Last time, Joan received her assignment to find Violet Sherrinford. She finds her, all right, but she's not quite what Joan was expecting...
P.S. If this were an episode of Elementary, who would you pick to play Violet? See if your guess comes close to the actress I had in mind!
Violet Sherrinford lived in an English-style townhouse snuggled between two high-rise apartment buildings at the edge of Central Park. It looked cozy enough from the outside, yet Joan had learned from experience never to take anything at face value. As she approached, she took notice of several things: beautiful and lush plants that had obviously been raised and tended with a loving hand; clean yet unfussy curtains draping the windows; and immaculate brass accents decorating the front door. Sherlock had taught her that even one's house could speak volumes about its occupants, and Violet Sherrinford's house said that she was well-organized and practical, yet possessed of a gentle side. Armed with this perception, as well as the image of her younger self, Joan marched up the steps and was about to knock when she noticed something new... something that set off alarm bells inside.
The door was slightly ajar, just enough to fool outsiders into thinking that it was closed. Yet Joan, with the trained observer's eye she had nurtured while under Sherlock's tutelage, could see a small crack between door and frame and feel a draft coming from inside the house. It was late spring going on summer, so it was natural that the air conditioning would be on, yet Joan knew well that no one in their right mind left a door open to air-condition the great outdoors. No, something was wrong here, and she was going to find out what.
All rules of etiquette flying out the window, Joan pushed open the door and checked around for any sign of movement – first in the corners nearest the door, then farther on ahead before venturing inside. When she was sure that the corners were clear, she crossed the threshold and entered the house. What she saw confirmed her worst fears. The place was absolutely trashed – books scattered about, some open, some with pages torn asunder; pillows slashed and feathers and stuffing strewn about; a nearby mirror shattered, and more. Somebody had clearly broken in. The Constant Gardener, perhaps? No, this doesn't match his MO, Joan thought, recalling the previous four cases. None of the apartments in question were torn apart like this. No, this has to be a robbery. Question is, where's the burglar? More to the point, where's Violet?
Joan didn't have to wait for an answer. She had been walking along with the panther prowl that years of martial arts had wrought in her, light and lithe so that her footsteps did not echo and startle any intruder that might still be lurking about. The silence, ironically, had done very little to alert her to the presence creeping up behind her, which she now saw in the form of a huge shadow raising an elongated weapon over its head. Thinking quickly, Joan grabbed the nearest object she could find – a cast-iron frying pan – and, rapidly calculating where the weapon would strike, let out a karate yell and swung the pan around with all of her strength.
An almighty CLANG! tore the silence as metal met wood. The impact was so powerful that it reverberated off the walls and sent vibrations jiggling and jouncing up Joan's arms and into the rest of her body. Once she had regained her senses, she blinked furiously and found herself staring at the weapon that her frying pan was still touching. It was a cricket bat, a long wooden cricket bat. Had the situation not been so tense, Joan would have breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't been walloped with that thing. One good smack and she would have been the recipient of a skull fracture or worse. As it was, the impact of the bat against the frying pan had shaken her and nearly deafened her a decibel or two, but not so badly that she couldn't hear the bat's owner addressing her for the first time. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Joan's eyes made a gradual journey upward. They roamed up the bat to a pair of hands – the left bearing a white gold wedding band – to arms draped in royal blue silk, to a gold pendant portraying a circle enveloping a heart, to the present-day version of the face that had stared back at her in that morning's black-and-white photograph. And although she knew there was no mistaking the woman, Joan asked the standard question anyway as a form of courtesy. "Violet Sherrinford?"
The woman's eyes, narrowed in a glare, widened in surprise. "How do you know my name?" She kept her cricket bat raised, as Joan did likewise with the frying pan, although neither one of them swung again.
Joan's grip tightened on the frying pan. "Your life is in danger. I'm here on behalf of the NYPD to take you into protective custody."
Violet let out a mirthless laugh. "Nice try, child. Unless you can show me a badge and a court order that doesn't look like the product of a Long Island ID shark, I'm not going anywhere. And you're going out." She shoved the frying pan out of the way with her cricket bat and advanced on Joan.
Joan raised the frying pan again and backed up. "Wait, you don't understand!"
"I'm a consulting detective with the NYPD!"
Before Violet could show her the door headfirst, Joan cried out her name, praying that at least that would be recognized. "My name is Joan Watson!"
It worked. Violet froze with the bat raised over her head and stared at Joan as though she had never seen her before. "Joan Watson?" Her voice was slightly breathy this time, in contrast to the bitter coldness it had borne just seconds earlier. "The same Joan Watson who works with Sherlock Holmes? The former surgeon?"
Now it was Joan's turn to be surprised. She'd wondered if her name might be recognized, but few people outside of New York knew that she used to be a surgeon before she became Sherlock's partner. "How did you know I was a surgeon?"
"I've been following your work for quite some time now. You two are quite possibly the best detectives I've seen in years, and coming from a 40-year veteran of Scotland Yard, that is saying something." At last, Violet lowered the bat and offered her hand to Joan. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Watson."
Joan likewise abandoned the frying pan and shook the older woman's hand vigorously. "The pleasure's all mine, Ms. Sherrinford, and please, call me Joan."
"If you'll call me Violet. I'd offer you some tea, but I'm afraid the house is in no condition for entertaining guests, as you can see from the lovely state my little intruder left it in."
"It's no problem. And speaking of the burglar, where is he?"
"Right where I left him after I conked him with that cricket bat." Violet motioned for Joan to follow her back to the kitchen, and sure enough, there was a black-clad man in a cream-smeared ski mask sprawled unconscious on the linoleum. "I was upstairs reading when I heard him break the latch on the door, and I grabbed the nearest thing I could find: my cricket bat from my school days. I came downstairs thinking he was after my silver or something of the like and I did indeed find the ground floor a wreck, but imagine my surprise when I came in here and found him foraging in the refrigerator. He heard me coming and pulled a gun, but I gave him a good whack before he could shoot. Spun him right around and knocked him out, but unfortunately, he landed face-first into the banana cream pie I'd just made." She shook her head at the dozing burglar. "I regret not getting a taste of that pie, but at least I can say that he quite literally got his just desserts."
For some reason, Joan found that last statement funny, and she started to laugh. Violet watched her interestedly for a good ten seconds before she started to snicker as well. In no time, she was roaring with laughter. They laughed helplessly on among the wreckage of the house until they could both get themselves under control, and even then it was something of a struggle.
"Oh, merciful heavens," Violet chuckled, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes, "I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard."
"Neither can I," said Joan, who was massaging a stitch in her ribs. "You've got a good sense of humor. Very dry and sardonic. You kind of remind me of Sherlock in that way."
A funny smile crossed Violet's face. "Do I now."
"Yeah." Joan looked up at Violet, taking stock of her for the first time. From her own petite height, everyone was tall, but Joan could tell that Violet Sherrinford was tall for a woman – 5'8" or 5'9", if her guess was at all accurate. Her beauty hadn't faded with time at all; she was still an amazingly beautiful woman at 70, with a youthful face, shimmering blonde hair cut short, and huge midnight-blue eyes... eyes that once again caught Joan's attention. They'd snagged her in the photograph for the same reason they snagged her now. In the photo, it had been the intelligence glittering in them, and now, it was not only the same sharp intelligence but the color that gave her a somewhat eerie feeling. Midnight-blue eyes with an unusual keenness and sparkle... she'd seen those very same eyes glowing in the face of her partner. Dear Lord, her eyes are just like Sherlock's... but how can that be? Unless... No. It's not possible, Joan thought, dismissing the notion with a mental wave of the hand. If that were the case, Captain Gregson would've told me.
"Tell me something, Joan," Violet said, snapping Joan back to attention. Her voice, with its lilting British accent, had a natural richness and warmth, putting her in mind of Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast. "Why exactly are you here? You said that my life is in danger. I highly doubt it's because of the break-in, because the last I was aware, burglary did not warrant protective custody."
"You're right. What I said earlier was true. I am here on behalf of the NYPD because we have reason to believe that you're the next victim of a serial killer."
Violet's blue eyes darkened. "The Constant Gardener."
"How did you –"
"Old habits of a detective sergeant die hard. I've done my own research into the case. When I first heard about it, I wondered if the case was political, as he was named after a political thriller. But when I began conducting my own investigation, I realized why the police gave him that title. All of his victims are named after flowers... as am I."
"And they're all women of your age group, with blue eyes and blonde hair."
Reflexively, Violet ran a hand through her own blonde hair. "I don't suppose this killer is murdering older blondes because he believes in two archaic myths: that all older women are weak and that all blondes are stupid? Because if that is the case, he's in for a nasty shock should he ever get hold of me."
Joan barked a laugh. "You're really into gallows humor, aren't you?"
"My dear, when you work with the police in any country, it's part of the job description. Plus I believe that laughter can ease a tense situation, very much like the one we're in right now. And if my intuition tells me anything, you haven't laughed in a long time."
Joan shook her head, amazed at her insight. "No, I haven't. It's been a very long time since I've laughed about anything."
Violet's eyes narrowed slightly. "Does that partner of yours make you laugh at all?" When Joan shook her head again, Violet followed suit and murmured, so softly that Joan almost didn't hear her, "That boy." But then she looked back up at Joan and said, "Why don't you tell me about your life with Sherlock Holmes on the way to your house, darling? Speaking as a retired DS, I'd love to hear all about your adventures on the force here in New York."
Joan was on the point of asking her all about the significance of "that boy," but the softness of Violet's voice in that instance told her that she had better keep quiet about something so personal... at least for now. Shelving the thought away for the future, Joan grinned at the knowledge that Violet was actually willing to come with her. "I'd love to. Just brace yourself before you meet Sherlock. He's... an unusual man."
"That, my dear, is an understatement." When Joan turned inquisitive eyes to her, Violet merely smiled. "I'll tell you later. Just give me a minute to pack up. And don't worry about Sleeping Beauty in the kitchen. I've already called the police and they should be on their way to collect him."
Joan watched Violet disappear upstairs, curiosity bubbling up inside her. She was a mysterious one, all right. Sherlock was definitely going to get a run for his money with Violet Sherrinford in the house.