Chapter 1: Among the rain
John Watson hated rain. He hadn’t always had such strong opinions about it. In fact, he would go so far to say that until a week ago he’d been rather ambivalent to it. That was until he’d moved to a town that seemed to have been built under a permanent rain cloud. It was Wednesday and it was raining, of course. It was raining hard. It was the thick kind of rain that hit the ground with so much force it bounced back up again. The kind of rain that it was impossible to stay dry in.
John was sheltering under a tree. He tried his best to shuffle further beneath the branches. It was a futile attempt to avoid the downpour. The tree really didn’t offer much protection at all. He sighed, pulled his hood further down over his face and glared at the heavens. The heavens remained indifferent, letting loose their seemingly endless torrent of water. It was better than glaring where he wanted to though. He wanted to glare at Philip. He blamed Philip for the fact that the only shelter they had from the rain was a tree. When John had applied for this job, he’d assumed that it would be organised and fully equipped. At least, at the very least, he thought they’d have some kind of cabin.
As a child he’d had a small obsession with archaeology. He’d eagerly watched Time Team, read archaeological magazines, binged on Indiana Jones, and had dreamt of one day working on a dig, maybe discovering some unknown Egyptian tomb. What he hadn’t expected was a constantly damp English field with no cabin, no toilet and no equipment except one spade and one wheelbarrow. Two pieces of equipment amongst four people. It was ridiculous. Not that anyone was getting to use either at the moment. John risked a glance over at where Philip was sheltering alongside Ines and Olle. If he was a better field supervisor they’d have the proper equipment already. As it was they’d spent a week taking turns with the spade to slowly remove the topsoil from their field. That was when they weren’t sheltering under trees when it rained, which was often. John was damp and fed up.
What John hadn’t realised when he’d first been told about the vacancy for an archaeological assistant by a friend was that were two distinct types of archaeology. One was academic archaeology. These were kind of digs that he’d dreamt about as a sad and neglected child. The other was commercial archaeology.
Eboracum Archaeology Ltd. was a commercial archaeology company. Commercial archaeology didn’t quite match up to the childish fantasies that lived in John’s head. In EU law any new building project had to have an archaeological survey done to make sure that precious ancient history wasn’t being needlessly destroyed. If the survey showed anything that might be potentially something then an actual archaeological dig had to be conducted to investigate.
The town of Northlew in Devon was due to have a new road built but the survey had highlighted two possible areas of interest. One area had a series of subterranean tunnels that needed digging out, investigating and recording. The second area had shown lumpy ground, suggesting the possibility of an old settlement. John had been assigned to the second site. So far, after a week, all they had found was mud. Increasingly wet mud as the rain picked up day after day. John’s housemate was working on the site with the tunnels, and each night she returned glowing with tales of the constructions. Her site was deemed the more obviously interesting so it had the more established archaeologists assigned to it. As a result they already had a cabin for tools (filled to the brim with actual tools), a cabin for bagged evidence, a cabin for coffee breaks, and a toilet. John’s site had the wheel barrow, the spade, a supervisor leading his very first project, two disgruntled Swedish graduate archaeologists and John. John had no experience of archaeology and had a mild limp. Essentially, as far as he could work out, he’d been hired as a spade monkey. And he hadn’t even been given his own spade yet.
Sighing, John looked at his watch. It was a few minutes before noon. Lacking anything else to do he decided that he might as well get started on his lunch. Olle and Ines had already unpacked the rye bread and cheese slices that they shared every day, and were eating them gloomily whilst muttering in Swedish to each other. Philip was on his phone. John sincerely hoped he was ordering them a cabin, but thought it more likely he was continuing the argument he’d been having the last three days with his girlfriend. John reached into the inner pocket of his coat for his sandwich. It was cheese and tomato, and the tomato had soaked into the bread, making it soggy. Great, just great, thought John to himself, a truly damp day, through and through.
After two hours of standing under the trees, Philip decided they should get back to work. It hadn’t stopped raining, but he was fidgety, obviously nervous that one of the bosses might come by and spot his team not working to the full. John pulled his hood back up over his head and tried to tie the toggles under his chin, best he could. It was mostly pointless. His jacket had started leaking sometime into the third hour in the morning.
“John, you work the wheelbarrow this afternoon. Ines, Olle, you can continue clearing the West corner” Philip said as he started towards the fence marking the edge of the site. “I’m just going to check the paperwork in my car, I’ll be back to check on your progress later.”
Ines muttered something that John was pretty sure was a swear word in Swedish. He grinned at her. She rolled her eyes and headed off to where the spade was lying. John went and retrieved the wheelbarrow. It was lying upside down on the discard pile. Its handles were covered in mud, of course.
Wheelbarrowing the mud away from Ines and Olle was hard work. Especially in the rain. John started to question his life choices. Six years of medical school, he thought, and this is where you ended up, well done Watson. Of course he hadn’t told the company he had a medical degree. He’d thought it likely they would reject him as over-qualified if he had. He’d mostly stuck to the truth though - had mentioned the army, though not the reasons for his discharge. He thought army training made him sound fit enough for the physical work of an archeological dig. He hadn’t quite expected this level of physical work though. As though underlining his thinking for him, on this last thought his footing slipped on the crude wooden runway to the discard pile. He stumbled, his left foot slipped off the plank, the wheelbarrow tipped. John and wheelbarrow fell sideways into the mud. John just lay there in the mud for a few moments. Neither Ines nor Olle seemed to have noticed, which was a small mercy. Sighing, he rolled over and got to his feet. If possible he was now even wetter than before. Miserable, John got back to work for the rest of the afternoon.
It had taken a very long shower before John managed to wash all the mud out of his hair, and started to feel warm again. He had the beginnings of a bruise forming on his left calf where he’d slipped off the plank, and his ribs felt tender where he’d fallen. Turning off the shower, he stepped out and reached for a towel. He swiped across the mirror to get a look at himself as he towelled his hair. He peered critically at the reflection staring back at him. Looking closer, he traced the deep lines running across his forehead and cheeks with one finger. Not looking his best, he looked old, he thought to himself. But at least all the mud was out of his hair, and it wasn’t completely silver yet, it was still predominately blonde. That was something. Not much, but something. Resigning himself to the ageing process he limped out of the bathroom to get ready for the pub.
“You did what mate?” Mike put another pint of Doombar down in front of John.
“I fell off the wheelbarrow ramp and busted my leg.” John took the drink gratefully and drank deeply.
Mike laughed, good humouredly but still, thought John, a little too hard to be strictly comradely.
“Good thing you were limping already right” said Mike “No one will even notice this. Did Phil see?”
John winced, and did his best to ignore the limp comment, “No, he was in his car the whole bloody time. Of course. And the Swedes were busy with the shovel.”
“I can’t believe you guys don’t have any more equipment yet.”
“I wish you were our supervisor”, John looked down at his pint in mild despair.
“Oh yeah, my guys love me.” Mike said it jokingly, but it was true. Mike’s team did love him, because he was a fair supervisor, friendly and just such a nice bloke it was impossible not to like and admire him. Mike looked at John with concern etching lines around his eyes. “Look I’m sorry I couldn’t get you assigned to my team. We were already full. I’m sure things will get better once the project gets going a bit more.”
“So, apart from the mud, and accidents, how are you finding the work? And being back in the U.K.?”
John looked around the dim, wood panelled pub, and then back to his pint. “It’s fine I guess, so far. The ale’s good anyway. The work isn’t quite what I was expecting.”
“Were you expecting to find hordes of gold?”
“No, but, well, something, you know.”
“I’d think you would be grateful for the quiet. You know, after....” Mike looked meaningfully at him and John hurried to cut off his words.
“Yeah yeah. Quiet is...good. It’s all good. Fine. You know. Fine.” Mutinously his brain supplied the thought that it wasn’t fine at all. He did his best to ignore it and went back to the important job of drinking his pint. Whoever said that you couldn't drown your sorrows in alcohol had obviously not met the Watsons, John thought grimly to himself.
Two weeks later and they finally had some more equipment. They’d actually been given one new shovel, a trowel each, and excitement upon excitement, some steel toed boots each (this last a legal requirement which had taken ages to arrive). It was still only the four of them though there were rumours that more staff would be arriving that afternoon. John wondered how the town survived when there were no archaeologists there. Who normally rented all these houses and flats? By his count the company now had twenty people in the town, with the extras due to arrive, that represented a significant increase to the small town’s population.
Philip had set them to three separate corners of the square cleared in the field that they were working on and tasked them with removing the top layer of mud with the trowel, working towards the middle.
“Call me if you find any discolouration,” he’d shouted as he disappeared towards his car once more. After an hour of troweling John uncovered a circle of mud that he thought might be a slightly different shade so he went and got Philip who explained the next step.
“Okay, so what you do is you use the tip of your trowel to dig out all the discolouration. You might need to get a teaspoon or something for the fiddlier bits. Put all the dug out soil into a sample bag. Tag it. Then photograph the excavation, with the measurement markers, then sketch it. Obviously, you bag any actual items you find in the hole. And then you fill out a report with an analysis of what you think you’ve found. For example...” He’d been digging out John’s hole whilst talking and pointed at the new hole “...What I think you have here Johnny-boy, is your very own, ancient....tree root.” He laughed uproariously at his own wit. John stared and said nothing. Philip frowned, “Right well, do the photo and then come get a report form from me.”
By late afternoon John had “found” four more tree roots and if possible was feeling even more disillusioned with the job of an archaeologist than he had before. There was something particularly depressing about digging slightly darker mud out of the ground with a spoon only to have the hole taper to a point and reveal itself as a place where a tree once stood. He’d just written “Appears to be an old tree root” into the analysis box on his form when he heard voices coming from over the hill. Eager for any distraction from his endless tree ghosts he stood up to see what was happening. Coming down the hill and stepping over the electric fences bordering the field were four new people in tellingly clean clothes. They must be the newbies thought John, starting to walk towards them. There was a pretty woman with brown hair tied into a pony tail, and three men, all sporting beards in varying lengths.
John smiled as he got closer and was just about to greet them and introduce himself when there was a shout of surprise from behind him. So unusual was it for his workmates to make any noise at all that he turned straight away to see what the problem was. Ines was kneeling in the far corner of the square, looking towards Olle and waving her arms excitedly. John stared. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Ines look so animated. Olle was rushing towards her as she pointed to the ground at her knees. John started to walk towards them, feeling the newcomers following him as he went. As he approached the pair, they were excitedly talking to each other in rapid Swedish. John peered over Ines’ shoulder to see what she’d found. There, lying in the mud, half excavated by Ines, was a bone. It was long. John recognised it immediately.
It was a femur.
A human femur.
An exciting find leads to more attention being paid to the site.
After the discovery of a human bone on their site, things got a lot more serious and professional. The next day two cabins, more equipment, and (most important to John) a port-a-loo, were delivered. Philip was beside himself with excitement about the find. As soon as he’d been told about Ines finding a bone he’d rushed over and taken over the excavation. He continued to insist that he should be the only one to excavate it. Ines was not impressed. As soon as Philip was out of earshot she complained to John, “I have a Masters in archaeology from Uppsala University. This is well within my expertise, but no, he” here she glared darkly in Philip’s direction “has to take over as soon as something fun is found. When it’s only mud he is in his car, but now” she trailed off, gesturing helplessly. John made sympathetic noises. Ines continued “And Molly over there”, here she gestured towards the pale, dark-haired woman working quietly next to them, “She has an MSc in Osteoarchaeology.”
“Oh yeah?” asked John, leaning to look more fully at Molly. The night before she’d been very quiet, just twirling her hair in a nervous way and not looking John in the eyes. Molly blushed under the extra scrutiny. She nodded. Ines continued “Oh yes, she was telling me. She could really help with the identification but Philip won’t let her anywhere near it.”
“Do you think it might be a full skeleton?” asked John.
Ines looked scornfully at John, “It probably is not. If we were in Sweden it would be a burial, with gold. But here, probably not. I think it will turn out to be an old horse.”
“Oh, it would be wonderful if it was a burial. This is my first dig since leaving uni.” said Molly, looking over at where Philip was digging with a wistful look on her face.
“I’m pretty sure it’s human.” said John.
Ines tutted, dismissing him. Everyone knew he didn’t have an archaeology degree. As far as they were aware, he didn’t have any degree at all.
“I think you’re right” said Molly, smiling kindly at him.
John smiled back at her, not saying anything, before going back to scraping at the mud with his trowel.
Going slowly and carefully with both trowel and brush, Philip uncovered more of the skeleton as the day progressed. Once he found the skull it was clear to everyone that it was human. Just as Philip had finished cleaning off the cranium the skies opened and it started raining heavily again. Shouting for help, Philip rushed to cover the find with some blue tarpaulin. John ran over to help him and together they secured the tarp with rocks. Once covered they ran through the rain to the break cabin where everyone else was sheltering. Once inside John shrugged off his coat and went to help himself to tea. There was nothing to do but wait for the rain to stop. Philip was buzzing with excitement.
“It’s clearly a burial. Oh, this is fantastic. This beats the stuff they’ve been finding over on Stamford’s site. I’ll probably get a publication out of this.”
This caused Jordí to look up from his phone. Like Molly he’d also arrived the day before just in time to see the discovery of the bone.
“Don’t you mean a publication for Ines? She found it, shouldn’t she be excavating it?”
He was Spanish and had seemed extremely jovial the night before - like he’d been dipped in cheer. Even now as he was criticising Philip’s behaviour he still had a smile on his face. Earlier, as they were bailing water with buckets out of one of the trenches he’d confessed to John that he too had watched far too much Indiana Jones in his childhood, and had also noticed the disparity between the films and reality of life as an archaeologist.
Philip frowned at Jordí.
“I’m the senior archaeologist on the site. I don’t know how things are done in Spain” this last word was uttered with clear derision in his voice. “But here that’s how things are done. Finds are excavated in order of seniority. Which is why Johnny there will most likely be spending the next six months digging up as many tree roots as his heart desires.”
John ground his teeth at this unprovoked attack. There was no need for Philip to point out that he was the bottom of the pile. He knew that. Everyone else knew that. Don’t rise to it, don’t rise, he thought to himself as he took a long drink from his tea. Jordí snorted and went back to his phone. Molly, again, gave John a sympathetic smile. Somehow, the pity of such a mouse of a woman did not make John feel better. Not for the first time he wondered what the point of every moment in this day was. He’d thought leaving London would solve his problems. He’d thought leaving behind everything about himself would help him forget what he’d lost. But nothing was different. Maybe he hadn’t moved far enough. Maybe he should have left his cursed name behind as well. But, really, wasn’t the problem that he was here at all? Yes, he thought, that was the problem. There was no escaping himself, and his own thoughts. The rain drummed harder on the roof of the cabin.
Outside, the sky had turned as dark as John Watson’s thoughts.
It was about an hour after the rain had stopped that Philip had the new find taken from him. He’d possibly been a little too enthusiastic about telling everyone who would listen that he’d found a prehistoric burial. Head office had heard and pulled one of their senior archeologists from sabbatical to come and take over the potentially significant find. Sarah Beachman had a PhD, had written several well regarded, and often referenced books, and had been using her sabbatical to lecture at Dublin University. Philip hated her instantly. It was obvious to John from the way he smiled too broadly at her as she was introducing herself. She also had a very different management style to Philip.
“Right, as this is potentially an important find, it’s a great chance for everyone to get a chance to learn what a burial looks like” Sarah said, smiling at them all as they sat clustered around her in the break cabin. “So, for the rest of today I want Ines and Jordí to draw and photograph the skeleton, before any more of it is excavated. For now, everyone else can keep troweling the rest of the site. Tomorrow morning I want you, John, was it?” She smiled at him. Dumbfounded, John nodded. “Yes, John, I want you to help me in the morning with excavating more of the skeleton.”
This proved too much even for Philip’s limited restraint. “But John’s just a site assistant. He’s not even a real archaeologist.” he spluttered indignantly.
“Yes, I know” replied Sarah, still smiling, but slightly strained now, “That’s why I think it would be good for him to get some first hand experience, with me helping him - to show him what’s important.” Philip turned pink at this and muttered something that John was sure was not complimentary under his breath. John felt his heart lifting just a little. Maybe tomorrow held some hope after all. Maybe it wouldn’t be filled with the endless monotony of troweling only mud. At the very least it was going to infuriate Philip to see him near the find, and that was something at least.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, or at least, as bright as Southern England in October ever seemed to be. By 8 am John found himself kneeling by the skeleton with Sarah at his side. “Okay, so what we’re going to do today is finishing clearing the mud from the edges of the bones, and brushing off the loose soil using, well, these brushes.” She grinned at him. John picked up his trowel and started clearing some of the mud carefully from around the fibia. Sarah settled by the skull and began brushing soil from it with a small round brush. She had obviously decided that having gotten him alone now was the perfect chance to quiz him about his life. “So, what brings you to Devon? Have you always had a burning desire to dig around in mud and rain?”
John laughed, “Oh sure, since I was a child”
“Everyone dreams of a career on their knees” Sarah said, actually winking at John as she did so. He laughed, his mood perking up considerably. Maybe this job wouldn’t be so bad with a part way decent supervisor. It helped that Sarah was very pretty. John didn’t consider himself to have a type, but he wouldn’t say no.
“It isn’t quite what I’d imagined, if I’m honest” John confessed.
“Ah, it has it’s moments. For instance - look at this skeleton. What strikes you about it?”
John, looked down at the skeleton again, It was half uncovered from the mud now, lying on it’s front. “Well, I think it’s a woman, probably around 25 years old. I can’t tell what period these bones are from. The skeleton appears to be missing some bones, though they might be further down in the mud.”
“Excellent John. That’s really very good.” Sarah looked at him more closely, “This is really your first dig?”
“Impressive. You see how she’s lying on her front? With her legs twisted?” John nodded again. “That’s unusual for a burial. I don’t think this is a burial. There don’t appear to be any grave objects either, so it’ll be difficult to age the bones until we can get a carbon test done.”
“Is it old though?” John asked.
“I think so. See the colour of the bone? And how parts are worn away? Philip’s possibly right - I think it could be prehistoric. Which is very very exciting” She grinned at John.
“What does that mean for the road?” John asked.
Sarah’s grin grew broader “It means some road building executives are going to be extremely frustrated in the very near future. If the tests show that it is prehistoric then that road won’t be being built for a very long time. And you and I will have a lot of work on our hands. This’ll be a full dig. We’ll probably take over the entire farm.”
John had only signed a contract for six months work. He wondered to himself if he’d want to stay for longer if that’s the way it went. What else do you have to do? he thought to himself, your calendar is hardly bursting at the seams. And if this did turn into a real dig, like on Time Team, then maybe that’s what he’d been after all along.
John and Sarah worked together on uncovering more of the skeleton until lunch time. Then Sarah asked Olle and Tony to take over. By the end of the day every member of the team had had a chance to uncover some of the only find on the site. Although everyone had been patiently troweling the site, nothing else had been found so far. Philip thought he might have discovered the outer edge of a settlement and had ordered John and Molly to dig a five by five trench. They hadn’t found anything. The skeleton meanwhile was nearly entirely uncovered now. Walking by on his way to retrieve the wheelbarrow John could see that a couple of major bones still seemed to be missing. Sarah was standing frowning down at the skeleton. She’d called Philip over to her. “It looks strange” she said to Philip. Looking up she saw John standing nearby, and called him over. “John, come look at this” Philip rolled his eyes. John stepped closer. “It doesn’t fit for a burial, but it still looks posed to me. See the angle of her right arm? I’m not sure what to make of it.”
John shrugged, “I can’t see what you mean.”
Sarah huffed out a breath that she’d been holding whilst chewing on her lip. “I don’t like the look of it. Before we bag up the bones I think I’m going to have to call the office for some advice, or maybe the university.”
John could tell that Philip was not pleased at this development. More people meant that the chances of him getting solo time with the skeleton were diminishing. “Are you sure that’s necessary?” he whinged. Sarah gave him a look and didn’t answer, instead standing up and brushing the dirt from her knees. She pulled her mobile from her coat pocket, searching for the contact as she turned her back to them and started to walk towards the hut. John looked down at the bones and then back to Philip. He raised one eyebrow at Philip. “Oh, shut up” said Philip, as he got to his own feet and strode back towards the car park. Both supervisors had left without telling John what to do next, so he pulled the plastic tarp back over where it could cover the skeleton, secured it with a few rocks and then limped over to where Molly was struggling to lift some buckets of mud. He’d completely forgotten that he was supposed to be getting the wheelbarrow. Feeling guilty, he went back for it. Together he and Molly spent the rest of the daylight wheelbarrowing the discarded mud away.
This had to be one the most tiring jobs he’d ever had, John thought to himself the next day, as he wearily climbed out of Mike’s jeep. Every muscle ached. Muscles he didn’t even know he had ached. Objectively, he knew that it couldn’t be harder than army training, or the many sleepless nights he’d spent as a trainee doctor, but somehow he felt worse now than he had then. Of course, he was older now than he had been then. That was not much comfort. He felt old and useless, his body failing him at every step.
Just then Mike broke into his thoughts “You sure you want to be here this early, I’m heading to the cafe for breakfast, don’t you want to come?” Mike had agreed to give John a lift to the site even though it was a good hour before anyone else would be arriving.
“Yeah, mate. I left a whole load of find bags without labels yesterday. I really need to finish them up before Philip arrives.” Mike gave him a sympathetic look. They both knew that the only “finds” John had made were differing colours of mud, but he kindly didn’t say anything. John waved him off as he pulled away and off to breakfast.
It was a cold day, slightly misty around the trees in the distance. The dew had made the grass moist and John squelched as he tramped his way across the farmyard heading towards the site. As he crested the hill leading down to the site he paused. He wasn’t alone. Ahead of him in the middle of the cleared field a figure was crouched down. John paused. It didn’t look like Philip, or any of the other archaeologists. For one thing it wasn’t wearing a high-vis jacket, or the distinctively bright rain jackets the archaeologists favoured. From here all John could make out was black. Suddenly a thought struck him. Sarah had mentioned disgruntled road executives. Maybe one of them had found out about their find and was here to sabotage it. Maybe even destroy it? Hurriedly he started walking again, picking up his pace until he was lightly jogging down the hill.
“Hey! Hey! What are you doing?” John shouted, waving his arms at the stranger.
At this the stranger looked up, John was close enough now that he could tell immediately that, as he had suspected, it wasn’t anyone he knew. The stranger was a pale man with dark, curly hair. Even though he was crouched over John thought he probably would be quite tall when he stood. The man didn’t say anything, just waited until John had skipped over the site boundary, ran over, and skidded to a stop in front of him. John was panting slightly, out of breath from his brief exertion.
“What are you doing?” John repeated. “Who are you?” It was as he feared - the stranger was kneeling down by the skeleton find, the cover pulled back, and seemed to have been examining it. The man pushed his hair away from his face, revealing unsettling silver blue eyes that focused on John intensely. Slowly, the man got to his feet. He extended a long, thin, arm out and offered his hand to John.
“Sherlock Holmes,” the stranger said.
A strange man has appeared on the site and some theories about the find are revealed.
There wasn’t much that John could do other than take the hand that was offered and shake it. It was an automatic reflex - so deeply ingrained in his British upbringing as to be practically genetic. “John Watson,” he offered as he shook. The stranger’s hand was surprisingly warm for a man who was standing in a damp field at seven in the morning. Holmes grinned lopsidedly at John. Then he ducked back down into a crouch again and started poking around the skeleton with a small trowel that he whipped out from his pocket. John frowned. What was happening? The man didn’t seem to be destroying the skeleton, he was a strange mix of frantic but careful. He was also muttering under his breath.
“I’m sorry, but who are you again?” John asked.
“Sherlock Holmes” the man answered without looking up.
John felt his spine straighten in annoyance at that. “Yes, you said. I mean, what are you? I mean, what are you doing here exactly? Are you from the road?”
Sherlock looked up at this, slight annoyance tracing his brow. “From the road?” He scoffed “Hardly. Sher-lock Hol-mes” he stretched the syllables of his name out in what John suspected was a sarcastic manner. John folded his arms. Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes. “Your head office called me in. For this.” he gestured towards the skeleton.
“Oh,” said John “Are you an archaeologist?”
“Not quite” replied Sherlock, “I’m a consultant forensic archaeologist.”
“A consultant forensic archaeologist. Only one in the world. I invented the job.”
John was feeling slightly out of his depth. “You invented it? It’s not a standard thing? What is it?”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John. He sat back on his heels and slowly looked John up and down. “You’re not an archaeologist” he said.
“Yes I am!” John was indignant. He’d been working the damn site for ages now. He might not have a degree in it, but spending a month on his knees doing the work had to count for something.
“No you’re not” Sherlock replied “Oh, you’ve been working as one. Well, as a site assistant, which is the lowest position, so barely counts at all. But it’s new to you. You’ve been doing this for a month, maybe two.” He paused, looked at John’s left hand, then his left leg. “How long were you in the army?”
John gasped, “How did you know that?”
“You’re standing at parade rest.”
John looked down. He was. Damnit!
“And as well as that you’ve clearly been recently injured, quite severely, if the tremor in your leg and hand are anything to go by.” At this John clenched his left hand. Betrayed by his body yet again, he should have guessed.
“Okay. So I’ve been injured. Doesn’t mean I was in the army. I could have fallen out of a tree.”
Sherlock snorted with amusement “Bit mundane for someone like you. No - definitely army. The way you’re standing now clearly says you’ve had military training. Not to mention the way that you rushed over here to confront me when you thought I was up to no good.” He paused. “There’s something else, I’m not quite sure what it is yet,” at this he cocked his head to the side, “Interesting” he murmured, half to himself.
John straightened his shoulders. “So, that’s it? You just looked at the way I stand and, what, deduced my work history?”
Sherlock grinned, “Exactly.” At that he leapt to his feet again, pulling out a mobile phone from one of his many pockets. He paced away. Then swirled back to face John. “Stupid phone doesn’t have reception. Can I borrow yours?”
John didn’t know what to make of all this. It was too much. It was too early in the morning to deal with enigmatic strangers who correctly guessed the reasons for the ending of your cherished army career and then asked to borrow your phone. “Um. Sure. Here.” he said handing it over. Honestly, he couldn’t think of anything else to do in the situation but just give in and go with the flow of it. Holmes took the phone with another quick smile in John’s direction. He quickly typed out a message and then gave the phone back to John.
“So, Sarah called you in for this?” John asked whilst gesturing towards the skeleton.
“Who?” Sherlock was now pacing around the excavated hole, drumming his fingers against his lips.
“Sarah, she’s the new site supervisor.”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe. Someone from your office. I wasn’t paying attention. This, this, is all that matters” He gestured at the skeleton “Fascinating.”
John pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do you want a cup of tea? It’s bloody freezing out here.”
“Yes, thank you. Milk, three sugars.”
John had meant did he want to come over to the cabin, have a cup of tea and talk further there. But Sherlock seemed to have missed this social cue, going instead for the literal meaning of the question. Oh well. John started walking towards the cabin. It was too cold and too early in the morning for this. They didn’t bother locking the break cabin so when John got there he had no problem getting in, filling the kettle with bottled water and flicking it on. Whilst he searched around for some clean mugs he thought back to the strange encounter he’d just had. How had Sherlock known he’d been in the army? No one else had ever looked at him so intensely. He’d felt seen, for the first time in a long time. He made the tea and his thoughts switched to the rest of the team. What would they make of Sherlock? What would Sherlock deduce about them? He grinned to himself as he thought about Philip’s possible reaction. This was going to be great.
When John left the cabin with the two mugs of tea he was surprised to see that Sherlock was no longer near the skeleton. In fact, John couldn’t see him anywhere on the site. He paused, slowly turning in a circle. Nothing. He walked out towards the equipment cabin. Maybe he was looking for some tools?
“You’re limping.” The voice came from behind him.
“Jesus!” John spun around, splashing both his hands with the tea. He cursed again. “Where did you come from?”
Sherlock made a vague gesture with his hand, not answering. “There was no sign of a limp earlier, when you ran over to confront me.” He paused, scanning John whilst he fiddled with something in his pocket. “Ah ha!” he suddenly cried, making John jerk and spill the tea over himself again. “Psychosomatic.”
“Yes, thank you for that.” John sighed whilst rolling his eyes “I know that, doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
“Ah yes, of course. A therapist, though not a very good one.”
“How do you know she’s no good?”
“You’d still be seeing her if you found it in any way useful. You only went at all because you were made to. Army injury. Psychosomatic limp, obvious that you’d have a therapist, just as it’s obvious that you’d hate the idea of needing one. So you probably quit as soon as you were cleared to.”
“Amazing” John breathed.
Sherlock looked surprised by this. “You’re not annoyed? It wasn’t too much?”
John grinned, “Oh, it was. But it was brilliant as well. Are you like this with everyone?”
“Usually” Sherlock replied.
“I can’t wait until the others get here then” said John handing over one of the mugs to Sherlock “I couldn’t find any milk that didn’t smell awful, so I put in two extra sugars instead. Sherlock smiled, accepting the tea.
“Sounds perfect,” he said.
As it turned out, Sherlock’s meeting with the rest of the team was even more amusing than John had hoped for. Everyone arrived together in the normal minivan. John could hear them talking to each other as they approached the site over the hill. He’d gone into the finds hut to finish off his paperwork, as he’d originally meant to that morning. Sherlock had decided that he needed to read the reports written so far on the skeleton. On finding the door to the office locked, he’d pulled a full set of picks out of one of his seemingly bottomless pockets and immediately set about opening it. That had been an hour ago, and John hadn’t seen him since. When he heard the approaching voices, John stepped out of the finds hut to watch the archaeologists making their way onto the site. He clocked the exact moment that Philip spotted that the door to his office was open. He broke away from the rest of the group immediately and rushed towards it. Before he could get there though, Sherlock emerged, coat billowing around him with a loud cry of “Rubbish!” He had paper clutched in both hands, and as Philip paused in shock, he threw them to either side of him in the most perfect expression of exasperation John had ever seen.
Philip seemed stunned for a few moments, mouth opening and closing in shock and anger. Then he visibly gathered himself, turning pink in the face with barely restrained rage. “What do you think you’re doing?” he yelled, rushing towards Sherlock once more. He looked for a moment as though he was going to grab Sherlock, but at the last minute he stooped to pick up the papers instead, clutching them to his chest.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sherlock replied. “No, wait, don’t tell me. I bet you’re Dr. Anderson aren’t you? Obvious. Tell me, were they handing out the PhDs free with tins of biscuits on the day you popped into the university? Or do they award them to anyone who can hold a pen these days?” He paused, then leaned a bit closer - staring at Philip with what appeared to be disgust on his face “At least, I’m assuming you can hold a pen, but then again judging by the illegibility on these,” here he gestured towards the papers clutched in Philip’s arms, “quite apart from the utter idiocy contained within, perhaps not.” At this he looked away from Philip, dismissing him entirely, as he spotted Sarah, standing next to Molly a little further away.
“Dr. Beachman? Please tell me that not everyone here is a complete idiot. I don’t have the time to pick up the slack for all of you. I’m due in Poland next week.”
Philip had gone, if possible, even redder and was spluttering. John thought he probably didn’t know what to say after such a quick-fire attack from a stranger. A significantly taller stranger. Sarah looked amused. “That’s right” she said, extending out her hand for Sherlock to shake. “Dr. Holmes? The office called me this morning and told me you were on your way. I didn’t expect you to be here already.”
At this Philip turned back to face Sarah “You knew? You knew this man was coming?”
Sherlock rocked back on his heels, hands back in his pockets after shaking Sarah’s hand. “Oh, possible neolithic murder, try keeping me away. Especially now I’ve seen it. There are cannibalistic indications” he cried, the glee apparent in his voice. At this he spun back round and headed towards the skeleton, nodding to indicate that Sarah should join him. John followed just behind, unable to resist.
“Look here” said Sherlock pointing “You can see blunt force trauma to the skull, both here and here. There’s probably more all around. We’ll see more when we excavate the whole thing. But just here” at this he leaned down pointing to a humerus “You can see knife scrapings. Why would someone scrape away at this particular part? And there are ribs missing. I bet we won’t find them anywhere in the site. They’ve been removed. But why? If this was a normal burial they’d be here. Maybe they got carried away by time, or an animal. But the same thing was found in Gough cave in Cheddar when they found those cannibal tribes.”
He looked up, found John’s eyes and grinned a smile of pure excitement at him. John felt his stomach flip over. “Cannibals! In Devon. Oh it’s delicious” said Sherlock. John giggled. This got Philip’s attention.
“John! What are you still doing here? There are too many people around here as it is. You’re not needed. Go and help Tony do the surveying of the site.” He pointed over to where Tony was setting up the surveying equipment.
John sighed. Fun was over for the day he supposed. He got to his feet.
“Don’t forget to look for bone markings on the radius” he muttered “Professor Strand at the Somerset site said that often shows signs of deliberate marking and gnawing.” As he turned away he heard Sherlock’s exclamation of glee and Philip’s snort of derision. John smiled to himself.
The surveying was dull. It was a two man job but with each person always at a fair distance from each other it wasn’t conducive to chatting. By the end of the day John was aching and bored. As the group waited for the mini-van he made his way towards Molly. She was standing apart from the others, fiddling with the toggles on her wooly hat, a nervous habit she had.
“Hey, have you seen Dr. Holmes?” he asked.
Molly blushed “Is that the new specialist? No one has introduced us yet. I spent all day putting supports up in the trench. I don’t think he’s still here.” John was disappointed, Sherlock was easily the most interesting thing to have happened for a while. He was fascinating, and John had wanted to talk with him more about cannibalistic prehistoric Britons.
“I wonder where he’s staying?” John wondered aloud.
“Probably in a hotel, he’s not staying here very long is he?”
“Does Northlew even have a hotel?” John asked. Molly shrugged, her eyes on the minivan that had just pulled into the drive. “I don’t know. I can’t wait to get home, warm up in a shower and have a cup of tea. Honestly, it’s all I’ve been thinking of for the past two hours.” John nodded. Normally that’s what would be filling his head by this time of day, but now his thoughts were all focused on the man he had met that morning.
When John got back to his house, his housemate still hadn’t gotten back. He had the bathroom all to himself, and made use of his opportunity by taking a long hot shower. For once he didn’t have to worry about conserving the hot water for someone else. It was Friday, so everyone was meeting at the pub later. He thought it was worth popping in to see if anyone knew anything about the new archaeologist. Maybe the man himself would even be there. Smiling, John reached up for the shampoo, thinking that he might as well make himself as presentable as possible, just in case.
John lived in a crescent just ten minutes walk away from the White Stag, where everyone tended to gravitate to on Fridays, or most evenings if he was honest. There wasn’t much else to do in the town, and archaeologists were complete boozehounds, he’d discovered. His stomach rumbled. He and Jess were taking it in turns to cook dinner. It was Jess’ night to cook, but as she still wasn’t back by the time he’d dressed and smoothed his hair down to his satisfaction he’d decided not to bother waiting and just headed straight to the pub. He was probably a bit too excited, he admitted to himself. He pushed open the door to the pub and scanned around the dark lounge. At a far table he spotted Jess sitting opposite David, staring at two shots, with a bunch of archaeologists surrounding them. John rolled his eyes. Yet another drinking competition. He walked over.
“Oh hey John” she didn’t look up, instead grimly picking up a shot glass in each hand before slamming them both down.” She nodded at David. “Your turn.” He sighed.
“Shots is cheating” David muttered.
“You know the rules.”
The rules were stupid, thought John. Each person took turns deciding what to drink for each round. Their competitor then had to drink the same. Whoever threw up, or passed out first was the loser. David drank the shots, groaning, before getting to his feet and heading unsteadily towards the bar. “Okay, this time I’m getting something large and we are taking our time drinking it.” he said. At least this time it was only the two of them. John pulled up a chair and sat next to Jess. “So, what started it this time?” He looked at his watch “It’s only 6.30 Jess.” Jess rolled her eyes before resting her head on her arms. “He said that feminists have nothing to complain about because the queen is a woman. It was either punch him or challenge him to a drinking competition. For the honour of all women everywhere, John. I had to do it.”
John sighed, “You’re going to destroy your liver this way Jess. Can’t you just argue your case with words.”
She moaned, “But this is funnier. Their little faces when I beat them. It’s precious to crush their masculinity this way.” David returned at this point holding two pints of Guinness. Jess groaned, but reached for hers. John decided to leave them to it. He didn’t think he could watch his housemate get completely sloshed again. David was pretty big so it would probably take her a while to break him. He had no doubt that she would, she always did. He looked around the watching archaeologists who were chatting amongst themselves, whilst keeping half an eye on the drinking action happening at the table. Everyone there was from the first site, he didn’t know them that well so he rethought his plan about asking around about Sherlock straight away. He got up and went to the bar instead. He ordered a pint of ale and then sat at one of the bar stools and watched the football as he drank his drink.
John was nearly at the end of his second pint when Mike entered the pub. He spotted John and came straight over to join him. “John! What are you drinking?” He bought them each a pint before suggesting they move over to a table. John picked up his drink and joined him.
“So, we had a consultant come to the site today.” John broached the topic after taking a sip of his ale.
“Oh yeah, I heard something about that. To look at the neolithic skeleton right?”
“So, who did they send? Was it Johnson? Oh, he’s a right laugh. And he’s a great artist, you should see his field sketches. They’re works of art.”
John shook his head. “No, they sent a consultant. His name was Dr. Holmes. Or something like that.” Nonchalantly done, he thought to himself.
Mike choked on his drink. “Sherlock Holmes??”
John paused his pint half way up to his lips. “Yes, I think that was it. Why? Do you know him?”
“Bloody hell. Yeah, I know him. We hired him back in Dublin, when we found that child and horse skeleton together. You must have something really interesting if he’s accepted the case.”
“Oh, that’s how he refers to them, as cases, or mysteries. Like a detective novel written in the 1930s or something. He’s mad. Brilliant, but quite insane.”
“He didn’t seem insane to me.”
Mike looked at John more closely “Did he not? Did you talk to him?”
“A bit, not much” Not as much as I would have liked, John thought. “What does he do exactly? He said he was a consultant forensic archaeologist.”
“Ha. Yeah, he likes to call himself that. He’s self employed. Doesn’t work for a university, or a company or anything. Forensic archaeology is an actual thing, they’ve started teaching it in universities over here now. Probably started in the U.S.. Forensic archaeologists use archaeological principles and techniques for the location, recovery, and interpretation of evidence for past events. All within the criminal justice system. Missing persons, human rights and mass disasters. You’ve heard of Susan Black?”
“Yeah, I think she was on Radio 4 a couple of months ago. She worked on the Kosovo mass graves didn’t she?”
“Exactly. She’s a forensic anthropologist. It’s similar.”
“So Sherlock investigates mass crimes? Why is he here for a neolithic skeleton?”
“Ah. No. He’s interested in old crimes. Prehistory crimes. That’s what he does.”
“How? How can he possibly work out what ‘crimes’ happened? Is it even a crime that long ago?”
Mike shrugged “Probably technically not. But, he doesn’t care about that.”
John shook his head, absorbing this information. Mike continued talking “He really is brilliant. He just thinks about things differently. He sees things that others don’t. He wrapped up our thing with the horse in four hours. Just amazing.”
John thought about this, remembering the way that Sherlock had looked him up and down and had seen that he’d been invalided out of the army. It was amazing. Had been amazing. He hoped fervently that it would take him more than four hours to work out what had happened to the neolithic skeleton.
“Of course, he has no social skills. My entire team hated him.” Mike continued.
John shook his head and picked up his pint again. Sherlock probably wasn’t going to come to the pub. But hopefully he’d be back on the site on Monday. The test results for the bone and soil samples wouldn’t be ready for at least a week. He just wanted the chance to talk to him some more.
John spent the weekend in bed. He’d ended up drinking quite a bit with Mike on Friday night and woke on Saturday feeling somewhat the worse for wear. Once his hangover was feeling more manageable he’d lost any will he might have had to get up and be proactive. It was cold and raining both days. So, he curled up under his duvet, put on the radio, and tried his best to sleep the weekend away. Occasionally he emerged from his nest to seek out tea. On a couple of these excursions he crossed paths with Jess who was looking equally green around the gills. She’d succeeded in drinking David under the table. She also spent Saturday recovering. On Sunday though she went caving with a group of people from her site. She invited John to go with them. But, he didn’t like the sound of the free caving they favoured - it involved finding a hole in the ground and climbing in, unregistered and unmarked. He thought it sounded like a recipe for death. So instead he just went back to bed and dozed his Sunday away.
Monday dawned bright and sunny for once. The leaves on the trees were changing colours and the yellow and orange against the bright blue sky made the work site actually look beautiful for once. John approached the break cabin, as he needed to pick up his high vis vest and his trowel. Betty, the farmer’s dog, ran up to him with her whole back half wiggling in joy.
“Hello girl,” he reached down to stroke her. She waggled even harder and tried to lick as much of his skin as she could reach.
“It’s nice to see her off her chain” said Tony, arriving behind John.
As they both petted the excited dog a cry of “Oh no!” came from the cabin. John limped inside, leaning on the doorframe to steady himself a little. He was still feeling a bit wobbly after spending so many hours sleeping over the weekend. Inside he found Molly looking down at her high vis vest with an expression of dismay.
“What’s wrong Molls?” John asked.
“Someone’s defaced my vest” Molly said, looking up at him with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. Tony sniggered.
John reached for the vest, holding it up so that he could read the back. Some of the team had been writing their names on the back of their vests so that it was clear at a distance who was who, and to stop others stealing them when they lost theirs. On the back of Molly’s was her name written in her own loopy writing, and then underneath someone had added ‘whore’ in capital letters. It looked vicious. John sucked in a breath. “Bloody hell,” he exclaimed.
Molly was trying hard not to cry, gasping in breaths, her voice shaky “Why would someone do that? I know no one likes me but…” she trailed off helplessly, looking again at the vicious word scrawled under her name.
“Don’t be silly. I like you Molly.” John said. “And this is nasty.”
“Is it true?” Tony asked, winking in Molly’s direction. At this she couldn’t stop the tears and rushed out of the cabin, crying noisily.
“For fuck’s sake Tony. What’s wrong with you?” John said, turning angrily to Tony.
Tony shrugged, “Come on John, it is pretty funny.”
“No it’s not. Did you write this?”
“No I didn’t. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it though. Molly’s annoying, always going on about that MSc she did.”
John shook his head “You’re a dick” he said, going back outside to try and find Molly, picking up his high vis vest on the way.
Molly hadn’t gone far. She was leaning her forehead on the wall of the corrugated hut, trying to calm her breathing. She was angrily wiping at her eyes, as if angry with her own weaknesses. John approached her carefully. He held out his high vis vest. “Here,” he said “take mine. I’ll take yours. Ignore Tony. People don’t hate you, he’s just an idiot.”
Molly turned her tear-stained face in his direction. “I was so excited about this dig. It’s my first paid job since uni. I don’t understand why everyone is so mean.”
“Not everyone” said John, offering his vest again.
“Are you sure?” Molly sniffed “You don’t want to go around with this on your back surely?”
John shrugged. “It’s not so inaccurate. My army mates always called me ‘Three continents Watson’. I’m sure I don’t have to paint you a picture of what they meant by that.”
Molly sniffed again and offered him a weak smile. “Thanks, John. You’re a nice guy.”
John shrugged. He didn’t think he was so great. But compared to Tony he guessed he was. Tony set the bar punishingly low though, so it wasn’t particularly reassuring. Molly wiped her face on the sleeve of her jumper, before shrugging on John’s vest.
“Thank you again. I’ll try and find a marker pen so you can scrub out the back.”
John shrugged. “No hurry. Maybe we can work out who wrote this by their reaction when they see me wearing it.”
John was on his knees troweling a new section in the East corner of the site when he heard footsteps approaching him from behind.
“Why does it say ‘Whore’ on your back?”
John swivelled round to see Sherlock Holmes smirking at him.
“I’m trying out a new nickname.”
Sherlock raised a single eyebrow at him. “Interesting. Have you seen Dr. Beachman? I want to complain at her.”
“She was in the finds shack the last time I saw her. What do you want to complain about?”
“Two things. One: my hotel is horrendous. I doubt she can do anything about that, but it’ll make me feel better to get it off my chest. Two: and more importantly, the lab is being too slow getting the bone analysis back to us.”
“It’s only Monday.”
“And they’ve had the entire weekend to work on it. Tedious.”
“I don’t think the labs are open on weekends, are they?”
“Ridiculous. If I were closer to London I could have done it myself. Instead I spent the whole weekend being bored out of my skull.”
John sat back on his heels. He’d been hoping that Sherlock would come to the site today. But now that he was actually here, actually in front of him, John wasn’t sure what he should say.
“So, what’s wrong with your hotel?”
Sherlock started pacing in short strides back and forth in front of John.
“They have the most ridiculous rules, that they actually enforce. They wouldn’t let me keep my bones on the desk. Ridiculous.”
Sherlock ignored John’s question, and just kept going with his complaints. “They claimed it upset the maid. Honestly! She must have seen worse. Especially when you factor in the fact that the man who had my room before me was a sex and porn addict.”
John stared at Sherlock. How did he know this?
As if reading his mind Sherlock answered the unasked question. “Obvious. You only had to look at the stains around the bed and nightstand. Cleaners in these smaller hotels always miss those areas - not enough time to thoroughly clean the rooms when there are only two of you and a fast turn around.”
“Amazing” John breathed, his mouth working before his brain could catch up and advise him on the merits of the idea.
Sherlock paused his pacing to stare at John straight in the face. “It was nice of you to swap vests with Ms. Hooper, but you realise they’re probably just going to deface her new one as well. Pathetic.” And with that he spun away and stalked towards the finds hut, presumably to find Sarah and berate her over the laziness of laboratories that closed over the weekend. John watched him go and then reluctantly turned back to his trowel scraping.
John couldn’t quite work out what Sherlock’s methods were. Unlike the other archaeologists he didn’t seem to be sketching or recording the skeleton. He started by standing and staring at it for a full hour, not moving except to rub his hands vigorously through his hair every ten minutes or so. Then, he took off and started pacing around the site, muttering to himself.
“Hey!” shouted Philip “Stop walking all over the site you’re going to ruin something.” Sherlock paused in his pacing to shout back that there was nothing else worth ruining before continuing as he was. Philip walked angrily over to where Sarah was talking with Ines.
“Can’t you do something about him?”
“He’s fine. He’s probably right, there doesn’t seem to be anything else here.”
“What is he doing? He’s not even looking at the skeleton anymore.”
Sarah shrugged, “I’ve not worked with him before, but he’s the best at this sort of thing. Just leave him alone. Why don't you go and help Molly with that trench?”
John thought this was a little unfair of Sarah on Molly, but was mainly just glad that Philip was not being sent in his direction. He sat back on his heels to give his knees a rest and looked over to where Sherlock was pacing. He desperately wanted to talk to him some more, but was unsure how he would even start such an enterprise.
“Ah ha!” Sherlock suddenly cried out and started searching through his pockets. John watched, intrigued and completely forgetting the troweling he was supposed to be doing. Sherlock found what he was looking for, whipped out what looked like a large magnifying glass and went back to the skeleton. He knelt and peered closely at the edges. Sarah looked up, spotted that John was staring at Sherlock rather than working. She came over to him “Come on” she said “Let’s go and see what he’s doing shall we?”
“Oh, yes please” John replied, as he got to his feet, with difficulty. They went over together to where Sherlock was kneeling.
“Do you have any more ideas, Dr. Holmes?” Sarah asked.
“Oh, eight. No, wait, seven” he replied, not looking up from where he was examining the left arm of the skeleton.
“Was she murdered?” asked John. Sarah gave him a weird look.
“Oh, definitely.” Sherlock paused and looked at at John. “Unless you think she volunteered to be killed, half eaten and then ritualistically buried. Which, actually, does happen. But look here,” he pointed at the arm he’d been inspecting. “This arm was broken in a struggle” The radius had a jagged crack running through it. He jumped to his feet and came up to John. “May I?” he asked holding out his hand. John nodded and gave him his left arm. Sherlock took it and placed John’s hand on his chest. John hoped furiously that he wasn’t blushing. Sherlock had turned his head to Sarah and continued his explanation to her. “She probably pushed away her attacker with this arm, left handed, like John, maybe that’s why she was chosen.” He paused, as if to consider this, and then shook his head and continued, “but the attacker grabbed it and twisted it like this.” He demonstrated on John, “and then put pressure here and snap.” At this he released John rather than put the pressure onto his arm.
“Thank you for not actually breaking my arm there,” John muttered, rubbing his arm.
Sherlock didn’t seem to be listening. He was staring back at the skeleton and rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “And then there are the deliberate markings on some of the bones.” He paused, ran his hands through his hair one more time and then declared “I’m done with this. You can pack it up and send it off now.” He waved his hand vaguely in the air. “I need to think about it.” He turned swiftly and strode off away from the site.
“Um. Is he coming back?” asked John.
“No idea,” said Sarah. “Okay, let’s go get the equipment and finish recording everything that’s here. John, go get Molly and Philip. You can take over at the trench.”
By the end of the day the possibly-neolithic skeleton had been fully photographed, sketched, measured, and finally carefully removed and bagged. Sarah was arranging a courier for the next day to pick up the evidence bags and take them straight to the office laboratory.
Sherlock didn’t come back for the rest of the day.
John had spent the whole of Monday evening thinking about Dr. Holmes, and how he could connive a way to spend more time with him than he’d managed so far. Sherlock was the most interesting thing to happen to him since he’d arrived in Devon. He needed to speak with him more. But the man didn’t stay still long enough at the site to talk to for long. And who even knew if he’d be returning now that the skeleton was being sent away.
By the time Tuesday dawned he’d come up with what he felt was a solid idea. John was feeling optimistic, with a bit of a spring in his step. He had a plan. He was going to ask Sherlock if he still hated his hotel. That was his in. The house that he and Jess were renting had a spare bedroom. There was no reason that Sherlock couldn’t stay in it for the duration of his stay. John had decided that he’d ask him today. He would. The day was sunny and crisp again, a perfect day for taking chances.
John wasn’t really paying much attention to his surroundings as he walked across the site. He was still musing over how he was going to broach the topic with Sherlock when Sarah suddenly shouted for help. On arriving Sarah had gone straight over to the small trench where the skeleton had been found. They were going to continue excavating around where the skeleton had been found, in case anything else related could be found in the surrounding area. John looked over to where she was standing. She was on the edge of the trench, looking down. As he started walking towards her he was over-taken by a dash of dark wool. Sherlock was sprinting towards Sarah, who having shouted for help was now standing quietly with her hand pressed against her mouth, still looking down. Sherlock joined her and looked down also. Just as John got to them Sherlock muttered “Fascinating” under his breath.
John looked down to see what they were both looking at.
In the trench lay a man, unmoving.
I did two updates this week as next week I'm going on holiday in France. There are rumours of WiFi where I'm staying, so hopefully I will be able to update anyway. This was just in case.
A body has been found on the site but with no ID. Who is it?
John immediately lent down and pressed his fingers into the mans neck, searching for a pulse. The man was cold. Too cold. And John couldn’t find a pulse. Sarah now seemed to be coming out of her frozen shocked state and was searching through her pockets for her phone. “We need to call the police,” she said.
“He’s dead,” said John.
“Good deduction” drawled Sherlock sarcastically. “Do you know who he is? Is it one of the archaeologists on this dig?”
“You know everyone on this dig, of course it’s not.”
Sherlock shrugged “I can’t be expected to remember unimportant people.”
John winced. “No it’s no one from here, or the other dig either. He’s not one of us.”
Sarah meanwhile had phoned 999 and reported the body. “The police are on their way” she told them “And an ambulance.”
“Fat lot of good that’ll do,” said Sherlock, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.
“You can’t smoke here.” John couldn’t help staring at the way Sherlock’s fingers moved over the packet. He had lovely fingers, long and expressive. His hands looked strong, his skin soft.
“I’m not going to, obviously I know not to contaminate a crime scene. I’m going to smoke this,” at this he waved a cigarette in the air “over there.” He pointed towards the break hut.
“The whole site is a crime scene” said Sarah. “Don’t smoke anywhere. I’m going to tell the others to stay in the hut whilst we wait for the police. Don’t go anywhere.” She stalked off towards the break hut where the others were beginning to come out to see what was happening.
“I don’t think Sarah meant that we had to stay right here. We can probably go and sit down, have a cup of tea maybe.” said John.
“Boring” replied Sherlock, bending down towards the body. He got his phone out from his pocket and started taking photos.
“What are you doing?”
“It’ll take the police at least 15 minutes to get here, but still, best to gather the evidence as quickly as we can.” Putting his phone away he started feeling around the edges of the body’s head.
“Hey!” cried John, “I don’t think you should be doing that.”
Sherlock shushed him “Keep an eye out for Sarah coming back.” He hummed to himself as he started going through the dead man’s pockets. John started to shift anxiously. This was making him nervous. What was Sherlock doing? Just as he started to think to himself that he should drag Sherlock away from the body before he contaminated it any more, Sherlock stood up.
“There’s no ID. Curious.”
He spun around and started heading back towards the cabins.
“Come John! Tea is just the thing whilst we wait for the next act.”
John ended up making tea for everyone. Half the team was standing because Sherlock had sprawled himself across the majority of the bench, looking like some kind of supine Greek God in repose. Sherlock had been right about the timing of the arrival of the police. It was twenty minutes before two doubtful looking constables arrived. They quickened their pace as soon as they were shown to the body, rushing back to their car to radio it in.
A detective wearing plain clothes arrived some time later, and popped into the break cabin to tell everyone to stay where they were. The police planned on interviewing everyone before they could go home. Sarah offered the office cabin to them to conduct the interviews in, an offer the detective accepted gratefully.
“My name is D.I. Tomlinson. I’ll start with the people who found the body please.”
At this Sarah tentatively put up her hand, “I found him, and then John and Sherlock joined me.”
Sherlock raised himself into a sitting position, “You’d be best talking with me first. I noticed one or two things of interest.”
D.I. Tomlinson raised one of her eyebrows at this, “Did you now? Well, Sir, please, be my guest.” She beckoned towards the doorway. John watched as Sherlock swooped out ahead of the D.I.. As this left plenty of space on the bench, John sat down. He eased himself down slowly and carefully, his leg was sore from all the standing. Sarah sat shakily on his right side, and Jordí plopped himself down onto the left.
“This is a morning of drama,” said Jordí, before sipping from his mug. He put the mug on the floor at his feet and then patted John on the shoulder, “Bad luck for you seeing this thing, no?” John winced, Jordí had managed to put pressure right on his shoulder wound. “Oh, sorry” Jordi added.
“It’s fine,” said John, “Just a bad morning.”
“Do you know who it is?”
John shook his head and Sarah looked up from where she’d been texting on her phone. “It’s no one that I recognise,” she said. John looked around the cabin. Everyone looked shocked and upset. The Swedes were standing whispering with Andrew, Phil was twitching in the corner, and Molly was standing staring at nothing whilst sipping her tea. Nearly everyone had their phones out, texting friends probably, John thought to himself. John considered messaging Mike, but then decided that it could wait. He thought it a bit depressing that he only had the one friend he could think of to message in such a time of crisis. Telling. Next to him Jordí shifted around a bit as if trying to make himself more comfortable. John thought a bit on what he’d just said. “What do you mean ‘a morning of drama’?”
Jordí turned to him and gestured towards the door, “Oh, I was being, how do you say - full of the drama.”
“Melodramatic,” Molly added, coming over to join their conversation.
Jordí smiled at her, “Yes, I was being melodramatic. This morning David could not find his work shoes, and, oh, the noise that he made about it. They mysteriously vanished in the night, poof, gone. So, we search and do not find them. David, he is very angry. And then I arrive here and there is a dead person. It is very dramatic. But the dead person is obviously more important.”
John was glad that he didn’t live with David. From what Jordí told them it seemed that he was always blowing up over something. They all sat around in silence for what seemed to be forever, but was probably only fifteen minutes. John was about to offer to make more tea when D.I. Tomlinson reappeared in the doorway. “I’d like to speak to you now Dr. Beachman,” she said. Sarah got to her feet and followed the D.I. out of the cabin. John had just opened his mouth to suggest tea when Sherlock breezed back in.
“John! Come here.” He gave in a ‘come hither’ gesture before rushing back outside. John turned to Jordí who just shrugged at him. He looked over to where Phil was standing in the corner to see if he had an objection. Phil was too busy chewing on his nails and looking anxious to even notice that Sherlock had come back inside. Sighing wearily, John got to his feet and followed Sherlock outside.
“What is it? I was finally sitting down.”
“The police are idiots. I need to go into town.”
“And what is that to do with me?”
“My phone doesn’t have reception, I need yours to call a taxi.”
John handed his phone over and watched as Sherlock’s fingers flew over the surface. “It’ll be here in about five minutes. Let’s go up the lane and meet it.” Sherlock wasn’t looking at John. He’d turned away and started walking to the site exit. John pulled him by the sleeve.
“Hang on. I haven’t spoken to the police yet, I can’t just leave.”
Sherlock bounced on the heels of his feet impatiently, “You don’t know anything that I haven’t told them already. Do you really want to wait here, with them, drinking tea all day,” He gestured back to the break cabin, “Or do you want to come with me and find out who killed that man?” John looked into Sherlock’s blue, green eyes, and felt a thrill of excitement for the first time in a long time. He didn’t know why Sherlock wanted him to come into town with him. All he knew was that he wanted to go with him. John straightened up and walked decisively towards the site exit and the road beyond.
“Come on then. Let’s go find that taxi.”
He was facing away from Sherlock and so didn’t see the triumphant smile that crossed the man’s face.
John spent the taxi ride into the centre of town anxiously questioning his decision to follow Sherlock. And rehearsing in his head how to ask him if he wanted to move into his house. He should have been thinking about the dead man, he knew that. But he couldn’t concentrate on that. Not when Sherlock was sitting right there next to him in the taxi. He was so close that John could smell his cologne. It smelt fancy, expensive. Sherlock was well out of his league. Sometimes, John didn’t even bother putting on deodorant. He trailed his fingers along the bottom edge of his jumper, self conscious. Sherlock directed the taxi driver to pull up outside a pub on the high street called the “Cock and fiddle.” He slid out of the taxi, leaving John to pay the taxi with a hasty tenner that he managed to find in his pocket. There was no change and John grumbled to himself as he stepped onto the pavement and looked up at the pub sign. It showed a disgruntled looking cockerel standing on a violin. Was there a difference between a violin and a fiddle? John didn’t know. He jumped as Sherlock slammed his hand against the pub door in frustration. “It’s closed!”
John looked at his watch, “It’s only 9 o’clock Sherlock. Of course it’s closed.”
“Urgh, this is why I hate the country. Does no one have brunch in Devon?”
“Not at 9 o’clock in a pub. Are you hungry? The bakery is probably open.”
“This pub was the best place to find out who our dead man was.” Sherlock rubbed his fingers along his forehead, “This is where the road protesters hold their meetings.”
“Wait, how do you know he’s a road protester?”
“Obvious, John. Did you notice his hands? He had flecks of coloured paint and marker on his fingers. As well as a few splinters. Clearly he’d been making signs. And then there was the CND badge he had pinned to his jacket. So, a conscientious man. Clearly cares about the environment if his vegan shoes are anything to go by. And he’s been making signs recently. What events around here might warrant signs? The road protest. Obvious.”
“Amazing”, John breathed.
Sherlock smiled at him, but a bit hesitantly, as if he wasn’t quite used to getting this kind of reaction when he revealed his thinking.
They walked together down the high street until they came to a newsagents. Sherlock walked them inside muttering something about small town gossips under his breath. As they approached the counter, behind which a middle aged woman was leaning reading a paper, John was surprised to see a transformation take place over Sherlock. He slouched down a bit to reduce his impressive height and, adjusted his face somehow. Instead of looking superiorly intelligent and curious he now seemed relaxed, open and friendly. Sherlock gave the woman a large smile. It looked genuine, though John was sure that it was nothing but an act. An impressive act though.
The woman looked at from her paper and smiled at Sherlock. “Morning love, how can I help you?”
Sherlock leaned across the counter “I’m new in town and don’t know anyone here yet. Have you been here long?” he asked.
The woman chuckled “Oh, I’ve been here all my life. Know everyone. Have you just moved in? Want some tips on the clubs?”
Sherlock shook his head “No, I’m just here for work. I wondered if you might know who this is…” he pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed it’s screen, clearly looking for the photos he’d taken earlier. John had a bad feeling about this and was about to intervene when Sherlock found what he was looking for and turned the phone to the woman.
She gasped and clenched her hands on the newspaper convulsively. “Oh my god. That’s…it’s… James. James McAlister. But how…” she trailed off and looked back at Sherlock with tears in her eyes. John looked down at the photo. The man was clearly dead in the photo. Not exactly tactful, he thought to himself.
Sherlock straightened back up to his full height, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. “James McAlister. Brilliant. Now, what can you tell me about him?”
John finally gets around to asking Sherlock to move in with him.
*Warning for homophobic language and attitudes.*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Do you want to move in with me?”
Sherlock paused where he was attempting to pick the lock of the door of James McAlister’s flat to stare at John.
Oh crap, thought John to himself. After all his planning, he’d just panicked and blurted it out at a completely random moment. He back-pedalled, “I mean, um, move in with me and Jess. In our room. Our spare room!” He resisted the urge to slap his hand against his face, choosing to just lean against the corridor wall instead.
Sherlock bit his bottom lip, “You and Jess are….” he trailed off.
John stared, mesmerised, at Sherlock’s bottom lip, now slightly reddened and plumped from where Sherlock had bitten it. It took a while for him to realise that Sherlock was watching him, waiting for him to add extra information. “Oh no! No no no. We’re just housemates. We have separate rooms, obviously. I only met her a month ago. Just, you know, you said you hated your hotel, and so I was thinking, that you might like to. Move in. With us. For the week.” John took a deep breath. Was that too much? He didn’t even know where he was going with this any more. He felt a proper fool. Sherlock hummed noncommittally and turned back to the lock. He fiddled a bit more with two of his picks, made a triumphant noise, stood up and opened the door.
John followed Sherlock into the flat, trying not to think too much on the fact that Sherlock hadn’t given him an answer. He supposed that was answer in itself. The flat was small. The front door opened straight into the living room, which also had a small kitchen counter against one wall. “Converted terrace house, done for the money, so, poorly planned,” said Sherlock as he started opening drawers and cupboards. John walked over to the window and peeked outside. The flat was on the second floor and the window looked out onto the street below. It was a quiet street, and a workday so no one was about. He turned back to the room and walked towards the mantlepiece. It was clearly the focal point of the room, with the sofa and an armchair grouped around it. On top were several framed photos. John picked up one of McAlister with a man. They were both smiling and had their arms slung about each others shoulders. McAlister looked very happy, his skin slightly more tanned than when they’d found him this morning, but still contrasting strongly with the dark skin of the man next to him.
“Ex-boyfriend”, said Sherlock coming over to stand next to John.
“How do you know he’s not a current boyfriend?”
Sherlock gestured at the flat, “Two people used to live here, but you can see spaces where possessions have been removed. Quite recently too, otherwise the gaps would have been filled. There are condoms in the kitchen drawer, but right at the back. Thrown in there during a tidying spree, probably months, or even years ago. They weren’t needed because of an ongoing committed relationship. McAlister didn’t break it off. He was dumped.”
“How do you know he was dumped?”
Sherlock nodded back to the photo in John’s hand, “If he’d been the one to decide to break up he wouldn’t have kept the photo.” At this Sherlock took the photo from John, and his voice turned a bit wistful, “but no, he kept this in pride of place on the mantle. Sentiment.” He put the frame back onto the mantlepiece, then took out his phone and snapped a picture of it. “I doubt that there’s anything else useful here, but you go check the bedroom and I’ll look in the bathroom.”
John had some qualms about all this searching through somebody's private stuff. He’d expressed this to Sherlock on the way to the flat, who had instantly dismissed his worries, pointing out that McAlister could hardly mind, being dead as he was. John made his way into the bedroom. The bed was unmade, a jumble of tangled sheets and duvet. There wasn’t space for much else other than the bed, just a smallish wooden wardrobe against the wall. Halfheartedly, John opened the wardrobe and looked inside, still feeling bad about going through a dead man’s things. There was nothing in there but clothes in boring shades of brown and grey. He thought about looking under the bed, but decided his leg wouldn’t be able to take it. Probably wasn’t anything under there anyway. Instead he went back out into the living room. Sherlock was standing in the middle running his gloved hands through his hair. John felt his heart skip a beat.
“Anything in the bedroom?”
John shook his head.
“Nothing in the bathroom either. Let’s go. There obviously isn’t anything else here. Let’s go and find the ex-boyfriend. He’ll have more information for us.”
John looked at his watch. He really should be getting back to work. But, then again, the site probably wouldn’t be opened again for a few days at least. As he followed Sherlock back out of the flat he narrowly avoided bumping into a man who was leaving the flat opposite. “Oops, sorry,” John said. The man scowled at him.
“Watch where you’re going.”
“Sorry mate,” said John looking to where Sherlock was disappearing down the stairs. The man was blocking his way in the corridor.
“I’m not your mate,” he turned to lock his door and muttered “disgusting” half under his breath.
John looked at him, a bit shocked, “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You and that posh twat” here he nodded in the direction that Sherlock had gone, “I know what you’ve been up to.”
John’s stomach dropped. Had the man seen them breaking in to McAlister’s flat? The neighbour continued, “In there with that ponce. It ain’t right. I’m going to take it up with the landlord again. I shouldn’t have to put up with deviant orgies. I’ve got kids.”
What the fuck? John glared at the man, and pulled himself up to his full height. “Having children doesn’t give you the right to be an ignorant, bigoted prat,” John said before pushing his way past him and racing down the stairs to catch up with Sherlock.
He found him outside, smoking a cigarette whilst leaning against the small wall separating the front garden from the pavement. He raised a single eyebrow at John in question. John sighed and sat on the wall next to him. “Got distracted by one of McAlister’s neighbours. Charming bloke. Accused us of engaging in an orgy.”
“Interesting,” said Sherlock “Did you get his name?”
“No, but he came out of the flat directly opposite.”
Sherlock got up and went to look at the bell plates next to the front door, “Mr. Pringle. What a very fitting name. Homophobia isn’t very surprising in a town this small. I hope this isn't just a hate crime. How dull that would be.”
“Sherlock! A man is dead!”
“And would caring help him at this point?”
John shook his head mutely. Sherlock continued, “Then I shan't be making that mistake, come on John. Let’s go back to the shop and see if the woman there knows where McAlister’s ex-boyfriend is now living.”
When they got back to the shop they found it closed. Probably the woman had been so upset to discover one of her customers was dead that she’s shut it up for the day. Sherlock sighed heavily in exasperation. “This is going to take forever at this rate.” He looked up at down the street and then started walking briskly towards the pub again. This time when they got there it was open. The day had turned out to be a cool one, but inside the pub it was stiflingly warm. There were no less than two fires blazing away in grates at opposite ends of the long saloon. As Sherlock approached the bar he loosened the scarf around his neck. John undid the buttons at the front of his coat, and contemplated taking it off altogether. Behind the bar a bored looking woman was slumped. She was large set (has big bones, as John’s mum would have said) had dark hair pulled into a messy bun on top of her head, and a septum piercing, which was probably fairly rare in a small Devon town. She looked as though she was in her early twenties, and desperate to escape.
John pushed ahead of Sherlock, deciding that he should intervene before more photos of the dead were flashed around. “Morning, we were wondering if we could ask you some questions?” The woman looked up from where she’d been playing some kind of coloured stacking game on her phone.
“You police?” she asked.
John shook his head, “No, but we were wondering if you knew who this was”. He clicked his fingers at Sherlock for the phone. Wordlessly, Sherlock flicked to the relevant photo of McAlister and the mystery man. The woman clicked her tongue as she looked at the photo.
“That’s James and Anthony”
Sherlock leaned forward over the bar eagerly, “Anthony who?”
She looked up at him, “I don’t know his last name. He works over at the library though. Why, what’s he done?”
“Nothing,” said John, taking back the phone, “Thanks for your help.” Sherlock was already leaving, readjusting his scarf as he went. John caught up with him just outside the pub and handed his phone back to him.
“Library’s this way,” said John pointing in the opposite direction to the one Sherlock was going in. Sherlock span around with a huff of annoyance.
Sherlock turned to him, “Why don’t you go back inside and ask that woman what else she knows about James and Anthony? I think it’s a better idea for us to split our resources at this point. If I have to stand in that hot bar for one more minute I’ll go mad. So, I’ll go to the library, you go in and chat up the barmaid some more.”
John huffed, “I was not chatting her up. I barely spoke to her.”
“Well, maybe you should try it, you might some useful information from her that way.”
John just stared at him, unable to think up a suitable response. Sherlock didn’t say anything more, just turned and strode off towards the library. John was left alone on the pavement feeling suddenly bereft. Had Holmes been trying to get rid of him? Too late, he realised that they hadn’t arranged where they were going to meet next. And he didn’t even have his number. John thought about chasing after him, but his leg was hurting, so he just turned and re-entered the pub.
The woman in the pub hadn’t really had anything extra to add that was particularly helpful. John learned that her name was Sophie, that her parents owned the pub, and that she hated Northlew. She knew James and Anthony from working in the pub. They’d been in fairly regularly. Anthony had stopped coming a couple of months ago, and recently James had been having meetings about the road protest in the pub. But beyond that she didn’t know much. John got her number in case he had any follow up questions, but mainly to spite Sherlock. Not that Sherlock would care. After finding that Sophie had very little information to share John had limped his way up to the library. Only to find that the library was closed on Mondays. He peered through the windows into the darkened room beyond to see if perhaps Sherlock had broken in, but there was no movement. He tried the door, and finding it locked, gave up. He limped home.
It took John about forty-five minutes to get home. It wasn’t far from the centre of town, but he had to keep sitting down and having small rests. By the time he made it home he was hot, embarrassed and in a foul mood. He crashed his way in through the back door and found Jess sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea with Jordí, David and Tony.
“John! Where have you been? We were just talking about you,” Jess said looking up at him as he made his inelegant entrance.
John looked up at the kitchen clock, it was gone two, “Oh, I was in town with Sherlock,” for some reason he was unwilling to share the reason so he just added “he wanted to get breakfast.”
“Man, Sarah was livid when she saw the two of you had gone,” said Tony, “As was that policewoman.”
John didn’t know what to say to this so chose to say nothing, and just headed over to the kettle to make himself some tea. He was limping badly by this point. Jess got to her feet and came over, taking the mug from his hands. “Go sit down at the table. I’ll make you some tea.”
He gratefully went and sank down into a chair. Jordí grinned at him. “So, you and the attractive specialist disappear for hours. That was a long breakfast.” He winked.
Tony frowned, “Leave off Jordí, it’s not on to imply things like that.”
Jordí shrugged, “You English are always so uptight about sex.” Everyone laughed, like it was a ridiculous thing to suggest. John laughed along with them, lacking the energy for anything else. He gratefully accepted the tea from Jess. David passed him the sugar. Even though he didn’t normally take it he added two spoonfuls. It had been a tiring morning, after all. He let the conversation drift around him, too tired and despondent to join in. He just nodded along, and laughed when the others laughed. Everyone had been sent home after the police had finished the interviews, the other site as well as Johns.
“We were thinking of hitting the pub after this, want to come?”, Jess asked, turning to John. He yawned, suddenly so exhausted he could hardly keep his eyes open.
“No, I think I’ll just go to bed, have a nap,” he got to his feet and started heading towards the kitchen door, “Maybe I’ll see you all later.” He didn’t stay long enough to listen to the various goodbyes thrown at him from the table. It was all he could do to make it to his bedroom and strip off his clothes before collapsing onto the bed.
When John next woke the room was in darkness. He shifted to his side to look at his digital clock. It read 1 am. He’d been asleep for over ten hours! He was lying on top of his duvet, in only his pants. The room was cold and goosebumps prickled across his skin. It wasn’t this that had woken him though. He had a keen feeling that there’d been a noise, or something. Suddenly there was a scrape in the far corner of his room, the one furthest from the window and therefore the darkest. He was sure this was what had probably woken him. Heart beating faster John slowly raised himself up on to his elbows, took a breath and looked into the corner. There was a tall, dark outline there. The outline of a man standing at the edge of the bed. Before John could even say anything the outline stepped closer, and into a patch of moonlight coming from the window.
“Hello John,” said Sherlock Holmes, “I hope the offer of a place to sleep still stands.”
I wrote this whilst sheltering from a colossal thunder and lightening storm in the middle of a French campsite. It was most conducive to my finger-words.
At first John can’t believe his eyes. He’s still half asleep, surely this must be a dream. Dr Sherlock Holmes cannot be standing at the foot of his bed at one in the morning. But, as he blinks the sleep from his eyes, his mind wakes up a bit more and becomes sharper. He is. Sherlock Holmes is standing there, his smug expression beginning to slip the longer John stares at him saying nothing. John is suddenly, iridescently, furious.
“What the ever-living fuck?”
John pushes himself up, so he is fully sitting. He leans over and turns on the bedside light. This won’t do, he’s still lower than Holmes, having to look up to meet his eye. He gets to his feet. With the extra height the bed offers he is now looming above Holmes. John clenches his fists, one after the other. He glares at Holmes. The man clears his throat, and his eyes drop suddenly from John’s face to skitter across the rest of his body. Too late, John remembers that he’s only in his pants. His first impulse is to cover up, but he ignores it, squaring his shoulders instead. It’s his room and he refuses to be cowed. The tension is thick as they both stand staring, but not talking. Eventually the silence gets too much for John, so he breaks it once more.
“What are you doing in my room at one in the bloody morning?”
Sherlock clears his throat again. His eyes seem to be stuck on John’s left shoulder. Fuck, thinks John, the scar. It’s not that he’d forgotten the mess that his left shoulder is, more of a deliberate attempt to push the knowledge out of the forefront of his mind. It’s an attempt at forgetting, at best. Normally he keeps it covered. This is the first time that someone non-medical has seen his shoulder since the accident. John’s fingers itch with the desire to pick up a blanket, or his t-shirt and cover his body. He ignores the impulse.
“You were shot.”
John frowns at this. Bloody typical that Sherlock would ignore his question.
“Yes. And? I didn’t need you to wake me up at one in the morning to tell me things I already know. How did you even get in here?”
“I climbed the trellis. Really John, you should be more careful sleeping with your window open.”
“You should be more careful with climbing into the bedrooms of ex-soldiers in the middle of the night. That’s how you get shot.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have a gun.” Sherlock paused, noting the way that John’s eyes had flicked guiltily towards his desk. “Oh wait, you do? Fascinating.”
John’s anger stared to subside even as his frustration increased. “What. are. you. doing. here?” he repeated, stressing each word slowly as he leaned his body over Sherlock. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch Sherlock, laugh, or grab him by the lapels of his coat and pull him onto the bed. Possibly all three, his subconscious unhelpfully supplied.
Sherlock stepped back and leaned against the window, “I need your help breaking into the undertakers.”
John hadn’t really had any expectations about why Sherlock was in his bedroom, but he was still surprised by this answer. And a tiny bit disappointed. He sat back down, slipped off the bed and started rooting around for his clothes.
“Oh.” He pulled his t-shirt on. “Wait. Why do you need help? I saw you pick a lock perfectly well earlier.”
Sherlock watched as John pulled his trousers on and started looking around for his socks.
“I thought you might like it.” Sherlock suddenly sounded unsure of himself. John looked up and caught a flicker of something sweep across Sherlock’s face, before just as suddenly it was gone and he looked cool and slightly remote again. “I want to get a look at McAlister’s body again. I only had a brief glimpse earlier.”
John sighed. He knew he should still be angry. It wasn't normal. He should find it creepy that this man climbed a trellis to his bedroom at one in the morning to ask him if he wanted to go look at a corpse. But for some reason he didn’t. He found it slightly charming in a way that he instantly decided not to examine more closely.
“Fine. Let’s go then.” John said as he shrugged a jacket on. Sherlock turned and started to lift a leg to the window frame. “Not the window, you madman. We’ll go out the front door. Anyone would think you were trying to evade capture or something, honestly.” Silently, Sherlock followed him out of the bedroom door.
Breaking into the undertakers had been surprisingly easy. It turned out to only be a 15 minute walk from John’s house and Sherlock had picked the lock in less than 5 minutes. “Easy,” Sherlock scoffed as he led John inside. It was a small undertakers and McAlister was the only body there, laid out in the steel cold storage unit. Sherlock had rolled him out with a dramatic flourish. McAlister lay on the tray, still fully dressed. John watched as Sherlock pulled out a small magnifying glass and started peering closely at the dead mans face.
“Why is he even in here? Why isn’t he with the police?” John asked.
“This town is too small for the police to have their own coroner. They just use the undertakers to keep the body fresh until they have time to move it to the nearest hospital. As the nearest large hospital is all the way in Exeter they’ll get an ambulance to come and pick him up tomorrow. No time today. Which gives us the perfect chance to have a look before the autopsy takes place.”
John leaned against the wall and watched as Sherlock started sniffing the corpse. He was very thorough. He started at the head, spent a long while sniffing around the corpse’s lips before moving down the body. John yawned. He could feel his eyes trying to close. It was too early for concentrating.
“John. Don’t fall asleep, come and help me turn him over.” Sherlock waved at McAlister’s head, “I want to have a look at the back of his head.”
“This is why you really brought me, isn’t it? So I could do the heavy lifting” John grumbled as he grasped McAlister’s shoulder and arm and pulled him over so he was lying on his front. It was difficult and John shuddered as his hand slipped on McAlister’s jacket and brushed against the cold, dead skin of his neck. Sherlock ignored him and started examining the back of the head with his glass. He poked his gloved fingers at the matted hair.
“This is blood. I think this is probably how he died. Blow to the back of the head. There would have been blood. Lots of blood. But there’s not much on his clothes. Interesting.” At this he straightened and clicked his magnifying glass closed again before slipping it into his pocket.
“So what now?” John asked, stifling another yawn.
“I’ll just take some samples”. At this Sherlock pulled out some cotton wool buds and started rubbing them across various parts of the body - in the head wound, under the nails, around the inside of the mouth - before slipping them into individual plastic bags and putting them away into one of the mysterious inner pockets of his coat.
John thought about asking what Sherlock was going to do with these but decided that he was too tired. He was already slightly regretting his impulsive decision to follow Sherlock here. What was he doing? Breaking into an undertakers in the middle of the night was definitely something that was frowned upon by the police. But, it was so nice to be wanted, and to be involved in something. Even if his main job seemed to be making encouraging noises and moving heavy things.
“Right” said Sherlock as he rolled the tray holding the body back into it’s unit, “That’s us done, let’s go.”
John looked at his watch. They’d been there for maybe twenty minutes tops. “Go where?”
“Back to bed, of course.”
It turned out that Sherlock meant John should go back to bed whilst he shut himself up in John’s spare bedroom with barely a word goodnight. John stared at the closed door. He pressed his head gently against it. He could hear Sherlock pacing. It wasn’t a big room so he must have been doing laps around the bed. John sighed, decided that now he was the one who was bordering on creepy with his behaviour and went back to bed. It took him a couple of hours to fall back asleep though as his thoughts were filled with the excitement of the unexpected night activity. And Sherlock. Eventually, at around five he did drift off though, and didn’t wake until his alarm went off two hours later.
When he woke to the shrill beeping of his alarm John’s mouth was dry and his head felt discombobulated. After turning off his alarm it took a couple of minutes for his scattered mind to align into one overwhelming thought - Sherlock! He rolled out of bed and padded out of his bedroom, down the corridor to the spare room where he’d left Sherlock earlier that morning. First checking that his pyjamas were arranged decently (though that ship had already sailed the night before) he knocked before pushing open the door. The room was empty. There was, in fact no sign that anyone had been in there at all. The bed was as neat as it had always been. Untouched. Frowning, John made his way downstairs. Maybe he’d dreamt it? In the light of day it did seem a little unlikely that he’d been roaming the town, breaking into undertakers and the like. He’d just resigned himself to the likelihood that his night-time subconscious had a strong imagination with a sprinkling of wish fulfilment when he rounded the corner into the kitchen to find Jess pouring out cereal and Sherlock Holmes sitting on their kitchen counter drinking from a mug. He was still wearing his coat, John’s mind supplied, slightly hysterically.
“Morning.” Jess said whilst winking at John.
John suppressed a groan, and made a beeline for the cafetière. Coffee would make this situation more bearable.
“John.” said Sherlock.
“You look tired. Like you were up all night.” Jess said, winking some more.
John got down the large blue mug and poured himself some coffee.
“Did you get any sleep?” John asked Sherlock.
“No. I was busy. As you well know” said Sherlock, his voice deep and slightly gravelly. Jess choked on her mouthful of cereal. Sherlock ignored this and carried on.
“We should go and talk to McAlister’s ex-boyfriend today. He wasn’t in the library yesterday. But it opens at 9 today so he should be there by 8.30 to open up.”
“Nup.” said John.
Sherlock stared at him, incredulous. “Come John, even you don’t need more than an hour to have breakfast and get dressed. Surely.”
“No, I meant no because I have to go to work. It’s bad enough that I took off after you yesterday but at least the site was shut down. It’ll be open again today, so I need to go to work. Aren’t you supposed to be working on the skeleton anyway?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes, before explaining slowly, as if to a small child, “John. That neolithic woman was killed thousands of years ago. I think that she can wait. James McAlister was killed mere days ago. It’s far more exciting!”
“Bit not good.”
Sherlock scoffed “Who wants good when there’s a murderer on the prowl! Oh, it’s Christmas!”
John had lived with Jess for a couple of months now and the interest that she had thus far shown John about his life could fill a thimble. It basically stretched to wanting to know when the next meal he was cooking was going to be. Yet, she chose this moment to interrupt and give John advice.
“You should call in sick.”
“Excellent.” said Sherlock.
“No, I can’t.” said John.
“Yes you can” said Jess. “It’s not like you’re doing anything important there.”
John knew this. He knew it. He complained about it all the time, in his own head and to other people. But, it still hurt, this confirmation of how unimportant to the work everyone considered him to be. He closed his eyes as he took another sip of coffee and concentrated on keeping his breathing slow and even. Jess didn’t notice, taking her bowl of cereal over to the table and fiddling with her phone. When John opened his eyes again he caught Sherlock staring at him. All of his frantic energy and attention were honed in on John, his blue eyes locked with John’s.
“John, I need you,” said Sherlock.
John phoned in sick.
The library was a small, one storey, red brick building in the centre of town. It had large windows, originals from when it had been built in the 19th century, that made the inside bright with the morning sunshine. Shelves lined the walls, with extra bookcases making aisles in the middle of the room. To one side was the children’s library, obvious with the story-time rug and bright drawings stuck over the walls above the shelves. In the adult side were a couple of wooden desks and red leather armchairs. John liked the look of it. He felt regret that he hadn’t thought to explore it sooner. There was no time now to browse the shelves however, as Sherlock strode straight up to the main desk and slammed his weight down onto his hands in front of the startled man who sat there.
“Anthony, I presume.”
“Yes?” the man replied with a slight stutter over the y.
John wondered if he needed to intervene. Sherlock was leaning over the poor man in a fairly threatening manner. When Sherlock started sniffing at Anthony’s hair John decided that yup, he really should intervene.
“Anthony. I’m John Watson and this is Sherlock Holmes” he pushed Sherlock away from the desk and offered Anthony his hand, which the man reluctantly took and shook. “We were wondering if we could ask you some questions? About James?”
Anthony’s eyes got wider. “James?”
“I’m sorry to tell you this but I’m afraid James is dead” said John.
Sherlock snorted, “He already knows that John. Obvious. Look at his eyes, he’s been crying. And he’s wearing yesterday’s clothes. They’re all rumpled. He just picked them up off the floor and put them back on this morning. He didn’t feel up to finding fresh ones.” He paused and sniffed again “Or showering.”
John sighed and let Sherlock take over the questioning. He was brusk and precise. John pulled out a notebook and busied himself with jotting down Anthony’s answers. Unsurprisingly, Sherlock’s deductions in James’ flat turned out to be unerringly correct. Anthony and James had been dating for 4 years and living together for 3. They’d moved to Northlew for Anthony’s work.
“Do you know how hard it is to find work in a library now, under the current government with all the cuts to library funding?” Anthony had asked, “When this job came up it made sense to move here from London for it.”
James had worked in the local council. Anthony didn’t know what his job was exactly, just that it involved admin. They’d broken up 9 months ago.
“And why was that?” asked Sherlock.
“He cheated on me” said Anthony, with a sigh, leaning back in his chair and pinching the bridge of his nose. “He said it was only the once but, I just, his reasons were so stupid.”
“What do you mean?” asked John.
“Look, you have to understand how hard it is here in Northlew. For me. How hard it was for us. I mean look at me.” Here he paused to gesture at himself. John frowned.
“How many black men do you think live in Devon? How many gay men? What do you think my life is like here standing out like I do every day? And then James goes and pulls shit like this. He cheated on me. With a woman. I don’t care that it was a woman. Woman, man, it’s still cheating. But then he made it worse by expecting me to understand his need to pretend to be straight.”
John shifted uncomfortably at this. It struck a little to close to home for his liking.
“Who was this woman?” asked Sherlock.
“I don’t know. He said he’d met her on Tinder. And that was another thing. He’d set up a profile on Tinder for goodness sake.”
Sherlock paused, tapping his fingers against his lips as he thought. Anthony was no longer looking as upset as he had. Recounting the reasons for the breakup had obviously rekindled his dormant anger.
“Do you know who might have wanted to kill him?” John slipped the question into the growing silence.
“Other than me you mean? No, I don’t mean that. I did love him. I just couldn't live with him any more.” Anthony looked sadly down at his hands resting on the desk. “I can’t think of anyone. People liked James.”
“He hadn’t gotten into any arguments with anyone, or anything like that? added John.
Anthony’s head whipped back up at that to look at John. “He did have a bit of a barny with the head of construction at that road project he was trying to stop. Must have been a couple of weeks ago now. I only know about it because one of our mutual friends, Jenny, was there and told me about it later.”
“Fantastic!” said Sherlock and headed for the door.
Smiling apologetically at Anthony, John followed him.
I can't apologise enough for the delay in publishing this chapter. I've been ridiculously unwell. This fic is NOT abandoned. Worry not. Updates will not continue - at least one chapter per month from now on.