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Baker Street Imp (1/7)

BBC Sherlock

Rating : PG

Spoilers: none

 

Summary: Sherlock and John find a seven-year old in need of help

 

After a while, John had adjusted to Harry being a lesbian; it was much harder coping with her being an alcoholic. The alcoholics he'd come across before had been men, mainly soldiers, making a tedious mess of their own lives. He hadn't realised before Harry how a female alcoholic might be entwined in far more complicated networks of family responsibilities.

As Sherlock often pointed out, most so-called coincidences were just the outcome of a sequence of individually plausible events. It was because Clara hadn't wanted to tell her sister Annie that her reconciliation with Harry had failed, that the long promised week in London for her young niece remained on. It was because Clara was incapable of standing up for herself at work, that she had agreed to an emergency trip to Germany the day her niece arrived. And it was because Harry was still feeling guilty about the second breakup, and Clara was still foolishly willing to give Harry another chance, that Harry had insisted she could look after Annie's daughter on her own, and a desperate Clara had believed that.

And it was because John and Harry didn't get on, that he hadn't spoken to her for a month or more, and so knew nothing about the disaster waiting to happen, till the phone call one Sunday evening in May.

It was a child's voice, a young girl. A wrong number, John thought for a second, and then heard what she was saying: "Hello, are you a friend of Harry...Harriet Watson?"

"I'm her brother. I'm John, Dr John Watson. Who are you?"

"My name's Immy, Immy Palmer, I'm staying with Auntie Harry. Only she's been lying on the sofa for a very long time and I can't get her to wake up."

***

John's training kicked in automatically: he knew the questions to ask to assess if it was an emergency, and the reassuring tone to prevent the person at the other end from panicking. It helped a lot that Immy was obviously bright and resourceful.

"I read this first aid book at school," she explained a few minutes later, "and it said you must only call 999 if there's an emergency, and Auntie Harry 's breathing, sort of snoring really, and she's not bleeding, and she told me to go away when I prodded her. So I thought  it wasn't an emergency, and I'd better try and phone one of her friends. And it had your number stored in her phone, and, and you can help, can't you?"

"Of course. You've done very well, Immy, you've really been amazing," John focused his thoughts, his voice, down the phone. "Now, Immy, we need to decide what to do next.  If you're scared, and you want someone to come and help you right now, then you should call 999 and ask for the police, and they won't mind that it's not an emergency. Or I can call them for you. But if you can wait for another half an hour, just thirty minutes, then I can come and help you, and sort out my little sister. Are you OK to wait for me to come to the flat?" He mustn't push her into doing more than she could cope with, she'd already been through a lot that evening. But if he had to call the police, it wouldn't just be Harry in trouble – she deserved all she got, he reckoned – but Immy as well, if the child protection people got over-enthusiastic.

There was silence for a moment and then Immy said: "I'd rather you came and helped me, Doctor...John. But I don't know if I can open the door of the flat."

"Don't worry, Immy, we'll work that out. I'll stop talking to you just for a bit, while I get what we'll need, but I'll call you again when I'm on my way. Just wait for me, I'll be along soon."

He ended the call, and hurried upstairs to bang on Sherlock's bedroom door.

"Sherlock, I need you to come and help me break into a flat."

***

Immy didn't answer the phone when John rang her back, and he was starting to worry, as they sat in the cab. "She could be trapped, terrified, hurt," he said. "I should have got her to phone 999 immediately."

"She may not want to answer if she doesn't know who's calling," said Sherlock. "Wait till we get there, and we'll assess the situation. Now tell me everything you know about Clara's relatives."

"I don't know much, I'm afraid I always switched off at that point. Immy must be the daughter of Annie, who's Clara's older sister. She's an only child, she's about eight or so. I can't remember anything else at the moment. "

Sherlock groaned.  "Right. Then can you at least repeat the conversation you've just had with Immy as accurately as possible. Any detail may be significant."

It was John's turn to groan now, but at least it distracted him from the rising fear in his guts.

***

 "You should have told me the details before you dragged me along here," Sherlock protested, as they arrived at the block of flats. "Locks are quick to do, bolts are not. I'd presumed you just wanted me to pick a lock."

"I only remembered just now, " John replied. "Harry got worried the lock on its own wasn't enough. The bolts aren't anything fancy and she may have been too drunk to remember to use them. If not, I'm not sure how else...it's a third storey flat."

"Let's have a quick look before we go inside," said Sherlock, his eyes flicking over the flats. "No easy access from below or either side, our best bet is down from the window of the flat above."

"She's not going to co-operate," John sighed, "not after the complaints about Harry's music over the years. OK, we need to get the police in, or a locksmith at least."

"John, you're forgetting something," said Sherlock, smiling. "It's always easier to break into someone's house if you've got an inside man. Well, inside girl in this case. Let's go and see if Immy can help us."

***

There was no answer to the intercom, but Sherlock managed to persuade the friendlier and more gullible of Harry's next door neighbours not only to let them into the building to prepare for Immy's surprise party, but to borrow Harry's spare set of keys. While Sherlock, otherwise 'Mystico the Marvellous', was demonstrating coin tricks in the neighbour's kitchen, John tried the door to Harry's flat. Damn, she had remembered the bolts.

"Sherlock, I mean Mystico," he said as he went into the kitchen next door, "there seems to be a problem. With the, erm, hat for the rabbit."

Sherlock finished making a mug disappear, and then smiled at the middle-aged woman standing, amazed, by the sink.

"If you want to book me, Mrs Armitage, my details are on my website, 'The Science of Magic'," he announced. "Just to warn you, there may be a bit of banging and shouting from next door while we set up the tricks, so I'd be grateful if you'd just stay in here, and don't come round. It might spoil the surprise, and while my tarantula's very friendly once you get to know him, he's a little nervous in a strange place at first."

"You have a tarantula?" Mrs Armitage demanded, her eyes widening.

"It wouldn't be a proper surprise party for a child without a spider or two. Thank you very much for your help."

As soon as the door was closed, Sherlock turned to John and said:

"The bolts are on then, Right, time for plan B." Before John could reply, Sherlock was crouching down and yelling through the flap of the letter-box:

"Immy, Immy Palmer, it's your Uncle John come to see you, so come and have a word with him!"

Silence, and then the sound of footsteps inside. Suddenly, a pair of dark eyes and a slightly tentative smile appeared through the slit of the letter-box. John bent down beside Sherlock and tried to sound reassuring.

"OK, Immy, I'm here, John Watson, Harry's big brother. Can you let us in, please?"

The smile suddenly vanished. "How do I know you're John? My mum told me not to talk to strange men."

"You spoke to me on the phone a little earlier. Don't you recognise my voice?"

"Not sure."

"And I know your name, and I know about your Auntie Harry, who's currently passed out on the sofa."

"Maybe you overheard all that," There was a pause and then Immy said: "What's the picture over Auntie Harry's mantelpiece?"

"What?"

"If you're her brother, you'll know what the picture is."

"I..." Visual memory way less than 62% here, his mind had gone a total blank...He forced himself to remain calm, to imagine walking into the flat, going into the living room on the right, looking up at the picture..."It's horses. Three horses, running round a field. Chinese horses."

"Five horses," Immy retorted, "and three of them are grazing, not running."

"Immy, your Auntie Harry has a long scar on her left arm, where she broke her arm as a child. The top of her left thumb is all funny and squashy-looking where she cut the tip of it off last year when she was...cooking. And she always has toast and jam for breakfast, and orange juice, except I suspect today she was putting something extra into her orange juice, that she said was water."

"She said it was special water, the label was in Russian, I think. I can't read Russian yet," a small voice said. "OK, you're my uncle John. But who's the other man with you?"

"That's Sherlock, he's my friend. he's going to help us."

"How do I know he's not a strange man?"

"He's-"

"How do I know he's not forcing you to come here as a...hostile so he can get into the flat and rob Auntie Harry?"

"Immy-"

"John," Sherlock interrupted, "can you please just let me talk to Immy." He shoved John out of the way and squatted down to peer through the letter box.

"You won't remember me, Immy," he said, and there was a sudden warmth in his voice, "but my name's Sherlock. I'm a friend of your mother's and she's told me all about you."

"What did she tell you?"

"That you have brown skin and straight black hair like your dad, and you are seven and a half and top of your class. And that your full name is Imogen, but you don't like being called that, and that you want to be a vet when you grow up, and that you like going to McDonald's, but your mother doesn't let you go very often."

"I'm not seven and a half till next week, and I want to be an astronaut when I grow up," said Immy, with sudden smugness.

"So you've changed your mind. Now, if you're happy I am who I say I am, it's time to work out how we open this door, so we can come in. Are there bolts at the top and bottom of the door?"

"Yes," said Immy.

"Never mind the top one at the moment. Do you know how to work the bottom one?"

"Of course I do, but it's really stiff."

"Then we need to lubricate it, reduce the friction. Can you find some cooking oil in the kitchen...no, on second thoughts, the bathroom's probably easier. Is there some soap, liquid soap in a bottle you can squirt out?"

"Yes," said Immy.

"Good, then can you go and get it, please. And can you also bring back something to wedge in the letterbox to keep it open, that'll make it easier to talk."

As Immy retreated, Sherlock, straightened up,  turned to John and smiled. "She's perfect for this. Old enough to follow instructions, young enough to accept the strangeness. I just wish she was a bit taller, but that's the Indian heritage, I suppose."

"How do you know...that was spooky," said John. "OK, you could get the hair and skin colour from the bit of her face you could see, but why specifically Indian? And what about all the rest?"

"He father being Indian would fit with the surname, an easy mishearing on your part. Not Palmer, but Parmar, a prominent northern Indian clan. The pattern of milk teeth loss says  Immy's seven to seven and a half, child psychology says guess the top of the age range. The brightness is obvious, and then there's the interest in first aid, so there's a high probability she wants to be a doctor or a vet. The kitten I glanced on her T-shirt says animal lover, so vet. Even you should have picked up that Immy's an abbreviation, but that she clearly prefers  it to Imogen."

"And McDonald's?"

"She's seven, of course she likes McDonald's. Her mother gives her a middle-class name like Imogen and is liberal enough to let her stay with a lesbian couple, of course she disapproves of McDonald's.  Ah, here is Immy, so now just stand back, John, and leave the experts to it." He squatted down again, as casually as if talking to seven year-olds through letter-boxes was his preferred form of conversation.

"Now squirt the soap all over the bolt, Immy, and rub it in with your fingers, never mind the mess. Can you try the bolt again now? Both hands, and make sure you push parallel to the door, not outwards."

There was a screech of metal, and then an excited shout: "I've done it, Sherlock!" And then John could almost see Immy's shoulders slump. "There's still the top bolt."

"The soap will work on that too, you just need to get up there and reach it. John, are there any sturdy but not too heavy chairs in the house? The higher the better."

"The dining tables chair fold up, too risky," John replied slowly. "There's...a bar stool in the kitchen, but I don't know if it's too heavy for Immy to move." There was a snort of disapproval from inside.

"Can you drag the kitchen stool over here, Immy?" Sherlock asked. "Doesn't matter how much noise you make, it won't bother your Auntie Harry. Take it slow and rest if you need to."

The noise was terrible, like a cat in a tin box being dropped down some stairs, but at last they heard Immy's triumphant cry:

"Done it. Do you want me to climb up? I'm a good climber."

"I never doubted it, Immy," said Sherlock.  There was a pause and he added, "Can you reach?"

"I can touch the bolt with my fingertips, I need to be just a bit higher to squirt the soap properly."

"Anything you could put on the stool to give you a few extra inches?  Some books, a bucket-"

"She'll break her neck, Sherlock!" John protested.

"I know," said Immy, "the pouffe in the living room, I'll go and get that."

***

"A bit of planning now," said Sherlock. "Hold the soap container in your left hand, hold onto the pouffe with the right, as you climb up onto the edge of the stool. Then kneel on the pouffe and jiggle around a bit till you're sure it's centred on the stool. When you're ready, stand up slowly on the pouffe, and as you start to stand up, have your right hand against the door, reach up towards the frame at the top of the door, that'll give you support. If you start to feel shaky at any point, stop and take a few breaths in and out. Are you ready?"

"I'm squirting the soap now," Immy announced a few minutes later, "and I'm rubbing it all in, and...I can't do the bolt with one hand."

"Throw the soap container onto the floor, away from the stool, it won't break. Now, can you reach up with your left elbow and get that against the door frame, at the same height as the bolt? That'll give you more leverage.  Good girl, steady yourself. Now both hands on the bolt-"

"Sherlock!" yelled John.

"And push!"

John heard the screech of the bolt, a yell, a crash, and then high-pitched sobs.

"O God," he said, crouching behind Sherlock, who peered intently through the letter-box and said cheerily: "Immy, Immy, you're a star, aren't you? Any bones broken? Can you still talk?"

"I  bashed my arm and it really, really, hurts!" Immy wailed.

"That's what I've brought a doctor for. He can show you how to bandage it properly."

Slightly less tearfully, Immy added: "And I think I've bent Auntie Harry's stool."

"Never mind, she can get another one tomorrow. Now if you can just move the stool, we can come in and have a proper talk. But be careful you don't slip on the soap, we don't want an accident."

 

Part 2

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
shezan
Jan. 13th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Okay, this was PERFECT. I love Immy already.

"She's seven, of course she likes McDonald's. Her mother gives her a middle-class name like Imogen and is liberal enough to let her stay with a lesbian couple, of course she disapproves of McDonald's."

And I can just HEAR Sherlock rattling this out!
marysutherland
Jan. 15th, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're fond of Immy - she's an only slightly exaggerated amalgam of three small girls of my acquaintance. But there's one thing Sherlock deduced wrongly about her, as will shortly be revealed.
shrewreader
Jan. 14th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
The teeth.

The vet to astronaut move.

The soap, and the letter flap.

I'll stop hitting F5 now. Honest.
(no subject) - shehasathree - Jan. 15th, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
genclay
Jan. 28th, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
arggg!

Other than freeking me out by having a OC named Immy/Imogen (yes, that is me) This is great. I can't wait for the next :D
nathcoelho
Jan. 29th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
Sherlock is a nonsense guy, but he'd worked out.. lol
*going to the next part*
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )