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Challenges 4 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 4
Okay. Slowly, back on the horse.

Crime fiction crossover: JKR's detective (forgotten his name) works with one or more of: Hercules Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Sam Vimes of the City Watch (from Pratchett) or whoever you want. for Aylat

(I thought about this one for a while. Who could mix well? Then I realized that, as a specifically military investigator, there was one crime show that Cormoran could probably fit in pretty well with...)

There were many things in life that Strike found unpredictable, but the nature of a military investigative office would never be one of them. He'd known them at home in Britain, in the broad deserts of Iraq, in the makeshift tent villages of a dozen war zones around the world. Wherever soldiers were in play, someone would cross the line. It was impossible for it not to happen in atmospheres so charged. And when it happened, it needed to be investigated, and that meant some form of office. Whatever shape that office had, it would include coffee (or some other legal stimulant) that was always running out or being overcharged for, harried junior officers getting files whose contents they wouldn't understand the significance even if they had clearance, jaded senior officers brimming over with black humor, and at least one no nonsense commander (which role Strike had, on occasion, played) trying to keep all of it together.

And, of course, a quirky forensics technician.

That was a rule.

Strike wasn't sure if the job made people odd, or if odd people were attracted to it, but in his experience, the only people stranger than forensics techs were coroners… and that was only sometimes.

Here at NCIS in Virginia, the role was filled by a pigtailed woman in her mid-forties, dressed like she was headed for a nightclub. She wore dark make-up and high heeled boots, and had named all of her laboratory equipment. She lived on large, caffeine-laden fizzy drinks to a point that, were he at a lower level of investigation, would cause him to have her tested for stronger chemical interference, based on the rapid, shotgun speech patterns. It was a kind of self-conscious, deliberate quirkiness that he often found in men and women who had never quite fit in with their peers, and had therefore determined themselves to be permanently Other.

He seemed to come into contact with a lot of women of this type, beginning with his mother and never ceasing. Robin was the first woman to travel through his life who wasn't making any attempt to seem "different"… which made her the most unusual of all, at least to Strike. He'd have liked to have her here, but the company couldn't afford for both of them to make the trip, so she was back in London, keeping tabs on a philandering husband, an embezzler, and, in her spare time, the twin brother of the current murder victim. It would have been refreshing to see her sigh and roll her eyes at Strike's constant encounters with odd women.

In the case of Abby Sciuto, he guessed it was relatively harmless. She had several advanced degrees, published routinely in the professional journals, and had worked highly successfully here for over a decade.

"So, private detective, huh?" she asked, whirring a few machines to life. "I'm surprised Gibbs let you in. He's not a fan."

"I was SIB," Strike said. "We've worked together before. I'm afraid that British and American soldiers have been known, on occasion, to cause trouble together."

"And to stop it together!" Sciuto announced, making an elaborate gesture toward her spectrometer ("Major Mass-Spec"). "So, your client thinks it was our guy?"

Strike nodded. "It's a theory." He opened his file. "My client is Lieutenant Shirani's commanding officer. He thinks the original investigation was slapdash because of Shirani's ethnicity."

"Well, it was slapdash," Sciuto said. "Not sure why, yet."

"You don't think it could be because he was a Pakistani on an American base in the middle of a war?"

"It could be. It could be something else, too. I mean, you do have someone watching the brother."

"Who told you that?"

"There was a campfire."

"A what?"

"A campfire. DiNozzo called everyone over to give us the four-one-one. Dead soldier, overdose. Everyone claims he was clean, except the people who say he as partying with them. The brother finding him. You know. The rest of your notes."

"My notes… were shared?"

"We're working together." She grinned. "I especially liked the page where you just wrote 'Wanker' over and over again. Very useful."

"I had the recorder going."

"Then why take notes?"

"People get nervous when they see you writing. I like to see what they think is important. That's when they start craning their necks to see if you're taking them down right."

"Devious. You should share it with Gibbs." She considered this. "No. McGee. It would be a good tip for McGee. Gibbs wouldn't use it."

"That's true," Strike said. He'd had a chance to observe Gibbs's interrogation techniques in the desert a few years back. He didn't think a pen would make him more intimidating. "I didn't put the recording in with my notes."

"Why not?"

"He didn't have anything useful to add. He just wanted to make himself seem important."


"He did get me to someone who did have some interesting information." He nodded at the spectrometer. "The girl who gave me Shirani's laundry there. Girl named Georgia Dane."

"Georgia Dane? Lead singer of Aggro? You got to talk to her?"

"Used a few connections," Strike muttered, hoping she hadn't looked too far into his own history. The last thing he needed was a determinedly quirky, caffeine hopped music fan discovering his connection to Rokeby. "Let's just say, Lieutenant Shirani knew her considerably better. As far as she knows, he was clean. He tried to get her clean."

"That's not in your notes!"

"It's not in the notes I gave the Navy, at any rate."

"And more with the devious. I like it. Except that it's getting in the way of our investigation."

"I want to know what your people see without any preconceptions."

The machine signaled that it was done with its analysis, and Sciuto looked at the screen. "Well, Major Mass-Spec has some good news for your client. Unless Shirani switched from organic kale to overdosing on heroin in three weeks, chances are, that last night wasn't his idea of a party. But you already knew that, didn't you?"

"I believed it. There's a difference."

"Well, it still doesn't say that Private Tisdale had anything to do with it. He's clean, too."

"How do you know?"

"I already tested most of his foot locker, his hair, and a cup of pee." She frowned at the spectrometer. "You sure it's not a twin thing? Like, maybe, our Shirani is really the completely drug free twin, but the real Shirani is back in London, with your assistant? It would be a good plot."


"No motive, though."

"I don't waste time on motives. I just want the facts."

"Well, you're in the right place. Major Mass-Spec doesn't care about motives, either. But they're going to come up eventually."

"I'm happy to let it wait for court."

The door to the lab opened, and Gibbs came in, carrying a large cup of the soda Sciuto apparently lived on. "Got anything for me, Abs?"

"Oh, yeah. Cormoran hasn't ruled out a twin plot. Now, that would be interesting…"

Apollo goes to a poetry reading. for princesselwen

I used to like poetry readings.

Then again, there was a time when they were the in thing to do. People would crowd around the bards and poets and listen for hours while they spun stories. It wasn't a short term fad, either. Everything was in poetry. How else would they remember mountains of words and not miss a single thing in their epics? I'd come down, drop a blessing or two, and it was Woodstock in the agora.

Not that I claim Woodstock. That was Dionysus's territory, mostly. I just provided some of the entertainment. And a few of the entertainers.

Not in my poetry gig, of course. That was the music gig.

The poetry gig hasn't exactly been hopping. There are slams, as I understand it, but those aren't the same as readings, and they don't invoke me much. I guess rap is somewhere in the middle. I've found fragments of myself waking up at rap shows from time to time, but those fragments are a little confused as to whether they're doing poetry or music, and they usually flicker out and fade back into the whole essence before I'm committed to the place. I have a few rapper children, but not as many as my other kids think there should be. Not as many as I think there should be, but hey, you can only go where you're called. I tend to get invoked by more classical musicians these days. And doctors. And sunbathers. Lots of sunbathers. I expect a generation of archers to come up, given some popular books, but they've been going for Artemis lately, even the boys, which confuses her.

But I digress.

The point is, until I found myself in a public library in the middle of cow country, New York (and yes, that's a thing, and cow-country-New-Yorkers are very proud of it for some reason), I hadn't been to a proper mortal poetry reading since I put on a black turtleneck and hit a bongo drum to back it up. I liked it then. There were young people and funky venues. About half of my kids from those days came from poets invoking me. No real loves, not the kind that your whole self gets to one place for. I've only had one of those in the last three hundred years, and that was in the late nineties, and she was a medical student, not a poet. I can still see her when I close my eyes. Our son, Will, looks more like me than her, but he's got her funny little smile, and her oversized ears. I should make oversized ears a theme for the next cycle of beauty poems.

Well, I guess it doesn't matter. I'm not setting any poetry agendas these days, and the years of finding myself in the smoky little bistros are over. My poet children are grown up now, and the people who used to invoke me back then? Well… they might be the exact same people I'm looking at now. Their short little mortal lives just left them white-haired and sentimental in the interim.

Maybe Will set it up for me to meet him and Nico here -- he had it in his head that I was depressed and need healing -- or maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe there was even something in mortal me that ends up coming when I'm invoked. That never occurred to me before; I just assumed that when they couldn't reach me, there was no real poetry. But I was here, so I figured, I might as well bless the thing, as soon as the old woman at the podium finished her recitation.

"Oh, Dark," she intoned, looking a little constipated, "that covers land and tree and stream
with silent time, and melancholy grace--
You scoff at things that daylight creatures deem
deserving of their frantic, killing pace."

She paused long enough that I thought she was actually finished and started to get up to give the blessing, but no. She just took in a deep, dramatic gasp.

"At your cool and isolating touch,
contemplation finds a space to grow.
Neglected introspection comes alive,
takes root and in its growing feels the brush
of worlds beyond the place it's always known.
Oh, night! You give what's needed to survive."

She dropped her head toward the podium, exhausted, and the other old biddies clapped politely, so the thing was apparently over. I started to get up, then she spoke again.

"'Ode to Night,'" she said, then added chirpily. "It's from my newest collection, Reflections of Silver Lake… it's on Amazon!"

I stood up and started for the podium.

An old man with liver spots put his hand on my arm. "Son, Mrs. McCafferty is up next."

"I just wanted to give a blessing," I said.

He laughed. "Well, I don't think we're allowed to do that in a public building."

"Oh, let him!" an old woman gushed. "It's so sweet to see a boy who can thank God!"

"Um, well…" I looked around. "I am Apollo. You know, the god of poetry?"

The man wrinkled his nose. "You don't go around mocking these ladies, boy!"

"I'm not. I just wanted to give a blessing. You know. May your words honor me. Like that."

There was no response to this. They just looked scandalized.

"So… it's given?" I looked at them, waiting for, at the very least, a respectful bow.

Instead, they physically turned their chairs around, and the old man signaled an old woman. "Now, Evelyn, why don't you get us back on track." He turned and glared at me. "And our young friend will either take his seat quietly or go back to the children's room."

I sat back down, while Mrs. McCafferty went up to the podium, and presented a free verse poem -- I hate free verse poetry -- about how the spring crocuses in her garden meant, astonishingly, that spring was coming once again, "to banish cruel winter." Persephone would love it.

There was a tap on my shoulder. Nico di Angelo, son of Hades, nodded over his shoulder, and I followed him out to the reading room, where Will was waiting for us.

"Good timing," I said. "I think she was dying up there."

"Very funny," Nico said. He looked the same as ever. Maybe an inch taller. He was probably not going to get very big. The only difference was that he wasn't wearing the skull ring. Will had that on a chain around his neck, where it was probably a great comfort to patients. Nico didn't wear anything of Will's, unless the retro Beach Boys concert tee shirt was a loan. That kind of imbalance would have to be fixed.

Will looked toward the door. "I thought we were meeting outside."

"There were poets inside. They are in desperate need of my help. Besides, a poem might come over me."

"In that case," Nico said, "it's probably better to get away from populated areas."

"Wait, wait," I said. "Here's one:
If children-in-law,
forget to show some respect
I'll have to smite them."

"Wow. That's actually one of your better ones. But I'm fourteen. I'm no one's in-law."

"I issued myself a poetic license when Rome was a bunch of mud huts and your Venice hadn't been founded yet. Also, you're eighty-one."

"Time at the Lotus doesn't count."

"And there's another one:
He tries to tell me
There's no time in paradise
And yet it passes."

"The Lotus wasn't paradise, and please don't do any more haikus, or I'll shadow travel you."

"Oh, no you won't," Will said. "You already did one earlier this week."

"It's been long enough. I'd probably just go smoky for an hour."

I shake my head. "If you drag me through the dark again, when I get my powers back, I'm going to make sure you're never out of the sunlight."

"Could you do that?" Will asked. "I mean, really? Not in the smiting sense? Because if we could get some kind of portable sunshine, it might help the healing after he uses his powers."

"He can't do anything until we get his powers back," Nico said.

"Which gets us to the poets," Will said.

Nico looked stricken. "Don't tell me we have to go back in there!"

"While you were off trying to reach Ella for the Sibylline prophecies, I found a pay phone and called Mom. She's working on it."

"You told your mother about this?" I repeat, imagining Liza Solace laughing at the idea of me being stuck at sixteen while she has turned into a world famous surgeon. "I didn't tell you that you could do that."

"Mom's a healer. She wants to help. She thinks you need your followers to be active in your domains to create a healthy atmosphere."

"They made it clear that they aren't my followers. Can't we just go to the beach?"

"The sun god gig wasn't part of your original form, and you know it. You won't go a doctor -- "

"-- most of them aren't even my kids anymore --"

"-- and you managed to annoy the musicians, so poets, it is. We're here to soak in the invocations."

I looked at Nico. He wasn't much more impressed with this than I was, which made me like him a little more.

But Will was relentless. He pushed us back into the reading, where the old man was reading an epic poem about his cocker spaniel.

I sat down, and submitted to the atmosphere.
6 comments or Leave a comment
dreamer_marie From: dreamer_marie Date: January 18th, 2016 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cormoran Strike fic! I hadn't been able to find any. I loved how you caught the same tone as canon!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 18th, 2016 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was surprised at how little fan art there is, too. I figured the grown-up HP fans would almost be doing it by habit! :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 18th, 2016 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, I like the Strike NCIS crossover!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 19th, 2016 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)
It was kind of fun.
lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: January 19th, 2016 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know NCIS well but I really enjoyed the crossover and the comparison of methods!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 19th, 2016 04:19 am (UTC) (Link)
It was actually interesting because I'm not deep into either fandom, so it was all by review of the source material.
6 comments or Leave a comment