I got a lot of writing done this year, which was very nice for me - I want to keep going and ride the wave for as long as it lasts (thirdbird, I really am working on the Cabin Pressure fic for you!). I'll be able to own up to my four Yuletide fics tomorrow (get your guesses in now), but in the meantime, here's the story I wrote for holmestice. It's Elementary, season 1, no spoilers other than for Ms. Hudson as a character on the show; also, it's gen and PG-13. I really enjoyed writing it - hat-tip to musesfool for the excellent beta and thanks to the people who left very kind comments on the comm page - but as the recipient never commented, I don't know if it succeeded. The summary is Ms. Hudson might have witnessed a crime.
The house was sparklingly clean when Joan walked in after a visit with her mother that had turned into not, as Joan had feared, an isn't the neighbor's baby adorable and why aren't you giving me grandkids ambush, but a his neck is bothering him and he's a good neighbor, so why don't you use your skills as a doctor visit. It was restful to walk into a clean house, even better to see the little cast-iron teapot she'd bought set out on the counter, waiting to be put to use.
The only other thing on the counter was the tin of white darjeeling leaves, a silent invitation; Joan smiled, set her bag down, and called Ms. Hudson.
Ms. Hudson didn't pick up, and Joan left a voicemail after a husky-voiced prompt reciting words in some foreign tongue, most likely Ancient Greek. She got a text in immediate response, asking if she and Sherlock were in for the evening and up to some company. Of course, she wrote. I'll make the tea.
"Ms. Hudson," Joan said, smiling and ushering her in, trying not to envy the lilac silk wrap she unwound from her shoulders.
"Sherlock is always so scrupulous about giving me my title, but you know you can call me Alexis," she said, enunciating carefully around a lump of cotton tucked into her cheek. She kicked off her heels in the foyer and followed Joan to the living room, where the tea was already steeping. Sherlock was sitting on the firm little ottoman that looked like an upscale beanbag chair, so low to the ground that his knees rested on his ankles, which were kissing the floor. Joan gave him a look, trying to gauge whether he would be participating in the conversation. On the one hand, his jaw had set in that way it got when he was concentrating on something and forgot to put on his disgruntled-genius act, but on the other, the book in his hands was upside down.
"What's on your mind?" Joan asked, pouring out tea in fragrant arcs of liquid. The cast-iron pot was heavy but small and perfectly balanced. She took a sip of her own, savoring the fresh and delicate flavor.
"I think I saw a crime yesterday," Alexis said. "But I was in a compromised position at the time."
"What position, precisely?" Sherlock asked. He still hadn't let go of his upside-down book, which was about the mating habits of bats. Maybe he was being funny and waiting for them to laugh at his joke. She raised her eyebrows and he twitched his cheek, the way he did when a wink would have been too much. Joan smiled to herself at the sight.
"Flat on my back," Alexis responded. "In a dentist's chair."
"This is a perfect case for an apprentice detective," Sherlock said again. He had the nerve to look surprised that his repetition had not worn her down into agreement. She turned away, concentrating on fixing some dinner for herself. Sherlock managed to anticipate her every move, placing himself in front of whichever cabinet or drawer she needed just before she got there. "Why will you not investigate?" he demanded.
"Because I like my dentist, I'm happy with the care she provides, and I have no intention of letting someone else mess with my mouth!"
"Watson," he chided, "you should not allow fear to hold you back."
"It isn't fear; it's common sense. Alexis's dentist isn't even in-network on my insurance." That was her story and she was sticking to it.
"So if it were not imperative for you to endure a cleaning - which is all that would be required, hardly a root canal or an extraction - you would have no objections to investigating Ms. Hudson's suspicions?"
Joan bumped her wrist against the hardness of his hip, trying to snake her hand past him in search of the cheese grater. "No, not at all. Why, have you thought of a way to gain access to the office without making an appointment?"
"Irrelevant," he announced, blithely stealing half the chunk of cheese she was grating for her salad, which was a crime twice over, given that he seemed to eat only as a trump card. "I shall go myself. I have no fear of sharp implements. In fact, I love dental appointments."
She stopped grating and turned to face him. "You love dental appointments," she repeated flatly.
"Merely ensuring you were staying on your toes, as it were," he said, his teeth gleaming whitely as he grinned.
"My mouth feels positively sterile, Watson, like it's been swathed in plastic," Sherlock said, smacking his lips together to punctuate his proclamation. "I feel in sudden need of something unspeakably gooey."
He was a grown man, and he certainly didn't need to justify it if he wanted a treat. Joan etched another mental notch into her tally of the number of times Sherlock spoke just to create some sound. "There's a bakery three blocks down that has -"
"Honey-drenched baklava. Excellent notion, Watson!" He marched off, and it was only once they had found a bench in a park the size of a handkerchief that they spoke again. There were flakes of pastry on his lip and littering his t-shirt; she proffered a napkin, taking a sip of strong coffee before savoring her own piece of baklava.
"What did you see when you were in the chair?" she asked.
"Given that Ms. Hudson and I are roughly the same height, and that I had ensured that I would be seen in the same examination room as she, and at the same time of day, I feel confident that our sightlines were virtually identical. Half the windows in the buildings standing cattycorner to the dentist's high-rise became mirrors in the sun's glare, but I was able to see quite clearly into the ones that did not. As Ms. Hudson specified the window in question was 'the top row, next to the corner' of 'the only white-stoned building' she could see, we have it very precisely."
"And did you see anything in that window?"
"No. What I did not see also includes a bullet hole in the window, or, indeed, cobwebbed, cracked, or shattered glass."
"The sniper might have had the window open, or maybe even had the glass replaced. Maybe the sniper is a glazier." It felt good to brainstorm, to not have to limit her ideas to what the human body was actually capable of.
"Watson, I applaud you for thinking and not letting improbabilities hinder you. After all, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable -"
The rest of his maxim was lost to appreciative moans when he popped the last diamond of baklava into his mouth, the better to get it away from a greedy-eyed bird.
The room in which Alexis had seen a sniper was empty, but not in a deliberate way. It was casually filthy, the way any abandoned office might be; the whole floor had stood unoccupied for months. It was high up enough that there hadn't been vermin inside, but the air definitely smelled stale to her.
"Maybe she imagined it," Joan said, after making several turns about the room, observing all that she could. "She was already on edge from being in a dentist's chair, and she had who knows what soundtrack pumping into her ears from her noise-canceling headphones, and she even said that neither the dentist nor the hygienist jumped or gave any sign of having heard a sniper's shot." Poor Alexis - having a fear of the dentist was bad enough without also having a history of severe reactions to anesthesia; at least the dentist was experienced enough to allow patients to wear headphones and listen to music in order to block out the sounds of the drill. "It's not inconceivable that she had a stress reaction."
"But why is there no soot on this windowsill?" Sherlock asked, tilting his head so that he looked like a particularly inquisitive bird. "There is soot on the floor, but the windowsill is suspiciously clean. Save, of course, for these smuts that are spaced to match the feet of a sniper rifle's stand."
Joan went over to investigate, noting as she did the grit on the floor crunching beneath her boots. "Do you smell that?" she asked as she got closer to the window. "It smells like sweat."
"Indeed," Sherlock said, beaming delightedly. "Well, shall we go? We've seen all we need, I think." She was halfway down the block before she remembered that she hadn't seen what a hypothetical sniper's rifle might have been aiming at.
Sherlock brandished his singlestick at the dummy while she did her best to ignore him and read up on sniper cases. There had been snipers in all five boroughs at one time or another, but New York had never been brought to a halt by one as other cities had, to their cost.
"You are quite correct," Sherlock said suddenly, making her jump a little. She jumped again when she saw (not just heard) his singlestick descend on the dummy's shoulder. "A sniper can set a city on itself. Perhaps New Yorkers' famed indifference to each other has precluded such an outcome."
"We're not indifferent," she said, stung. This was her city, before Sherlock had gotten here with his bees and his deductions and his extraordinarily messy and exhilarating life; this was the city that had seen her transform again and again and had never let her down. "We reach out." She watched him, narrow-eyed, and closed the laptop with a decisive click; Sherlock was obviously not worried about the possibility of the sniper striking immediately, so she could go to bed with a clear conscience.
"I beg your pardon, Watson," Sherlock said, nodding at her like they had come to some sort of agreement.
As a rule, Joan liked tourists. No, that wasn't quite true. She liked the idea of tourists, that she lived somewhere so extraordinary that people the world over dreamed of setting foot in that place, saved up their money to experience the city in their own skin. None of which meant she had to be a saint when people ambled along at a pace three times slower than city etiquette demanded and stopped abruptly to take pictures next to fire hydrants and street-corner vendors. She raged internally, wondering how Sherlock kept slipping between tourists, threading through families like a particularly slippery eel, never seeming at all inconvenienced.
Of course they would have to be at Times Square, where the mayhem had a particularly high density. The madness of the TKTS booth, ringed with hawkers and street performers, was like a black hole just ahead. Not even Sherlock would consider this a shortcut, so there had to have been a clue she'd missed that had led him here. There had been something mingling with the odor of sweat, something she hadn't been able to identify. Maybe the sniper had left kati-roll crumbs or Sherlock had identified the spices BonChon used with one of his long, deliberate sniffs. At this point, it was possible that the sniper was the guy inside the Elmo costume.
Sherlock glanced back over his shoulder then, just keeping an eye on her, and all of her resentment - or at least most of it - dissolved. He was as twitchy and energetic as a little boy, with good reason; his mind worked quickly enough that his body, lean and muscular though it was, was left lurching behind, trying to keep up.
Still, she was going to get him to work on the verbalize-those-deductions thing sooner rather than later.
"There are forty theaters currently in operation on Broadway," Sherlock said, stopping in one of the small alleyways that had blossomed into a convenient side street, his back against the brick. "They range in size from just over five hundred seats to nearly two thousand streets."
"Give me the brochure; I'll read it myself," Joan said, reaching for the hot-pink glossy paper. "How are we going to narrow down which of the forty we need?"
"A quick scroll through current listings, augmented by our memory of what was being displayed in the aggressive style of a stock-ticker at the cut-price ticket-booth." Of course Sherlock had been able to read the displays at the TKTS booth, when she'd been stuck making eye contact with her fellow pedestrians' shoulders and chests and wishing they would all disappear, just for one minute of fresh air and space.
"To identify what?" she prompted.
"Which theaters are offering shows that would require a leading man with fairly extravagant facial hair," Sherlock said absent-mindedly, already lost in his phone's display.
That she could do. Leaning back against the wall, she pulled a copy of The New Yorker out of her bag and flipped to the theater reviews. "There's a musical set during the Civil War at the Melpomene Theater, a seventies-themed revue at the Elegant, and a Victorian murder-mystery at the Rose. Plus there are all the experimental theaters downtown -"
Sherlock waved away any further elaboration. "It must be a Broadway theater. Fortuitously, all three that you named are along one city block, which should speed up our investigation considerably." He pivoted sharply and led the way.
How effective could life-sized photographs of the cast be if there were always so many people thronging the sidewalks, Joan wondered. Sherlock had led them first to the Elegant, then the Rose, and lastly the Melpomene, and a broad smile lightened his whole face; it completely counteracted the broody, stubbled look with pure delight.
"I was hoping it would be this one," he said, rocking back and forth on his heels. "Simply because the Melpomene fit in so well with our client." He turned to test the doors, most of which were locked, and Joan took the opportunity to look up the name on her phone. The Greek muse of tragedy - okay, that worked insofar as Alexis had taught herself Ancient Greek, but was there another layer there?
Sherlock had found a door that opened and was holding it open for her. He was courteous when he didn't think about it, which was nice; she didn't expect special treatment for being female, but acknowledging that they were partners was something she hadn't expected him to do so readily. She stepped inside the theater lobby and looked at the sign mounted on an easel for display, leftover from last night, that listed the understudies who had performed, the disclaimer at the bottom: Understudies never substitute for players unless a specific announcement for the appearance is made at the time of the performance.
"Have you seen the show?" Sherlock was asking with an insidious chirpiness. "Is it really good? I've heard it's really good." He leaned in close to the glass, inviting the clerk's confidence.
The man behind the glass was maybe in his thirties, with a wedding ring and a beard too nicely groomed to be a hipster affectation. "I've seen it," he said, his voice quiet behind the glass, and Joan strained to hear it. "It's pretty good, and there are still some good seats left for tonight's show."
The pitch was half-hearted at best, and Joan knew an opportunity when she heard one; that was the tone of someone dying for a chance to gossip - a theater box office was no different from a surgeons' break room in that respect. "I thought there were some problems at the rehearsals?" she asked, looking up at the clerk as if positive he held all of the answers.
Sherlock went still beside her when the clerk launched into the backstage soap opera that had bogged down rehearsals, then squeezed her elbow discreetly, like a weirdo high-five.
Chad Billings lived in a walkup in Hells Kitchen not far from the theater. He opened the door readily enough at Sherlock's knock but then frowned when he saw Joan. "Odd that the presence of an attractive woman would make a man so confident as a ladykiller frown," Sherlock started, his voice loud enough to carry and demand an explanation.
"I thought the super sent you over to fix the kitchen sink," Billings said, surly again.
"Bad luck for you. I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is Joan Watson, and we are consultants for the NYPD." Joan wondered why he'd given their official introduction, when they were merely doing a favor for a friend.
"So?" Billings said, apparently deciding to brazen things out. He crossed his arms over his chest. He was an extraordinarily poor actor; the show of confidence only betrayed his nerves.
"Did you want to have this conversation in the hallway where any of your neighbors could hear?" she asked quietly.
"I don't care," he said, but he turned and walked into his living room, leaving them to follow. "Why are you guys here, anyway?"
This guy wasn't someone who'd have a sniper rifle under his bed. His apartment indicated no burning passion except himself. There were full-length mirrors in the two unfurnished corners of the living room, a coffee table piled high with auditions, and the large flat-screen TV was paused on an image of Billings in what looked to be an amateur production of some period drama. He filled out a pair of breeches nicely, Joan was ready to admit, but had kept his far-too-modern hairstyle and designer stubble, a vanity the other actors had evidently disdained.
Before she could ask why he had borrowed a prop sniper rifle from the production, Sherlock spoke. "So the part of Truman Head was yours, until Jeffrey Lawrence signed on to the production?" he prompted.
It was the right thing to say; Billings clearly interpreted the question as a signal that they were on his side. "Yeah. Asswipe. Todd had promised the part to me, and I spent weeks learning his solo, only to be told, 'Okay, that's great, but this other guy has a web series, so sayonara, bye.'"
Joan realized then what Sherlock's superpower really was. A few minutes of Googling on his phone were sufficient because he could absorb and comprehend data at speeds that boggled her mind. "And Head, known as 'California Joe,' was a famed Union sharpshooter. So if the actor playing him were to be killed by a sniper's bullet, that would surely make headlines, in addition to elevating you to the main cast of a major Broadway production?"
And that was where Sherlock's powers, super though they were, failed him; he couldn't cope with impenetrable stupidity because he so wanted others to be as sharp and competent as he was.
Chad's pretty face sagged in surprise. "Wait, what?"
She had to cut in to go through the whole thing, step by step. "You were angry that you'd been passed over. You borrowed a prop sniper rifle and decided to rehearse the part in an empty space. The problem is, you were seen, Chad." He still didn't look like he was following. "It's a problem when someone is seen with what looks like a weapon," she said patiently. "It diverts police attention away from actual problems."
Sherlock, meanwhile, looked disappointed. "Tell me, were you able to keep your prop beard out of the rifle's mechanism?"
Billings's cheeks stained with a telltale flush, but he tried to maintain his dignity. "How do you know I was wearing the -"
"The smell of spirit gum was lingering," Sherlock said. "Rather pungent it was too, even over the acrid smell of your sweat. But you weren't wearing the full costume, were you? Couldn't sneak that out along with the rifle and beard. So you went to a building you knew would be empty - not even you could have missed the signs - and just stood there and took aim and plotted how to bump off Jeffrey Lawrence."
"No, sorry, 'plotted' is too strong a term. 'Daydreamed, wished upon a star, hoped your fairy godmother would see you through,' is any of those better?" Sherlock was capable of pettiness when an exciting crime revealed itself to be nothing very interesting after all.
"What's gonna happen now?" Billings pleaded.
There was no point letting Sherlock play the only heavy. "What's going to happen is that Jeffrey Lawrence is going to live a nice life and be on stage every night he's supposed to. You will not sabotage him or the show in any way. Props will no longer be borrowed. And you'll audition for the next show and take your chances." He still looked gobsmacked, so she took a little pity on him. "We won't write you up, but we will remember your name."
"That was -" Sherlock started, when they were going down the steps of Chad Billings's building.
"Not a waste," Joan finished. "We're going to be able to give Alexis some peace of mind, and considering you figured out who she saw in a hazy three-second glance from a hundred feet away, that's really impressive."
He didn't pause to acknowledge the compliment; she wondered sometimes if he'd trained himself out of hearing anything nice directed his way. "Billings might not have committed a crime, but if he could have put that pitiful instrument he calls his brain to work and hatched a plan, he would have. Of that I have no doubt, Watson."
"Maybe," she allowed, "but he didn't do it. Wishes don't count. And our personal feelings about him don't enter into it."
"Very sage," Sherlock said, but with far less bite than she'd expected. His thoughts were already racing on a new course. "Shall we stop at the station to see if Captain Gregson has any new matters worthy of our efforts?"
"No," she said, her eye caught by a shop advertising homemade gelato. Something cold and soft would surely do Alexis some good; she couldn't be eating much solid food with her jaw so tender.
Sherlock stopped before she could make her way across the street, shaking his head. "Ms. Hudson is extraordinarily disciplined, and would most likely not touch any full-fat dessert. You would do better to offer her one of your smoothies," Sherlock said. His deduction, basic as it was, erased some of the unhappy lines on his face that had deepened in Billings's apartment. Joan nodded, pleased at the thoughtfulness and happy to be useful. "I'll have one too," he finished, then started down the stairs to the subway.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/433214.html.