“Sure I came to see your play.”
“How come you didn’t stick around after?” he asked
“Something came up. Sorry.”
“I know exactly who that ‘something’ was. I’m surprised at you, Vic.”
It was Friday. James and I were having a drink at the Lab after work. I hadn’t seen him at all in the New Year, what with his constant rehearsals and my writing commitments leaving little time for social encounters. So when he called earlier that day to ask if there was any chance I may be free that evening, I did not hesitate. Call it a guilty conscience.
“You haven’t mentioned him in two hours,” James said, watching me over the rim of his Pornstar Martini.
“Is this a guessing game or will you tell me who you mean?”
He sipped from his glass, took his time replacing it on the counter and glimpsed around the bar to ensure that no one was listening in.
“Cumberbatch, who else?”
I nearly choked on my vintage Mulata. Just like James to introduce the topic when he knew full well that it would set me off-balance. I had to tread carefully. How much did he know? There were those pap snaps in the Saturday edition, but even if he saw them… My face was out of focus as I disappeared behind Ben’s towering frame.
“You’re getting a reputation, you know. Aren’t you going to tell me what happened?” he insisted, when I pretended to be too busy with my drink to answer.
“There is nothing to tell, James. Honest.”
He ordered another round and changed the subject, but I could tell that he was brewing something. I’ve known him for long enough to be certain that one way or another he would find it out.
It was James’ West End debut. His first night on the big stage. There was no question about my not being there. When the curtain went down I headed to the stage door to wait for him. I sparked up and was leafing mindlessly through the programme when a familiar voice disturbed my musings.
James was right. The something that came up was Benedict. I did not expect to see him at the theatre that night, nor did I expect to… I suppose all things Benedict do tend to be rather unexpected of late.
“What did you think of it?” Ben asked.
For a moment I thought it was a trick of the light. What was he doing there?
“It was… good I suppose,” I said.
“I didn’t much like it either,” he smiled and asked whether he could borrow my lighter.
“The lead is a good friend of mine,” I said, somewhat peeved.
Alright. It wasn’t the performance of the century, but that is rarely the case on a first night. I was sure that with a little trimming here and there the play would do just fine. In all fairness I felt rather guilty discussing it with anyone, before I had a chance to speak to James about it first.
“I got your letter.”
I froze. Dropped my cigarette. Felt the blood drain from my cheeks. My throat constricted.
“You are mistaken, I’m sure,” was all I managed to say.
I avoided his eyes, lest he would read the truth in mine. Fumbled through my pockets for another cigarette; when I finally found my pack it was empty.
“Have one of mine,” he offered.
I took it. Needed something to keep me occupied. Wished James would hurry the f*** up. Perhaps Ben could sense the disturbance he’s caused, or perhaps he needed some time to consider my answer. In either case, I was glad to continue in silence.
“I know it was from you,” Ben said after a while.
“What makes you so certain?” I couldn’t help asking.
“Every writer has a signature phrase… or expression. It was an easy enough deduction to make.” That knowing smile again.
“I think you’ve taken your ‘getting into character’ a little too far, Sherlock,” I laughed, my mind gone into overdrive. A signature. I had a signature phrase. What could it be? How on earth could I not know about it. I must’ve read and re-read that letter a dozen times before sending it. It was supposed to be anonymous and yet…
“Give us a smile, Benedict!”
Damned paps. Where did this one come from? I pulled the scarf up to cover my face just in time. The flash left me momentarily blind. Next thing I knew I was being dragged away from the scene at full speed.
“Wait! I’m supposed to wait for my friend. Ben, wait!”
“We need to get out of here,” he said, speeding up his pace.
I stumbled and nearly lost my footing, but his clasp on my elbow was strong enough to prevent my falling over. A few minutes later, he was handing me a safety helmet. I was about to protest, but he would hear none of it.
“Look. We have to talk. You’ll meet up with your friend another time. Or do you fancy seeing your face all over the dailies tomorrow?”
Ben got on his bike. I wavered. James will never let me live this down, although… what he doesn’t know…