A Horrid Thump @chiennoir
A Horrid Thump

 "I know this sounds awful, under the circumstances," sighed the landlady, "but I'll never be able to find a tenant for this flat now. I need that money, what with Edwin's surgery coming up and all."            

John Watson looked up from the body that lay crumpled under the open skylight, its head bent at an unnatural angle. A trickle of blood had dripped from the nose onto the hardwood floor. "Really? Sorry to hear that. What's wrong with Mr. Turner?" 

"It's a wart. On the bottom of his foot. Shaped just like South America." Mrs. Hudson's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "She doesn't like to talk about it."            

"John!" snapped Sherlock Holmes.            

"Sorry." John moved aside a pillowcase that lay across the young woman's shoulder. A single, downy white feather floated to the floor as he rolled the body onto its back.           

 "Cause of death?"            

"Fairly straightforward, I should think. I'd need an x-ray to be sure, but it looks as if the second cervical vertebra has been fractured. She probably died instantly." John picked up one of the woman's hands to examine the fingernails. A large, ripe strawberry rolled from the palm.            

"Now it's getting interesting," said the detective, with a wry grin. He picked up the strawberry and began examining it with a pocket lens. "What's your theory, John? Dazzle me."            

"Hm. Well. She's had a fall - one from sufficient height to break her neck. The doors and windows are dead-bolted, leaving no means of escape, and Mrs. Turner has all the keys. So the killer had to have been on the roof. There's a pillowcase, but no pillow. There was a pillow in it at some point, though, as evidenced by the feather."            

"Good," muttered Sherlock, putting down the strawberry and turning his attention to the feather. "Go on."            

"Not been dead long. An hour, maybe."            

"That's just when I heard it!" Mrs. Turner exclaimed. "A scream, and oh, that horrid thump!"            

"And the strawberry?"            

"Perhaps it was the killer's calling card? Like the black paper lotus in the case of the Chinese smugglers,” John suggested.            "It's got a bite out of it," Sherlock remarked. "So...?" He had lost interest in the feather, and was now staring intently out the window.            

"The murderer was peckish?" giggled Mrs. Hudson.            

"Stop that! It's not funny!" Mrs. Turner began to whimper.            

"Come now, dear," Mrs. Hudson cooed to her friend. "A little vinegar and bicarbonate of soda will take that nasty bloodstain right out."            

"Martha! Think! It'll be all over the news! What reasonable person would want to live at the scene of a murder?"            

"Who wouldn't? Nice high ceilings - and those skylights! So light and airy! And I just love what you've done with the drapes."            "Oh, shut up, Martha. No one would ever call you reasonable."            

"You needn't worry, Mrs. Turner," Sherlock replied crisply, blowing the feather from the palm of his hand. He dropped the magnifying lens into his pocket with a dramatic flourish. "This woman's death was an accident." 

"An accident," John looked at Sherlock skeptically. "You're sure?"            

"Of course I'm sure. Let's look at your theory. Two people are inexplicably on the roof of a building at one o'clock in the afternoon on a Saturday. One of them takes a bite out of a strawberry, hands it to the other as a symbolic gesture, pushes her through the open skylight, then drops a pillowcase on her and vanishes without trace."            

"What a load of bollocks! You're just putting random things together in the most ridiculous way possible," John sputtered, "trying to make my theory look stupid."            

"That's not true," replied Sherlock. "It was already stupid. I didn't have to try."            

"Fine then. How do you know it wasn't a burglary? That would explain the pillowcase. And he'd have an..."            

"She'd." Sherlock corrected, indicating the dead body.            

"She'd have an easy point of entry through the skylight, which was wide open because...it...was... um... Mrs. Turner?"            "Because of the smell, dear. We had the floor varnished on Wednesday, so we opened it up - for ventilation, you know. Edwin must have forgotten to close it. Thank goodness it didn't rain."            

Mrs. Hudson chimed in. "Poor Edwin. He does have a lot on his mind these days, what with..." Mrs. Turner shot her a poisonous glance, which she chose to ignore. "South America."            

"Of course!" Sherlock snorted. "A burglar climbed onto the roof in broad daylight, in order to jump through the skylight and ransack...'           

 "...an empty flat." John sighed. "I give up. Why don't you just tell us what really happened? Then everyone will know how brilliant you are, the police can come and collect that poor woman's body, and we'll all get home in time for tea."            Mrs. Hudson suddenly brightened. "Suicide!" she exclaimed.            

Three heads turned and regarded her incredulously.            

"Oh, that makes perfect sense," said Sherlock. "If I wanted to kill myself, the first thing I'd do is take an empty pillowcase and a strawberry up the fire escape to the nearest open skylight, and dive in head first."            

"Don't look at me like that. It does happen, you know. Ellen Winthrop! Just last week, right there in front of Top Shop!"            Mrs. Turner rolled her eyes. "She got drunk and walked in front of a bus."            

"It could have been on purpose," Mrs. Hudson sulked. "There was always something not-quite-right about Ellen."            

John folded his arms and looked Sherlock square in the face. "Why do you keep asking for my opinion if everything I say is crap? Or do you just enjoy being an insufferable prick?"            

"As I've said before, you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Your misguided musings were most helpful. Especially the very significant bit about the pillow."            

"You said there was no pillow," John said testily.            

"That's the significant bit," said Sherlock.            

"I've bloody had enough of this," John muttered, to nobody in particular.           

 "We have a pillowcase, but no pillow. There is, however," Sherlock held up the object in question. "A feather."            

"From the missing pillow!" John plucked the feather from Sherlock's hand and shook it in his face.           

Sherlock gripped his friend's shoulders and shook him in frustration. "There is no pillow! God! How can you not get it?"            "You're going to 'get it' in a minute if you don't let go of me." John, having reached his limit, narrowed his eyes and seized Sherlock by the lapels.            

Mrs. Turner had retreated, wide-eyed, into a corner.            

"Boys!" Mrs. Hudson waded into the fray. "Stop this! Stop it now!" She snatched up the pillowcase and, in a most uncharacteristic display of pique, swatted the men with it.            

They froze where they stood, glaring at each other.            

"Now, you silly things," she said, holding her weapon balled up in her fist. "We are going to find out exactly what happened here. No more mucking about. Got it?"            

"I can't believe she just said that," said John.            

"Mind the coat," said Sherlock, delicately prying John's hands from his lapels and brushing himself off with feline distaste. "I need that," he added, retrieving the pillowcase along with what he hoped was a tiny portion of his dignity. "It's evidence." Chapter Three             

"You heard her. Let's have it," John demanded. "No more mucking about."            

"All right," Sherlock relented, staring up at the open skylight. "I admit it. I was stalling for time, hoping the culprit would return to the scene of the crime."            

Mrs. Hudson objected. "Culprit! What culprit? I thought you said it was an accident!"            

"It was."            

"Here we go again," John muttered. "Cryptic and annoying. Not a good combination."            

"Nothing cryptic there. It's all quite clear when you think about it. You should try it some time."            

John took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair, trying to keep it from becoming a fist. "You really don't know what happened, do you? Well, we can't let this poor woman's body lie on the floor all day while you collect your thoughts. I'm calling Lestrade."            

"Don't. I don't want those idiots trampling everything yet. Of course I know what happened. What I need is proof. Mrs. Turner, how long has this flat been empty?"            

"Only since Monday. But we've known it was coming for quite a while."            

"So the tenant died, then?"            

"Oh, no. He's very much alive. He's ninety-two. Moved into assisted living, just up the road."            

"Ah. I see." Sherlock scanned the room, taking note of every possible detail. "Elderly gentleman. Opinionated. Bit of a quick temper. Walked with a cane until recently, when he developed problems with his balance and had to start using a walker. Moved out when he could no longer manage the stairs."            

"Why, yes," Mrs. Turner replied, astonished. "How could you possibly know all that about Mr. Sutherland? The flat is empty."            "It wasn't easy, now that you've refinished the floors. That he's got a temper is clear from these little dents in the plaster - opposite the cable outlet. He enjoys watching things he disagrees with on telly, and bashes the wall repeatedly with his cane. The smudges at the centre of the door frames tell me that he needed to grasp them for support as he went from room to room, and the smudges at the bottom are from the wheels of his walker."            

"My goodness, That's him! He loves to argue with the politicians on television. I think it really bothers him that they don't argue back."            

Sherlock shifted his attention to the corpse. "Now then. What happened here? Young lady goes out on a very chilly day, yet she's not wearing a coat - not even a jumper. Despite her minimal salary as a nurse's aide, she spends quite a bit of money on her appearance, as evidenced by her professionally manicured fingernails, expensive makeup, and stylish haircut. Such a girl would never choose to be seen in public wearing trainers and scrubs, so she must have come here from work, where such attire is mandatory. No handbag or wallet, hence no identification. The pattern of wear on her shoes tells me she has a car, but she isn't carrying any keys. Clearly she left in a great hurry and on foot. But, curiously, she had the presence of mind to pick up a pillowcase on her way out..." his voice trailed off and he stood silent for a moment. He picked up the strawberry and held it to the light, turning it slowly in his fingers. "...and this."           

Sherlock addressed his own landlady. "Mrs. Hudson, you were right when you said the murderer was peckish. John, be a good chap and contact Lestrade, will you? Tell him to wait for my signal. I'll be right back." He turned on his heel and swept past his puzzled audience and down the stairs.            

"That was a a bit dramatic, wasn't it?" Mrs. Turner mused.            

"It's what he does," John replied flatly, tapping a message into his phone.            

Mrs. Turner shook her head sadly. "Poor old Mr. Sutherland. I've noticed him going downhill a bit lately. Kept confusing Edwin with Winston Churchill."            

"Can't really blame him for that," added Mrs. Hudson. "You must admit there's a bit of a resemblance."            

"Excuse me?"            

"Well, he's not exactly George Clooney, is he?"            

"Look who's talking!" Mrs. Turner exclaimed indignantly. "At least Edwin never killed anybody!"            

“My husband killed a Cuban drug lord,” Mrs. Hudson huffed. “Some people would call that a good thing.”            

“Martha. Your husband was a Cuban drug lord.”            

"Come now, ladies, let's be civil." John picked up the pillowcase. "I'm not afraid to use this."   

It wasn't long before the detective returned, carrying a takeaway container of fruit salad and a spool of thread. He picked out a strawberry, tied the thread round the stem, and tossed it through the open skylight onto the roof. The remainder of the fruit he put on the floor.            

Almost immediately, there came muffled fluttering and a soft thump from above, followed by a skittering sound.            

"Ssh!" Sherlock exclaimed, gently tugging on the thread. "Nobody move!"            

The berry fell through the skylight, followed by a large, yellow-crested white bird. The creature perused the astonished people with its round, bright eyes, dismissed them as irrelevant, and waddled over to the fallen treasure. It picked the berry up in its claw, chewing away at it with obvious relish.            

"Ladies and gentleman," Sherlock whispered triumphantly, "Here is your murderer."            

"A bird," said John. "You're telling us this woman was killed by a bloody bird."            

"A sulphur-crested cockatoo, to be exact."            

"And you knew it all along."            

"I did."            

"Oh my God," Mrs. Turner breathed. "Mr. Foofy?"            

"Eck," said the bird.            

"Mr. who?" John blinked incredulously at the bird, who had discarded the strawberry in favour of a grape.            

"It's Mr. Foofy! Old Mr. Sutherland's bird. He's had him for ages. Knows all sorts of clever words, don't you, you silly old thing!"            "Piss off!" Mr. Foofy announced brightly, bobbing his head and raising his crest of feathers.            

"Hmph. That was uncalled for," said Mrs. Turner.            

"Oi. Daft bastard, arrogant prat," the bird muttered, trundling off in search of another grape.            

"So. Where was I? What could an old gentleman's pet cockatoo possibly have in common with a young nurse's aide?"            "Mr. Sutherland, of course," John suggested. "Assisted living implies assistants. I should think our victim was one of the old man's caregivers."            

Sherlock picked the white feather up off the floor, where it had now been joined by several more just like it. "And I believe I've proven that there was, in fact, never any pillow."            

"Nope," John conceded. “No pillow. I was completely and utterly wrong about the pillow. I will never mention a pillow again. Ever. Just please, please stop talking about it."            

"I entertained that theory myself at first, so you really weren't so far wrong. But pillows generally contain feathers from waterfowl - ducks and geese. Upon closer examination, I discovered that this one was neither. It was from a member of the parrot family. The feather was white, which narrowed the range of possibilities considerably."            

John tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a smirk. "You can't name the planets, but you're an expert on birds' feathers. All right, then. Well done."            

"I once had occasion to run down a man who was smuggling exotic birds out of Australia. You never know when something you've learned might come in handy," Sherlock replied with a sidelong glance. "I also learned that cockatoos are territorial. They'll always try to find their way home if given the chance. The bird found himself in an unfamiliar place. Somehow he got out of his cage, and flew toward the one place he felt comfortable."            

"It's clear as day, now," said Mrs. Hudson. "Mr. Foofy must have escaped, and the caregiver went onto the roof, trying to get him back."            

"Exactly! Mr. Sutherland must be beside himself with worry, having lost his only companion. Imagine a ninety-year-old man, probably with a dicky heart or some such condition, upset over the loss of his beloved pet. The girl feared for his health, or perhaps she was the one who accidentally let the bird out. She rushed out of the facility and followed the bird. She planned to lure him with one of his favourite foods, bung him into the pillowcase, and return him to his owner. That's where it all went wrong. Mr. Foofy flew up to the roof, and, finding the skylight open, decided to go in. He was distracted by the girl's offer of a strawberry and bit into it. Had she the patience to wait for him to climb onto her arm as he had been trained to do, all would have been well. But she tried to grab him, lost her balance, and fell. Mr. Foofy got frightened, flew off across the street, and stayed there until I presented him with another strawberry."            

Mr. Foofy clambered up Mrs Turner's sleeve and tucked his head under her chin for a cuddle. "Aw, hello sweetheart," she cooed.            

"Hallo, handsome," crooned the bird. "Daft bastard."            

"How could you possibly know where he flew? How'd you know he'd come back for the second strawberry?" She fed the bird a bit of banana. "Seems awfully improbable to me."           

 "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."            

"Piss off," chirped Mr. Foofy, preening himself. "Arrogant prat."            

"Shut up, you," said Sherlock.            

"Ouch," John smirked. "Bird for the win."            

"All right. Fine. I didn't know. I saw him through the window, sitting on top of a light pole."            

"What say, old chap? Want to come home with me? Watch some football on telly? Put Sherlock in his place on a regular basis?" John tickled the bird under its chin.            

"Eck," said Mr. Foofy.            

"Let's not be selfish, John. There's a lonely old gentleman down the road longing for his friend's return." Sherlock pulled out his phone and tapped in a number. "Gavin! Hello. Sherlock Holmes here. What? Greg. Whatever. I've got an interesting one for you right here on Baker Street. Accidental death - we'll need an ambulance to collect the body. Oh, and bring a birdcage, will you? Large one. Yeah," he chuckled. "Big birdcage. I'll explain it when you get here."          

 "My goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Hudson, standing at the window and watching the ambulance and the police cars pull away, with Sherlock and John following behind in a cab. "What an exciting afternoon it's turned out to be!"           

 "Someone died, Martha." Mrs. Turner fetched a long metal pole from the closet and used it to close the skylight. "Have a little respect."            

"Yes - that bit is quite sad, I suppose. Pretty young person like that. At least she went out doing something nice for somebody else. And who'd have thought it was a bird that caused it all! Simply amazing!"            

"Hmph," sniffed Mrs. Turner.            

"Oh, dear, look at the time," exclaimed Mrs. Hudson, breaking the uncomfortable silence that followed her remarks. "I'll just pop down and fix us some tea, yes?"            

Mrs. Hudson fluttered down the stairs, leaving Mrs. Turner in the centre of a room littered with blood, feathers, bird droppings, and half-eaten fruit.            

"My poor floors," she sighed. 

###           

"The Case of the Crested Culprit." I must admit, John, you've really outdone yourself with this one." Sherlock closed his laptop and settled himself on the sofa.            

"Outdone," John deadpanned, his eyes fixed on the newspaper. "I can only imagine what you mean by that."            

"Oh, I mean it in the best possible way," Sherlock replied languidly.            

"Really."            

"You must admit it's one of the most unlikely scenarios we've ever encountered," Sherlock closed his eyes and smiled. "It's not every day you run across someone who's been killed by a foul-mouthed pet bird."            

"Killed by a fall, poor girl," said John. "Broken neck. I deduced that bit myself."            

"Killed by a fall caused by a bird."            

"True."            

"That bird called me an arrogant prat."           

 "Yes," John chuckled.            

"'Yes' the bird said it, or 'yes' I am one?"            

"Yes."            

"Odd," said Sherlock.            

"What's odd?"            

"A strawberry."            

"What about it?"            

"Such a tiny thing, and yet, however indirectly, it ended the life of one person, and probably extended the life of another. I didn't even see that until just now. Too busy trying to prove myself right."            

"Hm. Self-critical introspection. That is rather odd, coming from you. And your point?"           

 "The little things are infinitely the most important."            

"Yes, I suppose they are. Does this mean you've given up being an arrogant prat?"           

"John, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my abilities, or giving less attention to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'strawberry' in my ear, and I'll be forever grateful." 

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