Diary of Doctor Watson
I arrived at the Olde Gin Shoppe on Drury Lane just as the gas lamps were coming on. A queue of punters had gathered outside the theatre next door, so creeping along the opposite side of the street, I took care to be sure of slipping into the shop unnoticed. Once inside, I looked around. Dusty shelves lined the gloomy interior, each boasting hundreds of bottles of the aforementioned beverage in sizes and colours enough to boggle the imagination. A noise caught my attention. Turning towards the counter, I saw a curtain sweep aside as the shopkeeper appeared, fat fingers clasped across his generous stomach.
“Doctor Watson, I presume?” he murmured.
A little put out that my costume hadn’t fooled him, I gave a brisk nod and followed his directions through a door in the corner and up a flight of stairs to the upper floor.
“Seems my disguise isn’t quite as good as I thought,” I said, closing the door behind me.
Holmes leaned an elbow on the mantelpiece, his meerschaum clamped between thin lips. He gave me a sardonic smile. “Not the fault of your disguise, Watson, simply a result of my having informed our host to look out for a man with a wooden leg and a twitch.”
“A twitch?” I said.
Holmes nodded. “Yes—every time you step on the false leg, your face performs an unintentional spasm, possibly due to the sharp pain exerted from the leather straps holding your appendage in place.”
“Huh. You’d have a bloody twitch too if your nuts had got caught up in this contraption.” Dropping my trousers, I unfastened the false leg, adjusted my marital equipment, and loosened the belt holding my right foot in place against my upper thigh.
It was only after I’d refastened my trousers and seated myself on a chair by the fire that I took stock of my surroundings.
“Where’s Mary? Shouldn’t she be here by now?”
Holmes and Lestrade exchanged a look.
“I know she meant ter take the shortest route,” said the inspector. “Ought to ‘ave been ere before all of us.”
I looked at Holmes.
He sniffed. “Mary’s a sensible woman. I can’t imagine she simply wandered off to do a bit of shopping.”
“What’re you saying, Holmes?”
“I’m saying, Doctor, that in all likelihood, Mary has been taken.”
My lower lip began to quiver. “You mean…you mean, she’s been taken by Blackwood?”
“It’s the only reasonable possibility.” Producing a small pocket-knife, he proceeded to clean out his pipe.
“My God, man, that’s unthinkable. Christ knows what he might do to her.”
Holmes held up a hand. “Until we have further news, I suggest we stay calm. There’s no use speculating.”
“And where might this further news come from?” I said, making no effort to conceal my anger.
The Great Detective cocked his head to one side and looked at the door. “Hark,” he muttered. “I hear the patter of urchin feet.”
A moment later, a knock came at the door and a ruddy face peered in.
“Scuse me Mr Olmes,” said the boy, stepping into the room. “Oi reckon Oi might ‘ave a bit of news for yer.”
“Come in, come in, dear boy.” He waved the lad into a seat by the fire. “Hopkins, isn’t it?”
The boy nodded. “It is, sir. Tommy Hopkins.”
“And pray what data morsels have you to impart to this anticipatory gathering?”
The boy frowned. “Yer what?”
Holmes laughed. “I’m asking you to tell us what you know.”
“Oh. Right.” He rubbed his mucky hands together, warming them at the fire. “Well, first off, we ain’t found anyfing about that Blackwood feller—seems like he must’ve disappeared inter thin air.”
Holmes nodded. “I see. And what else?”
“Well, I reckon yous are missing someone, ain’t yer?”
“We are, as if happens. Go on.” Turning, he stared at his own reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece, then lit his pipe with a Swan Vesta and puffed blue-grey smoke into the room.
“Seems a certain gen’leman as been seen bundlin a lady answering Mrs Watson’s description into a Hackney cab not an hour since.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know who this gentleman might be?” said Holmes, leaning towards the boy.
The youngster grinned. “Course Oi would. Know that fucker anywhere. Oh, pardon my French, Mr Olmes. No, yer see, he has what you yourself, sir, would call a military bearing and wears this long coat to conceal his weapon.”
Holmes stared at the floor for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. “A military man, you say, and carrying a weapon beneath a long coat…” Then with a shout of annoyance, his head jerked up, his eyes bright. “Not an air rifle?”
“That’s the one, sir. The very one used in the murder of Ronald Adair…” The lad glanced at me with an admiring smile. “The one Dr Watson wrote about in the—”
“Yes, yes, we know all about that, said Holmes, waving a hand. “So Mary has been taken by our old friend Colonel Moran, who apparently, is no longer a prisoner at her majesty’s pleasure. Tell me—where did the cab go?”
The lad leaned forwards. “Oi instructed one of the boys to run after it, but he lorst sight of the cab approaching Russell Square.”
Holmes thanked the boy and sent him on his way with a shilling for his trouble.
I glanced at Lestrade. “Ring any bells, Inspector?”
The weasel-faced cop shook his head. “Not off ‘and. Ain’t the sort of area where your ordinary villain is likely ter ‘ang about.”
Holmes began to stuff his meerschaum with a bit of hard shag, his piggy little eyes staring into space. After a moment, he looked at me.
“Watson, where might a former soldier and big-game hunter go for a bite to eat following the execution of a successful plan?”
“A big-game hunter?” said I. “Well…” I blinked, and then it hit me. “Of course! The Tropical Café—the haunt of explorers, adventurers and not a few well-heeled villains.”
“Which is where?” said Holmes with a smile.
I held up a triumphant finger. “Russell Square.”
“Which means,” said Holmes, blowing a cloud of smoke at me, “that our quarry may well have stashed Mary in some nearby bolthole.”
“Then we must go,” I said, jumping to my feet.
Holmes went to the window and, keeping well behind the curtain, peered down into the street below. “It’s getting dark. Another hour or so and it should be safe to venture out.”
“But what about Mary?” I protested. “She could be—”
“Yes, yes, Watson. I’m aware of your concerns but there would be no merit in walking straight into the hands of our enemies.”
I sank down onto a chair, dropping my head into my hands.
Holmes crossed the room and patted my shoulder. “We have one thing in our favour, old friend.”
I looked up at him. “We have?”
“Colonel Moran was in the army with Lord Blackwood. As I recall, Blackwood had him horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”
“What d’you mean, Holmes?”
“I mean, Doctor, that it may be, whether Moran knows it or not, that we and he are working towards the same conclusion—the downfall of Lord Blackwood.”
While this possibility did not exactly fill me with hope, it did give me pause to consider Mary’s situation might not be as perilous as I’d thought.
Naturally, I was wrong.