In the cab, Sherlock sat, again, in silence, as he was wont to do from time to time, and especially during a case where all of his single-minded focus was directed at the evidence and the victim in question. If he had his way nothing would ever enter his purview at these times, leaving him in utter exhilarating contemplation until he inevitably had wrung all of the answers, and therefore interest, from a problem. He would have loved to beat the issue around the creases of his mind with all of his gusto and strength until it held no more mysteries; until he had covered it so completely he knew it intimately, and he could dismiss the useless case; cast it from his mind, without a second thought. That was the perfect case, one that would offer substance to his musing and would take time and solitude to unravel.
John would never understand the necessity for solitude and abstractness that Sherlock's mind required for solving a case. He was under the impression that it was something Sherlock did very naturally and that required very little effort at all, like how a snake slides on its belly with ease.
This, of course, was mostly false. Yes, Sherlock did solve cases very naturally; but no, it was still rather hard to maintain a high level of focus sweeping over hundreds of details and piecing together seemingly abstract objects in definitive patterns. Distractions were his bane, his greatest annoyance, and his one true loathing.
So he would never understand why John insisted on conversation in the cab.
That thing you said
in the hospital."
"Um, 'package from a dead man' right?" John looked up at the detective, slouched forward, tugging against his seatbelt with his elbows digging into his bony knees and felt the insatiable urge to make sure they were alone. He checked out the window and around the cab, unconscious to his own efforts at secrecy.
When he was satisfied that the cab driver was the only man in earshot he muttered "So, ah
What did you mean by that?"
Sherlock didn't respond.
Not even a breath was wasted on a sigh, nor a flicker in his eyes.
His mind was an engine, racing onwards before him, consuming all of his attention and emitting nothing but a highly polished, finished deduction. It was the most efficient, remarkable machine ever invented.
John leaned forward to meet Sherlock's eyes, which sat dull and listlessly pressed back into their dark sockets like two gray gems pressed into clay. The weight of John's revelation sat heavily on his back, making it impossible for him to breathe.
"Sherlock, I'm not you. I can't read the signs like you. I can't solve cases like you. But give me some credit: I can tell when something is wrong."
The anxious tone in John's voice managed to pull Sherlock partially out of his deep thought, so that he found himself hanging on to every word in a semi-conscious haze. His mind still turned ceaselessly at the gears of The Problem, checking and placing and fixing and churning pistons, cogs, and wheels that brought light and energy to his Mind Palace; but now his attention was divided and the progress started to slow.
"And I know it seems impossible, but with you I'm never quite sure what impossible is anymore."
The steam started to cool and the whistling of the broilers shrank into a whimper.
"I trust you, and I hope you trust me too; but you've kept me in the dark on something like this before."
With an ear-splitting screech the great metal arms came slowly to a halt, screaming one final death scream and resting their heavy steel muscles with an enormous sigh of smoke, steam, and exhaustion.
"I want you to tell me right now, no deceit, nothing; is this Moriarty's doing?"
Sherlock snapped back to life with sudden violence.
"What, no! Don't be stupid! Dead men don't plot crimes, John! It can't be him! Isn't it obvious?"
John threw up his palms in a gesture of surrender. "Okay, okay, I just wanted to be sure. " He exhaled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding in secret relief. "If he has somehow cheated death, I know that you'd see it first."
Sherlock flopped into the back of the car-seat with a disgruntled "Humph!" and crossed his arms furiously. He had lost his train of thought and would have to re-track it through the twists and curves of his Mind Palace in order to find his way back, only then could he start making progress again.
John could see the disgust etched in the subtle patterns of Sherlock's face. Disgust for being torn away from his thoughts, disgust at Moriarty; but most of all disgust at John, for even humoring- the faintest notion that Moriarty could have conceivably faked his death as well as Sherlock.
How dare he?
"If anyone could, besides you
It would be him, wouldn't it?" John stared blankly at the car seat in front of him.
"Yes." Sherlock accepted quietly, nodding slightly.
John glanced at Sherlock again, watching him begin to sink into his thoughts and out of reality. He wasn't quite done talking to him yet, but he was torn between the need for a companion to talk with to help chase away the chilly shadow that had been hanging over his mind since the unwrapping of the book, and the burning desire to catch the killer whose trail they were hunting with dog-like determination.
"But it's not, John." Sherlock said with finality that John took to mean "So-leave-me-and-my-thoughts-alone."
Mrs. Rutledge was nearly inconsolable after learning of her granddaughter's death. She broke into uncontrollable heaving sobs and pressed a dingy gray handkerchief to her stately bosom with passion, beating on her breast with tight fists and wailing long verses of regret, strung together with the occasional abstract "Mercy, mercy!"
"Oh, Mercy, mercy! My poor baby! My poor little girl!" She suddenly reached out and clutched the front of John's cream colored jumper with her free hand, digging her bright crimson nails into the soft braids of wool.
"It can't be my Annie!" she declared pulling John down into her face to look into her puffy, blood shot eyes.
Lestrade, wearing a stone-faced mask which neatly covered his inner turmoil tenderly took the woman's arm in a comforting embrace and pulled her into her own flat, searching for a place to seat her where she could calm herself and properly deal with the shock.
The woman seemed to be in a partial swoon, for she leaned heavily on Lestrade and only stumbled with gentle urgings from John, who; though he sympathized deeply with the woman's unimaginable pain, only wanted to free his jumper at the moment and help Sherlock.
Sherlock had not wasted time expressing sympathy, but rather he used the woman's episode to easily slip into her flat and sneak away to the rooms in the back of the house, where evidence is more likely to be hidden. He would leave the sentimental business to those who knew it better; namely, not him.
Sherlock hid in the darkly lit peach hallway and scrutinized each faded photograph on the wall, comparing faces to those of potential criminals that he might have already investigated and could give him a lead.
He at least expected to find a relic of old lovers, or an estranged father, but what he did not expect was for the wall to be lined with women, and all of them smiling.
The elder Rutledge, who then sat crying in the living room of the small, tacky flat in central London was once young; and according to the first photograph she was thin and tan with a baby girl on her hip and a cold drink in her other hand, all brightly lit with a dazzling white flash from the camera in stark contrast to the dank and dingy shadows of the bar behind her. Her own white smile was as shiny as a pearl and her baby tried to reflect that same luminous essence in its own pink little mouth. Both of their black eyes twinkled mischievously, as if sharing the same unheard joke. The date, written in black ink on the bottom of the photograph stated that it had been 1968.
"They all had children so young." Sherlock thought before pushing the thought out of his head completely and perusing the row of pictures with his eagle eyes.
The baby from the previous photo had grown and in the second image she held a babe of her own to her heart, clad in a white hospital gown which clung loosely to her frame like robes of paper and beaming brightly cradling the infant in strong dark arms. For the faintest moment, Sherlock could not tell the difference between the eldest Rutledge and her daughter, but only for a moment. The eyebrows and nose were both clearly inherited from the father. The babe itself in the photograph was nearly indiscernible, for the blanket hooded its face and it turned towards its mother's breast and away from the sharp, piercing light of the camera. The date: 1984.
The rest of the photos were of Anne Rutledge, and Sherlock found it almost too haunting to be faced with dozens of images of the dead girl staring at him from every angle. The elementary school photo glared at him, daring him to tell each happy, eager, innocent-faced child exactly where their adult self had ended up. The middle school choir girl lifted her face to a sparkling stage light, her mouth a perfect little oval frozen in an infinite golden note from some long-forgotten beautiful song.
The sentimentality was a bitter after-thought which lingered after every photo. The three women standing on the beach, one little dark-haired child holding an ice cream cone, the almond-eyed teenager thrusting a pom-pom into the sky, chest proudly bearing the insignia of the feline mascot, mouth ajar in an endless chat. It was all so
human! It was a lifetime, a whole life time mounted on the peach memorial and framed in thin strips of oak. Everywhere he looked youth and mirth showered over him, sickly sweet like someone's sappy biography. It couldn't have been any more reminiscent if he had taken a photo album and thumbed the pages with the older Rutledge's narration. It was all so
distracting! He was scrutinizing pictures of innocence and childhood when he should have been focusing on finding the person who had turned this child into a sack of ground meat.
Sherlock quickly brushed his hand over his face in a great sweeping gesture, trying to wipe away his thoughts and pull up the image of the body, the image of the forensics lab's evidence, the image of the blanket being tossed onto the doorway, the image of the wolf-man running on his hands and knees. Those were the only photos that mattered. They would help him deliver some closure to the smiling, brown-eyed child that stood eagerly in each picture; waiting for his answer. He almost didn't recognize the spritely little girl that danced from one frame to the next, grinning mischievously with her dark, glittering eyes. She seemed totally different from the cynical, rough speaking woman smoking a joint that had told him, in as many words, to run into traffic.
Then at the end of the hallway, the kaleidoscope of memories suddenly was halted, cut short, chopped off. The last photo in the hallway before the pair of bedroom doors was of a woman, nearly unrecognizable, with short brown hair that stopped neatly beneath her ears and dark brown eyes, staring up into some kind of light, almost reverently. Her face was wane and pale, her clothes were cheap and black. This was the Anne he had known.
He checked the date: 2008. Her mother had just passed away and that would have been the time Anne was pulled away from whatever job, or whatever life she was leading; care-free and full of hope. That would have been the time she was called back to duty from her other reluctant family members to care for her elderly and sick grandmother. That must have also been the time her dreams, however grand and obscure they might have been, were killed.
Sherlock scanned the floor and quickly deduced from the wear on the carpet which one belonged to Anne. The door was unlocked so he walked in, careful to be completely silent, less he disturb the elder Rutledge.
Now the only Rutledge.
Sherlock inhaled quickly and deeply, somewhat shocked by the state of the bedroom. One ancient wooden dresser, sporting more than its fair share of scars and water marks, seemed to vomit clothes onto the floor with erupting drawers of wrinkled blouses and pants and a whole motely of assorted wares which were not in the least bit organized. He stifled a laugh when he spotted a stack of folded laundry resting atop the mountain of overflowing clothes. The sheer hypocrisy was astounding.
On one end of the room, stacks and stacks of dime-store novels acted as pillars supporting boxes of even more novels which acted as a base for an old Nintendo gaming station with an antique copy of Super Mario Bros. still plugged into it. On the other end of the room a small desk stood alone, piled high with books, papers, make-up, hair accessories and one lonely pink laptop.
"There might have been a struggle here," Sherlock thought wading his way over clothes in an attempt to reach the childishly small, deflated mattress which was probably Anne's excuse for a bed. "But if there was, it might be near impossible to tell. What a disaster-zone!"
He scanned the bed: nothing. He searched under it and found almost ten half-filled water bottles, but otherwise nothing. He scanned the titles of the novels and found them to be mostly horror and romance novels, otherwise nothing. He attempted to swim through the laundry and see if there was anything important on the dresser: nothing.
"Now," he thought turning to the desk. "The most promising source of evidence."
He picked up the laptop and pried it open with his long fingers. He pushed the button and waited, eagerly, for the personal piece of technology to bring itself back to life.
It flashed to life with a sigh and a melodic chime. Sherlock knelt down until he was level with the desk and found that he could barely contain his excited energy; he was practically pulsating with excitement.
Then the computer asked innocently for a password.
Mrs. Rutledge sat on her faded, pastel sofa and alternated between sobbing in short, violent bursts and sighing in a long, mournful fashion into one spidery hand that clutched at her robust, rosy cheeks while the other hand slowly stroked on water-colored rose that adorned the cushion. The Detective-Inspector and the doctor sat opposite her on two mismatching leather chairs, one green, and one blood red, wondering how exactly they could help the woman deal with her grief, and more importantly how long they had to stall for time.
John scanned the room for a topic of conversation. In one corner on a shelf he saw a small statue of a knight with a narrow face and pointed beard proudly bearing the Spanish flag on a tall and crooked pole, but he was uncertain as to its purpose and unsure how to forge a conversation with it.
Luckily, Mrs. Rutledge looked up, and followed his gaze to the statue.
"Oh, that's one of the things Anne brought back from Spain. It's a statue of Don Quixote de la Mancha. He was always her favorite. We used to watch the cartoon together when she was little-little." Mrs. Rutledge sniffed and pushed the last few tears out of her eyes with her palms.
"I don't know what's come over me, you'll have to forgive me." she said in a trembling voice.
"Oh, no." John started to say "It's quite alright."
"Now, look at me! Mercy! I have guests and I haven't even offered them a beverage. I'll be right back chaps, don't you worry. I can't imagine, falling to pieces like that in front of company. What's come over me?" She smiled warmly, stood up, wiped her face, and went to the kitchen.
John and Lestrade exchanged nervous looks, but said nothing.
"Oh, you'll have to forgive me; we're all out of biscuits. I told Anne to pick some up in case we had company, but she won't be home till about four. How will you gents feel about crackers and cheese?"
Lestrade grimaced painfully and John smiled sadly.
"Crackers would be fine ma'am." John said trying to keep his voice from shaking and cracking.
"Great, then we're all fine." She said. "I'll put the tea on while you chaps wait a bit, I won't be but a minute now."
John smiled and nodded, even though she could not possible see him; then he ducked down and whispered harshly to Lestrade "Now what?"
Lestrade threw up his hands and shrugged "I don't know."
"Do we tell her again?"
"I don't know."
Sherlock sat very, very still.
Except for his eyes. His eyes were swiveling madly, like those of a man possessed. Indeed, he did look demented; his face was contorted in the utmost concentration he could manage, his mouth was moving rapidly, but no words came out, and what words did manage to escape the trap of his lips in a shallow squeal sounded as though they were spoken in tongues.
"Capuzzo, Grisham, Sands, Kleypas, Quinn, Morning, Straub
" he whined, rolling his eyes back in his head as he raced briefly through his mind palace, found nothing, and jumped back nimbly into reality.
He was scanning every object in Anne's room in search of her password, and having no luck. None of the bands she liked had been the password, so Sherlock had moved onto authors and was busy scanning the names on the books she had amassed in her room.
He looked as though he were having a fit.
Finally he stumbled onto something interesting across the room. His eyes locked onto the slightly deviant detail and he leapt up, off of his knees and shot over the ocean of garbage that coated the floor of her bedroom.
It was an old, old paperback book. Thirty years old at least with yellow pages and faded ink. Sherlock picked it up and turned it over in his hands, scanning the outside with his eagle eyes. The spine was creased repeatedly and was on the verge of falling apart, so it had been opened often. The pages were more than yellow; they were brown on the edges with wear and reading. Obviously, it was her favorite book.
The cover illustration was a man made of paper, and clearly on fire. He covered his eyes with one hand, in an expression of utter despair and hopelessness, casting a shadow down his face. The other hand hung limply at his side, just barely clutching at a paper hat. His shoulders and arms were cloaked in tongues of yellow and white flames which crept up the cover to the red banner that ran along the edges. The book was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
But the wear wasn't all that caught Sherlock's eye. What he noticed most was the bright slips of paper jutting out of the top of the novel. One bright green paper declared, in neat, feminine handwriting "Consider the lilies of the field."
He flipped further in the book to one piece of fuchsia paper, placed almost at the end of the book. It said: "The sun burnt every day. It burnt Time
One of them had to stop burning."
And the last piece of paper was a creamy blue piece of fancily notarized parchment, acting as a bookmark. Nothing was written on it, but Sherlock scanned the page and stumbled when he came across a highlighted sentence: "Everyone must leave something when they die."
Sherlock shut the book and sneered, trying to wash away the sentiment with an intensified focus on The Problem. As he had hoped, a swell of warm understanding swept over the bite of sentiment and pride took the place of the nagging human feelings that were dragging down his investigation.
"So what did you leave?" he asked himself out loud taking the book with him back to the laptop. He smiled as he gazed on the command asking for a six digit password. With a little flourish he proudly typed in: ray451.
John and Lestrade at the crackers in silence. Mrs. Rutledge talked enough for the both of them.
"And she was just a dear back then, a perfect dear. I can't imagine what she'd be up to now a days. She'd been going to that dreadful school for so long; It's nice to have the dear back in England. And she's so attentive. I hated every minute she was in Spain, I was so sure she'd come back pregnant! Not that I'd mind, but now perhaps she could find a good Englishman to settle down with. Mercy! Where is that girl, she should be back by now? Well, never mind. But I say: where has the cat gotten off to? Wizard; did he run off again? Do you know?"
She stared at them both intently, waiting for an answer, so Lestrade shoved a whole cracker into his mouth and choked on the dry, stale saltine while John shook his head furiously.
"Well, that's alright. I never liked the cat anyway. There's something disloyal about a cat. They wear the same expression whether they've seen a mouse or an ax murderer. Ha-ha! Do you get the joke? Well, I suppose it wasn't that funny to begin with. But speaking of killers, that man that came in here on Wednesday last could have been one. A killer I mean, not an ax. That would have been funny. Can you imagine?"
Lestrade sat up a little straighter in his chair "Go on." He urged, barely curving his excitement and professional tone. "Tell me more about this man; the one that looked like a killer."
"Well, what do you want to hear about him for? He's just some chap what followed my sweet home one night."
"Uh, I might know him." Lestrade quickly lied. "Describe him for me."
"There's not much to say."
"Say it anyway."
"Short little man, like a clown, but wearing some expensive clothes. He smelled like the mall and he had the darkest eyes, like little dollops of chocolate." Mrs. Rutledge picked up a cracker and held it under her chin, intent on eating it, but making no motion to do so.
"I suppose he didn't look all that much like a killer after all. But he was a sweet little dear, I'll give him that. I just didn't like how he treated my Annie. I had half-a-mind to put him back on the streets."
"What did he do?"
"Oh, the scoundrel! Mercy! I'll never forget the day! He called my dearest a trollop! But he used the
"Here her voice dropped into a dangerous whisper "
other word. I'll never forget the day! I told him: If you come into my house and dare to talk to my family like that I'll have to throw you out. He was a dear after that! I'll tell you what!" She proudly puffed up her chest.
John leaned forward in his chair, ignoring the groaning, squealing sound of leather beneath his denim jeans. "Did he say what his name was?"
Mrs. Rutledge's eyes turned a bit misty and she put down her cracker, upsetting the cheese and sending it tumbling to the floor.
"He said he was Gregory Lestrade from Scotland Yard and he had some bad news about my Annie." She said quietly as tears glimmered in her eyes.
"And a doctor
" She choked a sob. "Oh, mercy! My Annie, my little-little
" she slammed her palms into her face and began crying anew, leaving a very confused, very distressed Detective Inspector and Doctor scrambling to comfort and calm the woman, wondering about the mysterious man and trying to decide whether he had relevance in their case or not.
Sherlock unplugged his small orange USB from the pink laptop and hurriedly stowed it into his coat pocket. He'd found what he had been searching for, but he didn't feel as though he had enough time to read through it all. He could hear Mrs. Rutledge's sobbing and hypothesized that Lestrade and John would want to escape from the mourning flat as quickly as possible. He could take the laptop, but Lestrade was probably still mad from the last time he'd stolen evidence. He didn't feel like being yelled at, so he only took the files he needed and left the laptop where it had been.
He even put the book back neatly where it had been left: right on top of a mountain of discarded make-up.
He stood up and gave the room one cursory glance, checking for anything he might have missed.
"A person's bedroom is a reflection of their mind, and you can often tell the state of a person's mind from the state of their bedroom. For example, a bedroom with a broken window probably holds a person who does not feel secure, and a messy bedroom is a sign of a disorganized mind."
Sherlock kicked aside a few candy wrappers and a paper plate as he finished quoting his old criminal psychology textbook and pursed his lips. He had never wanted to get intimate with a victim; he never wanted to see them as anything more than a piece of the puzzle, yet somehow he had the feeling that he had leapt right into the core of Anne Rutledge's life. He probably knew her now better than most of her friends on the streets.
"And what a great lot of good it'll do us now." He thought creeping out the bedroom door and slinking down the peach hallway, paying no mind to the pictures which seemed to be gazing at him from their black frames.
Mrs. Rutledge had forgotten Anne again for a time and Lestrade and John were enjoying their third helping of crackers. Every few minutes Mrs. Rutledge would complain that she was not being a hospitable host and go and fetch a few more crackers from the kitchen.
John sheepishly accepted every cracker while Lestrade kept trying to insist Mrs. Rutledge sit down and calm herself and try to remember the man who came to visit Anne a few weeks ago. Her description of him changed slightly every time.
"He was a big tall man with dark hair wearing a polo shirt and grey khaki shorts."
"He was about my size with blond hair and an even tan."
"He was an Asian about four feet high with a scar along his neck."
John had given up ever getting Mrs. Rutledge to remember the right man and had silently accepted that Lestrade was going to stubbornly try to probe her memory while she struggled to remember correctly.
Every time Lestrade would tell her that her description had changed she would insist that she was describing the right man and tell him to shut up because she knew what she was doing. Every time she told the Detective-Inspector to shut up, John would smile.
"I'm sure, he was about six-foot high with a distended gut and greasy brown hair."
"Ma'am," Lestrade said patiently "Last time you said he was a four-foot tall Asian with a scar."
"I'm sure that this is the right man, He came in with my Annie around his arm." Mrs. Rutledge petulantly insisted.
Lestrade opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Rutledge cut him off.
"Shut up! I know exactly what I'm doing young man! If I say this is the man, then this is the man! Insolent little tart!"
Sherlock emerged from the hallway and immediately Mrs. Rutledge reached out to the stranger.
"You! Tell him I'm right!"
"Ha-Ha!" Mrs. Rutledge said triumphantly, puffing out her chest a bit. "I'm always right."
"Always." Sherlock muttered.
John instantly recognized when his friend had made some discovery by the disinterested and monotonous change in his tone and he turned around to find Sherlock slinking across the living room with his eyes firmly fixed on the stature of Don Quixote.
John scans up and down the bronzed statue, but he can find nothing odd about it. It's not until Sherlock is kneeling on the ground beside it that he realizes what his friend is onto.
"Oh, god." John whispers.
"What?" Lestrade is immediately on alert, having worked with Sherlock long enough to sense when he has found something case-breaking.
"You must think we're bleeding idiots, Sherlock." John says rising and walking over to where he squatted, observing the wretched thing over his flat mate's shoulder.
"Yes, but that's not the point." Sherlock said.
"What are you on about?" Mrs. Rutledge asked picking up another cracker and holding it a few inches away from her face.
"God, we were sitting with it this whole time." John sighed as Lestrade joined his side.
"What the hell does it mean?"
Sherlock picked up the basket gently and placed it on the coffee table on top of a few fashion and crafting magazines, careful not to smudge the black stains that were splattered over the wicker.
If he knew his stains correctly, they had been red before they had dried.
He opened the basket and peered inside, noting the yellowed gloom that shot like needles of light onto the small flowers and clumps of sandy-white rocks that lined the bottom of the wood.
He reached inside and brushed the tips of his fingers against the white rocks, crushing them in between his forefinger and thumb and smearing the sugar-like powder all over his skin. His heart seemed to quicken with nervous anticipation and a craving that was all-too-familiar not to recognize.
He pulled his hand out and held the fingertips up to the light, marveling at how beautifully the crystals glittered in the dull lamplight, throwing rainbows into the open air.
"Cocaine." He said brushing away the powerful stimulant on his black coat, leaving a smear of powder.
John's breath caught in his chest as Sherlock reached back inside the basket with his twitching, eager fingers. He couldn't tell what excitement was from the case or what could be his old cravings welling up beneath the mask of indifference.
"Cocaine? In my house?" Mrs. Rutledge squealed "You scoundrels! Get that out! I'll not have recreation here!"
"Ma'am, it's alright, I happen to be a Detective-Inspector and this is an investigation." Lestrade reminded her flashing his badge.
"Investigation? Mercy!" she sighed.
Sherlock removed his hands and pulled the flowers in the basket into the light. He held them out on his palm and let John and Lestrade scrutinize the small purple flowers that were dusty from a light powdering of cocaine.