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[personal profile] disassembly_rsn
Author: [personal profile] disassembly_rsn
Title: Colonel Warburton's Madness
A gift for [personal profile] keerawa
Category: Gen
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none
Summary: Set pre-Reichenbach. Sally, John, and Sherlock are all brought in to investigate a theft at a regimental museum.
Author's Notes: The title is a reference to one of the cases Dr. Watson referred to in passing (see "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"), but never wrote up. The work is also a very minor crossover with H. Beam Piper's Murder in the Gunroom, which see for further details of the Fleming Collection.

Sally Donovan strode briskly into the regimental museum, pausing at the sight of two familiar figures standing behind the rope which nominally guarded the antiques firearms display by one wall labelled FLEMING COLLECTION. The taller of the two stood on a chair pulled against the wall, examining the upper surface of the display case, while the shorter appeared entranced by the exhibits within it. Sally continued advancing toward them, and the taller man - Sherlock Holmes, of course - looked up just as the sound of her footsteps changed when she crossed from the carpet of the outer corridor to the tile floor of the firearms exhibit hall. He stepped down to the floor.

"Sergeant Donovan, to what do we owe the pleasure?"

Sally halted, then ducked under the rope to join them, standing on the opposite side of the display that was occupying John's attention. "Colonel Warburton. He rang us up again today about the thefts from his precious firearms collection, yelled a bit, said he'd hired you since the Yard wasn't moving fast enough to suit him. Honestly, he's a maniac on the subject."

"But theft of antique firearms is hardly your area, is it?" Giving a brief snort of laughter, he added, "They're hardly going to wind up in the hands of organized crime, are they?"

Sally glanced at him, then toward John, who appeared fascinated by a huge - to Sally's eyes - pair of handguns labelled LIGHT DRAGOON PISTOLS, FLINTLOCK, c. 1740, and hadn't acknowledged either her presence or that of his friend. "Williamson over in Robbery said he'd swap shifts with me so I could have Christmas off if I'd deal with you today."

A tiny smile flickered across Sherlock's face. "Really? You should've held out for New Year's, too - he always seems to go to pieces whenever I see him, can't think how he ever made it to Detective Sergeant."

Sally gave a brief snort of laughter. "Good point. Come to that, what are you doing here? Slumming it a bit, aren't you?"

Sherlock shrugged. "John presented it to me as a locked room theft - someone managed to break into the display cases and substitute worthless fakes for valuable antique firearms, without setting off any alarms. Collection found salted with fakes, turned up while the museum was closed for inventory and remodelling; no record of when it could've happened.

"Of course, that was before I saw how pathetic the security is; hope the Army does a better job protecting nuclear weapons than they do with their own museums."

John finally joined in with his familiar chorus. "Sherlock..."

"Oh, please, how is that 'not good'?"

John almost visibly bit his tongue, controlled himself, sighed, and said, "Never mind."

Sally raised an eyebrow. "Wait, you presented it to him?"

John grimaced. "Warburton's an old friend of my old army commander; I owed the Old Man a favour, so I got his friend in to see Sherlock. Then, too, it sounded interesting; couldn't see how anyone'd break in here, let alone substitute something for one of the exhibits without any trace."

Sally's eyebrows stayed up, her eyes widening just a bit. "Your army commander?"

"Sure. They keep in touch via email, and the boys in my old unit read my blog when they have time." John hadn't seen Sally's expression, although Sherlock had. "Warburton loves antique firearms, makes a point of buying only from collections put together by real experts; he'll talk your ear off about the sorry excuse for provenance professional gun dealers will settle for."

Sally sighed, her impressed expression fading into annoyance as she remembered the old martinet who'd been making life hell for Robbery for the past week. "I've heard it already."

Sherlock made a 'hmpf' in acknowledgement. "He may be a martinet, but he hasn't been keeping the cleaners up to scratch. There are months' worth of dust on top of the cases, despite his supposedly being mad about their contents..."

John, too, came back to their current predicament, but focused on the flintlock pistols again rather than joining in. "Sherlock, may I borrow your - " John blocked on the word for a moment, screwing his eyes briefly shut as he covered them with one hand - "magnifier thingy?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes, sighing at this disappointing neologism in John's vocabulary. Speaking slowly and distinctly, he said, "It's called a 'hand lens' or a 'magnifying glass', John."

John didn't look away from the interior workings of the pistol, merely held out a hand, saying "Yes, cheers," as Sherlock smacked the handle of the magnifying glass into it perhaps a trifle too briskly. Almost immediately John said, "Hah," then switched to the other pistol. After a moment, his face relaxed from its intense focus to a very satisfied expression, and he looked up into Sally's face, and said, "Thought so."

Sherlock drew himself up to his full height, face clearing itself of expression. He stepped back up onto the chair, holding out his hand for the magnifying glass, this time, and snapped, "John, if we can get back to our investigation?"

But John stood back, his head swiveled back and forth between Sally and Sherlock, a cheeky smile dawning on his face. To his best friend, he said "I'm beginning to see why you enjoy your little lectures so much; they are fun," before turning to Sally.

"These pistols aren't just a matching pair. They're identical - well, barring that that the grips are adjusted for the right and left hands, respectively." He pointed at her with Sherlock's hand lens. "I'll even bet you a doughnut that the working parts are interchangeable between them."

Sally looked mildly exasperated, even as she shifted into a faux-relaxed position. "So? They're supposed to be really fine examples, he gassed on and on about that."

Sherlock ignored her, focusing entirely on John. "You're saying they're not hand-made."

John grinned. "Better than that. If you look, you can see that the screws were machine-cut - and by someone working in metric measurements, which didn't even exist back then."

He and Sherlock grinned simultaneously, and said in chorus, "They're fake."

Startlement began to bloom over Sally's face. "But those pistols haven't been touched for months -"

"Exactly." Sherlock had taken fire from this new data. "This wasn't any recent theft or substitution - they've been here for months, untouched - the dust tells us that. Remember what the Colonel said? 'Past ownership by a recognized authority like Fleming is a real guarantee of quality and authenticity.' He didn't use the official provenance documents as provenance - he used the fact that it came from the Fleming collection."

Now it was Sally's turn to cover her eyes briefly. "And the seller knew it, and forged that documentation -"

John finished for her, "- knowing that the Colonel would fall for it."

Sally glanced briefly ceilingward, then glanced between them. "You're telling me that he fell for a scam when he bought them, and that's why the collection is full of fakes?"

Sherlock sighed. "Yes, disappointing, isn't it? A lovely locked-room theft turns out to be an overconfident expert who fell for the right set of forged provenance documents, and never bothered to look at the real evidence - somebody knew how to target his particular weaknesses, that's all." He turned to leave. "Come on, John."

"Wait, where are you going? You don't expect me to explain this to him -"

Sherlock turned, but didn't stop moving toward the exit, walking backward smoothly. "Why, Sergeant - you're the officer in charge of the case. Of course you get the credit for solving this."


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Disassembly of Reason

May 2013

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