The Skeleton in the Closet
"A Sherlock Holmes Story"
The dozen or so workers employed in the men's suits warehouse snapped to attention from their various jobs, to look at the huge man burst into the room. Irons, press, sewing, measuring, cutting and taping were stopped as the approaching storm rushed into the room.
Jeremy Irons, a docile and humble man of meager means with a large family that he could barely support, laid down the garment he had been sewing and turned to look at Garth Broderick, a very large and ugly man...more of purpose, than of body...bearing down on him, his thickly bearded face scowling and dark as it always was when he was mad, which was most of the time.
"Is the new suit ready for Lord Merrimore yet?"
"No sir. I still have to sew on the buttons and collar."
"You don't have all day to finish this. He'll be here in ten minutes."
"But you told me..."
His boss glowered down at him, his eyes narrowing with anger. "Ten minutes!"
"Sir." Jeremy almost squeaked in reply, and then turned to continue his work, feeling the dark presence of his boss behind him, watching his every move.
That evening when he placed the key into the lock of his flat at 345A Echoream Street, which was located behind a very noisy pub, named the "Golden Iris," he sighed with relief to be coming into a home where he was truly welcome.
"Daddy!" Cried out his youngest, who hobbled towards him on his own crutch and his only leg."
Jeremy dropped to his knees and hugged the little ruffian. "You're getting too big for me to hug you. You must have put on at least twenty pounds this last week."
Coughlin Jeremy Junior Irons grinned so wide his face looked like it would burst and his gazillion red freckles pop off his face and splash into the air. "I love you, Daddy!"
"I love you, Coughlin!" He said, hugging him tight, drawing in the warmth of the love into his sore, pained heart.
He finally let go. Just in time too, as the rest of his merry crew came charging into the foyer of their flat and embraced him. Two more boys and a girl. Behind them stood Mary, his beloved and the anchor of his life, wringing her hands. Each day she was afraid would be his last, because she knew how his boss was.
"You should do better than him." She always told him later at night when they lay beside each other, recounting their day's activities. And each time he would reply. "Someday. Someday."
But this night was dinner, which he could smell, and the laughter of his children and the warmth of his mate. He entered the flat and felt welcome.
Inspector Bloodstone gave the hard stare to an employee at BRoderick and BRoderick's, hoping to stir his memory at the very least as Sherlock Holmes and Watson hovered in the back, searching through documents and inspecting drawers at the counter. Finally, the Inspector, disgusted at the lack of reaction motioned for the employee to remove himself, which the poor man did at great speed, almost knocking Constable Evans over as he exited the front of the shop and entered the back where all the other employees worked, albeit with a certain hesitancy and fear now that they knew their boss was missing for over two weeks now.
Sherlock looked up from notes he had been taking and turned to stare at Mrs. Broderick, a portly woman with overly red lips and smeared eyeliner, her hair fashionably styled, but her blouse a bit too loose for a woman of her age. "And you are sure this is the last place he was seen?"
"Yes, Mister Holmes. He had sent me a message only minutes before he vanished."
"How do you know he vanished?"
"Because when the man Inspector Bloodstone here just dismissed came to the front to sign off and go home, he was no longer there." She wiped at her smeared makeup, making it even worse, so that she appeared more and more ghastly by the minute.
Sherlock ignored the sniffles and nodded. "I see. And this..."
"Radcliff." Inspector Bloodstone interrupted. "Gerald Radcliff."
"Mister Radcliff is astute and reliable?"
"He was next in line to run the shop after Mister Broderick retired, seeing as we have no son and no one else to take over the business."
He looked at the Inspector, who shook his head, and exited the building.
"I've completed inventory in the warehouse, Mister Holmes, and nothing is reported missing." Constable Evans said.
"Very well. Thank you, Constable Evans."
The Constable exited after the Inspector, closing the door gently behind him.
Watson was about to leave as well, when he spotted something on a stretch of wire those new suites were arrayed upon. "I say."
Sherlock joined him and pulled out is magnifying glass. He examined a spot that Watson indicated, and then looked at Mrs. Broderick. "Blood."
Mrs. Broderick collapsed with a moan.
Watson looked at her, then at Holmes. "Obviously she didn't do it."
"Not necessarily, Watson. Many a criminal mind is quite capable of the darkest of deeds, and yet be simply frightened of the most normal of things."
They went to her and helped her to a chair, where she slumped over, and then before regaining consciousness mumbled. "The skeleton in the closet."
When her eyes fluttered open, Holmes fixed her with his famous eagle eyed stare. "What skeleton in what closet?"
She fainted again.
Jeremy Irons and his wife rolled apart from each other, exhausted from their passionate, but brief enjoyment of each other prior to their sleep for the night. It was part of their regular routine, as much else was. Little time passed before such moments were interrupted.
A scream awoke both when they were just edging into a deep, deep sleep.
They both rushed from their beds to find Coughlin trembling at the door to their hall closet, and his two sisters sobbing beside him.
"What happened, Coughlin?" Jeremy demanded.
"I...I...I was just helping my sisters to find their lost dolly when..."
He gestured inside the closet with his crutch, almost falling in the process.
Jeremy stepped closer and looked inside, while Mary ushered the girls and Coughlin back to their bedroom.
A fresh, cleanly scrubbed skeleton hung in the closet on a framework of iron like that used to display suits. The head of the skeleton wore Mister Broderick's hat.
Jeremy shuddered as he considered the meaning of what was there.
His wife returned. "What does this mean?" She asked.
He looked at her. "I don't think we have to worry about my boss anymore, Mary."
Watson examined the skeleton in the closet closely, taking samples as he did so and placing them on swabs into tiny vials, which he sealed and placed in his medical bag, while Sherlock spoke with Inspector Bloodstone, who stood silently at the front door, his face twisted in disgust.
"Your thoughts, Inspector?"
"I've seen so much in this life, but this is bloody hideous."
Watson came out of the closet, and then gestured to Constable Evans who nodded to several clustered Constables, who wearing white gloves, that came into the flat, then removed the skeleton and took it outside.
"We won't know for sure until I've completed my forensics." Watson said, looking at Sherlock. "But I'm sure Sherlock has already come to a conclusion, have you not?"
"Yes, but do tell the Inspector, Watson. I would like to hear your take on it."
Watson nodded, and then looked at the Inspector. "There is certain evidence in the world that the skeleton was scrubbed clean of matter by a certain chemical."
"One that I suspect you will find in ready supply at the warehouse of Mister Broderick. It is an acid used to clean metal before it is polished, but is quite deadly upon human skin if one is not careful."
"You believe he was murdered there then?"
"No." He looked at Sherlock.
Sherlock turned to watch as Mrs. Broderick was brought from the back, escorted by several Constables with gruff faces.
"I think a short inspection of Mrs. Broderick's home will suffice to close this case."
"Constable Evans!" Inspector Bloodstone shouted.
Constable Evans ran inside. "Inspector?"
"You will take yourself and Mister Watson to Mrs. Broderick's home at once."
"Yes, sir!" Constable Evans replied looking at Watson, who nodded, and followed him out.
Sherlock looked to Mrs. Broderick who was stopped before them.
"But it is not just her who is behind this crass murder, Inspector."
"I beg your pardon. You just sent Watson to her home for evidence of her complicity."
"Not just of hers."
He gave a stern look at Mrs. Broderick and she broke into tears again, but instead of fainting stood her ground. As she began to speak the workers in the back began filing out and gathered about them, listening.
"You see, my husband was a monster. He beat me and our children. Two died from their beatings."
"Why did you not inform the police?" The Inspector demanded in disgust.
"Because all these men and women would have lost their homes and families." She said, gesturing to the people gathered about the room. "I didn't have the heart to cause that much pain. They are also family to me."
The men in the room all reached out and touched her lightly in support.
One of the men, Jeremy stepped forward. "If she must pay for this crime, then so must we all, for there is not one here who did not wish that man dead!"
The Inspector looked so frustrated he might explode.
Sherlock gestured to the Inspector. "Might I have a word with you?"
He followed Sherlock outside. Everyone inside could see Sherlock speaking and the Inspector looking more and more uncomfortable, shaking his head no over and over, and then he stopped. Several moments later they returned.
The Inspector looked at the Constables holding Mrs. Broderick. "Please wait outside for further instructions, Constables."
Inspector Bloodstone looked at Mrs. Broderick. "I know the record of every man here and Sherlock assures me there is not an ounce of evil in the lot of you, though how he can be so certain I do not know, and yet if I were to bring all of you in for a death penalty, it would be the scandal of London and of good faith."
He managed a weak smile. "Sometimes in order to stop a thorn from puncturing our hearts, we must use a thorn." He added, and then he exited the shop, closing the door behind him.
Mrs. Broderick looked dumbfounded.
Sherlock took her hands in his. "You now have the chance to make amends for the brief moment of evil you have perpetrated." He looked at the others. "All of you do."
He looked at her again. "This will all become part of a case that is never solved."
He went to the shop door, opened it and looked back. He gave them a thin smile. "But remember evil made must one day be repaid." Before he left he looked at Jeremy a long time, then exited.
With those final words he exited to the cheers of the employees, who rushed to hug and congratulate each other and Mrs. Broderick. All except Jeremy, who had not spoken up in his own defense, for he had not been part of the ruse. He had been the goal of it.
He turned to Mrs. Broderick. "I will be turning in my resignation tomorrow morning."
"But you heard Mister Holmes, Jeremy, we're all free!"
"No, you are. I shall never live down this day of shame. As much as I disliked your husband, I would never have resorted to murder. Good evening!" He said, and then exited the shop, never to return.
When Jeremy returned to his flat he found Mary there with a great big smile on her face. "Why the smile? I have just lost my job!' He spoke bitterly and with deep regret.
She hugged him. The kids came running up and hugged him.
"But Mister Holmes was just here with Inspector Bloodstone, they have assured me of your employment at the Constabulary at a substantial pay."
And for the first time in many years Jeremy Irons felt a certainty of life and purpose that was larger than him, as he gathered his beloved family closer to him and wept with relief.