New Year's Eve, an hour after sunrise -- not that you could see the sun through the clouds -- and Lestrade had already been awake and cold for far too long. He waited for Anderson around the corner from the scene, a small private art museum. "How bad?" Anderson asked, and Lestrade didn't bother -- couldn't, really -- to hide how he'd reacted. They could hear the music playing from the murder scene; it wasn't loud, here, but it got worse the closer you came.
They turned the corner, and Lestrade flinched away; he had to look, had to see -- it was his job to help, damn it all, for all that this girl was well beyond help now. "Jesus bleeding Christ," Anderson said, "I'm going to be sick."
He was, in the gutter outside the crime tape, about the same place everyone else who'd been called in had already been sick, Lestrade included. The fresh sick steamed in the cold briefly before the drizzle beat it into submission. "God," Anderson said, when he could speak again. "That's. Something."
Lestrade swallowed, looking up at the spiderweb of human intestines across the pillars of the doorway, the disjointed limbs emitting music, the torso posed like a headless Venus de Milo. "Be gentle with her," he said, squeezing Anderson's shoulder, wanting to feel something warm and living, to feel less alone with a murdered girl caught like a fly in her own guts.
The music stopped, and there was a cough, and then a girl's voice -- teenaged, most likely -- said "Testing? Testing, testing. Grace is my name." He froze, looking up at the victim, and Anderson froze beside him, and the crime scene photographers, and the uniforms at the perimeter -- everyone frozen in the cold rain, listening to the halting, limping voice. It seemed to go on forever, before it took a deep breath and said "I think something is going to be horrid," and stopped.
There were a few seconds of silence, and then the music started again.
"Find out where the hell that music is coming from," Lestrade said, "and make it stop. This is -- sorry, Anderson, but I'm getting Holmes."
"He'll wet his pants over this one," Anderson said, but made no real protest. And no wonder; Anderson hated Holmes like poison but he hated gruesome murders a lot more.
Lestrade climbed into his car -- damn Holmes, anyway, for changing his phone number every other week -- and sped off towards Baker Street. Halfway there, he remembered and texted John Watson.
* * *
Sherlock was awake and dressed when John came downstairs in his pyjamas. "What's the occasion?" he asked, putting bread in to toast.
"Lestrade is on his way," Sherlock said, handing John John's own phone.
Tell SH have a case for him. On my way. G. Lestrade.
"Why you keep changing phones I will never understand," John said, turning back to his toast.
"I wonder if any of the papers have anything yet," Sherlock said, dashing into the living room to grab a laptop. "Lestrade knows me; he must have something terribly interesting or he wouldn't be coming to visit."
John was buttering his toast when Sherlock shoved the laptop under his nose. "Look at that," he said. John blinked; it was an email with the subject "weird murder" and some photos attached. He squinted, barely able to make heads or tails of the dark, grainy images, checked that the laptop was Sherlock's and not his, and extracted his toast from underneath, munching it so that crumbs fell into the keyboard, along with a glob of butter. Sherlock cursed and yanked the laptop away to wipe it off. "Really, John. Focus!"
"There's been a gruesome murder, and you're delighted. What more do you want me to focus on before coffee?"
"Not just gruesome, John. Artistic. It's a stunning piece of work, I guarantee it." He looked out the window. "Ah! And here we are."
John finished his toast as Lestrade's footsteps clattered up the stairs. "Holmes," Lestrade said. "It's a bad one."
"The art museum. Someone sent me phone photos. What more can you tell me?"
"Who sent you phone photos?"
Lestrade pressed his lips together and looked annoyed; well, John could understand that. No copper liked spies at a murder scene. "A friend. Right. Would that be the creepy internet kind?"
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. "Lestrade. It's bad enough I have to tolerate John's lack of focus."
"It's a teenage girl, strung up by her own guts outside an art museum. The killer went to a lot of trouble."
"Even Anderson wants you there, dammit, that's how bad it is. Please."
"John," Sherlock said, half-turning.
"Give me five minutes," John answered. He ducked into the bathroom, scrubbed down in barely-warm water, dashed up the stairs wrapped in a towel, and was back downstairs in trousers, shirt, and jumper in three minutes flat; Sherlock set coffee at his elbow with gloved hands as he tugged on his boots. "Travel mug, lovely. Thank you, Sherlock." He caught sight of the look on Lestrade's face -- gobsmacked -- and grinned down at his bootlaces.
"You sure you won't come in the car?" Lestrade said.
"No," Sherlock said. "I told you. Ready, John?"
"For anything," John answered, because with Sherlock it was always true, and he didn't care if Lestrade knew it. Once he might have, but those days were gone.
* * *
Lestrade waited impatiently; the black cab containing Holmes and Dr Watson had to be the slowest cab in history. Anderson joined him. "I've worked out how the music's done," he said, "but I don't want to dismantle it yet. If we take it apart we may not be able to start it again; we should record it just in case."
"Are there any other voices on it? Other than the girl?"
"Just her. It's about a fifty-minute loop; she's on it three times. You think she's the victim."
"I hope she's the victim," Lestrade said, because thinking of another girl out there with a broken voice, tiny and rough and sad, made something knot up under his ribs. He couldn't stand cases like this, the ones that get inside and never let go. He wanted a smoke, and to kiss his six-year-old daughter on her head, on the naked line of skin between her plaits, and to bury his face in his wife's stomach and let her pet him.
He shivered in the cold, shoulder-to-shoulder with Anderson, and finally the damn cab showed up, Holmes tall and elegant; Dr Watson compact and neat. "I'll clear my people out," Anderson muttered, and vanished.
"You're going to need strong stomachs," Lestrade warned, and Holmes's face creased in a smile.
"The strongest, never fear," he said, and then they rounded the corner.
"My God," said Dr Watson, and Lestrade looked at him; his face was white and set, and a muscle in his jaw was clenching.
"Oh," said Holmes. "Oh, splendid." He clasped his hands in front of his chest, joyfully. "Oh, this is fantastic."
"Don't contaminate the scene," Lestrade said. "Please. We have to get whoever did this."
"Yes, yes -- oh, John -- " he turned, and Dr Watson was already handing him gloves. Lestrade wondered when Dr Watson had become so efficient, and how exactly he'd come by his strong stomach. "You're wondering why John hasn't sicked in the communal pile of sick," Holmes said. "He's seen worse."
"Haven't," said Dr Watson. "I've just seen enough, that's all." He gestured for Holmes to precede him, and Holmes gave him a smile that was outright fond. Lestrade had never seen a look like that on Holmes's face in the five years he'd known him, and it was disturbing.
Holmes went for the torso first, not touching, his hands hovering over the places her limbs had been. "John," Lestrade heard him breathe, and Dr Watson moved closer; they bent over the stump of her left thigh.
"That's peculiar," Dr Watson said. "The bone was cut separately from the flesh. What'd he use on the femur, enormous bolt cutters?"
"Ratcheted loppers, I believe," said Holmes. "And a boning knife for the rest."
Dr Watson looked up at the limbs, suspended in the web of intestines. "Think he used the boning knife to get the speakers into the limbs?"
"I would have." Holmes turned in place, face tilted back, his eyes narrowed. "Fewer tools to carry. Get me a ladder, someone, I need to look at the speakers."
Dr Watson spun slowly on his heel, looking around. "Sherlock, it's set up like surround sound. Where's the centre speaker?"
"Her head!" said Holmes. "Lestrade! Anderson! Where is her head?"
"We haven't found it," Anderson said, but Holmes had already dashed into the building. Lestrade made to follow him, but a rough, gravelly voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade?" The speaker was a thin-faced man, medium height, narrow build, looked like police.
"Detective Inspector Adler," the man said. "I think a suspect I'm considering for pimping out underage girls--well." He looked at the scene, then away. "I think your victim was one of his. Maybe he did it, maybe not, but --" He held out a photograph. "This her?"
Lestrade shook his head. "We haven't found her head," he said. He took the picture; the girl in it would be about the right age. She had lank brown hair and huge, frightened eyes. "We'll check. Do you have a name for her? Any other associates?"
Adler ran his hand through his hair. "If it's who I think it is, her name's Grace Blue. She was one of my sister's students; she ran off with her boyfriend and I did my sister a favour, checked him out, you know? Trouble is, I found out the boyfriend's a known pimp. Leon Blank." He handed over another picture. "It's his usual MO."
"They ever turn up dead before?"
"Killed by punters, sometimes. Nothing like this. Blank works with this woman, Ramona Stone." A third picture. "Don't know much about her. She keeps quiet. Been arrested a few times, never enough to stick." Adler hunched his shoulders against the chill. "I've been working all night; I have to get some sleep. Wanted to get this to you, though, in case it is Grace up there. Poor kid, whoever she was. My card's in there; you can let me know. God, if it is, I'll have to tell Irene."
Lestrade put the photos and the card into his pocket for safekeeping. "Will do. Appreciate it, mate."
Anderson shouted "Holmes, you fucking lunatic--" and Lestrade turned; Holmes had apparently crawled out of a window and was dangling from the roof down past the overhang. Dr Watson was nowhere to be seen -- no, there was his arm, bracing Holmes's legs.
"John! Give me the torch!" Holmes reached up, and the doctor handed him a torch with his free hand; Holmes bent nearly double, swinging the torch up into the ceiling of the entryway. "Anderson," Holmes called, "I've found her head."
Lestrade turned to speak to Adler, but Adler was gone. Strange; he'd said he was tired but normally someone shouting about a lunatic at a murder scene was enough to make most people stick around. Lestrade shrugged; he didn't have time to worry about it, not when Holmes had found the head.
He reached the entrance, and Holmes, still hanging upside down, aimed the torch at his face. "Who were you talking to?"
"Detective Inspector Adler. Thinks this might be a missing kid he knows about; brought me photos."
Holmes curled himself up and hooked his fingers around the ledge above his head. "It's too far," Dr Watson said. "You're tall, but not that tall, Sherlock." Lestrade blinked, then realized that Holmes must've been thinking of dropping straight down. The doctor was right -- he'd probably break a leg if he tried it.
"Bugger," said Holmes, and pushed himself backwards, up onto the roof again. "Adler walks funny," he called down. "And his eyes aren't right."
"How could you see his eyes, upside down, from all the way over here?"
"I could see enough to see they aren't right," answered Holmes. "We're finished up here, John."
* * *
John hated, a bit, the way Sherlock loved murders. Someone was dead, and that wasn't supposed to be a good time. He loved being called in, though, because if someone was going to be murdered, best to have Sherlock to figure it out. The poor girl's head was hidden on the decorative ledge under the eaves; he'd known it as soon as Sherlock had moved for the building. "This is art, John," Sherlock said, as they descended the stairs back to the ground floor. "An installation piece in flesh. Did the security cameras catch it? She was killed here; surely the performance was recorded."
"It's too carefully done for the murder itself not to have been part of the art." Sherlock smiled and gestured expansively as he spoke. "The question is, was there an audience? Did the murderer record it? Was it for the extant cameras? The police will check them; that's what they're for."
The music wrapped around them both as they opened the museum doors. Anderson's crew already had a ladder up; a blue-suit-wrapped woman climbed up to the head and carefully brought it down. The girl's mouth had been sewn shut, and a speaker embedded in the base of her skull.
Lestrade pulled a photograph from the pocket of his coat; John saw a skinny girl in a nightdress, lank brown hair, brown eyes -- Sherlock's finger stabbed at the picture. "It's her. See the scar on the eyebrow. Was she doing drugs on her own, or was she being given them?" John looked again; the girl had faint track marks on her arm.
"She was being forced into prostitution," Lestrade said. "Maybe she did drugs to deal with it. Maybe she started before." He frowned down at the picture. "Something's off, Holmes, and I can't put my finger on what. But you're right, it's the same girl. Grace Blue, Adler said. What have you got?"
Sherlock took a deep breath. "The marks of the ladder on the ledge indicate the murderer was able to reach the head and one attachment point of the spiderweb in one climb. You're looking for a man, five feet ten at least."
"Or an orangutan," Anderson muttered. Lestrade gave him a look.
Sherlock curled his lip, and continued. "The murderer has a strong artistic sensibility. Probably deliberately recorded the murder and installation of the artwork, either staying in range of the security cameras or setting up his own. If he used the security cameras, he has some way to acquire the footage. Probably habitually uses prostitutes, almost certainly has been pulled in for physically abusing them. Possibly for sexual assault on teenaged girls, as well."
"You can't possibly tell all that from a crime scene," Anderson said. "You're not supposed to profile him for us, just tell us how he did it."
John said, "We have a dead teenaged prostitute; I don't think Sherlock is making all that much of a leap, here."
"He's impotent, too," Sherlock said, almost absently; he was looking at the woman wrapping up the head.
"Oh, come on--" Anderson said, but Lestrade had clearly had enough; he grabbed Anderson's arm and hauled him off to the side.
John ducked his head and tried not to snicker. Lestrade returned, looking exasperated. "He's got a point," he said. "I don't see how you could work that out, from this."
"The speakers are wrapped in condoms to keep them dry," Sherlock said. "There are at least three others of the same variety around, kicked into corners. No ejaculate in any of them, all only partially unrolled, but not torn as they would be if he'd discarded them because he damaged them putting them on the speakers. He was trying to put them on himself, and failing. Intensely frustrating for him, of course; he probably intended to have sex with the torso as the final part of the performance."
John felt ill; he wished he could hug this poor girl and tell her it would be all better soon. But all there was, now, was Sherlock, that cold incisive mind clicking away, solving the puzzle of her death. "Brilliant," he breathed, because he loved watching Sherlock work, even when the work was the type to give nightmares.
Lestrade scrubbed his face with his hands. "God, you're more like him every day, Dr Watson, I swear. What else, Holmes?"
Sherlock shrugged. "He'll own a boning knife and ratcheted garden loppers. He'll know a fair amount about audio systems and networking. He knows how to sew, knit, and crochet, but none of them very well. I'll want to see the security footage, if there is any."
"Course," said Lestrade, and Sherlock turned to John, still smiling.
"Coffee?" he asked, gesturing towards the street.
"God, yes," John answered.
* * *
After the constant cold horror of the murder scene, the Yard was welcoming and warm. Lestrade changed into his emergency socks and shoes, his toes like chilly prunes from sundry slushy puddles. Anderson was off doing Anderson-things with the evidence; Lestrade knew that someone would come by with a recording of the music and of Grace's voice soon enough. He got coffee and sat down to read over his notes, trying to drill everything into his head so that he could remember every detail. Holmes was the real detail man, and Dr Watson would beat the information out of him with sticks and email it later today -- God, Dr Watson was the best thing to happen to Holmes, and therefore to Lestrade's interactions with Holmes, since Holmes had stopped taking cocaine.
Sergeant Donovan, who'd been off dealing with burglars all morning, poked her head in to see if he wanted to go to lunch, but he waved her off; food sounded like a terrible idea. He called his wife at work, but got her voicemail; she was probably having a sandwich with her colleagues, talking about this awful weather and their daughter's dance school show. He couldn't tell her about this in any case; she'd be sick with horror and one of them sick with horror was quite enough.
The afternoon dragged on, and still Lestrade hadn't found his stomach; his insides gnawed at him, but not from hunger. He went to get more coffee, and when he returned he found a file on his desk with a note: Everything I have on Blank & Stone. -- N. Adler
He settled in to read; Adler seemed to have compiled quite a dossier on Leon Blank and Ramona Stone. Much of it was printed page after printed page of notes on their comings and goings, more as if Adler had been stalking them than anything else. Lestrade flipped through several sheets, looking at the timestamps; either Adler was pulling more overtime than any copper in all of London, or he was obsessed. (And if obsessed, when was he doing his other work? Lestrade rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged his shoulders. Something was funny, and it was making him twitchy.)
Anderson poked his head in. "What Holmes said about art?"
"Hate to admit it, but--" He handed over a folder of photographs; Lestrade suppressed a flinch when he opened it.
"What the hell?" Grace Blue's body had been covered in an elaborate glowing maze, narrow passageways spilling out into scenes. On her left breast was a mausoleum, and on the right an angel with a death's-head. Around her navel was a bull's head, with the navel itself as the nose ring; it was the head of the Minotaur, with an enormous curved erection that spurted down the stump of her leg.
Anderson shrugged; he had the look of a man who'd locked his reactions down to do his job. "UV ink. Several different sizes of pen, looks like, and some stamps, too. There's more, all over her."
"You look for a club stamp, you don't expect to find this," Lestrade murmured, locking his own reactions down, shoving everything he could into a vault somewhere below his heart. "This is...beyond anything I've ever seen."
Anderson stared at the floor.
He looked up. "Yeah?"
"Sergeant Donovan thinks Holmes is going to kill someone someday." Lestrade searched Anderson's face, but it was still, shuttered. "You agree with her?"
Anderson didn't miss a beat. "Don't you?"
"I wouldn't have him anywhere near a crime scene if I thought there was the slightest chance he'd been the one to do it."
Anderson sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Why are we talking about this now?"
"Because you're not wrong that he's dangerous," Lestrade said, "but I can almost see you wondering if he did this."
Anderson shifted uncomfortably. "Not that, so much," he said. "I don't like how he gets. I don't want to risk letting a bastard like this get away because Holmes has done something ill-advised." He met Lestrade's eyes. "You know we never could've made it stick, to the cabbie. That's what I don't like."
"He's got Dr Watson now," said Lestrade. "It helps." He'd made Dr Watson promise him, months ago, to keep crimes prosecutable.
"Yeah, not too sure about him, either," said Anderson. "But he's a doctor, so I've made sure he gets copies of the autopsy information on this one."
* * *
The doorbell rang, and Sherlock waved a completely unnecessary hand at John. A police constable waited at the door with an envelope. "John Watson?" she said.
She handed him the envelope with a thin smile. He thanked her and went back inside quickly; cold wet weather always made his shoulder ache. The envelope was from Anderson, and the photographs inside were -- he wasn't sure whether to call them fascinating or horrifying, or if there was some word that might combine the two feelings. "Good God." Sherlock turned around, curiosity burnt in every line of his body. "You'll want these," John said, holding them out.
Sherlock snatched the photos from his hand. "Happy birthday to me," he said, spreading them out on the table. "This is even better than the year I got a pony and it bit Mycroft."
John blinked. "Is it actually your birthday, or are you just happy to have pictures of a particularly gruesome murder to look at?"
"Honestly, do you pay any attention at all?" Sherlock rearranged the photos. "You met me nearly a year ago, and I haven't had a birthday since; logically, then, my birthday must be near at hand."
"For all I know, you don't even celebrate your birthday."
"I don't, but Mycroft does."
John picked up one of the pictures of Grace's back; glowing cloven hoofprints marched up her spine. He looked at a photo of the Minotaur's head on her stomach. "He's obsessed with mazes. And with the Minotaur."
"He is the Minotaur," Sherlock said. "Or he fancies himself the Minotaur, anyway." He frowned. "Mazes, secrecy, unnatural appetites." He traced the Minotaur's erection, trailing his finger down Grace's leg. "Artistic, but we knew that."
"This is all UV ink," John said. "Mazes. Marking with UV ink. Do we own a blacklight torch?"
"Yes," Sherlock said. "Though I can't think where I've put it, at present." His frown deepened, and he circled Grace's nipple with his fingers. "Angels," he said. "Delusion. Vision. Nicotine." He began to rummage about, no doubt looking for patches. John grabbed his laptop and looked up the location of nearby DIY stores.
"Going out for a bit," he called, and took the vague grunting noise from somewhere in the vicinity of the sofa to mean that Sherlock was far too busy hunting up his patches to be interested in whether or not John was anywhere about.
At the B&Q, he bought two blacklight torches and a pack of batteries. "Having a fun day?" said the shop assistant, and John made a face.
"My flatmate's completely mental," he replied.
"Drunk off his nut and weeing all over, is he?"
"Something like that." In a certain light, Sherlock's crime-fuelled happiness and flat-wide distribution of evidence were really rather similar to drunken urination.
Back at Baker Street, John went up to his bedroom and took his messenger bag from under his bed, where it lived along with bottled water, some tins of beans, and several Pot Noodles, all in case Sherlock did something exceptionally nasty in the kitchen. He'd bought the bag when he returned from Afghanistan and needed something that wouldn't put pressure on his bad shoulder, but he'd rarely used it since moving to Baker Street. He could hear Sherlock downstairs, talking to Mrs Hudson.
He loaded the torches up with batteries and tucked them into his bag, along with a field surgical kit and two bottles of water. He took the bag downstairs and hung it up next to his coat.
He'd spent nearly a year with Sherlock Holmes. If nothing else, he'd learned to be prepared for everything.