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



The Medical Examiner's office was about as warm and inviting as a penitentiary. The floor was linoleum tile, beige flecked with brown and moss green. The walls were cinderblock. The lighting was fluorescent. The seats were hard, molded plastic.

"They couldn't spring for a couple of potted plants?" Irene whispered into the roaring silence. "Maybe brighten up the place?"

"Guess they don't get many visitors," I whispered back.

"Not vertical ones anyway," Irene agreed. "That's probably why they hid it away in a basement."

I shifted in my seat. My discomfort wasn't due entirely to the inhospitable seating. This place gave me the willies. There wasn't a speck of color or natural lighting. We were sitting just inside the door, but if the lights went out, I wasn't all that sure I'd be able to find my way out again. Everything seemed cold, sterile, and slightly perfumed with disinfectant.

"What do you think is taking him so long? That woman said he'd be right out."

"Be patient," Irene said. "It hasn't been that long." She looked at her white gold watch and blinked. "It's been fifteen minutes! What's taking this guy so long?"

"Hello, ladies. I'm Dr. Watson."

I looked across the room and felt myself blink in disbelief. Dr. Watson belonged on the cover of People's Sexiest Medical Examiners issue. Very blue eyes, very thick blond hair, very broad shoulders. And a slightly pouty lower lip that made his mouth hard to ignore. It was a crime that with those looks, he spent his days in the basement with cadavers, when he could have been spending them above ground, with me.

I lost myself in that thought for a second. What a waste. Maybe I could work on that.

Irene hauled me to my feet and shoved me in his direction. "Doctor, this is Marty Hudson."

His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners when he smiled. Starter crinkles that a 30-something-year-old doctor who smiled a lot would get. So he had a sense of humor. A sense of humor was good.

"Miss Hudson," he said. He looked over at Irene. "And you are?"

She flapped a hand. "Not important. Marty here has something to discuss with you."

Right. Like hot tubs and fireplaces on wintry nights. Or—

"Speak," Irene spat at me.

"How did Kate Quigley die?" I blurted.

Silence.

"Smooth," she whispered.

My face felt hot with embarrassment. I wouldn't win any awards from Toastmasters, but I wasn't that inept at conversation. I'd been around 2B for too long. I'd forgotten how to talk to a hottie like Dr. Watson. I'd never seen a hottie like Dr. Watson.

"Marty!" Irene hissed.

I cleared my throat. "What I mean is, Kate's my great-aunt. I didn't actually know that until very recently. I mean, I didn't even know I had a great-aunt. But I do. Well, I did, before she died, and she left me her house and—"

Irene coughed sharply.

I blinked. "How did Kate Quigley die?"

Dr. Watson just stared at me. And not in a good way. Like not in a you're-so-beautiful-you-take-my-breath-away way. More like a you-need-medication-right-now way.

"What my eloquent friend here wants to know," Irene said, "is how—"

"Did Kate Quigley die," I agreed.

Irene sighed.

Dr. Watson shook his head. "I'm sorry for your loss, Miss Hudson, but I'm afraid I can't tell you that."

"Why not?" Irene asked. "You performed the autopsy, right?"

"I did," he said. "What I mean is I'm not at liberty to divulge any information until all tests have been run and an official report generated. That will be released in four to six weeks."

"I don't need the official report," I said. "I don't need the report at all. I just want to know how she died. She was my great-aunt."

"Yes, you've made that clear," he said. "And I'm sorry, but it's out of my hands. If you want to leave your contact information, I'd be happy to ask my assistant to send you a copy when policy permits."

Policy. I was coming to hate that word. "Thank you. I appreciate that. But can't you just give me a hint? I mean, was she sick? Was it quick or drawn out? Was it—" I paused, my mouth a little dry. "—hereditary?"

"I'm sorry I can't—"

"Was it bad?" I asked. "It was something awful, right?" I thought I felt Irene roll her eyes beside me, but I figured there was no turning back now. "Please can you tell me now? I mean, I know you've already determined manner of death. Detective Lestrade told us it was natural. So you know it wasn't homicide or suicide. So she died from some horrible disease, didn't she? Something awful must run in my family. I'm probably a carrier, and I don't even know it." I coughed once, pointedly.

He took a tiny step back, glancing at Irene with a degree of alarm.

Irene looked back without expression. She knew that jumping to conclusions was a form of exercise for me.

"Four to six weeks, Miss Hudson," he said. "Unless you're an investigator with an official reason for needing preliminary reports." He made a half turn toward the door. "Was there anything else?"

I gave Irene a helpless look.

He opened the door.

"We are investigators," Irene shot out.

The doctor turned, frowning. "I beg your pardon?"

I felt the same way. I blinked at Irene.

"I should say, we work for a private investigator," she continued. "We didn't mention it up front because we don't like a lot of people to know."

We all glanced around the empty room.

"Not that that's a problem here," Irene added. "It's not like your patients are big talkers."

My turn to roll my eyes.

"You two are private investigators?" he repeated with clear skepticism.

Irene shrugged modestly.

"That's what she said," I agreed. "Does that mean we're entitled to the preliminary report?"

"What kind of case are you working on here?" he asked.

"I'm afraid we can't tell you that," Irene said. "Client confidentiality. You understand."

He turned to me. "I thought you said she was your great-aunt."

"I…did. Yes." I licked my lips, stalling. "Uh, but, you see…"

"It's a family case," Irene jumped in. "Marty here is related to the deceased, but she's not our client."

I nodded vigorously. "That's right."

"So who is the client?" he asked, crossing his arms over his oh-so-broad chest.

"Sorry. That would put us in violation of a gag order," I said immediately. "It's a very nasty case. But I'm sure we could come back with a subpoena if we have to."

He studied me for a few moments without speaking. I tried my best to look like a private investigator. I could do private investigator. I was the curious type, maybe even nosy, and kind of stubborn. I just hoped he wouldn't ask for a business card. We were in big trouble if he asked for a business card.

"Could I see a business card?" he asked.

I swallowed a sigh.

"They're in another purse," I told him. The one I hadn't bought yet.

"I'm out of cards," Irene said.

"I see." Not judging by his expression, he didn't. "How about the name of your firm?"

"The name of our firm," I repeated. I looked at Irene. "He wants to know the name of our firm."

"Not a problem," Irene said with an easy smile. I didn't know where she got it from. I couldn't have worked up a smile if my life depended on it. "We work for…Sherlock Holmes."

I blinked at her. Again.

"Sherlock Holmes." He rubbed a hand across his chin. I could imagine him committing the odd-sounding name to memory, or maybe recalling the number to the local police department so that he could report us the minute we left. Hard to tell whether or not he believed us, but my money was on not a chance.

"Tell you what," he said at last, just when I'd convinced myself that we'd be arrested for impersonating PIs. "You have Mr. Holmes send over his credentials," he continued, "and I'll release my preliminary report to him. Here, take my card. Deal?"

"I don't know if—" I began.

"Deal," Irene cut in. She stuffed the card into her pocket. "Consider it done. Thanks for your time. Sorry to keep you. We have to be going." She grabbed my arm.

"But I don't know if—"

"We have to be going," Irene repeated. "Let's not take up any more of the nice doctor's time. We'll get those credentials to you right away, Doc," she called over her shoulder.

He nodded once and vanished into the office.

I followed her out, thinking I might as well start preparing myself for the indictment that was sure to be on its way. The only occasion where I was likely to see Dr. Watson again was when he took the witness stand to testify against us.


* * *


"Seriously? Hemlock Holmes?" I got into the car and yanked my seat belt across my body. "What kind of crazy made-up name is that?"

"Sherlock. And it was the best I could come up with on the spot, okay? I didn't see you making one up."

No, I hadn't. I'd figured we'd already dug a deep enough hole.

"What were you thinking?" I asked.

Irene slid behind the wheel. "I was thinking that you want that report, right?"

"Yes," I mumbled.

"And you don't want to wait, right?"

"Yes."

"And saying we work for a PI was pretty quick thinking, right?"

"Yes! Okay, fine. You're right."

Irene grinned. "Besides, that doctor was pretty good looking, right?"

This time I shot her a look instead of answering.

"It wouldn't be a terrible thing to see him again, would it?"

"He's not my type," I argued.

Irene arched one perfectly threaded eyebrow at me. "Oh really? You're not into hot doctors?"

"He's…" I paused, struggling for the right words to describe him. Gorgeous. Drool worthy. Lava flow hot. "…completely inflexible," I finally settled on. "He's like an 80-year-old man trapped in a…" I trailed off again, biting my lip.

"Hottie's body?" Irene suggested.

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to. Your tongue practically hit the floor when you saw him."

"It did not," I said. "He's not that good looking. And stop trying to hook me up, will you? All I want from Dr. Watson is information."

"And that's what you'll get." Irene pulled out of the parking lot and up to a red light. "Just as soon as we get Sherlock Holmes to send over his credentials."

I slid down in my seat with a groan. "How are we supposed to do that? Shylock Holmes doesn't exist!"

"Sherlock," she corrected again. "And yeah, that could be a slight problem."

I shot her a look again. "Only a slight problem?"

Irene grinned. "We have the will. I think we should go out for drinks and work on the way. I've got an idea."

I grimaced. "You always do."

Fifteen minutes later, we pounced on an open table at the Cavern, a trendy gathering spot for twentysomethings on the waterfront. There was a huge circular bar dead center of the room, floor-to-ceiling windows with remote darkening shades facing the bay, and enough vibrations from gigantic speakers to rearrange internal organs.

I stared at the fake candle on the table shooting a flickering fake flame that neither warmed nor brightened. My jaw hurt from gritting my teeth. I didn't take rejection well, and I'd been rejected twice in the same day when all I'd wanted was information. Not like I was asking for state secrets. Those I could probably get.

"I can't believe he wouldn't tell family how she died," I groused into my martini. "Who does that? Don't you think he could have just given me Kate's cause of death?"

"Uh-huh." Irene pulled her tablet from her bag and began typing.

"I mean, it could be important information." I watched her. "It sounds like she had some health problem that could be hereditary. I don't know much about my dad's side of the family. Don't you think it would be important for me to know that?"

"Uh-huh." The typing stopped for a second while Irene read something. "It wasn't necessarily something hereditary," she said. "She could have had pneumonia or something. That house is sure drafty enough to catch pneumonia." She started typing again.

"What are you doing?" I asked, irritated. "Am I boring you or something?"

"I told you I had an idea," Irene said. "Ideas take work."

"If you say so." I drained the glass and stood. "I'm going to get a Coke. Want anything?"

"Nuh-uh."

It was almost ten minutes before I dropped back into my chair again with the soda and some more grievances. "It's just so frustrating to find out I have this relative I never knew, and now I can't find out anything about her." I noticed a business card lying on the table. "Is that the doctor's?"

"Uh-huh." Irene turned the tablet sideways and assessed.

"I don't know why you took it. It's not like we actually need Dr. Watson's contact information." I took a sip. "And by the way, you weren't much help. Why would you tell him we were private investigators? Don't you know it's a crime to lie about a thing like that?"

"Only to a police officer, maybe," Irene said. "Not to a doctor. Besides, I didn't lie." She held up the tablet with a triumphant grin. "Voila."

I stared at the screen. "Impressive. Is this what you do for a living?"

"Yes." Irene made a face. "I falsify government documents. What do you think?"

"You don't have to be snarky about it." I took another look at an official-looking license with the words Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. And below that was the name Sherlock Holmes.

I looked at her. "What is this?"

"That," Irene said, "is the answer to your prayer."

"That," I said, "is forgery."

Irene cocked her head, appraising the screen. "Huh. Never considered myself a forger before. I think I'm kinda good at it."

I tried not to roll my eyes as I imagined her adding that to her resume. Hacker Entrepreneur, Fake PI, Forger.

The tablet chimed softly, and her grin widened. "I think I hear the medical examiner calling."

"You actually sent that to him?" My hand was shaking on the glass.

"Kind of the point, Marty." Irene swiped away the fake PI license and opened her email with a smile. "I've got to hand it to him. He's true to his word. That's a good quality in a man, don't you think?" She handed me the tablet, where Dr. Watson's prelim report was open to page 1.

My eyes widened. "We shouldn't read this. We got it under false pretenses."

"We should read this," Irene insisted. "We didn't steal state secrets. It's a report. She's your family."

Right. Family. Family trumped forgery, right? Not like Dr. Watson would be likely to look into the authenticity of Sherlock Holmes's license. Why would he do that? He'd asked for credentials, he'd gotten credentials, and he'd sent over the report, one of hundreds that he sent out every year. He'd probably already deleted the phony license and put the whole transaction behind him. He'd never be able to describe me to, say, the Department of Homeland Security. As painful as it was to admit, I was pretty sure I hadn't made much of an impression. And that was okay, because I wouldn't be able to describe him either. I'd forgotten all about the broad shoulders, the blond hair, the blue eyes, the pouty lips. Especially the pouty lips.

There. I felt better already.

Since Irene had gone to all that trouble, and since the report was right in front of me, I scanned the first few lines. Since it was only preliminary and only meant for internal distribution, a lot of the findings were bare bones. But if there was such a thing as medical examiner boilerplate, that was it. The language was so clinical and nonspecific, it could have been referring to anyone.

Except it wasn't. My throat caught as I read on, glossing past the unsettling particulars of the autopsy itself. Organs had been average sized. No signs of recent trauma on the body. According to stomach contents, her last meal had been a pasta in an alfredo sauce followed by a glass of red wine. Cause of death: Dr. Watson had determined that my great-aunt Kate had suffered sudden cardiac death.

My eyes welled, imagining Kate alone in that house, hoping she hadn't suffered, hoping she hadn't even realized what was happening, that she'd been asleep in her bed when she'd passed.

Silently, I pushed the tablet across the table.

Irene picked it up and read over the report. "So natural causes," she said. "At least Lestrade was honest."

For what that was worth. At the moment, it didn't feel like much.

"I'm sorry, Mar." Irene shut down the tablet and dropped it back into her bag. "Does it help at all to know?"

"Yes." I shook my head. "And no. I just wish I had known her—even known about her—before now."

"Maybe clearing out the house will fill in the gaps," Irene said. "Do you want me to help?"

"You already have," I said. "Thanks, but that's something I should do myself."

Irene nodded. "Just call if you need me to whip up any more phony records." She held up her own virtually untouched martini glass. "To new beginnings."

I touched it with the rim of my own glass, suddenly melancholy. "And old friends," I said.

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