There really wasn’t anything exceptional about it. Sad, certainly; graphic, most definitely. But nothing Sherlock and John hadn’t dealt with before, multiple times—nothing that would have led them here.
They’d gotten the call in mid-afternoon, and John had been glad to hear it. Sherlock had been perishing with boredom for days, growing increasingly irritable, sleepless and stroppy. Even Rosie hadn’t been exempted—while Sherlock was normally extremely diligent in keeping his flights of verbal insanity confined to hours when the baby was either asleep or at nursery, John had had to step in twice in the past two days to remind the detective that he had an additional audience. The memory of the look of chastened dismay on his friend’s face made John all the happier when Greg rang with the details of this new case.
And, again, the case seemed straightforward enough. A series of murdered young men and boys, left unnoticed in semi-public spaces. Age range 16 to 23. No known relationship between any of the victims (4, at last count); all slashed repeatedly, possibly tortured before death. Ligature marks on wrists and ankles, but no bindings of any kind found in relation to the bodies, so only the final, killing strokes had taken place at their final destinations.
In retrospect, though, Sherlock had been…odd, once he heard the brief details. Glad to have a case, granted. But there had been something moving behind his eyes, something John couldn’t get Sherlock to explain. He insisted he was “fine”. He was always “fine”.
John hated “fine”.
They had made a preliminary review of the earlier case files via Sherlock’s mobile on the way to the scene. No taxi, thankfully, since the location was all the way out in Biggin Hill, almost an hour away—Greg had sent an unmarked car, and Sherlock had begrudgingly agreed to ride in it, though not without a brisk argument first (“Ninety quid, Sherlock. Ninety!”). Nothing was available yet on the new drop site, beyond the location. It had only been identified as fitting into the series because of Greg’s request that Met systems flag any deaths within a 100-km radius that fit into the pattern—some sharp PC had actually checked and called NSY, apparently.
They pulled off the A233 onto an old airfield, as their driver pointed to their left. “It’s the old RAF field from the war,” he said. “This part is open to the public. The body’s next to the chapel.” He continued down the narrow road until they reached a grouping of well-kept lawns and buildings, most dating from just after the war by their style of construction. They stopped in front of the church—blond brick, with a tall, narrow bell tower on one side.
A host of emergency vehicles occupied the carpark around the back, and a tent had been erected in one section of the back garden, in an attempt to keep the persistent misting rain off of the crime scene, presumably. (Off of the investigators as well, of course, which didn’t break John’s heart. Standing about, soaking wet, while Sherlock crawled over every inch of a location wasn’t exactly a treat).
They left the car behind and walked towards the mass of investigators. John let Sherlock head over to the body first—he saw Greg’s silver head in one of the furthest groups, and wanted to let him know they’d arrived.
Greg looked up in relief as John walked up. “Thank God,” he sighed. “I was starting to be afraid I’d have to put down a riot if we stayed much longer. Poor kid’s been lying there since last night sometime, and the PC’s been holding the site since 7 this morning.” He looked behind John expectantly. “Where’s your better half?”
John rolled his eyes. “Very funny. He headed over to get a first look at the scene before getting a summary—doesn’t want his first impressions ‘biased by idiocy’, apparently.” He met Greg’s sympathetic glance. “And yeah, he’s been a rare treat the past few days. This should help, but it’ll take a bit for him to get into the swing of it, so be prepared.”
John took the time to grab two mugs of coffee from the provisions tent behind Greg before heading after Sherlock, to make sure the detective had had enough time to finish his initial examination. He arrived at the tent, though, to find it deserted but for a forensic technician who was tagging and bagging tiny bits of debris around the victim.
The man—boy, really—lay half-dressed, on his back in the wet grass. Arms splayed out, palms up. There were defensive cuts on both hands, and the tell-tale bruising and swelling around each wrist and ankle that told of his being tied for a considerable period of time. His throat had been brutally slashed, cut back nearly to his spine, and the pool of blood underneath the body made it clear that death had happened here; this boy had been alive when his captor(s) brought him, tied and likely gagged, to this spot. Numerous other slashes, some visible through slits in his clothing, spoke to an extended period of abuse before death.
John used his mobile to snap a few full-length photos; Sherlock didn’t need them to recall the scene in intricate detail, but John did, though he made a point of deleting all such pictures as soon as a case was completed. There was something unutterably sad about this; the boy, 20 at most, lay where he’d fallen. He was tall, athletic, beautiful in fact—like he’d been lifted off a Greek vase. Bronze skin, dark curls, long lashes, a chiseled Byzantine profile. And somewhere, his mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, may not even know yet that he was missing, let alone dead in the grass.
John gave himself a mental shake, sighed, and put his mobile in his pocket, then turned to the technician. “Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “Do you know where he was going?”
The man shook his head. “He just looked at the body for a couple of minutes. Didn’t move, didn’t say anything, just blinked for, like, three minutes. Then he spun around and took off.”
“What do you mean, ‘took off’?” John barked, alarms suddenly ringing in his head.
“Just what I said,” the technician sniffed. “Never said a word. Spun on his heels and trotted away. Last I saw, he was heading for the car park.”
John dropped the two mugs of coffee on an evidence table and headed off hurriedly to look for Sherlock. His first stop was the car park—nothing, beyond a handful of empty cars and a coroner’s van. He walked back over to the command area, where he found Greg in conversation with the local PC. John waited impatiently for their conversation to finish, then pushed over in front of Greg.
“Did Sherlock come to you?” John asked, hoping it was true. Greg’s head shake confirmed his worst fears.
“Nah, haven’t seen him at all,” Greg said, a worried crease settling on his forehead. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“He didn’t work the scene. He’s not there,” John said. “The tech says he headed towards the car park, but he’s not there either. And, of course, he’s not answering his phone.” John had tried—dialed twice en route from the tent.
“Bugger,” Greg sighed. “Let’s go ask about, then.”
Over the next ten minutes, the story emerged. Sherlock had come charging across the grass (very likely while John was inside the provisions tent getting coffee), stopped briefly to ask where Greg’s car was, then headed off at speed. He was last seen walking quickly through the parked cars, fifteen minutes before.
It was shortly after that revelation that Greg looked, looked again—and realized that Sherlock had taken his car.
Initially Greg had been hopeful—all NSY cars had trackers in them, after all. John slapped that one down quickly: “Does Sherlock know that?” he asked. Greg’s face answered for him.
It was nearly impossible to rely on public sightings—Greg drove a nondescript grey sedan, just like millions of others travelling down all the roads around the city. They enlisted Mycroft’s help early on—CCTV turned up a view of the car heading towards the center of the city roughly two hours later, with a timestamp of forty-five minutes after John and Sherlock had arrived at the crime scene. That was it. The car itself finally turned up twelve hours later, illegally parked and abandoned.
They spent several hours at NSY, reviewing CCTV film and conferring with several of Mycroft’s people, to no avail. With no other options to pursue, Greg and John took a panda car back to Baker Street, and were met at the door by a concerned Mrs. Hudson, bouncing Rosie on her hip. Mrs. H had been the first person John called, without result: she hadn’t seen him, and he hadn’t been home. By the time John got there, it was mid-afternoon and Sherlock had been missing for more than 6 hours.
Mycroft arrived at dinnertime, not that any of them wanted to eat. While John’s relationship with the older man had never been easy, they nonetheless had come to a meeting of the minds where Sherlock’s health and safety was concerned, and John was grateful for his presence. Mycroft kept up a steady flow of conversation on his mobile, both spoken and text, but, in the end, was no more successful in finding his brother than Greg and John had been.
John, by 10pm, was desperate enough to go out and look for some of Sherlock’s Homeless Network contacts. They wouldn’t necessarily speak to him, but they knew him well enough that they might help. He collected cash from Greg, Mycroft and Mrs. H, and spent the next two hours wandering through various alleyways and hidden cul-de-sacs, handing out money and notes begging for help to the few faces he recognized. He took a taxi back home, praying Sherlock would be there, annoyed at them all and irritated at the fuss.
The breakthrough came at 3am. Mrs. H had headed tearfully downstairs with the baby after a dismal dinner, but Greg, Mycroft and John kept vigil in the lounge, dozing fitfully in their chairs between fruitless phone calls and texts as searchers reported in. John, though, was awake when a quiet knock came on the door downstairs, and was down the stairs in a flash.
By the time he opened the door, the street was deserted. But there on the steps was a broken bit of brick, with a torn piece of paper peeking out from underneath. John pulled it out and darted back into the lighted entryway to read it.
“JOHN DOE ADMITTED TO ST. THOMAS HOSPITAL IN LAMBETH,” it said simply. “HURRY.”