Joan stared at the growing tower of case files on her counter and the increasingly thick stack of rejected resumes in her waste basket. She had thought finding an intern would be easy, but most of the applicants had been CSI junkies or conspiracy nuts, with a few well-intentioned and unobjectionable criminal justice majors sprinkled on top. And when exactly had she started thinking of the word "unobjectionable" as a bad quality? she wondered. It was Sherlock's influence, of course. As much as she wanted to deny it, the constant irritation of his presence had sharpened her mind. If she could find someone like that, just a little more functional, less territorial, with fewer boundary issues...
Maybe she should rewrite her help wanted ad.
Wanted: Intern for police consultant. Must be willing to work unpredictable hours. Slightly prickly candidates preferred, intriguing back story a bonus. Natural talent for deductive reasoning is required, however, prior detective work is unnecessary. Employer is unwilling to be your only friend.
She frowned and reached for the thin stack of resumes that hadn't landed in the bin. If she wanted Sherlock Lite, she should probably resign herself to working alone. Her phone pinged, and she answered as soon as Bell's number appeared on the caller ID.
"Kidnapping, Eighty-Sixth and Lex," he said.
"I'll be there." Joan barely bothered to hang up the phone.
"Is that everyone?" Joan asked, shifting on her feet to take some of the weight off her high heels. But the day wasn't done; she could already hear a voice drifting from the police barricade twenty feet away.
"I told you, it was the cleaner. If you'd just let me talk to Ms. Watson..."
Bell winced. "Sorry, I didn't want her to come after you too."
Joan looked toward the barricade. The woman standing on the other side was petite with wavy auburn hair. Her eyes were downcast, but her voice was defiant.
"You know her?" Joan asked.
"Fraid I do," Bell said. "A lot of us do, actually. Name's Kitty Winter. She escaped from a kidnapping in London five years ago and started over in New York trying to do detective work. The thing is, she's not quite your and Sherlock's caliber."
"By which you mean she's less assertive than Sherlock and easier to dismiss because she's a woman?" Joan asked.
"You wanna talk to her, be my guest," Bell said, waving the guard to let her through. "But I'm telling you, you'll regret it."
Kitty walked toward them surprisingly hesitantly, cradling her phone against her chest.
"Ms. Winter, pleased to meet you." Joan held out her hand, but Kitty didn't seem to notice.
"The cleaner did it," she said, not quite meeting Joan's eyes. "They wouldn't listen to me back there."
She looked back toward the barricade, and Joan touched her arm lightly.
"I'm listening now," she said, and the defiant set of Kitty's shoulders softened. "Tell us what you saw."
"Nothing. I wasn't home when it happened," Kitty said, and Bell rolled his eyes. Joan suppressed her own frustrated sigh; she'd interviewed enough nut jobs this week, and she hardly needed a distraction from the case. But she motioned for Kitty to continue anyway.
"I first saw him on January twenty-ninth. He said he was a cleaner, but his shoes were polished and his coveralls were totally clean. I thought that was odd, so I said my aunt's building was looking for a cleaning service and asked for his card."
"I take it he didn't have one," Joan said, and Kitty's lips quirked up in a faint smile.
"No, so I looked in the windows of his van. There was nothing -- no brooms, no mops, no plungers or detergent. I had a feeling something might happen, so I took a photograph of the license plate," Kitty said, and she passed Joan her phone.
"This is the best lead we have," Joan said. She looked at Bell, who looked chagrined.
"I'll run these plates right away," he said.
"Ms. Winter," she said. "This is Joan Watson. We met the other day on the kidnapping case. I was wondering, are you looking for a job?"