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A case of identities (5/5)

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 12 (implied slash)

Spoilers: ripped off wholesale from ACD (no prizes for deducing which story)

Summary: Sherlock has solved the problem of Martha Caithness' missing fiancee, so they're off for a confrontation.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.


Once I’d worked out where we going, I knew who was responsible, though I still wasn’t sure how or why. (No, I’m not going to tell you yet, that would ruin the suspense. And if you have worked out the solution already, could you try not to look so smug, some of us just have tiny little minds).

“You should perhaps know in advance,” Sherlock said to me, as we were about to enter the building. “It's just possible that this encounter might turn violent.”

“It’s handy how you tell me that once it’s too late for me to bring a gun,” I commented. “Should we be infinitely tedious at this point and tell someone, like the police, what we’re about to do? Even wait for them to get here, so we don’t get taken hostage first. So I don’t get taken hostage first?”

“Not that kind of violence,” said Sherlock. “I need you to stop me if I am tempted to beat the hell out of this nasty-minded creep.”

***

We went into the lab and made our way cautiously past thickets of equipment, till we found our target.

“Good afternoon, Mr Gordon,” said Sherlock, “or should I call you Angela?” I was hastily checking if there were any syringes within Gordon’s not too long reach. Or toxic chemicals. Fortunately, I didn’t think he was the sort who’d try to glass you with a smashed piece of tubing. (Someone tried to do that to Sherlock once, though it wasn’t anything to do with a case).

“I don't know what you mean,” Gordon whined, glancing about him like a rat in a trap.

 “It was a nasty trick. Ms Caithness treated you with great kindness for years, and you repaid her like that? Just to save yourself some money?”

“What are you talking about, Sherlock?” I said, behind the plot as usual.

“Colin here had found a really cushy number. Decent accommodation at a ridiculously low rent, because Martha Caithness wasn't really interested in money. And no chance of her circumstances changing any time soon, or so you thought. But then she met Javina, came out, you started to get worried, didn’t you? Javina might not have lasted long initially, but she was back in the house again, and suppose Ms Caithness got into a serious relationship with her or someone else? Someone who might be more concerned about money, might want to increase the rent. Even worse, someone who might want to move into the house, have you move out.”

“She was a millionaire, just because of that bloody house,” Gordon said. “And I couldn't afford so much as a grotty studio flat. It wasn't fair.”

“What you did certainly wasn't fair. You are a cruel and selfish and heartless man, you know,” said Sherlock, with the tone of effortless moral superiority that only a really high-functioning sociopath can bring to bear. (OK, he’s perhaps not heartless, but as for the rest...). “You spotted her looking at that book forum a while ago, decided to get in touch with her. Were you just trying to encourage her to stay in and talk, at first, not go out where she might meet someone? But it didn't stay like that, did it?”

"It was only a joke at first," Colin groaned. “She said something once about scientists not knowing anything about literature, and I wanted to show her she was wrong.”

“You were going to make sure she didn't meet anyone else, she was going to meet you. But as you got in deeper, you realised you couldn't keep it up forever. You're a good actor, you've played drag parts before now, but sooner or later your game was going to be revealed, despite your determination to keep your clothes on. So you planned to disappear, leave her waiting for you, worrying about you. You hoped she might wait around for years, thinking of Angela, worrying about her. That was wicked, Mr Gordon.”

“It wasn't like that,” he protested.

“Oh, yes, it was. I've got a riding crop at home, I use it for beating corpses sometimes. I'd quite like to find out its effect on living flesh right now.”

“Sherlock,” I said, putting my hand on his arm. (In an ‘I am trying to restrain this dangerous lunatic from attacking a suspect‘ way, not for any other reason). Gordon looked like he was about to faint, but he was still managing a sneer.

“You can't prove it,” he said. “The e-mails were from her IP address, you've got no proof she didn't invent Angela herself.”

“The viragos in your room are a giveaway,” said Sherlock. Colin, at least, understood that statement, and sagged even more.

“I didn't get any money from it, it's not illegal to pretend to be someone else,” he said, back to whining again. “You can't prosecute me. Martha wouldn't want you to go to the police, anyhow.”

“Perhaps not, but I think KCL might take a very dim view of what you did. Possibly sexual harassment charges, certainly bullying treatment of a fellow member of staff. Even if the charges couldn't be proved, your reputation would never recover, and deservedly so.”

“I, I, it was just a joke, it got out of hand!” It’s always odd how people who routinely plan out a complete three year programme of scientific research can suddenly claim that they couldn’t possibly foresee the results of their own actions.

“Fortunately for you,” said Sherlock, “I think this is best kept in the dark. If you do three things in the next week, I will let the matter lie.”

“What are they?”

“Firstly, Angela will write to Ms Caithness. Say she's gone off with a man she's just met, realised the lesbianism was just a phase. Secondly, you will move out of ‘Viewfield’.”

“I can't find anywhere else to go in a week!”

“That's your problem. If you're still in there in seven days time, I will take further steps.”

“OK, I'll go. What's the third thing?”

“You will also offer to repaint the bedroom, or have it repainted at your expense, given the damage you've caused to the walls by your posters. Whatever Ms Caithness says, you will ensure that you do that. Do you understand all that, or would you rather I talked to King's?”

“I'll do it,” Gordon said sulkily.  

“Make sure you do,” said Sherlock. He motioned to me to go, and then turned back to the figure slumped by his bench. “By the way, there are three glaring errors in your latest preprint, it’s no wonder you’re such a hopeless criminal. Good afternoon, Mr Gordon.”

***

“How on earth did you work that one out?” I asked, when we’d got back to the flat. Sherlock had thrown himself on the couch, and was now lying there, clearly ready to grant me an audience.

“Angela Hosma was obviously a fake, as you spotted yourself. Refusing to give any details of herself, meeting only in public places. Not commenting on the service in cafes, even though she was supposed to be a waitress. And regularly using the internet on Friday evenings, hardly likely, since she'd be at her busiest then. Why would someone pretend to be interested in a relationship with Ms Caithness? It was taken too far to be a practical joke, even a cruel one, and not far enough if it was really someone wanting revenge.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said. Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course you’re right, you always are. Almost always.”

“The obvious other motive was money, so I followed the trail of that. No sign of Angela asking for cash or expensive presents, the only real asset is the house, but she disappeared before any attempt on that. Therefore, the aim isn't to get money, but to keep it. To keep the house, which might be endangered if Ms Caithness got into a relationship. There are no relatives on the scene, she's an only child, no-one obvious who might have been told about her coming out. But there are several students in her house, living at extremely reasonable rents, and with considerable indulgence, she's a kindly woman. They would know the IP address of her computer, probably had had e-mails from her. And they might well have heard about or seen the book forum. It would also explain why Angela didn't want to come to ‘Viewfield’.”

“OK, that sounds plausible. But why decide it was Colin, rather than Rosie or Javina?”

“Think about what we were told about Angela.”

“Tall, Indonesian, wears a headscarf, dark eyes. Colin's a short, blue-eyed blond.”

“Superficial details. Colin's around 5 foot 6, shortish for a man, tall for a woman, especially an Asian one. Contact lenses, slightly darkened skin would be effective disguises. His bone structure may not be quite right, but it's unlikely someone without expertise would notice. And the headscarf is very handy in one way, it means his Adam's apple is concealed. He's been there the longest, gets indulged the most. He's also currently playing a role in which a man disguises himself as a woman in order to infiltrate a women's college.”

“But why not one of the others?” I said. “Rosie.. oh, the photos suggest that she’s not tall enough.”

“Confirmed by the fact that she didn't have any books on the top shelf of the bookcase in her room.”

“But what's Stephanie Meyer got to do with it?” I asked. That was who the bloke in the posters had been, wasn’t it? Robert Patterson, or whatever his name was.

“If Rosie's the kind of woman sentimentally pining after romantic vampires, she's unlikely to have either the brains or the heartlessness to romance a middle-aged librarian to save on the rent,” Sherlock replied.

“Fair enough. But Javina surely has a double motive?” I said. “She’s Martha Caithness’ ex, and she was kicked out of the house.”

“As I said, the pattern doesn't fit with jealousy. And Javina had been Ms Caithness's lover, it would be far harder for her to fool her into thinking she was another person, she'd know the way she moved, kissed. The American accent would be hard to disguise, as well. Besides, even though we don't have a photo of Javina, we can hazard a guess at what she looks like.”

“How on earth?” I asked.

“From her name, her first university and Ms Caithness' refusal to discuss her. North Carolina Central University is a historically black college, and Javina's an African-American name. Ms Caithness was embarrassed to admit that she'd broken up with, and then evicted a black woman, feared we might consider her to be a racist. It's a lot harder to lighten skin than it is to darken it, makes it unlikely Javina’s our criminal.”

“It's still not conclusive that it's Colin rather than one of the others,” I said, because I thought as might as well get his complete scorn for my intellect over all in one go.

“Ah, but there's more,” Sherlock said, staring into space again.

“You said something about viragos, didn't you? What on earth was that about?”

“Do you still have the photos you took of Gordon's room? Pull up the one of his bookcases. Do you see anything?”

I got my laptop out, and dug out the relevant photo. And looked at it, and looked at it. And admitted defeat.

“Sherlock,” I said, “we were in there for 30 seconds, not even you could have read the titles of all of the books, and the photo doesn't give that much detail.”

“Look at the bottom left corner, one shelf up,” Sherlock said, flapping his arm vaguely. “Most of the books are haphazard, aren't they? But there's a small block of paperbacks there that all have the same dark green covers.”

“And?”

“Very distinctive, it's the design they used to use for all the Virago Modern Classics. They've changed them now, but Colin's a cheapskate, bought the books he was going to discuss with Ms Caithness second-hand. A male biochemist reading feminist classics, not that likely otherwise. And the previous picture, the one with the posters on the wall. Spot anything significant in the titles?”

I clicked back, and squinting, started to read them out:

Kiss me Kate, Pal Joey, The King and I -”

“Set in Thailand, and I suspect the source of the black wig. I think it was the combination of having played an Asian character in that, maybe a mental association of Thailand with lady-boys, and Javina that put the idea of Angela into Colin's head. Martha Caithness liked exotic women, did she? Here was one, and she needed looking after. The relocation to Indonesia gave him a supposed religious background that allowed him to avoid too much physical contact.”

“It was terribly risky,” I said.

“He's an actor, a tenor, he likes being able to do the things, hold the notes, that no-one else can manage. And Ms Caithness wanted to believe in her angel, and he knew enough about her after years of living in her house to know how to please her.”

“That's incredible,” I said. “It's just unbelievable. Horrible as well. I mean what he did to that poor woman.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock, closing his eyes. “Well, he has seven days to put things right, at least partially.”

***

“I’ve had a couple of e-mails from Martha Caithness,” Sherlock suddenly remarked to me at lunchtime (well, my lunchtime) on Monday, after he’d finished his experiment of stamping on ballpoint pens with wellingtons on. “Angela's abandonment of her has been announced, and when I checked back, Colin Gordon has now moved out, thank God. I suppose that means Ms Caithness now has two spare rooms for rent. Do you think there's any chance that Harry might be able to suggest a lodger, or even a potential soulmate, to go there, keep an eye on her? If anyone's likely to know harmless, romantic, bookish women, it's your sister.”

“You think-“

“She's rather an exploitable woman, Martha Caithness. It might be better if predatory elements were kept away from her.” I wondered if it was Harry’s influence that had lead to this sudden concern for the wellbeing of hapless lesbians.

“You could tell her what had happened, that might put her on her guard,” I said. “And surely it's wrong not to explain the full details.”

“There is an old Persian saying: 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.'”

“No, there isn't,” I replied. “At least I bet there isn't. That sounds the type of cod stuff that Victorian writers make up. Orientalism, Harry would call it.” (It was a good reply, I think. Some of it I even thought to say at the time).

“You're probably right, but there's a new English saying, or at least there ought to be: 'When a middle-aged woman has recently come out, it does no good for her sexual identity to find out she's been engaged to a man in drag.' Find me my bow, will you, John? I think some Sibelius would be appropriate now.”


Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
fengirl88
Jan. 2nd, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
hurrah! very pleased to see this up. I didn't get the clues about Javina or Stephanie Meyer, but am pleased that Princess Ida was relevant. I enjoyed the new English saying replacing the Victorian Orientalism (and John's admission that he didn't say all of that at the time...).
marysutherland
Jan. 4th, 2011 01:01 pm (UTC)
Javina's name is the kind of clue that you can make sound impressively knowledgeable for someone reading forwards, when, as an author, you've worked out the story backwards. I started from the idea that the character was going to be black, so then it was just a matter of googling 'African-American names' and picking a nice one. And suddenly Sherlock appears an awful lot cleverer than I am!

The Persian saying is the punchline in the original ACD story, so I felt it ought to be included in this one as well, but it has dated horrendously. And once I had John as first person narrator, it's fun to play with the unreliability of authors. (Even more jokes about authors coming up shortly, because the next story I'm posting is Sherlock writing fanfic).
rabidsamfan
Jan. 3rd, 2012 03:38 am (UTC)
This is excellent. I loved the way you twisted the original story, and especially John being asked to prevent Sherlock from being violent with Colin.

(And John's "voice" is delightful -- the side comments amused me tremendously.)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )