Sherlock Homes stood and stared, unable to grasp exactly what he was seeing. It was impossible, he knew that it was impossible, and yet there was the evidence right before his eyes. Young girl, sixteen or seventeen, long blonde curly hair fanned out around her head, face peaceful in death, lying on the wet pavement in a white dress that looked as if it had come straight out of a gothic horror novel, and there, clearly visible in the right side of her neck were two bright red puncture wounds, looking for all the world like fang marks.
It was perfect, too perfect. A love of art that was taken too far. A perfect tableau of a death scene, as if waiting to be painted, not just photographed by the police photographers. The girl was beautiful, the dress unmarked by the mud or the grime of the alleyway, the scene perfectly balanced in every way.
‘So..... Vampire?’ John asked, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, John,’ Sherlock murmured, as he inspected the body with a magnifying glass, walking round it, viewing it from every angle, then inspecting the walls of the alley where she had been found.
‘We’ll need those bins taken away for forensics,’ he said to the Czech DI who was in charge of the case.
‘But of course.’
‘Can I see the other?’
‘The other bodies? Certainly, but not now, in the morning.’
‘Very well. 9am? We’ll meet you at the mortuary,’ and turning on his heel he stalked off towards the bridge.
‘But I haven’t told you where it is,’ the DI was shouting after him.
‘Oh believe me, we’ll find it,’ John said as he sprinted after Sherlock
The hotel was in the Old Town, Five star, surprisingly comfortable, discrete, Sherlock was immediately suspicious. Walking into their room, or their suite as it turned out to be, Sherlock headed straight for the bedroom, which contained a double bed. A quick check of the other rooms proved that this was, in fact the only bed.
‘I’ll take the sofa,’ John said quickly.
‘No you won’t, Mycroft’s trying to prove a point,’ Sherlock said. ‘I won’t give him the satisfaction.’
‘And rising to him isn’t going to give him satisfaction?’ John muttered, before saying in a resigned voice, ‘Fine, I’ll go and sort it out?’
‘There is a problem?’ the bell boy asked frowning. ‘It is a lovely suite.’
‘Yes, its a lovely suite with only one bed,’ John explained patiently.
‘Oh, but I thought...’
‘Yes, so does everybody, but you thought wrong,’ John said with a sigh. ‘Come on, show me back to reception and I’ll see if we can’t sort this out.’
Ten minutes later they were installed in a suite on an adjoining corridor, this one with two separate bedrooms, after Sherlock had rejected the first two that they had been shown. By the time that John had opened his suitcase and put his wash bag in the bathroom, Sherlock had already laid claim to one of the suite’s two armchairs and was flicking through the Czech TV channels.
‘So what are we doing here?’ John asked, as Sherlock settled on a program that looked suspiciously like a Czech version of Jeremy Kyle. ‘And do you even speak Czech?’
‘But you’ve only ever talked to people here in English.’
‘And your point is?’
John sighed. ‘I can see that vampires are exciting, but why was Mycroft so keen to get you to take this case. What one earth does it have to interest the British secret service?’
‘Absolutely nothing as far as I’m aware. But the anniversary of my mother’s death is tomorrow, I would imagine that Mycroft wanted me out of London and too busy to sit and ‘brood’’ Sherlock made mock inverted comment with his fingers, ‘on previous events. I would also imagine that he believed, erroneously of course that I was less likely to do something rash in a strange city.’
‘Whereas in fact...’
‘I am probably more likely. But then he has also sent you here as my guard dog, has paid the hotel staff to stop me from leaving the hotel alone, no doubt by them inventing a whole tabloids worth of riots, gas leaks and and a myriad of other reasons to ensure that I remain here, and he has of course - bugged this room. Wave John, we’re on camera.’
Leaping up from the chair he reached up and pulled a tiny camera from above the door frame. ‘I thought that by rejecting the first two suites that we were offered I’d avoided that, but Mycroft is good, I’ll give him that. He must have bugged all of them.’
‘So thats why you didn’t want the first suite,’ John groaned, ‘I knew it couldn’t just have been about the bed thing.’
‘Of course not, Mycroft can think what he likes. He is very well aware that we are not a couple, he just enjoys having a dig occasionally. Besides I don’t intend to do much sleeping over the next few days.’
Sherlock was prowling round the room, climbing onto furniture and removing microphones and cameras from behind curtains, picture rails, and even from underneath the armchairs. He then went through the two bathrooms and both bedrooms, performing a similar process, before dropping them all unceremoniously into the kettle of water.
His phone rang a split second later Mycroft. ‘Ignore it,’ Sherlock said with a wave of his hand. John did, but ten seconds later his own phone began to ring.
‘If we don’t answer it he’ll just send someone round Sherlock, you know what he’s like. I’ll put it onto speaker.’
‘Dr Watson, kindly tell my little brother that I would appreciate it if he could have more respect with my equipment or I’ll dock it out of his pay,’ came Mycroft’s voice, without any attempt at introduction or pleasantry.
Sherlock silently got up, picked up the kettle and dropped the whole thing, surveillance equipment and all off the balcony.
‘Tell my brother that if he wants it back he can send someone to come and get it,’ he said , before walking into bedroom and slamming the door shut behind him.
‘I heard, ‘ Mycroft said wearily. ‘Just tell him to be at the mortuary at nine o’clock sharp will you?’
‘Why are you doing this Mycroft?’
‘I told you. To keep him out of mischief.’
‘Trying to control him doesn’t work, Mycroft, haven’t you worked that out by now? It just makes him worse.’
‘Watch him John, you need to stay with him.’
‘Which will be more difficult in a strange city than in London. Mycroft you didn’t rig this whole thing up just to keep him occupied did you?’
‘Murder several young virgins, now John even I wouldn’t go that far.’
Five minutes later, John was tapping on Sherlock’s door. Poking his head round it, he found Sherlock sitting cross-legged on the bed, tapping at his laptop.
‘John, come and look at this,’ he said. ‘These are the girls who were killed. What do you notice about them?’
‘They’re all very young?’ John asked.
‘Obviously, try again.’
‘They’re all very pretty?’
John looked at the pictures carefully. ‘You’re right, they’re all beautiful, and very thin, they look like..’
‘Models,’ Sherlock finished triumphantly. ‘Precisely. Think about it, all the victims were laid out, almost in an artist’s tableau, perfectly arranged, props with some of them, not a hair out of place?’
‘So, the murderer, or murderers, because I don’t believe that one man could do this on his own, must have found them from somewhere. My betting is a model agency.’
John groaned, ‘Please tell me that I’m not going to have to pretend to be a male model for this one,’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, nobody would ever find that convincing. We’’re going to pretend to be photographers, or rather you are.’
‘Which would of course, be so much better,‘John said dryly. ‘Hang on you said man, how do you know the murderers a man?’
‘Obviously he’s a man.’
‘Obviously,’ John said. ‘Now do you need me anything else? Because it is 2am, our presence is required at the morgue at 9am, and I would quite like to get some sleep first.’
‘Oh sleep,’ Sherlock said with a dismissive wave of his hand, ‘Sleep’s boring, but if you must...’
Finding the morgue the next morning proved less challenging than John had anticipated. Sherlock managed it by hailing the first cab that he saw and saying, ‘City morgue please,’ to the driver.
‘There might be more than one,’ John muttered.
‘There isn’t,’ Sherlock replied.
Walking into the morgue twenty minutes later, John was hit by the familiar smell of disinfectant and - what was that? Something from the dissection room of his medical school days.
‘Formaldehyde,’ Sherlock said as if in answer to his thoughts.
‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ John muttered.
‘Someones been preserving bodies,’ Sherlock said. ‘Interesting.’
Three girls were laid out on the mortuary tables for their inspections. The first was the girl from last night, blonde, clothes removed now for forensic examination, less ethereal lying on a mortuary slab than she had been in her fine clothes in the alleyway last night.
The other two, one red head and one girl with long black hair were on the adjacent tables. All had been found within the last week. All had two fine puncture marks over their external jugular veins on the right side of their necks.
The Detective Inspector handed Sherlock a set of postmortem reports. ‘What do you think?’ he asked.
‘I think that they’re dead,’ Sherlock said sarcastically, ‘and I don’t think that they were killed by vampires.’
‘Then how do you explain the fang marks, and the fact that they all appear to have been at last partly drained of blood?
Sherlock briefly examined the three bodies. ‘No other obvious marks, no other cause of death?’
‘None, some bruising around the wrists of the red head, where she may have been restrained, nothing else.’
‘How about in their groins?’
‘No sign of sexual assault, if thats what you mean.’
‘It isn’t. John?’
‘Grab a pair of gloves, have a look over their femoral veins, let me know what you find.’
John did as he was asked, examining each girl in turn, finding examining dead bodies distasteful as he always did, it seemed much easier in the living somehow. The human body shouldn’t be this cold, this clammy. It wasn’t one of his favourite parts of the job.
‘Puncture mark,’ he said, looking up in surprise from examining the first girl. ‘How did you...?’
‘Lucky guess,’ Sherlock said sarcastically.
‘So - drugs? John asked, ‘they were using - what heroin, amphetamine, speed-balling maybe?’
‘No, no,’ Sherlock replied, ‘as always John you see but you do not observe. What do you notice about the puncture wounds.’
‘They’re white, there’s very little blood around them, and no bruising.’
‘Because they were inflicted after death,’ John said with a sigh, ‘of course. So you think thats how they removed the blood. They cannulated the femoral vein and - ’
‘Venesected it out, precisely.’ Sherlock interrupted. ‘Its not a vampire, Detective Inspector, but it is someone with medical knowledge. I presume they put the formaldehyde in the same way?’
‘Yes, formaldehyde, don’t you check for anything? These bodies have been preserved. Can’t you smell it? Even John noticed when he came in here.’
‘We’re still waiting for the full toxicology screens to come back.’
‘Will you get insulin levels on that?’
‘Not normally, no.’
‘Ask for them, you’ll find that they’re high in all three girls, ‘ Sherlock said distractedly.
‘You think they were overdosed on insulin?’ John asked bemused.
‘Of course,’ Sherlock said.
‘Track mark between the toes, on all of them.’
‘Could be drugs, heroin, they wouldn’t want to inject anywhere that might show if they are models.’
‘And I’m sure that you’ll find opiates in all of their systems, cocaine too probably, thats how they lured them in, but the cause of death was insulin overdose.’
The Detective Inspector was looking as bemused as John.
‘Insulin overdose?’ he asked in English.
‘Yes of course, silent killer, gets broken down by the body even after death so levels may not even be raised, but all the girls had low blood sugars int he post-mortem samples.’
‘They’re all very thin, they had low albumins too, signs of malnutrition, anorexia most likely.’
‘Because they were starving themselves to become models,’ Sherlock said thoughtfully.
‘Models?’ the Detective Inspector asked, ‘none of these girls were models.’
‘Not yet, no, but they all wanted to be, believe me. Where else would the murderer have found three such beautiful girls to make such perfect tableau’s? Its a love of art thats taken too far, in my opinion, but still, you have to admire the artistry,’ he said contemplatively.
John cleared his throat. ‘What?’ Sherlock asked. ‘I’m not allowed to appreciate the art of it?’
‘Not when three girls are lying here dead, no,’ John replied.
‘Oh fine, have it your way,’ Sherlock said sighing. ‘So Detective Inspector, I need a list of every modeling agency and photographer in the city. John and I will go and talk to the girl’s parents, we’ll need a warrant to search their houses with a police escort, see if we can find a calling card, mobile phone information, anything that could lead us to the killers.’
‘Killers?’ the Detective Inspector asked, ‘you think there was more than one?’
‘Of course there was more than one, one man couldn’t have done this on their own. Somebody had medical knowledge, that much is clear, then there’s the artist, probably someone involved in the fashion industry, theatre even. The dresses, do we know where they came from?’
‘No, there are no labels in them.’
‘Individually made then?’
‘Possibly. I’ll need to have a closer look at them. Where are they?’
‘In the forensics lab,’ the DI said.
‘Then what are we waiting for, lets go.’
Sherlock spent more time examining the dresses than he had the bodies, muttering and making notes in his notebooks. Finally he gave a satisfied smirk, shut his notebook with a snap, put it back in his jacket pocket, and with an over the shoulder command to the DI to give the list of photographers and model agencies to John to begin investigating, swept out of the room.
‘Where are you going?’ John asked.
‘To do something dangerous,’ was Sherlock’s reply as the door slammed close behind him, and he was gone.
‘Is he always like this?’ the DI asked, sounding confused.
‘Yes,’ John replied with a sigh. ‘Always.’
‘And where is he going? His brother said...’
‘To keep an eye on him? I wouldn’t bother trying. He’s very good at disappearing when he wants to. You’ll never find him. Now do you have a desk and a computer that I can use?’
That evening brought an irate phone call from Mycroft as John, exhausted from a day of traipsing around Prague and interviewing one photographer and model agency after another in the guise of being a photographer looking for work, had finally returned to their hotel room and had collapsed into an armchair with a well deserved bottle of Staropramen.
‘Where is he John?’
‘I have absolutely no idea, Mycroft.’
‘You should have stayed with him.’
‘Mycroft this is Sherlock we’re talking about. If your agents couldn’t keep tabs on him, then I don’t know how you expect him to.’
‘Its a danger night, John.’
‘Yes, possibly, but he’s thirty four years old Mycroft, and if he wants to go off and get high, or jump off the Charles Bridge, or whatever else you’re worried about him doing, then I don’t think that there’s very much that either of us can do about it, do you?’
‘Is he working on the case?’
‘Yes, I expect so, I have no idea, but he doesn’t normally let things go once he’s interested in them, so odds are he’s safe. Is that why you sent us here?’
‘And the other part?’
‘Just find him John.’
Right. Find Sherlock Holmes in a strange city when all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn’t. Not likely. Instead John Watson opted for another beer and an early night.
John was woken from an uneasy sleep by the sound of the door of the hotel suite slamming shut. No burglar would be that noisy. The bedside clock showed 7.15 am. Yawning he wandered into the living room of the suite to find Sherlock rifling through the pile of papers on the table, scanning though the notes that he had made the evening before. He was dripping wet, one shoe was missing and he had a thick streak of mud down one cheek and all over his white shirt.
‘What on earth happened to you?’ he asked.
‘I had an argument.’
‘With a river?’
‘With a man on the Charles Bridge.’
‘Christ, when I said to Mycroft that if you wanted to thrown yourself off the Charles Bridge then he should let you do it, I didn’t mean it.’
‘I assume the man I had an argument with was one of Mycroft’s lackeys. Shoelaces were wrong for Czech secret service. He wanted me to go with him. I declined.’
‘Shoelaces? Oh never mind,’ John sank down onto a spare chair. ‘So are you going to tell me where you’ve been? Because the last thing that you said to me was that you were going to do something dangerous. And generally speaking you can’t just say things like that and then disappear for the rest of the day, especially when Mycroft’s already told me that its going to be one of his bloody danger nights, without expecting me to experience at least a modicum of concern.’
‘That not what you said to Mycroft.’
‘How the hell do you know what I said to Mycroft?’
‘He had your phone bugged too, I intercepted the divert.’
John’s mouth dropped open, this was beyond the pale, even for Sherlock. ‘You bugged my phone?’ he asked slowly.
‘No of course I didn’t, nor as far as I’m aware did Mycroft. You told me, remember? You said that you told Mycroft he should let me jump off the Charles Bridge if I wanted to, which implies a lack of concern.
‘Well I lied, I was worried.’
‘Why do you think? Mycroft phones me and tells me that its coming up to one of his sodding danger nights, and the next thing I know you disappear without a trace for nearly twenty four hours. Of course I was worried.’
Sherlock was by this point sitting at the table, sifting through the data file on John’s laptop, and intermittently dripping water from his wet clothes onto the floor.
John snatched away his laptop and shut it. ‘Water and electricity are a bad mix, Sherlock, why don’t you go and have a shower and get out of those wet clothes.
Sherlock glared at him, then with a weary sigh, stood up and walked towards his bedroom, stripping off his wet shirt as he went. ‘Careful John, people will talk,’ he murmured, then ducked at exactly the right moment to avoid the cushion that John threw at his head.
Half an hour later, and a distinctly drier and less muddy Sherlock was rifling through the apparently random arrangement of papers on the table, and pinning pictures and scrawled notes up on a section of wall, despite John’s weary protestations. ‘Its not our wall Sherlock.’
‘And the hotel might not appreciate you putting drawing pin holes in it.’
Sherlock gave him a silent look of disdain.
‘Fine, you’re right. I’m sure they’ve had worse on these walls. So, did you find anything out during last nights escapade, or did you just go for a nice swim?’
‘There are seven theatrical costumiers in the city, ‘ Sherlock said, ‘only three of whom could possibly have made the dresses that our victims are dressed in, but none of them did. Which means that they could have been made just about anywhere in Czechoslovakia.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because I took fabric and dust samples from all three, analysed them myself in the local forensics lab and none of them matched the girls dresses.’
‘Hang on, how did you get into a forensics lab without Mycroft finding out and dragging you back here by your ear.’
‘I didn’t. Thats how the secret service chap tracked me down, but I had to use the lab facilities, no option. Took me hours to lose him again.’
‘So - you drew a blank?’
‘Not a blank, John, no. I’ve merely excluded some of the possibilities.’
‘Meaning that the dresses were made by two different seamstress, both with experience of working in a theatrical costumier rather than the fashion industry judging by how those dresses were put together. They were made to look beautiful from a distance, to create an effect, but the person making them cut corners in the third victim’s dress. Badly cut hems, crooked seams. The dress was designed to be worn once only, but its more than that. They were in a hurry, working to a timeline. Thats important. It says that they ran out of time. Something or someone forced them to step up their game.’
‘Our arrival possibly?’
Sherlock shook his head, ‘No this was the second victim remember, not the third, so something else.’
‘Haven’t a clue,’ he said cheerfully. ‘So, photographers and model agencies. What did you find out?’
They were interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone. Sherlock answered it and listened in silence to the voice on the other end before saying. ‘Fine. We’ll be there in fifteen minutes,’ and reaching for his coat.
‘Another one?’ John asked.
‘So it would appear.’
The car took them to a corner of the old town, close to the castle. Another beautiful red-haired girl, lying this time in a city fountain, flowers in hand. She couldn’t have been there long, John registered, her body was not yet bloated with water. She looked oddly familiar. He went round to look at her from the foot end. The hands were wrong, but otherwise.
‘Oh God,’ he said softly.
Sherlock looked up sharply. ‘What?’ he asked.
‘Ophelia,’ he said.
‘As in Hamlet?’
‘As in the John Everett Millais paintings. He’s doing the Pre-Raphaelites, Sherlock don’t you see? This picture is in the Tate. Ophelia having drowned herself, complete with flowers.’
He could see from Sherlock’s expression that this was yet another thing that he had ‘deleted’ to make room for more important facts.
‘And the others?’
‘I think that they’re based on paintings too, but they’re not as obvious.
‘And the coin?’ Sherlock asked. ‘Is that in the original painting too?’
He reached round behind the girl and pulled a silver coin out of the water. ‘The Kings shilling,’ he said softly. He showed the coin to John. An English, George the third coin.
‘A clue? What kind of murderer leaves clues?’
‘The kind who wants to get caught,’ Sherlock replied.
‘So what does that tell us?’
‘Everything. He’s almost certainly English, almost certainly a photographer. He works with models, he knew these girls, lured them in, they didn’t struggle, there’s no sign of bruising on any of them, which implies a young, good looking charming photographer.’
‘That narrows it down,’ John said sarcastically.
‘More than you might think. He’s been in the army, or involved with it, probably demobbed for some reason, hence the King’s shilling.’
‘But why is he doing this?’
‘For the glory I would imagine. Come on John, Vampire killings, Pre-Raphaelite tableaus, this is the stuff of legends, it would be talked about for years, which is exactly why we’ve cut off his supply line.’
‘Meaning press embargo, ‘ Sherlock said striding away, forcing John to run a short distance to catch up with him.
‘Why is Mycroft so interested?’
‘Because the second victim is the daughter of the British ambassador to Czechoslovakia.’
‘So it would appear. A fact that Mycroft neglected to tell me.’
‘And her father?’
‘Has absolutely no idea what his daughter was involved with. I was there yesterday. In fact I went to all of the girl’s houses.’
‘So we’re no further on.’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
He drew a card out of his coat pocket, slightly ragged now from its dip in the river. Sherlock’s coat, John noticed was suspiciously dry. ‘Your coat,’ he said.
‘Is a spare. Mycroft must have sent it. It was hanging in the wardrobe in my room this morning.’
‘How do you know that it was from Mycroft?’
‘Its from his tailors.’
‘But it looks exactly the same as the first one.’
‘That one was from his tailors too.’
‘Sherlock, about Mycroft.’
‘He’s a pain, who can’t keep his meddling fingers out of my life, yes.’
‘But he does genuinely worry about you.’
‘He doesn’t want me to disgrace the family, John, but back to this card. What do you notice?’
‘Its a photographer’s card. Where did you find it?’
‘Hidden under a loose floorboard in the ambassador’s daughter’s bedroom. Not a very original hiding place, but then what do you expect from a teenage girl.’
‘And the photographer?’
‘No longer there, his studio is shut up, some scandal involving underage models apparently, he’s packed up and moved to Amsterdam apparently, where he has been for the last three months. He can’t be our murderer.’
‘So we need to talk to him.’
‘Already have,’ Sherlock said smugly.
‘You went to Amsterdam without Mycroft noticing? How on earth did you manage that?’
‘No of course I didn’t go to Amsterdam, don’t be ridiculous John. There are easier ways to interview people these days than getting on a plane and traveling across several European countries.’
‘And did he tell you anything useful?’ John asked patiently.
‘Only that he talent spotted the girl, met her once, she expressed interest in being a model but unsurprisingly when she came to his studio and he asked her to take all of her clothes off she declined.’
‘So your modeling hunch was correct.’
‘My deduction was correct,’ Sherlock replied tersely, ‘yes.’
‘So where does that leave us?’
‘Needing to find out more about the Pre-Raphaelites and soldiers. You go to the nearest art gallery and find out whatever you can about the pictures they reproduced with those girls, see if there are any clues there, see if it tells us what he’s going to do next. I’m going to phone my darling brother.’
John had not even rounded the corner before Sherlock was on the phone to Mycroft. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that he was a soldier?’
‘That who was a soldier?’
‘The murderer, Mycroft, who else?’
‘Because I didn't know. Tell me.’
‘He left a George the Third Shilling in the fountain with his latest victim. The Kings shilling.’
‘Obviously,’ Mycroft replied dryly, ‘so - a soldier with a vendetta?’
‘I need access to military records, Mycroft, and information on the security staff for the ambassador. If there isn’t an ex-military security guard involved somewhere then I’ll eat my hat.’
By the time he got back to the hotel, Sherlock had full security clearance. It took him less than twenty five minutes to cross-correlate the ambassadors security detail and military records. Three possibilities, two still working for the ambassador and with good solid records. One late fifties, one late forties, neither with any link to photography. The third, Peter Sayers was in his later thirties. He had been a medic in the Royal Army Medical core as part of an Infantry regiment, then had retrained as an army photographer. He had worked for the ambassador for three years as part of his security detail, then been dismissed ten months ago after a particularly unpleasant bar fight had earned him a police record.
‘Got you,’ Sherlock said softly.
Peter Sayers had disappeared from the records after his dismissal, but a quick trawl through the list of photographers that John had provided him with found him with little effort. His work did indeed involve fashion photography, as well as several photo shoots for top shelf magazines, some with girls who looked suspiciously young. The perfect dual career.
Flicking through websites that he usually had little interest in, Sherlock found several photos with his watermark on them that on close inspection proved to be of the ambassadors daughter, always with her face partly hidden, and in positions that her parents would find her hard to recognise in. There was a deadness to the girls’s eyes where they were visible, drugs then.
The first two dresses he could already have had, Sherlock realised, props for his photography business, the others had been rapidly made to clothe the later victims, that accounted for their rushed seams. He was forced to admit that finding the source might prove to be impossible. Flicking through the police post-mortem reports he found the toxicology results were finally back on the first three victims. He had been correct. All three had had opiates and cocaine in their systems, enough to imply a serious recreational drugs habit, but not enough to kill them. High levels of insulin were present too, so that was how the murderer had done it. Get them high, then inject them with insulin while they were too incapacitated to resist. Was this Peter Sayers’ work as well he wondered? It was possible, but a complicated web for one man to weave. Flicking back to the websites he recognised the other victims. Were the drugs part of the way that he lured them in, kept them under his control, or was there even more to it than that. He kept the identity of the killer to himself for now, he didn't want the police blundering in there and scaring him off.
John returned to their room a couple of hours later, bearing a paper-wrapped package with a Sternberg Palace logo on it. Sherlock held his hand out for it silently. ‘Pre-Raphaelite exhibition?’ he asked.
‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘As I said, he wants to be caught.’
‘I thought that you said that there were several of them.’
‘There are, but Peter Sayers is the one behind it all. The others are all accomplices, nothing more.’
‘Is our murderer, yes.’ He spun the computer round to show John the army profile picture. ‘Ex army medic, army photographer, and ex security detail to the ambassador, plus almost certainly his daughters lover.’
‘Bit convenient isn’t it?’
‘How do you mean?’ Sherlock asked indignantly.
‘I mean that its almost too perfect, when did we last have a case that fitted this neatly?’
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John, reluctant to admit that he could be right. ‘Let me see those postcards,’ he said, tipping up the bag John had brought so that two books on the Pre-Raphaelites and thirty or so postcards tumbled onto the already paper covered table. Rapidly he picked out the postcards corresponding to the murders, then held up one of Henry Wallis’ painting of Chatterton.
‘This was a Pre-Raphaelite painting too?’ He asked.
‘Late comer, but apparently yes.’ Then looking at Sherlock’s face. ‘What is it?’
‘Its a suicide note, John, all of it. Peter Sayers is going to be Chatterton. Come on.’
John phoned the Czech DI from the taxi, leaving Sherlock staring out of the window, processing the information that they had just found. Arriving at the flat half an hour later, they found blue lights preceding them. Walking in, Sherlock pushed his way though a crowd of police officers and into a small living room. There, under the window, on a bed which had obviously been put there for the purpose was Peter Sayers. White shirt, blue knee breeches, an empty vial on the floor next to him. The hair was the wrong colour and Sherlock was fairly sure that the cause of death would be heroin, not arsenic, but other than that it was a perfect tableau of the Henry Wallis painting.
Sherlock roared in frustration and walked out the room. John followed him to find him leaning against a wall round the corner, smoking a borrowed cigarette.
‘So not our murderer?’
‘Yes our murderer, but he didn’t leave himself like that did he? He obviously had accomplices and its unlikely that anyone capable of that degree of artistry is going to stop anytime soon.’
‘So, I made a mistake, John.’ Sherlock stubbed out his cigarette, spoke in rapid Czech to the police officer guarding the door of the house, gave him a bank note in exchange for the remainder of the packet of cigarettes, and then to John’s surprise walked over to a woman begging on the street corner and handed them to her, with a folded piece of paper.’
‘Seriously?’ John said. ‘Homeless network here too?’
‘Of course,’ Sherlock said. ‘Come on, lets go and see what else we can find in the flat.’
Peter Sayers, it would appear, was a man of quiet and simple tastes. Fifteen years of military service had resulted in impeccable tidiness, every item of clothing neatly folded in drawers. A handful of paperbacks, and a shelf of DVDs, with a predilection for vampire films, but little else of interest.
‘No,’ Sherlock said.
‘What do you mean no?’ John asked.
‘Look at this place, John. This man isn’t an artist. He might be able to take beautiful photographs under direction, but he didn’t set up those tableaus, he couldn’t have.’
‘Which means that he had help, and the inspiration for the killing, the real mastermind behind this, wasn’t him.’
‘And is still alive.’
‘So - you were wrong,’ John said, trying not to sound too pleased.
‘Not wrong exactly, just - yes, all right I was wrong, in some respects.’
‘So what now?’
‘So now, we go back to the beginning and start all over again to work out what we’ve missed.’
Back in the hotel room, which lovely as it was, was beginning to feel to John not unlike a prison cell, Sherlock was pacing in front of the patch of wall which was now covered with a map of Prague and various pieces of paper.
‘So, what have we missed. What do we know?’ he asked John, staring at the wall, trying to pull together all of the apparently unrelated pieces of evidence in his mind.
‘Well, we know that Peter Sayers was involved, apparently as the photographer. He knew Rachel, the ambassador’s daughter, so he could have recruited her. We know that he must have had help with the artistic side of things.’
‘We know that for some reason they wanted them to look not only like Pre-Raphaelite paintings, but also like Vampire killings,’ Sherlock continued, ‘we know that Peter Sayers had a fascination with vampires, DVDs and books in his flat.’
‘But why?’ John asked.
‘Why bother?’ John asked, ‘To justify the killings, or...’
‘I’ve told you before, John’ Sherlock said, ‘Genius requires an audience. The murderer, or murderers wanted people to know that they are brilliant, to admire the genius of their work.’
‘But we stopped that,’ John said, matter of fact as always. ‘Press embargo is still in place, right? So no publicity, does that mean no more murders?’
‘Not if we give them their audience back.’
‘And how are we going to?’ John hesitated, registering Sherlock’s evil grin. ‘Oh please tell me that I’m not going to have to be a journalist.’
‘No of course not John, I’m going to be the journalist, you’re going to pretend to be my photographer.’
John’s groan was interrupted by the ring of a phone. Sherlock listened silently, then reached for his coat.
‘Where are we going?’ John asked.
‘Back to the station. He left a note.’
‘Sayers of course, Peter Sayers, he left a note, claiming all responsibility.’
‘But I thought...’
‘Precisely. He’s lying, John, even after his death the man is still lying, but now we have to convince the police of that. As you said its all too neat, too perfect, because its not true.’
Once at the police station, they found a very worried looking girl in her twenties, with shoulder-length dark hair, sitting in an interview room. She was pretty, but not beautiful enough to have been a potential victim, lucky for her, John thought. Not so lucky that she was shortly to discover that she had been living in the flat above a mass murderer for the last eighteen months.
‘He gave it to me just before he died,’ she said in passable English, when Sherlock had been introduced.
‘When?’ Sherlock asked, turning the letter over in his hands, searching the envelope for marks, for clues.
‘The day before yesterday. He seemed - odd, much calmer than he’d been for months. He’d been so upset, about that girl, about what her father had said about their relationship, and then when she was found dead, it was if he didn’t know how to react. He asked me to keep the letter safe for him. ’
‘He told you about the girl?’ John interrupted.
‘Yes of course. We used to have a drink together, every Friday after I got home from work, it was sort of a tradition. Sometimes just one drink, sometimes it would stretch to the whole evening, it depended on what we both had planned. It wasn’t - we were just friends.’ The girl looked down into her lap, suddenly awkward.
‘So what did he tell you?’
‘He said that he first noticed her when he was working for her father, that they saw each other for a few months, then her father found out and sacked him, arranged a convenient bar brawl as an excuse, according to Peter. He got her some modeling jobs, but she said that she wanted to keep it professional, no more relationship, and then she was found dead.’
‘Did it ever occur to you that he could have killed her?’ Sherlock asked.
‘What? No! The girl exclaimed,’ Peter wasn’t like that. He was gentle, kind.’
‘He was a soldier,’ Sherlock reminded her, ‘a trained killer,’
‘But not for years, he told me,’ the girl said. ‘He was a medic, then a photographer, he only killed in self-defence.’
Sherlock looked at John eyebrows raised, asking him to explain.
‘The evidence is,’ John said slowly, ‘That Peter was involved in Rachel’s death, and possibly a number of others, so we need to know anything that you can tell us about him.’
‘So what exactly are we doing here?’ John asked Sherlock at eleven o’clock that evening, as they walked down a set of steps to an unassuming door in the Old Town, just round the corner from several noisier bars.
‘Finding out about vampires,’ Sherlock said, ‘Now stay quiet and try to look like a photographer.’
There was no sign above the door, but a dark suited bouncer was standing guard at the doorway. In answer for a low comment from Sherlock, presumably a password, what was this place, the heavy black door was swung silently open and they were admitted.
Inside was a dark hallway, leading through to - a crypt for all intent and purposes, at least that what was it was obviously intended to look like. In reality it was probably a vaulted wine cellar, dark, oppressive, with plenty of red lighting, cobwebs, fake spiders, and the clients were mainly very tall, very pale and dressed almost exclusively in black. Some even had vampire fangs, not all of these looked as if they were removable.
The bar staff and waitresses were almost exclusively young girls dressed in floating dresses, few as beautiful as the victims, but John could see where the inspiration for the death scenes, if that was the correct term for it, had come from.
‘What is this place?; he asked Sherlock.
They call it ‘Liga Upiru,’ The League of Vampires, he replied quietly. The homeless network told me about it. Thats what we missed. The trail led so directly to Peter Sayers that we ignored the vampire link. As you said, it was unnecessary. The Pre-Raphaelite connection was enough, why add in the vampire attacks, why go to all that effort? The obvious answer is because someone was trying to publicise the league, or to use it as a calling card.’
‘Why?’ John asked.
‘That is exactly what I hope to find out,’ Sherlock replied.
Pushing their way to the bar past a gaggle of alarming looking women with long black hair, white make-up complete with fake blood around their mouths, and possibly the most revealing long black dresses that John had ever come across, he asked, ‘They don’t actually believe in this stuff do they?’
‘Some do, some don’t, but think about it John. People have been writing about vampires for centuries, ever since Bram Stoker penned Dracula. Books, films, the theme only gets more popular with time, is it really so surprising that some people would take it too far?’
‘So they really were trying to make them look like vampire killings. And don't tell me that you’ve actually read Dracula?’
‘Nothing decent has been written since the eighteenth century apart from by a woman,’ Sherlock replied, ‘which isn’t to say that I haven’t at least attempted to read it.’
‘Rubbish. Illogical,’ Sherlock replied. ‘Why would they drink blood for a start. By definition they are cold, dead, they therefore have no circulation and would be unable to absorb the blood from their gut. So why would they do it? Killing, yes I can see, but blood drinking? Transfusing the blood would be more logical, but the whole thing is the stuff of legends and nightmares, nothing more.’
‘Perhaps you should keep your voice down,’ John murmured, noticing several irate faces around them. ‘I think some of these people speak English.’
They had reached a table in the corner, and as they sat down an ethereal looking waitress wafted over to them to take their drinks orders. Looking at the drinks menu, John saw that it featured blood-based cocktails quite heavily, and strongly hoped that the blood in them was just tomato juice. Looking at the room and the prices of the drinks, he wasn’t entirely sure. ‘Do you sell beer?’ he asked weakly. She nodded, and turned the menu over for him to show him a list of slightly more familiar drinks. He ordered a beer for each of them, knowing full well that Sherlock wouldn’t touch his, but still if they were undercover then they should at least try to fit in.
‘You could have ordered me whisky,’ Sherlock grumbled as they walked away.
‘A reporter looking for his big break wouldn’t drink whisky,’ John replied. ‘You don’t have to drink it.’
As they stood contemplating the room an older woman, in her late forties, still beautiful, immaculately made up and dressed a little more discretely than most of the female customers came drifting across. ‘You are new here.’ It was a statement, not a question.’
‘Yes, we’re friends of Vojtech Cerny,’ Sherlock said smoothly. ‘We’re only in town for a few nights, he suggested that we might find it interesting here.’
‘And are you gentleman looking for a little company?’ the lady asked. ‘We have a wide range of activities available upstairs for our more - dedicated customers. I could arrange for some young ladies to come and keep you company?’
John was torn between elation that here finally was someone who didn’t think that they were are a couple, and horror that Sherlock’s need to investigate might overstep the mark, and not for the first time.
‘Or young men is that is what you prefer,’ the woman continued, looking appraisingly at the two of them and misinterpreting Sherlock’s impassive expression.
‘No, thats not what we’re after,’ Sherlock said.
‘Just a drink then?’
‘And some information,’ Sherlock said quietly, ‘which we are willing to pay for.’
‘Information? Are you the police?’
‘No, no, nothing like that. Sherlock drew out a business card. ‘I’m a reporter, for a British newspaper, John here is my - photographer,’ he hesitated before saying the word, allowing the implication that John was a lot more than his photographer to seep into the conversation. John groaned. He hated it when Sherlock implied that they were a couple to get information from people, although he had to agree that it did explain his presence better than anything else that he could have come up with.
The woman raised her eyebrows, but took the fake business card and looked at it. ‘We are a secret organisation, Mr Holmes, we do not want publicity.’
‘I’m not proposing an article about the league, I’m proposing an article about the murders.’
‘What are you implying?’
‘Absolutely nothing, but as I’m sure that you are aware, there have been a series of artisan murders in the city, beautifully constructed, apparently by vampires, and currently the subject of a press embargo. I feel that it would be a shame to allow such artistry to go to waste.’
‘And you would like to - publicise this artistry.’
‘In short, yes.’
‘And why would you want to get involved in something like that,’ the woman asked softly.
‘The oldest reason in the world, money,’ Sherlock said with a seductive smile.
‘Wait here,’ the woman said, disappearing to talk in rapid and hushed Czech to one of the security guards, who disappeared through a locked door into the back of the building.
‘Are you crazy?’ John asked. ‘Do you want us to end up dead and in a fountain too?’
‘We don’t fit the profile, John,’ Sherlock told him, ‘Besides you’re missing the point. We are going to give them exactly what they want. Publicity. We’re about to become their guardian angels, they’re not going to kill us.’
They were escorted through the same locked door less than ten minutes later, and into a mock-up of a country house library, complete with walls of leather-bound books, standard lamp, large oak desk, and several leather arm chairs. Sitting in the arm chair directly in front of the door, looking as if he only lacked a large white cat to be a James Bond villain, was a man in his late middle-age with round gold glasses, and receding hair, greying at the ages. Intelligent, Sherlock thought looking at him, but not a murderer. The puppeteer behind the murderer, possibly.
‘You are either a very brave or a very foolish man, coming here, Mr Holmes,’ the man said.
‘I don’t think that we’ve been introduced,’ Sherlock said, extending his hand.
‘And won’t be,’ the man said, ‘names give power, I prefer to keep my power to myself. The people here call me Mr White, like in that wonderful Tarantino movie. You like Tarantino, Mr Holmes?’
‘Its a little violent for my taste,’ Sherlock said dryly. ‘May I? he asked, indicating the armchair behind him.
‘Of course, please do have a seat, your friend too,’ he said nodding at John, ‘now what can I do for you?’
‘These two girls, were found murdered a little over a week ago,’ Sherlock said, drawing an envelope of pictures out of the inside pocket of his coat and taking out a wedge of photographs. This was interesting, thought John, why paper copies, why not just leave them on his phone?
‘Their deaths were reported in the press as being suspicious, but not the rather beautiful circumstances in which they were found.’ He handed over photographs of the death scenes, cleverly manipulated to make them look even more dramatic than they had been. ‘These are undoubtably the paintings which they are referring to,’ and he handed the man the Pre-Raphaelite postcards which John had got from the Gallery shop.
‘Very good Mr Holmes, are you sure that you are not a detective?’
‘All reporters are detectives,’ Sherlock replied cooly. ‘But thats not what I’m interested in. Two beautiful murders alone does not make a story, what I’m interested in are these girls, and he handed profile photos of the girl in the alleyway, and the as yet unidentified girl who had been dressed as Ophelia. They’ve both been reported missing within the last week, they both look physically very similar to the first two victims, there have been no police reports about their deaths, yet my contacts in the morgue tells me that they have two bodies in there that match their descriptions, and who appears to have been killed in the same way as the first two.’
‘So what are you proposing Mr Holmes?’
‘I am proposing a two page spread in the Sunday papers, an exclusive for my paper, to be published across the world within a few hours. The Pre-Raphaelite murders, or the vampire murders, whichever you prefer. Pictures of the girl’s death scenes, with the accompanying original paintings underneath. This is, after all, performance art taken to an extreme, a brilliant extreme,’ he added carefully, ‘and it should be appreciated for that.’
‘And what makes you think that I might know the perpetrator.’
‘I don’t know, I just assumed that there must be a link, but of course if I’m wrong...’
‘I may be able to contact the appropriate person for you,’ Mr White said evasively, ‘But he or she would of course want complete control over the article to be published,’
‘And I am sure that I do not have to remind you, Mr Holmes, that any sign of indiscretion on your part would have let us say unfortunate consequences.’
‘Then let us say that we will be in touch.’
‘I’m sure that you will,’ Sherlock murmured as they walked silently out of the building.
‘Sherlock, this is craziness,’ John said quietly as soon as they were out of earshot. ‘You do realise that man is local mafia or something, you’re going to get us killed.’
‘With a dozen of Mycroft’s men and half of the Czech secret service currently employed in keeping me safe? I don’t think so John. Which remind me, I need to employ some of their technology,’ he said pulling out his phone.
‘Working late Mycroft? No of course I’m not phoning to apologise, I need your help. I need you to track someone for me, two people in fact.’
‘Explain,’ John said wearily when Sherlock finished his phone call. ‘And please tell me that we can go back to the hotel and get some sleep now. Vampires are death threats from the local mafia are quite frankly enough excitement for me.’
‘You can sleep,’ Sherlock said, ‘I’ve got work to do.’
‘Tracking Mr White?’
‘Precisely. Mycroft’s given me the access codes for the tracking devices he left in my coat.’
‘Oh come on John, given Mycroft’s current obsession with keeping tabs on me do you really think that he would donate me a new coat without placing a tracking device in it? Two in fact, just in case I found the first one. I placed one in the envelope with the photographs, secured on the inside, the other is in Mr White’s jacket pocket, thus enabling us to track both him and the photographs, which he will undoubtably ensure are taken to the murderer with an explanation. Mycroft is also arranging surveillance on the club, Mr White and Peter Sayers home.’
‘You bugged a mafia boss?’ John said wearily.
Walking sleepily into the sitting room at eight o’clock the next morning, John found Sherlock contemplating a new and rearranged display of papers on the wall.
‘Find anything?’ he asked yawning.
‘Other than that the police are idiots? No.’ He showed John a set of new photographs on the wall. ‘I hacked into the victims’ Facebook and email accounts, not their main ones of course, but easy enough to find if you know what you’re looking for. They knew each other, John. Its all there, mentions of different modeling agencies and a whole string of emails showing how they were all recruited by Peter Sayers to do some slightly below board modeling for adequate financial and pharmaceutical compensation. There’s even an email from the first victim to Rachel saying that she’s getting scared, and one back from Rachel to her telling her that she can trust Peter Sayers, he is apparently a good man.’
‘Apart from he wasn’t,’ John said.
‘Obviously not,’ Sherlock said.
‘Any news from Mycroft?’
‘Not yet, my guess is that the elusive Mr White will make his move today.’
‘So what do we do until then?’
‘Watch and wait.’
The watching and waiting didn’t take long. Less than three hours later Sherlock’s laptop showed that the package and the jacket were both on the move. Both had stopped outside a cafe in a residential district of the new town, stayed there for twelve minutes, then the package had moved to what turned out to be a large gated house in a run down part of Prague. A brief phone call from Mycroft’s office confirmed that they were also aware, and that full surveillance was already in place.
‘So what now?’ John asked.
‘Now we go home,’ Sherlock said, heading for his bedroom.
‘Because thats exactly what Sherlock Holmes the reporter would do, and we need to sustain the illusion that I’m going to publish that article, complete with the full set of pictures that I was emailed last night. We’re being watched John.’
‘Now that makes a nice change,’ John said sarcastically.
Sherlock gave a good imitation of being asleep in the car on the way to the airport, then when the car stopped at a red light, suddenly got out with a quick, ‘I’ll see you at the departure gate,’ to John as he slammed the door behind him and the car sped off.
‘Great,’ John muttered. But sure enough twenty minutes before the plane was due to leave, when John was wondering whether to get on the plane without him, Sherlock came sauntering up to the gate, walked straight past John and showed his boarding pass to the air crew on the gate.
‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ John muttered. ‘You realise that I had to lie and say I’d packed your bag myself? I hope you don’t have any knives in there.’
‘No, just a few illegal substances,’ Sherlock said smoothly as they walked down the ramp to the plane, John hoped that he was joking, but with Sherlock you could never be entirely sure. Business class no less, Mycroft was obviously feeling guilty, or impressed with their work, possibly both.
‘So are you going to tell me whats going on?’ John asked.
‘Not here, no. When we get home.’
Sherlock was asleep before the plane had even taken off. John took advantage of it to eat two excellent meals, and drink Sherlock’s share of champagne. There had to be some advantages to being dragged round Europe and receiving death threats from mafia bosses.
Back at 221b, Sherlock slept for the best part of three days, splitting his time fairly evenly between his bed and the sofa, and leaving MI6 to continue the facade of his journalistic career. Never a man to take his responsibilities lightly, he did check his fake email account and the responses from the MI6 operative pretending to be him, pretending to be a journalist regularly, as he migrated from his bed to the sofa or back again.
Two weeks after they had returned home, a surprisingly triumphant Mycroft arrived at 221b while they were eating breakfast, and deposited a stack of newspapers in front of Sherlock.
‘Well done,’ he said, sitting down, and helping himself to a cup of tea and a piece of toast and marmalade, using the plate and cup that had appeared in front of him as if by magic via Mrs Hudson. While she would never admit it, Mrs Hudson was almost as fond of Mycroft as she was of Sherlock, although if it came to a fight there was never any doubt about which Holmes boy she would back.
Sherlock tossed half of the pile across the table to John, trying not to look smug and failing. ‘Mafia boss arrested after involvement in Pre-Raphaelite vampire killings,’ the head lines screamed.
‘So they got their headlines after all?’ John said, ‘what happened to keeping it out of the papers?’
‘The press will always turn in the end, John, if you don’t keep feeding the rabid hound,’ Mycroft said. ‘Better to give them what they want at a time that is convenient to you, than to have them turn on you at an inappropriate moment.’
‘So now are you going to tell me?’ John asked Sherlock. ‘Homeless network presumably, after you left the car on the way to the airport.’
‘Of course. They knew the house, it used to be a squat before it was renovated apparently, provided the Czech police and MI6 with a floor plan, including of the convenient cellar. After that it was easy enough to continue surveillance, provide a convenient victim, ensure her safety, keep Mr White’s little executioner safely in the house while we lured in the rest of his circle. The vet - not a medic after all John, that was just a fortunate coincidence, and the embalmer, plus several other interested parties, all members of the League of Vampires of course, and dedicated to their cause.’
John looked from Mycroft to Sherlock and waited in silence.
‘What?’ Sherlock asked.
‘Oh come on, with you two involved it can’t possibly be that simple.’
‘Vampires, Pre-Raphaelite murders of young virgins, or not virgins as the case may be, a league of people wanting to emulate the undead, what could you possibly mean John?’
And whatever else may have been going on, neither Mycroft or Sherlock Holmes were telling, and John was left to write up the case for his private records, rather than for the website for obvious reasons. Perhaps when he was old and retired, and keeping bees in a nice farmhouse on the South Coast then the truth might finally be allowed to emerge. Until then the Holmes boys were keeping their secrets.