Before Holmes Met Watson — 7
By Kitanya Harrison, writing as Harrison Kitteridge
Sherlock ignored the protestations of the director and bullied his way into the police investigation.
The dead woman’s name was Renata Pollack. She was forty-two years old, had been addicted to a variety of drugs for half her life, and she had been asphyxiated. There were no signs of a struggle, no petechial haemorrhaging in her eyes. The only marks on her body were puncture wounds from injections and a few small cuts on her scalp where the electric razor that had been used to hastily shave her head had caught a few times. Her hair was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t a murder, which was disappointing. Nevertheless, one had to find the silver lining: at least there would be an arrest.
The detective on the case, Inspector Hopkins, an attractive woman with ginger hair and a hard Aberdonian accent was lamenting the lack of cameras in the secure wing. The director responded with an obviously canned spiel about the importance of trust on the road to recovery. Sherlock supposed that was true — the clinic was exclusive enough to attract high-profile patients who had the power to demand their business not be broadcast, but Sherlock also realised that no matter how necessary or well-intentioned, strapping orderlies manhandling patients almost always looked excessive from the outside. It was best not to create a record that might be used to construe a pattern of abuse.
Tired of watching the investigating team fumble about, Sherlock announced, “You’ll want to arrest Dr Ullman.” The small crowd gathered all turned to Sherlock, some in interest, others in suspicion.
Inspector Hopkins enquired, “Do you work here?”
“No,” Sherlock replied. “I’m one of the residents.” He observed the exact moment her estimation of the value of his contribution plummeted.
“And just what do you know about what happened here?” she demanded.
It was all so elementary. How could none of them see it? “The cause of death is dry drowning,” Sherlock said. “Dry drowning,” he repeated, seeing the blank stares. “The consumption of certain drugs can lead to muscular paralysis or laryngospasms that cause asphyxiation and death — it’s one form of dry drowning.”
“So, you think this Dr Ullman gave the victim drugs and… ‘dry drowned’ her?”
“Yes,” Sherlock replied.
“Because she was in love with her.”
“Is that why she took her hair — to humiliate her?”
What on earth was the woman on about? Hadn’t he given her all the information she’d needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together? A dose of the Socratic Method might do the trick.
“What is this place?” Sherlock asked Inspector Hopkins. She stared at him stupidly. He sighed impatiently. “What is it they do here?”
“It’s a drug rehab,” she replied.
“How does one test for drugs in a person’s system?”
“Biological samples,” the Inspector answered. “Blood, urine…” Her face lit up with realisation. “Hair.” Her face slid into confusion again.
“What do the tests on hair allow that the blood and urine samples don’t?” Sherlock asked. He was met with silence. “Good Lord,” he sighed. “Renata had very long hair,” he hinted.
“Time,” the director interjected musingly. “Testing her hair at different lengths would give you a fairly detailed account of what drugs she was using and for how long. But there was no way for her to get drugs here.”
“There is always a way to get drugs,” Sherlock replied. He understood the director had to cover her arse, but there was no cause to behave like a credulous naïve in front of people who knew better. Turning to Inspector Hopkins, he continued. “Renata was one of the long-term residents. Most of them have co-morbid mood disorders that require long treatment programs. Others have more serious psychological problems that make them difficult patients. Renata was one such patient — that’s why she was housed here in the secure wing.” Sherlock paused for a moment. “We were brought in at about the same time yesterday,” he said, meeting the Inspector’s eye defiantly. “I don’t know the details of what happened, but she’d obviously been sedated.
“Disposing of the evidence in her hair means that she’d still been using for almost her entire stay here. Someone was abetting her, and that person didn’t want to be found out. Unfortunately for Dr Ullman, her regard for Renata was quite easy to read for anyone who paid attention. The drugs here are kept under an incredibly tight watch, and, if even a milligram goes missing, alarms would sound. Only three of the medical staff with access to the secure wing also work somewhere with more lax standards. Only one of them was on duty last night: Dr Ullman. Renata had somehow managed to enthral Dr Ullman and convince her to supply her with drugs — given the dry drowning, probably ketamine or some other anaesthetic. Last night, something went wrong. Dr Ullman probably thought the effects of the sedative had worn off, or perhaps Renata managed to bully her into giving her the drugs anyway. Nevertheless, Renata’s breathing was compromised, her larynx closed up, and she was asphyxiated. Dr Ullman knew evidence of the drugs would be found in Renata’s system but probably hoped it might be put down to some mistake with the sedative. Unless, of course, Renata’s hair was tested as well.”
“So it was an accident, then?” Inspector Hopkins asked.
“It wasn’t deliberate,” Sherlock said, “but that’s not precisely the same thing as it being accidental, is it?”
“Well, we’ll look into all this,” Inspector Hopkins said. She looked over at the director uncertainly, “Am I allowed to contact him if I have more questions?”
“Of course,” the director replied. “We want to co-operate fully.”
So much for me not working with the police, Sherlock thought, smirking smugly at the director. Things were starting to look up.
Salman couldn’t stop sniffing John. Or rubbing his cheek against John’s in wonder. “I’ve never felt a shave this smooth. It’s like a baby’s arse. Why have you never done this before?” Salman demanded, burying his nose in the crook of John’s neck and inhaling deeply. “You’re intoxicating.” John laughed and tipped his head back to give Salman better access. His hyper-groomed state was always a hit with whomever he was dating, so he’d expected a favourable response. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to feel so adored. Salman peppered fond kisses along John’s jawline then licked him experimentally. John giggled, and Salman pulled him into a crushing hug.
“I love you, John,” Salman whispered. He rubbed his rough cheek against John’s smooth one. “My heart is so full of you, I can scarcely stand it.” John stiffened in his arms. Salman pulled away, looking stricken. “Oh, God,” he said, backing away from John in mortification. “Oh, God. You don’t feel the same way.”
“Salman,” John said reaching for him then aborting the gesture. “I’m not… I…” God, why was he so terrible at finding the words to express his feelings? “Whenever you smile at me, there’s this warmth in the centre of my chest. It’s… wonderful. Whenever I’ve had a horrible day, you somehow seem to know. You always find me. You always make it better. You’re part of what’s holding me together, why I haven’t gone mad.”
“But you don’t love me,” Salman said, his eyes wet with tears.
“I don’t know,” John said. “I care about you more than I’ve ever cared about anyone besides my parents.” John’s voice caught a bit at the end, and Salman’s eyes went soft in sympathy. “I don’t know if I could survive losing anyone like that again,” John confessed. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “And this place, this hell we’ve chosen to live in. The odds are so much higher, aren’t they?” John looked at Salman and felt tears prickle in his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I should be braver, be able to accept what you want to give me and to give you the same.” Against John’s will, a few of his tears fell. “I never realised how frightened I was before. I never meant to hurt you. I’m so sorry.” John wiped his face and managed to stop his lip trembling. “I understand if you want to end things. You deserve more.”
“I forget sometimes,” Salman said, his voice low and thoughtful. “The things you see. Their bodies broken, torn open, thoroughly devastated. And you’re meant to fix them, and you do. But sometimes you can’t.” He put his hand on John’s shoulder, and the gentle touch was more than John could bear. It broke something inside him, and he began sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” John said, fighting in earnest to plug the burst dam of tears. “I’m so sorry.”
Salman pulled John into his arms and held him while he cried. “My dear, John,” Salman said, kissing his temple. “My dear, dear John. You stand at the crossroads where life traverses death, where the consequences are delivered. And you fight. You fight so hard for them all, don’t you?” The force of John’s sobs had him almost convulsing. Salman held him even tighter.
“I’m so sorry,” John murmured.
“It is I who should be sorry,” Salman said. “The offer of my love should not have been contingent upon the receipt of yours. It is my gift to you, and I wish with all my heart that you choose to accept it.”
“I do,” John said, pressing his mouth desperately against Salman’s. As they kissed messily, both their faces wet with tears, John realised, I love him too. I must.
The next day John was told he was being transferred to the interior, to Maiwand, specifically.
Maiwand. Or The Charlie Hotel as the squaddies had taken to calling it. The C.H. — The Charnel House.