The library was a wreck. Books were strewn on the floor, in the wing-back reading chairs, and on the window seat. The large writing desk was covered with volumes of varying sizes and different shades of leather and cloth bindings. Some were open, some closed, face down, and face up. They were everywhere except neatly filed on the shelves that ran the length of two and half walls. Almost as curiously, in John's opinion, along the top of every wall, high enough that if you didn't look up you'd never notice it was there, was painted and equally beautiful and grotesque frieze of figures engaged in a sort of daisy-chain of astonishingly varied and creative sexual acts. It wasn't the sort of thing he'd expected to see in a private house in Mayfair.
Lestrade's people had already gathered fingerprints from the window sill, door handles, and anything else that would retain one. "There's no way to know if any of the volumes was stolen until the owner is able to put the room back together. Do up an inventory, check it against her records," the DI said. He stood in the doorway, keeping his team at bay while Sherlock surveyed the crime scene.
"Do you notice anything unusual about the scene, John?" Sherlock asked.
"Erm..." John looked around. "None of the books appears to be damaged. The thief broke in through the bay window, sliced up all the cushions he could find, and broke the reading lamps and a table, but the books are intact."
"Very good." Sherlock gave a nod of approval and John allowed himself a private moment of pride. "The motive was theft, but the room was made to look as if vandals had broken in. Vandals, however, would likely have been motivated by the content of the collection while the thief clearly has a great respect for it."
"You're sure it's theft, then?" asked Lestrade.
"How do you reckon the rest of it?" Lestrade came further into the room, joining Sherlock amidst the chaos.
They chattered on and John listened, as interested as the Detective Inspector to learn Sherlock's reasoning. As he watched Sherlock moving through the wreckage of the priceless library, his own wandering eyes landed on one of the antique volumes. It lay at an angle that was nearly upside-down to him. It was open to an illustrated plate that caught his attention enough to make him pause and try to sort out what he was looking at. As the colourfully drawn image resolved itself into a specific shape, he blinked. He could not be seeing it right. He circled around the chair in which it lay until he was looking at it the right way round.
No. He'd been correct. It was Satan, or one of his minions, sporting a surging erection. Although John had to wonder if the artist had much knowledge of genuine male ejaculation, because the demon's spewing cock looked more like a steaming test-tube than anything organic. Perhaps the artist thought satanic ejaculate would be hot enough to steam? Ugh. That was a painful thought however you approached it.
Curiosity got the better of him and he picked up the book. It was bound in red leather that had faded over the century or so since its printing. Keeping his finger at the page it was open to, he closed the book enough to read the cover, which revealed the title to be Dark Crisis by the ever-prolific author Anonymous. John chuckled and turned back to the picture plate. He skimmed the text of the opposing page.
She lured him as the false wounded bird lures the cobra away from her nest of chicks. Her own motives were neither so kindly nor so pure. Her Master wished this one for His own, and she, His succubus slave, was bound to obey.
John chuckled again and put the book back where he'd found it.
Sherlock and Lestrade were deep in conversation and while he rather wanted to participate, it was clear their discussion wouldn't abide his interruption. He might as well look around a bit more. After all, if one finds oneself in the middle of the country's largest private collection of Victorian pornography, one felt almost obligated to take a peek at what it contained.
A cloth-bound tome had tumbled to the floor beside the desk and he bent down to pick it up. Queer Mysteries, read the spine. Inspection of the contents page showed it to be an anthology of erotic gay short-stories in a unifying theme. He selected one at random.
Who was this woman who looked at me with those velvet brown eyes? I only knew her for the woman I loved, but there was a secret in those doe-eyed depths. I could not let her go, my darling Mary with whom I had shared my most intimate thoughts, my most intimate places. My heart pounding in my breast, I grabbed her with a convulsive strength I did not know I possessed...
Yeah, that wasn't particularly interesting. He tried a different story.
Geoffrey drove his tumescent shaft hard into my nether hole and I cried out with the pain and the pleasure of it. Blessed God, thought I, how could you have kept this sweet mystery from me for so long? My own manhood throbbed in time with his thrusts...
That was enough of that. John shifted awkwardly and glanced to where the others stood, still talking. Good, the last thing he needed was Sherlock discovering that he'd been aroused by florid prose. He flipped several pages and dared one more look.
The groom smelt of horses and hay and earth and sweat. I inhaled his scent and, intoxicated by it, buried my face between the cheeks of his muscular ass...
"You'll find that culprit is the owner's solicitor. I can't tell you which volumes he's stolen, but it's safe to assume they are not the most valuable of the collection as they would be much too difficult to fence." Sherlock's words intruded on John's thoughts and he put the book down quickly.
Lestrade shook his head. "I need more than your word to get a warrant."
"His phone records will show a number of calls to a particular antiquarian book seller with dubious scruples."
"That'll do. Donovan!" Lestrade strode from the room, leaving Sherlock and John alone with the books and the erotic mural that ringed the room.
"What do you think of it?" asked John out of personal curiosity and for the sake of something to say.
"As a piece of art or as a piece of erotica?"
"As art I consider it to be merely absurd hieroglyphics."
"It's like a story written a language the author doesn't comprehend."
"Ah. And, uh, as erotica?"
Sherlock was quiet for a moment, examining the painting. "As erotica, it is a curious production."
John wasn't entirely sure what to make of that but it wasn't openly discouraging, and that was good enough for now. "You hungry?"
"Right. Italian it is. Let's see what Angelo has cooking tonight."
There are nine phrases from the source material. Did you find them all? Here's the list:
Most intimate thoughts; steaming test-tube; absurd hieroglyphics; queer mysteries; curious production; convulsive strength; grotesque frieze; dark crisis; wounded bird