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The Least of All Possible Mistakes

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George is reasonably certain that her involvement in this case stems from some sort of larger karmic punishment, as it had started with a note from the first officers on the scene saying, "Bring some tarps," and rapidly escalated to this terrible moment: her watching poor Hatcher trying not to expire from embarrassment as he stands in a room with five dead bodies arrayed in the center and fairly overflowing with graphic pornography: videos, photographs, heaps and heaps of magazines.

"Sir — ma'am," he says to her, miserable.

George makes a face at the carpet, sniffing. "Is that — ?"

"Yes," Hatcher rushes to say, before she can fully articulate her question, which is probably for the best when he adds, "Soaked through." He holds up some plastic shoe coverings. "I saved these for you."

She takes them with a sigh. "Tell me, Hatcher, why have I been rousted out of my cosy, non-urine-soaked office to come to Hampstead and stare at ugly, naked, dead middle-class people?"

Experience and age haven't conquered Hatcher's reflexive and eternal professional anxiety, and he fumbles a notepad out of his shirt pocket and paws at it for long, awkward moments while Davison rolls his eyes in the background, openly admiring some of the grainy photos of gangbangs on the walls.

"Well," Hatcher starts, "it's a quintuple homicide."

"I think it's a sex accident," Davison calls, having moved away from the still photos to one of the computer monitors, spooling out mildly revolting footage of an exceptionally hairy man churning the cream. George hates that she knows that terminology at all.

Hatcher looks at George urgently. "There is the possibility that this is a sex accident," he admits.

George glances at the bodies: unmarked, their eyes all open, each expression a rictus of perimortem shock. The doors and windows to the house were locked from the inside, the security alarm had still been engaged when the officers had been forced to break in to investigate the missing persons report. There's no apparent murder weapon or indeed a cause of death, and guessing from the smell, they've been dead at least 48 hours.

"Hatcher, I want you to think very carefully when I ask you: what kind of sex accident kills five people without leaving a mark?" George queries him, slipping the plastic covers over her tan flats and watching expressions of mortification, uncertainty, annoyance, and eventually mortification again flit across Hatcher's sweet, bright red face. "Separately, it's high time you stop falling for it when Davison tells you things."

Glowering over his shoulder over at the officer in question, Hatcher says, "Yes, sir — ma'am."

George leans forward to peer through a doorway, at where Sally is rooting around the kitchen in a deeply unflattering blue jumpsuit. "Anything?"

"Everything in this bloody house is biodegradable and nontoxic," Sally calls back. "If they were poisoned, then whoever's done it has taken the poison with him."

"Except the alarm was on," George says to herself, picking her way around the bodies to a circa 1996 Nokia phone abandoned on a side table, calling out, "Gloves, please!"

Davison squishes across the carpet — vile — and stuffs a pair into her hands, and George is trying to negotiate the latex around her rings when her phone buzzes dully in her pocket. She says, "Bollocks," and answers it with, "Hello?"

"Let me in," Sherlock says.

George pinches the mobile between her shoulder and ear, swearing under her breath at the Holmes family's proclivity for five carat antique diamonds and trying not to tear the latex of the glove. "What?" she asks, smoothing the material over the platinum wedding band, blessedly unmarked.

"The house," he snipes at her.

George rolls her eyes, shuffling over to the phone and bagging it for evidence. She says, "Hey, catch," and hurls it at Hatcher's head. As he's diving for it and risking a shirtfront of pee, she says, "I thought we'd confiscated your police scanner."

"I'm standing on the front walk with a number of your even more idiotic slack-jawed subordinates," Sherlock complains. "Your lot are clearly clueless."

There's a very large, disgusting crust of semen on the ottoman, and George whistles at one of the crime scene techs, waving him over. "Here," she tells him, and says to Sherlock, "By the way, insulting my people is an absolutely brilliant way of convincing me you deserve to be let onto an investigation again."

Sherlock is sullenly mute for half a minute before he says, "It's been more than a year."

"And?" George prompts, circling through the kitchen and laundry and downstairs loo to the front sitting room, where she can see the cluster of panda cars and forensic vans arrayed out front, the nosey neighbors thick on the ground, nannies whispering at each other over exorbitantly priced prams. Also: Sherlock, incensed.

"And I've been extremely gracious in all my professional interactions with you," he lies through his teeth.

George says, "False, try again."

"For God's sake, Lestrade!" he roars, except — she doesn't hear anything from outside, no odd stereo effect of him shouting at her, despite how loud he is, and how thin these single glaze panes are.

She turns round and calls through the hall, "Oy! I think this house may be soundproofed!"

Over the phone, Sherlock is saying, "Soundproofed?"

George turns back to the window, where she can see Sherlock creeping ever closer to the front door of the house, dodging stray officers on the scene and being surprisingly sneaky despite the mid-winter drama of his Belstaff coat blowing out behind him.

"Nothing you need to worry about," George says, grinning and leaning against the window frame, waving where Sherlock's spotted her.

"It has been fourteen months!" he yelled at her, looking completely bonkers screaming into his mobile on the front lawn of a crime scene. In a sick way, George has missed this a little bit. "If one more useless heiress comes to me with one more ridiculous missing brooch or vanished show pony my brain is going to liquify in my skull — give me murders, Lestrade, give me work!"

She laughs, "Christ, you sound desperate."

"I am," he grinds out. If looks could kill, honestly.

"Will you behave?" she asks.

"Yes," he snaps, and advances two steps up the walk.

She moves away from the window, toward the door, pressing her fingers against the lock. He could pick it, but he knows that would lengthen the terms of his probation indefinitely; George is a capricious parol officer.

"Will you have John here, too?" she asks.

"He's on his way," Sherlock says, annoyed by this. "Apparently he had to perform surgery or something similarly dull. I stopped listening."

George laughs, and mostly to be a twat at this point, she asks, "Will you wear the jumpsuit and follow proper scene procedure?"

Sherlock makes a series of hilarious and hilariously wronged noises before composing himself and managing, "Yes, fine. I will."

"Good," George says, smiling, and opens the door.