The man standing in the doorway smiled at my wife in a way I might’ve thought a little suspicious if it were not for the fact of him being a total stranger.
“And who are you?” I said, pulling the door wide. “Some Nazi fiend sent to torture us til we reveal our plans?”
“Don’t be silly, darling,” Mary chided. “We don’t have any plans.”
“Of course we don’t,” said I, clearing my throat. “It was a trick question.”
The man nodded. “Clearly Doctor Watson, your reputation as a man of guile and cunning is a worthy one.” His accent had a faint American twang to it, and his turn of phrase reminded me of someone. “But there’s no time to waste – I’m here to get you guys out.”
I sniffed. “Really? Well, that’s very noble of you but I think we can manage, thank you.” Stepping forward, I peeked into the tunnel and noted that although several of Fu Manchu’s men were standing close by, none of them seemed to have noticed the man standing in the doorway of our prison-like chamber.
Taking my arm, the newcomer led me back inside and closed the door quietly. Stepping to one side, he undid the collar of his overalls and unzipped himself, letting the apparent disguise fall to the ground, revealing a dark herringbone-style overcoat underneath. Then sliding a finger around his neckline, he tugged on a piece of what I initially thought to be a flap of loose skin. But as he pulled the thing off his face, I realised it was another of those silly masks Holmes is so fond of.
Dropping the rubber facade to the floor, our evident saviour pulled a black Fedora from his pocket and placed it on his head at a jaunty angle. He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me.
“My God!” I turned to Mary. “Darling – look who it is: the Hollywoodland actor Harry Lime.” I turned to shake his hand, but my wife was already hugging him, her hands around his neck, her chest pressed perhaps a little too eagerly against his substantial torso.
“I’d recognise your silhouette anywhere, Harry,” she gushed. “That manly upper body, those impressive shoulders, that massive –”
“Darling! D’you mind?” Taking a firm hold of her, I pulled my dear wife away from our guest. “Sorry Mr Lime, I don’t what’s got into her lately.”
“It’s quite alright Doctor.” He gave Mary a curious look and murmured, “Remember Vienna?”
“How could I forget?” She murmured back.
I coughed loudly. “Sorry, but excuse me just one moment Mr Lime.” Grabbing Mary’s arm, I led her to the other side of the chamber. Keeping my voice low so as not to appear rude in the presence of a famous actor, I muttered, “Vienna? What?”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head in a dismissive way that signalled quite plainly she had no intention of explaining herself. “It was a long time ago, Johnny. Before I met you.”
“Oh.” I let go her arm. “I see. Another one of your…” I tried to think of an appropriate phrase, but Mary held up a finger to my lips.
“Darling, you know I love only you, so there’s no reason to be jealous of Harry just because he’s incredibly good looking, is charming and witty and has a massive –”
“Yes! Alright, I get the picture, but I shall require a full explanation of this…whatever it is, when we get out of here.”
She nodded meekly, though I caught the quick glance of delight she cast in our companion’s direction. Nevertheless, more important matters were at hand so I determined to put aside my suspicions and take the proverbial by the whatsits.
Harry was pacing back and forth, frowning. “I take it Sherlock Holmes has already escaped?”
I pointed upwards. “Yes, just now.”
He nodded. “Then we must complete the mission ourselves.”
I glanced at Mary. “Mission? What mission?”
“Why, the mission to stop Fu Manchu from committing murder.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?”
Harry gave me a smile that could only be described as sardonic. I made a mental note to slap Sherlock’s face next time we met.
“Don’t you realise what he’s been doing here?” He waved a hand in a way I assumed was meant to encompass the tunnel, the chimney and the whole Ghost train scenario.
“Of course, we do,” I said.
Harry looked at me. “Go ahead then, tell me.” He folded his arms and waited.
“Well, he’s made this tunnel to er…to tunnel under the English countryside from Milford Junction to the Houses of Parliament.”
“That’s right. But what for?”
I chewed my lip thoughtfully. “Well, to break into the houses of Parliament. I suppose.”
Harry shook his head. “You know, Doctor, I sometimes think if we Americans had got involved in your little war with Germany, the whole thing would’ve been straightened out in four years instead of twenty-seven. Anyhow, the point is, your head honcho is meeting with the Chinese Emperor Wing Wang in Westminster Hall in less than an hour from now. Manchu plans to break through into the Hall and kill the Emperor.”
“My God!” said I. “But the Chinese people will think the British government are responsible and…”
“And war will break out between your two countries, leaving the way open for Manchu and his troops to take over whatever’s left when everyone else is dead.”
“But if that’s true, why would he bother to construct this ridiculous tunnel?”
“Because, Doctor, Manchu is at this very moment flying in more troops via a secret squadron of hydro-lifty-planes. I’ve just watched his engineers fitting an extra thirty carriages to the Ghost Train. When it comes back over the bridge, those troops will scuttle in here like thousands of tiny ants. Except, not tiny. Fu Manchu will have the equivalent of a small army down here.”
“Egad!” I exclaimed. “And that very same small army will emerge from underneath the Houses of Parliament like…well, like a small army.”
“Precisely. So if you don’t mind..?” He leaned out of the doorway and looked around. “Fall in behind me. With any luck, the villains will be too stunned by my boyish good looks to stop us and won’t see you two for my massive shoulders.”
As we stepped into the tunnel once more, Harry set off at a brisk pace, but we’d only gone a few yards when a shout came from behind us:
“Stop right there!”