John pushed the door to 221b open and froze at the tableau in front of him. When he’d left for a medical conference in Copenhagen last week, he’d mentally braced himself for the possibility of returning to a 221b with even more bullet holes in the wall. He’d taken the precaution of picking up a box of fancy chocolates for Mrs. Hudson by way of an apology. But even in his worse-case-scenario imaginations, he’d never anticipated being greeted by something like this.
Squeezing his eyes shut, John slowly counted to twenty on the faint hope that he was hallucinating from exhaustion. It had happened before. While deployed in Afghanistan, he’d once been convinced that he’d seen his sister, Harry, walking towards him after the end of a particularly grueling thirty-hour shift. It wasn’t until one of the nurses intervened that he realised he’d been yelling at thin air. When John opened his eyes again, though, the view was unchanged.
The sitting room of 221b was still filled with a good dozen members of Sherlock’s homeless network, occupying the sofa, John’s chair, the floor, and even the coffee table. All of them were busy cutting up apples and separating the seeds from the fruit. The fruit went into one of the many large plastic bins scattered about the room while the seeds were carefully dropped into labeled beakers: Bramley, Cameo, Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, Egemont Russet, Delbarestivale, Kanzi. Overflowing bins were pushed against the wall nearest the door. Stacks of wooden crates and bushel baskets, some empty, some full, were everywhere, taking up most of the remaining floor space. The smell of cut fruit and body odour was overwhelming.
John closed his eyes again and sighed, doing his best to remain calm. It could be worse; it had been worse. One time he’d returned home from work to find the flat occupied by four, very upset half-bald chickens. Another time there had been a goat.
Bins full of apples and apple juice might make 221b smell like a neglected orchard, but at least fruit wouldn’t leave shit everywhere.
“I know I’m going to regret asking this,” John began conversationally as he stepped through the door and turned to hang up his jacket. He left the suitcase he’d been carrying beside the door on the off chance that he would need to leave quickly. “But what the Hell is going on here?” John attempted to keep his voice from betraying his building anger, but the one or two wary looks shot his way meant he was probably failing.
“Experiment, John, obviously!” Sherlock snapped, not looking up from the blender he was capping.
“I got that, thanks, yeah,” John retorted, picking his way across the floor towards the kitchen. A quick glance confirmed that it was not the blender labeled ‘FOR FOOD ONLY; IF YOU USE THIS FOR EXPERIMENTS I WILL END YOU, SHERLOCK!’
Sherlock noticed the look, rolled his eyes, and pointedly turned the blender on.
John took the opportunity to survey the kitchen's contents. More apples were piled in here and every conceivable flat surface held a container with murky-looking liquid. “Jesus, Sherlock,” John complained, raising his voice to be heard over the whirring motor and the awful grinding sound it was emanating. “I was only gone for ten days! What sort of case or experiment requires you to cause Applegeddon in our sitting room?!”
Sherlock switched the blender off with a pointed huff. “If you must know, I’m testing a premise I read about on a homebrewing forum.”
“A homebrewing forum,” John repeated skeptically. He knew Sherlock’s interests were varied, but for the life of him, he could not fathom why Sherlock would be visiting such a site, unless it was to critique somebody’s failure at sterile technique or lecture about the chemical compositions of different types of alcohol.
“Yes. A thread came up discussing whether or not it was necessary to remove the seeds from apples prior to crushing them to produce juice, and whether or not a five-gallon batch of homemade cider would contain enough cyanide to poison somebody.”
“Wait, cyanide? In apples?”
“Yes, John, do keep up. Apple seeds—like many other fruit seeds—contain cyanogenic glycosides, one of which being the plant compound amygdalin. When the seeds are damaged—either by chewing, crushing, or digesting—the amygdalin degrades into hydrogen cyanide. Of course, the exact amount required would vary depending on the weight of the consumer. For practical purposes, I am attempting to isolate the average amount of seeds required to produce a meaningful dose, cross-referenced with different varieties.”
John pursed his lips. Of course Sherlock would think nothing of creating homemade cyanide in their kitchen. After all, this was the same man who’d tried to go in against a metaphorical Sicilian to prove how clever he was. “So you...what, went to the nearest shop and bought out their entire supply of apples?!”
“Several shops, actually,” Sherlock corrected, sounding more than a bit put out. “And an order from Ocado. I would have simply gone to the Broomfield Community Orchard, except the harvest won’t be ready for several more months, and it won’t be nearly large enough for my purposes.”
“Why what? Why did I have to go to multiple sources, or why did I obtain the quantity of apples that I did?”
“The latter. I know how impatient you are.”
Sherlock sniffed. “Simple, average seed totals vary based on pollination success while the amount of amygdalin contained in a seed changes depending on the apple type. The determination of a lethal dose of cyanide is further complicated by the weight of the victim. The estimated number of seeds required to produce a lethal dose of cyanide for an adult weighing approximately eleven stone is calculated to be anywhere from one hundred fifty grams to four thousand, two hundred grams—which equates to anywhere from two hundred to six thousand apple seeds. If one assumes that the average apple contains five seeds, that is twelve hundred apples—and if one expands the sample pool to different apple varieties—”
“Nevermind,” John interrupted, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I don’t even want to think about how much you must have spent. What I want to know is what, exactly, are you going to do to get rid of several thousand apples? It’s not like we can exactly toss them in the bins, and Mrs. Hudson certainly can’t use them all!”
“I’ve already arranged for it to be taken care of,” Sherlock replied, waving a dismissive hand. “Angelo has a cousin who brews wine as a hobby. Once I have all the seeds, I’ll call him to come up and cart away the unnecessary fruit. If it starts to ferment before then, so much the better.”
“Great,” John muttered under his breath. Bad enough for their sitting room to smell like a cidery, he didn’t need it to smell like a still as well. “Right then,” John announced, heading towards the door. He bent down and picked up his suitcase. “I’m going to give Mike a call and see if I can stay at his place for a few days. Text me when this is done and cleaned up, and for God’s sake, don’t let Lestrade find out!”