Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde - Chapter Six

Someone was knocking on the door.

I stuck my head out from beneath the comforter to check the bedside clock. Seven thirty. Who would have the nerve to knock on anyone's door at seven thirty in the morning? Especially when the knockee had been up past two in the morning trying to put the living room in some kind of order.

Well, just because they were knocking didn't mean I had to answer. I dove back beneath the comforter and closed my eyes, willing myself back to sleep. Which didn't work, because I was irritated that someone would knock on the door at seven thirty in the morning.

On cue, just to aggravate me, another knock sounded.

Groaning, I threw the covers back and grabbed one of Kate's bathrobes. Kate'd had good taste in robes. In fact, staying at the house had been kind of like a shopping spree in the women's department at Nordstrom. I'd had my choice of pajamas, robes, socks, slippers, and thick bath towels, most of them brand new with tags attached. After taking a long, hot shower and snuggling into a pair of fleece pajamas and toasty, fuzzy slippers, I'd spent the night boxing up old magazines and newspapers for recycling, going through the rolltop desk, and putting the living room and kitchen into some semblance of order. Which wasn't to say it was neat and tidy. That would've taken a steamroller. Still, it was progress.

Better yet, throughout the whole time, it had been blissfully quiet, with no noise from the park or anywhere else. Not even a creaking floorboard or drafty, whistling eaves. I'd slept better than I'd expected, probably out of sheer exhaustion. Just not for long enough.

Which brought me back to the front door.

Probably Lucy Chu, with another offensive piece of misdelivered mail.

I rolled out of the bed in one of the guest rooms that I'd hastily cleared off the previous night. I didn't know exactly where my aunt had passed, but on the chance it was in her own comfortable bed, that was the last place I wanted to be.

I belted my robe and went to answer the door.

It wasn't Lucy. It was Dr. Watson standing there wearing sunglasses and a halo. I blinked. No, not a halo. The sun glinted off his blond hair, limning his head with gold. With a small, crooked smile, he looked like a naughty angel. The foggy chill of the morning curled around him, seeping into the house and up the hem of my bathrobe. Reminding me I was wearing a bathrobe. In front of Dr. Hottie. Watson.

Maybe it was a bad dream. No, I'd never wear cotton pajamas and a bulky terry robe in a dream. In a dream, I'd wear a slinky slip of silk and have no bedhead.

Bedhead! My hand flew up to my hair. I should've looked in the mirror. Why hadn't I glanced in a mirror? I could only imagine what I looked like. No mascara was one thing. Rampant bedhead was another. I should've taken the time for a shower and a blowout. And a manicure. And maybe a little makeup and for sure a wardrobe change.

But why did I care what I looked like? This was Dr. By-the-Book at the door. At seven thirty in the morning. Unannounced. After ratting me out to Detective Lestrade.

"Miss Hudson." He had the grace to not look me up and down. I didn't have the same grace, since it was my first chance to see him in civilian clothes. It was worth the wait. Leather jacket over a white button-down shirt and red tie. His chest looked broader. His legs looked longer in navy slacks without the shapeless lab coat hanging nearly to his knees. And strong. I could practically see his six-pack abs right through his clothes. He didn't look like Dr. By-the-Book. He looked like a superhero without the cape.

"I was hoping I'd find you here. Did I come at a bad time?" he asked. He carried a thin, expensive-looking briefcase with the gold initials J.W. inscribed beneath the handle. A sleek black sedan was parked at the curb. So he had good taste in accessories.

I suddenly realized I hadn't said a word. I'd just clung to the door like a cobweb, staring at him.

"I was upstairs," I said. "In bed. Sleeping," I added unnecessarily, even though it was none of his business. I just didn't want him to make assumptions.

I could practically read his mind: What else would you be doing looking like that?

He certainly had his nerve.

"Sorry to wake you," he said. "I wanted to stop by on my way to the office." He hesitated. "May I come in?"

"I'm not dressed," I said. Also unnecessarily. He was a doctor. He knew undressed when he saw it.

"You are dressed," he said with a crooked little grin. I could get used to that grin.

No, I couldn't. This was Dr. Watson.

That's when it dawned on me. He was probably there because he knew he'd been suckered by the phony license we'd sent him.

"I'm sorry," I said. "But I look, well…"

"You look fine," he said.

I knew it. What did fine mean? Fine wasn't what guys said to women when they wanted to tear off their clothes with their teeth.

I resisted the urge to bang my head against the edge of the door. This was Dr. Watson, who issued no report before its time, who refused to provide information or answer questions to mere relatives. He probably never ate his dessert before his dinner. Never took a chance on using eggs past their expiration date. Never wore brown shoes with a black suit.

Well, that one was probably a good idea.

Clothes didn't seem to be an issue for him anyway. Although his outfit lived in the neighborhood of standard office wear, I had to admit he wore it with style. Had to be because of the killer body beneath it.

Geez. I really had to stop thinking.

I moved aside, and he took off his sunglasses before stepping into the foyer. His eyes widened slightly when he saw the boxes stacked everywhere. Good thing he hadn't seen it the night before. It wasn't Home & Garden, but it wasn't Waste Management Monthly anymore either.

He slid the glasses into his jacket. "I looked through your aunt's file, and I'd like to talk to Mr. Holmes, but I wasn't able to find his phone number."

Every drop of blood in my head plummeted to my feet, making me dizzy. I couldn't think of a thing to say. I wasn't good with lies and deception. I'd known all along that he would look into Sherlock Holmes. He wouldn't send his reports out into a vacuum. And I'd also known that when he did, he wouldn't find anything, because there wasn't anything to find. There was no phone number. There was no Sherlock Holmes. There was only an indictment and a trial and a jail cell.

"Miss Hudson?" He touched my arm. "Are you alright?"

Sure, I was fine, as long as he hit his head on the way back to his car and developed amnesia.

"Why don't you sit down?" He took my arm to guide me over to the sofa. "You look a little pale."

"I was upstairs," I told him. "In bed."

"Yes, so you've said." Another little crooked smile. "Can I get you some water?"

"I was sleeping," I added. I tucked the bathrobe tightly around my legs and clutched its lapels to my throat. I was painfully aware of how I must look. All I needed was a shower cap, and I'd be Granny Clampett.

He hesitated for a beat. Probably debating whether or not to call 9-1-1. "Why don't I get you that water," he said. He went away, and I heard him moving around the kitchen, opening cupboards in search of a glass. Thankfully, he found a clean one that he brought back.

"So do you have Mr. Holmes's phone number?" he asked. "Or his email, if that would be more convenient."

I sipped the water, thinking fast.

Email. Irene had initially sent the credentials over from her own account. But I was sure she could phony up an email account for the good detective as easily as she had the PI license. Even I could phony up an email account.

"Although I'd really rather speak to him in person," he added.

Of course he would. That was how alpha males operated. Well, Irene couldn't phony up a Mr. Holmes. Or could she? She knew a lot of people, in a lot of places, from a lot of professions. Maybe she could hire someone to pretend to be Mr. Holmes. Someone middle-aged, with jowls and reading glasses and a tendency to say, "Oh, and one more thing…"

"You want to speak to him?" I repeated. My voice sounded faint. "Why?"

"Because you were very persuasive," he said. "And there's a chance you might be right."

I froze. "Could you say that again?"

A wry smile hit his lips. "I said 'a chance.' But I took another look at the preliminary toxicology report, and based on what medications you found in her home, it looks like there may have been another chemical compound in her system. One that we can't automatically account for."

"What sort of compound?" Ohmigod, had my aunt been poisoned?

He shook his head. "Too early to tell. I sent her samples to the lab to conduct a more detailed analysis."

"How long will that take?"

"I've put a rush on it."

Which was appropriately vague.

"I, uh…" He paused. "I apologize for not catching this the first time."

I wondered if the sentiment was genuine or fear of being sued by the bereaved family member in the bathrobe.

"And for reacting the way I did when you brought her medications to my attention," he added, pushing my thoughts more in the genuine direction.

I shook my head. "I might have done the same thing. I mean, you're the doctor, and I'm just a—" I stopped abruptly before I said barista. "—person who works for a private investigator," I finished lamely.

"Don't sell yourself short," he said. "If you hadn't brought those medications to my attention, I'd have had no reason to revisit my findings." He glanced away for a second, toward the rolltop desk.

"I wish Detective Lestrade felt that way," I said without thinking.

"What do you mean?"

I shrugged. "He blew me off when I gave him the same information."

"Really." Watson's expression hardened. "I'm not surprised. He's not the type who likes to reopen a closed case. Even though I told him I'm no longer convinced this was death by natural causes."

Suddenly I was more forgiving of the early wakeup call. "You're not?"

He shook his head. "No. After looking back at my original autopsy notes, there are a couple of things that I'd like to discuss with Mr. Holmes. So if you'll just let me have his number, I'll be on my way." His gaze flickered to my robe and back to my face. I could practically read his mind. And let you get yourself together.

That was it. He'd insulted me for the last time. If I was going to stay at the house any longer, I'd be sleeping in a cocktail dress and full makeup.

Meantime, he was waiting for the phone number that I didn't have.

"Tell you what," I said. "This is too important for a phone call. Why don't you let me arrange a dinner meeting between the two of you?" I wasn't sure where I was going to find a fake Sherlock, but it was either that or give him a fake number. And since it sounded like he had real information about my aunt's death, I had to go all in. "What nights are you usually free?"

He hesitated. "I could arrange to be free any night, but I really think a phone call would—"

"Settled, then." I sprang off the sofa. "I'll be in touch as soon as I can set it up. Mr. Holmes has a very busy schedule today, so it may take me a while to reach him."

"A phone call would be sufficient," he said. "You really don't have to do that."

"Yes," I said. "I really do." I took his sleeve and turned him toward the foyer. The leather was soft and supple. Up close, I could smell either a really pleasant, understated cologne or an abundance of pheromones swirling around him. Either way, it was making me a little dizzy.

He did an unexpected 180, leaving us almost chest-to-bathrobe. "Let me give you another card." He pressed it into my hand. "Again, I'm sorry about my initial oversight."

I watched him leave, thinking I was sorry too. Sorry to see him go.

* * *

The coffee bar was packed with caffeine-hungry co-eds either gearing up for or coming off a night of studying. I spent the next few hours cleaning, pouring, blending, and hardly thinking about Dr. Watson at all. Although I couldn't help but wonder what information he wanted to share with the nonexistent Sherlock Holmes. And how I was going to facilitate his sharing it.

And still nagging at me was what could have happened to Toby the basset hound? I'd done another run through the house that morning for anything that related to dogs, and sure enough, I'd found a bag of food in one of the lower cabinets in the kitchen. It was easy to miss among all the other miscellaneous bags and boxes shoved into every corner, but it was proof enough to me that my aunt had had a pet. And enough to make me have a vision of the poor little guy alone in some pound. I really needed to talk to Detective Lestrade about that. I was sure he'd be delighted to hear from me again.

"…don't you think?" Pam nudged me. "Where are you today, Marty?"

I blinked. "Sorry. I was just thinking."

"No kidding. What's his name?"

Dr. By-the-Book. But I caught myself just in time. "It's nothing like that."

Nothing at all, I decided. I did not have a crush on Dr. Watson. That would be embarrassing since I wasn't an 11-year-old girl with One Direction posters on my bedroom walls. Besides, for all I knew, he was married to a former Miss Universe with six kids in private school and a house in a gated community. He didn't wear a ring, but that wasn't a sure thing anymore.

Neither, apparently, was my focus.

"Marty!" Pam was tugging at my sleeve. "That guy's pretty cute, don't you think?"

That guy was a stringy grunge rocker type with long hair, tattooed arms, and too many rings, slouching in front of a caramel macchiato, his eyes half closed.

"He's adorable," I told her. "Go ask him out."

Her eyes went wide. "I can't ask him out. I'll just admire his good looks from afar."

That wouldn't take very long.

"Wonder what his major is." She wiped down a spot on the counter that allowed her to face the guy. She'd wiped down that same spot seven times already. "I bet it's business. He's got MBA written all over him, don't you think?"

I stared at her.

She shrugged. "Maybe he's a theater major. That'd be okay. I mean, we'd probably go hungry a lot, and we'd live in a studio apartment in someone's basement, but love conquers all, right? I'm going to go see if he wants another macchiato."

It didn't look like he wanted the one he had. It didn't look like he knew he had one.

"Keep an eye on things for a couple of minutes," I told her. "I have to make a phone call."

She waved me off, her eyes never leaving the guy at the table.

I grabbed my cell phone and went downstairs to a quiet corner of the bookstore.

Lestrade picked up after I'd spent a good three minutes stewing on hold. I'd barely gotten my name out when he replied with an "I don't have anything new to report, Miss Hudson."

I forced myself to take a deep breath before I reacted to his rudeness by lobbing it back at him. "I wanted to ask you what happened to Toby," I told him.


"The basset hound," I prompted.

"Toby the basset hound?" he repeated. "If this is a joke, I don't get it."

A couple of giggling girls rounded the shelves to my right and stood there chattering. I moved away from them, sticking a finger in my ear to block the noise. "I found out that my aunt had a basset hound that she used to walk in the park. But there was no dog in the house."

"I can't help you," he said. "I didn't see a dog there."

"Maybe in the yard?" I asked. "Is it possible that he could have gotten out of an open gate in the back with everyone coming and going?"

"I didn't see a dog," he said again. "But no one would have had reason to be in the backyard. I can't help you, Miss Hudson."

He disconnected, leaving me more confused than I'd been before the call. And more worried for Toby as well. Had the killer kidnapped him…or worse? I couldn't think about worse. Maybe Toby had slipped out unnoticed and been picked up and taken home by some animal-loving Good Samaritan. I didn't want to consider the alternatives. I'd have to look for some photos of Toby in the house, maybe knock on a few of the neighbors' doors, check the local shelters. I had to do something to try to find him.

* * *

"You have a date with him?" Irene's face lit up. "I leave you alone for one night, and you hook up with McDreamy?" She held up her glass in a toast. "Well done."

"I'm not hooking up with him," I told her. "He has information for Sherlock Holmes, so I've arranged a dinner meeting between the two of them. I have nothing to do with it."

"You have something to do with it," Irene said. "There is no Sherlock Holmes."

She should have thought of that sooner, before she started handing out business cards and dropping names. Now it was a minor stumbling block.

I hoped.

"That's where you come in," I said. I looked out of the open glass pocket doors into her backyard. The grass was emerald green and perfect, surrounding the concrete apron of the turquoise blue swimming pool. An outdoor kitchen was nestled into the near corner, with a glass-topped table and lots of overstuffed outdoor furniture. I'd never figured out why Irene needed two kitchens. She already had a fully equipped quartz-and-steel chef's kitchen on the inside that she didn't know how to use. Those gilt-edged gourmet cookbooks looked impressive on the shelves, but I knew they were strictly for decoration. Irene's crowning culinary achievement was PB&J sandwiches.

Of course, I'd never figured out why she needed hard-wired speakers in the ceilings throughout the house that played music at her whim, either. Or a gym big enough to accommodate an entire professional sports team. Or wall-mounted flat screen TVs in every room, including all five bathrooms, each of which had a jetted soaker tub almost as big as the pool and waterfall showers and heated floors and towel racks. If I wanted hot towels, I had to take them into the shower with me and hope for the best.

"Lucky for you," Irene said, "you know me. And I know just what you should wear."

"I'm not going," I said. "You got us into this mess. You have to find a Sherlock Holmes."

"This is not a mess," she said. "This is a golden opportunity. All you have to do is tell McDreamy that Holmes got called away on urgent business, and you're standing in for him. I'll print up a business card for you. Make you look like the real deal."

"I'd rather you print up a Sherlock Holmes," I said. "I can't carry that off. I can't lie to him like that."

"Sure you can," Irene said breezily. "You already did."

"That wasn't lying," I protested. "That was me standing there in my bathrobe, panicking."

Irene's eyes got big. "In your bathrobe? I think you skipped a few parts, Mar. So is he a briefs or boxers man?"

"It wasn't like that," I told her.

She fanned herself with one hand. "He goes commando? I didn't see that coming. Hello, Doctor."

"He could wear women's panties for all I know," I snapped. "I haven't seen him naked."

"So he's into blindfolds," Irene said. "Kinky. Although the women's panties thing…" She shrugged. "But to each his own."

I rolled my eyes. "Don't you know someone who can pretend for a few hours?"

"Yes," Irene said. "You. It's the perfect chance to learn more about Kate. Who else is going to ask the right questions?"

I was about to protest that I wasn't sure what the right questions were, but she ran right over me.

"Besides, it's not like a dinner date with McDreamy would be such a hardship."

"Would you please stop calling him that?"

"Why? Do you like Dr. Stud Muffin better?"

I glared at her. "Are you going to help me or not?"

"I'm trying," Irene said, "but you're not making it easy. Here's what I'll do. I have a gorgeous Stella McCartney up in the closet that will look great on you, and you can use the Porsche."

"I don't want to use the Porsche," I said, even though I kind of did. "I don't want to go anywhere near that restaurant. Sherlock Holmes has a date with Mc—with Dr. Watson, not me."

Irene shrugged. "You're all we've got. Come on." She stood up and grabbed my hand. "Let's go create a phony email account and phony business card and pour you into that dress."

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