Inspector Beth Lestrade found Sherlock Holmes in a dark mood on that bright morning.
He climbed into the passenger seat of her cruiser, scowling, with his deerstalker tilted at an oddly careless angle. Though it bothered her to see him so agitated, she couldn’t help but grin slightly as she watched him fasten his seatbelt and sullenly fold his arms over his chest. He reminded her of an eight-year-old facing an appointment with the dentist.
"Well, here I am, Lestrade. Now what is it that has caused you to pry me away from my breakfast table?" It wasn’t a question—it was a blunt instrument.
"And a happy day to you, too." With a crooked smile Lestrade started the engine and took off from Baker Street. When Holmes made an inarticulate noise in reply, she decided not to push her luck, and told him what he wanted to know.
"A pawn shop was robbed overnight. The crooks got away clean, so we could use a little help searching for leads."
Holmes’ eyelids lowered to half-mast as he stared at her with dull, incredulous reproach. "Really, Lestrade. A pawn shop? I hardly think—"
"Good. Save your thinking for when we get to the scene. You do always say not to jump to conclusions until you’ve seen the facts."
"But a pawn shop theft!" he said disgustedly.
She shot back a glare. "Look, you’re the Yard’s special consultant. I want you to consult—and I don’t care if you think the case is beneath you. You’re going to work, so shut up and deal with it."
His jaw tensed, and he turned to stare grimly straight ahead, receding a little further into the depths of his Inverness.
The truth was, it really wasn’t a case of his caliber—and neither was Lestrade looking forward to slogging through a minor robbery investigation. Even so, when the report had come in that morning, she had asked to take the case, just for the sake of giving Holmes something to do.
Moriarty had been laying low for nearly a month, after the last grand scheme of his that Holmes had blown apart. In the same amount of time, no other unusual crimes had occurred. No genetically engineered tech thieves, no lunar terrorist conspiracies—just plain old everyday felonies, perpetrated by plain old everyday crooks. The kind of stuff New Scotland Yard had been handling perfectly well without Sherlock Holmes for two hundred years.
The result of which was that, as Watson put it, Holmes had sunk into one of his fits of lassitude.
One would think a man less than one year back from the grave with two centuries of catch-up learning to do would have a hard time getting bored—but nothing normal ever applied to Holmes. It didn’t help that he was so particular about the learning he was willing to absorb, either. With a lifetime’s memories behind him and now decades more ahead, he was probably wondering just when he was going to max out his mental hard drive. Zed that stupid theory of his about finite intellectual capacity, anyway.
"It really won’t do, you know."
Lestrade’s train of thought derailed as she glanced over at Holmes. Slouching a little in his seat, fingertips together, he eyed her with a knife-edged smirk from under the brim of his hat.
Okay… "What won’t do?"
"This effort of yours to distract me from the utter dullness of late. Boring work is still boredom." He rolled his eyes upward slightly and folded his hands, leaving only his index fingers steepled. "I presume I was the topic of conversation when Watson called you two days ago."
She didn’t bother to ask how he knew that; listening to one of his clever deductions at that moment would only annoy her. Instead, she huffed out an angry sigh.
"Fine. Guilty as charged. We’re not going to let you get into any self-destructive moods, Holmes."
His expression quirked as he glanced toward her, but she already regretted the words—not because she didn’t mean them, but because they felt like a betrayed confidence. The present-day Watson might have been a machine, but he understood the darker passages of his predecessor’s journals as well as any human would. It was a sort of unspoken vow between himself and Lestrade that they would never let Holmes stray into those shadows in this lifetime.
For a long time she had thought she might never see them stir. Holmes seemed happy enough, young and active and incredibly busy in a whole new world that needed him. Now, however…
His hands slid apart, and from the corner of her eye, Lestrade saw his long thin fingers ghost across his left inner wrist. It was a very subtle gesture, but it gave her a shiver, as she thought of the scars that were no longer there.
Holmes’ voice was nearly a whisper. "You need have no fear of that, Lestrade."
She couldn’t help giving a slight flinch. Holmes’ old vices had always been a strictly unspoken topic, and this fragile reference was the first one she had ever heard him give. She glanced over, searching his face for some kind of feeling, but it was solemnly impassive.
All of her questions welled up from the place in her heart where she hid them. She took a breath to ask, to challenge him—but he raised a hand, glancing disinterestedly ahead.
"Our destination, I believe. Please stop here."
Recognizing the gaudy neon sign of the pawn shop half a block ahead, Lestrade cursed inwardly, but did as Holmes had asked and set down the cruiser. He stepped out, gave a catlike stretch, and casually took in the scenery of the run-down neighborhood.
"Hmm. Doubtless an area not unused to crime… Ah. Lestrade, do kindly keep off the sidewalk. You may notice that the irrigation system has left us some very informative traces." While speaking, he had turned his attention from the general area, to a sprinkler head poking above a low hedge, to the vague damp marks of footprints on the pavement. Slowly he began to follow them, but after several yards he stopped and knelt down, taking out his magnifying glass and murmuring to himself as he studied the sidewalk. Lestrade let him go at it, glad to see that he was apparently taking interest.
At last he stood up and turned to her. "There was a witness, Lestrade. A young man approximately five feet seven inches in height, wearing athletic shoes, with a fresh abrasion somewhere on one of his hands."
The Inspector sighed. "Okay. Give."
"It’s perfectly simple, Lestrade. A man—one whose youthfulness, height and style of shoes are easily read from various aspects of his footprints—was walking down the street when he saw what was happening at the pawn shop ahead." Holmes stepped back and retraced the footprints. "He crouched here to observe, behind the shelter of a hovercar that was parked here at the time—you will note the spot of lubricant that leaked there is between eight and ten hours old." He pointed to a dark oily smudge on the street, then knelt again at the spot where he had stopped before.
"Then he was seen by the thief, or thieves. He ran, but was not pursued—as we can observe from the fact that there is only one set of footprints on this damp section of pavement. This indicates either that the thief did not leave the scene immediately, or more likely fled in the opposite direction, fearing the witness would report the crime."
Lestrade shook her head. "The robbery was only reported this morning, by the store’s owner."
"Then fear has restrained the witness from coming forward. The question is, fear of what. Given that he was alone at night in this neighborhood, it may be that he is rather less than law-abiding himself, but I haven’t the data to be certain. I suggest you find him and ask."
"Great," Lestrade replied sarcastically. "Any ideas how we do that?"
"It should be easily done. Your man left a calling card." Producing a piece of chalk from somewhere within the astoundingly capacious pockets of his Inverness, Holmes drew a rough circle on the sidewalk directly in front of him. "He rested his hand here on the pavement to steady himself, but when he was observed, he suffered a bit of a scrape in his hurry to flee. You should be able to identify his DNA from the skin he left behind; hence, also, the abrasion on the hand."
With that, Holmes rose fluidly, his calculating gaze already turned toward the pawn shop and the promise of more clues within. As he tucked away the chalk, he began moving off toward the entrance in long, eager strides. Then he paused to look back at Lestrade.
"Well? Come along, then!"
Lestrade sighed, grinned ruefully, and shook her head, following after Holmes. At least she had succeeded in breaking him out of his rut—now her only problem was keeping up.
© 2004Jordanna Morgan