeping peacefully.
Sherlock wrapped himself in his clean sheet and went to the door to keep Matthews from rapping again and waking John. Matthews looked none the worse this morning for likely having been awake as late as John or later, ready to assist if needed or run any errand. Sherlock made a shushing gesture and stepped into the hall.
“Mr. Lestrade is downstairs, sir. He says it’s more than urgent.”
Sherlock ignored Matthews’ surprised, “Sir! Your clothes, Mr. Holmes!” and flew down the two flights of stairs in nothing but his improvised toga.
Lestrade was in the public parlor waiting, pacing to be more precise. He wasn’t taken aback by Sherlock’s dishabille, but intensely worried.
“Did another note arrive?”
“That’s not why I’m here, but yes.” Lestrade handed Sherlock the folded and sealed sheet of paper. Sherlock wasted not a second before he broke the seal and read the contents.
The three I freed cannot tell tales.
You won’t catch me before another ship sails.
“What does it say?”
Sherlock wordlessly handed over the paper. He glared at Lestrade when the runner snorted, but Lestrade was not amused.
“It’s right, Holmes. We’ve found at least eight bodies this morning, torsos, vivisected. Lord Almighty, was that another whistle?” Lestrade rubbed his hand through his hair. “The watchmen are frantic this morning. It’s one thing for a suicide or two to wash up, or a few frozen vagrants in the dead of winter, but this… this is…” Lestrade cut off.
“No time to waste, Lestrade. Where have they been finding the bodies?” Before Lestrade could respond, Sherlock called out the doorway, “Matthews, clothes!”
“Three were found on the stairs to the Thames, much like the others, and one was propped up against a receiving station, but no one saw anything until the watch walked by at the six o’clock mark. The others have been found in busy places. I’ve every constable and runner I can contact searching for witnesses, but it’ll be hours before we have anything useful along that line.”
“I hope your colleagues have been keeping detailed notes on which body was found when and where.”
“We’re doing our level best, Holmes, to keep everything in proper order.”
“And the bodies are being transported to a central location?”
“Bart’s. If we run out of slabs, there are surgical theaters.” Sherlock nodded swiftly, finding relief that his mind seemed to be functioning properly this morning. He would have an immense amount of data to categorize today and he couldn’t waste any more time on inconvenient bodily functions.
When Matthews appeared with a stack of clean clothing, Sherlock unwrapped his sheet and pulled the billowy shirt over his head and the drawers up over his bum with haste.
Seeing nothing he hadn’t seen before dealing with Holmes, Lestrade exited the parlor calmly and stood in the hall.
“Oh, good morning, Dr. Watson.”
Sherlock paused, almost flinched. He quite deliberately pulled on his trousers and focused on tucking his shirt in. Matthews fussed with his braces.
John made his way slowly down the steps. “Good morning, Mr. Lestrade. I take it there has been some progress in the case?”
“I’ll let your husband fill you in on the way to Bart’s. Sherlock will have need of your medical expertise, I imagine, with the sheer number of bodies turning up.”
Sherlock swatted Matthews away from his neck cloth and tied it haphazardly himself while entering the hall.
“I will need to examine every body personally, Lestrade.”
“Of course, Holmes. I’ll make sure they’re kept in state as much as possible. Gentlemen.” Lestrade ducked his head in adieu and flew out the door, his coat tails flapping behind.
Sherlock was all aflutter, with Matthews following in his wake trying to finish dressing him.
“I must fetch some of my surgical equipment from upstairs. No, no, Matthews, I’ll get them. It’ll take longer to explain what I want.” Sherlock lunged up half the staircase, but John shifted minutely to block his ascent further.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“Fine, fine! Move aside! There’s no time to waste. I’m sure evidence has been lost simply because I overslept.”
Sherlock moved to the side, but John caught his face with his hands. Sherlock was still two steps below John, putting John a head higher than him for once. Those hands touched his neck, his face, his forehead, stroked his cheek. For a brief second, Sherlock enjoyed the warmth and comfort of those tender hands before jerking out of John’s gaze and reach and retreating down one step.
“I’m fine, John! The drug has fully metabolized.” He wouldn’t look at John; his face flamed anyway.
“Very well, Sherlock. But if you feel the least bit odd or ill, tell me.” John didn’t quite look like he believed him, but he seemed satisfied enough with his brief examination.
“I will, John. Now let me pass. I’ve got to find the equipment I’ll need to bring along to Bart’s.”
John shifted aside to let Sherlock bound by.
“When you’re finished chasing after Sherlock, I’ll be needing a change of clothes as well, Matthews.”
Sherlock was heading back down the stairs before John had crested the first floor landing.
“I have no time for your leg this morning, John, so you’ll have to catch up.”
John’s voice was hollow as he responded, but Sherlock did not register the change as he pulled on his greatcoat at the foot of the stairs.
“Do you even wish for me to go to Bart’s?”
“I need an assistant, John, or I may well throttle Anderson by the end of the day!”
Sherlock was out the door before John could say another word, leaving him behind yet again.
When John arrived at the morgue at St. Bart’s hospital less than a half hour behind Sherlock, he was surprised by the crush of people in the morgue itself, in the hall, bustling back and forth outside. What he wasn’t surprised by was Sherlock’s bellow for every unnecessary personage to immediately exit the room so he could think.
John hated that this made him hesitate about going in. Yesterday, last night, had been a disaster. John had been able to put aside Sherlock’s blunt rejection of him due to medical necessity and common decency, but in the daylight, he felt awkward. Sherlock had made himself clear. And this morning on the stairs, Sherlock didn’t even want John touching him long enough to check his temperature, much less the bruising on his neck from being strangled.
John wasn’t sure quite what Sherlock wanted him to be. He seemed amiable enough to John’s company, had spent whole days taking him around Town. John would even go so far as to say that they seemed very well suited for each other. But Sherlock judged him wanting in some way, and that grieved John more than he wanted to admit.
Really, John, you’re too damn sensitive where Sherlock is concerned, he scolded himself. What happened to patience and learning where you two fit in each other’s lives? You haven’t even been married a week yet. He needed to try and be happy providing assistance and companionship if that was all Sherlock wanted. Just be near him, just care for him. Be his friend.
And maybe one day your heart will stop jumping at the sound of Sherlock’s voice or the sight of his lips.
John took a deep breath, straightened his back, and pushed against the tide of people exiting the morgue. Lestrade had said something about a quantity of bodies, and Sherlock had acquiesced that he would need an assistant. There was no time for this self-pity and wallowing. No time for longing and whinging.
John stood to one side of the door, watching for Sherlock’s head to bob above all the others. Once again, his voice made him known before the sight of him emerged.
He was in a proper flurry, in his element, dashing from slab to slab and several wheeled tables which had been commandeered to hold extra and various dismembered pieces of smaller dimension. The tails of his coat flared out behind him as he rushed about the room. His dark curls, not properly tamed before he left the house, were charmingly unruly from the rough night and the morning breeze.
“John, excellent, you’re finally here. Start a file for each body; interview the watchmen standing by each slab and take special note of where each body was found and in what position. Note the compass direction as well when you make a sketch.”
John hadn’t even realized Sherlock noticed him entering the room, but he shed his greatcoat and began his assigned task, relieved that Sherlock apparently welcomed his presence. He found sheets of paper and ink on the desk where he’d napped a few nights before their wedding. He progressed to the nearest slab, where the watchman present looked the youngest and most uneasy, and started his notes.
The man had simply been doing his rounds without any alert called or distress from the few people out in the wee hours.
“It were quiet, sir, like usual in the stillness of the morn. I almost wouldn’t have noticed the body except that it was set right in the glow of a gaslight.” He answered John’s questions succinctly, quite professional for one so youthful, but John noted he kept his eyes specifically on either John or the far wall and never on any of the bodies in the room. “On its… his back. South, mainly, towards the river. Well, the river bends, don’t it, so pointed towards the Thames, but not towards the nearest bank of it.”
John also took note of anything else that came to mind, including the man’s name and address, time on the job and whether this was his normal shift and beat. He took rudimentary notes on each body to connect it to the watchman and location, so even if the papers got confused later, they could be properly sorted. He moved on to the next watchman, and the next, and the room gradually began to clear.
The constant work cleared John’s mind, much like surgery after surgery often made him forget about the bloody battle raging less than a mile away.
Even as the number of people in the room dwindled, the room still seemed awfully crowded with even just the bodies present, not considering the morgue staff, himself, Sherlock, and Lestrade. Sherlock was moving from body to body, sometimes prodding lightly with gloved hands or moving the odd still-attached limb, still working through his cursory examinations. Lestrade was doing his best to coordinate everyone and kept running to the hallway and back, taking reports and talking quite seriously to the occasional government official.
“John, are you done yet?” came Sherlock’s imperious voice over the conversation with the last of the watchmen.
“Nearly. Just want to get this last sketch verified before I send Mr. Abbey on his way.”
“Well, hurry, then, and we’ll get started examining the bodies.”
John nodded, turning back to the watchman and his notes. He made a few changes to the position of the body in his sketch, propped up as it was against the receiving station near the Thames, then thanked the watchman for his time and dismissed him to speak to Lestrade on his way out.
“So, John, shall we go through the bodies chronologically as to when they were found, geographically north to south, or east to west, or just take the nearest slab and have a go?” Sherlock winked at John cheekily, any residual ill humour from the night before long faded. The gesture prompted John to smile in return.
“Oh, let’s go chronologically.” John shuffled the papers in his hands and led Sherlock to a particular slab. Sherlock brought along a lamp, though the sun still lit the room sufficiently. “Three-forty-five, Salisbury Square.”
“Not far from Blackfriar’s Bridge.” Sherlock hummed, glancing at the map Lestrade had tacked to the wall. The runner had marked the location of each body with a T-pin. Sherlock nodded sharply once he had apparently fixed in his memory the particular body with its mark on the map.
John hastened to show Sherlock the sketch he had drawn of the body’s position relative to nearby landmarks and compass directions. Sherlock scanned through the report and then began to examine the body itself.
Like the others that had been found that morning, the body was removed of both clothing and extremities. In most cases like this, if there had been any other cases like this, unless the victim had some particular scar or birthmark, the body would go unidentified.
“Seven distinct skin discolorations on the ribs, back and left thigh. One scar on right hip, barely visible, consistent with a fall as a child off a short wall or lower limb of a tree. No other wounds, no scarring from disease, slight excess weight carried mostly around the waist, firm musculature otherwise.” John took careful note of each observation. Sherlock bent close to examine a few tiny puncture marks along the neck tissue.
“Does the body smell unusual to either of you?” he asked, frowning.
Lestrade raised his eyebrow in a manner that said he was trying his best not to smell anything. But John leaned forward to take the barest whiff. Those unused to the smells in the morgue were typically relieved by camphor or other strong unguent rubbed beneath the nose, but none of the men, even those watchmen who were ill at ease, had requested such a thing. Wait, camphor…
“Sherlock, have you noticed that Anderson has not offered us any camphor for the smell?”
“It is unlikely that he’d offer to do so, John, as he resents my intrusion on a normal day, much less under such extraordinary circumstances. Besides, it is unnecessary.” Sherlock gave John a questioning look, as if the doctor was admitting he needed such a thing.
“With a roomful of bodies whose time of death has yet to be determined, though they were found hours ago, in places all around the city and some by the Thames? Even If they all died in the last twenty-four hours, which seems unlikely due to the extent of the pure butchery the bodies have undergone, there would be more than a faint chemical smell emanating from them.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, sniffed again, then resolutely and methodically sniffed each body in turn.
“Clever John,” muttered, his face closing down as he added the new information to all that which was swirling around in his brain. “I would be interested to know the formula used to so thoroughly embalm the victims.”
“Could be Ruysch’s liquor balsamicum preservative, or something similar,” John suggested.
“He took his formula to the grave eighty-four years ago, John, and his methods were not widely copied. And I’m not even certain that his results were quite so pristine,” Sherlock argued, but his tone and smile indicated he was surprised and more than pleased with his husband’s knowledge. John flushed and ducked his head. “We shall have to take further samples to see if we can isolate the preservative.”
“Is it similar to the scent of the man from the other night?”
Sherlock considered, sniffing again and rolling the scent around in his memory.
“There are a few notes of similarity, but I suspect this formula was created for a different intent. Still, such a master of mortuary chemistry! There is only the slimmest chance that the two formulas are unrelated.”
Sherlock bent over the body again, examining all the raw edges in detail. John scratched out notes as quickly as he could, trying to keep up with Sherlock’s quick and incessant deductions.
“This quality of preservation calls into question my deductions about the hands and feet we recovered. I had thought they had been removed close in time, but it now seems entirely possible that each victim could have been killed quite close to the date of abduction. Between the cool weather and this excellent preservative, these corpses could remain in state for weeks or perhaps months, if not longer.” Sherlock gestured for John to assist him and the two of them rolled the body on the slab to its side. “I also believe we can make a reasonable deduction of identity, at least of this particular body.”
“Really? That’s amazing!” John blurted out. Sherlock lifted his head for a mere moment. “Sorry, do go on.”
“It’s fine.” Sherlock shook himself and resumed. “I believe this man to be Liam O’Malley. Lestrade, you’ll have to check the files in your office; I believe I initially set this one aside as I did not believe any of the limbs we found belonged to him, but this scar is mentioned in the missing person’s report.”
Lestrade noted the name in a small notebook with a stub of pencil.
“Next!” Sherlock looked at John expectantly. John flipped through his papers and led Sherlock to a female body.
“Four twenty-five. Guilford Street near the Foundling Hospital. Shoulders oriented towards the north. This particular location is on regular patrol, so it’s certain that the body appeared within an hour of being found.”
“Were any of the other timeframes pinpointed so precisely?”
“No, this was the only one that was directly in the regular path of the watch. The ones not along the Thames were in trafficked areas. The body at the receiving station was the penultimate discovery; the man on duty heard nothing to signal its arrival and only happened upon it when he went out for a piss.”
“Probably slept through the night sound as a child rather than keeping watch. South end of the Waterloo Bridge?”
John confirmed this with a nod.
They continued this way through the morning and well past the noon hour, going through each of the bodies in turn. John continued to be astounded at Sherlock’s ability to connect the subtlest markings with the files he’d read in Lestrade’s office several days past. Lestrade had a great deal of work ahead of him, between informing the families and interviewing each again about the last days of their loved ones.
“It is unfortunate that the time of disposal cannot be properly pinpointed. However, we must expect a logical progression through the city. Lestrade, have your men keep their ears out for descriptions of a wagon or other conveyance travelling in an east-to-west manner between these points. That would be the most logical progression, given the discovery times and the methods of the watch.”
All three men knew that little would likely come of that. A wagon going through the streets of London, even in the middle of the night, would bring little attention to itself.
“What is unusual is why these victims were chosen,” Sherlock mused. “They were people that would be missed; in many cases, almost immediately. If one was looking for test subjects and did not want to be discovered, there are legions of beggars on the streets. Few would be missed, and those that were would have no family of means able to search for them.
“Also, the dumping of the bodies stretched over miles, all over Town, with no connection between them. Why not just dispose of them all at once? What is the pattern here, the meaning?”
“Were the bodies found near where they were taken, by any chance?”
“Hmm, no,” Sherlock answered after reorganizing the information in his head.
“Whoever it is clearly wants to be discovered, or is playing some kind of game of terror with the city. After today, there will be no keeping the news from the papers. Too many witnesses,” Lestrade sighed. He was not looking forward to the panic this case would bring by the evening editions.
“What? Be discovered and surely hanged for the crime?”
“Be legend. Prove his genius,” John said.
Lestrade snorted. “You know all about showing off, Sherlock. That motivation cannot come as a surprise.”
Sherlock gave Lestrade a most disgusted look, distracted from his glare only when John patted his arm.
“I think it’s time for a break, Sherlock. Man cannot live on crimes and puzzles alone.”
“Do not bastardize proverbs, John, to excuse your stomach.”
John did not take this personally; after all, his stomach had been distracting him an hour now. He smiled and patted Sherlock’s shoulder.
“Shall I bring something back for you?”
“I don’t eat when I’m working. But do take a break. Your leg must be paining you.”
“Some tea, at least, Sherlock.”
Sherlock hummed a non-response and moved to another slab. He carefully extracted a sample from the body and brought it to a microscope near the window.
John took the cold-shoulder with grace and left the room with Lestrade.
Lestrade nudged John in the hallway. “Well done in there, even if Himself won’t acknowledge it. But just so you know, I’ve never once known him to trust the questioning of witnesses to another person. Not even myself.”
John isn’t quite sure how to answer that at first. Had Sherlock paid him a veiled compliment in trusting him? “Perhaps he was just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to be collected that he was forced to delegate.”
“If you feel the need to believe that, Dr. Watson, go ahead. But I suspect something else entirely.”