THE STORY OF THE FOURTH IRREGULAR

by Bowen

Chapter Five: A Diversion

The house of Mr. Mathew J. Williams was a very simple box-shaped design, with white washed walls, and an ivy plant spread out like some two-dimensional tree against the north side of it.

Basically, it reminded one of a country cottage like you might find somewhere nestled in the hills of Norfolk, although if truth be told it was only a few minutes outside of New London.

Inspector Lestrade knocked on the door three times and rang the doorbell. Then she stood waiting while a very disgruntled Inspector Stayword got out of the cruiser after a determined-looking Watson. She had made sure to have her friend sit in the front; she did not want that jerk Stayword to think he was allowed to treat Watson like a pile 'a zed.

Usually British intelligence wouldnít interfere with New Scotland Yard's affairs. On the other hand, the disappearance of a living legend was not a usual occurrence; she wanted to strangle the idiots who assigned this walking pomposity to her case.

She hit the doorbell again, much harder this time, as if to take out her anger in way that would serve a purpose. Especially if it would annoy the occupant of the house she was now attempting to enter.

A voice sounded from the other side. "One minute, one minute."

An elderly man with white hair and wrinkles around his grey eyes came to the door, and upon opening it, looked up at the official personage standing on his doorstep with some surprise.

"May I help you?"

Lestrade was as puzzled as he was; the DNA file had shown him to be quite young and energetic-looking -- nothing like the withered old man that stood before her now, peering through his horn-rimmed glasses.

"Are you, are you Mr. Mathew Williams?" she stammered.

"Yes, and you are?"

"Mathew J. Williams?" she persisted.

"Yes, how may I help you?"

"Inspector Lestrade, New Scotland Yard. IĎm afraid I have to ask you a few questions, sir."

"What about?" The expression on his face was one of complete bafflement.

"We have received information that you may have been concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Sherlock Holmes."

"Who did you say disappeared Young lady?"

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes disappeared at 1:30 pm this afternoon, and we found a DNA trace at the site of the disappearance matching that of yours, sir."

"I donít know anything about a Mr. Sherlock Holmes, except of course the one I have read about in the old books -- but I can assure you that I have been at home all day. My housekeeper was here with me she can testify to that."

"Oh, can she? I think Iíd like to have a chat with her."

Stayword sidled up. "Why donít you go do that, Inspector Lestrade? I can continue to talk with Mr. Williams here-"

He was cut off by a sudden and very uncharacteristic outburst of anger from Watson.

"I think, Inspector Stayword, that you had better keep out of this. You are here to assist not to take over Inspector Lestradeís investigation for your own selfish purposes!

"Furthermore, as you seem to be completely unconcerned about Holmes as well as incompetent, I suggest you pack your bags and return to British Intelligence headquarters with the news that you have failed utterly -- and I doubt whether they will be much surprised!"

Lestrade had never seen this side of her friend before, nor, evidently, had anyone else. Stayword was looking rather flustered as he stared disbelievingly up at Watson, and Mr. Williams seemed rather uncomfortable to have a compudroid and two Scotland Yard inspectors engaged in a heated argument on his front door step.

Lestrade realized how hard it was for Watson, and indeed for her, to go through the day wondering if Holmes was alive or not, if he was injured or worse,

And she was beginning to see that it was taking its toll on Watson. She made a promise to herself -- she would find Holmes, she would find him if it was the last thing she did. She owed him that much

Taking a deep breath, she turned again to face Williams. "Sir, I would like to talk with your housekeeper, if I may?" It was not a question.

Mr. Williamís housekeeper, a Mrs. Poltercot, was taller then her employer, with a huge amount of grizzled red hair shot with grey which she kept in a tight bun in the very centre of the top of her head. She looked about fifty or so, whereas Williams was probably about seventy. She stood peering at them through a pair of green eyes that were filled with dislike. Inspector Stayword had been compelled to stay in the cruiser to recover from the shock to his ego after Watsonís outburst.

"No, I do not know anything about a disappearance, and I fail to understand how a man that has been dead for two hundred years could have gone missing just today," Mrs. Poltercot said in a thick English accent.

Lestrade could see that she was not getting through, and as a result was approaching boiling point.

"So Mr. Williams was at home all day?"

"Yes, I was cleaning his kitchen and so was there all day with him. He never left the house."

"Has he been acting suspicious in any way, said anything which may have sounded strange?"

"I have told you again and again, he has been his normal self all day."

"Thank you, ma'am, I will not take up any more of your valuable time." Her last comment was thick with sarcasm

Upon her return to her cruiser and a grumbling Stayword, it took all her self restraint to keep from ramming her head into the steering controls,

Watson seemed to pick up on her agitation. "Donít worry, Inspector, we will find him. I am sure heís all right. You know Holmes, he can take care of himself."

"Ya. Thanks, Watson. I just hope we find him soon, even Holmes canít look out for himself all the time."

"I am sure he is all right."

It was a statement ringing with all the conviction in the world; you could tell that he needed to believe his friend was alive and well.

"Well, then, I am too." She smiled at him.

"Okay, so Williams didnít help us much," she continued. Letís see what else we can dig up."

She was now sure that the file had been slipped in as a diversion, a way of throwing them off, and she was going to go find who was really behind it all.

Grayson was not happy when the three arrived back at new Scotland Yard, so she gave him as little information as possible and went straight for the door to her office; she had some reading to do.


Chapter Six: A Closing Net

Professor James Moriarty glowered at the screen. Fenwick had made yet another blunder. Not only had he not managed to put the file in the New Scotland Yard computer data bank without notice, but he had attached it to the wrong DNA trace. And now that no good inspector and her halfwit compudroid were on his trail, along with some fat agent from British Intelligence.

It had taken him weeks to plan the capture of his most hated rival and he was not going to let New Scotland Yard screw it up.

Now that inspector was leaning over some papers. He couldnít see what they were they were -- too close to the camera he had had Fenwick implant in her desk lamp to be seen clearly.

He flicked a switch and waited while the camera feed changed to a view of the debilitated storeroom he was using as a prison to hold his two guests. Holmes was getting very friendly with that Rowlands girl. They seemed to be talking, via some sort of sign language. He noticed that she could read lips very well, even for a deaf girl

He allowed himself a small chuckle; he had to admit that he was enjoying watching Holmes struggle. He took a certain delight in depriving Holmes of his most treasured possession; after all, what was the 'eyes and brains' detective without his eyes?

Fenwick had been right. He had to hand it to his crony, a simple knock on the head could do wonders, and was easily repaired using the right technique. Holmes was in his power, and he was going to use that power to its full advantage

It had taken him months to track the girl down. Now his plan was almost in its last stage and soon it would be complete; and he would free the criminal world of the only man who could stop him, the only obstacle that stood in his way on the road to power!

He clenched his fist. Not only would he have unlimited funding for his criminal organization, but he would be rid of Sherlock Holmes -- and the world would never again question who was the greater intellect!

A chime sounded, and Fenwick crept around the doorframe. "Bonjour, Master. I have ze shipment in the loading dock; eet eez ready to be added to the machine."

Moriarty glared at his crony.

"Well, Fenwick is it possible that you could have done something right?"

Fenwick cowered under his master's heated glare. "I am sorry about the file, Master; eet will not íappen again."

"It had better not -- or perhaps I shall have you join the girl and my greatest enemy in their cell?"

"No, Master, zat weell not be necessary."

"Good. Did you get every thing I told you to?"

"Oui, Master, everything."

Moriarty glanced back at the computer screen, which was now showing the girl leaning over Holmesís hand, absorbed in a complicated sequence of signing.

"Fenwick, what do you think about this girl? She seems to have formed quite an attachment to Holmes."

"Oui, Master. Zey make quite a pair. Blind and deaf -- it is ironic."

"Yes, it most certainly is." Moriarty chuckled, and then turning on the unsuspecting Fenwick, yelled, "Now go and put that equipment together!"

"Oui, Master. I am going."

Moriarty chuckled as his henchman slunk away in fear from the room. "Yes," he thought to himself, "it most certainly was ironic."


Chapter Seven: The Man Behind The Mask

[I like The Phantom of the Opera. So sue me.]

Rowland looked over at the shivering man across from her. It was strange. She had read about him but she had never really thought about the man behind the mask,

All the same, here he was sitting across from her, bleeding badly from a cut on his head and looking in the direction he seemed to think she was in. He looked so lost. She could understand how hard it was for him to be blind,

Drowning in darkness, and no way out,

Not that there was much to see in here: just four walls, a roof and a floor, all made of the same cold grey metal. The same VERY cold grey metal.

Holmes began to fumble around with both hands, moving them up the wall and around the floor, but never moving his body from where he was sitting. She knew why. He needed some centre, somewhere to hold on, so that he wouldnít be lost forever in the dark with no way to get back.

After she had told him about her past, she had crawled away to her own corner of the room to calm down and think. She didnít know why she had told him; she just felt she could trust him no matter what.

Now she crawled over to him again. She liked to be level with her companion at all times, even if he couldnít see her. Brushing a lock of her black hair away from her face, she took up his hand again.

He gave a jolt of surprise at the unexpected touch. He was always listening so carefully to her every move, and yet he seemed never to get used to the surprise of having an unseen hand touch his own without warning.

She felt a strange protectiveness toward him, kind of how she guessed she would feel toward an older brother. However, never having had one she could only guess. She would never follow his orders, or do what he said, as a daughter might do for a father. No, she looked on him as a friend or a brother, but never a father, especially after her experience of fathers. She did not want to spoil anything.

She felt safe around him, like when she used to feel when she was around Peter, a feeling she hadnít had for a long time. Holmes didnít ask her to talk; he just let her be who she wanted to be and do what she wanted to do. He also seemed to enjoy her company.

She looked at his face, at his empty grey eyes that seemed to search the room but never focused on anything.

She compared them to her own. She had black eyes with a grey ring around the outside. He had sandy blonde hair, she had jet black hair the curled into ringlets when newly washed. He was tall and she was sure she had never seen anyone as thin as he was. She was middle-sized and well-built.

She wore simple modern clothes that were much the worse for wear and he wore what must have been the style of his youth, back in the days of spats and high collared shirts. He had no coat or deerstalker, but she surmised that those had been taken away by the guard, as her coat had been.

Kneeling on the floor beside him, she began to sign into his hand again, her fingers clumsy with the cold.

She didnít mind taking the extra time to trace the letters into his palm. She liked being on the same terms with him -- not that she was happy he was blind, but she liked the feeling of being equal to him. One of the reasons she was so intrigued by his description of the youngest of the group he called his Irregulars.

This Tennyson sounded a lot like her,

Holmes also talked about a New Scotland Yard inspector by the name of Lestrade who he described as being tall and having brown hair with a light streak down the side. If Rowland didnít know better from having read the stories, she would have thought Holmes was sweet on this woman.

She also liked it when he talked about his robot friend. She hoped she would live to meet all Holmesís friends, as she had none of her own beside the man whose hand she was now holding.

"Are you all right, Rowland?" he said in his cultured English accent.

She liked how he talked. There was a nobleness about his voice that told you beyond doubt that he was a gentleman. She began to sign back to him.

"YES" pause "I AM FEELING BETTER NOW"

"I thought you might have decided to discontinue our acquaintance."

"DO U WANT ME TO"

"I should say not." He said it with a slight chuckle. "I wonder how long-"

His remark was cut short by a clomping sound, coming from the other side of the wall of their cell.

They had been in this room together for at least a day or night now. Rowland had lost count of how long she had been held captive, for besides that one time she was taken by the guard from her other cell she had not seen another human face for what she thought must be days.

Nor had either of them been given food since being put together,

Holmes gripped her hand tightly to get her attention.

"A man, about 150 pounds, probably was a construction worker, tough hobnail boots, about 45 years of age."

She shook her head; she had given up trying to find out how he learned stuff like that.

She laid his hand flat,

"THE SAME ONE AS BEFORE I THINK"

"I must agree with you there."

The door slid open and the half light of their prison was made brighter from the additional light of the hallway outside.

She squeezed Holmesís hand back.

The guard advanced toward them, and grabbing her, he threw her across the room away from Holmes. She had had to let go of his hand, and with that break in their communication went Holmes's connection to the outside world.

She watched in horror as her friend was grabbed by his upper arm and dragged unceremoniously to his feet. When he tried to turn around in order to walk forward, the guard interpreted this as an attempt at escape and promptly kneed him in the stomach.

Rowland screamed and tried to bite the guard's arm, resulting in her being thrown again -- this time against the wall, head first.

The last thing she heard before she blacked out was the guard talking to Holmes. "Nice little friend you got there -- a deaf kid."

Then the darkness she had been trying for so long to save her friend from swallowed her.


Chapter Eight: Following The Trail

Lestrade growled and threw down yet another file, nearly knocking over the black desk lamp that was perched on the corner of her desk. She had been studying file after file for a day now, with only a small period in between for rest. So she had been reading the zedding things for about fifteen hours and nothing was turning up.

She had hoped to find some consistency, some small nuance from another criminal act, which might give her a clue as to the identity of Holmes kidnapper-

Catching herself, she realized that throughout this case she had been making a conscious effort not to say ĎHolmesís murdererí; and she realized that the word Ďkidnapperí was the only thing keeping her going -- the small chance that her friend might still be alive.

A loud growl of protest from her stomach brought her back down to earth, and yet another realization hit her, she had not had anything to eat or drink since her last trip to the coffee machine almost three hours ago.

She got slowly to her feet and flexed her muscles; it felt good to stretch after being behind that desk for so long,

She then made her way down stairs to the ground floor, and got yet a another cup of coffee out of the machine. Nothing like lukewarm cement to keep you going.

Chewing, er, sipping, her coffee she turned around to see Watson sitting in the corner of the room by himself, looking more worried then ever. Inspector Stayword had been keeping his distance from the pair lately, and so was nowhere to be seen at this particular moment. However, a chorus of grumbling from the opposite side of the room announced that their pudgy partner was not very far away.

Lestrade walked up to Watson and put a hand on her friendís metallic shoulder. "Hey, you okay?"

Watson nodded and attempted to put a confident smile on his face. He failed miserably and the overall effect was that he looked like he had smelled something very distasteful.

Realizing that he was grimacing, he abandoned the attempt at looking bright and cheery and surrendered to complete depression,

"Were you able to ascertain anything from those reports?" Watson asked Lestrade. She could hear the desperation in his voice.

"No, thereís no criminal at large or otherwise who seems like they could fit into this. Itís a new case."

She sighed and sipped at her coffee again. "I was just notified of an unexplained theft, a mechanics supplier. I thought I might go and investigate. I think thereís a chance it might have something to do with Holmes; we canít afford to leave anything out at this point."

Watson jumped at the chance. "Shall we be off then?"

Lestrade had to hand it to him. For all his annoying attributes, he sure had a lot of faith in his friend.

"But what makes you think that it may have something to do with Holmes, Inspector?"

"Well, the parts that were stolen could not be used for anything other than a high voltage power generator, and there are only a few places in New London that need that kind of electricity on an ongoing basis."

"Such as?"

"Well, mostly old warehouses that were built before the boycott against high pollutants. So I thought we could start looking around the outskirts of new London, in places where youíd need a lot of power to keep the place going."

"But what does that have to do with Holmes?"

"Well, if I was going to abduct someone thatís where Iíd set up headquarters. Itís not the kind of place thatís easy to keep running, but itís great if you want to stay out of the way of the authorities, and thereís no rent."

"I think thatís a brilliant idea, Inspector!"

"Well, at least even if it doesnít have anything to do with Holmes, weíll have crossed something off our list."

"How many warehouses or similar structures are there to search?"

"Well, thatís the problem. It may take a while."

Watson gave her a look.

"NO! Watson, forget it!"

"I really think they deserve a chance to help. TheyĎve been just as worried about Holmes as we have."

"Watson, they're just kids. I know it must be hard for them, but-"

Watson gave her one of his ĎHolmes would want them to helpí looks.

Lestrade gave up, and said with an exasperated sigh, "Iím never going to win this one, am I?"

"Not in the foreseeable future, no."

"Okay, call them, but if they get in the way...."

"Iím sure they won't. I have complete faith in their abilities, and it will make it easier for them to bear if they feel that they are helping in some way."

"Whatever. Call them. If they can be here in fifteen minutes, fine. Otherwise theyíll have to walk." "I am sure they will be more than happy to rush over." "Ya, thatís the problem." She sighed. "I suppose Iíll have to tell Stayword about our new line of investigation." Watson shrugged. "Well, if you must you must," he said cheerily. Lestrade found the mischievous glitter in his eyes unnerving.


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