As the train picked up speed, I cast a swift glance around our compartment. Naturally there was nowhere to hide – even the luggage racks that stretched along each side above the seats, would barely conceal a couple of suitcases, let alone three fully-grown individuals. But then a thought came to me – all we required was a chance to gain the upper hand and even a few seconds might mean the difference between living and dying.
“Quickly,” I urged, pulling Mary and Penny to their feet. “Climb up there, one of you in each rack.”
The expression of lustfulness that fell across Mary’s face was only too familiar to me. “Don’t be silly, Johnny,” she exclaimed, with a sly wink. “You know very well you can’t squeeze a large object into a small hole.”
“I know that, dear, but I have a plan and it has a much greater chance of working if the pair of you do as you’re bloody told!”
The ladies exchanged a look and suitably chastised, proceeded to clamber up into the aforementioned spaces.
Gazing down at the seats, I was reminded of one of Hannibal Lecter’s more ingenious disguises, when he concealed himself in a Paisley-patterned train-seat-suit and surprised us brandishing a large kitchen knife. Clearly, I hadn’t the time or resources to camouflage myself in such a way, but I did have another weapon at my disposal that might do the trick. Taking off my shoes, socks, trousers and undergarments, I took up a position with my legs apart, spanning the gap between the seats. With one foot on each seat, my proud manhood dangled menacingly by the door at what I judged to be face-height. Whoever slid the door open first would get a truly surprising eyeful.
“Excuse me, darling,” murmured my wife, giving a polite cough. “You do know you’re not wearing any trousers, don’t you?”
I didn’t bother to conceal my annoyance and let out an irritated sigh. “Just make sure you two have your guns cocked and ready.”
Penelope sniggered. “Well, yours definitely is, ain’t it, Doctor?”
Mary joined in with an amused titter, but their enjoyment was cut short when the slap, slap of heavy footsteps sounded from the passageway.
“Get ready, they’re coming,” I said, holding Harry’s machine pistol at a jaunty angle.
The footsteps grew closer then stopped outside our compartment. There was a pause of a few seconds before the door was thrust aside on its runners, slamming it home with a resounding thud, an action which caused me to drop my pistol. It clattered to the floor and bounced under one of the seats.
“Oh, nice one, Doctor Watson,” said the first man (who had given up any pretence of being blind). With a hoot of derisive laughter, he pulled out a revolver and prepared to blow my tackle to Kingdom Come. But assuming he had the upper hand, he made the mistake of turning to his companion (no doubt to cast further aspersions on my apparent stupidity). As his head swivelled sideways, the end of his gun touched my naked belly. It was all I needed to jerk myself into action – the sensation of cold steel pressing against my vulnerability had the desired effect and my muscles contracted, then immediately relaxed, and a stream of urine spurted forth and hit the first man in the eye. The glistening torrent then ricocheted off his face and into the second man’s mouth.
I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.
Dropping deftly to the floor, I grabbed the machine pistol from where it had fallen and jabbed it in the man’s ribs. The red-headed henchman next to him busied himself spitting out my discharge and wiping his tongue vigorously on the sleeve of his jacket. Reaching forward, I pulled a revolver from his pocket and tossed it across to Mary, who had climbed down from her perch to lend a hand.
“Well done, Johnny,” she murmured, with more than a hint of pride at my victory. “Let’s get them in here and tie them up.”
Penny slid down onto the seat and took off her stockings, before tying the hands of both men behind their backs. Ripping off the cording from along the seat-backs, I tied the men’s legs too, just in case.
Oddly, the villains seemed unaffected at having been overwhelmed. They sat quietly and apart from the occasional rueful glance, made no attempt to communicate with each other or to regain their former dominance.
Mary and Penelope kept their weapons trained on the pair while I dressed, then seating myself opposite, I studied each of them in turn. The red-head was the younger of the two and appeared more subdued than the other, though even he showed little sign of concern at his capture. The older man had all the hallmarks of a seasoned villain, which I now realised should have been obvious to me earlier.
“So you work for the Claw, then?” I said.
The older man shrugged.
“I expect he’s at the Institute, eh?” I tried.
“You so realise you’ll both be going to prison for a very long time?”
“Hah,” said the red-head, but before he could say more, his companion gave him a hard stare which shut him up like a clam.
With a sigh, I saw that it would be pointless to pursue further questions, so sitting back, I considered our options. I had no wish to continue this vigil for the next few hours, so we’d have to find somewhere to lock the pair of them away. Knowing there was a guards-van attached to the train, it would be an easy matter to shut the villains in there and telegraph ahead for them to be picked up when we reached our destination. It was the simplest solution and would leave us free to enjoy the rest of our trip without the worry of constantly watching our prisoners. Sending Mary off to find the guard, I sat back to wait. Penelope had taken the window seat and also kept her gun aimed at our detainees. I was glad to note the look of quiet fortitude on her face – she had taken to the role of ‘detective’ as easily as an otter slides into a pool of water.
It was a few minutes later before I heard my wife’s footsteps returning along the passageway.
Standing, I cocked my head around the doorway. Mary’s face was oddly expressionless, her eyes had a strange lifeless quality and there was no welcoming smile telling me everything was in hand. Something was wrong, but even though a shiver ran up my spine, it was a few seconds more before I realised why, and even then, I was momentarily thrown off-guard. A man in a black fedora was following behind Mary. Thank God, I thought, Harry had made it onto the train. But as the stranger lifted his head, my stomach dropped into my boots.
“Ah, Doctor Watson,” said a familiar gravelly voice. “I see you’ve rounded up my chaps.” He lifted a hand in greeting and the sun glinted spookily on the metallic claw. “Glad you caught the train,” he continued, “would’ve been an awful bore to have come chasing after you.”
Mary had reached the doorway and I caught hold of her as she half fell into the cabin. Sensing she had succumbed to some drug or other, I guided her into a seat, then whirling round, raised a warning finger. “If you’ve hurt her in any way, you damned fiend…”
But the Claw’s other hand had come into view and I saw the glass syringe and its lurid green contents.
“What have you done?” I barked helplessly.
“Oh, don’t fret Doctor, I’m not ready to kill her yet.” He let out a low chuckle. “Just a little something to shut her up.” And before I could move, he jabbed the needle into my arm and I felt myself go floppy all over. Dropping onto the seat beside my wife, I wondered what Holmes would do…