THE STORY OF THE FOURTH IRREGULAR

by Bowen

Chapter One: You Canít Write A Mystery Without Breaking Glass.

Inspector Lestrade rubbed her head and groaned "Argh!" The first thing she saw as she opened her eyes was the concerned face of Watson leaning over her, acting as a shield for her eyes from the harsh glare of the afternoon sun.

A small crowd had gathered and was quickly departing. She sat up and looked around for Holmes. The three had been out trying to track down a replacement for the shattered bay window glass which had been the result of their last adventure [that is a heads up to TTís ĎThe Singular Affair Of The Second Moriartyí]. He was nowhere to be seen. Her head was pounding. The last thing she wanted to do was engage in a search for a Victorian detective with an overactive ego and even more active feet. She hated it when he ran off like that.

"Are you quite all right?" Watson seemed to notice the annoyed expression on her face because he continued, "Holmes has gone off after the man who attacked you."

The compudroidís words jolted the inspector out of her scowling reverie. "Well" she said, taking the hand Watson offered her, hoisting herself up from the wet pavement, and dusting off her now mudstained uniform. "I guess we might as well go find him."

She sighed. "Hey, wait a minute. Why the zed didnít you go with him?" Wherever Sherlock Holmes went, Watson was never far behind.

"He told me to stay with you, as he felt that he should attempt to apprehend the criminal before he had sufficient chance to escape".

Lestrade sighed, and in a voice layered with sarcasm replied, "Of course. Which way did he go?" You didnít have to have a built in sound monitor to hear the annoyance in her voice.

"That way," said Watson, pointing to a very musty looking alley just behind what looked to Lestrade like garbage cans. She began to walk toward the indicated area with the compudroid following close behind. "Heís been gone about half an hour."

Suddenly Lestrade stopped with a startled look on her face; Watson could see why. And at the sight, worry began to course through him.

The alley was a dead end and aside from a very sinister looking bloodstain, there was nothing there, not even a door. "Are you sure you didnít see Holmes come out?" Worry now replaced the sarcasm in her words.

Watson nodded, "I was watching the whole time, and I saw no one."

Lestrade pulled out her wrist com. "Have Chief Grayson meet me down at the corner of Queen Anne Street ASAP, we have a disappearance to report."

Then she looked up at Watson. Both their faces said the same thing: "I hope Holmes is all right."

Lestrade, seeing the mirror of her own emotion reflected on Watsonís face, plastered a reassuring smile onto hers. "Donít worry. Weíll find him in no time." But even that kind reassurance could not change the helpless and worried expression on her companion's honest face.


Chapter Two: Through The Darkness

Sherlock Holmes awoke with a groan. "What happened?" He must have said it aloud because the echo was reverberating around what he came to realize must be some sort of room.

As he attempted to sit up, he tried to recall the events leading up to the present moment

The last thing he remembered was following Lestradeís attacker into a dead end somewhere on Queen Anne Street. He had had the man cornered, but then everything had gone black,

And had stayed that way,

For apart from the stars that seemed to be filling the better part of his vision he could not see anything but complete darkness. "If you could call that seeing," he thought bitterly to himself. He must be in either an underground room or a prison of some sort, though it was unusual for criminals not to allow their victims even a little light.

A sudden thought occurred to him,

No.

Not even Moriarty was not that careful -- or rather, that controlling.

At that moment he heard the unmistakable sound of a door sliding open somewhere on his right side and a gruff voice was heard to say "And stay there!" Just as something (which Holmes thought must be heavy but soft from the telltale thud it made as it hit the floor) was hurled into the room, the door closed again and heavy boots were heard clomping back down the way they had come.

This was all that he could tell from the sounds. It was at that moment he realized that he had felt light on his face (it had been a gentle warmth) when that sound had announced the opening of a door.

And a guard surely would not stand watch anywhere as dark as this room (it would defeat the object of being 'on watch' if you couldnít see), or turn the light off every time the door to this presumed prison was opened, there must be a light on, and if there was a light on and he still couldnít see even the dimmest trace or outline....

Well, terrifying as it was, there was but one conclusion the logical thinker could come to. He was blind; it took a moment for the thought to sink in. "BLIND."

He said it again to himself out loud, and realized it had to be a result of the pounding he felt in his head. He reached his hand up and, feeling around under his hair, felt the warm stickiness of blood

Then with a start he remembered the guard's words, "And stay there." He could not have been addressing Holmes. Therefore, that thud he had heard must have been the sound of someone else being thrown into the room,

His train of thought was interrupted by a slight movement somewhere behind the veil of darkness, a sort of shuffling. He might be blind but he was by no means deaf.

"Who is there?"

Another noise, but no reply.

"May I ask whom I am addressing?"

Another noise, closer now. He realized that whoever was in the room with him was crawling towards him. (Not walking -- he would have heard the footsteps and been able to tell from what age, gender and probable weight they came.)

He felt a small hand grasp his own.

He decided not to pull back. His hand was taken gently and placed on what seemed to be the face of his companion. With surprise, he realized that he was in the company of a girl, a very young girl. (Or so he guessed from the length of the hair and the size and distinctness of the features.) With what must be a fairly good-looking face and large eyes.

He again stated his question. "Who is it that I have the pleasure of addressing?" It was more of a demand then a question.

He felt his hand being very gently twisted around as the girl began to tickle his palm,

He tried to take his hand back. However, whoever this was, they were holding his wrist very tightly, and since her grasp was determined and he had no way of knowing whether there was anywhere to retreat to other than the rather solid-feeling wall against his back, he did not resist further.

It was then that he realized that she must be attempting to trace letters into his up turned hand. Once he grasped this he devoted his whole attention to trying to Ďreadí the shapes. "WUORW" was all he could glean from the quickly changing symbols, which of course made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

When he didnít respond the letters were again 'written' on his palm -- slower this time, with a quick tap after every few letters, which seemed to indicate the end of a word. On his second try, he managed to comprehend the entire message now that they were being traced at a slower speed.

"WHO R U"

"I am Sherlock Holmes," he stated back.

By this time he was wondering if she was perhaps deaf. Why else would she not speak back to him, why write in his palm?

What a pretty pair they must make, blind and deaf. It was all he could do to suppress a dark-humored snort.

But now, to his surprise, another message was being printed very slowly into his hand: "DID NOT U DIE 200 YEARS AGO"

So she could hear. Perhaps she was mute then? There had to be a reason for her silence.

After all, he had demonstrated to her that he could talk and there for could hear, as well as react to any sound she ventured to make.

"That, I am afraid, is rather a long story." Again he felt the now familiar tickle on his palm. "WE HAVE LOTS OF TIME" Then a small pause in between. "TRUST ME".

Well, she was right. There was definitely no rush, as he did not know who was holding him, and most likely this girl, hostage.

"Are you a prisoner here as well?" Again, he felt the tracing of letters into his palm.

"YES"

"Do you know who is holding us here?"

"NO" Another pause. Then, "R U GOING TO TELL ME OR NOT?"

"I assume you are asking me to relate to you the story of how I came to be alive in this century, when I was supposed to have been dead for the past 200 years?"

More tickling. "YES"

He noticed throughout her unique form of sign language that she tended to use abbreviations like "R U" in stead of writing "ARE YOU", and "DID NOT" instead of "DIDNíT" He had to admit that he was grateful for it as this new form of communication was very difficult for him to understand.

"Very well, as we seem to have no definite amount of time to wait or any other way in which to amuse ourselves-"

His remark was cut short by an outburst of giggles. He was now sure that his companion was a young female. However, if she could giggle then she could talk. There was a definite aura of mystery about his new acquaintance. Especially since Holmes had so vague an idea of how she must look.

He had to admit that any amount of time without his eyes, and therefore his primary observational power, was proving much more difficult then he could ever have anticipated.

The girl seemed to resume her silence after that, however, so he decided not to press that particular question and instead inquired, "What, may I ask, is so amusing?" He felt his hand, which had been let go, caught up again.

"U TALK FUNNY"

"That, my dear, is a matter of opinion."

More giggling, Holmes felt that this would be a good time to make yet another query, as she seemed distracted, so he said, "What is your name?"

"ROWLAND"

That startled him, it would seem that he had been wrong, and yet he had been sure that his companion had been female.

Yes, without the eyes part of the eyes-and-brains system, he was going to have to make some adjustments to his methods of deduction -- a thought that frightened him beyond description.

For all his coldness and unemotional ways, his worst fear had now been realized. For how long he did not know, and that was what scared him the most.

Rowland must have seen the confusion on his face for she took up his hand again.

"I GO BY MY SURNAME ONLY" and after another small pause

"I AM A GIRL"

"Ah, I suspected as much."

"YES I COULD SEE THAT"

Holmes gave a small chuckle, even through his fear at being blind he could not help but laugh at her witty underhanded remarks, he decided to give in "Do you wish to hear about my -- shall we say, Ďrejuvenationí -- or not?"

"YES" was traced into his hand, and so he began the tale. He had planned to ask her for more information (if she had any) about their captors. On the other hand, he thought it would be better to gain her trust first. Then perhaps she would be more forthcoming. After all, he smiled to himself, it would be a help to know her first name. Perhaps he had at last found someone as secretive as himself

Well, he shrugged, perhaps.


Chapter Three: Sending In The Clowns

"Well, Lestrade?"

Inspector Lestrade nodded in a sober fashion, as she rose from looking over the now taped-off wall of the bloodstained alley that was swarming with New Scotland Yard personnel. And indicated the bloodstain on the slimy brick wall, "It's Holmesís, sir." Chief Inspector Grayson nodded back.

"Any other traces?"

"No sir, there are no other DNA traces, Watson and I did a very careful sweep of the area. The only way they could have taken him was by hover car; there are no doors, hidden or otherwise, and no way he could have doubled back without being seen by me or Watson."

A constable approached the pair and handed a computer pad to the rather rotund Grayson.

"Sir, there is an agent from British Intelligence to see you."

Even through her despair and worry, which she had been trying like crazy not to show for the last intensely hot and glare-y half an hour, Lestrade gaped. "You called in British Intelligence?!" This was her investigation. She owed it to Holmes, and to Watson, to make sure that it turned out all right.

Grayson glared at her with pure venom,

"I did not Ďinviteí him, Lestrade; he was ordered to come by my superiors."

"Of course, sir. But sir, I thought you didnít answer to overage bunglers?"

Graysonís face began to take on a fascinating shade of purple. The constable chose this precise moment to flee the scene; no doubt, he had had past experience of Graysonís wrath.

"That is how you put it isnít it, sir?"

Perhaps she shouldnít have been so impudent but she was feeling particularly angry right now.

Grayson seemed unable to speak due to the fact that his face had swollen to twice its size from the effort of keeping from pounding in the head of one of his inspectors (namely the one standing in front of him with a smug expression on her face). All he seemed able to manage was "Best behavior, Lestrade."

"OY bring that scanner back here!"

Lestrade and the now slightly less purple Grayson turned at the sound to see a middle-aged clean-shaven man with oily black hair, who made Grayson look like something from a miracle weight loss ad, coming toward them, With a rather troubled-looking Watson, close on his heels, glinting in the sun as he walked.

"Hello, Inspector Stayword. I trust your journey wasnít too bad?"

"No worse than could be expected. Where the zed is that ruddy scanner!?"

"Inspector John Stayword, this is Inspector Elizabeth Lestrade, who will be working with you on the case."

"Yes, well, one can always learn from one's betters. I mean, you guys could take a leaf or two out of our book."

Lestradeís face turned noticeably redder. Not with embarrassment, you understand, but with pure unadulterated hate. Watson, who must have read the signals and realized that if he didnít do something quickly an explosion was imminent, stepped up next to Lestrade.

"Perhaps you two had better go over the order of events up to Holmesís disappearance."

Watson was eager to find his friend, as well as prevent a clash with the two inspectors equal to that of a nuclear war.

The gross Inspector Stayword seemed to interpret this as his cue to take control of the situation.

"Well, come on, then, we might as well go look over the evidence."

Lestrade looked something like a smoke bomb at that particular moment.

"What evidence?! Some guy bowled me over, I was knocked out, Holmes ran into a dead end and disappeared completely, except for a bloodstain covering half the bottom part of the alley he went into!"

She seemed to be getting angrier by the second.

"What evidence is there to go over!?"

Inspector Stayword was looking right at her with a dangerous glimmer in those beady little eyes.

"So you were knocked out, were you?"

"Ya, I just told you that. Quick study, arenít you?"

"So you mean to tell me that you had a chance to arrest a dangerous criminal and you just let him go? You didnít attempt to stop him in any way?"

"Hey, wait a minute, you zed, I canít stop the guy if Iím unconscious at the time!"

"Well, it seems to me that in such a case your first reflex should have been to stop him! That way you would have got him instead of being knocked out!"

Inspector Lestrade looked about ready to explode.

Stayword continued, "Why didnít the compudroid go after him? I thought those machines were invented to help you make arrests. Or are they as incompetent as their assigned charges seem to be?"

Lestrade wreaked her full wrath.

"ONE: HE IS NOT ĎTHE COMPUDROIDí. HIS NAME IS WATSON! AND TWO: HE DIDNíT GO AFTER THE GUY BECAUSE HOLMES HAD ALREADY DONE THAT!"

Grayson was beginning to look desperate, although his facial expression did not even come close to Watsonís. In fact, the usually pleasant-mannered compudroid found himself wanting to cheer Lestrade on.

Stayword yelled back

"IT SEEMS TO ME THAT HAD MR. HOLMES BEEN AT ALL THE MAN HE IS REPUTED TO BE, HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO STOP A SIMPLE PETTY THIEF!"

"HOW DARE YOU! IF IT HAD BEEN A PETTY THIEF, HOLMES WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO STOP HIM! HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT ABOUT HIM WHEN HE COULD BE DEAD, OR WORSE!" Lestrade screamed back.

"WHY YOU LITTLE-

The argument was cut off by a shout from the roped-off area. "Hey, Inspector Lestrade! We found another trace!"

She was over there in a split second, Watson right beside her, with a very pudgy Inspector Stayword waddling after them.

"Itís a manís, sir, but there doesnít seem to be any matching sample on file... wait, a second, thatís funny."

Lestrade looked over the constableís shoulder in desperation.

"What? What is it?"

"The files there now, itís almost as if they were added just a second ago. It certainly wasnít there before."

"Whoís it match?"

"It belongs to a Mr. Mathew Williams."

Lestrade's eyes blazed as she grabbed Watsonís arm. "I think we should go pay Mr. Williams a visit."

The two of them made for her police cruiser, Inspector Stayword only just managing to keep up as he gasped after them.

"Hey wait for me!"


Chapter Four: Rowlandís Story

"And now that you know my story, I should very much like to learn yours."

So said Sherlock Holmes, in what he thought must be the general direction of his companion.

Silence reigned in the little room (which in this case means that there was no sound from Rowland or any signing in progress). Holmes began to wonder if he had said something wrong. He was just about to enquire to that effect when he felt his hand be caught up again.

"WHY DOES IT MATTER"

"It might help us to understand what the purpose of your imprisonment is."

"WHAT IS YOURS"

"It could really be any number of reasons; I am not much liked among the criminal populace of London, or anywhere else, for that matter."

"IT WOULD BORE U"

"What would make you say that? Have you another suggestion? Another way, perhaps, to pass the time until our captorís intentions become known?"

"I AM NOT GOOD AT TELLING STORIES"

"Nor, as far as I am aware, am I"

"COULD U TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT BOY TENNYSON?"

Holmes noticed that she had taken a very keen interest in the youngest Irregular, and seemed to delight in pestering Holmes with questions about him.

"Rowland, are you attempting to avoid telling me about your past?"

Silence reigned once more.

"Rowland, I rather think that it would be best to be honest with each other."

She began to write something, but stopped as suddenly as she had begun. Holmes sighed.

"You have nothing to fear from me."

His palm began to tickle again as she began to write with renewed vigor.

"I SUPPOSE THERE IS NO HARM IN TELLING YOU"

He noticed that the word "YOUí was pressed very slowly and deliberately into his hand as if to accent it. He also noticed that she used the whole word instead of an abbreviation. A small pause, then she continued, "MY FULL NAME IS SARAH LEANNE ROWLANDS"

That one sentence was full of meaning; and the consequences seemed to hit Holmes like a freight train. He must have let his shock show in his expression because his hand was again taken in Rowland's smaller one.

"U REMEMBER THE CASE?"

"Very clearly," he affirmed, composing himself.

"I THOUGHT U WOULD"

"It was before my introduction to this century."

"YES BUT IT WAS A VERY PUBLIC ORDEAL"

"Yes, it was. I can understand your reasons for attempting to conceal it from me."

"I DID NOT WANT U TO FIND OUT"

"And that is why you removed the "S" from your sur name?"

"WELL YES" Small pause. "BUT I DO NOT LIKE HOW IT SOUNDS WITH THE S"

"Your father was never convicted."

"NO" Pause. "HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN"

"I agree with you wholeheartedly. As I remember, it was the fact that because of muteness and a presumed mental disability you could not give evidence, and as there was no proof that-"

"I AM NOT MUTE" This was traced with a fierce energy, which seemed to indicate indignation or anger.

"Then I am afraid that I fail to understand your silence in court four years ago, or your continued silence at the present moment. Surely it would be easier for you just to talk? Rather than engage in a sign language which is not only hard for me to understand, but also very awkward for you to write?"

Silence.

It was at times like this that he really wished he could see the expression on her face. It was hard to know what to say when you could not see the person's reaction, and he had given up squinting into the darkness long before he had finished his own narrative.

"Why donít you tell me the story, if it does not pain you too much? Then perhaps it will be easier for me to understand."

"OK IF U WONíT TELL ANY ONE ELSE"

"I give you my word."

"IT WILL TAKE A LONG TIME TO PUT INTO THESE LETTERS"

"Well, shall we begin then?"

"OK"

He heard her take a deep breath.

"I SUPPOSE I SHOULD START BY TELLING U WHY I DO NOT TALK"

"That would be appreciated."

"EVER SINCE I CAN REMEMBER" pause "I HAVE ALWAYS HAD A PROBLEM WITH WORDS" Pause.

"I WOULD OPEN MY MOUTH" pause "AND THEY WOULD COME OUT ALL GARBLED" Pause.

"MY PARENTS TRIED TO GET HELP" pause "SPEECH THEREPISTS AND STUFF LIKE THAT" pause "BUT IT NEVER GOT ANY BETTER" Pause.

"U SEE" pause "I WAS AN EMBARRESSMENT TO MY PARENTS" pause "THEY COULD NEVER SEE PAST MY DISSABILITY".

Throughout this compelling narrative Holmes had to say each letter out loud to keep track of them all. It was very hard to understand, especially the longer words.

Rowland continued: "I WAS ABOUT SEVEN" pause "WHEN MY DAD STARTED TO DRINK" pause "IT STARTED AS JUST A LITTLE BIT" pause "AT A TIME" Pause.

"BUT LITTLE BY LITTLE" pause "HE DRANK MORE AND MORE" pause "UNTILL IT WAS DANGOURUS FOR ME TO BE AROUND HIM" pause "FOR VERY LONG"

Here she broke off and Holmes heard her take another deep breath.

"IT WAS ON THE DAY" pause "WHEN MY LATEST RESULTS FOR SPEECH IMPROVEMENT CAME THROUGH" Pause.

"I DID NOT TRY SPEAK AROUND THE HOUSE" pause "SO MY DAD HAD NO IDEA WHAT MY PROGRESS WAS" Pause.

"I WAS IN THE GARDEN SIGNING LIKE THIS" pause "ONLY IN A WAY U HAD TO LOOK AT" pause "TO UNDERSTAND" pause "TO MY FRIEND THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WHOLE WORLD" pause "WHO LIKED ME AS I WAS" Pause.

"HIS NAME WAS PETER COLEHURST" pause "AND HE WAS THE HEAD GARDENER"

Here Holmes cut in, "Yes. I remember in the report it said that your father had been very wealthy -- had made a fortune in investments, if I remember correctly."

"YES"

"Do go on"

"I WAS TELLING HIM ABOUT A STORY I HAD READ" pause "ABOUT A TIME MACHINE" pause "HE WAS LISTENING" pause "AS IT WERE" pause "VERY INTENTLEY AND ASKING ME QUESTIONS" Pause.

"HE HAD TWO KIDS BUT I HAD NEVER MET THEM" pause "THEY KEPT THERE DISTANCE AND I KEPT MINE" Pause.

"ANYWAY" pause "I HAD LEFT THE HOUSE BECAUSE MY DAD WAS DRUNK AGAIN" pause "AND MY MOM WAS TRYING TO KEEP" pause "THE SERVENTS FROM FINDING OUT" Pause.

"SO TO KEEP OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE" pause "BECAUSE MY MOM SHARED MY DADS OPINION OF ME" pause "I HAD GONE OUT SIDE TO TALK TO PETER" Pause.

"ANY WAY" pause "JUST AS I WAS GETTING TO THE PART" pause "WHERE THEY GO BACK IN TIME" pause "DAD CAME BLUNDERING OUT OF THE HOUSE" pause "DEMANDING THAT I TALK PROPERLEY TO HIM" Pause.

"I WAS SCARED SO I TREID BUT IT CAME OUT ALL GRABLED" pause "AND I WAS STUTTERING WORSE THEN EVER"

Holmes could now hear a snuffling sound and realized that Rowland was crying. He was just wondering if he shouldnít ask her to stop. However, she seemed determined to finish what she had started

"WHILE I WAS TALKING TO PETER" pause "HE HAD BEEN RAKING UP SOME LEAVES" pause "WITH AN EIGHT SPIKED RAKE" pause "IN HIS ANGER MY FATHER" pause "GRABBED THIS AND SEIZING ME BY THE SHOLDER" Pause.

Holmes knew what had happened next even before she had even begun tracing it into his upturned hand.

"HE RIPED IT DOWN MY BACK" pause "IT WENT THROUGH THE CLOTH" pause "OF MT SHIRT AND MISSED MY SPINE BY CENTEMETERS" Pause.

Another deep shaky breath.

"PETER PULLED HIM OFF ME" pause "AND I RAN INTO THE HOUSE" pause "I DID NOT REALISE HOW BADLEY I WAS BLEADING" Pause.

"PETER MUST HAVE CALLED THE COPS" pause "BECAUSE THEY WERE THERE WITH IN MINUTES" Pause.

"MY MOM TOOK ME INTO THE BATHROOM" pause "AND WRAPED MY BACK UP IN THICK GUAZE" pause "SO THAT THE BLOOD WOULD NOT SHOW THROUGH" Pause.

"AND MADE ME PUT A NEW SHIRT ON" pause "SHE THEN TOOK ME DOWNSTAIRS TO MEET" pause "THE POLICE" pause "THEY COULD NOT INVESTIGATE FURTHER" pause "AT THAT TIME" pause "AND I COULD NOT SPEAK TO THEM" Pause.

"ALL THE SAME THERE WAS AN INVESTIGATION" pause "AND A TRIAL" pause "I CAN ONLY GUESS THAT MY FATHER BRIBED" pause "THE JUDGE OR JURY" pause "OR BOTH" Pause.

"I WAS WARNED NOT TO SAY ANYTHING AT THE TRIAL" pause "IT WAS EASY ENUGH AS EVERONE BUT PETER" pause "THOUGHT I WAS DEAF OR MUTE OR MENTALY DERANGED" pause "MY DAD THREATENED ME" Pause.

"HE TOLD ME THAT HE WOULD FIRE PETER" pause "I COULD NOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN" pause "YOU KNOW THE REST" Pause.

"I RAN AWAY AND HAVE SINCE" pause "BEEN LIVING ON THE STREETS" pause "PETER WAS THREATENED AS WELL AND COULD DO NOTHING" pause "HE WAS POOR AND HAD A FAMILY TO SUPPORT" pause "MY FATHER SAID HE WOULD MAKE" pause "IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO GET ANY OTHER EMPLOYMENT" pause "SO HE COULD NOT RISK GETTING FIRED" Pause.

"AND NOW IT IS FOUR YEARS LATER" pause "AND I AM HERE WITH U IN A CELL" pause "FOR A REASON I DO NOT KNOW"

Holmes could hear her crying in the complete darkness that surrounded him, and couldnít help but think that, even now in his blindness, the world seemed much darker to her then it did to him.

She took another deep breath and then nothing more was heard for a long time.


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