The Fall of the Phoenix

Chapter Eight

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)

Let the eye drift along the line of Sure Lake: itís after dawn, itís cold and dew has fallen. Let the eye fall on a small group of people walking along the lakeshore; let us assume theyíre searching.

Holmes walked in silence with both eyes firmly transfixed on the ground in front of him. The shoreline was wet and muddy and Lestrade found herself wishing for high boots as the mud squelched into her shoes again, although the alternative was to drag herself through the brambles as Holmes did occasionally.

She risked a quick glance back at Tennyson; he hadnít said much since theyíd picked him up that morning, and his Aunt had looked worried. The other Irregulars, Wiggins and Deidre, had been left in New London because they both had work to do that day. Lestrade began wishing they had come; Tennyson would have benefited from their company by the looks of it. Watson was around but further inland where he wasnít likely to sink in the mud, Lestrade wished she thought up that excuse.

'Whuurrrrr.' Tennyson pointed in the sky; a dot was heading towards them at high speed.

Holmes kept his eyes on the ground. 'This is a racing lake, son; even today people must be practising. Aha.' Holmes squatted down over the mud and followed something with a finger; without a word he began heading inland. Lestrade stared at the bare ground sighed and followed, Tennyson tagging along behind with a curious look in his eyes.

As they headed further into the scrub and woodland that surrounded the lake, Holmes was a frenzy of activity. His eyes seemed to go everywhere around them; his steps were quick and decisive -- he was on the trail. Eventually he stopped and began pacing around a clearing in the woods, knelt down, and rubbed some earth between his fingers before sniffing it.

'What is it, Holmes?' Lestrade came over to him and stared at the patch of ground. Tennyson waited.

'Well, I now know how the escape was carried out. Two persons pulled an underwater craft out of the lake; the craft was small and since the tracks disappear after the lake, I deduce some kind of hovering trailer. The two persons walked the trailer back to here and unloaded its cargo -- at which point she must have shown signs of waking...since they chloroformed her in a hurry, spilling some on the floor. The ground also shows marks from a large sky car, which they all left in.

The bushes to one side of them began to move, and Watson emerged...followed by Peter Ling.

'Whurrr?'

Watson had been pulling Ling along by the arm. 'Hello, Holmes; look who I found.'

Holmes smiled. 'Ah, yes, the early morning sky boarder. How are you, Mr Ling? By the looks of it, you didnít sleep well.'

Ling managed to snatch his arm away from Watson. 'No, I did not sleep well and I object to being dragged around by droids for landing to check my board.' Watson carried the offending object under his arm.

Holmes chuckled, his forehead furrowed, his eyes dancing. 'Now, Mr Ling, even I, a mere detective, know that you are more likely to know quantum mathematics than how to fix your board out here on the lakeside with no tool belt.' Ling clenched his fist, then let go and hung his head. 'So please, the truth, if you would be so kind.'

'All right, I saw you come in this morning and Iíve been following you...I canít help it. Iím worried about Tess.'

Lestrade frowned. 'You mean Tessa, donít you.'

Ling blushed and Holmes coughed gently. 'I think Ling knows what to call his...young lady, Lestrade.'

Lestrade went wide-eyed for a minute, but said nothing. Tennyson glided over and put a hand on Lingís arm,

Ling glanced up still red. 'Weíve been dating for about three months now. We didnít want to make anything public; youíve no idea what the media can do to a story like that.'

'Whurr?' Tennyson looked confused.

Peter guessed why. 'Iím sorry, Tennyson; she wanted to tell you. I just wanted her to wait until the cup race, I thought sheíd be able to concentrate better if she wasnít worried what youíd think...I really screwed up, huh.'

Tennyson gave Lingís arm a squeeze.

'Thanks, that means a lot to me.'

Lestrade frowned. 'Then you knew she wasnít dead.'

Ling shrugged. 'The Lake doesnít move that fast and the droids and divers didnít find a body down there. I put two and two together and made four. Anyway, she doesnít have a nickname like Phoenix for no reason. Do you have any idea how many crashes she had in her first season? She broke both her legs on one and nearly her neck; another of them she was buried under a pileup...And then, of course, there was the fire. It takes a lot of courage to bounce back from something like that.' Lingís colour was returning to normal. 'Mr Holmes...may I ask how you knew?'

Holmes smiled. 'No one kicks a training bag off the fixings over a racing partner unless they were...very close.'

Once again Ling clenched a fist. 'Yeah, well, if I get hold of whoeverís done this to her, Iíll kick them through the wall and down the street.'

Tennyson put a hand on Lingís arm again; he didnít like violence and Ling was starting to frighten him a little.

Ling caught the look in Tennysonís eyes. 'All right, Tennyson, Iíll calm down...Mr Holmes, is there anything I can do to help? I hate moping around in my hotel like a useless sack of potatoes.'

Holmes was staring at the ground again, distracted. He shook himself and looked up. 'I will be sure to call on you if your services are required. Now you could take Tennyson back to the main racing complex and wait. Iím sure some high altitude flying is much more interesting then trudging along the bank.'

Ling nodded. 'You fancy half an hour of cloud skimming, Tennyson?'

Tennyson nodded; he wanted a chance to talk to Ling. The Dragon would understand a little more what he was feeling at the moment: scared, confused and more than a little frightened for Tessa.

Holmes watched them both take off and disappear into the clouds before turning back to the ground.

Lestrade peered over his shoulder. 'Clue!'

Holmes moved some earth aside with his toe. 'Possibly.' Bending down he picked up a small pipette with a handkerchief and handed it to Watson. 'Put this somewhere safe and sterile until it can be analysed, Watson.'

Lestrade shrugged. 'Itís only one of those tops of an eyedrop bottle; whatís so important?'

Holmes took a packet out of his pocket and sprinkled some powder on the ground; a tiny plume of smoke emerged as it hit. Holmesís face darkened.

'Whatís wrong?'

'Our young friend was more awake than we thought; she managed to knock that top out of one of her kidnappers' hands.'

Lestrade gave Holmes a funny look. 'Whyís that so upsetting?'

He sighed. 'Because, Lestrade, the powder I sprinkled on some strong smelling earth on the floor was an alkaline, and the spilt substance it reacted with was an acid, of a weak to medium strength I might add....'

Lestradeís face went a shade paler. 'Iím no chemist or doctor, but if they put acid in her eyes....'

'She could be permanently blinded. No more racing... ever; prosthetic eyes are not good enough for high-speed flight...Iíve been researching the rules and regulations.'

'Oh my.' Watson put the pipette in the storage space in his stomach. 'We have to find her, Holmes.'

Holmes nodded. 'And quickly, before they give her many more doses of the drops...or she may never see again!'

On to Part 9!

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