The Ninth Muse - Baker Street Series Book 1

Chapter 2

John brought the ladder. Together, they cleared down the boxes until they could open the one stacked lowest. It, Sherlock said, had a duplicated case number. Inside it, they found padding – bent and folded cardboard – and a smaller box. Inside that was a stout, clear plastic bag, like the kind one found around furniture, and, inside, a black garbage bag. They'd found the missing janitor (who had yet to be called in as missing.) He was small in size, and Asian. He sat with his knees against his chest, his head down, and his arms tucked inside.

Sherlock's head tipped to one side.

Fetal position.

Once John and Lestrade lifted the man out, Sherlock studied the stiff body carefully. Moving around him slowly, like a hunting crab.

Abrasion on centre of forehead. Blunt force trauma.

Pocket contents undisturbed. Jewelry undisturbed.

Restraint appropriate. No signs of hyperextension.

Left hand in right hand. Wedding band.

Sherlock looked at the forehead through his portable magnifier and told John. "The head impacted a flat, porous surface, but only once. Then-"

"Asphyxiation," John said. "Look at his eyes." He released the lid to fall back over the splotchy purples in the whites of the man's eyes.

Eyelids closed.

Sherlock clacked the magnifier back. "Marks on the neck: the killer used a plastic bag. No rawness or fingernail cuts on the skin: victim's arms were bound at the time to prevent him interfering when, or if, he woke."

"So our killer doesn't have scratches." John said.

Lestrade pointed out, "Neither did his victim."

Attempted to be humane.

"He regrets this one." Sherlock sat back on the floor, leaning his long back on white boxes as he looked at the man.

To John the cold floor looked perfectly uninviting. Holmes had to be freezing his bottle caps off sitting there as he was. But Sherlock was exclusively focused on the second victim.

John bent at the waist to catch Sherlock's eyes. "So the killer knew him. Maybe he knew him to see him." It had to be cold for him. He was just insensible to it, yet.

Sherlock's pale green eyes slid to take John in, and John immediately reached down to help Holmes to his feet. He came up stiffly and only then realized he'd been uncomfortable. Sherlock gave his shirt a tug to order and set his hands on his narrow hips. "The weapon is not far. The killer is dismayed now. He's been forced to eliminate someone he didn't want to. He needs to be rid of it."

He kept hunting around… "Bag." He muttered to himself.

Searching the boxes was closely monitored by Lestrade. It took the better half of an hour. During that hour, Sherlock commented on three cold cases through his different reading of the evidence at hand. It was fascinating to hear.

John was hardly looking as he opened the 25th box, up on the top shelf. His fingers touched plastic and cold steel. He stopped and looked at what sat atop the collection. "Sherlock."

Holmes stopped rooting through a box containing a tiny shirt, a teddy bear, pig-tail bobbles, and other things that John hadn't been able to go through without feeling sick. Holmes looked up the ladder at what John held out to him. "Crowbar."

Sherlock smiled up at him. "Lovely. Give it here."

John thought it wiser to walk down with the thing than to drop it from nearly two stories up. If it hit Sherlock, he wouldn't hear the end of it from Mycroft. When he got close enough to the floor that his head was on level with Sherlock's, Holmes snatched the crowbar away. It was an impressive display of self-restraint. "Forensics lab."

"You'll do no such thing," Anderson said as he found the hall they stood in. His eyes goggled when he saw the seated, rigour-starched body of the Janitor, and his skin flushed red with anger. "What the hell? Where did he come from? You carry him along in your pocket, Holmes?"

"If you paid attention, you would have known to look for him," Sherlock tucked the crowbar behind his back as Anderson made a grab for it. "I can see you're in an agitated state being as things aren't going well at home. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Throw you out of this building? I'm more than happy to." Anderson snapped. He gave up on Sherlock for a moment. "I'm sorry, Detective Inspector Lestrade, but Super Sharpe called. He wants these two out of the building immediately. That's coming from Commander Snow."

"We'll leave." Sherlock said. "Where's my coat."

"In the trash with that scarf of yours," Anderson snapped. "What do I care? And you're not leaving with that, Holmes."

When he reached, Sherlock merely held the crowbar up. He was taller than everyone else in the room. "I found it, ergo my clue. I'm well able to handle the analysis. Be useful. Get my coat."

"Get your own coat. I'm not having this! I'll have you taken to the ground the minute you get outside the door, and thrown in a cell like a-"

Sherlock handed him the crowbar and breezed past. "Dull. Let's go, John."

"I'll be calling you with the forensics," Lestrade said as they passed him by.

"Seems like you won't be allowed to," Sherlock indicated acidly.

He, of course, knew where the coat and cashmere scarf were. He had a dozen of the scarves at home, same colour. Mycroft sent one to him every birthday, or so John had heard. This appeared impersonal if one didn't know Sherlock's hatred of having cold air down the neck of his coat, or his simple appreciation for a scarf that was not scratchy, nottoo long, and neither too heavy nor too light. It suited him perfectly. Mycroft knew this, and kept him in scarves.

John followed out of the building, soup ladle in hand, watching Sherlock's long coat swing back and forth before him. Sherlock's hands were joined behind his back, but hard enough for the skin to be white in places. Sherlock wasn't quite legging it out of there, but he was sure being quick about it. Anderson had threatened him with something Sherlock actually found distasteful – that had to be captivity, right? But John began to see the larger picture as he hurried behind. Like how Lestrade had offered to drive them to a crime scene once, and Sherlock had said No, not in a squad car, or something to that effect. And Lestrade had raided the apartment – that was when John had learned his flatmate had once had a drug habit. He'd thought it had been minor: small amounts of marijuana for personal use, with which Sherlock unknowingly self-medicated to calm his racing thoughts and stimulate that nigh nonexistent appetite. But what if that hadn't been the case? What if it wasn't some misdemeanor?

John stopped dead. "You were arrested. They stuck you in a car and threw you in jail."

Passersby looked up at this and diverted around them as if they were a couple in a lover's spat, one having sprung the other from jail for a wild night spent out without him.

Sherlock turned and walked backwards, which forced John to keep moving.

"Was it Lestrade? Did Lestrade have you arrested?" John waved the soup ladle at him.

His flatmate's expression had gone dark. Suddenly, Sherlock stopped walking. This forced John to pull up sharply, or collide with the tall, slim figure before him. After a moment, Sherlock found some halting words that went along with his feelings. "I would not like to talk about this." He turned around and kept walking.

John followed, suddenly humiliated at his behaviour in public. Sherlock had every right to be furious. John fell in beside the man. They went in silence for a while before John said: "Chinese?"

Sherlock didn't look at him, but the answer was genuine. "What you like."

It meant he wasn't eating. Exasperatinghabit! Very poor in terms of health! "We're not on the case, Sherlock. Be reasonable. We've been thrown off."

Now Sherlock's gaze was alarmed. "Listening to Anderson is very bad for you. Avoid it. And if you want Chinese, we'll have Chinese."

"All right," John nodded as they walked along. "And I'm sorry for the-"

"No need." Sherlock closed the subject.

A half an hour later, Sarah dropped lightly into a seat opposite John. Sherlock, who sat staring out a window and plucking his bottom lip, paid her no notice, but John brightened at once.

"You look good," he told her. "I'll be joining you this afternoon." John pushed his overloaded plate of Kung Pao across for her to try.

"I know," she smiled at him and picked a peanut off his plate which she crunched. "Ooh, delicious! And, yes, it's exciting to have you at work with me."

"Thanks."

"Banal."

"It'll be a great afternoon for us both." John didn't even look in Sherlock's direction.

"Are you having a rough day, Sherlock?" Sarah asked him carefully. She'd been embroiled in the investigation that John had titled The Blind Banker. During that dangerous affair, her life had been in jeopardy and John and Sherlock had saved it. Now she seemed to care about Holmes' situation quite a bit. It both perplexed and annoyed Sherlock. In his mind, of course, he was aware he'd saved hundredsof people in the run of his Consulting career. But none of them kept coming around while he was thinking just to annoy him. "Sherlock?" She asked.

Holmes started to move, "I should go."

But Sarah's hand shot out and caught his. The action was so quick, John hadn't seen it coming either. Her hand was tiny beside Sherlock's tapered fingers. It was like she'd touched him with the cherry edge of a cigarette. Holmes' hand jumped out of hers, but he was also frozen in position, half on his way. Sarah apologized, "Sorry about that! I just don't feel right about driving you off."

That was good enough for John, who, as Sarah kept speaking, reached out and pressed Holmes back into his chair by the shoulder. He put up with a lot for Sherlock Holmes. And now Sherlock saw that it was his turn. He slackened into his chair with his eyes seething. But he took it.

"What would you like?" Sarah asked him. "It'll be on me."

"Oh God." Sherlock muttered at the window.

"Shall I just order you something?" Sarah asked brightly. "Do you not know the menu here?"

"John," Sherlock made an appeal to the blond man seated beside him. "Do something."

And he did. John put his head down and cracked up. The beseeching look was comical. Finally, and before Sarah could take it in her head to order for him, John told her. "He's on a case."

"That's good news, but what does it have to do with Chinese?"

"He doesn't eat on a case."

"Well that's absurd." Sarah said.

Sherlock actually pivoted his entire body to look at John now. Really look at him. It was like having pale green hammer blows hit him in the side of the head. "No. Well. You see, when you digest, blood is diverted from the extremities to the stomach. One of those extremities is the head."

"If he doesn't have enough nutrients, he won't be able to think straight," she looked at Sherlock and said. "Too little blood sugar, and you won't be able to read. Would you like chicken, beef, or both?"

"John."

"Oh for heaven's sake, Sherlock, she's not asking you to put a scorpion in your mouth, she's offering to feed you, which I happen tothink is very kind. You ate her cobbler and casserole without any complaints, didn't you?"

Sherlock blinked, "That cobbler was yours?"

"Yes." Sarah smiled.

"It needed more sugar."

"Sherlock!" John admonished now nearly in a state of collapse from trying not to laugh. He dissolved soon after. Sarah looked on smiling widely.

"I know I'm newer on the scene," she told Sherlock. "I can see you don't relate well to women, but I'm honestly interested in getting to know you. And you can talk to me, Sherlock. Not everything you say needs to come through the filter of Dr. John Watson. You should give it a try."

"Fine." Sherlock said flatly. "We'll begin with the fact nothingI do is absurd. There is a reason for everything I do."

"Unless he's bored." John said, having since recovered. He didn't dare look up.

"Even then," Sherlock sighed. "Whatever you bring, I won't eat it. You're wasting your time."

Sarah shrugged, "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

He simply stared at her.

"Tea then?"

He finally agreed to a cup of green tea, which, John happened to know, Sherlock liked quite a bit, particularly with sugar. He already had several pouches by the time Sarah brought it, and her tray of Kung Pao, back to the table.

"What new case?" She asked.

Sherlock fired back, "Don't know. John hasn't written it up and titled it yet."

"Oh, I see," John avoided smiling as he said it. "She tells you to talk to her, and suddenly I can't get a word in edgewise."Sherlock settled sideways in his chair with a long exhalation before sipping his tea. He watched through the window, his back now to John.

John chuckled and turned to Sara again. "Double murder, in fact. Can't really believe where."

"Which is?"

John leaned forward, his shadow crossing the watery sunlight on the table. "The Yard. But you have to keep it in confidence."

"How on earth does someone pull such a thing off?" She asked curiously. Her glance immediately flew to Sherlock as she asked this. It made John blink a little. Somewhat disappointed that she didn't expect himto know the answer.

Sherlock looked over his shoulder, light making his pale skin gleam in outline. "Inside job. This wasn't done in the museum, or in any location to which civilians have access."

John looked across. "Who was that, Sherlock? That first man? The one in the shower?"

"Police psychologist," Sherlock said darkly. He turned back toward the table, "the man who knew everyone's secrets. Yesterday evening, he learned something that cost him his life. It kept him at the office all night. Possibly debating, or worrying, about the information. He would have had time to write it down on his laptop, perhaps even on paper – his fingertips had small, shallow cuts. The kind you get from sheets of paper. He still wrote actual correspondence."

"But the laptop will be back in the Yard." noted John.

"Yes it will. It's out of my hands."

"Maybe we can look into the second man. Or head over to the psychologist's house." John munched some rice. "There are other leads, surely."

"He hadn't been home since he found out. I've called his voice mail and he didn't think to leave himself a message about the crime. Perhaps he knew the police would look for something like that. Aside from which, I'm not eager to pursue leads while we're being followed by police." Sherlock told him.

John stopped chewing. His blue eyes darted up.

"Relax," Sherlock said quietly. "This is not unexpected."

"But they could be-"

"Relax, John," Sherlock nodded.

A loaded silence dominated the table.

"When I was in med school," Sarah looked between them, "I… I'd drop To Do lists and notes of encouragement in inner-hospital mail. They'd come back to me a couple of days later. It was really quite cheering."

"That's sweet," John told her.

"I didn't mean it to be sweet," Sarah looked at Sherlock. "I mean, if he didn't trust the laptop or his answering service, and he wrote it out like most psychologists do… he couldn't leave it on his desk. So what do you do with a letter to yourself?"

Sherlock's eyes were fixed on hers. "Send it by mail. He is a clinical psychologist thinking like a clinical psychologist. Therefore, he knew he needed to get the matter off his chest so he could go home and do… whatever you people do. Probably sleep. And after writing the case up, he showered, that is, he cleaned his conscience. It was bothering him that he'd not made a decision the same night. If he wasn't such a moral person, he might have lived longer. But they'd have gotten him at his home."

John sat back. "They?"

"You don't sit at your desk all night worrying about repercussions to one person, John," Sherlock said. "That takes a couple of hours. But multiply that by four or six? That takes a night."

Images of John's years in the military painted his dreams. If he thought about it now, he realized he'd worried more about larger deployments of men sent to seize territory. The responsibility was greater. The odds of a mortal outcome rose with the number of men. He nodded at Sherlock. "But there was only one guy waiting in the shower room?"

"It might have been the hour. If there had been more on hand, surely someone would have moved the dead Janitor to the morgue's icebox. Whatever happened, so far, nothing to argue against a single party being guilty of these murders: someone able to kill when he feels the act is justified, but not utterly without mercy."

"Pity we can't go through the shrink's personnel files for clues."

"This killer would have preferred to beat the man's brains out in his home. It would have been less discoverable; he'd have hadmore shelter, and time for clean-up. He could honestly have made this man disappear." Sherlock laid down his cell phone and slurped tea. He pushed his phone between John and Sarah. "Unmarried. Lives alone."

"Lived." John said.

"Yes. This is text from his profile," Sherlock explained with a nod. "I'm on his Tumblr page. More importantly, the answer could be sitting in his Outbox right now." Sherlock snatched up the phone and started texting before he even finished the sentence. Then he got up and paced the narrow establishment. It was a good thing most of the orders, at this hour, were carry-out, or delivery, because with Sherlock swirling about, there wasn't a lot of room in the halls.

"How do you stand it," Sarah asked. Her brows bobbed adorably. "All the excitement?"

This was concerning. "You don't like it?"

"Oh, actually, I like the puzzles. I think… I mean, that's fine, but I don't think I'd relish dead bodies much." Sarah clarified, "And, John, what's going on with him?"

John watched Sherlock pacing along the back wall, texting – tall, long, rangy, he still looked like a big kid, handsome enough to attract the girls, but too strange for them to enjoy. Then he looked back at Sarah, "I haven't figured it out yet. He is a concern though. He's a genius-"

"Well, duh." She chuckled and scooped up rice, celery, and carrot with a chunk of chicken. "I already knew that much, but whatabout the rest?"

"I think he's daft."

Sarah blinked at him. "Daft, but a genius."

"You don't know him."

She flushed a little, "Well, I know you, and so I hope to know the people you care about."

Ah. Good news. "Well… he's tops at ignoring his physical needs. He can go mad amounts of time fasting. You wouldn't believe it." John chewed his chicken. Sherlock had stopped in the far corner of the restaurant and was staring out the window there.

"It's unsafe," she said. But then, what else could she be expected to say. They were both doctors. They both understood that, as good as he looked outside, Sherlock could be torn in ribbons inside. "Maybe we can get him to take some supplements?"

John laid down his fork and joined his hands before him in air. "You… you're really worried about him." They stared at each other for a moment, and Sarah sipped her Tab.

"Sometimes I thought you talked about him like he was a kid. That, I thought, was patronizing," she admitted. "But then I met him. He doesn't take proper care of himself. It seems he can only attend to what he fixates on. And you care about him, so I-"

"You care," John said pointedly, "you care about him."

Sarah's head tipped a little. "John… please don't feel strange about what I'm going to say."

Uh-oh.

"When we were in that tunnel, and that crazy woman was going to put a bolt in my chest, I honestly think I saw my life flash by. To be frank, when Holmes untied my wrists, when he told me it was over, I could have kissed him on the mouth."

John averted his gaze at his plate.

Her voice was soft, "The only person I appreciated more at that moment, was the man who made sure the bolt went into one of the bad guys."

John looked up. Sarah smiled at him. "So, do I care? Yes, I do. I'd be daft not to."

Which meant she also cared about average, un-exotic John Watson. "You mustn't tell him that, you know."

"I sort of figured," she nodded in reply. "He's very cagy. God help a woman in love with him." She fastened her teeth on her straw and shook her head.

"Oh I mean the part about kissing him on the mouth," Watson grinned impiously. "That thing on top of his neck is his temple. I'm pretty sure you would be trespassing."

"Haven't worked out his feelings for you yet, have you?" Sarah asked. When John shook his head, she checked her watch and then rubbed her hands together. "You're blushing."

John sat back and rubbed his hands on his thighs, surprised, "Am I?"

She seemed overly pleased by this and had to rein in her gloating smile to explain. "We have to go in 10 if we want to get to work on time."

He drank the last of his water and decided he was finished. He followed Sarah, "I'll check what the plan is, and then we can head out."

Sherlock still watched cars beyond the window. His attention was punctuated with glances down to read or text. As soon as John arrived beside him, he said. "The mail has already gone out. Was he sending this to himself, was it going external, or was he sending to someone else?"

"You can think at home." Watson suggested. He reached out and tugged Sherlock around by the cuff of his coat. "Let's go."

"But I just ordered Green Tea."

"You didn't go near the counter."

"Over the internet."

"Over…. Okay, fine. But home after. Having police watch you right now, it makes me paranoid."

"Only now?" Sherlock's brows went up. "Clearly, you've never been arrested."

A small Asian woman emerged from behind the red slab of counter. She set down a tray on which there sat a teapot and tea cups, and looked around her. She glanced out into the street.

"It's mine." Sherlock said.

"It's… yours, sir? Well… are you sure no Almond Cookies?"

At least she'd recovered quickly.

"Yes," Sherlock said. He dropped back into the seat he'd occupied. Sarah reached across and folded bills into the woman's hands. "Please keep him in tea as he likes." She turned and headed out of the restaurant. John followed behind her.

They were in Sarah's car before Sherlock texted. 'Stop her doing that.'

John looked up at Sarah. "Sherlock says thanks."

Sun patterned her pale skin and chestnut hair as she pulled them onto the street, and Sarah looked pleased with herself. She'd done a good turn for a man who'd been shot at running to her rescue. John thought satisfaction a good look on her.

Continued in Part 3.

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