A Case of Spontaneous Combustion: An Excerpt
By Stephanie Osborn
I am pleased to announce the release of book 5 of the Displaced Detective Series, entitled A Case of Spontaneous Combustion!
This book continues the science fiction/mystery adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who has been yanked from an alternate reality in the which he exists, into our modern day reality by Dr. Skye Chadwick, chief scientist of Project: Tesseract. Unable to return to his own place and time, Holmes is forced to adapt, learn, and grow. With Skye’s help, he succeeds admirably.
But when an entire village on the Salisbury Plain is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, Her Majesty’s Secret Service contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, have just had their first serious fight, over her abilities and attitudes as an investigator. To make matters worse, he is summoned to England in the middle of the night, and she is not — and due to the invocation of the National Security Act in the summons, he cannot even wake her and tell her.
Once in London, Holmes looks into the horror that is now Stonegrange. His investigations take him into a dangerous undercover assignment in search of a possible terror ring, though he cannot determine how a human agency could have caused the disaster. There, he works hard to pass as a recent immigrant and manual laborer from a certain rogue Mideastern nation as he attempts to uncover signs of the terrorists.
Meanwhile, alone in Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and tames a wild mustang stallion, all while believing her husband has abandoned her.
Who ― or what — caused the horror in Stonegrange? Will Holmes find his way safely through the metaphorical minefield that is modern Middle Eastern politics? Will Skye subdue Smoky before she is seriously hurt? Will this predicament seriously damage ― even destroy — the couple’s relationship? And can Holmes stop the terrorists before they unleash their outré weapon again?
Prologue — Changes in Routine
Stonegrange was a little old English hamlet in the County of Wiltshire in the Salisbury Plain of England, much like any other such ancient British village: a tiny central square in the midst of which crouched a hoary, venerated church, surrounded by a few small shops, and residences on the outskirts tapering off into the surrounding farmlands. On Sundays the church was full, and on Thursdays the outlying farmers brought their produce in to market. The occasional lorry carried in other supplies, and the Post Office ran every day but Sunday. So small was the village that the constable wasn’t even full time.
Still and all, it wasn’t very far from a main thoroughfare, the A338, that ran through Salisbury and on down to Bournemouth and Poole, and it wasn’t uncommon for lorry drivers to stop for a bite in the local pub, or even park their rigs in an empty lot just off the square for a good, safe night’s rest. Sometimes they even used the lot to hand off cargo from one freight company to another.
So no one thought twice when a flat-bed trailer showed up overnight in the lot, a large wooden crate lashed firmly to its middle. The locals figured it was either a hand-off, or someone’s tractor rig had broken down and been hauled off for repair, while leaving the cargo in a safe place.
* * *
Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, horse trainer, detective, and one of the foremost hyperspatial physicists on the planet, answered the phone at the ranch near Florissant, Colorado.
“Holmes residence,” she murmured. “Skye speaking.”
“Hi there, Skye, Hank Jones here,” Colonel Henry Jones, head of security for Schriever Air Force Base, greeted the lady of the house from the other end of the line. “If you don’t mind, grab Holmes and then hit the speaker phone.”
“Oh, hi, Hank,” Skye replied warmly. “Good to hear from you, but I’m afraid I can’t oblige. Sherlock’s not here right now. Billy Williams called him down to the Springs to update him on some new MI-5 HazMat techniques; I completed my certification last month, but Sherlock had a nasty little cold and missed out.”
“Oh,” Jones said blankly. “Well, are YOU available?”
“Um, I guess so, for whatever that’s worth,” a hesitant Skye said. “Depends. Whatcha got?”
“Murder in the residential quarters at Peterson,” Jones noted, grim. “Suspects and victim were all Schriever personnel, though, so I get to have fun with it. Joy, joy.”
“And you could use a bit of help?”
“‘Fraid so,” Jones sighed. “As usual, I’m short-handed right now. The Pentagon never seems to get the fact that ‘Security’ means ‘document control,’ ‘police force,’ ‘guard duty,’ ‘investigation,’ and half a million other different jobs all rolled together, on a base like this.” He sighed again. “Listen, is there any chance you could meet me down there in about an hour or so, have a look around the crime scene yourself, then call your husband in when he’s available if you need to? As a favor to me? I need to get rolling on it A.S.A.P.”
“Um, okay,” Skye agreed after a moment’s thought. “Yeah, I can at least get started on it, and collect the initial data for Sherlock. Maybe even come to some basic conclusions and formulate a theory for us to work on. Gimme the address and I’ll buzz on down…”
* * *
The trailer remained where it was, off Stonegrange’s central square, for two days, and still no one thought to question. After all, tractors had mechanical difficulties just like the residents’ own autos and lorries, and sometimes those difficulties took a few days to repair. So no inquiries were made. The trailer was ignored.
Until, at precisely 11:02 p.m. three nights after its arrival, the crate emitted a soft, reverberating hum. No one was near enough to hear it, however—at least, no one curious enough to bother checking it out. Exactly five minutes later, a loud zap! sounded from the box.
Stonegrange was as silent as the tomb the rest of the night.
The next morning, the flat-bed trailer was gone.