Steady as he goes
"This way please, Miss." The middle-aged gentleman escorted her through the doors, and she'd already had enough of him since he'd barged into her office earlier in the day, talking all rules and regulations about how to proceed with one of their dead girls from the club. With what bizarre things had been reported recently, it didn't come as a surprise to her. The nasty details of the last few weeks' grisly murders had been available on every paper, internet column and news channel that was accessible to public eye. A dirty business. All the victims were working girls, or at least the unsavory type who chose to make a living out of selling sin. The third target was one of theirs, and she hadn't the decency to even appear shocked. Poor, unfortunate Taylor. She'd been one of the nicer ones too.
The DI kept tossing her a look, the kind that said he expected her to transform into a wailing mess any minute now. Not gonna happen. It probably had something to do with the twitchy vibe she was throwing off. She was quite a sight for the man no doubt, unexpected in his adapted territory, whatever that was. She didn't focus on that though, because she was being blinded. The florescent lights on the white tiled ceiling seemed endless, leading her down a tunnel to a predestined location. God she hated hospitals, or more to the point, the morgue. Why the hell did they have to use that obnoxious scent of cleaner on the floors? The acid lemon was burning her eyes, and creeping into her nose like an uppercut to her senses. She pulled at her hideous fleece jumper (the last thing she had grabbed off of her chair before leaving) hiking it up over her mouth and nose to spare her from the stench. Now she was breathing in the fabric softener she had picked up last week on bargain at Tesco, and with the combined smell of the putrid lemon, she came close to choking. Goddamn hospitals. She tried to actively avoid them, but no one else had been present at work so early in the day to identify the body.
"Are you alright?" A warm hand landed on her shoulder, and she nearly pulled a snarl. The DI—Lestrade she remembered his name to be—wasn't able to make out her put-off look only because she was still shielding half of her face with her ridiculous jumper.
"Fine." She offered curtly before shaking him off. Even if she hadn't responded to being 'fine', why did people have to get handsy? She liked her comfort in the form of a distant head nod, reassuring and to the point.
She waited for him to go in through the double doors. No reason to delay it anymore, and besides, she had to get back in an hour before opening, or the whole club would fall apart without her. Lucky for her, good man Lestrade didn't seem to be patient with her any longer as he pushed through the barricade, barely holding the door opened for her to slip through before relinquishing his hold on the handle. Well fuck you very much sir.
She contained her hesitation as soon as her feet landed inside the vicinity of the morgue. Here came the part she hated. Just being inside of that place, the walls were already closing in, while her legs were doing that thing where they jiggled and bent like grass blades, just waiting for her arse to hit the nice linoleum. She wasn't going to do that though, not with four other people in the room. Well three. Poor Taylor didn't count.
By her own force she made it over to the slab of metal, acting as a bed for the unfortunate woman in a body bag. It would be the last resting place she'd see before a cheap coffin in a grave. The girl didn't have family, at least none that kept tabs on her, so who else was going to look after her? Putting that morose thought aside, she landed stuck between the DI and the other woman officer who looked like a bit uppity, walking around with a stick up her you-know-what while smelling like a man's deodorant like no one's business. She was offering up some sympathetic looks to her for the dead girl before them, but they went unheeded. The tiny Pathologist got down to unzipping the bag from an ordered whisper from Lestrade. The name sounded like Molly, and was confirmed by the name tag on her sanitary white jacket.
After the final tooth on the zipper had been unlocked, the bag was pulled back to the cadaver's chest. Poor Taylor. There was no mistaking her for anyone else. Blue didn't look good on her, but it was where her complexion was set. Darker bands of black and purple were worn around her neck like a choker, and there was a registered look of surprise on her twisted, little face as lidless as it was. Two hollowed out caves were in her skull where eyeballs should have been, a pair of dazzling blues like the Adriatic that made men squirm in delight. Out of decency, the doctor had taken care to put sterile gauze over the exposed sockets, but she could venture a guess on what it looked like underneath there. The papers were vague on details to keep decent for the public, but Taylor had joined the growing list of victims to this new brand of serial killer. There was a maniac out there, looking for women's blood along with ripping out their eyes for sport. Lovely.
Getting back to her observing, she noted the condition of Taylor's most prized possession. Her wavy, auburn hair was all over the place, ruined from a night of primping before work. It wasn't actually maintained in the greatest way of course. The colour came from a box, and a thick strip of dark roots was already showing after neglect. She used too much hairspray and not enough conditioner. It had been coifed in the familiar way with too much backcombing for big volume, sacrificing the silky feel for dry dead ends. Hideously scandalous, another thing that drove men mad.
"That's her." She said, her voice raspy. She hated when it did that because it bought her more concerned glances from the three people standing around her and the corpse of her employee.
"Would you like a moment alone with her?" It was the petite doctor who asked her. The juxtaposition between her and her job, was comical. She was pretty, maintained clean and proper unlike the girls at the club, though there was a skittish quality to her beneath that lab coat that suggested she did better around corpses than real people and thus was her reason for being there. To each his own.
"No…I mean I just…no thank you." Great, she was sputtering now. She needed out of this place, "Can I go now?" She turned back to Lestrade.
He didn't contain his shock very well, not when his eyebrows reached staggering heights on his forehead, almost completely touching his nutmeg colored hairline. It was greying, likely a potent combination from stress of his job and home life. He was a decent enough fellow though, so who was she to judge? "Yes, I suppose we don't need you for anything else here tonight. We will be in touch however."
Just as quick as he was to pass off his number, instinctively she reached into the back pocket of her black jeans, producing a small slip of a business card with her name and number for work, "Call when you have something."
He barely caught the card in his hand before she was retracting her own, swiftly turning to get to the door. They were probably watching and judging her odd behavior, but she didn't care. Let them watch. Hitting the door with the heel of her hand, she busted through them and was out in the hallway again. Her pace had quickened into a short jog, and more than one of the officers from Scotland Yard were watching her with bemusement and humor. They didn't dare laugh in a hospital, not before the doors of a morgue where the new victim laid along with the other toe-tagged stiffs. It didn't mean they fought the small grins at her behavior, running down the corridor like a lunatic, but dammit, she needed air. The cold, musty kind that only London could provide for her lungs.
She had memorized her way back out of that maze, feeling liberated as the automatic doors pulled apart, letting her slip out into the evening streets. She had been transported over there by police car, so it looked like she'd be hailing a cab back to work. The evening colours were already beginning in the sky as she walked along the pavement of St. Bart's. Work wasn't an inconveniently long distance from here, but her ability to catch the attention of a cab was less than stellar. Three passed by her before one finally pulled to a stop at the curb.
"Thank you." She uttered, her mood soured by the evenings events.
'No one better be a thick-head tonight at work', she thought wryly, 'I'm in a mood.'
After she directed the cabbie where to go, she did her best to relax. The seats were stiff and smelt of mildew and smoke, so it wasn't like being charioted away in a limousine, but she could deal with it. She pulled her mobile out from her fleece, checking over messages and her schedule. Same old, same old. People from work texting her, missed phone call from her boss, and work was bound to be the same, except that she had a real crummy night ahead of her when she'd have to explain that one of their girls had been murdered. Everything else that came with it was business as usual at a nightclub; life in the fast lane.
It was times like these she favored the backseat of the cab because she didn't have to drive or talk. Absentmindedly she watched the driver. A frail specimen, appearing older than he probably was thanks to a receding hairline and a saggy face drawn in from his mouth. She played around with the idea that he resembled a Basset hound, with droopy features around his eyes, and jowls around is mouth. She didn't take the cabs too often, but when she did, it felt good to be out mixing in the public. She actually preferred a ride on a red double-decker over a cab, but tonight she didn't have time to wait. Not that she did a lot of mixing with crowds; she was usually just background noise.
She brushed away an imaginary thread from her dark jeans, her booted foot tapping idly as she started to recognize the buildings they drove past through the window. Her place of work resided up ahead as she read over the familiar title of the club. She paid the cabbie her fare with a polite word before stepping out into the late autumn air. It smelt like rising yeast and cinnamon because of the bakers just a short walk down the lane. Cute place, she sometimes stopped in for a roll or tart when her sweet tooth was giving her a hard time. Her mind became filled with other things though as she passed through the threshold of the door to her work. The liquor was strong tonight, promising for a packed house. She waved a short hello to a co-worker setting up for the night, waiting for their chav clientele to arrive just to become completely legless over a night of drinking. She went back to her office, shrugging out of her jumper as she collapsed in her chair behind the desk. Despite the fact that she was in a lousy mood, she was home.
John stared down at his penny loafers somewhat despairingly. Lord, is this all he could afford to buy these days? What had he been thinking? The clerk had been so sure they were suited to him. She had been all dazzling smiles and flirtatious eyes around him and that's how it had happened. Bloody woman had gotten her sale and he got landed with a cheap brown pair of things that could go on his feet with no promise of a date.
Maybe it wasn't only the shoes bothering him. No, in fact he was certain it wasn't. His one obnoxious, ignorant, insufferable problem was seated directly beside him in the moving cab. Two years. Sherlock had popped back out of the blue, back to 221B Baker Street and back into his uninspiring life. Never mind the fact that he was convinced his mate had fallen to his death from the roof of the hospital they were now traveling to. John had stuck himself back into therapy for that, not to mention Sherlock had eavesdropped on his goodbye at the gravesite after the funeral. He had yet to apologize for that. It was hopeless to wait, but a small part of him was naïvely anticipating an 'I'm sorry' from his consulting detective. He suspected Sherlock knew this too. How could he not, he only saw everything and then some with just one glance at a person.
Things had, for the most part, carried on in the last two months like nothing had changed. Except everything had, at least for John's part of it. At first at the start of his return, Sherlock had tried to force himself into polite gestures that John assumed was his attempt at apology. He'd attempted to keep the odds thing he brought home for the fridge down to a minimum and he'd even stolen his laptop less than usual. Sherlock was a creature of habit though, and any polite traits he'd tried to impose for John's sake had quickly vanished in the span of a week. Baker Street fell back into its mess caused by his eccentric flatmate, Mrs. Hudson continued to stress she was their landlady and not their housekeeper, and John remained observantly quiet. If he saw half as much as Sherlock, maybe he'd have more progress. Too bad the world only had room for one consulting detective.
The cases had continued, and John hadn't even needed persuading to join in again. He despised that part of him for being so weak, allowing for Sherlock to walk over him, but the thrill was just another part he had missed along with the man himself. Sure, he'd thrown a punch and had given him a fat lip to deal with for the first few days upon his return, but that reaction was expected. Sherlock hadn't even complained or threw up a fuss about it. How could he have not missed this life? It promised only hurt with zero chance of stability, but when he had thought Sherlock for dead for two years, he hadn't moved on. So here they were, in the back of a cab with the only noise being made was the boot of the car rattling when they'd hit an odd end of street. John released a sigh as he once again caught a glance at his shoes from the light of a passing street lamp. What a sorry state of dress he was in, but one word from Sherlock about Lestrade and case, and he was sprinting after him through the door without much care to his appearance.
"Honestly John, the whole of Scotland Yard doesn't care how you are dressed. I should hope you will cease with that noise at the morgue."
And, there it was. Having a bad day, you could always count on Sherlock with a rude word of reassurance, "Maybe if I had been given a minute of time, I would have picked something other than these… these things!" He kicked his short legs up and pointed at his shoes with having lack of a better word to describe the things on his feet.
"Then take them off." Was Sherlock's simple reply.
"What, and walk around in my argyles?" He exclaimed.
"John, you're being dull again."
The stopping of the cab signaled the end of their conversation, and John hadn't even gotten the last word in, like always. Sherlock was already hitting the pavement, leaving John to pay the fare. It was amazing how these annoying habits had returned so swiftly, but he merely grumbled under his breath while throwing some money to the cabbie before venturing out after his friend. The night was cold and he pulled his coat just a little tighter around his neck as his short strides strove to catch up to Sherlock's longer gait. John faltered a bit, like he always did recently when his eyes would accidentally trail up to the roof of the building. Nasty reminders of things he'd rather forget. It always managed to take his breath away, and that same hopeless feeling would squeeze at his heart. Sherlock was alive and well though, but that didn't mean the last two years hadn't happened for John, and they served as reminder of what would happen if Sherlock truly did die. No one could fake their own death twice, and that thought lingered as he entered St. Bart's.
It was a steady night, the hallway lined with officers from the Yard. Most recognized him at this point, which meant they didn't want to associate with him having been known to be the partner of the consulting detective nearly everyone detested. John thought bitterly that maybe if they were better at their jobs, they wouldn't see Sherlock as the 'Freak'. What an awful thing to be called, yet Sherlock never seemed to pay any heed to such remarks. John knew he heard them though, but he never made any indication about how he felt about the name-calling. To her credit, Sally Donavan had refrained from doing so as often since Sherlock's awakening from the grave. Maybe she understood the value of him a bit better now, or maybe John was just optimistic for his friend's sake.
He finally arrived at the doors of the morgue, Sherlock and the others already inside as he pushed through the entrance. Another familiar sight. Lestrade and Molly hovering while Sherlock took care of examining the body, all three wearing latex gloves. He didn't have to look up from his work to know John was the present company, and he spoke to him without ever turning his direction, "What kept you?"
"I—" John grasped for an explanation when he realized he had none.
"Don't be slow John, get over here, I could use your opinion."
Unlikely, as he always had everything deduced before John could even speak, but he obliged anyway. Lestrade gave him a brief nod while Molly smiled shyly and handed him his own pair of gloves to don. For the first few weeks John had felt some bitter resentment towards the pathologist. Sherlock had trusted her with his secret for two years while he had been left to mourn. It hadn't seemed fair. He half expected Molly to have told him at some point, and he also was jealous of her for having never learned the loss he had experienced. The feeling had faded now as he understood Molly fell into a different branch of friend for Sherlock. She was important in a quiet way, one that Moriarty hadn't seen and thus left her unthreatened. That probably hurt her in some way, and her relationship with Sherlock hadn't shifted any either from what John had played witness to.
He joined the rest of the party around the metal table, sucking in a harsh breath as he noticed the state of the corpse. Another young woman, taken from life rather cruelly. It was only the third murder, but something had been done in the same fashion as the other two and that was enough to confirm a serial killer, prompting Sherlock's excitement to agree to investigate. It was a level seven he had said, which John didn't understand, but he'd given up on that rating system a long time ago. He could only see the bandage over her eye sockets and the strangulation marks over her neck, and he wondered what else Sherlock was able to pull from that. A great deal it always seemed, "Horrible." He uttered with a head-shake.
"Yes, tragic." Sherlock reiterated, though he didn't sound the least bit sincere, "But what else?"
John hated being asked that question. Sherlock already knew all the answers, so why continue to make the rest of them feel stupid when he could easily explain everything? "It's the same as the other two girls that were found. Their eyes have been taken."
"They weren't murdered under the same context. She was asphyxiated. Large handprints, obviously male. There are no signs that she struggled and fought back, so she was already unconscious when he decided to kill her. She was put under from a chemical substance most likely, as she has no injuries suggesting to a physical blow to the head. And as John's observation skills pointed out so saliently, like the other two girls, both eyes have been forcibly taken post-mortem."
"The first two girls received stab wounds." Lestrade said with question in his voice, "It could be two different killers."
"Don't be stupid." Sherlock said, slightly disgusted at the suggestion. It wasn't as if things had been left any easier for Lestrade. He'd gone through a hard time at work because of his connection with Sherlock, even losing his position as DI for a while until the Yard thought it was right to promote him once again. John knew Sherlock didn't take these things into consideration when he spoke like that, but Lestrade was another one to have grown a thick skin around Sherlock's discourteous comments.
"Everything he has done is deliberate." Sherlock continued with underlying annoyance in his voice, "His pattern is taking a token, their eyes, but to what purpose does he need them for?" They cleared room as he started to pace, his mind falling into deep thought, all synapses firing while listing off possibilities quicker than John could blink. What it was to be Sherlock Holmes.
"There was no record of a mother, but we've been trying to track down her father. His last known living address was listed in Liverpool." Lestrade remarked.
It didn't appear as though Sherlock was listening, or the bit of information Lestrade had given was of no interest because he had already figured that much out. Something else was able to draw his attention back to the present, and of course it was Anderson bumbling through the door with Donavan in tow. They didn't get very far before Sherlock noticed them with an agitated expression, "No! My concentration suffers greatly if your face is present." He pointed directly at the man with the incredulous look on his face.
Anderson looked ready to argue, but Lestrade waved him off, signally for Sally to take him out of the room so they could finish up without hassle, and maybe a little more respect from Sherlock. Doubtful, but the two headed back out, sharing little mutterings about the consulting detective no doubt. John frowned again as he pondered over something, turning to the Detective Inspector curiously, "Who identified the body then if not a relative? A boyfriend?"
Lestrade answered negatively with a head shake, "Someone from her work left their card. It might be a good lead."
He handed the slip of paper over to John, who read over the simple print. All it gave was a name, a location and the place of business with a listed number. "Vicarious" was the place, and under it in smaller print read Avery Nash. "A night club?" John remarked, familiar with the name, though had never been.
The card was swiped from his hand viciously as Sherlock looked over it, "Look at her hair John, she didn't work for Solicitors as a secretary."
John felt his eyes drift back to the dead girls' hair, and immediately felt shameful for doing so. So maybe she wasn't high class, but it did no good to insult the dead, not when her corpse was but a foot away, "Are we leaving then?" He asked Sherlock impatiently, growing uncomfortable as their time progressed in the morgue.
"In a minute." Sherlock brushed him off.
"What is Avery Nash's job?" John asked Lestrade.
"I believe head of security for Vicarious. Bit of a dodgy place, I was thinking of looking into it further, but if you two want to be the first to go before my people contaminate it, then be my guest." There was some contempt in the way he said contaminate, mostly likely due to the fact that Sherlock referred to it as that one too many times.
"We are going." Sherlock finally decided snapping off his gloves, and John could only wonder what had convinced him.
Molly made haste to zip the bag closed on the body, her actions jerky as she looked rushed to speak, "I might not be able to get any eyes to you to experiment on, seeing as there's a shortage now." She laughed slightly at her little funny, but everyone else seemed to take note on how dark of humor it was. John winced while Lestrade looked to the floor with his face contorted into a grimace, "Oh, I'm sorry!" She squeaked.
"Molly, this is no time for jokes, especially lousy ones you so wastefully have to apologize for." Sherlock told her sternly without an ounce of hesitation. He was floating towards the door again, his coat billowing behind him as he called over his shoulder, "I expect to have the toxicology report when it is finished, and I will need to see the personal effects she was found in. Come John, no time to dilly-dally."
John huffed as Sherlock already disappeared from the morgue. Lestrade gave him a small smirk as he caught the peeved look on his face, "Remember, we're glad to have him back."
"I'm trying." But even as he said this in a grudging tone, his feet were already following after in Sherlock's direction. His heart was pumping wildly, wistful for the adventure that he desperately craved with Sherlock.
It took him no time to leave St. Bart's, his friend already down at the pavement as the breeze tousled with the unruly patch of dark hair atop his head. He still wore the same brand of coat, the same blue scarf and the same expression on his face that John was always so used to seeing. It was a welcomed sight as he joined at Sherlock's side. Like magic, he was able to hail a cab without hassle and he threw opened the door boisterously, jumping in as John followed in after. Sherlock read the directions to the club off the card, the cabbie looking through his mirror back at them with a quizzical expression, "Vicarious isn't one of those types of clubs."
Sherlock remained blank face, but John quickly scowled, "We're not gay."
"Right, sir." The cabbie said genuinely, "Wouldn't be any trouble if you were. Just a suggestion was all I meant."
Outstanding. Two years later, and people were still mistaking them for a couple. John really needed to find a girl, or maybe a new wardrobe. Something less domestic would maybe put an end to that foolish conclusion from everybody in London. He didn't let it bother him too badly as their cab pulled into traffic, and they set off into the night for new clues about their recent case. John was already thinking up suited titles for the blog once they got on to solving it, but time would tell what they would uncover.