Insects and Aliens
I’m not sick, but I’m not well
Waco, Texas. A rattlesnake slid in waves through the weeds at the foot of a glass tower. It tested the air with a flicking tongue. Left. Right. There. A mouse sat on its haunches and nibbled. The snake gathered itself, eyes locked—
"Deenie there? Cool. Do it." Jephro crossed his boots on his glossy desk high in the glass tower. "Make sure her mama knows who done it. Call me when you got her. I'll be there a-sap." He closed up his phone and grinned.
Bloody boring. Sherlock peered in the microscope at St. Bart’s morgue. No cases. None. He had listened to eight potential clients, rejected six out of hand, and solved two. One in four minutes, one in three. Seven minutes, the entire day. For God’s sake. He’d been reduced to making slides from swabs taken round Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen and was examining them in the abandoned lab. Perhaps he’d get lucky and find e coli or salmonella.
A clatter across the room caught his attention. Someone wearing Paris Nights perfume entered and drew a cadaver from the wall. Molly Hooper, clipboard in hand. She was never here on a Friday night. She wore a short skirt and silk blouse under her open lab coat, heels, hair up, more make up than usual as she stared at the corpse. Curious.
Sherlock shifted his gaze to the cadaver, an obese man in his fifties with a grotesquely swollen left arm. Molly flipped to the front of her clipboard and started to write. Sherlock noticed her particular body chemistry brought out the citrus notes of the perfume.
"Bee sting,” she murmured. “Anaphylactic shock. Something off.”
"I would say so."
"Yes. That's why I— Sherlock!" She was looking at him, smiling. "How are you?”
“I haven’t seen you in quite some time.”
She glanced at her mobile. “Sorry. I've only got a few minutes.”
“Right. Why didn't this man die of a bee sting?”
Molly returned to the cadaver. "It's the timing. He returned home well after midnight, highly intoxicated. According to his wife, he went directly to bed and either passed out or fell into a deep sleep. In the morning, he was dead. He couldn't have been stung before he went to bed, he would have been wheezing, swelling. Something obviously wrong. But the chance of there being a bee in his bedroom at night is slim to none.”
“And if there were one, it would have stung his face, assuming he had covers. Good. But if you didn't know the specific circumstances of his death, could you still eliminate a bee sting?"
Molly gazed at him with a frown, and then turned back to the cadaver. "There is something. I can’t…”
"Consider the time of year. Honey bees cannot fly in temperatures below 17. The warmest it has been in the past fortnight has been 15. Colder before."
“Right." She nodded again. "This man had known reactions to multiple allergens. I think someone gave him a shallow shot of something else, peanut oil, clam juice, or raw egg, to make it look like a bee sting. I put in an order to check for different antibodies."
Molly turned the arm to examine the injection site, and Sherlock noticed a slight discoloration on her neck: a freckle riding atop a tendon. As he watched, it jiggled.
He was interrupted by her text alarm. "Nick!" exclaimed Molly and checked the text. She frowned. "Canceled." She lowered the mobile, staring at it.
"Ah!" Sherlock brightened. They could look at other cadavers. Or the slides from Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen. Or—
“Will you have dinner with me?” She was gazing at him, wanted an answer. Dinner. Not quite as interesting as cadavers, but in truth, he was a bit peckish.
"Yes. Dinner. Yes."
Deenie could feel the cold metal bumping her cheek through the cloth bag. She was in the back of some truck or van or something, and they were moving. Her mouth was covered with duct tape, and her hands and feet were tied. Her arm stung where they had given her some kind of a shot. She remembered being terrified a few minutes ago, but now… Now, she had this warm feeling sort of rolling through. Oh, yeah. Mama was going to be real mad, though. Yep. Mama would be pissed.
This was a strange turn of events. As they waited to be seated, Molly reflected on it. A few years ago, she would have given her left eye to be having dinner with Sherlock. Now, not so much.
Although they had been waiting for five minutes at least, he hadn’t said a word. He was staring at someone, a man at the bar. It didn't seem an appreciative stare. She cleared her throat. "So. How are John and Mary doing?”
"And the baby?”
Sherlock glanced at her. “What about the baby?”
"Ah." With sudden determination, Molly resolved not to care. Why waste her time with weird men who, at the heart of it, weren’t interested in anyone, least of all her. She would be cool about everything. Even Nick. And Nick’s text: Must bail. Ciao –N. For God’s sake.
When they were seated, Molly and Sherlock were silent as they perused the menus and ordered: Salade Russe, Brochette de Poulet and a glass of wine for her. Poached fish, no sauce for him. The waiter slid away, and Molly smiled, cool. "So. What have you been up to?"
"Not enough. Rather incredibly bored, actually." He was scanning the restaurant, eyes everywhere. Except on her.
"So, is— "
"The woman in the blue dress. What does she do?"
"The woman directly behind you. Can you deduce her profession?"
"How could I know—"
"Come now." He gave her a sideways glance. “Don’t you want to learn my methods. Move here." He indicated the seat around the corner from him. Molly moved. "Now, look. What does she do?"
Molly glanced. "Athletic woman in her late fifties, grey hair cut rather simply—"
"We can assume it is usually pulled back."
"Okay. Make-up—" she stared, and then looked away.
Sherlock nodded. "She is not used to wearing it."
"Close. Consider her dining partner."
Molly took another discreet look. "Young man, early twenties, ill-fitting suit, short hair— Oh."
"Amateur neck tattoo. And one on his hand. Prisoner. She's a guard?"
"But Sherlock, why would—"
"Precisely. Why would a guard take a prisoner out to eat?"
Molly reflected. "Could it be—" she paused. Sherlock was gazing at her neck. She tried to brush away whatever was there and continued, "Perhaps she is helping him celebrate his release?"
"Look at his wrists."
“Yes. Ligature marks. Why would they bind a free man?"
"A witness? Pled to a lesser crime?"
"And they are parading him about?"
She frowned. "Why then?"
Sherlock returned her frown. "I haven't enough data. But his presence does explain the plainclothes policemen."
"You didn't notice? Four of them outside, at least, and two in here. He must have been rather violent."
"Well, Gol, Earlene! They got cheeseburgs on the menu! Looky! Luh cheeseburger." The loud American voice came from the large table behind them. "Lookit that!"
Molly glanced. A man in his sixties wearing a red velour jumpsuit was seated with a woman his age in a matching aqua jumpsuit. With them were two men in their forties. One wore a large cowboy hat and a bolo tie. The other—Oh! Silk and Scottish tweed. He had judiciously tanned skin, and sandy hair carefully cut and moussed to disguise an encroaching widows peak. It was this gentleman who spoke next.
“Yes. We selected this, ahum, restaurant because the menu was, somewhat, accessible.”
His voice! Butter! Molly tried to catch Sherlock's eye, but he was sitting bolt upright and staring ahead. “Sherlock—”
"Shht." He held up a finger.
The gentleman continued, "Al, it is well past the hour. Deenie told me they were coming directly after their sauna.” Even whinging, his voice was gorgeous.
"If it isn't related to business, Cynthia takes her own sweet time." Al with the bolo tie glanced at his mobile.
Cheeseburger grunted. "They probably went shopping. Say, Roger, there's this English guy who fixes our air conditioner back home in Houston. Perhaps you know him. His name is Kyle."
Roger the gentleman answered, “I am afraid I cannot recall a Kyle in Houston."
Sherlock leaned to her and whispered, "Do you know who that is?"
Molly shook her head.
"It is no less than Lord Roger Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, the second son of the Duke of Balmoral. This explains the plainclothes men. He is to be married to an American heiress twenty years his junior. This must be her family."
"You know, Merle,” remarked the woman, “you remember we asked Kyle if he was from here before we left, and he said no, not London. He was from… Where was it?"
"Oh yeah. It was, uh," Cheeseburger Merle contemplated, "Dublin?"
"Dublin? Dublin is in Ireland." Lord St. Simon was all patience.
"Ireland? Gol! That's a whole n’other country! How come he sounds like he's from here?"
Molly whispered, "Sherlock, why?"
He leaned closer. "The Duke has been compelled to sell his pictures recently. St. Simon is bringing in a wanted infusion of cash. Perhaps the young lady is less—”
"Now, Al," Lord St. Simon was speaking again, "I am growing quite concerned."
"Well, let me—" A mobile rang, and Al answered it. "Hey. Where’re you at? … What?" He listened for a few moments. "Okay. Okay! I'm on my way. Roger—“
"Nothing. Nothing. They got to talking in the sauna and lost track of time. They want to show me something. They're going to miss dinner, Roger, I am real sorry. Cynthia gets these notions. Would you mind taking care of Merle and Earlene?”
"Thank you, sir. Well, I'd better go and see what it is. Y'all take care now." From the corner of her eye, Molly watched him stand and stride across the restaurant. Without a word, Sherlock rose and followed.
Molly waited. She waited through the conversation regarding Merle's cheeseburger: "Well, I don't want any fancy cheese! Don't they have normal cheese? You know, like good old sliced American cheese?"
Through another round regarding the homeland of the elusive Kyle: "You know, maybe he said he was from Dunedin."
"Ah. New Zealand."
"Is that around here?"
When their dinners arrived, Molly took a deep swallow of wine and made a search on her mobile. Lord St. Simon, age forty-one, was to be married to Deenie Doran, age twenty-one, the elder daughter of Aloysius and Cynthia Doran, owners and co-CEOs of the Texas Friendly international chain of hotels. Deenie's parents, her eighteen year old sister Victoria, and maternal grandparents, Merle and Earlene, had arrived four days ago for the small wedding scheduled to take place Sunday next—
Sherlock slumped into his seat. "Couldn't get a cab." He started rifling through his pockets.
Molly stared. "You were leaving?"
"No cab." He removed a considerable number of items from his inner pockets and piled them on the table.
"Yes," muttered Sherlock, sorting: a penknife, a set of picks, a jeweler's glass, folded notes, coins, a bullet, a ball of string, a collection notice marked 'past due', a shiny blue jewel, a longish millipede that unrolled and began to meander round the table—
"Where were you going?"
Pulling from other pockets, Sherlock answered, "I was trying to follow him, of course."
"Is that his name? Yes. But I couldn’t— Ah!" Sherlock located a calling card tucked into a folded check, stood, went to the table behind them and placed the card beside Lord St. Simon's plate with a quiet comment.
As he returned, Molly heard Merle say, “Roger, what’s that?"
"That," replied Lord St. Simon stiffly, "is what we call, 'Intolerable cheek.'"
Molly leaned closer to Sherlock, who was scooping everything back into his pockets. "Is something wrong?"
He glanced up and smiled. "Most likely. Molly, did I ever tell you about my travels in America? Fascinating place. Not quite as interesting as Bulgaria, but I had some intriguing adventures…”
It was late when they arrived at Molly's flat, and Sherlock was feeling rather well. Molly had been impressed by his American cases. He gave her opportunities to guess at the solutions, and she got a few. And! From a program in the convict's pocket, they deduced he had been attending a funeral. Whether dinner was a kindness extended to all funeral-going convicts, or if this was a special case was unknown. On the whole, a satisfying evening.
After she located her key, Molly turned to him. "Sherlock, would you like to come in for a cup of tea? Or, I have sherry."
"No. Don't like sherry." He frowned. "We had tea at the restaurant."
"Oh." She looked away. "I thought— All right. I’ll— Perhaps I'll see you at the morgue."
"Yes. You could text me, if you have an interesting case."
"Yes. I could. I— I shall." She inserted her key. "Well. Goodnight.” A quick smile.
“Molly, wait.” Sherlock reviewed what was just said. "What did you mean, 'tea'?"
"You meant something else." He crossed his arms. "I speak English. When someone says, 'tea,' I assume it means brown stuff in a pot. When people start imbuing words like 'tea' with other meanings… It's quite irritating.”
Molly was no longer smiling. “'Tea' meant tea, Sherlock. Brown stuff in a pot." She turned her key. "I am rather tired. Goodnight."
"Yes. Okay. Text me."
"Of course." She entered and was gone.
As he gazed at the door, Sherlock's text alert sounded. He glanced at the message, and then back at Molly’s door. No. She was tired and not smiling. He sighed and left.
John felt barely able to move. It had been routine for the office: A traffic collision had resulted in a head injury that wanted monitoring. A poor sod had caught his willy in his zipper—Painful for everyone! A child with an entire green bean shoved up her nose. The paperwork had been a nightmare. John approached his door gratefully. As he was turning his key, a figure stepped into the entryway.
"Sherlock." John's stomach sank. "What?”
"We have a case.”
"No. I'm exhausted. Long night."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "You are tired. You don't want—” he fell silent.
"I don't want what?”
"Tea?" John stared. "No, I don't want tea."
"Sherlock, what are you going on about?"
"Are you off tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, but we’ve a doctor’s appointment.”
“Two o’clock, but—”
"Good. Come to the flat at nine sharp." By the time John had digested the words and turned to protest, Sherlock had vanished.Start writing here ...