The Eighth Guest
Chapter Sixteenby TT (a.m.tilmouth at lycos.co.uk)
Holographic signs were everywhere, advertising everything from
cheap food and cheaper drink to several nightclubs Holmes recognised
from various police records. The air was thick and gritty with dirt
from the industrial area nearby. Everything looked black and grey under
the weak glare of flickering streetlights.
Peter thrust the car into a spiral dive through the maze of rooftop
walkways, traffic signals and holo signs, and brought it screaming to
a halt outside an Indian takeaway. Holmes was the first out of the car
but only by a split second; he brandished his cane like a sword his
eyes flicking back and forth and his mouth drawn tight. Peter slammed
the car door and vaulted over the bonnet, fists clenched, face grim,
Holmes ignored the question but motioned Ling to follow him.
The walk down the street was slow as the great detective took in the
details and it was only when they reached a laundrette that they saw
the first signs of trouble.
The ground was scorched and the remains of one of the restaurant
jackets had been thrown aside, the back burnt and the thick insulation
melted. Holmes bent and touched the floor. "Glitter...and blood; she
couldn't have got far."
The Dragon growled."If he's hurt her, I'll kill him."
Holmes shook his head. "I tried it once, it doesn't seem to be a permanent
solution... But think, Mr Ling...eyes and brains. If Professor
Moriarty had wanted to hurt your fiancÚ he would have dropped her
from the sky car, not dragged her all the way here. But downtown
London after dark... we have to find her quickly."
They walked quickly but they didn't have to go far. A tattooed
hand sprawled out from behind the corner of the shop. Holmes bent down
and felt for a pulse. "Dead -- broken neck, I think, Mr Ling... Mr
Holmes turned to look down the alley. Several more bodies littered the
alley; someone had used a smiler on at least one of them. On the ground a
flamer lay abandoned and its scorch marks were everywhere. Ling
walked through the alley like the sole survivor of a war; it was only
when he crouched down that Holmes saw what he had spotted amongst the
carnage. Someone had covered her with a long coat. Two flat red shoes stuck out
from the bottom; hair spread out in the puddle below her head.
Holmes bounded over. "DON'T TOUCH HER." He snatched Ling's arm back
as he reached out to turn her over. "We don't know what's wrong with her."
Peter nodded dumbly and tucked his arms under his armpits as if to
restrain them, staring at the coat like a frightened child, his eyes never
moving. "Is she...?"
Holmes gingerly slid two fingers under the coat collar and
felt for a pulse, it seemed like an age before he spoke again.
"She's alive...and her neck's not broken, get the coat off all and
help me get her out of this puddle." There was silence as they moved
the coat off, uncovering the bruises and cuts, Holmes wrapped his coat
round her and Ling lifted Tessa off the wet ground.
"Who'd do this, Holmes, if Moriarty's not responsible? She's unarmed and
blind for heaven's sake, what kind of sicko...?"
Behind them something moved. Holmes and Peter turned together,
Tessa's limp arms swaying with the movement. One of the bodies
littering the floor a second ago was upright and holding the
flamer. The man was huge, bald and his head was pierced with small
rings. He was covered in the metallic grafting that had become the
fashion among street gangs; his arm was badly burnt and his
clothing scorched but he stood firm.
"I think you have the answer to your question, Mr Ling."
"Don't ya' move a muscle if yer knows what's good fer yer. Give me ya
wallets and yer palmers."
Neither of them moved. He shook the flamer at them again.
"Now or ya will regret it, I've lost 'alf me gang tonight. I'm leaving
with something worth credits, or yer not."
Holmes stepped forward blocking Peter and Tessa from view.
"As I recall, the flamer is very effective at close range, cheap and easy
to conceal. In fact, it only has one disadvantage; it only has enough
fuel for eight bursts before it empties." He smashed his cane into the
hand holding the flamer, sending the weapon skidding over the alley
"Guess how many scorch marks I counted!"
For a second the man looked confused, but only for a second. Roaring,
he charged Holmes, tree trunk arms outstretched, oversized feet
pounding the floor. Holmes waited patiently until his assailant almost
had him in his grasp, then sidestepped and brought the cane down hard
over the back of the man's neck, pushing his face into the alley slime
on the floor. The man thrashed for a few seconds, but it appeared
Holmes had found a pressure point on the neck and the thin tip of the
cane was more than enough to hold the brute down.
"It doesn't take much intelligence to deduce the scorch marks all
around us came from the same device you tried to rob us with, but what
about the blades? Moron that you seem to be, I doubt even you would
open fire on your own 'gang' unless you had something to gain from
The man on the floor tried to spit at Holmes's shoe but ended up with
a mouthful of alley water as Holmes forced his head onto the floor
"I suggest you answer the question... let me give you some incentive.
Your friends are dead, whoever did this thinks you are also; so unless
you want your picture plastered all over the news screens tomorrow as
the only survivor of this massacre, I suggest you talk and quickly."
It took the thug a minute to think about it, his brow creased with
concentration. Peter shifted Tessa into what he hoped was a more
comfortable position; her breathing was shallow and her hand was
swathed in bloody cloth. He felt wretched. All the times he had
sworn he would protect her and now, when put to the test, he had
failed. He watched Holmes and the thug in front of him as Holmes
increased the pressure on the man's neck; it was all the incentive
"Some old guy, freaky black and white hair and his little bug-eyed
friend, they waltzed into the alley firing smilers everywhere. Then Rat
gets hit and goes crazy with the flamer, so when I gets hit I falls, ya
see, and the man throws a coat over the boarder chick like she's ready
for the meat wagon and zeds off. Then you come, that's...."
He didn't get the last words out; blue light exploded over the thug
and Holmes bounced sideways. Another of the 'bodies' stood up, holding a
modified version of the stunner; this one didn't stun. He had grafting
like his unfortunate friend but was skinny and half-bent like an old
man; his purple hair was smoking and pinkish burns were over most of
his face. He was grinning insanely, twitching as if some puppeteer
with the shakes were pulling all the strings at once. Peter ducked
behind some trashcans, the only shelter the alley had to offer,
pulling in Tessa's legs and arms after him and folding her behind his
own body. She was too weak for him to leave and help Holmes. The
detective was on his own.
Holmes was left out in the open, his alert eyes darting left and
right, looking for a solution. The first two blows of the gun Holmes
deflected with his cane, and then that too was torched. He ducked as
the third shot missed his head by inches, but the light temporarily
blinded him in the dark. Now he had the same problem as Tessa had had
before him. In a world full of shadows the wall was the only safe
place to be...but it was the most open.
The man in front of him started laughing -- hollow jerky laughter, the
manic kind that a year on Jokesticks could do to the sanest of men.
Holmes blinked to try and clear the light from his eyes, then shut
them. Instead he concentrated on the sounds around him. Rat began to
"Mrrrr Policeman...I got Mrrrrr Policeeeeeman. Clever old Rat,
yesssss, clever Ratty, good Rat. Rizz is going to be so pleased with
clever old Ratty, give him credits, lots of credits, more sticks
become more powerful, brilliant, good Rat."
Holmes had heard this kind of babble before. Jokesticks made you
think you were invincible while they slowly rotted your brain
from the inside, fizzing out neurons and synaptic pathways as the
dose increased; the joke was most definitely on you. Holmes spread
himself against the walls, remembering the alley before his
temporary blindness. To his left was the alley entrance. If he
could lead the addict away from it Tessa and Ling would have a
chance to escape. He started to move slowly right. He remembered
some dustbins; if he could get a lid it might give him some
protection until the weapon ran out.
"I don't think your friend will be giving you anything, Rat..."
Rat waved the gun again.
"Shutup, shutup, shutup, Mr Police, Rizz is fine...just tired, very
tired. But he can sleep now, and I get the credits when he wakes. KEEP
There was an electric buzz to his right; Holmes felt the static in his
bones. The bolt hadn't hit him but the aftershock of it was enough to
numb his arm slightly.
"Of course, of course...but don't you think you had better check with
Rizz if he needs Mr Policeman for a hostage, hmm, don't you think you'd
better ask him?"
There was a pause in the babble. Holmes hoped that had confused Rat a
little; stick addicts were not notorious thinkers. Holmes blinked;
dark shapes were starting to emerge now. He could just make out the
shape of Rat in front of him. Unfortunately Rat seemed to have come to
the wrong conclusion.
"Can't ask Rizz, he's sleeping now...yes, sleeping. You want me to wake
him up...you want Rat to get in trouble. Bad Mr Policeman, naughty Mr
Policeman, now Rat must punish you...."
Holmes tensed as he heard the buzz of the weapon and leapt
sideways, getting soaked with alley water in the process. He froze
for a second, waiting to feel the electricity against his arm
again. Instead of the numbing sensation he noticed a buzzing noise
in the background, Holmes blinked furiously, trying to focus.
Someone large was coming towards him.
On to Part 17!
Back to part 15.
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