THE STORY OF THE FOURTH IRREGULAR

By Bowen

Chapter Nine: Reinforcements

The Baker Street Irregulars sat around Deirdre’s kitchen table. The three had gathered there the day before for the purpose of doing their homework together. But that had been before the disappearance of their friend and mentor, Sherlock Holmes. They had all three come back to Deirdre’s house again the next day, so that they would be together in the event of any news.

Now Deirdre and Wiggins were staring glumly at their shoelaces, while Tennyson pretended to enter something in on his keyboard. The usual energetically chipper beeping made by the youngest of the Irregulars was now limited to a series of flat monotones.

The friends had been waiting since they had gotten word at 2:05 pm the day before. Waiting for any news that their friend had been found, that he was all right, or that Inspector Lestrade had a lead of some sort.

Wiggins lifted his prematurely bald head and looked at Tennyson through a pair of kind brown eyes.

"Hey, how ya doin'? They’ll find him, don’t worry."

"Beep whirr clock clock whizz." Tennyson’s big blue eyes seemed to be full of suppressed fear, as they stared back at the tall black boy over the red bandana that covered the majority of his face from the bridge of his nose down.

Deidre joined in the conversation. The 12 year old had scruffy brown hair and her nails were each painted a different color.

"Ya, don’t worry. Watson and Inspector Lestrade are probably looking for ‘im right now. Besides, Mr. ‘Olmes can take care of himself," she said in a thick English accent.

She did not sound very confident, however, and her words did little to lift the gloomy atmosphere.

"Beep beep whir-"

Tennyson’s reply was cut short by a ringing coming from the direction of Deidre’s bedroom. "Ill get it!" she said, as she leaped up from her chair and ran towards the source of the sound.

The other two Irregulars followed suit.

With the click of a button, the synthetic face of Watson appeared on the screen of the vid phone.

"Hello, you three."

Deidre was about to open her mouth to reply when Tennyson started letting out loud streams of beeping from his keyboard.

"Beep whirr clock clock whur beep clock beep beep beep!"

"Ya, tell us!" Wiggins joined in with the overexcited Tennyson.

"Inspector Lestrade and I are going out to follow up on what we hope is a clue."

"Can we come?" was asked simultaneously. Wiggins had simply asked, whereas Deirdre had said it for the sake of translation for her younger friend, who was now beeping even more insistently.

All the same, the result was rather comical and earned a small smile from Watson, who was looking up at them from the screen.

"That was my purpose in calling; however, you would need to be able to get to New Scotland Yard in about 15 minutes. Could you manage that?"

Deirdre beamed. "If we start now we can be there in ten!"

"Very well, I shall see you all here in ten minutes."

So with renewed vigor the three friends grabbed coats, hoverboards and goggles, and after reaching the bottom of the stairs began careening down the street at full blast. Their determined smiles showed the hopeful feeling in their hearts that maybe it would turn out right after all.

Besides, if anyone could find Holmes, they could.


Chapter Ten: Dun Dun Dun Duh

Holmes did his best to ignore the sharp pain in his chest as he was dragged down the hallway by his right arm. He could hear the heavy steps of the guard echoing along, interrupted by the occasional grunt or rude remark.

Holmes tripped awkwardly along beside his conveyor. He could feel his face growing redder and redder with humiliation. This was not an ideal position to be in. It was very difficult to walk when you couldn’t see where you were going, and being kneed in the ribs hadn’t helped at all.

Back in the cell when the guard had turned on him, he had heard Rowland scream; and then his attacker had flexed suddenly as if in a lot of pain.

Then Holmes had heard a muffled bang and felt the vibration from an impact course through the metal floor under his feet. He had listened helplessly, doubled over in pain, unable to do anything to help his young friend.

It was beyond frustrating! He was cut off from the world around him. He would be very worried if he had heard an ionizer go off, but as it was, Rowland was probably just dazed or unconscious.

He hoped that he was not being moved to another cell as he rather enjoyed the company of that young street Arab, and would not wish her to come to any more harm than she already had.

She had once one of the richest children in the world. When he had said her father was ‘very wealthy’, Holmes had been aware that he had been making something of an understatement.

He wondered how it must have been for her at the age of eleven to survive such horrible ill-treatment from her parents. What kind of people would manipulate their own daughter to such an extent, and then allow her to roam the streets of New London without money or protection?

When Rowland had disappeared there had been no inquiry. It had all been hushed up. He had not even learned of her disappearance from his history vids but had had to ask Lestrade about it specially.

What a scandal it would make if the child were found and discovered to be completely capable of, and willing, to tell her story the re-

He wanted to slap himself. Of course, that was it! The girl's parents had been living in complete comfort for four years now, their past actions buried under the weight of their pocketbooks. If the girl were to be found and then told her story, they would be arrested, publicly censured, and humiliated. Their lives would be ruined.

A perfect breeding ground for blackmail. The captor must be planning to use the girl as a means of funding for whatever dark purpose he had in store. Limitless wealth in the very small stubborn package of the girl he had just left behind in their cell.

What a fool he had been not to see it before! ‘Or rather, hear it,’ he reminded himself darkly.

The whole time he had been thinking this over in his head, the guard had been pulling him roughly by the arm down what must still be the same hallway. He could hear sharp crashing sounds as if two pieces of metal were being bashed together at high speeds. It was too high in pitch to be a hammer and nails. Also, he doubted very much whether tools of that kind were used in this century, or at least not nearly as often as they had been in his.

Now the guard came to a sudden halt and pulling Holmes with him, made his way around a tight corner, at which time the temperature began to climb at an immense rate.

Going from freezing to pleasantly warm in a few seconds, he heard another door slide open and felt the heat of a very strong light source somewhere above his upturned face.

He was pushed violently forward and shoved into a chair, at which point he felt his wrists and ankles being cuffed securely to what must be a heavy wooden chair, the kind used in the lunchrooms of late twenty-first century warehouses.

Holmes knew better than to struggle, when he could still hear the breathing of the guard who had brought him here, so close to his right arm.

He instead concentrated his energy on trying to figure out where he was from the sounds and textures around him. Not an easy task, as his hands were completely restricted to the arms of his chair.

He knew that in the past there had been detectives who had, because of similar difficulties to his own, used their other senses to great advantage. However, that took years of practice and skill and he had not yet had time even to master the technique of walking properly without his sight.

He hoped he would not be blind long enough to learn.

Suddenly the sound of a light step broke in on his train of thought. He had heard that step before; it was forever branded upon his memory.

Moriarty.


Chapter Eleven: Where, Oh, Where Has Inspector Stayword Gone?

Lestrade sighed as she pulled up to warehouse numbers 1,2 and 4 on her list. Number 3 had been torn down years ago after it was pronounced structurally unsound. She grumbled to herself, 'At least that was one less they had to look in.'

She had been forced to let Stayword sit in the front passenger seat because he had refused to cram in the back with the Irregulars; and after her suggesting it, had also refused to stay behind.

Now she wished that she hadn’t told him where they were going, even if it meant braving all Grayson’s wrath. The fat lump had spent the whole three-hour ride whining about kids being included in his investigation. He seemed to have forgotten "the compudroid’s" earlier comments.

Watson didn’t seem to mind at all. She had rather hoped for another outburst from him but that, as far as Watson’s extremely pleasant attitude went, seemed out of the question, at least within the foreseeable future.

The six piled out of the police cruiser, and turning to the Irregulars, Lestrade informed them of her plan of action.

"Okay, Wiggins and Tennyson will take number one; Watson and I will take two; and Deidre can go with Inspector Stayword."

"But, Inspector!" Deidre protested.

Lestrade was about to open her mouth to silence the twelve year old when Watson intervened.

"I would be happy to trade places with Deidre and go with Inspector Stayword."

"You would?!" was said (or beeped) at the same time by everyone. Even self-righteous Stayword joined in the dumbfounded exclamation.

"Indeed. That is, unless the inspector would prefer the company of young Deidre here."

Lestrade, sensing impending danger but not wanting to pass up such a good chance, gave Watson a questioning look and shrugged her shoulders.

"Okay, Deidre can come with me, then."

"Excellent. Let's all meet back here in an hour," Watson continued cheerily.

And with one more suspicious glance at Watson they all went their assigned ways.

This formation was used for the duration of the day, at the end of which the tired crusaders all piled back into the police cruiser and began to head back towards the middle of New London.

There was a general atmosphere of disappointment, worry, and in the case of Lestrade, frustration. Every minute they had wasted looking in empty warehouses was another minute in which Holmes could have been killed.

Perhaps they needed to try another line of investigation. They had done all they could that day and now the light was beginning to fade.

It was when they were about halfway back to New Scotland Yard headquarters when Lestrade realized that there was something wrong. She looked back and saw only the three Irregulars sitting in the back seat. Watson was up front with her.

"Hey, wait a sec. Where’s Stayword?"

The result of her question was an explosion of giggles and beeping from the back seat. Watson however remained silent.

"Watson? What did you do with Inspector Stayword?"

She would not have phrased the question that way, had she not seen his mock-innocent expression.

"I am sure I have no idea what you mean, Inspector."

Now she was sure he had done something.

"Okay, try this. Do you know where Inspector Stayword is?"

"I might have an idea."

"Oh, and what would that be?" She was trying to look serious but was not doing a very good job. The two oldest Irregulars continued to giggle while Tennyson had a glint in his eyes not unlike that of Watson’s.

"Well, the most logical place to look for him would, I suppose, be back where we just came from. Perhaps he forgot what time it was, or lost his way in one of the buildings."

Lestrade turned the cruiser around.

"And which warehouse do you think he would be most likely to have got lost in?"

"Well, I might have to think about that for a moment. We did look in so many."

"Take your time."

"Hmmmm."

"Just out of curiosity, weren’t you supposed to stay with him?"

"Oh yes, well, he does tend to wander off," said Watson, assuming a mock-guilty expression.

"Of course. Well, you’ll let me know when you remember which one you last saw him in, right?"

"Of course, Inspector."

"Well, you have plenty of time to think. It’s going to be another two hours until we can get there, and I really don’t want to be looking for that little zed until 3:30 tomorrow morning."

This was one ride she was going to enjoy almost as much as she would the expression on her obese partner's face.

She allowed herself a smile. However, some small part of her was nudging her in the ribs, reminding her that she would enjoy Watson’s revenge on British Intelligence much more if Holmes were here to share in the fun.

She pushed the thought out of her mind.

She would see that he would be.


Chapter Twelve: Bumping Into A Clue

Inspector Stayword slouched against the cold metal wall, grumbling to himself. He should have known better then to trust that stupid machine!

They were all the same, useless hunks of scrap metal! One would almost think that that worthless compudroid had locked him in here on purpose! Well, it didn’t matter whether he had or not. It and those meddling kids had to have realized he was gone by now and were no doubt looking for him, but zed, they were taking their time! He could just see the worried expressions on their faces. No doubt they were combing every inch of the searched warehouses, frantically looking for any trace of him.

That stupid woman inspector didn’t know how to do her own job! How had she ever become an inspector in the first place!

There was no denying that she was attractive. No, one couldn’t deny such things but she had been inexcusably rude to him!

Women shouldn’t even be allowed to be in the police force in his opinion. It was man's work! Women were simply too emotional under stress to think straight! They should be the desk clerks and secretaries but certainly not field officers.

He grumbled to himself again. All he had tried to do was give her some useful pointers, show her how real detective work was done, and how had she treated him!?

She had gone and invited a bunch of kids! KIDS! To take part in his investigation.

It wasn’t his fault that this missing Victorian idiot was stupid enough to get himself abducted! No wonder he always got to New Scotland Yard's answers before they did! New Scotland Yard was even more incompetent than that brainless dolt!

That dead detective had picked the easy road to fame! Stayword hit the floor with his fist in frustration. He hated pompous people! Especially ones who thought themselves better then others, just because they had been dead for the last two hundred years! And now here he was wasting his time trying to find the man! Or at least he would be if that wretched robot hadn’t triggered the locking mechanism for this blasted storeroom!

Stayword adjusted his fat bottom on the floor and heaved a sigh of annoyance.

He was about to start grumbling to himself again when he realized that he could feel a steady pulse through the floor beneath him.

Pressing his ear to the ground he also heard a sound -- almost as if someone were hammering nails into a piece of metal, but higher pitched.

Great! The whole zedding building was probably about to collapse, with him in it! He gulped. He had warned that Inspector Lestrade about searching old places like this without official help!

And now look what happened when she hadn’t followed his advice!

Stayword hauled himself to his feet and began to pace the tiny room.

He was just about to start pounding on the door in the hope that his partner and company had returned to get him when he tripped over something protruding from the floor and landed on his knees, wincing in pain. It was hard to see in the almost complete darkness of the windowless room, he groped around until he found the object his foot had caught on.

A handle.

The handle of a trap door.

Pulling with all his might, he wrenched the thing open; and looking around, he began to lower himself down the hole. They should really make such things bigger to allow for different body types! he thought indignantly. You would have to be thinner then a stringbean to fit through!

Suddenly he lost his footing and fell unceremoniously through the hole and landed on the floor underneath his little prison. To his surprise it was lighter down here.

Looking up, he saw that it was brightly lit on the ceiling by strip lighting. He was about to call out when he heard something, a sound like the kind made by someone in serious pain. As he listened, it got closer and closer.

It was at that moment Stayword realized that calling out might not be such a good idea, after all. He began frantically looking about for a hiding place -- no easy feat for someone of his mass.

Turning around, he saw an opening behind a rusty old electrical unit just big enough to hold him. So hidden, he looked back out into the hallway he had just left, and almost cried out in his surprise.

A tough-looking middle-sized man was dragging along another, more ragged-looking fellow by the arm.

The latter was very tall and thin with a shock of brownish blonde hair which was matted down with dried blood. He seemed to be limping and from the way he was breathing in sharp gasps, Stayword could see that he had several broken ribs.

There was something else about this miserable-looking figure that arrested the inspector's attention. He wasn’t looking where he was going; in fact, he didn’t seem to be looking anywhere. His eyes passed over the walls and the man holding him without focusing on either.

It seemed to Stayword that there were two possible reasons why. Either the man was too delirious to notice them or he just couldn’t see.

If the blank look in those grey eyes of his was anything to go by, it was probably the latter.

Stayword stared at the two, guard and prisoner, and wondered how in the world such an ironic thing could have happened.

The great Sherlock Holmes going blind!

Oh yes, Stayword grinned, he had found the object of his investigation, the man whose disappearance had been the cause of all this embarrassment.

Sherlock Holmes was pulled past Stayword’s hiding place, tripping over his own feet and those of the guard.

After they had disappeared from sight, Stayword slipped out from his chosen cover and began to follow them down the underground hall as silently as he could.


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