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Secondary Exposure

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It was raining that evening, and Sherlock was stuck at home. When it rained in the summer, the air was permeated with a thick acrid odor that steamed off the cement for only a moment before being washed away. Sherlock hated that moment, just when it started to rain; it had a way of piercing his senses just enough to cause him to pause and note the mundane fact that yes, indeed, it was once again raining. The windows were open just a crack at the base, and the cool night time air drifted in off the street. John was sitting in his chair where he always sat, just reading a newspaper. He could be so impossibly content, utterly disinterested in the most recent case. Sherlock suddenly recalled that he hadn't actually told John about it yet, and he nearly leaped into the chair opposite him, hands poised in the air descriptively, though he had yet to describe anything.

"Look, John," he said. John calmly folded his newspaper and set it aside.

"You're finally going to tell me, then?"

Affronted, Sherlock said, "You could have asked."

"I did ask. Several times, in fact." John threaded his fingers together and settled back into his chair. "Well?"

Sherlock considered not telling him, if John was going to take an attitude. He needed to have out the facts, though; it helped him think.

"Yesterday morning Scotland Yard received a call from Cudham reporting the discovery of a human skeleton, the remains of Jackson Long, a fourteen year old boy who disappeared ten years ago." Sherlock shifted eagerly to the edge of his seat. "Now, as the police searched the area for further evidence, another body was discovered, three months old, a sixteen year old boy from Battersea. Of course, they weren't identified until today, and by the time they called me in they had already...moved everything.

"Neither body evidenced severe trauma, and the cause of death has not been immediately apparent. They were discovered within 60 yards of each other, though the times of death span the better part of a decade." Sherlock leaned forward conspiratorially, his eyes gleaming. "Both boys were in mid adolescence, blond hair, blue eyes, athletic frame, and both disappeared from suburban areas. Over the last twenty years nine such boys have been reported missing, and of those nine, eight have disappeared from within a ten mile radius of where we are right now." He leaned back and steepled his fingers before his chin. "What do you make of that?"

John hesitated a curiously long time before venturing, "Hadn't you better tell me?"

"No," Sherlock said simply. "An erroneous assessment will often shed light on a more lucrative line of inquiry."

John's brow clouded in annoyance. He opened his mouth, shut it, and shifted where he sat. "Right. Good." He cleared his throat and, frustratingly, paused again, his expression settling into something inscrutable. He dismissed some thought with a slight shake of his head, and Sherlock's eyes narrowed, divining without success John's unvoiced thoughts.

"Well," John finally began. "Um, serial killer, obviously, right? With a car, because he had to get them out to the country. They couldn't have struggled very much because some one would have noticed. Probably. Where were they last seen?"

"School. Always a weekday, for all the boys."

"Alright, so they probably had a schedule, and this person knew the schedule, knew where and when he could find them alone, or they knew him already, but..." John tapered off and stared past Sherlock, lost in thought. Sherlock knew he could get sentimental when children were killed, but this was absurd. It certainly didn't speed up the investigation. Irritation had just begun to fester at the back of Sherlock's skull when John abruptly continued.

"Drugs, possibly; ether. They must have been unconscious for the ride out, but ether wouldn't last that long. He may have hit them on the head, or gone for the carotid artery. Drove them out to the country, strangled them, buried the bodies -"

'Strangled, why do you say strangled?"

Again, John hesitated. "Seems likely, doesn't it? No visible trauma; stabbing, beating, bullets are out. And you wouldn't kidnap someone and then use poison, would you? I don't know, I just - "

"No," Sherlock said, "it's fine. I'd considered strangulation myself. I wondered why you'd said it."

John quirked a half smile. "I'm spending too much time around you."

Sherlock stood suddenly and resumed his pacing. "If it alters your thought process to coincide with mine, I should consider that a vast improvement."

John's smile turned incredulous. Anything he may have said in defense of his intellect, Sherlock preempted with a brusque "Anything else?"

There was another long silence. "John -"

"No," John said quickly. "Nothing else. Not much to go on, really, is there?"

Sherlock paused in front of his laptop, scrolling through a few messages. "We'll see," he mused. "I have Lestrade's lackeys compiling data on all the missing boys. I'll need you to sort through it while I'm at the lab. If there are any -"

"I can't," John interrupted. Sherlock jerked around and faced him.

"What?"

John raised his eyebrows. This gormless sod in a cheap button down shirt: what could he possibly be doing? "I can't. I have a medical conference."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed quizzically. "Yes, but that's boring."

"It happens to be my job, Sherlock. You know, the job that I have that actually makes money so that I can pay for things?"

Sherlock favored him with a look utterly lacking in comprehension. Finally he said, "How long will you be gone?"

"Three days, I told you. I'll be back on Sunday."

Slowly, Sherlock turned away. "Very well," he said, gaining momentum until he was once again lost in thought. Frankly, John's response to the case had been rather annoying in the first place. He bent over his laptop again. Some remote part of his brain noticed the stiffness with which John retreated from the room.

 


Sergeant Donovan arrived at the flat at 8 o'clock the next morning. She was still wearing the suit Sherlock had seen her in yesterday, so she hadn't been home. The skirt was wrinkled and her complexion was listless and sallow. No canoodling with Anderson, then; she had spent the night at the office. In her arms she held a heavy ream of papers - the files Sherlock had demanded of Lestrade. He had expected them delivered, but not by Donovan of all people.

"Ah, lovely," he said, when he'd opened the door. He reached for his files but she turned her shoulder to him.

"Not quite, Freak. I have some questions first."

Sherlock sighed heavily. John came to stand in the doorway to the kitchen, nursing his second cup of coffee. He'd had a late night as well; Sherlock had heard him pacing about his room till the wee hours of the morning. Not good for his medical conference, or whatever it was he thought was so important.

"I am sure that mind of yours abounds with questions, Sergeant. Unfortunately, never the right ones, and I don't have time for any other kind."

"Lucky," she replied archly. "They're not for you. They're for him." She jerked her chin at John, who adopted that curiously inscrutable expression from the night before. Sherlock shot him a glance, and Sally drew a file from the top of the stack, a xeroxed police report with a color photo attached to the front. Sherlock glanced at it quickly, then honed in on the photo: young boy, about sixteen. Sandy hair parted on the right, blue eyes crinkled at the edges even then. Familiar, self-deprecating smile. Homely cable knit jumper. Sherlock snatched at the file but Donovan pulled it out of reach, eyes both steadily on John. Sherlock stood back from the door and fixed his incredulous stare on John as well, who was looking at some point just past Donovan's ear. She held the file up again.

"What can you tell me about this?"