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A case of identities (3/5)

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 12 (implicit slash)

Spoilers: shamelessly ripped off from ACD's A Case of Identity.

Summary: Sherlock has been very patiently hearing about Martha Caithness' dodgy fiancée, so he's well overdue for getting dismissive about other people's brains...

Part 1, Part 2.



Once Martha Caithness had gone, I turned to Sherlock, who was sitting there silently, with his fingertips still pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of him, and gazing up at the ceiling, as if planning how to destroy it in some new and inventive way.

 “Do you think Angela or whatever her name is really is in danger?” I asked.

“Martha Caithness doesn't think so. If she did, she'd be beating down the door of the police, wouldn't she, not just being fobbed off? She really thinks that Ms Hosma has dumped her, but she wants to find out for sure. But does that explanation strike you as plausible, from what you know?”

For once Sherlock was tactful enough not to say: 'from your extensive experience of being dumped by women'.

“At this point in the relationship, no, not without saying anything. A woman, most women would want to explain why they'd have enough of you. Or at least say it was over. Besides, the whole thing stinks.”

“Correct, but can you explain why?”

“Do you really want my opinion?” I asked. (Normally he only asks me about cases when he hasn’t got a police officer handy to sneer at).

“Yes I do,” Sherlock said, leaning back in his chair languidly. “I need a feel for how obvious the warning signs are.”

“Thank you.”

“I don't mean it like that. Martha Caithness is naive, but I don't think she's stupid. So if it’s a scam, why didn't she recognise it? And if it isn't a scam, what is it about it that stinks, as you so eloquently put it?”

“The whole not giving an address, only meeting in public, at irregular intervals, says Angela's not her real identity. Besides, she said she'd been in London all her life, but I'm not sure there were many Indonesian restaurants in London even twenty years ago, when I was a student here. They certainly weren't common.”

“You are coming along, aren’t you?” said Sherlock, grinning. “You’re really doing very well indeed. I will follow up the restaurant angle, just as a precaution, but I think it's unlikely she's told the truth about that. So, is it a scam, and if so, what kind?”

“There's no money involved, which is the strange bit. Angela wasn't even getting meals out from it, it sounds like. So was she after a passport? Do you get one with a civil partnership?”

“You might be able to get a visa, but even that’s not automatic. And in that case why break it off before the marriage?”

“Cold feet about it? Or she's an illegal immigrant and she got caught?”

“She'd have been allowed to send some messages at least if she was picked up by the police or the Border Agency,” Sherlock said. “And wandering round Tate Britain hardly speaks of someone in thrall to criminal gangs. What else can we deduce from the course of the relationship?”

“It's not an organised scheme,” I said with sudden conviction. “We've met them once or twice before, haven't we? And I remember you saying they select the right target and then they move it along, get their victim softened up to do whatever they want them to do. But picking up lesbians from a women' book forum, I don't see you're going to make a lot of money from that. And it wasn't Angela taking the initiative with the relationship, it was Martha Caithness. In fact, I'd have thought the 'nothing but kissing' would have put most people off, let alone the Muslim angle.”

“So what are we left with?” Sherlock asked.

“Something I don't have a good answer for,” I said. (There’s no use trying to conceal your ignorance when you’re around Sherlock). ”Which reminds me. How the hell did you know that Martha Caithness was gay? I know you haven't been talking to Harry. Was it just a lucky guess or can you now tell a lesbian by her thumbs, as well as her underwear drawer?”

“John, is it worth my while explaining the perfectly obvious to you, because your brain is 90% cotton wool?” Sherlock asked. He had his eyes shut by now, as if my look of confusion was just too much to bear. Or as if he’d got very little sleep the previous night. (Which is true, but irrelevant to this case).

“Yes,” I replied, as I picked up the coffee mugs, “because you get off on gloating at your superiority to me, and you want me to know it wasn't just a guess.”

“She comes here, so she's been given our address by someone,” Sherlock rattled out, “she hasn't got it from the police, she might have friends among the library staff at Barts, but they wouldn't know it. She's not a contact of Mrs Hudson, or she would have greeted her as she came in, and she's very unlikely to be one of Mycroft's. She is at the same college as your sister, who is therefore the most likely source of that information.”

“KCL's a big place,” I pointed out.

“Yes, and she can't know your sister that well, or she'd have mentioned her name. But not just a casual acquaintance, because you wouldn't start talking to someone like that about a missing fiancée. So, how do she and Harry know one another? Not in the same department, not even on the same site.”

“Harry might have asked her for help with library stuff?”

“Wrong subject, and while your sister has many weaknesses, she doesn't need anybody else's help searching databases, does she? Besides, I suspect Harry's thirst for strange knowledge would lie more in the field of medical sciences or abnormal psychology, and those libraries are on different campuses.”

That sounded plausible. Harry is a social historian, in theory, but the things that interest her are sometimes beyond belief. She's the only person I know who can come up with more warped conversations than Sherlock. And when they get together, it's more awful than you can imagine. They once spent nearly an hour arguing about whether you should describe penguins as 'gay'. Harry threw a dictionary at Sherlock at one point. Which of course, hit me instead, because her coordination is lousy.

“So, how else might they have met?” Sherlock went on. (He regards these extended conversations as training me in logical thought. I regard them as rubbing it in).

“Ms Caithness could have come to one of Harry's talks?” I suggested. “She quite often gives public lectures at King's and I believe some of them are fairly popular.”

No, I knew they were popular. For a woman who can barely stand the sight of blood, Harry has the most amazing way of producing gory historical anecdotes that linger in your mind for days afterwards, even when you wish they wouldn't. (Her stories about hangings have got even worse since she's been with Molly, though it's still definitely worth it for her staying sober).

“If someone heard Harry lecturing,” Sherlock asked, “would they conclude she was the right person to confide in about their love life?”

“Only if it involved transvestites, petty larceny, or murder. No, once you've heard her lecturing, you might realise she's sympathetic and unshockable, but you'd also know she ultimately regards everyone as just source material.”

“So what's the other likely explanation for their meeting? Harry isn't one for socialising, but she is heavily involved in the LGBT support network at King's, isn't she?”

“Oh, I see, and someone, Ms Caithness, might well come along to that and ask for advice, and get your address via that.”

“Exactly,” said Sherlock. ”Besides, a woman in her forties getting engaged? That's unusual, speaks of making a very particular statement about a new commitment, perhaps a new type of commitment.”

“Hence the deduction that she had only recently come out?” He’s good, he’s just so good, that he sometimes still staggers me.

“A guess, but worth asking to confirm.”

“I see. So the next thing is going to inspect the house?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock, “I need your help for that. You can make Thursday morning, can’t you?”

“I can rearrange things. But why are we going to the house? You don't actually need to see her computer to look at the e-mails, you could just have her forward them to us, couldn't you?”

“Surely you've realised by now that the house is the key to the whole business? Think about it, John,” Sherlock replied. I said nothing. “No, rather harder than that,” he added.

“Can't you give me a clue?”

“You have all the clues you need already. Besides,” Sherlock said, “it's just possible that I might be wrong, and I don't want to prejudice your observations.”


I spend a surprising amount of my time nowadays pretending to be a journalist of some kind, with Sherlock often accompanying me as a photographer. (I rashly asked him once why it was that way round, and got told: ‘Because you’re good at standing around smiling and asking banal questions, and I look like a man with visual flair.’) ‘Viewfield’ didn’t have a view of fields anymore, but it was still impressive, a big chunk of a Victorian house, or possibly Edwardian. No interiors magazine would go for it, but you could have fitted 221b into it several times over. Inside it was cluttered, full of huge old mahogany furniture, and with the look of somewhere where nothing had been thrown away since the 1930s. I wondered if that was the key to it, why Sherlock had come. It was the kind of place where you could imagine finding a long lost something or other that would get the Antiques Roadshow swooning: an Art Deco coal scuttle or a Victorian watercolour worth half a million. But it couldn’t be that surely, when Angela had never been here?

Martha Caithness took us up to her study, which I immediately coveted, and left us to have a look at her PC. Sherlock spent about five minutes flicking through her e-mail correspondence with Angela, and then looked at me.

“Much as I expected, but there’s one interesting fact. The IP address from which Angela’s e-mails were sent is the same as her own one.”

“So that means that the e-mails were sent from this computer, or at least this house,” I said.

Sherlock gave me a look that clearly suggested I shouldn’t be allowed to use a mouse without close supervision.

“Or,” I added, “that someone knows enough to be able to fake the IP address, which rules some of us out as culprits.”

Sherlock sighed, switched off the computer, and went to ask Martha Caithness for a tour of the house. In every room he took a few quick snaps with his camera. I had no idea what he was after, but he clearly had some plan, so I tagged along and made polite conversation to Ms Caithness.

“And then up on the second floor,” she said, once she’d shown us around upstairs, “are the rooms where my lodgers live. It’s the old servants’ quarters, but actually, they’re surprisingly spacious, and I’ve put a bathroom up there, and a little kitchen. One or two students moan a bit about all the stairs, but I always tell them it keeps them fit.”

“Can we have a look up there?” asked Sherlock.

“Well, not their bedrooms, obviously, but the other rooms, yes. I hope it’s not too messy. Colin’s very good, but Rosie is rather careless about things.”

There wasn’t much to see: the kitchen was small, but well-equipped, and the bathroom seemed to be mostly full of bright bottles to make you and your hair more gorgeous in various ways. Sherlock took a few more snaps and then said: “It would help greatly if we could look in the students’ bedrooms just for a moment. One minute in each.”

“I really don’t like to intrude on their privacy. Besides, they have locks on the doors.”

“But you have spare keys?”

“Yes, downstairs, but-“

“One minute, thirty seconds, you can watch me the whole time. But I want some photos, and I particularly want to work out what you can see from the windows. And what someone outside might be able to see looking in.”

“I suppose if it’s really necessary,” she said. “If you hold on, I’ll go and get the keys. “ She set off down the stairs. I looked at Sherlock.

“We’ve got two minutes, maybe three,” I said, “what do you need to do, and can I help?”

“I need to wait for Ms Caithness to return with the keys. And if you really want to help, you could rearrange the jars in the spice rack in alphabetical order, their current arrangement is irritating me.”

Part 4


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 31st, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
very pleased to hear good news of Harry and Molly in the background of this. amongst other things here I loved the gay penguin argument, the spice rack, Sherlock's crushing look at John about the computer...
Jan. 2nd, 2011 08:50 am (UTC)
In this 'verse, I imagine Harry and Sherlock as prone to starting arguments when they get together for the sheer pleasure of talking very fast on obscure intellectual topics. And given the broad two cultures divide between them, anything on objective versus subjective views of behaviour is bound to lead to fireworks.

Glad you enjoyed the happy Harry/Molly. I'm trying to write something with major Harry/Molly angst at the moment, but it's turning into something so long and complex it may never get to the planned happy ending.
Dec. 31st, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
Is Sherlock assuming the backlog who would have got married before 2004 had they had the option has now been cleared?
Jan. 2nd, 2011 08:56 am (UTC)
This is 2010 - the civil partnership backlog would surely be over by about 2006 at the latest, unless you're presuming gay people are particularly inefficient. And I feel confident that Sherlock by now has statistics on the average progress rates of lesbian relationships, if only from questioning Harry (who would also attempt to provide historical data for the last 300 years).
Jan. 2nd, 2011 10:33 am (UTC)
I had friends who got round to it in late 2008...
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )