Ambitious

by Maureen S. O'Brien (mobrien at dnaco.net)
7/13/01 (posted 3/25/02)
"In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task."
-- Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

When he heard the knock at the front door of the old house in the country, neither Holmes' grasp on his ioniser nor his aim at Professor Moriarty wobbled. Unfortunately, Moriarty's arm and weapon were just as steady.
"Dear me," Holmes said mildly. "I wonder whom it could be at this time of night."
"Reinforcements? They won't help you, Holmes. Devil take me, but I'll never let the police...."
"So you swore before. No, the police won't be here for ten minutes or so," Holmes agreed. "But then, Fenwick should be arriving at about the same time, since you called for backup at the same time I did. So who the deuce is at the door?"
The knock came again.
"Who's there?" Holmes demanded without turning.
"A friend," a man's voice assured him. "I've come to help you with Moriarty."
"How's that?"
"If you'll permit me, I'll go around the back way and get him. All right?"
Moriarty's eyes widened with something like recognition and fear. Holmes still did not turn, but his eyes narrowed. "No. How did you know that we were here, sir?"
"I saw you both come up here to this old house. Now, if you don't mind...."
"I do. Why are you here, sir? The truth, please."
"I want that Moriarty to get what's coming to him, that's all." The voice sounded flatly sincere. "He always gets away, even from you, Mr. Holmes. And I heard you say his guys were coming to rescue him. You know what that means. Do you want him to get away again?"
Holmes didn't reply. His nose twitched and his nostrils flared. "I smell a rotten egg," he observed.
"No," Moriarty said wearily. "The odors are chemically similar, I admit. But it is brimstone."
A chuckle came from outside the door. "So you remember my voice?"
"All too well," Moriarty snarled. But still his ioniser stayed steady. In the privacy of his thoughts, Holmes admitted that he was impressed. "But you can't come in. Not past the crosses they built into these old houses' doors and the blessings they set on them."
"I can't come much of anywhere unless folks let me," the voice said. "But most people like having me around. So, Mr. Holmes." The voice was very even. "You know who I am. I've been after the Professor even longer than you have."
"Oh, I'm sure you have been," Holmes couldn't help saying. Moriarty shot him an angry look.
"So this is a win-win situation," the voice continued. "Think about it. Your friend the Inspector gets that promotion she so well deserves, after all she's learned and done. Your friend Watson gets to write his best article of his career on you -- and it will win him both awards and respect for his kind, I assure you. Meanwhile, you will have fame and fortune, not to mention the influence to change those things in the world which need changing. So why not let me in? The enemy of your enemy is your friend."
Moriarty's ioniser stayed level, as did his voice. His face was immobile. His eyes looked like a trapped animal's, but still he insisted, "I will not beg, Holmes. Let him in and be done with it."
Holmes rolled his eyes at Moriarty. Even now, the man's pride was everything to him. Then Holmes told the voice outside, "You're nobody's friend, sir -- certainly not mine. Please leave. I would say 'Retro me, Sathanas', but it seems a bit redundant at this point."
"But he'll get away!" said the voice.
"Possibly," Holmes admitted, "but that's my problem."
"You'll regret this," the voice promised. "No wealth. No power. You'll die as just another countryman on a farm."
Holmes smiled. "I ask for nothing better," he said. His face darkened. "Now go, before I start naming names that will make you."
There was no noisy flash or bang. The night outside simply fell quiet. After a few seconds, the wind began to blow the sulfuric smell away. Inside the house, the standoff continued as before.
"Why?" said Moriarty.
"Because I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy," Holmes said. "And I would rather not end up in a deeper abyss than the Reichenbach's."
The quiet sound of hovercars carried a long way in the country. Holmes could hear at least one cruiser -- Lestrade's -- and at least one speedster -- Fenwick's. "Here comes your chauffeur," he said.
"Yes," said Moriarty. His lips twitched with irritation. "So, am I to be 'rescued' just in time to die in a crash with that daredevil Lestrade? No, I think not." He threw his ioniser at Holmes. "Here. I surrender."
Holmes' hand flashed up to catch it. His brain, for once, was slower. "What's that you say?"
"I would far rather fall into your hands than his," Moriarty said, gesturing at the door. "I ask only that they send me to prison instead of altering my brain."
"I don't know how they'll sentence you," Holmes said. "But I'll do my best to put in a word, and turning yourself in will be a point in your favor."
And so they waited together, master detective and master criminal, while Holmes smiled to think that he was helping Moriarty escape.
"My soul has escaped, like a bird from the hunter's net."
I wrote this a while back as a sort of tribute to the late Manly Wade Wellman. It was supposed to go up at Halloween, but.... Anyway, here it is.

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