As I followed Sikes down the alley, the stench of the river assaulted my nostrils, warning me our route was now running perilously close to the banks of the Thames – one slip and either of us might disappear forever beneath those treacherous waters, sinking into the mud and slime of that deadly channel.
“Urry up, Docter,” urged Sikes, taking hold of my jacket. “I fink I just saw ‘im up ahead.”
We had reached the corner of the alley where the darkness was less all-encompassing. I could now make out the lights of the south bank glowing dully across the water in front of us. To our right, a dim figure was running towards a group of what I supposed to be warehouses by the water’s edge.
“That’s him,” I said, and we set off again along a solid, but slippery pathway.
The man vanished into a gap between the warehouses and, not wishing to play the hero, I allowed my companion to go first.
“Don’t you worry, Docter,” said he. “I’ll protect yer.” And with that, Sikes dashed into yet another dark alley.
Shading my eyes the better to see my way through the shadowy passage, I hastened along behind him, completely failing to notice a hand reaching out of the shadows as I passed a small doorway. A moment later, I was jerked roughly into one of the sheds and thrown to the floor.
“Now, look here…” I started, getting to my feet, but two burly figures pushed me back down, their filthy boots pinning my arms to the floor.
“No, Doctor Watson,” said a deep and gravelly voice. “You look here.”
Peering upwards, I could just make out the outline of my captor’s head and shoulders – the silhouette of his black Fedora telling me I had found my quarry.
“Ah-ha,” I shouted, hoping to sound a little less fearful than I felt. “So there you are, Mister Claw.”
The man bent down towards me and his fetid breath wafted over my face – garlic and stilton cheese, if I’m not much mistaken.
“Yes,” he muttered, holding up his right arm. “And you will feel the benefit of this specific part of my anatomy burrowing its way into that part of you where the sun does not shine, if you fail to heed my warning.”
Staring at the man’s arm, I gasped. On the end of his limb in place of a human hand, a glinting metallic shape glinted metallicly in the moonlight, via an appropriately located skylight above my head.
“Perhaps you’d care for a demonstration of my bottom-ripping tool? I’d be delighted to insert The Claw into your orifice, Doctor…” The moonlight glinted on his teeth and I noticed that they too had a metallic quality to them.
“Er, no, that’s alright, thanks,” I mumbled.
The Hooded Claw straightened up and stepped backwards into the doorway. “That’s what I thought. I trust our paths will not cross again?”
I was sorely tempted to utter some threat to the effect that myself and Holmes would track him down come hell or very high water, but the words melted in my mouth and I simply nodded.
A moment later he and his burly assistants were gone, and I was left staring up at the moon and wishing I was in quite a different location. It occurred to me I had made the silliest of mistakes and run directly into what should have been obvious as a trap. No doubt Holmes would not have succumbed to such a schoolboy error. I sniffed and would have taken a few moments to gather my dignity, but the thudding of footsteps in the alley warned me I was no longer alone.
“Oh, there yer are,” said Bill, popping his head round the doorway. “Fraid we lost him. Must ‘ave jumped on a barge or summat.”
“Yes,” I said. “He must.”
I got to my feet, but my usual steely resolve had petered out and I had no desire to do anything other than go home and hug my dear wife. “Right,” I said. “Which way out, Bill?”