Beef stew days at the canteen were enough to put anyone off their lunch, but that didn’t matter today. Mike took a cup of potato mash and sat stirring it aimlessly, because it seemed as good as anything else. There was a copy of yesterday’s Mail on the table, and he pulled it toward him. He detested the Mail, but people would leave him alone if he were reading.
“Stamford.” Mike glanced up. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t “people,” of course – and not likely to be put off, either, if he wanted something. Mike allowed himself to close his eyes a moment before he looked up properly.
Sherlock was frowning. “It’s beef stew day, you can smell it down to the second floor. You’re always back in your office by half one when you don’t like the food. And nobody likes beef stew day at Bart’s. Except the one morgue attendant, the spotty one, but he isn’t exactly choosy.” He narrowed his eyes. “Something’s wrong.”
Mike tried for a half-smile, but he didn’t think it worked. “Good deduction, Sherlock.”
Still looming above him, Sherlock began rocking on his heels the way he did when he was keen to solve something. Mike normally loved watching his mind at work, but today wasn’t normal, so he said: “friend of mine. Mate from uni, actually. He was, ah. Killed in Afghanistan. Yesterday.” Getting it out was hard, but a bit of the weight was gone, once he’d said it, and he was able to look Sherlock properly in the eyes.
Sherlock’s face had gone blank, and he seemed to be groping for words. “Do you… want to—” his head tipped, like a nervous tic— “talk, or….”
Cor, if there was anyone worse than Sherlock Holmes to talk to about your feelings, Mike couldn’t imagine him. Sherlock seemed to think the same thing, to look at him, but he had offered anyhow. Mike was oddly touched.
He shook his head a bit, but it was a real smile that came this time. “Thanks, mate, but I’ll take a rain check. Is there anything you need?”
“Seven livers, fresh,” Sherlock replied, crisp. That was fast enough, Mike thought wryly, but in a way he appreciated that, too. Business as usual was better than the Daily Mail and cold potatoes.
Mike heaved himself to his feet, leaving his potatoes on the table. “I’ll need an hour at least. Running off in the meantime?”
“I’ll wait, obviously.”
“Not obvious to me,” said Mike. “Some of us need a bit more explanation.”
Sherlock fell into stride next to him as they walked down to the morgue. “It’s the serial suicides. Toxicology reports haven’t come back on the latest victim yet, but some abnormalities at the scene suggest a slight variation in the toxin. Or maybe how it was administered, I can’t tell yet.”
Yesterday Mike had been upset about the latest victim – not even a Londoner, was she, it was somehow even more terrible that way – but today it was all dull inside, and sour. “Not much point to that, is there? Toxicology will be back soon enough.” He pushed his hands into his pockets. “Besides, the real question is why.” The question was drumming at him in time with the steady scuff of their feet on the hallway linoleum. Why take your own life, why throw it away, when good men wanted to live?
Sherlock huffed angrily. “I don’t know. The Yard has their most incompetent and unreasonable assistant at the scene, and he won’t allow me access.”
Mike would have smiled, on another day. “Have you tried being polite to him?”
Sherlock sighed. “That never works.”
“Maybe not the way you do it.”
Sherlock stopped walking, so Mike stopped too. Sherlock was staring at him, hard. “Was that an offer?”
Mike thought about the stack of ungraded exams on his desk. He thought about the evening lecture he had been thinking about cancelling. He thought about going home and looking at photo albums and drinking his way through the rest of the bitter in the back of his fridge. He thought about the crime scene where the woman from Cardiff had died, but that was something he couldn’t picture, because he had never seen one before.
“Yeah,” he said, “it was.”