The Singular Affair of the Second Moriarty

Chapter Three

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
Muggy unconsciousness gradually released its hold on Beth. Her head throbbed, her mouth was desert-dry and she could taste dry blood on her lower lip.
"Ah, Miss Lestrade, awake at last." Water was pushed against her mouth and she drank gratefully.
"I apologise for the rough treatment but you would not come along quietly, now would you?"
Memory slid into gear. There had been four of them; one had a stick. Her eyes opened painfully; one felt slightly swollen. She was in a dark room on some kind of low camp bed; on a table next to her some food had been placed along with a bottle of water. Beth swung her legs over the side -- more than a little wobbly, no condition to fight -- a little time to rest, perhaps, and then she would see.
"Ah, you are looking around now, arenít you." A man stepped out of the shadows. He was as tall as Holmes if not a little taller, a large Roman nose jutted out of a pinched and sallow face, eyes which were almost black stared down at her as one would watch an insect, with interest but also the desire to kill. He smiled; white teeth flashed briefly and then disappeared again.
"As you can see, no windows; and take my word that you are a long way below the New London smog. There is no way out of her apart from the door, and you will see no one but myself and the droid who has been programmed to look after you -- well, keep you alive, at least."
Lestrade glared at him. "Why have you brought me here, what do you want?"
"Holmes, my dear; I want Holmes, and then Moriarty, and then maybe that snivelling little wretch Tessa who was stupid enough to interfere; but maybe I will not kill her before I have taken the other side of her face, yes...no." He sighed and smacked a cane against the floor.
A droid ambled in; it was cheap and nasty version of a serving compudroid and it carried a tray. "It has been programmed to deal with your minor cuts and bruises, and the panel on the back has been welded shut for your inconvenience. Now if you will excuse me, my dear, I have a call to make. Please behave yourself or I shall have to buy shackles, and that will not be pleasant for you."
He turned to go but Beth called after him. "Who are you?"
He stopped but did not turn in the doorway. "My name is the Shadow." With that he left and the door shut firmly behind him.
The taxi pulled up in a dark back street, garbage and water churned under its wheels. Holmes and Watson got out just in time to see Tessa bring the skyboard to a hovering stop by the taxi, she hoped off and flicked it up and under her arm. Holmes got out some credits but Tessa got there first.
"Thatíll be thirty credits, mate."
"Thatís a bit steep," mumbled Watson in surprise.
"Hey, itís late, and this is not a good area you brought me to. Iíll not pick up another fare until the centre again unless I want my throat slit."
"Thirtyís fine," said Tessa, digging out a wallet, "my shout."
"Young lady, I insist..." protested Holmes, but Tessa shot him a warning glance, her visor now raised.
"Keep the change."
The taxi driver chortled. "Cheers, mate."
When the driver lifted off, Tessa led them further down the alley. "I insisted on paying because I donít want the driver to remember you. I gave him an extra ten credits; drivers who earn extra cash round here tend to know it means forget who you have just driven."
Watson looked around the street. "Is it er...rough here then?"
Tessa shrugged. "No more than most of outer New London; you might get your wallet pinched but as long as you stick to the streets you wonít get your throat cut. You increase your chances of staying alive if you pack a little punch." She casually let them catch a glint of a stunner on her wrist. "Simple but effective, I find."
She turned into a doorway and fitted a key to the lock. "Are you paying for the room or breaking in?"
Holmes coughed. "We will pay, Miss Moriarty if you donít mind. We have yet to resort to the level of thieves."
She shrugged. "Suit yourselves."
The wallpaper was peeling from the walls inside and the front desk was rusting at the edges; behind the desk was a large tarnished mirror. Holmes hit a bell as Tessa moved into a corner of the room. A man appeared from behind the desk. He was bald and gave Holmes the impression of an oversized rat.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" His voice was oily but his eyes jerked over them in small quick movements.
"We would like to hire a room for a couple of days."
"Ah, yes, we have several free rooms: 3, 26 and 41." Holmes coughed and Tessa held up four and one fingers in the mirror behind the man.
"Weíll take room forty-one."
"Ah, the executive suite. An excellent choice, sir, and a double room for those unexpected visitors, with a charge socket for droids, may I add."
In the mirror Tessa was shaking slightly with laughter as Holmes signed the visitors book.
"Thank you, Mr...Saunders. May I ask what brings you to this part of town?"
Holmes flashed a business card in front of the man's face with speed. "Health inspectors, my good man; weíre here to examine the restaurants and hotels in this area...in detail."
The rat man went pale and stammered out his next few words. "Umm, yes, well, good luck and all that. Iíll, um, just show you up to your rooms now, shall I?"
Holmes smiled. "That would be appreciated."
A few minutes after the rat man left, Tessa knocked on the door of their room. She had changed out of the black jumpsuit and into a red and blue striped one; her hair was now carefully combed to hide the mask. Holmes was seated in a dog-eared chair while Watson made tea. After they were all seated Holmes leaned forward and rested his hands against each other.
"I have," he started, "the beginnings of a plan, but I will need the help of one of my young friends."
Tessa looked up from her tea, her eyes widened. "It could," she started, rubbing under her hair, "be dangerous for them if you go."
Sherlock smiled and his eyes sparkled. "Ah, but I will not be going. I assume you have at least some skill in disguise."
Tessa straightened and her shoulders tensed. "Iím...not good with people, especially children." Once again her hand strayed to the black mask which hid under her hair.
Holmes' smile vanished and a sympathetic look appeared on his face. Tessa stiffened. Here it comes, she thought, the trickery, the attempt to convince me my face wonít be noticed.
"My friend." Holmes paused, "will not care about your face. And we will hide it under a wig for the moment. The Shadow may be looking for me in disguise but I suspect he will not be concentrating on you at the moment, especially if he thinks you escaped tonight." Holmes leaned closer to her. "Without the fog, Miss Moriarty, could you follow him?"
Tessa looked up from contemplating the horror of a visit to a strange house. "With the fog I could follow him."
"And could you refrain from attacking him long enough to allow me to get Lestrade out?"
"Yes, to save the life of another I will refrain from ending his at once." Tessaís eyes hardened. "But I will end his life, if it costs me mine in the attempt; he will die."
Holmes shuddered. "Such words from one so young."
"And who has lost so much, so soon. Mr Holmes, prison will not hold him; only death will punish him sufficiently." She got up. "And he needs to be punished, Mr Holmes. Good night, Mr Holmes, Dr Watson."
As Tessa left, Watson shook his head. "Are we really going to let her become a killer, Holmes?"
Holmes was silent for a minute and then shook his head. "Not while we breathe, Watson...or in your case, use up battery."

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