email us
site front page
site search

Bullpup Press
A Creative-Writing House


Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog


Event Horizon: Chapter 14

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



No one was ever able to adequately explain to the public's satisfaction how the broadcast was possible. Fortunately for those charged with explaining such things, an answer was not required: Had it not been for that same public's notoriously short attention span and the shocking news that broke just an hour later that same morning, the strange two-second video loop which suddenly appeared on every closed-circuit monitor and public television screen in the city might have generated very much more excitement than it did, breeding conspiracy theories, providing welcome material with which to fill cable news programmes, and launching breathless water cooler gossip in offices city-wide.

In the circumstances, however, with the press still in full cry about the disgraceful treatment of the beloved Countess Iffy and by a foreigner at that, the broadcast and its implications went effectively unnoticed and almost entirely unremarked upon, meriting little more than a single column inch in the technology pages of three smaller newspapers.

ooooo

The morning news programme on the living room television provided John with some vague background noise as he packed his lunch for work, but by no means was he actually listening to it because his thoughts were entirely taken up with Mary, still asleep in the second bedroom. By mutual agreement they'd been sleeping apart since his return. It was she who tentatively suggested it; the physical effects of the pregnancy had driven all thoughts of intimacy from her mind, she said, although in every other way she was as affectionate as ever and seemed pleased to have him back. John acted his part-successfully, he believed; the disappointment he expressed over the sleeping arrangements was false, but the reason he gave for agreeing with her suggestion-the desire to take things slowly-was real enough. A truth. And then her proposal had the advantage of relieving his mind about the baby.

He didn't try to snoop through her room. If he'd not seen first-hand that it was possible for a human being to know when someone had opened his sock drawer he might have tried it, but while he didn't suspect her of Holmes-level abilities he wasn't taking any chances, either, so he assiduously avoided trespassing. Still, he no longer trusted her, and a woman attempting to fake a pregnancy five months along would act exactly the way she was acting.

When she accompanied four nurses from work to a New Year's Eve celebration, therefore, he sat down with her laptop. He'd never pawed through anyone else's computer in his life and he was not proud of doing it now, but he had to know. Her web history went back just a week and told him nothing, but in the trash folder of her email he found an order confirmation from a website called . Using his own computer to research the merchant he discovered that it was a company selling what it called 'realistic baby bumps' made of silicone or foam, according to the needs and budget of the buyer.

While the discovery would have grieved him to the heart if he'd made it three months earlier, now it merely brought intense shame and confusion, because his first reaction was neither surprise nor distress but relief. For three months no thought of his child had been unaccompanied by the torment of trying to imagine co-parenting with a murderer. Complicated, awkward, confusing, difficult…No, the word that kept coming to John's mind to describe that scenario was tragic.

Now his child, like the woman he married, belonged not to the past but to a reality dependent upon his ignorance and Mary's skill in maintaining it. He remembered wondering whether she'd ever been pregnant at all; he wondered it again that holiday eve; and he'd been wondering it ever since, including now, as he spread mustard on a slice of wheat bread and the television intruded itself into his notice again. The audio kept repeating itself as though it was on a loop-Did you miss me?-in a ridiculous high-pitched voice, and he realized that it had been doing so these last few minutes. Scowling, he strode into the sitting room to shut it off-and then froze, incredulous.

"Mary!" he shouted. "Mary!"

A moment later she hurried out, clutching her robe about her and looking cross. "What are you-" and then she stopped and stared as well.

On the screen-on every channel John selected-was a marionette image of James Moriarty with an idiot grin superimposed, chattering over and over, 'Did you miss me?'

Without taking his eyes from the screen John groped for his phone and dialed.

"John?" Sherlock's sleep-fogged voice.

"Turn on the telly," John said.

ooooo

Sherlock stared at the screen. Did you miss me? Did you miss me? Moriarty was dead by his own hand, his brains atomized on the Barts rooftop. Mycroft's people collected the corpse and confirmed his identity via DNA beyond the least doubt, although Sherlock could have saved them the trouble: Not all the blood he'd washed off himself that day had been applied cold by his homeless squadron. So if not Moriarty, then-

His phone rang again and he answered distractedly, mechanically, only remembering at the last second to mute the TV.

"I got news," Lestrade said breathlessly.

"Already heard," Sherlock said.

"How?" Lestrade asked, baffled. "I just found out myself."

"John called."

"How the hell did John find out?"

"He owns a television," Sherlock snapped.

"But we haven't released the information to the media," Lestrade said. "The coroner's not even on site yet."

That got Sherlock's attention. "What are you talking about?"

"Charles Magnussen," Lestrade said. "He's dead."

ooooo

"Thanks, Jimmy," Lestrade said to the uniformed cop who showed Sherlock and John up to the office.

Flanked by John, Sherlock strode in, glanced at the door jamb, the open door itself, and the hardware (no signs of forcing), then swept his gaze over the room: A bare, sparsely-furnished office, entirely utilitarian, without a single personal effect to distinguish it or hint at the personality of its owner. Grey and sterile-although to Sherlock that was a fitting enough symbol of its owner's degenerate soul.

To the right of the doorway near the floor-to-ceiling windows that spanned the room was a frosted glass and steel desk facing away from the expansive view. Before the desk stood two chrome and leather visitors' chairs.

Magnussen was face-down on the floor behind the desk as though he'd started to get up but didn't make it. His feet were crossed at the ankles and his left arm was bent awkwardly under his body, while his right was stretched down along his side, palm up, and a pen that he'd apparently been clutching lay where it fell, a few inches away. Nothing about the scene suggested a struggle or a protracted death. In fact, the first impression of both John and Sherlock was that Magnussen was stricken suddenly and collapsed dead almost at once.

"Thanks for coming," Lestrade said to them. "Any problems getting in?"

John shrugged. "No. Why?"

"The press. Just thought by now they'd be pretty thick on the ground. Mob scene, and all that."

"There were a few downstairs," John said.

"Not very many?"

"Handful. They were asking everyone who goes in and out of the building who died."

"Christ," Lestrade groaned. "When they figure it out all hell's gonna break loose. You guys been watching the news, with that blackmail stuff? Lady Ruffner, and all that?"

"Hard to miss," John said, speaking somewhat at random: Something about the nature of the scene bothered him. Other than the body on the floor there was nothing unusual about the office: No signs of violence and therefore no reason for Sherlock and him to be there. "You're thinking he was murdered?" he asked, a little sceptically.

"Not sure," Lestrade said. "I hope to God he wasn't, though. Must be the most hated man in the hemisphere, now that everyone knows about him and the countess. The suspect list wouldn't have an end to it, would it? Still. Coroner's running late and we need to wait on his preliminary eval, but no, it doesn't look like murder."

"Then why-?" John asked.

"Fishing," Sherlock said.

"Sorry?"

"He suspects me. Possibly you. Fishing."

John gaped at him, then glared at Lestrade, across whose face a guilty expression fleeted.

"No, I-" Lestrade began.

"Oh, that's just-I don't believe this," John cried angrily.

"It makes perfect sense, John," Sherlock said serenely. "Except for…what's that called? Oh, yes: The 'I didn't do it' part."

"Can you prove that?"

"He doesn't have to," John cried. "You have to prove that he did, and you can't."

"John," Sherlock said.

"Dammit, if you think he's guilty then arrest him. In fact, yeah, I'll tell you what. If you think he's guilty then arrest me, too, because I've got as much motive as he does."

"John," Sherlock warned again.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lestrade asked, suspicious now.

Sherlock sighed as though it couldn't be more obvious. "He means that if you think Magnussen shot me, and if you think that's a motive for me to kill him, then he's got just as much motive for revenge as I do."

"Yeah?" Lestrade said. "That what you meant?"

John glared at him. "Yeah. It's what I meant."

"I have to eliminate him as a suspect, John," Lestrade said, unhappy to be the target of his outrage.

"Eliminate him," John repeated. "Jesus, Greg. After everything he's done for you-"

"Irrelevant," Sherlock said, and looked at Lestrade. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah," Lestrade agreed, still very unhappy. "Look, guys: You haven't exactly been forthcoming about who pulled the trigger that night."

"He nearly died!" John shouted. "You know damned well trauma victims don't have perfect recall. If he says he can't remember, he can't remember. Why is that so hard to believe?"

"It's not," Lestrade admitted. "All I'm saying is he never ID'd who shot him, and it happened in these offices. There aren't that many people who have access to the place at that time of night. Magnussen's a pretty good candidate for the shooter."

"Yeah, except for the part where you have zero motive for him wanting Sherlock dead."

"But a pretty good one for Sherlock wanting Magnussen dead, if Magnussen's who shot him."

"Dammit, Greg, if he did this we wouldn't be standing over a body talking about it. Magnussen would be gone like he never existed."

Sherlock smiled. "Remind me not to call you as a character witness, John."

"You know what I mean."

Lestrade wasn't proud of himself, but he couldn't let his friendship for these two stop him doing his job, either. Sherlock was the most dangerous and capable man he'd ever known and John wasn't too far behind. If Sherlock wanted someone dead that person would be dead, and if anyone could commit the perfect crime and get away with it, it was Sherlock Holmes. And yet, John had a point. "Yeah, look, I'm sorry," he said, hands up, palms out in surrender.

John snorted derisively and crossed his arms. For his part Sherlock appeared wholly unmoved. If he was concerned about Lestrade's opinion he did a good job hiding it.

Lestrade waved at the body and stepped aside. "It's all yours," he said. "If this is a crime scene you're more likely than anyone to see it."

"True," Sherlock said, then pulled on a pair of exam gloves while John continued to bristle, not mollified in the least.

Trying to get back into their good graces Lestrade said to John, with forced lightness, "Guy's reputation for ice was worse than Sherlock's, and I believe it. Anyone else would have arranged the furniture to take advantage of that view, but there he sat with his back to the window."

Sherlock scowled: The purpose of the furniture arrangement was obvious to him, but he wasn't in the mood to explain the obvious.

John, however, was most definitely in the mood. "It was to get an advantage over whoever he was meeting with," he said impatiently. "Sitting so the light hit the face of whoever's in those chairs, while his own face was in shadow. Obviously."

Sherlock didn't look up from his examination of the body but he couldn't help smiling in appreciation, either. Lestrade looked away, abashed, and John stonily watched as Sherlock went over the scene.

His expression of intense, focused interest was the same one he wore at every crime scene, but John was morally certain that Sherlock was not only profoundly satisfied that the man was dead but that he believed the death was an unnatural one. John himself thought that considering the timing the whole thing was just a little coincidental.

Closer examination of the body confirmed Sherlock's first impression of a non-violent death, which was not to say that he could rule out murder. Any number of poisons could produce this outcome, but that determination would have to wait on toxicology, assuming it was something tested for in a routine tox screen. On his hands and knees he carefully sniffed the pen but didn't touch it, examined it with the glass, then sniffed the corpse's mouth and nose. Nothing. After completing the rest of his examination, during which he paid particular attention to Magnussen's hands and feet, he stood and turned to the desk itself, opening each of the three drawers in turn.

The drawers contained little other than a few standard office supplies like paperclips and three more pens of the same expensive sort as that next to the body. A hundred and eighty pounds for the cheapest of them. Four fountain pen refill cartridges in the drawer tray. On the otherwise bare desk itself stood a plain white ceramic coffee mug full of room temperature black coffee and two stacks of papers that Magnussen was clearly in the act of working on when he died. Some were signed, while others awaited a signature they would never receive. The signature on the topmost document started off normally but then wavered, proof that Magnussen was stricken while signing.

John took his turn examining the body as well as he could without moving it, which he wouldn't do in the absence of permission from the coroner, but there were no obvious signs of blood or physical injury. "Could be anything at this point," he admitted, standing and peeling off his gloves. "Heart attack, stroke…Nothing jumps out, though. Time of death…I'd say no more than three hours ago. Some time between now and six a.m."

"Tending toward natural causes, myself," Lestrade admitted. "Guy must have been under a lot of stress with all the blackmail accusations, lawsuits, press attention. News last night said the board of directors met yesterday afternoon about trying to force him out to salvage what was left of the stock price. Besides, if it was suicide he wouldn't have sat himself at his desk like that, would he? And then got up like he was about to walk away?"

Sherlock ignored the theorizing. "Have you reviewed the office security footage for that time period?"

"Not yet," Lestrade said, "but-"

"Do it. It's digital, not analog, so get your computer people on it: Have it examined forensically for tampering and do it quickly. I want to know who came and went, and when."

"Yeah, I said 'not yet,'" Lestrade replied irritably, "not that we weren't going to get to it."

"I want to know the results as soon as you have them," Sherlock said as though he hadn't spoken. "Who found him?"

"His PA," Lestrade said, and glanced at his notes.

"Janine Hawkins," Sherlock said, before Lestrade could access the name.

"The girl who was maid of honor at your wedding, yeah?" Lestrade said to John.

"What did she say?" Sherlock asked.

Lestrade read from the notes. "Uh, came in this morning at the usual time…made coffee…brought some up, and found him like that. Says she ran back down to the reception area and called emergency services straight away. Surveillance video of the car park confirms that she left last night and returned this morning just when she said she did."

"I want to talk to her. Is she still here?"

"Yeah, she's in the conference room down the hall," Lestrade said. "McAffree," he said to one of the uniformed cops. "Take Mr. Holmes to see Miss Hawkins. And Sherlock," he added, "go easy on her, yeah? Not everyone gets off on finding a body first thing in the morning."

"I'll keep it in mind," Sherlock said dryly.

Janine greeted him with a bright smile. "Look at you, all recovered," she said.

"All recovered," he lied.

She turned the beaming smile on John. "You've been keeping after him, haven't you, Dr. Watson? Making sure he takes his nice narcotics on schedule?"

"Sure," he said. "What about you? You okay?"

"Never better."

"You were going to retire. Keep bees," Sherlock said.

"All in good time," she said. "Though the timetable for that might have moved up a bit today."

"Not too broken up about your boss's death, then?" John said.

"Would you be?" she countered. "Is anyone?"

"Tell me what happened," Sherlock said.

She shrugged. "Walked in just like any other day," she said. "Brought the coffee up and found him face down on the floor."

"That's it?"

"What else?"

"You were in charge of office security, of access," he said.

"Which you took complete advantage of," she said with a look of mock reproach, "but I wasn't his bouncer twenty-four hours a day. What he did and who he allowed in while I wasn't here…Well, that's his problem now, isn't it? Anyway, that good-looking policeman said something about a heart attack. But you suspect 'foul play,' don't you?" she asked with a smile. "I mean, you know what they say."

"Who?"

"People."

"No."

"When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

ooooo

As they exited the lobby and stopped to hail a cab John couldn't repress a grin. As far as he could tell this eliminated all the danger from Mary's vengeance-seeking enemies. It would be different if the body had shown signs of torture, the suggestion that someone extracted information from Magnussen before he died, but he'd clearly been struck down very suddenly.

"Well?" he said as they waited on the pavement. "You think he was murdered, don't you."

"Of course he was murdered."

"How do you know?"

"Because I don't believe in coincidence. Have you seen the stock price of CMNews lately? It's down eighty-seven percent from its price the day before Lady Ruffner's announcement. Just two weeks, and billions of pounds of shareholder value have been wiped out of existence. If this little crisis went on much longer who knows how low the price might have gone."

"So you think someone was cutting his losses?"

"Yes. Magnussen went from being the company's greatest asset to its greatest liability in just under two weeks. Those documents on the desk? They were no-confidence statements from the board of directors, each written and signed by the individual board members."

"So…he was resigning?"

"Not at all," Sherlock said. "His signature merely indicated his receipt of them. You were right about him. He was going to hang on to his power until the very end. Until it killed him, in fact. Even if it meant destroying the company completely, he wasn't going without a fight."

"Then anyone with a share of stock had a motive," John said, somewhat dismayed.

"Theoretically, yes," Sherlock said, "but the killer also needed opportunity. That narrows the field considerably. Primarily to the board members who met with him yesterday and people with access to the office."

"Okay…So you're down to…how many board members?"

"Eight."

"Eight prime suspects."

"Lord Cranston is the majority shareholder," Sherlock noted. "If culpability were directly proportional to financial stake he'd be the prime suspect."

"If. You don't think he is, do you?"

"Did you notice anything strange about that office?" Sherlock asked.

"Besides the dead guy?" John said. "No. It looked completely normal. Nothing out of place-not that there's much in there other than the furniture. Is that the strange part? Like the dog that didn't bark?"

Sherlock smiled. "Not this time. There was a mug of coffee on the desk."

"Yeah? Janine said she took it up to him. So?"

"So a woman walks in to her boss's office expecting to find him alive and well and instead finds him dead on the floor. For most people that would be followed by coffee spillage, at a minimum, if not the wholesale dropping of the mug on the floor. Screaming, running away. The usual. But the coffee was sitting on the desk without a drop astray. As though she'd not even seen the dead man on the floor."

"Maybe she didn't. Maybe she, I don't know, walked in while he was out of the room for a second."

"That's not what she said."

"People lie."

"Such cynicism, John. Well, you might be right."

John frowned. "Hang on," he said. "Magnussen was clearly visible from the doorway."

Sherlock smiled. "He was, wasn't he?"

"So she saw him dead, walked in, and put the coffee on the desk anyway?"

"Without spilling a drop. It argues at a minimum for nerves of steel, wouldn't you say?"

"Well, she probably hated the guy, but it doesn't follow that she killed him."

"No. It doesn't."

"But?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No 'but.' It was just an observation."

"Liar."

"Yes, and speaking of lying." He looked significantly at John.

"What?"

"For such a rubbish actor you were very convincing with the honest outrage."

"I wasn't acting, dammit," John said, annoyed.

"Well, it was either that or a very short memory."

John sighed. "I haven't forgotten anything, Sherlock, but there's a big difference between…between what happened and elaborately calculating and planning a murder."

"And you don't think I'm capable of that?"

"Oh, I know you're capable of elaborate calculation and planning. I also know that if you did plan to murder someone you'd do exactly what I told Lestrade, and make sure that no one ever found the body. That's not a damned compliment," he added irritably, when Sherlock looked pleased.

A cab swung to the kerb and they climbed inside. "Baker Street, please," John said, and then to Sherlock, "I've got a question."

"Yes?"

"If Lestrade was fishing like you said then that means Magnussen kept up his end of his deal with Mycroft, right? Never told anyone about-about that night."

"It would seem so," Sherlock said. "No doubt Mycroft bought his silence."

"That must have cost him a fortune in favours."

"A coward dies a thousand deaths," Sherlock replied contemptuously.

ooooo

'No evidence of tampering.' That was the preliminary verdict of Scotland Yard's digital technology experts, but MI5 would be reviewing the footage, as well, Lestrade told Sherlock a few hours later. Sherlock disconnected the call with a smile of satisfaction. The absence of tampering confirmed something very specific: The killer didn't need to be physically present for the murder.

"This is coming together nicely, John," he said with some complacency.

But John didn't answer and Sherlock frowned, glanced about, then abruptly remembered: John took the cab on to work nearly six hours ago. Sherlock sighed, but perked up again almost immediately. According to Lestrade, Magnussen's autopsy was planned for later that afternoon, moved to the top of the schedule due to the high-profile nature of the case and the deceased's involvement with the even higher-profile countess.

ooooo

Molly Hooper hiked her tote back into position over her left shoulder and pushed through the locker room door. She was a bit out of breath, having been delayed by the Tube drivers' slow-down, because while she left home an hour earlier than usual to compensate they very nearly succeeded in making her late anyway. Now she only just had time to change.

"Molly."

She whipped round, but even as her body startled at the sound of her name her brain recognized with the old thrill that sonorous voice. He was standing in shadow to the right of the doorway, tall and solemn.

"Sherlock!" she gasped. "What are you-" She was about to ask, 'What are you doing here?' but the answer was obvious: He was waiting for her. "What-what's going on?"

"I'm going to impose on you again," he said, stepping toward her.

His eyes met hers, his full focus was on her, and she could feel herself blushing. He was always so…so intense. As thrilling as it had been to shelter him overnight after his staged suicide, it was also a relief when he finally left. How John tolerated the intensity day in and day out she couldn't imagine. "Oh, yes?" she said, flustered. "It's no trouble. Well, whatever it is, I'm sure…No imposition. What do you need?"

"Charles Magnussen," he said.

"That newspaper guy? The one who was blackmailing the countess? The news said he died this morning."

"I need tissue samples. Brain, heart, kidney, and liver, ideally."

She hesitated: Sherlock was nearly killed in Magnussen's offices. He claimed to have no memory of who shot him, but what if it was Magnussen? If he wanted to extract his own sort of justice, wouldn't that explain his failure to identify the shooter to the police? Had he been cleared as a suspect?

"I didn't kill him," he said, in that uncannily prescient way of his.

"What?" Alarm. "No, I didn't-"

"It's the obvious assumption," he assured her. "Lestrade made it, as well. As John pointed out to him, however, if I plotted a murder I wouldn't leave a body to examine."

That didn't make her feel any better. "John said that?"

"He has a very touching confidence in my skills."

"Well," Molly said, trying to escape the image of him disposing of a body, "I don't know who's doing the cut. But I can find out," she added quickly.

"I can't ask this of anyone else," Sherlock said. "It has to be you."

God, he always did that, and it always worked. It was going to work now, too. It had to be her because she was the only one in the building with a hopeless case for him. Her expression hardened a bit. "And this is official, then? You're helping the police?"

"I'm not asking for the police. I'm asking for John."

"For John?"

"I can't tell you why," he said. "Not now. Probably not ever. But it could mean his life."

He left the rest of his meaning unspoken: He would get his answers with or without her help and regardless of what it cost him. She searched the impassive face that gave nothing away, and she knew that if John's safety was involved nothing would stop him. Not lab procedure, not her, not the police, not a bullet. For perhaps the thousandth time she wondered what it would be like to be loved as profoundly as Sherlock loved John Watson.

"Of course I'll help," she said.

ooooo

John tossed his clinic coat into the hamper and turned his phone back on, and as he reached into his locker for his bike helmet the text alert sounded. Barts. Bring food. - SH The bit about the food was their new code for 'Keep Mary out of it' and it was with some relief that he turned to her and said, "Sherlock. Needs me to look at something at Barts."

"Did he say what?"

He shook his head and held out the phone, showing her the text. Nothing to hide. "I'd think there was something wrong if he did. He's working on the Magnussen thing, though. Might be about that." A truth: She still needed to believe that Sherlock was working for her.

"Well, off you go, then," she said with a smile.

"You're sure?"

"Of course. I'll see you when you get home."

He hesitated. "I could-"

"John, for Heaven's sake."

"Yeah. Okay. I'll see you in a bit," he said. Gave her a peck on the cheek and then he got the hell out of there.

Barts was too far from the clinic to ride, so he left his bicycle leaning against the wall in the break room and hailed a cab, instead, but with the traffic it was nearly half seven before he reached the hospital. As he paid the driver his phone pinged again. Sherlock. GCMS, the new message said. The gas chromatograph-mass spectrometres were in a different part of the building than Sherlock's usual haunt. How he knew that John had just arrived would have to remain one of those unsolved mysteries that John filed under 'How does Sherlock know anything?'.

When he reached the lab he found the detective pacing with his usual level of nervous tension as the GCMS ran behind him, but John perceived a hint of triumph in his bearing, too.

"John," Sherlock said, looking up with an exultant gleam in his eye that confirmed the assessment. "Is it Christmas? It feels like Christmas."

"Sorry?"

"I know what killed Magnussen. Take a look." He handed over four pages of test results. "Tissue analyses for heart, kidney, and liver. The brain sample's still running."

John studied the structural formula depicted on the page: a familiar-looking molecule. "Is this a steroid?"

Sherlock smiled. "Look at the next page," he said. "Recognize it?"

John turned to the charted abundance over time analysis. "C31-H42-N2-O6," he read. "No. A steroidal alkaloid? What is it?"

"Batrachotoxin," Sherlock said, unable to contain his elation. Blank stupidity from John. "An almost perfect, foolproof murder weapon. Never dreamt I'd be lucky enough to see it in action, though. No coroner would ever think to look for it and they'd never find it with a routine tox screen. There's no known antidote and it kills within seconds. It's one of the deadliest cardio- and neuro-toxins known. It works by permanently opening the sodium channels in the nerves, which-"

"Paralysis. Asphyxia."

"Exactly. And floods the heart muscles with acetylcholine."

"Arrhythmia," John said at once. "V-fib. None of which show up on autopsy."

Sherlock grinned. "As nearly perfect as a murder weapon can get. It's far more toxic than tetrodotoxin, and tetrodotoxin itself is over a thousand times more toxic than cyanide. The skin of the average adult frog contains enough batrachotoxin to kill a hundred people. Two-tenths of a microgram is all it takes to kill a man."

"Wait-'frog'?"

"The golden dart frog. Phyllobates terribilis, native to Colombia. Oh, John, I am so glad you didn't let me shoot him. This is so much better, so much more elegant. I only wish I'd thought of it."

"Sherlock."

"Well, I say better. Personally I'd have gone with something more prolonged and painful-strychnine comes to mind."

"Not funny."

"Oh, don't tell me you aren't pleased as well."

"Yeah, you know, that's another thing. Magnussen's dead. Why are we not celebrating?"

"Common decency?" Sherlock suggested. "No?"

"Yeah, you're missing the gene for that. So what's the problem?"

Sherlock sighed. "Magnussen's power to reveal Mary to her enemies is gone. I'm not so sure about the power of the person who told him about her."

"Someone else is running around with that information?"

"I believe so, yes."

John stared at him in dismay.

"Yes, granted," Sherlock said bitterly. "'Good thing you didn't kill him, Sherlock. It would have been for naught.' On the plus side, if that person wanted to destroy Mary he'd probably have done so before now."

"'Probably.' Any idea who it is?"

Sherlock turned away to pace again, but this time it was out of frustration. "No. There's something I'm not seeing yet. Something tying together Mary, Magnussen, and the murderer. Whether the murderer is the same as Magnussen's informant I can't say, either."

He was getting worked up again, and to forestall that John tried to steer him back to the last thing that he did have an answer for. "Well. Venomous frogs. That's…novel."

"Not venomous," Sherlock said didactically, stopping his pacing. "Toxic. Poisonous. There's a difference."

"How does that work, then?"

"The frogs secrete the toxin through their skin when they're stressed. The indigenous Colombians apply the toxin to darts, let it dry, and then use the darts when they hunt for food. It's an incredibly stable compound; darts dipped in it are lethal for up to a year, but once it comes into contact with the victim's mucous membranes…"

"It takes effect within minutes of contact."

"Seconds. Almost instantaneously."

"Well no one pitched a frog at Magnussen, did they? Where'd it come from, anyway? Smuggled in from Colombia? Or the toxin alone was brought in? And how did Magnussen come into contact with it?"

Sherlock couldn't wait to explain. "You remember that he'd been signing documents when he died, yes?" he said eagerly.

"Yes."

"And that on the floor beside the body was a pen."

John didn't remember that specifically, but obviously Sherlock did. "Okay."

"The pen was a Cross special commemorative edition Year of the Goat eighteen-karat gold rollerball pen with black ink. Three hundred and twenty pounds retail. Now: Did you notice how the documents were signed?"

John considered. "Black ink?"

"Black fountain pen ink." He waited expectantly.

John said slowly, as he worked it out, "So he was signing the documents with a fountain pen…Gets up, dies almost instantly, and after he died…what, someone switched the fountain pen for a rollerball?"

"Exactly."

"Why would someone do that? More to the point, who did that?"

"Well, the 'why' is obvious."

Not to John. After a moment he tentatively offered, "Because…the murderer didn't want the police to find the fountain pen. Why, because it had his fingerprints on it?"

"Possible, but it's unlikely anyone's prints would be on the pen other than Magnussen's."

"What, then?"

"What if the pen carried the poison?"

John thought about that for a moment. "No. You just said it requires contact with the mucous membranes. No toxin like that would kill on contact with his fingertips. Not that quickly."

"Yes, but think, John," Sherlock said. "Two weeks ago, when the countess broke the story. You and I watched the coverage. The news showed a montage of video clips of Magnussen. Addressing the board, at a press conference, at the opening of a new building. Remember?"

"Not specifically, but go on."

"One of the clips showed him signing a deal to acquire another company. It was only two or three seconds of video, but he chewed on his pen. The pens in his drawer and the one on the floor? They showed clear evidence of the same fairly disgusting habit."

"Someone who knew that he did that wiped a frog on his pen?"

"Inelegantly put but essentially correct. Lestrade, as usual, was wrong."

"About what?"

"Life is short and the list is long, but in this case I meant about the size of the suspect pool. It's limited to the number of people who knew of that habit, had a motive to kill him, had access to batrachotoxin, and had access to the pen."

"Mary? She got into the office once before."

"No, no, no," Sherlock said impatiently. "Not her style at all, and the last time she was in his office she threatened him for the information he had on her. Traditionally extracting information involves a gun, not a reptile."

"Frogs are amphibians."

"Anyway, the question is less who was able to place the pen and more who could have removed it."

"Janine found the body," John said. "She said she went straight downstairs to call the police, but she could have lied, I suppose."

"She could have," Sherlock agreed, "but think of what else went on. She didn't just go downstairs and call the police and then sit there doing her nails. Well, actually, she probably did. But Magnussen had a security detail in place. Janine would naturally have said something to them, they would have gone upstairs to check on their boss, and at least one of them's got a criminal record and the prison tats to prove it."

"So you suspect the security detail."

"Too soon to say for certain, but batrachotoxin's a sophisticated murder weapon and if one of them was involved it suggests that someone far more sophisticated was directing him."

"I'm going to call Lestrade. Let him know that the-"

"No, don't," Sherlock said sharply.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not working for Scotland Yard."

"But you asked him for the security footage."

"I said I'm not working for them. Just this once they can work for me."

John sighed. "Okay. How'd the killer get his hands on a poison that exotic, then?"

"The frogs produce the poison," Sherlock said, "but they're not the only source of it. In fact, they don't produce it at all unless they're fed their native diet of choresine beetles. Frogs caught in the wild and kept in captivity gradually lose their toxicity over time, and frogs born in captivity never acquire it. The beetles are the ultimate source of the toxin. What we're looking for is someone, probably at a research laboratory or university, who uses the beetles or frogs or more likely both in their research on batrachotoxin."

"Well, there can't be very many of those. But research for what?"

"Well, among other things, there's the idea that batrachotoxin might be useful as a local anesthetic."

John scoffed. "Too bad lidocaine hasn't been invented. It doesn't involve licking frogs."

"It wouldn't be my first choice, either, although I imagine that the goal is to synthesize the molecule and then reproduce it, not operate frog farms. Keeping exotic and dangerous animals requires a licence, though, and I should think that will narrow the sources considerably."


– End Chapter 14 –

Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog



You loaded this page on Saturday, 21 April 2018, at 4:55 pm EDT;
it was last modified on Friday, 13 April 2018, at 6:28 pm EDT.

Search this site:

(the usual Google search rules apply)



Site Info

Comments? Criticisms? Questions?

Please, e-mail us by clicking here.

(Or, if you cannot email from your browser, send mail to webmaster@bullpuppress.com)

All content copyright © 2014 - 2018 Bullpup Press LLC

(excepting any quoted material, which is believed to be Fair Use).

This web page is strictly compliant with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)
Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) Protocol v1.0 (Transitional).
Click on the logo below to test us!


---=== end of page ===---