The Eighth Guest

Chapter Sixteen

by TT (a.m.tilmouth at
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, eyes blazing."Where!"
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 Ling?"
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 floor.
"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 it."
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 again.
"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 needed.
"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 talk.
"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 STILL."
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 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!
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