Well, as we all know, for the first time since I started NaNoWriMo, I did not finish. Not even close. I didn’t even make it to 25,000 words by the end. Granted, I started quite late and had little to no dedication towards my daily writing goal even when I did start, but I feel a bit pleased with the story I’m telling anyway.
Okay, so I’m totally obsessed with Sherlock, and that was pretty much the only thing that kept me going at all. 🙂
I could whine for a few more paragraphs, but that’s tedious, so I’ll move it along. I have the next three chapters for today. I kept hoping to get to the wedding, but it keeps getting pushed back in favor of plot. So things are happening, but my Baker St home life scenes are getting further and further away, and they’re my favorite parts! 🙂 I’m hoping that the one day left between the scenes here and the wedding will pass in a flurry of exposition and soon we’ll have the ceremony and the celebration and… stuff 🙂
John followed Sherlock to a cab that he somehow managed to wave down even with an unpleasantly lumpy and stained burlap bag in his grasp. To his surprise, Lestrade hopped up inside with them.
“So, Captain Watson, how long have you been home from the war?” he asked genially as the cab sprang forth towards the hospital.
“Since summer,” John answered warily. “My leg was injured during Waterloo. I recuperated from fever at my brother’s home in Essex.”
“You must have fully recovered then, to chase around after this one.”
John wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.
“Much improved, thank you,” he managed.
“So how long have you known Holmes?”
John glanced at Sherlock, but he was staring out of the window, thoughts completely obliterating the conversation happening only a foot away from him.
“We met a couple of weeks ago. He and his brother visited me and mine at my brother’s estate.”
“Just about the time of the announcement in the papers then. Couldn’t see it being a love match, I suppose. Congratulations, at any rate.” Lestrade’s leaned back, pleased with John’s startled look.
“It doesn’t take a genius, Lestrade, to read a newspaper announcement.” Sherlock’s chill voice didn’t put a damper on Lestrade’s pleasure. “And Donovan would offer condolences, but the prat isn’t here.”
“Oh, so you knew.”
“Not for sure until you were introduced. Never thought Holmes would marry. Figured it must have been arranged when I saw the betrothal notice, or a grievous misprint.” The man laughed, but in a pleasant, amused way. “I never expected to actually meet you, and certainly not at a crime scene. Figured you’d two keep your paths as separate as possible. That he’d keep you at home like a little wife.”
“You’re not as dull as I often suspect, Lestrade.”
The man beamed at the offhanded praise from Sherlock Holmes.
“Except if you thought for a minute I’d simply obey Mycroft and be married without the spouse being in the least bit useful, you’re more cracked than Donovan’s left shoe.”
John hadn’t quite known Sherlock well enough to recognize the twisted, deformed nature of his praise, but Lestrade merely laughed again.
“A medical man, and a soldier. You’ve done quite well for yourself, Holmes.”
An hour later, John Watson found himself watching his fiancé examining a severed foot with a magnifying lens. Lestrade had hopped out of the hired coach when it neared Bow Street, exchanging promises to keep the other informed, leaving John and Sherlock to travel the rest of the way to the morgue in silence.
“John, take notes,” he had said. Not, please, John, it will go faster and more efficiently if you take notes. Still, John wrote down all the measurements and details Sherlock provided, rarely requiring him to repeat anything, and generally submitted in silence.
“Amazing,” he said once, unable to contain himself when Sherlock launched into the conclusion that none of these feet matched any of the hands. It was simple enough to deduce that, because they were all left feet, there were at least four victims, or at least dismembered corpses, but Sherlock’s tiny details provided very different pictures of the former owners than had been provided by the hands.
“See, John, look!” Sherlock raced around the morgue, shoving Anderson into the slab where he was working in a fume three times more often than necessary. “Honestly, Anderson, where did you put the jars?”
“Storage, you dolt, that cabinet there.” Anderson gestured with a wicked filleting knife. “Now get away from me.”
Sherlock opened each jar and carefully removed the pickled remains, laying each on a cloth John later realized was Anderson’s coat (due to venomous swearing that went unheard by a flurried Sherlock).
“The feet are all male. Two of the hands belonged to women, so that leaves us three. Dock worker, marine, very common jobs. After years on their feet, there are all sorts of likely callouses, marks from rubbing shoes, probably broken toes from heavy boxes being dropped, et cetera. Salt water, very drying, damp, causing rubs and rashes. Also, with the weight of muscle and the added weight of cargo, the bones in the feet would have spread, widened. See how narrow each foot is, how clean and healthy, skin unbroken? Plenty of time on horseback, chair, in well-fitted shoes or boots.”
“Third hand, chef. Obvious from the burn scars and shallow knife cuts. Much older than the others, though not yet wizened.” John noticed the scars and cuts, imagined using a knife to cut vegetables and a few small scars were right where he could see the knife slipping. The scars were faded, almost invisible except for how they sometimes interrupted the flow of the whorls on the fingertips or oddly puckered the skin. Very old scars, then, from when the man was learning his trade, developing his skills with a knife.
“Fascinating.” John picked up Sherlock’s lens and peered through it at the fingertips.
A few moments later, he noticed Sherlock had stopped talking and was looking at him quite oddly.
“Er, sorry.” He offered the glass back to Sherlock.
“No, it’s… fine.” Sherlock swept away and back, dramatically pacing in a small three step area. “What else do you see?”
John peered through the glass. He remembered his questioning the sketches Sherlock had sent him and began to examine the stump end.
“There is more skin than you would typically leave on the amputated limb. See, here.” John used a couple of instruments to fold down some of the skin around the wrist. It didn’t cover the whole of the rawness, but perhaps that was a result of the preservation methods. “Usually you would leave that on the stump end, to help cover the wound.”
“Hmm.” Suddenly Sherlock was leaning quite closely over John’s shoulder. The man radiated heat, but John shivered a little. “Anything else?”
“Amputation isn’t always done at a joint, depending on the need. Sometimes you just have to saw through the bone, trying to save enough of a limb to save a joint like the knee. Makes it easier to attach a false limb and save some of the patient’s mobility.
“These appear to be very methodically removed at the joint. Disassembled, much like a piece of meat. You may remove some of the cartilage or tendon to make it easier, but then you just twist until the joint pops.”
“Difficult to do were the patient alive, John?”
“It would be blatant torture.” John didn’t even want to think about that. It was bad enough to remember the screams, the all-encompassing horror of the surgery tent, all the blood and pain and torment he’d seen, become acclimatized to on the continent; but to think of someone here, in London, doing this for some sort of sick game made him dizzy.
“Can you tell if the limbs were removed post or ante mortem?”
“Not for certain, no, but the neatness of the cuts would suggest postmortem. At the very least, the victim would have had to be complete immobile or unconscious.”
“Hmm.” Sherlock resumed his narrow pacing.
After a while, Sherlock bellowed, “Anderson, clean up! We’re going!”
John’s head rose from his arms where he’d been dozing awkwardly on the desk in the corner.
“Anderson went home hours ago, Sherlock.”
“Oh.” Sherlock glanced around him, noticing for the first time the low level of oil in the lamps and the pale grey creeping into the sky beyond the east-facing window. “Then Anderson will be back shortly; he can clean up then. Let’s go.”
John struggled to stand. Sleeping hunched over in a hard wooden chair hadn’t done him any good and now his back ached in addition to his stiff leg. At least he hadn’t had any nightmares or leg cramps; he supposed he hadn’t gotten enough proper sleep for his body to bother.
“Where are we going?”
Sherlock paused. “I suppose I can’t very well take you back to Baker Street until we’re married, so Mycroft’s, I expect. He’ll have my head if I don’t present you for your fittings this afternoon.”
“I have fittings?”
“For your wedding suit, John, yes. Besides, there isn’t much else we can do right now. We’ve examined both the hands and feet, and I’ll send along the descriptions of the new victims to Lestrade. He may need a couple of days to have his men go through the missing persons files at Bow Street. At any rate, he won’t be there until at least nine to bother him about his lack of progress.”
John blinked wearily. For someone who clearly hadn’t slept, Sherlock was amazingly alert and spoke almost faster than John could comprehend. He leaned heavily on his cane and followed Sherlock out onto the street, where he immediately hailed a passing hack.
“I would have thought it would be impossible to find a cab at this time of day.” London never truly slept, but surely the hour before dawn would be the closest it would come. Cool grey fog lined the streets, mixed with coal smoke from thousands of homes. Most people wouldn’t be awake yet and even the night watch might be settling their heads against a convenient wall for a rest.
Sherlock didn’t answer and John dozed off again in minutes, head bouncing against the worn padded seat-back.
He woke to Sherlock instructing the cabbie to wait.
“Go inside, John, and get some rest.” He hopped out of the cab and gave John a hand down. John might have protested the gentle treatment if he was more sure that his bad leg wouldn’t turn to jelly at any moment. He was already dreading the long staircase up to his rooms in the Sherrinford household.
“You’re not staying?”
“I’ll not stay another night in my brother’s house if I can help it.” Sherlock dashed up the stairs ahead of John and let the knocker fall twice. One of the rather anonymous footmen answered it almost immediately. “Good night, John.”
“Good night, Sherlock.” John’s eyes followed Sherlock as he bounced back into the hack and set off.
“Holmes, you can’t just break into my office whenever you have a theory.”
Lestrade was neither surprised nor angry to find Sherlock Holmes sitting at his desk with stacks of papers in front of him. It didn’t pay to be either.
“You mean to say I shouldn’t, Lestrade. Obviously, I most certainly can.”
“Have you at least found anything?” Lestrade removed his hat and coat, hung them on their hook by the door, and eyed Sherlock’s unlikely “organizational method.” Not only had papers found their way into a multitude of stacks on the desk, but there were now nine haphazard piles on the floor as well.
“There are at least two possibilities for each extremity, though I have categorized them in order of likelihood due to the date they were last seen and the relative lack of decomposition of the feet. With the hands I could not be sure they had not been preserved since I did not have the chance to examine them immediately.” His attitude was sharp, but Lestrade ignored it. “With the feet, there was no lingering preservative odour; they smelled of the burlap, the Thames mud, and only faintly of rot.”
“So they couldn’t have been sitting around too long. But they could have been taken months ago, held captive, and then murdered all at once.”
“All at once! Exactly! The similar state of early decomposition shows that the feet were likely removed within hours of each other.”
“Jesus, Holmes.” Lestrade didn’t like this investigation one bit. “You’re not going to let me hold on to my cadavers-from-the-university idea for even the rest of the morning, are you?”
“Why would I let you labor under that misapprehension one moment longer?”
“Because it’s much less grim, Holmes.”
“The post, sir.” One of the young lads hired for general errands around the building knocked once lightly and held out a stack of mail.
Sherlock jumped up and grabbed the letters from the boy, turning his back to Lestrade in an effort to hoard them, and flung them aside one by one as he examined their direction.
“Holmes, honestly.” Lestrade waited until Sherlock had finished flinging papers before bending to gather them back up. He didn’t notice until he stood again that Sherlock was staring quite thoroughly at one carefully folded and sealed note.
“Boy, come here immediately!” Sherlock shouted into the hallway. His tone was so forceful that three young men flew to stand before him. Sherlock proffered the letter at the middle one. “Where did you get this?”
“Downstairs, sir, at the desk. Mr. Hampton always takes in the post and sorts it out.”
“And you never set it down from Mr. Hampton’s hands to mine?”
“No, sir, never,” he gasped.
“No one else gave you anything extra to slip this in the pile.”
Sherlock barely waited to hear the answer before dashing down the nearest stairs and confronting the unfortunate Mr. Hampton.
“How did this come into the building, Mr. Hampton?” Sherlock demanded in a most hostile tone.
“I beg your pardon?” Hampton stuttered. He was not overly familiar with Sherlock Holmes. He’d heard stories, of course. Sherlock was simultaneously admired and reviled through the magistrate’s court. He hadn’t had cause, as a mere clerk, to really work with the man himself. All he really could do was stay out of Sherlock’s way when he was on a mission to see Lestrade and allow some of the other officers complain in his presence with a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
But to be confronted with the man’s wrath a mere two inches from his face was quite the shock.
Lestrade quickly intervened, tugged Sherlock back.
“This letter, Hampton. How did it come into the building and how did it come to be sent to my office?”
Hampton ducked around to peer at the letter in Sherlock’s hand, responding nervously even to Lestrade’s even voice.
“Was in with the regular post,” he said quickly. “I sent it up to your office just like the last because everyone knows he only works with you.”
Sherlock examined Hampton with an intense glare.
“No special messenger arrived with it, then?”
“No, sir. I’m certain of it.” It may have been on the tip of Hampton’s tongue to ask what the letter was, why its origin was so important, but he wouldn’t dare speak out of turn.
“Thank you, Hampton.” Lestrade nodded to the man after Sherlock had turned and started back up the staircase again. “If any other messages for Holmes arrive, notify me immediately. If they come special delivery, delay the courier.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”
John barely managed to be roused for his fittings that afternoon. Despite how tired he’d been, he laid awake once in bed for a long time. Funny how that night he could sleep anywhere but in a comfortable bed. He allowed himself to be poked, moved, dressed and undressed and accidentally stuck with pins without complaint. He wouldn’t look in the mirror or give an opinion on the clothes, which annoyed his high-strung tailor to no end.
When finally his idea of torture was concluded, John dressed and went downstairs. He ended up in the library, learning from one of the many footmen that no one else was at home. Lord Sherrinford was away for the day as usual and Harry had apparently found somewhere else to be as well. John wondered idly if he’d gone to beg of Clara’s parents again. Certainly his situation was quite immediately about to improve. John’s wedding was in two days.
John left his book; he couldn’t concentrate anyway. The library had an impressive collection of medical texts, books on plants and the sciences. Normally John would have been utterly lusting after those tomes, breath-taken and overwhelmed with the need to open each one and luxuriate inside. Today he felt like a bit of flotsam in the surf, buffeted around the huge empty house with no real direction or purpose. The long, empty hallways, dark from closed doors and lack of life, stretched on forever and twisted into nothingness.
John growled and pushed to his feet. The servants didn’t seem at all surprised when he called for his coat and said he was going for a walk.
London at least had more life to it, especially once he’d gone further than the posh streets of Mayfair where a few ladies he’d tipped his hat to barely acknowledged his gesture once they’d seen a loose thread on his coat or the battered cane in his hand. He wondered idly where Baker or Bow Streets were in relation to him now, at which he might find Sherlock, and whether the few pence in his pocket would get him anywhere at all.
A bit of conversation with a grocer’s boy let him know that the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court wasn’t too terribly far so John decided to walk. The exercise would do his leg good, after all, and the day was somewhat pleasant. Hopefully his spare change would get him a good way towards the Sherrinford house if he didn’t find Sherlock.
By the time he’d found the Bow Street offices, John was tired. Still, he asked after Lestrade and was taken straight to a small room cluttered with papers, a disgruntled Lestrade, and Sherlock.
“John! You’re finally here!”
“Finally? I wasn’t aware you were expecting me.”
Lestrade very kindly gestured to a comfortable leather chair wedged in the corner and sent a young lad loitering in the hall for some tea.
“Where else would you be? Mycroft spends his days running England from his club and you aren’t speaking to your brother.”
“Just so. Have you been here all day?”
Lestrade snorted. “Had sorted through a stack of missing persons before I even made it in this morning.”
“Sherlock, haven’t you slept at all?”
“Sleep is a waste of time!”
“Nonsense, Sherlock. We can only function at our peak with proper amounts of rest.”
“Maybe the rest of the mundane population, John, but I simply don’t need it. Look at how much I’ve accomplished while you spent your day sleeping.”
“You’ve accomplished making quite a mess, Sherlock,” John retorted with a half-smile. “And I’ll have you know that I also had hours of bloody fittings this afternoon, and I walked here from your brother’s house.”
Sherlock gave a miniscule, “Hmph,” in return and continued peering at the two pieces of paper spread flat on Lestrade’s desk. A moment later, he jumped up and held each sheet against the window to observe the watermark.
“What are you looking at?”
When Sherlock didn’t answer, Lestrade did. He handed John a cup of tea as he did so.
“Two letters were addressed to Sherlock, in care of Bow Street, mentioning the hands and now the feet.”
“Letters?” John knew his voice sounded a bit weak, so he cleared his throat as if he felt a little froggy. “What do they say?”
“Here,” Sherlock strode around the desk and handed John the papers. “Do have a look and tell me what you think.”
John took the first and examined the two short lines on the page.
Five little hands, waving hello.
Do they tell you what you want to know?
“When did you get this?”
“Shortly after we found the hands.”
“Was this letter why you left Essex in such a rush?”
Sherlock confirmed this with a nod. “If I had been told about the hands in the first place, I never would have left London.” He was clearly still a bit bitter about his brother’s intervention.
The second letter was also a mere two lines, written in the same careful, perfect script.
Care to waltz? Shall we meet?
My tribute to you: four left feet.
“It’s going to be a rather clumsy dance; all left feet, yah?”
“John, this is hardly the time for levity,” Sherlock scolded, but the corners of his eyes were lifted, like he was schooling his mouth very carefully not to smile. “Now, tell me, what do you see?”
“I see a madman leading you on a merry dance.”
“John, at least try.”
John sighed and looked again at the letters.
“Waltz leads with the left foot. He offered you his hand, he’s leading in the dance.”
“Hmm, go on, get to something useful.”
“Well, the waltz is a rather intimate dance, Sherlock.”
“Don’t you know it?”
“Not important.” Sherlock paused a moment. “What if it is? Show me.” Sherlock stood from where he’d leaned against the edge of Lestrade’s desk.
“Show you?” John glanced at Lestrade and the man shrugged, moving into the doorway so he was out of the way. Papers still littered the open floor space, but there would be room enough for a simple demonstration.
“Yes, John. It may be vitally important!”
John sighed and pushed himself out of the chair. He removed his greatcoat and laid it across his seat.
“I expect I’ll be total rubbish, what with my leg and all.”
“We don’t need to careen across a ballroom. Just show me the steps.”
“Very well. The most popular, the French waltz, begins with a promenade, like so.” John stood next to Sherlock, hip-to-hip, facing the opposite direction, and put his arm across Sherlock’s waist. He pulled Sherlock’s right arm across his in return. “Sometimes, the posture is different.” John shifted so that he faced Sherlock, arm one arm still around his back, their free arms joined at the hand. He guided Sherlock into position, tucked in very close to him.
John made the mistake of demonstrating the eye contact common in the dance. He forgot that he’d been about to mention the difference between the French waltz and the German waltz, and which steps and positions were common to each. His mind went blank except for the tall, striking man in his arms.
Sherlock pulled back to see what John’s feet were doing. They were still.
“Aside from the close positioning, this doesn’t seem like a very scandalous dance,” Sherlock stated.
“That’s because you’re not dancing with a woman,” Lestrade offered. “A vigorous dance leads to a heaving bosom.”
John flushed and pulled away.
“Is that all?” Sherlock asked.
“No, no,” he coughed falsely, trying to gather time and his mind together. “There are usually two other parts before the final pirouette. They would step like so.”
John demonstrated, Sherlock’s attention now on his feet. He was not fluent with the steps any longer, but he managed to go through the proper movements. “The dance would progress to faster movements in the third part of the dance, moving in a circle.”
“How do you know all that?” Lestrade asked. John’s blush deepened with the knowledge that both men were watching him quite markedly.
“Officers were expected to be sociable.”
“I don’t believe the specifics of the dance will be of any use,” Sherlock said suddenly, returning to the chair he’d commandeered behind Lestrade’s desk. He set his elbows upon his knees and steepled his fingers in front of his lips.
Gratefully, John sank back into the chair in the corner.
Sherlock began to list, in his fashion, everything he knew about the waltz. Whether he was mumbling to himself or expected John and Lestrade to take note was unclear.
“So I take it there will be no waltzing at your wedding? Pity, that.”
Both Sherlock and John shot Lestrade with a glare.