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The match is on (1/2)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (bad language, implicit slash, unsportsmanlike behaviour)

Note: possible spoilers for 'Maurice' and 'Murder Must Advertise', from both of which parts of this story have been blatantly nicked.

Special thanks to my beta kalypso_v for sorting out my spelling, scoring, and cricketing metaphors.

Part 2



Lestrade had had a lot of strange text messages from Sherlock over the years. This only counted as the strangest of July.

You’re good at cricket, aren’t you? Have you still got your kit? SH

Surely he’d have heard if someone had recently been battered to death with a stump, or whatever it was Sherlock was planning to reconstruct? He texted back:

Haven’t played for twenty years. Not sure where my stuff is. Suggest you buy whatever you need. GL

The response was immediate:

I need a cricketer, and I gather they now cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. You played for Somerset, didn’t you? SH

A couple of seasons for the Second XI. Top score 74, average 29.32. GL. It was ridiculous that he could still remember that without looking it up.

And your bowling average? SH.

What was that tosser up to now, Lestrade wondered. Still, if he didn’t tell Sherlock, he’d doubtless hack into Cricinfo or find out somehow.

Occasional off-spinner only. Best bowling was 2-78. GL

Should have known you weren’t the type to bowl a maiden over. SH

That was all he bloody well needed, Lestrade decided. Cricketing innuendo.

Sod off and text Henry Blofeld. GL

Can’t do that. I need you to help me catch a thief. Meet us at Imber Court first thing Friday morning. SH

***

"They still play country house cricket?" Lestrade demanded, as they headed over to the nets. "I thought that went out with Gentlemen v Players."

"Hugh’s family have been running the Durham Invitation XI for nearly a century," Sherlock said. "Their home ground is at his house, Pendersleigh Park down in Wiltshire."

"Long way from Durham," John commented.

"The family’s surname is Durham. Hugh’s wife is one of my mother’s goddaughters, so I know the family slightly. Hugh’s worried one of his regular players is a thief. There have been several incidents when the team’s been playing away, houses where they’ve been staying getting burgled very soon afterwards."

"Has he talked to the police?" Lestrade asked.

"No. He suspects one of his team is passing on inside information, but he’s terrified he might be wrong, doesn’t want any scandal. So he’s asked me to help him set a trap."

"What’s the plan?"

"Hugh’s family has some very valuable personal letters and manuscripts, from some friend of the family called Hall. The man was a writer, and the material could apparently fetch a considerable sum in the US. It's normally kept in a bank vault, but Hugh and I agreed that it’ll be put on display at the house for a few weeks, and that might inspire an attempt. Salcombe Hardy’s willing to write a publicity piece in the Morning Herald to attract some more attention."

"Where do you come in?"

"John and I will be playing in the team: Hugh often has problems making up the numbers. So I need you to turn us into sufficiently passable cricketers to survive the match. Neither of us has played since school, and personally I have deleted all memory of my experiences then."

They were both fit, and they had reasonable co-ordination, Lestrade thought. It would be difficult, but not absolutely impossible to get them up to vaguely plausible club standard in a month or two. Maybe even less if they were really prepared to work at it.

"OK," he said. "When’s the match?"

"Tomorrow afternoon," said Sherlock. "We’re expected over at Hugh’s this evening."

Oh shit, thought Lestrade.

***

Imber Court was where the Met cricket team played, but Lestrade had always resisted their approaches. Said he’d hung up his bat, but not why. Not explained how much he’d ended up hating cricket by the time he was 22 and realised he wasn’t going to make it as a professional. He’d had nightmares for several years even after he’d stopped playing, dream after dream in which the ball came infinitely slowly towards him, and yet he still could not prevent it hitting his stumps.

He was probably going to have nightmares again, after trying to get this pair of no-hopers looking like they deserved to be in any team.

"John, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he announced, as John attempted yet another swipe at an unsuitable ball and got bowled. Right now, Lestrade was wondering if he could send the bowling machine along to join the bloody Durham All-Stars.

"I'm sorry, I'm not much good at batting."

"Did anyone ever teach you how to play?"

"Not really. Just sort of picked it up, playing with my friends and pretending to be Ian Botham," said John, wistfully. "I must have been ten when I saw him win the Ashes. He made cricket look like fun. Hey, he played for Somerset, didn’t he? Did you ever play with him?"

"No," Lestrade said, "but I once faced Big Bird in net practice. Joel Garner," he explained to a bemused Sherlock. "Six foot eight Barbadian and he could bowl over eighty miles an hour. I’ve faced gunmen who’ve scared me less than him. And he had this devastating yorker –"

"What is it about the ability to throw a ball at some bits of wood that enthrals people so much?" Sherlock remarked. "I still don’t understand it."

"I noticed," Lestrade said wearily. John was a poor enough prospect for a team, with a batting technique that didn’t extend beyond the slog, but at least he was enthusiastic, and it turned out he could catch. Sherlock, on the other hand, might look fantastic in his whites, but his playing...

"You’re a bloody ferret, you know," he announced. "As in, you should go in to bat after the rabbits. They did play cricket at your school, didn’t they? There wasn’t a special Harrow version of the game that just involved posturing with a bat in your hand making sarcastic comments? Because you could captain England for that."

"I’d forgotten just how tedious the whole game is," said Sherlock. "Hour after hour of waiting around, in the vague hope that something interesting might happen. Where interesting is defined as something briefly hitting something else. My preferred position was long on, with a cigarette and a decent novel. Or, of course," he added, with a sharp glance at Lestrade, "in the long grass behind the pavilion."

Lestrade found himself suddenly transported back to being 17 and a club cricketer. Long summer evenings, full of earnest, naive men down from university buying him pints and telling him how promising he was. It had been fun playing cricket then, a lot better than working at the mushroom farm. Well, he might be getting a bit too old for cricket, but he understood now about some other games...

"What are you daydreaming about, Lestrade?" Sherlock demanded, his eyes narrowing. "This isn't going to work, so we need to move on to Plan B. You come down to Pendersleigh with me."

"What?" he and John both demanded.

"With us, I meant."

***

There was a catch, of course. He should have guessed that.

"I'm coming down there as your sodding chauffeur?" he demanded.

"Well you'd hardly pass as my valet," Sherlock said, "and turning up with a DI in tow might give even the dimmest of criminals pause for thought. Or would you rather I claimed you were something in the City? That's my cover story."

"Yes, well, I'm sure you can pass as a complete banker," Lestrade retorted easily. "But why the fuck should I do it? I've got enough work on my plate without sticking my nose into someone else's manor."

"Because we can't do this without you," said Sherlock. "And, because if Hugh's right, you get to arrest a public schoolboy in front of his equally posh friends. What could be more satisfying?"

"Or have you got something better to do this weekend, Greg?" John asked kindly.

Bloody hell, he thought, attacked from both ends. But it wasn't as if he had a lot on – anything on – this weekend.

"OK," he said. "I'll be your wheels. I can get an unmarked car from the Met."

"No need," Sherlock replied. "Mycroft’s lending us the car. You'll answer to the name of Rose."

"Rose?" demanded John

"He was a Somerset cricketer," said Sherlock.

"County captain about my time," said Lestrade. "Got us our first trophies ever." He carefully didn’t say: Quite fancied him. If he'd been good enough to make it as a cricketer, that side of things wouldn’t have been much fun. 2011 and only one cricketer had come out.

"Well, get going, Rose," said Sherlock. "You’ve got to find your gear and make sure your whites are clean. And for God’s sake, make sure that you’re wearing a tie this evening, or you’ll let the whole side down."

He’d just signed up for a mission where Sherlock got to boss him around in public and he had to smile and take it. He must be nuts. Still, he could survive a weekend in the country, couldn’t he?

***

They put Lestrade in his place immediately at Pendersleigh Park. Literally in his place: he was sleeping in the stable block. Probably be more comfortable than the main house, which looked the kind of pile where they hadn't yet discovered central heating, and the roof leaked. But it still stung. Reminded him that nothing really changed in England; whatever happened, it was always the same kind of chaps in charge.

His room was small and stuffy; there was no point in even trying to get to sleep till it had cooled down. He'd go for a walk first, check out the lie of the land. He hadn't thought to bring a torch – it was bizarre being somewhere without street lights – but there was moonlight, he'd be able to see where he was going.

***

He didn't quite fall into the lake – what the fuck did anyone need a lake for? – but Lestrade did trip over every molehill and rabbit hole in Wiltshire. He finally managed to find the path back to the house, and headed for that. The moonlight was still doing its trick of making everything look exotic and vaguely sinister, but as Lestrade came nearer one wing of the house he suddenly realised something. Unless the Durhams had a very strange taste in statues, there was somebody standing on the roof.

He hurried towards the house. The bloke wasn't on the main roof, but a flat bit, over some kind of bay window. Easy to climb up there, break in via one of the bedroom windows...oh. As he strained his eyes he realised two things. Whoever was on the roof was just standing there, and the intermittent gleams of the moonlight revealed that he was in a dressing-gown. Unless they had very peculiar burglars in the West Country, it wasn't a crook after all. Besides, once he was up close he recognized that fucking arse. He'd fucked it quite a bit, after all.

Sherlock was standing up there like some bloody moonlit prince and he was down on the ground gawping at him. Story of Lestrade's life really. Well, it didn't have to be like that. He could invent some excuse to get into the big house: "Sorry to bother you, Mr Holmes, but I've just found there's a problem with the car. I'm concerned I might lose control when I'm cruising." And then...

And then Sherlock would call him an idiot and tell him to get lost. Because they didn't have sex during cases, that was part of the arrangement.

***

Lestrade called it an arrangement still, even though it had now lasted for years. After all, he and Sherlock were both crap at relationships: any relationship between them would be crap squared, wouldn't it? And he'd never had illusions about being anything more to Sherlock than a way of staving off boredom, helping him shut down his mind when the howling inside got too bad. But so what? Better Sherlock had Lestrade to distract him than going back to the drugs. Wasn't any skin off his nose, was it? And Sherlock was surprisingly good in bed for someone who Lestrade suspected didn't really like sex. Competitive side, of course: if Sherlock did anything he had to do it well. Probably got fed up with cricket when he couldn't bowl the perfect ball. Shame, because his lean body had looked gorgeous in those whites. Maybe even if sex wasn't on the menu, he could at least call up to Sherlock on the roof, talk to him for a bit...

God, he was getting sentimental, wasn't he? Losing his touch. Moonlight and country air rotting his brain, clearly. Sherlock was climbing back into his room again – well, Lestrade hoped it was his room – so time to head back to the servants' quarters and get some kip. Possibly after a bit more fantasizing about beating Sherlock's naked arse with a stump. Or wasn't that quite cricket?

***

Lestrade decided next morning that he should do some actual detective work, talk to some of the staff, see if they had any idea who the thief might be. He wandered off to the garage – might as well start with Durham's chauffeur. The chauffeur was a small, elderly neat man, polishing an already gleaming Rolls-Royce, a look of concentration suggesting he wasn't going to stop while one molecule of dirt still clung to the car.

"How's it going?" Lestrade asked.

"She's almost there," the chauffeur replied. "Got to get her looking good before I start picking up more of the guests from the station." He looked up at Lestrade. "You're Rose, Mr Holmes' chauffeur, aren't you? 'Cept you're not really a chauffeur."

"What makes you say that?" Lestrade asked warily.

"Your shoes are a bit scuffed, and you didn't clean your Merc properly last night. You wouldn't last a week as a chauffeur. So what are you?"

"Security," he said hastily. "Mr Holmes has a lot of enemies, he wanted some protection."

"Makes sense, I suppose. I did wonder if you were a ringer."

"What?"

"For the match. If Mr Durham had sneaked a pro in to give us an edge for this one."

"Why would you think that?"

The chauffeur smiled. "Don't you know about the match?" Lestrade shook his head. "It's the annual game against the village team. Big thing round here." There was a tension in his tone now, and he'd stopped his polishing.

"Grudge match, is it?" Lestrade asked.

"We haven't won since 2005. Well, we reckoned we won that time. There was what you might call a dispute about it."

"And you want to win properly this time?"

"Mr Durham certainly does. Been practising for weeks. But you know what? If you're supposed to be protecting Mr Holmes, a bit of advice for you."

"What's that?"

"Tell him to wear a box. And a helmet. The pitch is still a bit bumpy, and Simmonds from the garage is a really good quickie. If you don't want your boss ending up in hospital, he ought to watch out for him."

***

"John's faced the Taliban and I won't be playing anyhow," Sherlock said when Lestrade found him in one of the drawing rooms. "Hugh's being difficult, so I'm going to need to do a spot of breaking and entering."

"Sherlock, it's normally better not to tell me if you're about to commit criminal acts," Lestrade said. "So what, hypothetically, might you be looking for?"

"There were three men who left their rooms last night. An examination of their pyjamas will tell me if they were collecting information prior to stealing the manuscripts or simply having a sexual encounter. But when I told Hugh that he got awfully squeamish, said he couldn't let me spy on his friends like that. I did point out to him that if I could keep quiet about the fact that his marriage was a sham to conceal his own sexual preferences then I could be discreet about his guests, but he seemed unconvinced."

"Even though finding the culprit was the entire point of bringing you here in the first place. God, some people are idiots, aren't they?"

"Hugh's angling to enter parliament and one of the three is very high up in the Conservative party. Though he's the one I suspect of being an adulterer, rather than a thief."

"OK," said Lestrade. "So what's your plan?"

"There'll be almost no-one in the house while the match is on, so that's my chance to inspect the bedrooms."

"Shame we're not still in my manor," Lestrade said, "or I could organise a drugs bust. I bet there's someone taking something they shouldn't be."

"What I need you to do," Sherlock replied, "is make sure that this match lasts. I don't know how long it's going to take me to check everything and a batting collapse would not be helpful."

"See what I can do. When's the match start?"

"Two o'clock, but Hugh wants us to have a practice at eleven. He seems oddly obsessed with winning this game. If you could help him do that, it might soften the blow that one of his friends is a criminal."

"He's a would-be politician," Lestrade said. "He's gonna have to get used to that."

***

Hugh Durham was a boyish-looking 40-year-old, who obviously thought that charm compensated for incompetence. Not that Lestrade was particularly charmed: he liked his posh boys clever as well.

"We've got a splendid team this year, chaps," Durham announced as his guests gradually appeared on the pitch, still talking loudly about hedge funds and Henley, "so I really think we can give the village boys a run for their money this time. Or rather not too many runs."

"Who's on the team, Hugh?" one of the chinless wonders asked. "Hope you've put me in at number six, that's my favourite position."

"Heard it was sixty-nine," someone else sniggered, and Lestrade realised it was going to be a very long day.

"Just hold on and I'll tell you," Hugh said, fumbling in his pockets and pulling out a list. "No, hang on, that's the stall-holders for the village fete. Here we are. We've got myself, Len, Donald, William and Gilbert, Vivian, Peter Stag, Peter Delagardie, oh, and Simcox. Plus Sherlock and John, of course, who are new to the team."

"I'm not playing," Sherlock said. "Not really my sport, but Rose here is a pretty handy batsman. He should be on your team instead."

Durham gave Lestrade a cool look up and down.

"Played recently?" he asked.

"Not for a while, no, but I can still remember the basics." It wouldn't be the done thing, of course, to say: I may be past it now, but I was a better player once than you could ever imagine being.

"Did you play at uni?" Hugh asked cheerfully.

"Didn't go to university, but I was captain of my school team."

"What school was that?"

"Blagdon Comprehensive."

"We'll put you down as twelfth man," Durham said, smiling. "Sherlock, don't try and worm your way out of this, we're relying on you to help us kick arse. So now we know who's playing, does anyone want to have a bit of a practice?"

***

Within quarter of an hour, the urge to play cricket, as opposed to standing around talking about it, was fading fast among most of Durham's players. Bunch of amateurs, thought Lestrade, and looked round for Sherlock. But he had slid off somewhere, so instead he took John off for another largely futile attempt to teach him how to block a good length ball.

"Do you want to try bowling to me?" he asked after a bit.

"I can give it a try, but I don't really know how to," John said cheerfully.

"I could have a go if you liked," said a thin, fair-haired toff, wandering over. Just about the only other bloke left on the field now, Lestrade noticed.

"I'm Peter Delagardie," the blond said, stretching out a languid hand to shake Lestrade's. "Not really a bowler, of course, but delighted to lend a fellow enthusiast a hand. It's Rose, isn't it?"

"Greg Rose," said Lestrade, smiling, "And this is John, er, Dr Watson." Shit, he thought, mustn't forget my place.

"Ah, yes," said Delagardie, "We met last night briefly, didn't we? Nice thing about cricket, brings people together. So shall we try a few overs?"

Delagardie looked to be in his late forties, but he was still a decent player, with a neat and unshowy line in off-spin that was a bit trickier to hit than you might expect. But Lestrade was starting to get his eye in now, hadn't forgotten everything after all.

"You definitely ought to be in the team instead of me," John announced, retrieving yet another ball from the boundary. "But if we're going to have any energy left for this afternoon, I think we'd better knock it off now."

"Fair enough," Lestrade said.

"Glad we've got you on our team, Greg," Delagardie said. "And John's right, you should be playing. Technique's still all there, even if you're not so fast between the stumps now. Was it just club cricket you played or something more?"

"Didn't make it at county level," Lestrade said casually. "And that was a long time ago, anyhow."

"Yes, anno domini catches up on us all, alas. But I think you'll definitely be the man to watch this afternoon," said Delagardie as he sauntered off, hands in pockets.

"Was he one of Sherlock's three suspects?" Lestrade asked John, once he was gone.

"Yes," John replied. "Though I can’t see why he'd need to go round stealing stuff."

"What do you mean?"

"I’ve seen him in Mrs Hudson’s copies of Hello. I think his family owns most of Hertfordshire. He certainly didn't sound last night as if he was short of money."

"Some people never have enough money," Lestrade said. "Besides, you have to admit he was checking us out just now, wasn't he?"

"Looked like it," said John.

"And not just so he could wander round to our bedrooms this evening. You'd better let Sherlock know about him."

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
fengirl88
Aug. 31st, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
*squeeing madly*

the Hall papers! Peter Delagardie! ferret!Sherlock!

loved Sod off and text Henry Blofeld. GL, and Sherlock's preferred positions, not to mention Lestrade's idea about the special Harrow version of cricket...


penguineggs
Aug. 31st, 2011 09:44 am (UTC)
There wasn’t a special Harrow version of the game that just involved posturing with a bat in your hand making sarcastic comments?

That would be The Byron Version, yes.

Lovely; looking forward to the next instalment.
shezan
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
(... fancy meeting you here; it's a penguin extra-custom-made-special, isn't it?)
marysutherland
Sep. 3rd, 2011 07:53 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it - and if Harrow was good enough for BC, it should surely be good enough for Sherlock. Although one day in the far distant future, it might be interesting to do a fic in which Sherlock was educated at Summerhill.
shezan
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is UTTER BLISS! Cricket, Sherlock in whites, Lord Peter's very lively languid, top-spinning ghost, and stream-of-dirty-consciousness by Lestrade, YUM!!!!

*scoots off to read chap. 2*
(Deleted comment)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )