Pantomime, Part 1
Authors: methylviolet10b (odd-numbered rounds) and monkeybard (even-numbered rounds)
John awoke to a hand on his arm and a pair of glittering eyes less than six inches from his face. "Come on, John! This is no time for sleep!"
Old reflexes sent John’s eyes towards his watch: 3:10 a.m.. Newer reflexes kept him from punching Sherlock in the face. Pride kept him from groaning aloud. "What is it?"
"Lestrade called. A double murder in the V&A, found by the night-cleaning crew. We have a case!" Sherlock announced this as if it was the best possible news, delivered the words like a gift.
Knowing him, he probably thought it was.
They were out the door in three minutes. John shivered in the damp air. At least the autumn rain had paused since he’d fallen asleep.
London cabs were scare at that hour, but by some miracle one immediately appeared. Sherlock fidgeted as they rode. John reckoned it was his body’s way of keeping his mind from shaking apart until it could get to the mystery it needed to occupy it.
City lights gleamed off of wet pavement as they sped through the streets. It was quiet, almost idyllic...and a stark contrast to the nightmare scene they found upon their arrival.
"You have got to be kidding me."
John didn't really think it was a joke. The blood and dismembered pieces aside, he knew Lestrade too well for that. But seriously, how could he not give Greg a little grief over something like this?
Greg understood completely, if the little twitch at the corner of his mouth was any indication. The DI could barely hold back an inappropriate grimacing grin as he shook his head. "Nope. Two dead mimes."
"They've been dressed as mimes," Sherlock snapped, either utterly unaware of the macabre punchline aspect of the crime, or simply not caring.
4. Late Nights
John, however, could already hear the comedians. When this news broke, the hosts of the telly late-nights would be all over it for their opening monologues.
"What?" Anderson demanded scornfully. "What sort of sick bastard paints dead people’s faces to look like mimes?"
Lestrade shot him a shut-the-hell-up glance. Sherlock ignored him, as usual, and turned his gaze on John. "Come here. Tell me what you observe."
John knelt beside the first corpse, avoiding the pooled blood that hadn’t quite dried. Skipping the obvious--male, mid-thirties, slit throat--he looked closer. He didn’t see anything unusual, but he smelled:
"Very good, John." Sherlock’s eyes half-slitted closed, and John could see him breathe in, practically tasting the air. "It’s an after-lotion, very high end, sold only in conjunction with a particular top-of-the-line depilatory cream." Sherlock pointed at the face of one of the two victims, almost but not quite touching the grease-painted skin. "See? The killer used the cream to remove every trace of facial hair, then the lotion to condition the skin, then applied the white paint. Only then did he cut in the traditional mime markings around the eyes and mouth. They were still alive then."
"Security says the cameras have been glitching throughout the building. This room went out for eight minutes starting at one-forty-three a.m.," Lestrade offered.
John rose, wincing at phantom pain, and looked about. Donovan was directing the numbering and photographing of evidence. It was a big job. He'd not seen so many severed body parts since Afghanistan.
It was then it struck him. "There are more limbs than two bodies can provide."
Lestrade could see Anderson was about to shoot his mouth off again, and stopped him with another hard stare. He reached for his phone. They needed backup.
"Eight minutes isn't long enough for whoever this was to carve up people like this and...decorate." John tripped on the last word. "This isn't something quick, like bomb damage."
"Quite right. Chainsaw. And there isn't enough blood, obvious, why don't you fire Anderson, Lestrade? From the two heads, both were alive for their mutilations, but he was cut up with a precision instrument at least 24 hours ago. She's the source of most of the blood; she died here, but didn't struggle. Drugged, most likely."
John hoped she'd been too drugged to feel what happened to her. "And the third?"
"The rest of him is here somewhere."
"You’re sure it’s a him, then?" asked Lestrade.
Sherlock’s look said it all, but he expounded anyway. "One glance at the feet would tell you that. Think, Lestrade."
He was right, of course. There were five shod feet scattered around the room, and only two were small enough to be the woman’s.
Lestrade bit back his sharp answer, saying instead, "There’s a foot missing."
"That’s better." Sherlock stood and scanned the room, taking in everything in that snapshot way John envied. "They were brought in through there." He dashed for the far doorway.
John ran after Sherlock as quickly as he could. After the floodlit confines of the murder room, the relative darkness of the hall left John half-blind. He nearly ran into Sherlock, who had stopped in the middle of the hall.
"Sorry," he apologized, even as his eyes took in the gore-spattered jumpsuit and paper booties abandoned on the floor. "Explains how he got out without leaving a mess, or a trail."
Sherlock didn't answer. His eyes remained fixed upwards. John followed his gaze, then wished he hadn't.
Three severed human tongues dangled on a line strung across the service hallway.
"Not exactly a light touch, this killer," muttered John.
Lestrade’s footsteps pounded up behind and stopped abruptly. "Oh my God." He shouted over one shoulder, "Donovan! Have security get some lights on in here!" He turned back in time to catch Sherlock in mid-step. "Do. Not. Touch. Anything."
Even in the layers of shadow, Lestrade saw Sherlock’s pale eyes roll, but he heeded the DI for once and stayed put.
Sherlock scanned the scene as best he could. Besides the suspended tongues and the discarded jumpsuit, he could make out part of a torso that might still have its head.
"You have got to be kidd –" It was all John could do to choke back the rest of the sentence. He'd already said it once tonight. "A reporter?"
"Mark MacKenzie. He was reported missing last week. We have his fingerprints on file thanks to some escapades in the name of the 'free press.'" Even Lestrade's professionalism couldn't keep the dislike out of his voice. "He wasn't much of a real reporter, more of a bottom-feeder. Even the News of the World wouldn't have him on staff."
Sherlock paced Lestrade's tiny office. "Any other missing media types on your list?"
"Just one. Jessica Perez."
"Do you think she's--?" asked John.
"We won't know until the morgue gets the bodies," Lestrade answered with a helpless shrug. Only MacKenzie's prints had popped up in the police database. They'd left Donovan in charge of the bag-and-tag crew at the V&A. By now, they'd be finishing up and sending the bits and bobs over to St. Bart's to sort out and identify.
John's thoughts were on a similar path. "They'll be a while at that."
Lestrade nodded at the dry gallows humour.
"No need," snapped Sherlock. "It's her."
Lestrade eyeballed him. "Enlighten me."
"Use your eyes! Her photograph shows a distinctive mole on her left earlobe, and piercings in both ears and her right nostril. The mutilated female head had all of those characteristics. It's her."
"When was she reported missing?"
It took a minute for Lestrade to negotiate through the missing persons database. "Yesterday, but the boyfriend said he hadn't seen her since the 24th. MacKenzie went missing on the 18th."
"And today's the 27th." Sherlock scowled. "Either our third victim was picked up today, or no one's noticed he went missing on the 21st."
"He's working in threes?"
"I hope the unidentified victim went missing on the twenty-first." Sherlock and Lestrade both looked at John. He met their gazes, one pale and intent, the other dark and tense, both awaiting further explanation. "Otherwise, we’re missing one. Eighteenth, twenty-first, twenty-fourth, twenty-seventh. If our third victim only went missing today--"
"Let’s assume," Lestrade said, "that these three are the only three."
It was a blind-side and it oughtn’t to have been. Lestrade felt briefly old and tired. "Hell. Sherlock’s right. That means we’ve got three days until he kidnaps another one."
"And twelve until he kills again."
"So we've a possible serial killer picking off journalists on a three-day deadline. Or a twelve-day one, depending on how you look at it." John tried not to let the memory of another serial killer haunt him, even as he used the memory of that experience to prompt his next question. "How did he pick them up?"
"Pick them up, pick them out – it's too early to say without guessing, John, and you know I never guess." Sherlock looked over at Lestrade. "I'll want copies of their files, and keep me updated. Text me when the autopsy reports come in."
"Where are you going, then?" Lestrade demanded.
"Home, I hope," muttered John, yawning. The sun was rising. God, was it really as late as that?
Sherlock made one of his extended groans of irritation? Disgust? Disappointment? John was too tired to catch the precise nuance.
"It a new day, John, and we’ve a new case! Can’t you just embrace the adrenaline rush?"
"I’d rather embrace my pillow." At his friend’s accusing and, yes definitely disappointed, glare, John changed tactics. "At least let’s go somewhere for a quick breakfast. I’ll eat fast."
"Fine," begrudged Sherlock. "Lestrade--?"
"I’ll text you. Go."
Sherlock pulled out his mobile as soon as they left Lestrade’s office. His thumbs flew over the mobile’s keypad, texting at a rate that John had trouble believing no matter how many times he saw it happen. He knew better than to ask what Sherlock was researching. He just hoped he wasn’t so preoccupied that he ‘forgot’ he’d agreed to let John eat breakfast before they went haring off only-Sherlock-knew-where.
Either he hadn’t, or his researches proved fruitful. Sherlock remained largely silent while John wolfed down a full fry-up.
"Right." John set down his teacup. "Where are we off to?"
"Chiswick." It was an echo and a question in one word.
"I believe I spoke clearly, John."
John bit back a retort. Getting snippy over Sherlock’s snippiness would get him nowhere. He’d made quick work of breakfast, as promised. He was well fed and marginally restored from his rude awakening at ass o’clock. He could handle this. "Why Chiswick?"
"The bottom-feeder, yes. What about him?"
"He was 'investigating' a paper company in Chiswick before he disappeared."
"And you think there might be a connection?"
"Jessica Perez lived in Chiswick with her boyfriend."
"Chiswick it is. Check, please!"
Unfortunately, Chiswick proved mostly to be dead ends, at least initially. John's precautionary text to Lestrade confirmed that neither Mark nor Jessica's family had been notified yet by the police, which put the kibosh on talking to them – and threatened to send Sherlock into an epic pout. Hoping to rescue the situation, John suggested that he talk to his homeless network members in Chiswick, instead. It wasn't a perfect solution, but that and basic groundwork kept them on the go until midmorning, when Sherlock's phone beeped.
"Ah." His face brightened. "The preliminary autopsy reports are ready. Back to the Yard!"
"So, how did they die?"
John stood a little straighter in Lestrade’s shoebox-with-windows office. "Seriously?"
Lestrade tossed the file across the desk. John reached for it, but Sherlock was faster. It took Sherlock about as long to skim the pages and take in the crucial data as it took John to roll his eyes and exchange an irritated look with Lestrade.
"Not just any poison," said the world’s only consulting detective. He shoved the documents into John’s hands.
"What on Earth made Anderson look for that? You underestimated him for once," John teased.
"It was undoubtedly someone else’s idea."
"Sally’s, actually," Lestrade confirmed. "She knew no one would just lie there and... well. But anesthetizing victims isn’t standard serial killer M.O., not with this gore quotient. She had a vague memory of an old-time poison, looked it up, and asked for the bodies to be specifically tested for it."
"Curare wasn’t always used as a poison. It was used as a medicine at end of the 19th century, and into the 20th." John made a face. "But I can tell you one thing."
"If I remember right, these poor sods knew and felt everything that happened to them."
Rarely had a hot shower felt that good.
Sally Donovan emerged physically cleansed, but still mentally weary. She'd worked plenty of homicides in her career. This one, though, had struck her hardest of them all. That woman. Jessica Perez. God. She was the same age as Sally's little sister. She couldn't help it. She kept imagining Beth in that war zone of a museum room, instead.
It crossed her mind that John Watson could tell her it was nothing like a real war zone.
But no. The Freak would contradict her gut response, correct her emotions. John wasn't so cold.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding Sally that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday. As she scoured her kitchen for something edible, she found herself hoping that John would be able to bully Sherlock into eating while on this case. The Freak had a bad habit of going without, claiming it took blood away from his brain. She’d seen him literally faint from hunger on a few long cases, and having him unconscious was even more annoying than having him deducing everything in sight.
And as much as she hated to think it, she knew they’d need the Freak on this one.
Her mobile rang the moment she'd filled her mouth with a half-stale jammy dodger. She didn't even want the thing, but she was in danger of gnawing off a limb and it was handy to nosh on while she dug into the fridge for the store-bought pasta salad that was trapped behind the soya milk.
Perfect. Hating herself for her bachelorish ways, she chased the bite with milk straight from the carton and grabbed the phone off the counter.
She choked down the sticky-sweet sludge. Didn't do to answer your boss with a full mouth, even over the phone. "Donovan."
"Sally." Lestrade sounded stressed. "I know you’ve probably just got home, but the higher-ups are insisting that we go public with a preliminary statement before noon. I’d like you to come back in so we can take a stab at it."
Satisfaction slaked her physical hunger. She’d worked hard to get where she was, and Lestrade’s open appreciation of her abilities – including relying on her help when dealing with the press – made up for a lot of lost sleep. "Of course."
"And we’ll want to keep our eyes open when we hold the conference. We’ll be looking at potential victims."
Donovan did a quick check of her shoes before heading into the building. She'd changed into clean clothes but hadn't thought about her shoes until that moment. Fortunately, any blood that might have gotten on them at the crime scene had been washed off by the rain. For once, she was thankful for London's soggy climate.
She found Lestrade in his office, phone in one hand, the other tapping like a bird at the computer keyboard. He nodded at her to come in. "Right. Thanks. Good work." He hung up. "They've identified the third victim."
"I'm afraid so."
"Ravi Chakravarty, 35, a fashion blogger and critic, of all things. He had a fight with his boyfriend and stormed out on the 21st. No one had seen him since." Lestrade shook his head. "So we have a muckraker, a critic, and a prize-winning investigative reporter, whose only known connection is that they all worked in some kind of media, and that they were all found messily dead in the special exhibits room at the V&A."
"Wrong," Sherlock drawled from the doorway, startling Sally. "There are two other connections."
"The special exhibit was on presses, Lestrade."
"And the other?"
"Chiswick." Lestrade unknowingly echoed John's tone from earlier.
"The paper company," said John, setting a brown paper bag on the corner Lestrade's desk.
"But what about Chakravarty? What's he got to do with Chiswick?"
"What the hell are either of you talking about?" demanded Lestrade.
Sherlock rounded on him. "If your lackeys had made any sort of effort at proper research--"
Donovan stiffened defensively, but the jibe was, surprisingly, not directed at her.
"--you'd know about MacKenzie's investigation there, Perez's home there, and the Second-hand Runway Show hosted at the Chiswick Charity Hall reviewed by...?"
They’d have gotten there eventually, Sally thought with exhaustion, but this was why Lestrade called Sherlock. The kind way to regard it was that the Freak was that much better at putting pieces together than anyone else. The more realistic way, perhaps, was that he was just that good at putting himself in a psychopath’s shoes.
Sherlock swanned off, John in tow, with vague promises of coming back to observe the conference. Sally remembered the bag only after they’d left. Lestrade opened it, the paper crinkling. An instant later he smiled and showed Sally the two wrapped sandwiches.
Lestrade held out both sandwiches, giving Sally the choice. She took the tomato and cheese with a nod of thanks. She peeled off the wrapping, dropping the limp plastic into the bin. "You want a coffee?" Normally, she'd never offer to fetch coffee for her boss. She knew too well how easy it was to go from respected colleague to disregarded underling simply from being thoughtful.
"Can you have it injected directly into my veins?" quipped Lestrade.
"I think the sight of a DI shooting up might be too irresistible for the press, don't you?"
He chuckled. "Probably."
"What about it, Sally?"
"I’m wondering if we can find out what reporters are working the Chiswick beat, or living in the area, or have any kind of connection there."
"We could cross-reference residency records with known newspaper journalists." Lestrade rubbed his overly-stubbled chin. "But bloggers? Tough. And getting information from journalists on stories they’re working on is a struggle at best." He shrugged. "It’s probably too broad a net for starters, but it can’t hurt to run a quick background check on those in our usual press pools, and keep an extra-sharp eye on anyone who comes up trumps."
"I'll get Gareth on it right now." She turned with half a sandwich still in her hand.
She paused, stranded mid-step, and gave him a puzzled look. "Don't you want it asap? Or even before the press conference, if possible?"
"What I want," he said directing her to the one chair in the office that wasn't his own, "is for you to finish your food before you do anything. We're both knackered and starving. Am I right?"
She couldn't deny it.
"All right, then. I want you at your best and ready to go when I need you."
Sally felt a smile tug her lips upwards. "Oh, I will be. I promise you that."
Lestrade grinned in return. "I’m sure, but I still want you to finish that sandwich."
They both ate hastily, with the gulping bites of the seasoned Yarder who knows that the next interruption is inevitably just around the corner. Sally knew she’d pay for it later, but that was one of the many reasons why she kept a bottle of antacids in her desk.
One of these days, this might catch up with them both. But for now, they had a killer to catch.
John hurried to match Sherlock's longer stride as they left the Yard. "Where are we going?"
Rather than answering, Sherlock tapped away at his mobile's screen, using nothing but his peripheral vision to keep himself from running into other pedestrians. In any other person, such foolhardiness would make John fear for their life. Because it was Sherlock, he had no worry of his flatmate stepping out into traffic and being run down by a London cabbie.
"Small favours. What about the press conference?"
"We'll be back in time. I want to speak to someone first."
John tried again. "Who?"
Sherlock gave him a half-smile. "We’re taking a swim in what you might call the world of gossip, innuendo, and scandal. Langdale calls himself a society reporter, but he’s really the transmitter for all the gossip in London, including any tidbits about the reporters themselves. If there’s any news to be had about our three victims – or anything to know about personalities in Chiswick – he’ll know it. He’s usually close-mouthed, but he’ll talk to me."
"Oh." John briefly wondered why, but didn’t ask. "We’d better warn him."
"Yes, that had occurred to me."
It didn't take long to reach Pike's office. It was smaller even than Lestrade's and yet managed to contain the man himself, not one but three computers, and countless bits of journalistic detritus that meant nothing to John.
"Sherlock, my dear!" Langdale Pike rose languidly to his feet to greet them. "And Doctor John Watson. Such a pleaure to finally meet the man who managed to tame Sherlock Holmes." He put out a hand.
Sherlock cut to the point. "Langadale, you're in danger."
"My dear, I know."
"What can you tell us about about the dead reporters?"
"I could tell you a great deal, but how much of it would be of use is questionable. I highly doubt you want details of poor Jessica’s love life, or Mark’s peccadillos."
"Wait a minute." John scowled suspiciously at the pale, strange man behind the desk. "How did you know we wanted information about those two people? Their own families don’t know yet, or didn’t as of a few hours ago."
Langdale’s eyebrows rose. "I was aware of their disappearances, naturally. And when Sherlock says "dead reporters," it’s not exactly a leap from flower to cemetery, as the song goes."
Sherlock ignored John's accusing look. It wasn't as if he'd given up any secrets that wouldn't be public knowledge soon enough. And Langdale knew how to manage information better than almost anyone.
"What about Chiswick?"
"My dear, I try to know as little as humanly possible about Chiswick." Langdale said the name with a certain obvious distaste. "However, that so-called fashion show Ravi reviewed? One of the sponsors was a local paper company, of all things."
"New information, Langdale," prompted Sherlock, although this was news to John.
"Dear sweet tenacious Jessica, was in the show, my dear! Word of honour."
Sherlock’s gaze sharpened. "Not as herself."
"Of course not, love. She could hardly investigate the company while temping and modeling as herself, now could she?"
"But investigating what? And where does MacKenzie come into it?"
Langdale looked thoughtful. "This is pure speculation on my part, but paper and textile are both fibre arts. The show was all about using alternate fibres – including industrial hemp for paper and clothing. Or allegedly industrial-grade hemp." Langdale sniffed. "Given that Mark was a pothead, if there was something fishy about the marijuana supply on the streets..."
"Wait. The serial killer angle is a cover-up?"
"Bit extreme even for a drug ring, Johnny dear."
"No." Sherlock frowned. He was missing something and that always irritated him. "But that's not it. Jessica was working undercover. The killer must have known who she really was."
"What about MacKenzie?" asked John. "Did he know her? Could he have blown her cover to, I don't know, maybe convince someone on the inside that he could be trusted?"
Langdale shook his head. "Mark was as cheap as they come, darling, but even he wasn't as cold and calculating as all that."
"He might not have realised the full danger."
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. "It all comes back to the fashion show. We know Ravi and Jessica were there. Mark – " He glanced over at Langdale, who shrugged. " – might have been there too, might not, might have been investigating the paper company, might not. And while Ravi was at the show, he wasn’t an investigative reporter, but a fashion blogger; was he taken to disguise the true targets, or was he in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"We’ll need to sort that later," John said. "Right now we must go, or we’ll be late to the press conference."
Lestrade never enjoyed dealing with the press. He accepted it as part of his job, a necessary distraction from proper police work. That didn't mean he liked it. At least he had Donovan backing him up, and today he had three additional officers on hand, keeping a subtle eye on everyone. Chances were fair that the killer's next target was in this room, and he wanted as many eyes on the scene as possible. No one deserved to suffer as the first victims had, and he was damned if he was going to let anyone else go that same way.
Most of the faces in the press room were familiar, reporters who regularly worked the police beat. Obviously someone had let something slip, however, because a few of them were bigger names who only ever turned up when a big story was in the offing. And the rest of the room was nearly filled with reporters Lestrade didn’t recognize offhand.
Lestrade was just about to start when he saw Sherlock and John slip in through the back door. John took one of the few remaining seats, while Sherlock leaned nonchalantly against the wall, his quicksilver eyes taking in every face.
This was when the circus began and Lestrade was the tightrope walker. His was the unenviable task of handing the press enough information to satisfy them without giving away so much that it would cripple the investigation. Donovan was his balancing pole, helping find centre again when a particularly persistent or overly clever reporter threatened to send him too far to the wrong side of that fine line.
Shame he didn't have a net.
He pointed to a familiar woman in the second row. "Yes, Amanda?"
"What steps are the police taking to protect the public from this brutal killer?"
It was times like these that Lestrade had to remind himself firmly reporters weren’t evil, weren’t agents of the Devil sent to drive him distracted. It was a hard sell, but he made himself believe it, and even smile charmingly at Amanda as he answered. "I can’t give you details, but we have several promising leads, and we are devoting all possible attention to this case." It was essentially a non-answer, but Amanda didn’t follow up. She probably would have if we’d released the victims’ names. The whole press pool will go into a frenzy as soon as we do.
It can't have missed their collective notice that Sherlock was lurking in, well, not the shadows. More like the wings. After all, this was playing out like some stage fiction, between the mimes, the museum, and the random Whovianesque connection to a paper company in Chiswick.
Oh yes. He watched the show. He half-wished for a Time Lord to sort this mess out and battle the baddies, if only so he could catch a couple hours of shut-eye.
Fantasies, Greg, he chided himself as he ended the press conference and made a swift exit with Donovan running interference behind him.
By the time the press conference ended, Sherlock had identified two reporters who bore watching, and possibly warning: a crime-beat journalist for the Guardian whose invalid aunt lived in Chiswick; and an entertainment-and-arts specialist who lived in the borough. Naturally, Sherlock decided they should split up without consulting John. Resigned, John followed the arts reporter, joining the scrum leaving the building and holding the door for several out of an ingrained sense of chivalry.
"Where are you headed?" John asked the man.
"I’m headed that way myself. Share a cab?"
"Sure." The man blinked. "Say, aren’t you John Watson?"
John gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "Guilty as charged." He hailed a cab and one pulled up right away. He let his companion get in first and followed him.
The man gave the cabbie an address, and John nodded. "Close enough."
"I don't suppose there's a chance of an exclusive?" the fellow asked.
"Afraid not, no."
"Never hurts to ask."
"No. Quite. I, uh, didn't catch what paper you're with."
"Freelance. Bit of a drag, really. Print, online, whatever sells. Reviews, mostly. Books, films, theatre."
"Odd you'd be at a police press conference."
"Well, it's its own sort of drama, innit?"
"Besides, it’s closed the V&A for a day, y’know? Which is news, no two ways about it. God knows how many tour buses and groups they’ve had to turn away. It’s got to be costing them a pretty penny."
"I suppose it must," John agreed.
"Yeah, and that’s not even counting the dent something like this might make in future donations. I mean, the corporations and wealthy toffs aren’t going to fall all over themselves giving big gifts and naming grants to an institution that can’t mind its own security well enough to keep out a killer, now are they?"
"No, quite." John hadn't thought about that. It was a curious point and he wondered if it had crossed Sherlock's mind enough to stick and hide in a corner somewhere, or if he'd considered it, found it wanting, and discarded it.
The fellow pulled out his mobile and texted a message. "Sorry. Rude, right?" He pocketed the device. "The wife likes updates on my doings. I don't mind. Means she cares, doesn't it."
"I suppose so." John was almost relieved. If this fellow checked in with his wife that often, he'd be certain to be missed quickly if he disappeared.
"So about this potential loss to the V&A. Could you tell me more about that, um..." John gave the other man a sheepish look. "I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name."
"Charles. Charles Farnsworth." The arts reporter offered his hand, and John was surprised by the firm handshake. The reporter didn’t look like he had that kind of strength. "Why, do you think it might be important?"
"Well, I’m not the detective, but it might be," John admitted. "And you seem like you know something about the subject."
"Ought to, after thirty years. Sure, come on up to my place."
The afternoon had grown overcast and gloomy, threatening more rain. John fought a shiver as he climbed from the cab.
"Top floor," Farnsworth said. "Hope you don't mind a climb."
"There's a lift but more than half the time it don't work, so most folks just don't bother."
"So, you're a fan of the V&A?" John hazarded. Thirty years was a long time to research anything if you weren't fascinated by the subject.
"Something like that. Here we are." He opened the door, and the last thing John felt was a crushing grip and needle in his wrist.
*When we got to 96-100 "Author's Choice", we started giving each other words. Wicked fun!
A/N: We wrote this fic as a response to Challenge 21 over on Watson's Woes, which is a round-robin challenge. Specifically, the challenge states that 1) either the first or second prompt table must be used*, 2) the fic must feature the friendship between the characters, and 3) the fic had to be authored in the round-robin style, where one writer writes a bit, then the next, and so on in turns until the story is complete. Apparently the two of us really like this kind of challenge, because we wrote this fic using the entire first prompt table. Um. Yeah. Or, you know, we're both insane. In either case, we wrote it, we're submitting it, and we hope you like it. :-) Oh, and needless to say, no beta.