Having been thrust by our captors into a circular room off the main tunnel, we gathered in the small space to take stock of our new surroundings. I took the opportunity to jot down a few thoughts while languishing in what appeared to be the base of an air vent – that is, a sort of chimney reaching up to an opening some fifty feet above our heads. Holmes thought we might climb up to safety, though did not at once come up with a means of our doing so.
Johnny paced back and forth while the Thankyew Twins ran through their act (this latter I believe to be a coping mechanism for the somewhat perilous situation we found ourselves in – there was an interesting article about it in Psychotherapy for the Middle Classes last month).
“To me,” said Arthur.
“To you,” said Dickie.
“To me, said Arthur.
The sketch ran on in this fashion for some considerable time.
Holmes, meanwhile, appeared totally unruffled by our predicament and spent ten minutes stuffing his Meerschaum with what smelled like a mixture of sheep shit and heather.
“Dash it all, Holmes,” said Johnny, curtailing his pacing activities. “If we stay here that bally villain’s going to get away with it.”
“Yes, I’m well aware of that small fact, Watson, which is why I have spent the last ten minutes stuffing my pipe with a special blend of Canadian Ring-tailed Beaver tobacco.”
I watched as my husband’s face turned purple. “Really! And that’s going to help us how?” He threw his hands in the air in a gesture of exasperation.
“Would’ve thought that was obvious,” muttered Holmes.
“Well it’s bloody not, alright?”
I stood up and gave Johnny a hug. “It’s fine, darling,” I soothed. “I’m sure Holmes has a plan.” I turned to the man with the Meerschaum and gave him a hard stare. “You do have a plan, don’t you Holmes?”
He nodded. “Of course, Mary.” At that, he walked to the centre of the circular chamber we were ensconced in. Looking upwards, he placed his pipe between those thin, bloodless lips and proceeded to light the foul mixture.
Arthur and Dickie ceased their tiresome routine and watched Holmes.
For a moment, nothing happened, then a trace of blue smoke began to curl upwards. As Holmes puffed away, the whorls of smoke increased, sending small clouds towards the faint shaft of light at the top of the chimney.
Johnny sighed loudly. “For God’s sake Sherl, can’t you leave that sodding thing alone for five bloody minutes and do something useful?”
Holmes gave him a sideways glance. “But I am doing something useful, John.” He looked upwards. “Tell me what you see.”
We all raised our eyes to the series of bluish clouds floating aloft.
“Sorry,” said Johnny. “Am I missing something here, or what?”
“As usual, Watson, you fail to observe the obvious. Perhaps you remember your own account of a case of ours from a few years back. If I recall, you titled it The Manchester Message Man, or some such.”
“Oh, you mean, The Strange Case of the Salford Signaller, yes – an odd business concerning a chap who sent secret documents from the Ministry of Bags, Mags and Fags to a Russian agent on the Scottish border. But what’s that got to do with this?”
“What form did his messages take?” I saw Sherlock’s eyes narrow and sensed another bout of one-upmanship on the horizon.
My husband frowned and a look of frustration slid over his face. He pursed his lips. “Ah.” He turned away and I heard him mutter, ‘Bugger’ under his breath. Facing us again, he nodded. “Smoke signals.”
Holmes nodded in that self-satisfied way of his. “Precisely. Now, you will recall also, Watson, that my arrival at Milford Junction was via one of Mycroft’s Steam-powered hydro-lifty-plane devices. What I neglected to mention was that the pilot of that same contraption has been circling above us ever since.”
“And you’ve just sent him a message?”
“Her, Watson – Elvira Grimshaw, the famed war veteran. She’s also a dab hand at deciphering messages in a variety of codes, including the one I have just utilised.”
I stepped forward. “That’s very clever, Sherlock. What did your message say?”
“Simply this,” said the detective. “Plan B. Vicinity of Chimney. Immediate effect.”
And at that exact moment, a rope ladder dropped down in front of us. I gazed upwards and saw the rotating blades of the hydro-lifty-plane hovering far above us. “Cripes, that was quick.”
“Indeed,” said Holmes grabbing the end of the ladder. “Up you go Mary, then Arthur, Dickie and myself.”
“What about me,” said Johnnie in a slightly whiny voice.
“Sorry, old bean, only enough room for five up top. Including the pilot. You stay here and hold the fort, eh?”
I already had a foot on the bottom rung, but on hearing this, I passed the ladder to Arthur. “You go first, I’ll stay with my husband.”
Holmes sighed. “Don’t be an arse, Mary, you’re the woman, so you have to go first.” He shook Arthur’s hand free of the ladder and passed it back to me. “Go.”
I swivelled my head from side to side. “In case you’d forgotten Mr Holmes, I’m no ordinary woman.”
“And don’t we know it,” he muttered, with a grimace. “Nevertheless, Mary, I must insist.”
“Insist all you like, I’m not going.”
“Fine, be like that.” And taking the ladder, he proceeded to climb up.
I gestured to Arthur and Dickie. “No arguments, you two. Up you go.”
Arthur bit his lip. “I want to say I’ll be the hero, but I’m not, so I won’t.” Followed closely by Dickie (who, out of the three of them, was the only one who had the decency to look upset). He clambered up the ladder after Holmes.
Gazing upwards, Johnnie and I watched them disappear into the flying machine, before the contraption moved away, pulling the rope ladder up and out of sight.
“Right, then,” I said, taking Johnnie’s hands in mine. “Just you and me, again.”
He smiled. “Well, at least we can make use of that sexy leather coat now.” His gaze travelled up and down my recently-acquired garb. “I take it you’re not wearing anything under there?”
I sighed and began unfastening my greatcoat. “Come on, then, but I’m on top…”
At that moment, the door to our prison slammed open, revealing the silhouette of a man I knew all too well…