Saturday, August 22, 2020

A Story About A Journalist And Her Phone

A repost from January 2020.

"Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Phantom Tweets"
This is a pretty good pastiche of the Sherlockian canon.
From the crypto-fascists at Australia's Quadrant Magazine:
In consulting the reams of manuscript in which I have chronicled the second return of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes, I find that no pages encompass more activity than those devoted to the year 2019.
Perusing my notes for that twelvemonth, I see that this was the period in which Holmes resolved the crisis of the Hackney Micro-Aggression, and brought a soothing termination to the hideous incident of the Unsafe Space. But no case of the time so severely tested my friend’s powers of deduction, or so thoroughly quenched his appetite for adventure, as the puzzle of the Phantom Tweets. My own affairs having taken me abroad during the first weeks of this cause célèbre, I remained quite innocent of the matter until my return to our lodgings in Baker Street, where I found Holmes seated before the fire, with his gaze fixed intently upon the contents of his tablet.

“Welcome home, Watson,” murmured my friend after a minute or two, without having glanced up from his device. “I perceive that your journey was a busy one.”
“Remarkably busy, Holmes,” I answered. “But how the devil did you know?”

Holmes at last laid aside his reading matter, and fixed his languid gaze upon me. “Because, Watson, you have sat silent in that chair for two minutes now, offering neither comment nor conjecture regarding the celebrated affair of the unvirtuous tweets. Only a fellow who has been singularly busy during this last fortnight—so busy that he has had no opportunity to glance into a newspaper—would exhibit, upon his return to these shores, so perfect an indifference to the late misfortunes of Miss Jemima Appleby. Ah—your expression reveals that you are no stranger to the lady’s name, at any rate.”

“No stranger! Why Holmes, the lady is the most forward-looking journalist in the land—an impassioned foe of all known forms of injustice, and a tireless discoverer of fresh ones. Her ability to ‘read the room’ is quite unparalleled.”

“Indeed, Watson, which is precisely why the room reads her. At the acme of her popularity, Miss Appleby had accumulated some half a million followers and friends. If acumen can be gauged by fame, the lady is indeed the sagest writer in the land. Or perhaps I should say, she was.”

“Great God, Holmes!” I ejaculated. “You don’t mean to say the lady has been murdered!”

“Not quite, my dear Watson. But she has suffered a remarkable fall from favour. When last I looked, her followers could be numbered in the mere hundreds. Her weekly newspaper column has been cancelled, and her books have been removed from all respectable shelves. The lady is quite disgraced.”
“But pray,” said I, “what is the cause of all this?”

“The events of the past fortnight have been strange, Watson, but I will compress the story as far as may be done. Briefly, the facts are these. A week ago last Friday, on the fourteenth, Miss Appleby, as was her custom, dined with a friend at McFarlane’s. The dinner was a weekly ritual, governed by certain peculiar rules. These rules stipulated that neither Miss Appleby nor her companion was permitted to bring any kind of electronic device to the table.”

“No-phone Friday,” said I.

“Very good, Watson. I see that you are well acquainted with the lady’s journalism, which once furnished so panoramic a window onto her personal habits. Now, on the evening of the fourteenth, Miss Appleby left home at about seven o’clock. In accordance with the rules of the Friday dinner, she left her telephone inside her apartment, having placed it upon a table in her drawing room. The window of the drawing room was barred on the outside, and locked from the inside. Miss Appleby took the additional precaution of locking the drawing-room door, thereafter keeping the key in her purse for the entire evening. Upon leaving her apartment, she activated the alarm system and locked the external door. The alarm code consists of four digits, the combination being known to nobody except her. Arriving at the restaurant at eight, Miss Appleby joined her companion at their usual table by the window. The window gives onto the street, so that Miss Appleby and her friend could readily be observed from outside the establishment. At 8.14 p.m., while both parties were seated at the table, neither party having left it at any time, a tweet appeared upon Miss Appleby’s account, the nature of which produced instant consternation amongst her followers. It read, ‘Freedom of speech is the freedom that secures all other freedoms.’”
“Good heavens!” cried I.

“My dear friend,” said Holmes, knocking the ashes from his pipe, “you have gone quite pale.”
“But Holmes, free speech is the weapon of the oppressor. If anybody has taught us this, it is Miss Appleby. Her commitment to the legal strangulation of speech has been unwavering. Freedom of speech! Why, the phrase is but a byword for the subjugation of persons of faith and colour, to say nothing of the halt and the lame! Permit free speech, Holmes, and an epidemic of hurt feelings and self-harm will follow! No, Holmes. Miss Appleby would never utter so vile a sentiment, in so public a forum.”

“You have put the matter admirably, Watson. An utterance more harmful to Miss Appleby’s ‘brand’ can scarcely be conceived. But that, Watson, is the nub of the matter. For Miss Appleby emphatically denies having composed the tweet. In any case, the circumstances would seem to have made such a feat physically impossible. Her phone was never present in the restaurant, and she was never absent from the table. The point is confirmed by Miss Appleby’s companion, and by the waiter who served them. Upon returning to her apartment, Miss Appleby found the alarm system still enabled, the drawing room still locked, and the phone still present upon the table, evidently untouched. The following day, despite her protestations of innocence, the lady’s employers responded to the crisis as the public demanded. A series of humble apologies was issued, and the lady was stood down from all duties until the affair could be resolved. There matters stood until last Friday, a week after the first event. On that evening, Miss Appleby dined with her companion again. The essential circumstances were the same. Again the lady locked her telephone in the drawing room. Again she activated the alarm—this time having changed the code for good measure. Again she and her companion sat at their table by the window. At sixteen minutes past the hour, another scandalous tweet issued from her account. This time it was a quotation. It read in this fashion: ‘When you are going through hell, keep going. Winston Churchill.’”

“Villainy!” cried I. “Winston Churchill, the racialist war-monger and defiler of India! No, Holmes. Just no. What moral philistine would venture to repeat the words of such a man?”

“That is the question, Watson. For Miss Appleby, once again, was quick to disavow the deed. Again her alibi seemed impeccable, and again it was corroborated by her dining companion, as well as the waiter. Indeed, her story might easily have been verified by any person who cared to watch her dine from outside the window. Once again, however, the public bayed for blood. And this time they have been granted their wish. The good lady has lost her occupation, as I have said. Tell me, Watson. What do you make of the facts so far?”....

There is a cottage industry churning these things out. Wikipedia has an entry for Sherlock Holmes pastiches and there are numerous lists of same. Here's The Strand Magazine with "Top Ten Sherlock Holmes Pastiches".