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A case of identities (4/5)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 12 (implicit slash)

Spoilers: ACD's A case of identity

Summary: On the trail of the missing Angela Hosma, Sherlock and John are now visiting the non-crime scene: Martha Caithness' house in Hadley Wood.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


“This is Colin’s room,” Ms Caithness said, as she opened the left-hand door. Sherlock went in and started whirling around, taking more photos and peering out of the window. I looked round blankly, hoping to spot something large and clue-like.  It was rather neater than your average student bedroom, but otherwise typical, a lot of theatre posters on one wall, a big bookcase on another, filled to the ceiling with books.

“He is naughty about putting posters on the wall,” said Ms Caithness. “I have told him, but he does keep on doing it. If he ever moves out, the room’s going to need a bit of repainting. But he’s a lovely boy otherwise, very helpful.”

“Right,” I said. I knew I ought to be asking penetrating questions, but if I ever have any success with witnesses (which isn’t often), it’s by letting them talk and talk and talk till they say something revealing, and hoping that either I can remember everything they say, or that Sherlock hasn’t lost interest and wandered off before then.  “Has Colin been living here a long time?”

“I suppose it’s eight years at least,” she said. “He’s a biochemist, he came here in his first year, and he’s been here ever since. I’ve seen Colin through his first degree, and his PhD, and now he’s a postdoc. Doesn’t time fly?”

“Has he been involved in musical theatre all that time?” asked Sherlock, “I notice from the posters that he’s in the King’s Gilbert and Sullivan society, and their musical theatre society.“

“Yes, he’s done all sorts of things, leading roles a lot of the time, though he doesn’t have so much opportunity for that now, he’s so busy. I’ve been along to some of his shows, he always encourages me to buy tickets. I’ve seen Kiss me Kate, and West Side Story, and The Gondoliers, he was very good in that. I can’t remember them all.”

“Is he a Londoner?” Sherlock asked.

“Well, I suppose he almost is by now, but he’s from Manchester originally. Rosie now, is from Surrey, she’s a suburbanite like myself. Do you want to see her room as well? Only it’s probably fairly messy.”

“That would be a help,” I said.

Rosie’s room was smaller, and had about twice as much stuff in, though rather fewer books.  Her posters, nicely hung with picture hooks, were of pre-Raphaelite girls (which went with the shampoo theme) and dark young men with intense stares and messy hair. I felt I ought to know who they were, but I was quite glad I didn’t. Sherlock picked his way to the window, through drifts of file paper and fluffy sweaters, and took a few more shots.

“What’s Rosie studying?” I asked. “And how long has she been here?”

“She’s doing a degree in, it’s not theology, but something about religion. Oh, I remember: Religion in the Contemporary World. She’s in her second year. I asked her about Islam once, but she only seemed to have done stuff about the seventh century. She’s...I don’t think she’s a very good student.”

“I think we’ve got everything we need now on this floor,” Sherlock said, “Thank you very much, Ms Caithness. Oh, but there is one thing more.”

“What’s that?”

“You said your students live up here, but there’s an identical lock on the door of one of the bedrooms on the first floor you showed us. Do you normally have three lodgers living here, rather than two?”

There was a wariness about Martha Caithness now that made me instantly alert. “I...I have quite often in the past, but I don’t have anyone living there at the moment.”

“Can you tell us about the last person who was living there?” said Sherlock softly.

“Her name was, is, Javina Richardson,” she replied slowly.

“And she’s moved out mid-term? Or is she not a student?”

“I, I had to ask her to leave. She, I don’t have many rules for my lodgers, but I do ask them to be considerate after 11 pm, and she would have music on late at night.”

“Where is she studying, and what?”

“She’s not actually a student anymore.” I could tell we were getting to the heart of the matter now. Sherlock said nothing, just waited. I did too. With enough silence, some witnesses will tell you anything.

“She’s an ex-student,” said Ms Caithness at last, very quietly. “She, she’s American. She was over here twelve years ago, did a master’s in international relations. And then she came back, she’s working for Amnesty International over here, quite an important role.”

“And she is, was, your partner.”

“We had split up before she came to stay here, but like I said, it was amicable. She was having a terrible time with her landlord in Bromley, I said she could come here for a little while. Though maybe he had a point after all. She...it was just difficult, she didn’t really fit in, didn’t always behave...appropriately. I had to ask her to leave, find somewhere else.”

“How long was she here for?” Sherlock asked.

“She moved in in February, I think, of this year. No, March maybe. And she left in July, early July, a few weeks after term ended.”

“And you first had contact with Angela when?”

“Early in March.”

“Before or after Javina moved in?”

“Just after. Mr Holmes, I’m sure Javina has nothing at all to do with this, but I...I really find it quite distressing to talk about her.” She looked really uncomfortable now, and I hoped Sherlock wasn’t going to ask anything too embarrassing. To my relief, he smiled gently, and said:

“I think we’ve got all the information I need now.”

“You can solve this case?” she said eagerly, “You can find Angela?”

“I hope that I will be able to get some definite information. But I’m afraid,” he said, “that I don’t think you’re likely to see her again. I think you should forget all about Angela Hosma, since she’s vanished from your life.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to forget my angel easily,” said Martha Caithness, sighing.


I’d been thinking a bit about what Sherlock had said about views from upstairs windows, so when we got outside, I said:

“Should we be checking whether there any bus routes nearby?”

“You’ll find the tube entirely adequate,” said Sherlock.

“No,” I said, “you mentioned looking in windows. I remember reading this detective story once. A girl was travelling on a double-decker bus, looked into the window of some posh house, and then made up a story about how she’d been imprisoned by the woman living there. Nearly got away with it.”

“And how is that remotely relevant to the case of Angela Hosma?” Sherlock asked. There was an embarrassing silence. (Well, embarrassing for me).

“I, but you said the view was important,” I protested eventually.

“It’s always useful to tell people what you’re looking for, then they don’t pay so much attention to what you’re looking at,” said Sherlock. “Well, I don’t think I need you here anymore.”

“What should I do?” I asked, expecting Amnesty International , libraries, King’s College, or, if I was really lucky, Indonesian restaurants.

“Go home. As I said, I don’t currently need you,” said Sherlock and walked off.

I sighed, and dug out the A-Z I always carry nowadays (you never know how it might come in handy), and tried to work out how to get back to Baker Street by public transport.


 A couple of hours later at 221B, when I had just made a cup of tea, Sherlock arrived back and promptly annexed it. Since he then ate all the biscuits in the biscuit jar, I concluded that the intellectual part of the case was over, and that he was probably gearing himself up to rush around. I made myself another cup of tea, retrieved a custard cream from my secret stash (I’m not revealing the location, since Sherlock may read this), and sat down and waited for him to stop giving himself a sugar high, and tell me something.

“I have all the data I require now,” Sherlock eventually said. “Ms Caithness’ case itself is straightforward: there are parallels in my files from Andover, The Hague and Gaborone, but there were a few details I needed in order to settle the matter.”

“How have you worked it out so quickly?” I asked.

“John, you know-“

"Your methods. yes, this bit of it I do. It amazes me that anyone under 30 ever gets away with any crime nowadays. Facebook, I suppose?"

"Two out of three of them. From which I've learnt the key pieces of information that Colin Gordon's current starring role is as Cyril in 'Princess Ida', and that Rosie Scott is a huge fan of Stephanie Meyer. Here are some pictures.” He handed me his phone. My phone. Our phone, I suppose now.

Gordon was a thin-faced, rather wimpy looking blond. Rosie had long brown hair, and was trying to look droopy and romantic, rather hampered by the fact that her natural look, at parties at least, was clearly round and jolly.

“Javina Richardson, in contrast, isn't on Facebook, but is on LinkedIn. I can't find any photos of her on the net, but given that fact that her first degree was from North Carolina Central University, and Ms Caithness' embarrassment about discussing her, I can probably manage without one. In fact, I think we can say the situation's pretty well cleared up by now. Don't you agree?”

I didn't bother saying that if he let me google ‘Princess Ida’ and North Carolina Central University it would help, because I knew it wouldn't.

“What's the next step then?” I asked instead.

“We go and confront the guilty party.”

Part 4


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
oh good! I feel I'm probably being led up the garden path by focusing my attention on Princess Ida, but as I can never work out solutions except by accident that's just fine.
Jan. 2nd, 2011 09:02 am (UTC)
"Princess Ida" is really a clue, but so are several other things that haven't been mentioned in the story, because ACD didn't play by classic Agatha Christie rules, where the reader gets all the facts, and nor am I doing so. I suspect I've made the solution too simple, but it's quite hard to judge what level to pitch it at, especially given the big hints available to anyone who knows the original story.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )