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Sherlock Holmes (Granada) Fanfic: The Blackwall Box Man (JWP#3) - CaffieneKittySpace
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Sherlock Holmes (Granada) Fanfic: The Blackwall Box Man (JWP#3)
Title: The Blackwall Box Man
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (Granada)
Alternate Postings: AO3
Rating/Content: PG13, inaccurate historical forensic practices, case-fic lite
Warnings: Graphic description of a decaying corpse.
Word Count: 1260
Disclaimer: Not my world.
Notes: Written for watsons_woes July Writing Prompt #3: A Cardboard Box.

Summary: When Inspector Lestrade brings a cold case to 221B Baker Street, Holmes and Watson prove it to be not nearly as cold as first thought.

The Blackwall Box Man

"Nothing of great interest today, Mister Holmes. Just a very old corpse found in an alley in Blackwall." Inspector Lestrade smugly held out a photograph of a battered, noisome cardboard box. "There's a 'crime scene photograph' for you, if you'd like."

Holmes had been prodding Scotland Yard's Inspectors to be more diligent in the recording of evidence as it was situated when found, as was the new French practice. Scotland Yard was intermittently adopting the technique, and slowly getting over their disdain for the French as the photographs proved useful in solving the crimes they depicted.

Holmes pressed his lips together in a pleased way, though no one would call it a smile. More an expression of gratification that a particularly obstinate and dull-witted flock of sheep has begun to show signs of responding to the bark of the sheepdog. He took the photograph from Lestrade and pulled out his magnifying lens. "Tell me everything."

"An ironworker found the body in the cardboard box, what was left of him. Bludgeoned, skull crushed, ribs practically pulped, flesh rotting into a puddle of oh thank you Mrs Hudson." The Inspector halted his grisly description to take a cup of tea from our housekeeper. Lestrade sipped at the cup, eyes on the elderly woman as she distributed tea to myself and Holmes.

The slight roll of Mrs Hudson's eyes at the sudden and obvious change of topic was only shared with me. She had heard far worse in her time in service in our household. I smiled conspiratorially at her over the rim of my cup before she retreated back downstairs.

"The Coroner has determined this man has been dead for approximately seventy years," Lestrade continued, dispensing with the more sensational description of the corpse. "No chance of finding the murderer at this late date. However, we are checking the cemeteries for signs of grave-robbing."

"Oh Inspector," said Holmes, peering at the photo. "It pains me to tell you, the coroner is a fool in this case. This is a far more recent murder."

"Why do you say that, Holmes?" I asked, curious.

Holmes handed me the photograph and magnifying lens abruptly, and I put down my tea to take them. "Look at the box. What do you see?"

The box was very large, obviously, to contain the remains of a man. The photograph was ill-placed to show the contents of the box. One decrepit hand stuck up from the open lid like a gruesome flower. The box certainly didn't look very old, but if it was a case of grave-robbing, the box hardly need be the same age as the corpse. There were smears on the sides; could Holmes have thought they were blood? "The stains on the box don't look like blood or grave dirt to me, Holmes-"

"Not just the stains, Watson. The box, the box."

I frowned and squinted again at the photograph through Holmes' proffered magnifying lens. It was a box, shaped like a box, nothing unusual about that. I looked closer at one of the open flaps. The blurred edge seemed quite thick. "It's corrugated?"

"Yes! Well done, Watson. This box," Holmes continued with a lecturing air, "is made of corrugated cardboard - a process springing from the corrugated board used in the lining of tall hats since 1856 - but it is also double-walled. A manufacturing process which provides increased strength and a modicum of insulation. That process of manufacture was only implemented in 1874. Also, the corners are folded, not scored, indicating this box was manufactured as a pre-cut single piece, a process that only came into use in 1890. Your murder victim was killed sometime after that year, making it only a few years at most and likely much more recent."

"But the condition of the body, Holmes?" Inspector Lestrade asked. "And those bloodstains on the box are so old they're black."

"Ahem," I interjected, having a realization while looking at the photograph in my hand. "Those stains on the box aren't blood, Inspector. They're oil."

Holmes gave a crow of delight. "Indeed Watson! What the stains are in fact is coal oil, from an oil-fired boiler of an ocean-going steamship."

I nodded, grinning. "And the state of decay in the body could easily be attributed to a long period of time submerged in stagnant water. The way the skin is sloughing from that hand is practically out of a textbook. If it was seventy years old as the coroner says, the body would have long passed the stage of saponification."

The Inspector blinked. "The stage of what?"

Holmes' eyes twinkled with amusement. "The stage of turning into a puddle of 'oh thank you Mrs Hudson'."

I stifled a chuckle. "Indeed. It's been underwater some time, but nowhere close to seventy years. Without seeing the body directly, perhaps only a few days? A week at most."

"Therefore, Inspector, you are looking at the corpse of a man pulled from the bilges of a steamship which set forth from some distance, perhaps India, Australia, or America. And- If you would be so kind Watson?"

I passed Holmes' magnifying lens and the photograph back into his outstretched hand. As he examined the photograph with his magnifying glass again, I lost no time in replacing the items I had passed back with the cup of tea I had set aside earlier.

"The way the corners are creased, the fastening of the sides, the lighter tone of the card itself indicating a differing mix of woods used in the pulp; slightly different from a British box." Holmes passed the lens and photograph to Lestrade, who put his empty tea cup on the table to take it.

Narrow face pinched in concentration, Inspector Lestrade peered through Holmes' lens. "It's just a box." He shrugged with a sigh of frustration.

"Ah," said Holmes, "but this box is in fact one that was made by the new corrugated cardboard box manufacturers in America, a facility which has only been in operation since 1895."

"If you say, Holmes," the Inspector shook his head. "But I don't see what-"

"1895! Last year!" Holmes slapped the table, making Lestrade and his tea cup jump simultaneously. "Therefore, Lestrade! You are looking for a ship at the docks which has recently come from America. The victim will have been a crewman - judging by what remains of the callouses on that hand - murdered on the crossing and stored in the bilge. Your murderer will be someone on the crew who works near the engines. I suspect the most interesting question in this case will become why the murderer didn't simply throw the body of his victim overboard at sea."

The Inspector stared at Holmes, goggle-eyed.

Holmes sighed, then pointed to the door. "Proceed to search the docks with all haste and you may even catch him!"

Gawping, Inspector Lestrade put on his hat and raced out the door, calling for his waiting constable.

I turned to smile at my friend. "Amazing, Holmes!"

Holmes gave a genteel snort and waved his hand dismissively as he sank into his fireside chair. "It was nothing. I'm only glad to have had use for all that tedious knowledge of cardboard box manufacturing. I was on the verge of removing it from my brain-attic. Now, though, I shall retain it. Perhaps it will find further use."

"I don't know, Holmes," I laughed. "I can't think there would possibly be a more interesting crime involving a cardboard box than this one."

"I live in hope, Watson," said Holmes with a saturnine smile, and sipped his tea.

(that's it!)

Post Notes: ...and of course, the future holds another Cardboard Box for Holmes. Extensive use made of this site for the history of the cardboard box. Google is my brain-attic. ;-)

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6 comments or Leave a comment
pompey01 From: pompey01 Date: July 4th, 2016 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)
An awesome casefic -- and if all that cardboard trivia is true, I bow in homage to a superior researcher.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: July 4th, 2016 05:07 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a tiny bit of reasonable extrapolation in the details, but it's all mostly from this page which I linked at the bottom of the story. I really lucked out finding that.
gardnerhill From: gardnerhill Date: July 4th, 2016 07:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Well done! And I like the euphemism of 'oh thank you Mrs. Hudson' - may have to start using that one.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: July 4th, 2016 08:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, thanks. :-)
samalander_dawn From: samalander_dawn Date: July 5th, 2016 06:02 am (UTC) (Link)
nice :D
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: July 5th, 2016 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
6 comments or Leave a comment