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The Unofficial Prologue to the Curious Adventure of the Musk-Ox Ritual, by John Watson

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"It's a shack."

"Yes, thank you, John,” Sherlock said, stepping up beside him. "As ever, you are unfailingly useful in pointing out the obvious."

John opened the slim file they'd given Sherlock, which of course he'd immediately passed on to John without a glance. "Think there's anything useful in here?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock said, shaking his head. "There's never anything useful in the official case file."

"Well, there's a name—" John looked up. Sherlock had already gone inside. He sighed and followed him, looking around curiously as soon as he got in the door. All in all, it was an unremarkable one-room shack.

"—an American police detective—" Sherlock was speaking as he examined the items on the table next to the—John frowned—surprisingly large bed.

"You do realize you're talking to yourself."

"Don't be ridiculous." Sherlock waved one hand dismissively. "I'm talking to you of course."

John sighed. "We've discussed this, Sherlock. Several times. You can't talk to me if I'm not here."

"Oh, please. Now you're just being tedious. I can hardly be held to blame if you're not there for every conversation we have. I certainly make myself available."

"Sherlock, you can't have a conversation without two people being— You know what? Fine." He squeezed the bridge of his nose hard and took a deep breath. "Just—fine. But I'm afraid you'll have to start again."

"Oh, very well, although I must say it's tiresome to have to repeat oneself. The missing man is—"

"Constable Benton Fraser."

"What?" Sherlock scowled at him.

"The missing man. His name is Constable Benton Fraser." John smiled. "You see, sometimes there is useful information in the file."

Sherlock stared at him stonily.

"I'm just saying, Sherlock—"

"Are you finished then? Shall I proceed? Excellent. Constable Benton Fraser is in his mid-thirties. He joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sometime in his early twenties; however, there was some sort of incident that occurred several years ago that has prevented him from advancing higher than his current rank of Constable. He's extraordinarily neat and organized—one might say pathologically so—and he suffers from a rather acute father fixation. He's unmarried but not unattached, predominantly homosexual, and his sexual partner is an American police detective, an Italian-American—" Sherlock paused, and scrutinized one or two of the items more closely. "Polish-American?" he muttered under his breath. "Well," he said briskly, "in any case, definitely American. From Chicago."

"How did you—?" John began.

"And there's a dog." Sherlock straightened as he pocketed his magnifying glass. "A large dog, actually. Half-wolf. And deaf, I should think, or extraordinarily good at feigning it."

"How could you possibly know that the wolf is deaf?" John asked.

Sherlock held up a book on lip-reading. "There's dried saliva on the pages. It's unlikely that the Constable drools that excessively." He looked around the shack again. "How long has this Constable Benton Fraser been missing?"

John opened the file again. "Last contact was at his regional office approximately two weeks ago."

"Hmm." Sherlock hunched down to examine the rug in front of the wood burning stove. "There are traces of blood here."

John squatted next to Sherlock and looked at the small bloodstain. "Maybe someone killed him here and then removed the body."

Sherlock shook his head. "It's impossible to determine if it's human blood without further analysis. It's equally possible they like to do their butchering in the parlor and someone got careless."

"Actually—" John stood and turned at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. "—I do our butchering outside. It would be impractical to try to cut up an animal as large as a caribou inside the cabin."

There were three men standing in the doorway: one was blond, one was bald, and one was wearing a wide-brimmed Stetson.

"Constable Benton Fraser," said the man in the hat, taking a step forward and holding out his hand.

John returned the handshake automatically. "You're not missing."

Constable Fraser frowned. "Not to my knowledge." He extended his hand to Sherlock, who looked at it disdainfully before deliberately putting his hands in the pockets of his coat, examining the three men as if they were specimens on a slide.

"These are my associates," Constable Fraser continued, unruffled. "Detective Ray Vecchio and Detective Ray Kowalski, from—"

"Yes, yes, the Chicago Police Department," Sherlock said. "Where's the wolf?"

"Never mind where Dief is," said Detective Kowalski, pushing his way further into the room past Constable Fraser. "Who the hell are you?"

"Yeah," said Detective Vecchio, coming up to flank Detective Kowalski. "And if you don't mind my asking, just what the hell are you doing in Benny's cabin?"

"Ray." Constable Fraser put one placating hand on Detective Kowalski's shoulder. "And Ray." Another one on Detective Vecchio's. "Please." He smiled at Sherlock, who continued to frown. "I could be wrong, but I would hazard a guess that this is Detective Sherlock Holmes—"

"Consulting Detective," Sherlock clarified archly.

"—excuse me, Consulting Detective. I didn’t recognize you immediately without the hat."

Sherlock actually growled. John reached over and put a hand on his arm to keep him still. He cleared his throat apologetically. "Don't mind him," he said. "Hat's a bit of a sore spot."

"Ah. Well, a deerstalker is a fine hat," Constable Fraser said, unfazed. "Comes from a very fine tradition. And it suits you quite well," he said to Sherlock, causing John to tighten his grip. Then he turned to John. "Now, if this gentleman is Sherlock Holmes, then by process of elimination you must be Dr. John Watson." He smiled again. "Welcome to Canada."

"Thank yo—Wait. How do you know who we are?" John asked.

"Oh, I’m very familiar with your work, Dr. Watson. The recent Baskerville case was quite entertaining—"

"Entertaining?" Sherlock repeated icily. "John's blog is imprecise and often hyperbolic."

"Average of two thousand hits every three days, Sherlock," John said with a small grin.

"That's because people are idiots. Oh, really John," he continued, just as John was about to protest. "We've been through this. Most people are."

"Wow." Detective Vecchio held back Detective Kowalski as he started to move purposefully in Sherlock's direction. "Isn't he a barrel of laughs?"

Detective Kowalski opened his mouth to speak.

"Rhetorical question, Stanley. Heel." He shrugged off his coat and hung it by the door. "You guys want some tea?"

"Tea would be quite welcome, thank you," John accepted gratefully. "If I may ask—you don’t seem very surprised to see us here. At least, you don't," he finished, speaking directly to Constable Fraser.

"Ah." Fraser took Detective Kowalski's coat from him and placed it and his next to Detective Vecchio's. "Well, there might have been something in this morning’s dispatches that would explain it."

"Dispatches?" John asked, confused.

"Oh, it was a false alarm, I assure you. Somehow CSIS—Canadian Security Intelligence Service—misinterpreted a message from Ottawa—"

Detective Kowalski frowned. "It was the Ice Queen again, wasn’t it?"

"She was simply concerned about our safety, Ray. In any case—I'm afraid you are both due my apologies, gentlemen. Agent Thatcher had no idea that Detectives Kowalski and Vecchio and I had arranged to spend several days—" he stopped, turning pink. "That is—" He rubbed a thumb over his eyebrow. "That is to say we were—"

"Working on Canadian-American relations," Detective Vecchio interjected smoothly, leaning back against the counter in the kitchen and smiling at Detective Kowalski. "We try to do our part to keep the 'special relationship' in good working order."

"Yeah." Kowalski grinned back. "'Special relationship.'"

John looked from one of the detectives to the other, and then at the Constable. "Ohhhh—" he said, the tips of his ears getting warm as he blushed.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I did say." He flung himself into a chair and picked up a folder from what appeared to be a stack of files on the side table.

"Yes. Well. In any case, Agent Thatcher attempted to contact me and when she received no answer after the usual amount of time had passed—"

"Twenty, thirty minutes—" Kowalski muttered.

"—she assumed that there was a problem. She contacted a colleague at the Home Office, who said he had just the man for the case—"

"Mycroft!" Sherlock grumbled. "I should have known he was behind this. Insufferable man, always interfering. Can’t he start a war someplace to amuse himself? Constable," he said, offering up the file in his hand, "you do realize your colleagues have drawn all of the wrong conclusions in this case."

Constable Fraser nodded. "I had suspected as much. They are completely disregarding—"

"—the musk-ox dung at each scene. And the fact that it's the same pair of boots, the exact same pair, even though the gait—and therefore the person wearing the boots— is different at each scene. All men of course," Sherlock said, as if it were obvious.

Constable Fraser nodded in agreement. "Oh, yes. Wide step, less pelvic movement in the stride. I calculate the odds to be somewhere around ninety percent that the perpetrators are male."

"Hmm. Closer to ninety-five, I would think," Sherlock said. "What do you make of the soil deposits at each scene?"

"Oh, god." Kowalski sat down with a sigh. "He's gonna start tasting dirt again, isn't he?" he asked Vecchio, who grimaced and nodded as he looked over at Constable Fraser and Sherlock, their heads close together as they discussed the case.

"Yeah, I'm afraid so. " He turned to John. "Your boyfriend taste dirt?"

"My boyfriend? Oh, but—Sherlock and I aren't together," John said hastily. "We're just friends."

"Yeah, whatever," said Kowalski. "I recognize that tune; I've danced to it before."

"John!" Sherlock was on his feet; Constable Fraser was donning his coat again. "We have to go. Now." He turned away and then back again in a flurry of coat and scarf. "Have you ever been on a dogsled? Well, no matter—Benton tells me he is an excellent driver, and it's all a matter of balance, I would think." He was out the door in seconds, hurtling down the stairs.

"Come along, John! The game is on!"