The Eighth Guest

Chapter Fifteen

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
5/12/02
The Dragon was driving. Peter Ling threw the car round bends and through late night traffic as if it were his skyboard. Beside him, Holmes sat in the passenger seat -- the in-car computer locked onto the street maps -- feeding in the details from his earlier conversation with Tessa Moriarty. He knew every alley and back street of London. He had walked them more times than he cared to remember after one criminal or another, recruiting those lowlifes who could be his eyes and ears, keeping tabs on the rises and falls of the street gangs. He knew how real the danger was out there after dark. Things had progressed from the Victorian era, and it wasn't just the weapons that had moved on. In outer London people killed without thought or question; they sold what they could, destroyed what they couldn't and moved on, quickly and silently, like a disease. The phone gangs weren't the worst of what was lurking in the darkness beyond the main streets, but they were still dangerous.
The computer locked onto a street. "Ah, here we are. Indian takeaway, laundrette, metallic nightclub, all based round an alley not half a mile from the main slipway into the residential area of outer London. Left here."
"Here we go," Ling growled and pulled the car into a sidestream of traffic. He glared solidly at any car who dared to be in front of him; his driving nearly matched Lestrade's.

 

Tessa pushed her back to the wall. She was beginning to feel faint; her brain felt muggy. She tried to shake it off; it only partially worked. She could hear the men moving about in front of her. They were unsure. Kidnapping was probably not something they usually bothered with; it implied a certain skill in keeping their victim alive. She pushed back until her shoulders scraped along the grimy brickwork of old London stone. In order to keep herself upright she would have to use the wall to steady her. The Phoenix began to burn again; she focused on it like a bright torch in the darkness.
Suddenly she heard movement to her left. Using the wall as an aid, she gave the man a kick to the stomach and followed it up with another to the head. She was rewarded with a crack as her shoe hit chin; he fell back howling. Another to her right and straight in front. She rolled left, keeping in contact with the wall. The first man hit the wall arms outstretched and reeled backwards unconscious. The second jumped over the first and was greeted with a fist to the neck as he came down. He collapsed to his knees, choking. But she had been concentrating too hard on fighting the others, and now someone grabbed her by the throat.
"That weren't bad fer a blind boarder, but now you'll pay."
The fist was like a freight train ramming into the side of her face. She reeled and fell to her knees, trying to block the pain and stay conscious. Her nose felt wet; she could taste blood. Somebody grabbed her arms and wrenched them upwards behind her back. As she stood, someone punched her in the stomach. She tried to double over but her arms held her back. Again someone punched her and again, until they finally let go and she fell to the floor, coughing and her head spinning. The gang were laughing and whooping around her like a pack of monkeys. Her head felt like it was on fire; her ears throbbed. Her hearing enhancer hissed as though in the faint background a skycar was setting down somewhere. Every sound felt magnified a hundred times for a split second and then died, her hearing enhancer broken. One of the gang grabbed her arms again and pulled her up, still wrenching and disorientated.
And then she fell. She heard the screaming but as if from a very long way away. She hit the dirt and grime of the alley almost face first, groaned and rolled onto her side. There was another scream, and silver flashed, then bright orange. One of the men fell with a splash next to her and didn't move. With her aid broken she couldn't hear enough to pinpoint sounds, but her brain just managed to fight through the mugginess to catch snatches of what was happening around her. It was carnage. Screams echoed in her head, flames roared, silver flashed and now and again there was the thud of falling people. She tried to block off the noise; out of habit she squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't even want to see the shadows of the slaughter.
She couldn't say when the noises stopped; it seemed like forever, even though it could have only been a few minutes. There were footsteps splashing through the street water. She felt half asleep. Nothing felt real, not even the cold wet ground seeping through her dress. She felt a hand against her cheek, her injured cheek, and very gently she was pulled up into a half-sitting position. In the background someone was saying something she couldn't understand. All she could think was that Peter and Holmes had finally found her, that she was safe. Her hand was lifted up to touch a frowning face. Her cold fingers were pulled over rough skin, high cheeks, bushy sideburns and...her grandfather's nose. She half-sobbed and was pulled closer, like some kind of frightened child too tired to fight. A hand stroked her scarred cheek again. She felt hot breath on her ear.
"Tessa... I'm sorry...I couldn't stand by." She felt confused. Sorry -- sorry for what? Her grandfather had just saved her life. She buried herself further into his chest. Her cheek brushed a waistcoat. She drew her head back. Her grandfather had always worn jumpers...but then she remembered through a haze of far memories...her grandfather was dead long ago, and there was only one other person with a nose like that.
She sobbed again and shook in pain and frustration. The arms pulled her closer but she pushed back, weakly. When she spoke her voice was shaky and seemed to come from far away.
"You...promised!"
There was an intake of breath. The arms holding her became stiff and cold. "Tessa...."
"No...matter what...you promised." The arms released her. She slumped to the floor once again. She tried to stay awake but as her head touched the concrete her eyes fell closed. Her body shook and then stilled as her mind, body, heart and soul gave in to the shadow-filled, muggy darkness of unconsciousness. As she fell under the haze she heard the arch-nemesis of the world's greatest consulting detective -- master criminal, crime lord, heartbroken husband, lost father, and unwanted great, great, great, great, great-grandfather -- say one last thing.
"Goodbye forever, Tessa. Whatever your surname may become in time, to me you'll always be the last...the true last of the Moriartys."

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