Awakened by a dull clanking noise, I became aware of the soft thud, thud of something cold and unyielding against the back of my skull.
Opening my eyes, I found myself staring at a wall consisting of riveted metal panels. The rest of the room was decorated in much the same manner; therefore the obvious conclusion must be that I was seated on the floor of a giant sardine tin, the rather fishy smell assailing my nostrils doing nothing to dissuade me from this initial impression. It was also clear from the rough bindings that scratched against my bare skin that both wrists and ankles were securely bound – visual confirmation in this case was not required. More annoyingly, a dull ache in my neck and shoulders persuaded me sudden movements would cause pain – and I was right, for as I turned to look to my left, a stinging sensation ran through my upper body, as if someone had thrown me to the floor several times in order to ensure a generous selection of bruises.
‘Bloody Norah,’ I muttered.
‘Johnny, you’re awake. Thank God.’
I blinked. The room was dark, but I was able to make out my dear wife’s fluttering eyelids and winning smile. Even her wonky eye seemed brighter than usual. She was crouched beside me, her fingers busily sawing at my bonds with what looked like a small metal clasp.
‘Is that a hairpin?’ I said, already feeling a slight give as the outer strands of the ropes began to part.
‘It’s a mini-hacksaw blade disguised as a hairpin.’ She grinned. ‘Mycroft gave it to me.’
‘Mycroft,’ I muttered. ‘Of course. And what did you do for him this time?’
Mary stopped sawing. ‘Oh, come on, Johnny, you surely aren’t still harbouring suspicions of that sort, are you?’ Turning her attention back to freeing me, she continued the back and forth motion while I took in the rest of our surroundings. Next to Mary sat Penelope, whose bonds had also been cut, and next to her, to my utter amazement, sat Sherlock Holmes, clad in a dressing gown and slippers.
‘Ah, Watson, glad you could join us,’ he said, waving a hand in greeting. ‘No doubt you’ll be wondering where we are?’ He peered at me. ‘Care to hazard a guess?’
I sniffed and leaned back, taking a moment to listen to the sounds that had summoned me from my slumbers. The wall behind me shuddered rhythmically, and there was a definite mechanical quality to the regular pounding above our heads, one aspect of which was a kind of gentle swirling sensation, that buffeted the walls of our prison. Given that all four of us were inside a metal container, the answer seemed obvious.
‘We’re inside that bloody iceberg again.’
Holmes rolled his eyes. ‘No, no, no, Watson. Once again, you see but you do not observe.’
‘Of course not,’ I said, grumpily. ‘Unfortunately, I’m not really in the mood for guessing games, so why don’t you just tell me?’
Holmes grinned gleefully. ‘Very well. As you will see from the expert manner in which the metal plates are joined together, this is a professionally constructed craft, much more so than the iceberg, which is little more than a metallic shell surrounding the essential mechanicals of the steam-powered undersea torpedo-ship we are so familiar with. More specifically, if you look at the lower sections of each plate, you can just make out the S and F insignia. This vessel was not constructed in some underground base in the Outer Hebrides, where, by the way, Moriarty’s current headquarters are located, but by the Shurgen and Furgen shipyard in Burgen.’
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. ‘Shurgen and Furgen? You’re talking bollocks again, Sherlock.’
Holmes shook his head vigorously. ‘Not at all, though I shouldn’t be surprised you haven’t heard of them – Shurgen and Furgen specialise in building ships on government contracts where a high degree of secrecy is required.’
‘Even if that’s true,’ I countered, ‘any company carrying out government work wouldn’t get involved with a known villain.’
‘Quite,’ said the other,’ which is why the Hooded Claw stole this vessel from the Burgen shipyard six weeks ago.’ He glanced at me. ‘Close your mouth, Watson. You can do your guppy impression when the Claw throws us into the murky waters. No, in fact we are currently residing in a prototype intended for an armada of submarines to bolster the British fleet in the next war.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Which I believe is scheduled to start just after the Oxford and Bainbridge Boat Race.’
I closed my mouth and considered this new information. Then something else occurred to me. ‘Hang on, Holmes, how can the Claw have stolen this thing from Burgen, when we’re in the middle of a lake? Answer that, if you can.’
Mary and Penelope both looked at me, then at Holmes.
‘Good point,’ said the Great Detective. ‘I imagine some form of flying machine, or overland apparatus was utilised, but for the moment, it is a question I am not currently in a position to answer.’
No-one said anything for a moment, then Penelope piped up, ‘So when are you boys goin ter get us out of this mess, then?’
Just then, a scuffling noise came from the wall opposite, and a second later, a door opened up and a familiar face peered through.
‘Ah-ha, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the Hooded Claw. ‘So you have managed to free yourselves? Excellent. Please follow me.’ He disappeared back through the doorway and in case we had any ideas of escape, two henchmen brandishing rifles appeared either side of the hatch.
‘Time to do my guppy impression, I think,’ said I, with a nervous laugh.
‘Oh no,’ said Holmes. ‘The Claw’s hardly likely to have bothered to bring us this far only to throw us overboard. No, I’m sure he has something much more painful in store.’
‘Thanks for that, Holmes,’ I said, with only a hint of sarcasm. ‘You always know just what to say.’ And with that, I followed him through the door and up the steps to the deck.