I had been feeling rather pleased with myself after that last hand of poker with Mister Phogg and his funny little manservant – it’s not often I’m left holding several winning hands without the aid of the old Ace-down-the-knickers trick. The only disadvantage was that Phogg and his companion had already seen me naked, so it was small recompense to watch the pair of them dropping their trousers at the sight of my royal flush. As it turned out, seasoned travellers like Phogg always keep their cash in their underpants, (which is just as well, since the sight of two flaccid members only served to make me giggle).
My delight at pocketing a wodge of cash, however, was short-lived. On returning to the cabin Johnny told me of the threat that still hung over us. My dear darling positively trembled as he spoke and I realised the excitement of recent hours had taken its toll. Realising he needed to be kept busy, I urged him to assess the cabin for weapons while I pottered about making two mugs of Camp Coffee, a beverage that always helps calm his nerves.
Then it was simply a case of wait and see. But we didn’t have to wait long – when the chainsaw slashed through the roof of the cabin, I almost wet myself, but Johnny grabbed me and dragged me into the passage where a brace of villains and henchmen blocked our exit. Luckily, Big-Nose Holmes blew a hole in the wall and under cover of the smoke from a flare gun, hauled us through another cabin and into the corridor beyond. With Moriarty and his men close behind, we hurried up the next stairway to the upper deck and a moment later found ourselves outside.
In the distance, I could see the SS Mangochutney silhouetted against the dark sky, as it ploughed its way towards France. It was listing a little to one side, and I couldn’t help feel a pang of regret that we hadn’t been able to continue our journey as planned.
As we reached the stern of the ship (or the Big End, as I called it), we huddled together beside the railings, waiting for the inevitable attack. When Moriarty and his crew hove into view, Mister Phogg summed up our situation with a grim announcement: “Eeh Christ, we’re fucked now.”
“On the contrary,” said Holmes, with that irritatingly sardonic smile of his. “We’re exactly where we need to be.”
I was about to sigh heavily and point out the absolute shitiness of our circumstances, when the detective raised an arm. He pointed one slender finger at something looming into view on the starboard side (or it may have been the port, I’m not sure). We turned as one and saw a strange sight – a massive white object had risen up alongside the liner and a second later, a tremendous screeching noise prompted all four of us to cover our ears.
As the metallic grating sound eased off, I realised what had happened. “Oh, no, not again.”
Johnny nodded sagely. “That bloody iceberg’s come back. Now we’re sunk.”
Holmes made a tutting noise. “For God’s sake, Watson, yet again you see but you do not observe.”
My husband pouted. “Really, Holmes? So what am I missing this time? It’s a bloody great steam-powered iceberg torpedo-ship. Probably manned by hundreds of henchmen all ready to cut our throats. And once again we’re bloody sinking. Am I right, Holmes?”
Sensing Johnny’s ire was up, I slipped my hand into his. “Calm yourself, dear, you know what Sherl’s like when he’s worked something out.” I turned to Holmes. “Well?”
Holmes cast an eye towards Moriarty and co, who had already halved the distance between us and them, but were still a good hundred yards away. In that same instant, the villains saw the iceberg, understood the Great Detective’s intention and sped along the deck towards us.
In a sudden movement, Johnny pulled something out of his pocket and hurled it at the group of baddies. The miniature harpoon gun ornament struck Moriarty right on the nose, causing a torrent of blood to spurt out. His chums halted their pursuit, clamouring around their leader while The Claw waved his hook at us menacingly.
With a degree of urgency, Holmes muttered, “Well done, Watson, now follow me and don’t spare the horses.” He set off at a pace, the five of us scampering after him in the direction of the iceberg.
In an instant, I saw his idea and realised I should have known it all along – I’d witnessed the crew of the iceberg myself and seen that there were in fact only four crew members: Moriarty, The Claw and the two henchmen. There was no crew – the iceberg was adrift.
It took less than five seconds to jump over the railing and drop down onto the flat top of the vessel, where Holmes and Phogg found the main hatch, heaving it open so we could all climb inside.
Shouts of ‘Bugger’ and ‘Damnation’ echoed behind us but a moment later the hatch clanged shut and we stood on a platform containing a large ship’s wheel, a big chunky gear lever and a big green button.
Holmes banged his fist on the button and a low rumbling shook the iceberg as the machinery thrummed into life. Throwing the gear-lever into first, Holmes grabbed the wheel as the iceberg lurched forward and the rest of us grabbed whatever we could to steady ourselves as we pulled away from the ship.
Phogg and Passepartout found the periscope and sliding the small screen into place were able to give us a limited but adequate view of the outside of the vessel. By twisting the thing around, we could see the SS Doncaster disappearing into the distance, while out front, the sea stretched away before us.
“Set a course for England, Watson,” said Holmes as he took command of the helm.
“Aye, aye, sir,” said Johnny, grinning.
“Hold on a minute,” said Phogg. “What abaht our round t’world trip? Ow are we supposed ter make our connections from Blighty?”
Holmes gave him a sidelong look. “Don’t be an arse, Phogg. We both know this was never about going around the world – you did it for a bet and you lost.”
“But sir,” butted in Passepartout, “The Hooded Claw is still after Mister Phogg.”
Holmes nodded slowly. “More than likely. Though as you have now commandeered this vessel, I should imagine finding you again would be quite a task.”
“What?” said Phogg. “You mean…we should keep the iceberg?” He looked at Passepartout and the little Frenchman’s eyes lit up.
“I don’t see why not,” said Holmes. We certainly don’t want it.”
We all settled into a comfortable silence for a few minutes, then I slipped a hand around my husband’s waist and snuggling up to him, whispered, “Go on, then – you know you want to.”
“Want to what, darling?” he said with feigned innocence.
“You know what. The line.”
Johnny sighed. “Oh, alright.” He turned to Holmes. “But Holmes, what I still don’t understand is how–”
“How the iceberg came back up to the surface?” The big-nosed detective smirked. “Elementary Watson. It’s a simple matter of ballast and buoyancy. Like all secret underwater torpedo ships, a safety mechanism was built into the system to enable the vessel to re-float itself should a minor disaster – such as sinking – occur. I’m sure you’d have noticed it yourself if you’d bothered to study the Bruce Partridger blueprints during our Edinburgh adventure.” He smirked again.
Johnny nodded. “Of course. I remember now.” He glanced at me and his cheeks had the good grace to flush with embarrassment.
It occurred to me that Holmes had dismissed, with his usual nonchalance, the suggestion of Phogg still being in danger. Perhaps I was just being a silly woman again, but I couldn’t free myself of a feeling of trepidation. It haunted me all the way back to England, creeping through my bones like a disease. Somehow, somewhere, I knew the Hooded Claw would darken our particular doorsteps again very soon.