The inspector was waiting by the turnstile as we hurried down the platform towards him. For once, his weasel-like features did not prompt my usual urge to snigger, and instead I shook his hand firmly.
“Lestrade. Good to see you, old chap.”
“And you, Doctor,” said the other, clearly surprised at my bonhomie. “Now, if you and Mrs Watson come with me, the others can take the second carriage.”
Leading us out onto the road, Lestrade made a show of getting us settled into our respective Hackneys before climbing in next to me and giving instructions to the driver.
We set off at a pace, hurtling through the darkened streets towards our destination, the cold wind doing nothing to cure my anxiety. Lestrade said nothing about our mission and made only the occasional banal comment relating to our current whereabouts. Within twenty minutes we pulled into a side street and disembarked under the meagre glow of a gas-lamp. Two constables emerged from the shadows and greeted Lestrade with the news that the object of their surveillance had not moved from the Tavern.
“Ah,” said Holmes, nodding towards the dimply lit windows of the public house opposite. “Then he is in his room?”
Lestrade frowned. “More likely to be in the public bar ‘aving a few jars, don’t you think?”
“Observe,” said Holmes pointing a slender finger skywards. Following his gaze, I looked up between the buildings to a narrow patch of the night sky and saw the moon emerge from behind a cloud.
“Full moon,” said Lestrade.
“Yes,” said Holmes. “My guess is the fellow will be waiting for the change to occur. We must get to him before it does, or we may be too late.”
“You think he’ll kill again,” said Mary, squeezing my hand tightly.
“Of course, Mrs Watson. If he is truly a werewolf, he cannot fail to. It is in his nature.”
“Now look here, Holmes,” I said, “we can’t go bursting in there without a plan.”
Holmes looked at me and nodded. “No, Johnny, we can’t. And that is why you will do precisely what I say.”
And so the Great Detective spent the next few minutes outlining the plan he’d worked out on the train journey. Mary, myself and Inspectors Schitt and Caddy were to act as decoys in a bid to lure Kessler out of his room with the offer of alcohol and sex, and thereby observing if the transformation had already taken place. Quite how we were supposed to escape if it had, was not explained. Lestrade and his men, meanwhile, would stand by in the room next door to Kessler’s armed with several rifles and a large net, though Holmes made it clear that killing the werewolf was to be considered only as a last resort.
“And where will you be?” I asked, as we made ready to enter the premises.
“I, Watson,” said Holmes, “shall be the bait.” And with that he unwrapped a package he’d been carrying since we boarded the train. As he unrolled it, I saw with horror that it was the disguise Schitt had used when masquerading as Judith Hirsch.
“You’ve got to be joking,” I said, stifling a laugh.
“Not a bit,” said Holmes, throwing aside his greatcoat and pulling on the false breasts, mask and wig. A moment later he had transformed himself into what can only be described as a very unappealing and grossly misshapen woman. “If the transformation has not already taken place,” he muttered, running his hands up and down his newly acquired chest, “Lestrade and his men will restrain him. If he has made the transformation, I shall tantalise him with my feminine allure, giving the rest of you a chance to move in from behind.”
“Have to say, Holmes,” I said, “that’s not much of a plan.”
“No, it’s not, Watson, but it’s all we’ve got.”
A few minutes later, we were all in position. Kessler’s room was on the second floor at the end of narrow corridor. Keeping one hand on my trusty revolver, I took up a stance outside the room in question, with Caddy standing close by holding two bottles of Baxter’s Very Brown Ale. With a curt nod, I signalled Mary to do her bit. Holding onto Inspector Schitt, she set about singing a music-hall ditty in a manner that might convince listeners she was several sheets to the wind. Schitt ad Caddy joined in the chorus and when I judged that anyone within a hundred yards of us could not have failed to hear them, I knocked on the door.