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A Charming Situation

2010 © K. A. Laity [written for the Sherlocking fan site/image via Wikimedia] Holmes fiddled with the third patch on his arm and sighed. "It's not going to be like the last one." There was no question in his voice, only a warning tone. "Honest," Watson said, looking down at his mobile again to reread the text for the fifth time. "I swear." No words came from the prone figure on the sofa at first: just a sniff. "That's what you said last time." Watson sighed. "I didn't know 'Reginald' was a cat. And anyway it was rather tricky the way he got into that air vent and after all, you did find him—" The glare that stopped his words had a nearly physical force. Watson coughed. "They are distraught, the police are at a loss, you are needed." "Maybe it just slipped out," Holmes said, but he got up and reached for his coat, slinging a muffler around his throat. "It's not just one. It's all of them." They walked up Baker Street toward the park, crossing over the footbridge as a light rain began to fall. "Poor sods," Watson muttered, looking at the waterfowl huddled under the edge of the bridge and wishing he'd grabbed a scarf as well. "Miserable life being a duck." "Coot," Holmes corrected. "Fulica atra. And I don't know about miserable: protected from predators, well fed by tourists, probably living double the usual life span of the average coot, so doubtless a rather good life." The phone chimed in his pocket, but he didn't reach for it. "You've been talking to Mycroft again." "It's only dinner, I don't know why you can't agree—"

"No." They walked the rest of the way across the green expanse in silence. Watson worried. He found it impossible to be sure what Holmes thought as they trudged along and the rain fell harder. Then again, he found it impossible to be sure what Holmes was thinking most of the time. At the entrance, the zoo director met them with a constable and an anxious wave. "Hannah Brown. I'm so glad you could come," she said shaking Holmes' and then Watson's hand with a good deal too much vigour. Watson noticed Holmes scanning her clothing and shoes and tried to do the same. Damp khaki: it wasn't much to go on. Doubtless Holmes saw more. He looked quizzically at her as Brown explained the discovery that morning and the panic that ensued. The constable nodded agreement, adding nothing. "Well, come along and have a look and see if you can tell us anything." The two followed Brown as she led the way to the Reptile and Amphibian House, the constable trailing behind them. Holmes leaned over. "Is blue an unusual shade for nail polish?" Watson considered. "It's not the most popular colour, but it's not terribly unusual. Do you think it means something?" A quick smile flickered across Holmes' face. "I just thought it pretty." Watson stared at him and in so doing, nearly stepped on the zoo director's feet as she paused outside the exhibit. "We've kept the public out," Brown said, motioning them inside with an apologetic shrug. "Not that it's a very busy day." The chill outside vanished when they stepped inside. The heat hit like a wave across their faces. "Is it always this warm?" Watson asked. "No," Brown said. "There's a computerised thermostat that keeps the temperature constant." "But it's been tampered with," Holmes broke in before stepping over to the first empty case. "Not a one left?" He didn't wait to hear the answer before stalking over to each glassed cubicle in turn, examining the surface closely. "Who discovered the snakes were missing?" Watson opened his notebook. "Head of staff this morning. He's just outside if you should need—" "No." Holmes shook his head. "Is there a man, perhaps he works security, perhaps as a zoo keeper, or whatever bureaucratese you're using now, about so high," he held his hand

parallel to the ground at about shoulder height, "large, flat hands, blonde hair?" Brown wrinkled her brow. "Bainbridge?" Holmes nodded curtly. "He's your man." He wrapped the muffler around his neck once more. Do they serve breakfast here?" Watson and Brown stared at him. "How can you possibly…no, just tell me," Watson said at last. Holmes sighed. "It has to be someone who works here. Turned the heat down last night when the zoo closed and opened the vents." He shot a glance at Watson, who flushed. "The snakes sought out the warm pipes. Bainbridge and his partner simply rounded up the snakes once they were all gathered around the pipes, simplifying the task of collection and leaving a seemingly impenetrable mystery behind. I think eggs." "They stole the snakes for eggs?" Watson couldn't decide whether to bother writing any of this in the notebook. "No, I want eggs for breakfast. Well, possibly—more likely the exotic pet black market. I would start looking for a van, probably a hire, though perhaps his partner owns a van." "And the—" Holmes pointed to the nearest glass barrier. "Large finger and hand marks while the rest of the surface is clean. Last night's crew did their work well before departing." He held up a strand of hair. "Well, I best call it in," the constable said at last. "Thank you," Brown said, shaking Holmes' hand again, though with less vigour than before. The two walked out into the gloomy day. The rain was bucketing down now. Watson wished again for his muffler. Holmes sighed. "At least there's X Factor tonight." "You are a cruel man," Watson said. "Shall we go find a cuppa?"