September Stories (9/7)

So continues my September Stories project. If you missed any of them, go here for a running list at the bottom.

9-7

The Egregia Cum Laude Adventure
By Danielle Davis

 It wasn’t the first time someone had contacted him about a case as he was walking to his 6am Political Science class, but it was the first time someone had thrown a rock at him to do it.

“OW!” He staggered and rubbed the back of his head. When his probing fingers found a lump already forming just behind his ear, he turned with a livid glare to find the culprit. His eyes found a tall young man jogging towards him.

Instinctively, Sherlock Holmes noted several details all at once. The man was still in his pajamas, the kind with white and blue stripes down the button-front shirt and pants. The touseled clumps of his hair stood up in several directions, and he was barefoot. These things he absorbed without even consciously realizing he was doing so.

What he did consciously note, however, was that the man’s face was creased with worry, and the eyes that locked on his appeared wide and anxious. The worry and anxiety were of no interest to Sherlock. What incensed him was the lack of apology in it.

“Are you Sherlock Holmes?” the man asked in a breathless voice as he halted in front of Sherlock.

Sherlock gave him a withering glare. “Why, was that rock meant for someone else?”

“I had to catch you before you went into the building,” the man said with a sheepish duck of his shoulders. “I was aiming for the steps to one side of you. I’m Reginald Dawes.”

Sherlock continued to rub the back of his head and glare.

Reginald gave a nervous glance around the open campus area around them, as if making sure there was no one else about. Sherlock rolled his eyes. Having no one about was exactly why he chose the early morning classes every semester—so he had to deal with as few people as possible. Other than a pair of women walking together on the opposite side of the university mall, there was nobody else in sight.

Sherlock let out a pointed sigh. “You have two minutes before I walk away to my next class. As much as I detest Poli Sci, I detest idiots wasting my time even more.”

“Right. Well…” To Sherlock’s frustration, Reginald  became hesitant to continue. “There’s been a…a murder.”

“Of course there has. People are murdered all the time.” With an irritable flap of his overcoat, Sherlock turned to leave.

“No! I mean here, on campus!” Reginald ‘s voice cracked in his panic.

Without stopping, Sherlock said over his shoulder, “Statistically speaking, there have probably been more than five since the campus was opened. Good day.”

The door to the building was half open when Reginald shouted behind him, “They’re saying it was an accident. But I know better. And I think I know who did it.”

Sherlock paused with his hand holding the door open. “Then why haven’t you told the police?” His voice still sounded brique, but it had lost its angry tone.

Now Reginald’s voice turned hopeful. “I did. But they’re the ones saying Ben died by accident.”

“I see.” Still Sherlock didn’t move. “But you think otherwise?”

“That’s right, sir. Ben wasn’t the kind to die from…what they said. He was real careful about his medications.”

“Hmm.” In a quick movement, Sherlock pivoted and took several large strides to stand in front of Reginald, who gazed at him with naked hope on his face. “And what do you want me to do?”

“Get enough proof together that the police will reopen the case. And arrest her.”

“Her.”

“Ben’s girlfriend.”

“Who you think killed him?”

“Who I know killed him, sir.”

Sherlock nodded to himself. “Why do you think the police will listen to me?”

“Word around town is that you solve problems, find things other folks miss. I’ve heard you worked with the policemen around here before.”

With a grimace, Sherlock averted his gaze. “Worked with yes? Made lifelong friendly connections, no.” At Reginald’s questioning look, he added, “They don’t like it when you show them how stupid they are.”

“So you’ll take the case?” Reginald thrust out his hand, waiting for Sherlock to shake it. “I can pay,” he added quickly.

Sherlock cast a calculating glance behind him. “Well, I don’t know…” He frowned and steepled his fingers in front of him. “I’ve got a Poli Sci midterm due in two weeks. If I were to take this case, I’m not sure I’d have time to give it proper attention and study…” Sherlock let the idea trail off suggestively.

“Oh, I can write that for you!” Reginald exclaimed. His face lit up with a wide smile.

Sherlock responded with a wan, knowing smile. “Excellent. Now show me where they found him, and tell me everything you know about what happened.”

Reginald’s dead roommate was a senior classman named Benjamin Boscomb. Sherlock learned that Ben was a studious boy from the Brent borough. Well-liked and sociable, Ben had been pursuing a degree in Biology. According to Reginald, Ben had suffered from epilepsy but had never had an issue that Reginald had noticed. When Sherlock asked if he’d been seeing anybody, Reginald’s face darkened.

As he turned the key to open the dormitory he’d shared with Ben, he said the name “Sandy Truelove” like the name was an insult.

“Ah, so there’s a story there?” Sherlock said in a light tone. Relationships, especially other people’s, tended to bore him. They were all together too tedious to maintain the minutiae of.

Reginald snorted. “Story? She’s the one that murdered him.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows at that, then stepped inside the dormitory. It seemed easy to tell two differing personalities lived there. On one side of the room, the bedsheets were haphazardly strewn and towers of textbooks served on either side as bedside tables. One of these sported a small bottle of pills, two ink pens, and a small wooden figurine of a duck. Sherlock noticed three semi-filled mugs of coffee lying in random places: atop a dresser, on the arm of a stuffed chair, on a writing desk atop a messy stack of papers. It smelled of stale coffee and body odor, as if the sheets had not been changed in some time.

The other side was everything this side wasn’t. The bed was neat, minus the pulled back comforter, with a small trunk lying at the foot on top of a linen-weave rug patterned with red and tan circles. The writing desk was clear, with a few papers neatly set to one side and a small rack that sorted various-sized envelopes. A small corkboard was set on the wall above the desk, with small notes pinned to it.

Sherlock turned back to the messier side of the room. “Did you or anyone else move any of his things?”

Reginald blinked. “How did you know this was his side?”

Glowering, Sherlock sighed. “Careful observation. Now, did anyone move anything here?”

“What did you observe?”

Sherlock let out a small growl of frustration. “Really, Reginald. If I have to take the time to explain every single detail I notice that you didn’t, we will be here until the end of the semester. So I won’t ask again: was anything moved?”

Reginald frowned and glanced around Ben’s side of the room. “No, I don’t think so. They–” his voice caught “–they took his body out last night, but I think that was it. Nobody’s come by to collect his things yet.” Sherlock could hear in his voice that he wasn’t looking forward to the encounter.

Sherlock moved to the desk pushed against the wall. Papers were strewn all over it in no discernable order. He pushed a few around, noting several academic papers, some handwritten letters from someone who liked to dot their I’s with hearts, a pharmaceutical receipt, and what looked like class notations scrawled in an unruly hand.

Next he strolled to the bed, taking in the messy sheets, the strand of blonde hair stuck to the side of the mattress, the deep indentation on the pillow where someone’s head had lain. The pill bottle perched on one of the book towers caught his eye and he picked it up, spilling a few into his palm. Most were small, white, and semi-flat, except for two that had a slight bluish tinge to them. Sherlock glanced at Reginald, but the other man was staring morosely at his own bed. With a deft movement, Sherlock slid the palmful of pills into his coat pocket, then examined the bottle. The writing on the outside of the bottle identified them as silver nitrate, prescribed by a physician named Whitlowe, from an office on Howland St.

“How do you know it was murder?”

“Ben had epilepsy since he was a little kid. He’s been taking medicine for it for as long as I’ve known him. We went to grade school together. He was religious about taking his pills. He knew what would happen if he didn’t. The police said he had a fit in the night and died from it. But I don’t believe that—those pills helped him. He stopped having fits when he took them and he never missed taking them.”

“Why do you think it was the girlfriend?” he asked in a distracted tone. His attention had turned to the bookshelf, which housed a fascinating array of textbooks. Almost none of them seemed to be pleasure reading.

“The night they said he died, I came back from a study group. I heard them arguing about something through the door. It sounded like she was really mad. I heard her tell him he would be sorry, and then I left. Spent the night with a mate of mine upstreet. When I came back in the morning, he was dead.”

“And you think that makes her the murderer?”

“Well, she was the last one to see him wasn’t she?” Reginald’s fists crept into fists at his side and a sharp line creased between his eyebrows as he scowled at Sherlock. Sherlock stared impassively back.

For a long moment the two stared at each other. Then, “You’d probably best get started on that paper,” Sherlock suggested as he moved toward the door. “I’m going to want to review it before I turn it in.”

“What’s this then? You’re leaving? Why?”

Sherlock was already out the door, but his voice floated back in answer. “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment!”

The hansom cab dropped Sherlock in front of a spare brick building. The office he wanted was on the second floor. When he stepped into the small waiting room, a sallow-faced woman behind the desk blinked up at him sleepily.

“Are you here for an appointment, love?”

Sherlock stepped forward with a winning smile. “Yes, madame, I am. I’d like to see Dr. Paul Whitlowe, please. I’m his–” he glanced at the wall clock behind the woman, which read five minutes until nine “–nine o’clock.”

The woman glanced down at a list in front of her. “Mr. Idleman?”

“Of course! May I go on back?”

She waved him through the door to the inner offices, where he found a young man about his age behind another desk.

“Hi, I’ve got a prescription question,” Sherlock began, as his shoulders slouched and his face softened to a meek expression. The dark-haired man behind the desk look up with a frown. “It’s about my brother’s pills.”

The other man stepped out from behind the desk. “Dr. Whitlowe is busy with a patient, but I can probably help. I’m his assistant, James Murdock.”

“Oh, excellent!” Sherlock gushed. He fished a few of the pills out of his pocket and held them out in his palm. “My brother Benjamin takes them for his epilepsy. Can you tell me what they are? He only has a few left and he sent me to get more. He said Dr. Whitmore prescribed them a few weeks ago.”

The man examined the pills. “The white ones are probably silver nitrate, but the blueish ones…we don’t prescribe those for epilepsy. You must have mixed up his pill’s with someone else’s.”

Sherlock frowned down at the pills as if just seeing them. “Oh dear. I could have sworn I got them from the same bottle… Are you sure these wouldn’t have been in there?” He peered curiously at James, gaging his reaction.

“Dr. Whitlowe wouldn’t give out the wrong medication.”

“…So it was Dr. Whitlowe who gave him his last set of medication?” Sherlock tried to make the question come across as offhanded, but something in his voice must have betrayed him.

James’s face seemed to harden, his eyes growing cold and distant. “I’m sure it was. What did you say the patient’s full name was? I can look up what he gets in his records.”

Five minutes later, Sherlock strolled out of Dr. Whitlowe’s office. When he reached the street, he glanced one way and casually pulled out the pill bottle James had given him. He pulled off the cap, poured some into his palm, and examined them. All small, white, and semi-flat. He nodded to himself as if this confirmed something, then put away the pills and bottle.

Stepping out toward the street, he waved his hand to flag down a cab. A moment later, one pulled by a dark-bay horse rolled to a stop in front of him and he got in.

“To the university,” he instructed.

Back on campus, he stopped by the Arts and Sciences hall, sat down on a bench, and waited. A half hour later, students began streaming out the door, chattering to each other in excited voices. Sherlock eyed them until he saw a red-haired girl in a short maroon skirt stride away. In her arms was a sketchbook. He hurried to catch up to her and slowed to match her pace. He noticed a pencil poked behind one ear.

“Sandy?” he inquired.

The girl gave a startled yip and jumped a few paces away. “Do I know you?” She peered at him with mingled doubt and suspicion.

“No, but I’m a friend of Ben’s.”

At the mention of his name, her face grew ashen and she looked down at the path under her feet. Her arms clutched the sketchbook tighter to her chest. “Oh. How did you know where to find me?”

“Ben had a note to meet you this morning at the Art Hall.”

“What do you want?” From the challenge in her voice, he thought it best to get to the point.

“Why did you two fight the other night?”

“If you’re such good friends, why didn’t he tell you?” she countered.

Sherlock gave her a thin smile. “Good question. But I’m trying to figure out something. No doubt you’ve worked out that it seems strange that he died shortly after having a spirited fight with you…?”

She stopped and looked at him with wide eyes. “You’re talking like I might have killed him. But I heard he died from an epilepsy fit. Natural causes, right?”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to confirm.” The lie came easily to his lips. It was the end result, after all, that was most important. The truth, always the truth.

She looked at him a moment longer, then rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t so much a fight as a breakup.” At Sherlock’s raised eyebrows, she continued. “I broke up with him. He was… he wasn’t ever around. We didn’t go out, we didn’t do…anything.” A slight flush worked its way up her cheeks. “He was always studying. Studying, studying, studying! Even though he had one of the best GPAs on campus, it wasn’t enough. He wanted to be the best.”

“As confessions go, that one leaves something to be desired.”

Her flush deepened to bright scarlet circles in each cheeks. “I’m not confessing anything, you dolt! I didn’t kill him!”

“Are you quite sure about that? Sure you didn’t just get mad and grab a pillow and put it over his–”

Her hand snaked out and slapped his cheek. His face flared with pain, but all he did was clap a hand to his cheek and watch as she stalked away. He rubbed his cheek a few times, then reached up to rub the goose egg that had risen behind his ear.

“Why is it always the face?” he murmured to himself. His encounter with Sandy didn’t seem to have resolved anything. In fact, he actually felt more confused about this case than when he started. For the first time since he’d started taking on amateur student cases, he felt he’d reached a dead end.

So he did the only thing he could think to do. He set off at a brisk pace to the Psychology building, his overcoat flapping like a bedsheet behind him.

He made his way to the eighth room on the left, opened the door without knocking, and flounced inside. Behind the large oak desk, a man of about sixty leaned over a piece of paper with his pen. As his door slammed open, he glanced over the rims of his glasses and watched as Sherlock sank with a huff into the overstuffed leather chair that sat directly in front of the desk. He flung his legs over the arm of the chair and draped his upper body over the other arm so that he was staring at the ceiling.

“I’m stuck, Albert,” he moaned. The older man watched patiently. “I’ve checked out both options and neither of them showed me anything. Except more questions.”

Albert carefully set down his pen and went about straightening the papers on his desk. For several moments, the only sounds in the room was the swishing shuffle of papers being moved about, punctuated by the occasional whoosh of a drawer being pulled open, then shoved shut.

“Aren’t you going to ask about it?” Sherlock said.

“Narcissistic personalities cannot help but talk about themselves. All you have to do is wait.”

Sherlock raised his head and glared across the table. “Are you saying I’m a narcissist?”

Albert moved a book to the side, then looked at Sherlock and grinned. “I’m saying I’m a patient man. Now, what has you so, as you put it, stuck?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as he carefully chose his words. “Let’s say I have a hypothetical situation–”

“Like the last one with the married professor and the Dean of Engineering?” Albert interrupted.

“No. Well, yes, somewhat. Let’s say this situation is more about a dead person–”

“Dead person?” Albert scowled as his voice took on a hard edge. “Do you mean a corpse or a person who has died? Context is important, Sherlock, I’ve told you this.”

“A person who has died–”

“Let the police handle it then.” Albert’s tone indicated he was through discussing the matter.

“But they did,” Sherlock protested, sitting upright now. “And they botched it.”

Albert leaned forward and fixed Sherlock with hard eyes. “I indulge your ‘hypothetical situations’ because I know you like to fancy yourself a detective. And your hunches about certain issues are often correct. However, your hypotheticals rarely deal with things of consequence. But anything involving the death of a person is a serious thing, something you should leave to the professionals.”

“But that’s why I’m here,” Sherlock said in a pleading voice. “This is a serious thing but the professionals have it wrong. Hypothetically, of course.” He added the last part as a hasty afterthought.

But the iron look didn’t leave Albert’s expression. “You know I cannot advise you on things that have serious legal ramifications, Sherlock.”

“I just wanted your advice on a hypothetical situation, Albert. Come on, sir. You always help me find the thing I missed.”

Albert’s eyes measured Sherlock’s for a long moment, then he sat back with a sigh. “Ok. What options did you check out?”

“The pharmacist and the girlfriend. But now all I’ve got is a dead guy, who was fanatical about taking his meds, and a girlfriend who broke up with him because he didn’t make time for her. Hypothetically.”

“Why not?”

“Too busy studying.”

“That’s what she said?” Albert asked in a thoughtful tone. Sherlock nodded. “And you believe her?”

Sherlock screwed his face to one side. “Why would she lie?”

“People always lie, Sherlock. It’s our nature.” He leaned forward and picked up his pen. “Maybe he was a good student and maybe he wasn’t. Thank goodness there are records kept of such things.” His voice trailed away, and he glanced pointedly back up at Sherlock over the rim of his glasses.

Sherlock smirked. “And if that doesn’t work?”

“When solving a problem, I always find retracing my steps to be helpful. You never know what you missed the first time.”

The clerk in the records department owed Sherlock a favor from the time he helped her find out who stole her bicycle. She was able to show him the student files for Benjamin Boscomb. It turned out, that neither Reginald nor Sandy had given him the full story about Ben’s studying habits. From the grade records, Sherlock learned that not only was Ben a good student, he had one of the highest GPAs possible.

“He’s got some amazing numbers,” said the records clerk wistfully. She pushed her glasses back with a finger on the bridge. “Sad news about him. He was one of the three vying for egregia cum laude status.”

Sherlock looked up from the records and frowned at her. “I’ve never heard of that distinction.”

The clerk grinned at him. “Then you’ve never had the grades to know. It’s the highest distinction the University offers. Students can graduate summa cum laude by being in the top five percent of GPAs. But only one student can make egregia. That goes to the student with the highest GPA and most rigorous honors curriculum.”

“You said he was one of three?” The clerk nodded. “Who were the other two?”

The young woman dug into the folders filed in a desk drawer. Finally she produced a sheet of paper and handed it to him. “James Murdock and Conrad Bills.”

Sherlock smiled so widely at the clerk that she gave him a startled smile back. Then he dashed for the door and, with a flap of his coat, was gone.

“You’re welcome!” she called, leaning over the desk to yell after him.

One hansom cab ride later deposited Sherlock back on a front stoop on Howland St. This time, he charmed his way in as “Mr. Overholster” to the pretty, young woman behind the desk. When he strolled into the inner office, however, he nearly ran into an older man with a large, handlebar mustache wearing a white doctor’s coat. The white fabric gave stark contrast to the dark red patches on the man’s face. The sunburn on his forehead had begun to peel away, revealing peach-colored skin underneath, but the bridge of his nose and cheekbones were still an angry red. A stethoscope draped over the back of his neck like a snake. Across the left breast of the jacket, Whitlowe was stitched in curling script.

“Can I help you, young sir?” The doctor’s voice had a pleasant Scottish brogue to it.

“I’m here to check about my brother’s medication,” Sherlock began. “Benjamin Boscomb.”

Whitlowe’s expression didn’t change but the eyes grew flinty. “I’ve seen that family for generations now. Lad doesn’t have a brother.”

The matter-of-fact tone startled Sherlock enough that he paused and floundered as his mind raced for a response. “Right. Well. You’ve got me there. I’m actually investigating something about his death and–”

“The boy’s dead? Oh, my gracious.” The doctor’s shoulders sagged as he looked sadly at the countertop. “I’ve seen that boy since he was a wee ‘un. ‘S a shameful thing to have happen to that nice family.”

The emotion was too obvious, and therefore too discomforting, for Sherlock to address, so he skipped over the doctor’s words entirely. It was one reason those that knew him called him an unfeeling statue. “Can you identify something for me?” Sherlock fished in his pocket for the pale blue pills that had been mixed with Ben’s medication.

The doctor peered at them for a moment, then said, “Looks like thallium to me. But I’d have to look at the records to be sure.”

Sherlock nodded, then said in a bright voice, “How was the vacation?”

Whitlowe’s eyes lit up and he gave Sherlock a wide grin. “Wonderful! Took the family to stay with my sister in Cyprus. Beautiful weather there, not like the nasty cold stuff here. But, as you can see, I got a fair bit o’ sun while we were there.” He waved a careless hand in a circle around his head.

“When were you there?” Sherlock asked with a small arc of his eyebrow.

“Oh, the last few weeks. Just got back.”

“And who filled your orders while you were gone?”

Whitlowe glanced around, then gave Sherlock a rueful frown. “My assistant, James. But he doesn’t seem to be about right now. Should I have him get back to you about a question?”

“No, thanks. You’ve told me all I needed to know.” Sherlock nodded his head in thanks and left with a superior set to his lips.

Two days later, Sherlock slammed open Albert’s office door and sank into the armchair with a dramatic sigh. His legs were over one arm while his head and shoulders dangled over the other.

Albert slide a thick book into place on one of the bookshelves that lined the wall of his office. “Another hypothetical situation you got on your mind?” he asked without turning around.

“Hardly,” gloated Sherlock. “My mid-term Poli Sci paper’s done and it’s wonderful.”

“Proud of yourself, are you?” Albert crossed the room to his desk and sat in the chair behind it. He interlaced his fingers together and set his hands on the desktop while he regarded Sherlock.

“Very.” Sherlock smiled smugly at the ceiling. “I don’t even have to make any corrections to it.”

“Did you ever find the solution to that other thing you were wondering about?”

“Oh yes. I’ve decided recreational drugs are ok as long as you can find a reputable–”

“Not that one!” Albert hissed. “And I didn’t just hear that. I meant the one about the hypothetical dead person.”

“Oh. Yes to that, too. Turns out, he’d been poisoned. Thallium.”

Albert raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. “That’s an interesting one. By whom?”

“His physician’s assistant. I figured out that he was vying with my dead guy for some top honors status. And then, when he lied to me about his boss having given the dead guy his medicine, I confirmed it when his boss revealed that he’d been on vacation when the dead guy had received the pills. Even though the pills were a slightly different color, I don’t think my dead guy ever noticed. I think that’s what the assistant was counting on. I mean, how often do you just dump a pill in your palm and swallow without looking, you know? Especially medication you’ve been taking for some time?”

“I’m apparently not as well-versed on drugs as you are,” Albert said in a dry voice.

“Anyway, so I got a few of the oafs at that miserable excuse for a police station to come with me when I confronted the assistant. He was quite happy to admit it to me, though he was less happy when he discovered the police had been waiting outside the door listening.” Sherlock snickered. “It was really pathetic how easily he gave it all up. I suppose narcissists just love to hear themselves talk, huh Albert?”

Albert cocked an eyebrow, but Sherlock didn’t notice as he rambled on.

“Thanks, by the way, for helping me out. With the hypothetical situation, of course.” Sherlock sat up and peered at Albert. “How did you ever become so adept at deduction?”

With a small smile, Albert gazed over the many volumes lining his bookcase shelves. “Some things you acquire with experience. Others are common sense.” His eyes shifted to Sherlock’s and they held a heavy knowledge that seemed to stretch beyond his years. “And as a psychologist, it is my business to know what other people don’t. Perhaps someday it’ll be yours, too.”

“That is truly amazing,” Sherlock said in a soft, awed voice.

“Not amazing,” Albert laughed. “Elementary.”

Total Writing Time: 3 hr., 45 min.

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