The Adventure of the Dashboard Box
Chapter 2: The little black box
As he took in his surroundings, John couldn't help but be filled with admiration.
"God, how rich was this guy?"
"Very rich. But this isn't his house."
John arched an inquisitive eyebrow. "Then whose is it?"
"Mine," a deep, elegant voice chided in. "Welcome back, Sherly."
John froze. Sherlock's eyes turned to slits at the nickname, but he replied composedly:
"Mummy?" John repeated dumbly, in shock.
The tall, august woman smiled thinly. She had an aquiline profile, and her regal stance commanded respect.
"You are awfully quick in calling me that, dear," she said with amusement. "Dr. Watson, I presume?"
John blushed furiously and cursed his clumsiness.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean–"
"That's quite fine," she brushed off with an aristocratic gesture of the hand. She turned to her son: "I had two rooms prepared, but if that's a problem..."
"Stop teasing him," Sherlock cut in jadedly. "He's quite touchy on the subject. And you know it isn't a problem. John, won't you get the suitcase?"
John grumbled something about the insufferable git who didn't even bother to tell him they were staying at his family's house. Mrs. Holmes' smile only grew wider before her face fell grave again.
"Gilda is inside with Arthur and Simon. I thought you'd like to talk with them right away."
"Naturally. That's what I came for."
His tone wasn't even cold, but John, who was coming back with their luggage, found the remark rather dry. Not something a parent would enjoy hearing, surely. Then again, how would he know?
The Holmes' mansion was huge, and the doctor didn't even want to know how big the park was. The inside was surprisingly well-decorated – and by that, John meant it wasn't too pompous. No grandiose gold ornamentation or excessively ostentatious pieces of furniture. At least, the house didn't feel like a museum.
"It's not as bad as I had imagined," he blurted out loud, realizing what he'd just said just too late. Fortunately, Mrs. Holmes was already walking towards the Holders, who had been waiting in a beautiful drawing room looking on a garden patio. Sherlock was the only one who had heard his spontaneous comment, so John sighed in relief. The detective's lips curved up wryly.
"I concur," he let out in a murmur, before stepping forward to greet the old 'family friends'.
Gilda Holder was a very pretty woman whose age did not impair her charm. Her make-up wasn't heavy yet clearly noticeable, and if she didn't shared Mrs. Holmes's imperial beauty, she had her own assets and appeared more accessible, so to speak. But her eyes were red and there were dark rings under them.
"Oh, Sherlock... Look how big you've become! You're a fine man, such a fine man."
Anticipating that his friend was probably going to retort something tactless or snappy, John nudged him discreetly, and sent him a glance sideways.
"I am sorry the reason for our meeting again is such a grim one," Sherlock said simply.
Mrs. Holder's lips quivered, and her brother-in-law put a supportive hand on her shoulder. He too looked exceedingly tired and quite worried for his sister-in-law. Her younger on the other hand was showing a furrowed brow, his gaze rather wary, as if he'd been on his guard.
"Come here, Simon. You've never met Sherlock, have you?" Then, to Sherlock: "I'm sorry Robert couldn't make it, he was sleeping at Hatty's last night."
"Simon's older brother's girlfriend," Arthur told John, who wondered why in the world he was addressing him specifically.
Simon didn't seem to care much for Sherlock, but he obeyed and stepped closer to his mother, his eyes fixed on the consulting detective.
"You've grown up to be so tall and handsome, Sherlock!" Mrs. Holder exclaimed with a catch in her voice.
Mrs. Holmes turned to hide a smirk, but John noticed and smiled. Sherlock scowled, obviously thinking she was mocking him, as he was much too used to irony. As for Simon, as he looked the detective over from top to bottom, his pout indicated that if he agreed on the 'tall' part, he highly doubted the 'handsome' one.
An awkward silence was threatening to stretch, but John was too busy repressing a giggle to take care of it. Finally, Sherlock demanded rather curtly:
"Well. Perhaps you could show me the crime scene, then?"
¤ oOo ¤
There wasn't much left to see of the 'crime scene'.
"The police have been here," Sherlock seethed.
"Of course," Arthur replied. He had been the one to accompany them to the garage, for Mrs. Holder still couldn't take a step into it. Robert had been the one to find his father dead, but the subsequent sight of her lifeless husband was still ingrained in Gilda's mind. She hadn't slept at all since the dreadful event.
Sherlock immediately set to nosing about, tracking down any overlooked clues. This left John to do all the talking with the brother of the victim.
"I'm sure the police must have asked you all of this already, but–"
"No, no, don't worry. Mrs. Holmes recommended you heartily."
"Sherlock, you mean," John mumbled, taking out his notebook to write down whatever Arthur was going to tell him.
"The both of you," Mr. Holder insisted obligingly.
"The report says the victim... your brother, took oxycodone with a glass of wine."
"They concluded suicide," Arthur confirmed darkly. John looked up, curious to see his expression.
"And you don't think it is?"
He smiled sadly. "I would rather not, Dr. Watson. I would rather not. He was my brother, and to think he could have ended his own life, when we were right there..."
"In the house, you mean?"
"Not only that. We all lived together. He never struck me as depressed, or distressed over any matter. If he did commit suicide, we must have all missed something."
He shook his head bitterly. John kept an eye on Sherlock, who was now examining the inside of the car, bending in ways that just shouldn't be allowed. What are you doing, Sherlock?
"Can you tell me a bit more about the wine? Was it one he especially liked?"
Sherlock's head emerged from the car to stare at John, his look clearly saying: why are you wasting your time asking stupid questions?
"It was a very good wine, A Clos Saint Urbain, 1998. Alex always appreciated a good glass of wine, but I've never heard him say anything special about this one. We're all connoisseurs in the family, you see – even young Robert! His parents initiated him to wine when he was 13, and they were quite right, I believe. Don't you think wine is an important part of general knowledge?"
"Did that little black box on the dashboard represent anything of importance to your brother?" Sherlock suddenly asked, joining them.
"Of importance?" Arthur asked perplexedly. "It's just a device that monitors how drivers perform so they can keep themselves in check and improve their driving – and reduce carbon emissions. Alexander was very eco-friendly, you see."
"I see," Sherlock trailed off, obviously uninterested.
"But maybe Hatty will be able to tell you more about it? I think her father worked on the project back in California – she's from San Francisco."
"Robert's girlfriend?" John asked, more in an attempt to attract Sherlock's attention rather than really making sure of the fact.
"She's a nice girl. You'll probably meet her today, since they're coming for lun– Oh, here they are! Hello Robert, Hatty."
The two teenagers had indeed just entered the garage. Robert was tall and looked very much like his mother. He was very pale, however, and his complexion was sallow. Like all of the other Holders, he looked exhausted. He looked around the garage nervously, taking his girlfriend's hand. Hatty was a slim, fair-haired young girl, with chestnut brown eyes and freckles. She was even paler than Robert, and John thought she was about to faint. She didn't, however, and both came up to them timidly.
"Mum told us you were here. She said Mr. Holmes would probably like to see us," the young Holder said.
"Yes," Sherlock confirmed.
"Oh, and this is my girlfriend, Hatty Doran," he added, looking at her apologetically. She nodded.
Sherlock was about to say "I know", but he was cut off by John stamping pointedly on his foot. The consulting detective misunderstood his friend, though, and took his warning as a reproach.
"...Right. This is John Watson, my partner."
All eyes turned to him, and then to John, who was staring at his friend in disbelief. Sherlock caught his glare, and amended quickly:
"My colleague." Then, back to the matter at hand: "So, tell me, Robert, when you found the body, had the little black box already disappeared?"
"What?" the teenager said, confused.
"The box," Sherlock repeated impatiently. "On the dashboard."
"I don't know, I... That's not the first thing you notice when your father is lying dead in front of you!" he exclaimed.
"He was lying? Not sitting?"
John rolled his eyes. God, Sherlock.
"What are you talking about? That's just a–"
"Sitting, then. Good."
"Good?" Robert echoed, not believing this man was supposed to be a professional.
Hatty nudged him gently, encouraging him to keep calm.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Holmes," she said. "It was only two days ago. You have to understand... it's hard to lose your own father when you're still so young. And it was so unexpected too..."
John glanced at Sherlock, but his face was inscrutable. His next sentence, though, eased John's worries.
"Father. Your father. He lives in California, doesn't he?"
"Yes, he does," Hatty answered, surprised that a complete stranger would know such a thing. She exchanged a confused gaze with her boyfriend.
"Arthur told me he worked on the conception of that little black box thing."
"LBB," Mr. Holder corrected with a frown, anxious to make it clear that he hadn't used such a clumsy phrasing.
"So he's an engineer?" Sherlock pressed her, now ignoring Robert. "That's a nice job. Is it what you'd like to become too?" John arched an eyebrow, wondering how that could possibly have any relevance to the case. Oh well. He'd find out soon enough.
"No. I'm more interested in languages. I'd rather be a translator."
"Oh, would you? Well, that's nice too. One last thing, Hatty, do you think there could have been anything hidden inside the little black box? Could Alexander – or someone else – have used it to store something secretly?"
Hatty shivered, and furrowed her brow.
"I guess. But that would probably impair the functioning of the box. It wasn't made to store things. And the object would have to be very small. I don't think it's possible."
"I see. Well. Shall we go in to lunch?"
The detective gave one of his sweet, fake smiles, smiles that he reserved for victims – or for John, which, in some way, amounted to the same thing. It didn't have the same purpose, though. For victims or suspects, it was used to fool. To John, it only told the doctor he was doomed.
¤ oOo ¤
Lunch turned out to be quite an experience. Hatty had gone back home, but John and Sherlock had stayed to eat with the Holders. John was much too concentrated on remembering whatever he'd learned about table etiquette – or hadn't, for that matter – to pay full attention to the other people. Sherlock, however, was observing every detail, accumulating data for further use. In fact, his observations had already allowed him to make some deductions. Obvious, he thought.
"How long will you be staying at your mother's, Sherlock?" Mrs. Holder inquired, her voice trembling slightly. She seemed indeed quite shattered by her husband's sudden death.
"Just the time necessary to solve the case."
"He means we'll stay as long as it takes to clear up the questions about your husband's death."
"Thank you," she whispered, her voice breaking. Sherlock looked at his friend with amusement You're the one who made her cry. Not me, his eyes smirked.
Simon was staring at his mother, pity in his eyes. Robert averted his gaze. The elder brother was on edge, and he kept glancing at the clock, agitated. Keen to see the girlfriend again, aren't you? Sherlock mused, completely incapable of understanding such ridiculous infatuation. He watched as the teenager bent down to pick his napkin that he kept dropping, this time nearly knocking over his wine glass in the process. He sat up and glanced at the clock again, wringing his hands. The poor boy looked ready to snap any minute.
"Are you really going back to Hatty's this afternoon?" Mrs. Holder asked in a shaky voice to her son. He nodded dryly. Her eyes filled with tears all over again. "I understand. And you, Arthur, are you going to the gym?"
"You don't work?" Sherlock asked the man suddenly. Arthur seemed offended at the assumption.
"Of course I do. I thought you knew. I am a chef. Alexander was talented with business, and I was more the artistic one. He ended up as a steel magnat and I opened a restaurant."
"So... what is the gym?"
"The fitness centre my brother and I attend...ed." He looked away, swallowing with some difficulty. Sherlock was patient for once, and waited until he found his voice again. "I closed the restaurant until the funeral. Gilda insists that I should go to the gym to refresh my mind and exercise a bit, but..."
"And you really should," she murmured.
"...but the last time I went, I was with Alex."
"Was it on the day he died?" Sherlock inquired right away.
Timing, Sherlock, John told him with a look. The detective pouted.
"Yes. He wanted to go to Harrods that day, so we went to the gym very early in the morning. If I had known..."
"And where will you go this afternoon?" Sherlock cut in, addressing Mrs. Holder. She tried to dry her tears.
"I was thinking of going to the little cottage."
"The little cottage?"
She nodded, a lump in her throat.
"Alexander built this little cottage on the other side of our woods. It's a lovely place, an epitome of eco-friendly architecture and housing..." Her voice quivered, and she trailed off, lost in her memories.
Sherlock repressed a sigh at all the pathos, and started glancing at the clock too. Teenaged boys, John mused, his eyes on his flatmate and Robert Holder.
Silence filled the room.
"Would you like some more wine, Mr. Holmes?" Arthur offered, trying to dispel the uneasiness around the table. Or what he felt as uneasiness, anyway. Sherlock was in fact busy deducing, and John was trying to figure out which fork to use.
"No, thank you," John replied in his stead. Sherlock stared. John blushed. He'd thought Sherlock was too focused on the case to bother answering, and so had just answered for him. As it turned out, though, it had very much sounded like he thought Arthur had addressed him as 'Mr. Holmes'. The blush turned crimson.
"Sherlock doesn't drink while on a case."
Sherlock snorted, and murmured to his friend: "Don't make me look like some sort of some alcoholic just because you assume I can't think and listen at the same time."
John wished he could disappear. He actually didn't need to feel that self-conscious, though. Mrs. Holder was too busy staring at her plate through her tears; Arthur was staring too concernedly at Mrs. Holder; Simon was staring too warily at Arthur; and Robert was staring too impatiently at the clock for any of them to notice his embarrassment.
¤ oOo ¤
After lunch, Mrs. Holder brought Sherlock and John back to the Holmes's estate, and, as she joined Mrs. Holmes in the boudoir, both men retired to their rooms. Or, more precisely, to Sherlock's.
John fell into a chair, exhausted.
"God, no wonder you never eat! That lunch gave me a headache."
Sherlock smirked knowingly.
"Here." He handed him a small bottle of ibuprofen he'd just removed from his bag.
John wasn't sure whether he should be touched by the attention or piqued that Sherlock was so damned perceptive and always seemed to know everything before everyone. Between gratefulness and annoyance, he settled for friendly banter.
"So... Sherly?" A wide grin spread across John's face.
To his surprise, Sherlock's eyes didn't turn to the expected slits. Instead, they sparkled with amusement.
"You're one to talk. Mr. Holmes."
John groaned as he buried his head in the pillow. "Oh, shut up."
Sherlock beamed in victory.
"So," he went on, "tomorrow, we shall go back to London to look into Mr. Holder's business at Harrods. This afternoon, I am going to the 'little cottage' with Mrs. Holder. And you are going to the fitness centre."
"Yes, sure... Wait, what?"