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Chapter 2 - Rigging screws, size 1⅜, galvanised by A.J. Hall

“Interesting,” Sherlock breathed, hunching over his laptop in a convoluted, double-jointed way which gave John cramp merely to contemplate. Still, “interesting” was a great step up from the last few days, during which the London criminal element had flatly refused to cooperate with his flatmate’s need of mental stimulation. As a result, John had started to give serious consideration to whether Sherlock would find it most stimulating to investigate his own decapitation (the head having been, post-severance, forcibly inserted up his rectum) and whether it was his flatmately duty to put the scenario in place forthwith.

“What is?”

“Website analytics, John. Do pay attention.”

John thumped a mug of tea down besides Sherlock’s elbow.

“Website analytics. Fascinating, I’m sure. What about them?”

“Someone spent twenty minutes - twenty minutes, John - the average time on a site page is a second and three quarters and the average hit length for the whole site is 4.357 seconds – browsing And this is the search term she used to get there: ‘How’s a woman supposed to prove her husband’s a murderer, dammit?’ God, that’s beautiful.”

“It is? As opposed to, say, bonkers? Rhetorical? Demented?”

“Oh, for the umpteenth time, how can you stand to live in a mind that small? Can’t you see what’s happening here? She’s not asking me to investigate, she’s asking me to validate her conclusions. ‘How can I prove my husband’s a murderer?’ Oh, for Christ’s sake, John, stop looking like that. I’m not providing special needs education; the third person she adopted for her search term is a transparent distancing device. Unless, of course, she’s even more devious than I could have hoped, and wants to inveigle me into helping her frame her husband? God, that would be good. Better than good. Brilliant.”

John fetched his own cup of tea from the kitchen and dropped down into his armchair.

“OK. Tell me. Since you’re obviously going to, anyway.”

Without even stopping to acknowledge the weary irony, Sherlock was away and galloping for the far blue yonder.

“Older woman. No-one under the age of fifty – no, make that sixty – would formulate a Google search as a complete grammatical sentence. Probably not born much before 1950, though; uses contractions naturally in writing. Upper middle-class and well-educated for a conservative value of ‘well’; girls’ boarding school but not university, at a guess – puts the apostrophes in the right places but is confident enough to spell ‘dammit’ phonetically and too squeamish to say ‘fuck it’ instead, though the situation clearly warrants the stronger expletive. Confidence in her own judgment – she’s not asking me to prove her husband’s a murderer, she wants me to confirm it. But she won’t go to the police – oh, obvious, why would she be Googling for a site like mine at all if the police were an option?”

“She wouldn’t,” John murmured, having grasped by this point that Making Vaguely Encouraging Signals was his lot in life, at least if he wanted to have any peace and quiet for the foreseeable future. Or even, for that matter, if he wanted any over-dramatic and insanely interesting disquiet for the foreseeable future. Either would do. Definitely.

At least, compared to a bored Sherlock.

“Precisely. So she’s already had experience of the police – not usual for someone of that class and type, mostly they assume that the police are, generically, ‘wonderful’ and exist to serve their interests. Mostly, when they do experience the police, they’re proved right. But the police didn’t help this woman last time. What did she go to them about? Most likely, domestic abuse.”

He steepled his hands beneath his chin in what John privately thought of as his “crusader tombstone” pose.

“Domestic abuse?”

“Common enough in all social classes; equally commonly disregarded by police forces, especially where the alleged perpetrator’s got a decent social position and sounds plausible when questioned. Easier for them to assume day-to-day frictions between people living in close proximity have become temporarily overheated and someone’s exaggerating. At least, until it ends in murder. But she suspects – probably rightly – that the police won’t even investigate her claim that her husband’s committed murder. But she has to do something before he kills her too. Murderers don’t want spouses who can put two and two together.”

He ran out of steam and flopped back wanly against the sofa cushions.

“So? What now?”

“In her hands.” He moved his head. “Don’t look at me like that, John. I did try to identify her. IP search. Logged in from one of a small chain of internet cafés in the Southampton region. Hampshire and West Sussex police report no disappearances or unexplained corpses; the murder hasn’t come to light yet. Puts her in even more danger, if she’s the sole person with suspicions. If she fetches up dead, I’ve a head start on nailing the murderer. Short of that, unless she makes contact -”

He shrugged.

On the coffee table, Sherlock’s mobile trilled. He tensed, then flopped back.

“John. You get it. ”

John picked it up. “Excuse me? Yes. No, I’m his flatmate. No, I’m not sure if he’s in. Ah - um – I’ll see.” He muted the phone, looking across to Sherlock. “It’s a Marjorie Jameson. She says it’s a very personal matter.” He glanced down at the screen on the phone. “You should know – she’s calling from an 02380 area code.”

Sherlock’s face lit up. He reached out his hand. John passed across the mobile.

“Mrs Jameson. We’ve been waiting for your call. So; whom did your husband kill and what evidence do you have to prove it? And how can I help?”