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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 15

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



In fact the licencing requirement narrowed the sources to one. A thirty minute cab ride from Baker Street brought them to the Francis Crick Institute in Mill Hill.

The ground floor directory provided the floor and office number of Dr. Andrea Newman, MD, PhD specializing in cellular and molecular medicine.

"You called ahead for an appointment, I hope," John said as they boarded the lift.

"Nope."

John sighed. "Because that would guarantee that we didn't waste the trip."

"No, it would guarantee that we did. People find ways to be unavailable when they know a detective wants to ask them questions."

"Do you even know whether she's in?"

"She is."

Sherlock paced right past Newman's third-storey office to the laboratory at the end of the hall and through the double doors into a large, high-ceilinged room. Two rows of four black-topped wood tables occupied the center of the space, and along the far wall stood wheeled racks of glass aquariums under UV lights, each containing, as far as John could make out, six frogs, most lemon-yellow, some a pale, minty green colour, and all about four centimetres in length. A separate set of racks at the back of the room held glass tanks of beetles-no doubt the choresine genus Sherlock spoke of.

The doctor was in her mid-forties, John estimated, with hazel eyes and medium-brown hair gathered in a ponytail. She and two much younger, white-coated men sat at a lab table scattered with thick black three-ring binders, and one of the men was using a stylus to enter data on a tablet.

"Ah, Dr. Newman," Sherlock said, and all three scientists turned to stare at them. Sherlock eyed the two men. "Get out."

"Sherlock," John muttered under his breath.

The imperious introduction got Newman's back up at once. "Who are you?" she demanded.

Instead of answering her Sherlock addressed the men. "I said get out."

They looked uncertainly at Newman.

"If you want a meeting, make an appointment through the Institute," she said. "Otherwise I'm calling security." She reached for her phone.

"This is our appointment," Sherlock said. "You'll answer our questions now, Doctor, or by this time tomorrow you'll be telling the police about the visitor you had last week. The one who asked about the frogs."

She stared at him, deciding. "We can talk in my office," she said, and as she closed the office door behind them, "Who are you?"

"Sherlock Holmes," Sherlock said. "Dr. John Watson."

She sat down behind her desk and while it was obvious to John that she was alarmed by their visit, she persisted in trying to project cool unconcern. "Well?" she asked.

"Charles Magnussen died yesterday morning."

"The newspaper guy. The one who was blackmailing Lady Ruffner?"

"The same."

She shrugged. "It's all over the news that he died. Why are you interrupting my work over tabloid fodder?"

Sherlock reached into his pocket, withdrew the GCMS report and flipped it onto her desk, open to the page with the depiction of the batrachotoxin molecule. "You recognize that structural formula, of course."

"Of course. I work with it every day. It's batrachotoxin."

"The rest of that report details the GCMS analyses of Magnussen's liver, kidney, brain, and heart tissue, which contained varying levels of batrachotoxin." As she went pale he smiled without humour. "Now, how do you suppose a newsman in a London high-rise stumbled across an exotic poison whose only UK source is the research department that you oversee?"

Her mouth opened but no sound emerged.

"The frogs, Doctor," Sherlock snapped. "Tell us who asked about them last week."

"We're not the police," John offered. "If you tell us everything that happened there's still a good chance that we can keep you out of it."

"Everything," Sherlock emphasized. "Leave nothing out. I'll know if you're lying."

She licked her lips nervously and glanced out the window, but there was no help there. Lacing her fingers together on the desk she stared at her hands as she spoke. "Last week. Tuesday. A man came to see me here just as I was about to leave for the night. Said he had evidence that I'd misrepresented some information on my CV. He said it was so minor-nothing at all, really-but that the Crick would be very interested to know about it, since the credibility of the Institute's researchers redounds on its reputation."

"'Redounds'?" Sherlock said.

"That's what he said. I remember the exact words it because it sounded so ridiculous, and he looked so…disreputable otherwise. I mean, he was wearing a coat and tie so he didn't look out of place here at first glance, but there was something about him. Of course I said he was talking rubbish about the CV."

"And was he?" John asked.

"Not exactly," she said. "In 1995 I was enrolled in Johns Hopkins' medical scientist training programme. My roommate was a journalism major. I paid her to write a paper that I submitted during my thesis lab. Not the actual thesis. Just a mid-term paper, something like five percent of the evaluation. She needed the money, I needed the free time to work on other things…It was a non-event. I compiled all the data, oversaw its organization within the paper, did all the technical work. Everything except write and type the text on the page. Technically I submitted someone else's work as my own, but the structure of it-that was all mine. I've never been as good at writing up my results as I've been at compiling them, and I'd been desperate to spend more time on my thesis. It seemed like a win-win arrangement. I have no idea how this man found out about something so…so ridiculous. So small. At the time it didn't seem like a crime to ask a writer to write."

"It wasn't," Sherlock said. "But what you did next was."

"I didn't do anything next!" she protested.

"Wrong," Sherlock said. "You gave a blackmailer with obvious criminal intent unfettered access to one of the deadliest toxins in the world."

"I can't afford to lose this job!" she cried. "I've got a family to support."

"At any cost," Sherlock sneered.

"Sherlock," John said, and Sherlock scowled but backed off fractionally.

"He said he just wanted to look at the frogs," Newman insisted. "That was it."

John crossed his arms. "So you, what, had coffee in the faculty lounge while he carried on?"

"Of course not," Sherlock said. "She's lying."

"I'm not!"

"How do you know?" John asked, ignoring her.

"The aquariums in that laboratory. They're labeled with numbers, not text. The numbers correspond to the groups and sub-groups of animals designated for each particular clinical trial that's underway. The 'visitor' would have had no idea which sort of frog he was looking for-which were toxic and which were not. She had to tell him which sort to use to obtain the toxin."

"Nice," John said, disgusted. "Did you help him put on gloves, too?"

"He threatened to report me!" she hissed. "What was I supposed to do?"

"The police would have been a good start," Sherlock said. "Compared to a twenty year-old indiscretion, turning in someone who was shopping around for neurotoxins would have made you a hero."

"A hero with a dead family," she replied. "He said that if I called the police his 'associates' would know who turned him in and 'take care of the problem' for him. I know it sounds vague now," she added defensively, because they were regarding her sceptically, "but it was obvious what he meant." She caught up a family photo from the corner of her desk and turned it so they could see. "Look: He was holding that when he said it. My husband and kids. What would you assume he meant? I didn't ask him to put it in writing. I'm not apologizing for that."

"What was your relationship with your roommate at university?" Sherlock asked.

"Good," she said. "Unremarkable."

"Keep in touch now?"

"No, not since that term, in fact. She transferred to California somewhere, I think it was."

"So," Sherlock said, "a stranger came to your work, threatened you with exposure, and you obligingly helped him pick out a frog. Then what happened?"

"Nothing. He just left. I took the rest of the day off and went home to check on my kids."

"Tell me more about the man who came to see you. What did he look like? Accent? Anything you can remember."

She reached into the drawer of her desk and handed him an article printed from a newspaper's website. "See for yourself. Two days after he was here the local paper ran that."

Sherlock glanced at it, then looked up with a distant expression. John leant over a bit so he could see. The headline read, 'Brixton man found dead in Crick car park.'

"We're keeping the article," Sherlock said, handing it to John, and turned to go. At the door he stopped and looked back. "Oh, and Dr. Newman? You're an idiot."

ooooo

As they started toward the lift Sherlock said, "You know, John, this investigation has the feeling of looking a gift frog in the mouth."

"Not funny," John said.

"Too soon?"

"Yeah. Try again in never."

"I'm not sorry Magnussen's dead."

"You've never been sorry anyone's dead."

"Better still, he was killed by someone who used blackmail to obtain the murder weapon. You have to appreciate the irony."

The lift doors closed and John scanned the article as they descended. "One round from a handgun, back of the head," he said. "Cops say it was probably a drug deal that went bad. What do you think? Want to ask for the security footage of the car park?"

"No point," Sherlock said. "There won't be anything useful on it. It's obviously a professional execution. A pro can easily work around that sort of surveillance."

"Says the coroner thought he'd been there two days when he was found."

"Killed just as he got into his car with the poison: as soon as he became expendable."

"Victim's name was Nicholas Andrews," John noted. "Know him?"

"No."

They reached the ground floor and as the doors opened John said, "How do you think he got the information to threaten her?"

"He didn't."

"But she said-"

"She said he told her that she 'misrepresented something' on her CV. He didn't specify what. He could have approached ninety-eight percent of the employees in the country with that accusation and been right. When do you think an employer last read an accurate resume?"

"Mine's accurate."

"Besides yours. Five hundred years ago people thought the world was flat. The fact that it wasn't was irrelevant because they behaved as if it were."

"So…consulting my analogy-to-English dictionary, the Institute wouldn't really have a problem over who typed up a twenty year-old paper, but Newman behaved as thoughthey would, and that was good enough to give Andrews leverage over her," John said. "He cashed in on her guilt."

"Newman's an idiot," Sherlock said as they climbed into their waiting cab. "Why else would she think that an American with whom she was on good terms twenty years ago would suddenly contact a random London criminal over something so stupidly prosaic? Baker Street," he added to the driver.

As usual, he lapsed into silence as they drove away and John didn't try to draw him out. Once they regained the flat, however, he asked, "Why do you care who killed Magnussen?"

"Clay. Bricks. The usual," Sherlock said with a shrug.

"That is utter tosh."

Sherlock smiled to himself. "Magnussen's been incredibly inconvenient to a lot of people for a very long time. Any of his victims over the years would have been justified in killing him; it's a common enough fate for blackmailers, after all. So why now? And why using such an elaborate method that requires accomplices? Most people would just grab the nearest gun and-" He stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. "Anyway, the fact that Andrews was executed argues for the involvement of someone used to keeping his hands clean. A boss at the top of a chain of command. Then there's the murder weapon: It suggests calculation. Dispassion. The security footage tells us that the murder happened essentially by remote control. That makes it very unlikely that he was killed by one of his victims."

"Okay," John said. "So the killer's not personally invested in the murder. Financially, maybe?"

"No. The killer was personally invested, but apparently not emotionally invested. I imagine you're right about the financial part, though. So we're back to the question of timing. Why now? What changed?"

"Well," John suggested, "you said the stock price of the CMNews parent company's down-what was it? Over eighty percent since the story broke?"

"Someone was cutting his losses. Someone who either has or wants to get control of what Magnussen was propping up before he became such a liability to it. We're looking for a professional criminal with the knowledge and wherewithal to contract out for both a minor blackmailer and that blackmailer's executioner. Someone who wanted Magnussen dead even though it's now common knowledge that everything he had on his blackmail victims would die with him. Information is power, but it's not the only thing that is."

"Then we're back to money," John said.

"Mm. Someone wants the CMNews empire for his personal chip and pin machine."


– End Chapter 15 –

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



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