A Sherlock Holmes adventure. My first in the steampunk genre.
The Case of the Diamond Watch Glass
Faraday contorted in pain as he limped along the tracks within a tunnel beneath the granite slate streets of London. It was too much to bear. He had to rest if just for a moment. He pressed his back against the iron walls and slid to the tracks. Clipping the firefly torch onto the lapel of his suit, he grasped the gold chain hanging out of his vest pocket and pulled out his timepiece. His hand caught the swinging watch; less than five minutes to get to the crossroads.
He should have been there by now, but one careless step had put a spanner in the works. Placing a hand over his swollen right ankle, he cursed the rail that had broken. A slight vibration in the rails raised the tension beating in his breast. Rising on one knee, he pushed himself up and hobbled toward the crossroads, 80 yards up the tunnel. The race was on.
The locomotive had three curving blades of gleaming diamond horizontally across its front. The highest one was inches beneath the ceiling, higher than the stack that rose over the engine, the lowest just above the rails, and the last right across the middle. He had told Maxwell that the blades weren’t needed, that the locomotive could kill anyone just by the force of the strike, but Maxwell had been adamant; they fulfilled a menacing quality.
Faraday’s heart was racing. Adrenaline eased the pain, pushed his muscles to their maximum. Sweat poured down his face and soaked his linens. The vibrations were now rumbles. The steady beat of smoke pouring out of the stack pounded his ears. Faraday dared not look back, for courage was not one of his stronger qualities.
Nearly there, just ten yards more.
Faraday felt hot air push against his back. The SL was right behind him. He dived left toward the crossroads. His chest struck a rail hard. The SL roared past. He had made it.
His breast heaved painfully with each deep breath, as he lay there thanking God for his narrow escape. He prayed for forgiveness, for he had fallen to temptation. Maxwell, a genius of chemistry, physics, and mechanics, had enticed him with promises of the most modern facilities to carry out his experiments on diamonds. Later, promises of power and fame had tempted him to help create this underground city with its maze of tunnels served by a pair of steam locomotives. But, now, he knew the madness that ruled Maxwell’s mind. It wasn’t just the diamond coated aluminum mask he had taken to wearing, nor the red flag with silvery gears that adorned the halls and entrance of every building. It was the army of clockwork soldiers that he had crafted, marching through the streets, that had convinced him that Maxwell was a danger to London, perhaps even, to Great Britain. Faraday was determined to escape and reveal the city to the world. Wearily pushing himself up, he headed for the hidden door that would open into the sewer system of London.
Holding the torch high with one hand and pressing his wounded chest with the other, Faraday proceeded down the tunnel till he reached the door. Taken off a ship, the door had to be opened by turning the large heavy wheel in the center. He clipped the torch to his suit, and leaned his weight on the wheel which then slowly turned. When the wheel had turned as far as it would go, he pulled and slowly opened the heavy door. Immediately, the rancid smell of sewage assailed his nostrils. Yet, he welcomed the odor for it meant he was closer to safety. He stepped out into the sewer, leaving the door open, for he knew an alarm had been activated. Soon, he came to the iron ladder embedded in the concrete, and hoisting himself up, hopped upward step by step with his uninjured foot to the manhole cover.
Placing his shoulders under the cover, he lifted it above the granite slates and slid it to the side. The air was thick and heavy. Lying pallid and stagnant over the city, it obstructed the light of gas lamps creating small ghostly spheres. Faraday heaved himself onto the street, rose, pushed the cover back with his good foot, and limped into the soup that was London fog.
Dawn was still more than two hours away. Hoping to stumble into a police patrol, Faraday strained his eyes and ears for any hint of human activity. He had proceeded a short distance when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps.
Faraday called out, “Hello, there. I’m injured. Could you please help.”
A deep long laugh answered his plea. “What is this? A pathetic sewer rat begging for succor?”
His heart filled with dread, for he knew that voice. “Rasputin!”
The sound of heels on granite grew louder. The edges of the dark figure became sharp. A glowing ember followed by a puff of smoke swept away the fog to reveal a bearded visage with gleaming eyes.
“To hear my name uttered from the mouth of a traitor is more than I can bear.”
The scrape of steel, then a piercing pain. Faraday screamed and dropped upon the street.
The shrill sound of police whistles echoed. Rasputin wiped the blood off his epee onto his cape, took a last puff, and flicked the cigarette toward the gutter. Striding to the manhole, he slid it open, and descended into the sewer.
A slow heavy grate, a hollow gong, and shroud of fog were all that nature gave to Faraday.
Inspector Hoyle spoke a few words to the sergeant, then turned to the caped man kneeling next to the victim. “Have you found anything, Holmes?”
Holmes held a broken watch by its chain. The back was dented from rim to rim. “Do you mind if I take this back to my lab?”
“If it’s only for a day.”
“A day is sufficient.” Sherlock Holmes opened the victim’s vest and shirt, noted the wounds, turned the victim on his side, placed a finger into the wound, then replaced him facing up. He stood up, looked over the pavement, then took a few steps to the curb. Bending down, he picked something up.
“What have you got there, Mr. Holmes?”
Sherlock held a butt pinched between his thumb and forefinger. “Look at this, Inspector.”
“Is that all you see?”
“Well, it’s been smoked.”
“Yes, but it tells us about the killer.”
“How can you say it’s from the killer. There are dozens of butts along the gutters.”
“Yes, but none are like this one. Do you not see the glossy pink paper and the gold band around it? I have catalogued all the brands sold in the world. A costly brand, not something that the residents of this neighborhood could afford, and it’s from Russia.”
“Ah, a Communist assassin.”
“And, the teeth marks are near the tip and a good amount of tobacco is left. He probably has a substantial beard and would be careful not to singe it. Perhaps, a tall Russian, with a beard, is your man.”
“How does that butt tell you he was tall.”
Sherlock rose and pulled a pouch out of his coat. Opening it, he extracted a pipe and proceeded to fill it with tobacco. He patted his pockets for a match.
His companion leaned forward. The sound of a match striking, and then, the flame revealed Sherlock Holmes face: a thin prominent nose on a long face, jutting jaw, and alert eyes. “Thank you, my dear Watson. Remind me to pick up some matches on the way home.”
John Watson, strongly built with a thick neck and a trim mustache smiled. “Certainly.”
Sherlock took a few puffs, exhaled. “The butt doesn’t tell us anything about the stature of the killer. It’s the exit wound in the poor victim. It’s lower than the entry wound. Our victim, himself was about five foot eight. Judging from the angle of the wound, I would say the killer was six foot two.”
Inspector Hoyle rubbed his chin. Tilted it. “You always astound me with your amazing deductions, Mr. Holmes.”
“As I always say, you can deduce much from simple observation.”
“Well, thank you, Mr. Holmes. Now that we have a profile, it shouldn’t take us long to get a suspect.”
“Glad to be of help, Inspector. We’ll be on our way.”
Inspector Hoyle tipped his hat, turned, and studied the victim’s wounds one more time.
Holmes and Watson turned the next corner. “Well, Watson, are you game for a little adventure tonight?”
Watson grinned. “So, there’s something you didn’t tell the Inspector.”
Holmes grinned back. “Several things. The first thing I noticed were the fresh scrape marks on the paving next to the manhole cover.”
“Ah, so the killer escaped into the sewers.”
“There were two sets of scrape marks. The victim came from the sewers, too. Totally astounding was the nasty bruise across his chest. As straight and wide as a rail. Then, there was his ankle. I would say he sprained it during his escape. Later, he must have fallen or dived onto the tracks to escape from something. The dent on his watch suggests this theory.”
John Watson was confused. “But, the nearest rails are quite a distance.”
“That’s correct. He couldn’t have gotten this far with his swollen ankle. I say he injured himself within a hundred yards of here.”
John froze in thought. Suddenly, he thrust out his chest and adjusted his spectacles in amazement. “Why, Holmes, you’re saying there’s a railroad right under our feet. Preposterous!”
“How many times must I tell you, Watson? When you eliminate all other possibilities, the one remaining, no matter how unlikely, must be the truth.”
Chastised, John resumed walking. “Sorry, old chap. Oh, and, ah, what’s with the watch?”
Sherlock handed the watch to his partner. “What does it tell you?”
Taking the watch, John peered closely. “The time says he fell at 3:43 this morning. Other than that and the dent, I see nothing.”
“Exactly, sometimes an absence is most revealing.”
John scrutinized the watch, flipping it over and over. “Holmes, I give up. What is it?”
“Scratch marks, Watson. The gold back is covered with them, but the glass doesn’t have even one tiny one.”
On the way home to 221B Baker Street, they entered a tobacco shop. The proprietor, reading a newspaper, looked up. “Good morning, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson.”
Both of them replied, “Good morning, sir.”
He folded the paper, put it down, and inquired, “What will it be today, gentlemen?”
Sherlock pointed, “A pouch of Moroccan Gold, please.”
“Will that be all?”
John answered, “And a half dozen match boxes, pocket size.”
Sherlock smiled, “Thank you, my dear Watson.”
Next they went into Nevermore one of the new chain of fast food establishments. At the top of the menu, under the name, was the slogan. Some may say nevermore, yet they come back for more. After getting their fish and chips with iced tea, they headed home.
John popped the last morsel of fish into his mouth, licked his fingers, and noisily sucked the last bit of tea out of the paper cup. “Holmes, have you found anything about the watch glass?”
Sherlock puffed deeply from his pipe. “This Moroccan Gold is aptly named. It enables one to truly relax and thus concentrate deeply. Gold, indeed. As to your question, this glass boggles the mind. It’s diamond nonpareil. Harder than natural diamond. A work of genius. We are up against someone of a level we have never encountered before.”
“All the more rousing to rise to the challenge. But, Holmes, could you put out your pipe. I can barely stand the stench.”
“Pardon, Watson.” Sherlock tapped the remnants into an ashtray, went to one of the large windows looking out into the street, and opened it. “In my opinion, this air is hardly better.”
He stood there for a moment. “I just thought of something. How does our foe dispense of the smoke?”
“What smoke, Holmes?”
“The smoke from the locomotives and all the engines needed to manufacture these diamonds, not to mention everything else needed to run a small city.”
“There’s a lot of mysteries that need solving. Let’s make a list of essentials, starting with your service revolver. Oh, and, we need to hunt up one of our boys to send a message to our Inspector.”
Maxwell lay in bed dreaming. Thanks to the traitor Faraday, he now had the ability to lay carbon atoms, stripped from common methane gas, layer upon layer, creating diamonds even harder than the natural variety. And, he could do it in days rather than the eons it took the earth. He could plate nearly any metal with it, thus producing blades that never dulled nor corroded. In his dream, he ruled Great Britain. His navy had ships with diamond plated corrosion proof hulls, and, using the supreme heat conductivity of diamond, his diamond plated steam engines were magnitudes more efficient, producing ships than outran all others. His mechanical men were the first wave of every invasion. Spreading fear and panic, their psychological impact so weakened resistance that his human soldiers in armored vehicles easily mopped up.
A chime that only Rasputin could activate aroused Maxwell. Rising, he went to the dresser and stared into the mirror. He loathed his face. It was as if hundreds of meteors had bombarded it, forming craters that scar tissue filled. Smallpox had nearly taken his life. If it had not been for the treatment and care provided by his dearest friend and physician, Rasputin, he would surely be dead. He picked up the mask from the large dresser and put it on. The diamond plating over the aluminum cooled his face and greatly lessened the irritation from the raised scars covering his face. Rasputin had suggested it knowing the excellent heat conductivity of diamond.
Rasputin waited in the small dining hall to report on his expedition to deal with the traitor Faraday. Hearing the door open, he turned.
Maxwell approached. “Rasputin, I’m happy to see you made it back with no harm. Did you take care of our problem?”
Rasputin bowed. “His blood is on my cloak, sir.”
“Good. And, where may I see the body?”
“Circumstances forced me to leave it on the street.”
Maxwell paused motionless, emotions hidden behind the mask. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
“My sword went through his heart.”
Maxwell raised his arm. “Then, let us celebrate with wine.”
“How is your condition, sir?”
“I feel better, doubtless due to your advice and medication.”
“Your words gladden my heart.”
“Thank you, Rasputin.”
Rasputin’s eyes glowed. “Is there anything you desire before I tend to my lesser duties?”
“Yes, we need more men to work here in every field of endeavor.”
“It is hard to recruit men while keeping this city secret.”
“I have a plan to get them forcefully. Soon, we will no longer need to hide. Sit, my Captain, I will instruct you on your role.”
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson stepped out of their home and into the fog. They hailed a cab, stepped into the hansom, and placed the blanket provided over their laps. The driver got his directions then directed the horse forward.
It was a few minutes past eleven, an hour after bedtime for most respectable residents of London. Only gin dives, Moroccan cafes, and Incan dance halls were open to patrons at this hour. Each of them attracted a different type of character. The dives for those seeking oblivion, the cafes to relax the tensions acquired from city life, the dance halls for relief from boredom.
They themselves never needed them, for they had found something better to occupy their time, hunting dangerous criminals.
Reaching their destination, they paid the fare, and watched the cab leave around the corner. “Well, here we are. Help me with this manhole cover, Watson.”
They heaved the cover over the pavement. Fog swirled in. “Notice how the fog is sucked in, Watson. No doubt some contraption is moving the air out of the underground. A clue to how they get rid of the smoke from their engines.”
Sherlock proceeded down the iron ladder, followed by John. “Leave the cover ajar, Watson. Let’s leave a clue for the Inspector.”
At the bottom, they stepped into the sewers. Sherlock paused, a bit dizzy. Perhaps, he thought, the lingering effects of the tobacco.
“Where to now, Holmes?”
“The entrance is probably not far. Look along the walls for some inconsistency. If you see anything suspicious rap it with your hammer.”
They turned right, each scrutinizing a wall. There was a series of sharp raps with the last one slightly hollow. “I think I’ve found it, Holmes. The mortar and brick here look a little fresh.”
“Good work, Watson.” Sherlock took off his rucksack, dug in, and extracted a stick of dynamite. He patted his pockets. “I seem to have forgotten my matches.”
Watson smiled. “Here you go, Holmes.”
Sherlock taped a stick to the wall. He flicked a match, grinned as it flared, then shouted, “Stand back!” as the fuse sparked.
They muffled the boom of the explosion with their hands. Smoke and dust filled the tunnel, then settled on their hair and clothes. Smoke dissipated revealing an entrance.
“Marvelous piece of destruction, Holmes.”
They patted the dust off themselves, then climbed in. Sherlock dug out the contents of the rucksack. Put them into various pockets. He spoke into the tunnel. “Ready or not here we come.”
In the palace, Maxwell stopped in mid sentence. “Looks like we have guests. Most likely they’re in the tunnel Faraday used. Rasputin, take care of it. I’ll activate the palace guards.”
Rasputin ran out of the palace to the station in the plaza. Jumping down unto the tracks, he sprinted to an alcove. Inside, two black iron soldiers waited on tracks. They had stovepipe heads that tapered and curved back like duck billed dinosaurs. The eyes were glassy. The mouth was purely ornamental with a manic grin. The body was cylindrical with wheel on both sides that perfectly fit the tracks upon which they moved. Axles which provided power to the wheels were mounted vertically, which also moved the long gleaming arms of double edged diamond plated steel in a slanted sweeping motion across the breast. Rasputin fired up the coal within them. Soon, their eyes glowed red and steam poured out of their nostrils and tapered heads. Stepping onto the platform that connected them, he released the brakes. Quickly building up speed, they accelerated to the source of the explosion.
“Well, Holmes, what do you think of this tunnel so far?”
Sherlock raised a finger to his lips. There was a barely audible hum, so slight that the direction it was coming from was unclear. He turned off the firefly torch he was carrying. John immediately did the same. In the darkness straight ahead two red dots split into four as the hum changed to a rumble.
Sherlock turned on his torch. “Watson, two engines are coming this way. They intend to run us over.”
“I dare say it’s a bit early for our demise. I suggest we eliminate them.”
“I second that.” Sherlock pulled a stick of dynamite out of a pocket, and placed it under one of the inner rails. Shaking a matchbox, he smiled. “I’m getting the hang of this.” He lit the fuse. Again the sound of combustion rushing to demolition played music to his ears. “I think I’ve collected another addiction.”
They started running.
Rasputin saw two torches go out briefly, then come on. He thought he saw the flame of a match. What fool would be smoking tobacco when a train was bearing down on them? He pumped more air into the engines, then jumped off. The engines were designed to run out of steam after one circuit of the city. He estimated the trains would overtake them in less than thirty seconds. He started counting, but only got to ten.
An eruption of flame and smoke deafened and blinded him for a moment.
John turned. He saw everything as if the hands of God were cranking a movie box at one third speed. Two engines burst out of the chaos, their axles were churning like legs to get the wheels back on track as their eyes seemingly searched for the pair that had derailed them. In the confined space of the tunnel, they smashed into the walls and careened off. Still they came. John tackled Sherlock onto the tracks as the machines flew over the diving men.
They lay for a moment unmoving, then slowly they raised their heads. In front of them was a mass of steaming iron speckled with glowing coals.
“Thank you, John. You saved my life once again.”
John smiled. “Give your regards to my rugby coach, Sherlock.”
They stood and surveyed the carnage. “Holmes, these engines are absolutely amazing!”
Before Sherlock could reply, a deep voice spoke, “Turn around. I don’t like shooting men in the back.”
The two men looked at each other. Each put a hand under their jacket, nodded just barely, and spun.
Rasputin pulled the trigger. A shot rang out. Sherlock fell backward. Another shot, this time from his partner. Rasputin’s gun spun back. He clamped a hand onto his chest, turned, and fled.
John holstered his revolver, then knelt next to his friend. “Are you all right?”
“The steel in my vest stopped the bullet, Watson. I imagine I’m just bruised. How about our man?”
“I got him. Hit him in the chest. He hardly even reeled, though. Must be exceptionally strong.”
“Help me up, Watson. We haven’t got time to waste.”
Twenty minutes later, they got to a station. Climbing onto the platform, they surveyed their surroundings. They were on a promenade with a cafe, a bar, and a few shops on the opposite side. Long red banners depicting silvery gears in a black circle hung everywhere. A mob of twenty men with pipes, knives, and clubs were waiting for them. Sherlock recognized a few of them from wanted posters. Digging out the last stick of TNT, he lit it, and tossed it rolling across the street. Instantly, the mob dispersed, followed a few seconds later, by the explosion.
The promenade was empty. “Well done! Look to your right, Holmes. I think we’ve found the palace.”
A structure of copper tone stood resplendent with wide stairs that led to a columnated entrance. The whole shone with an unnatural brilliance that seemed to reflect light at odd angles.
Sherlock stood motionless in awe. “Magnificent! I believe the front is encased in diamond.”
“Let’s meet the evil genius, Holmes.”
They strode across the street, up the steps, and stepped inside. The walls were mirrors of diamond. In front of them, a man in white robes, wearing a silver mask, sat on a throne of red fabric. Standing, he spread his arms. “Welcome, gentlemen. My name is Maxwell, and I am Lord and Creator of this city.”
“I am Sherlock Holmes. And, this is John Watson. Will you surrender peacefully?”
“Don’t make me laugh.” Maxwell pushed a button on his throne. There was the rumble of gears turning. The throne and the wall behind him slowly sank into the floor to reveal a row of metal men like those in the tunnel, except they had legs instead of wheels. Steam spew out of the horns on their heads. The top of the wall disappeared into the floor. Maxwell stepped behind his guards. Cogs turned. Pistons pumped. Metal joints sprang into loud action. The line of men advanced in a perfect line with arms swishing and feet thumping.
Yet, even through all that noise, they heard the shrill laughter of Maxwell.
John raised an eyebrow. “Toss another one of your sticks, Holmes, and we’ll soon be home.”
“I’m afraid I used the last one in the promenade.”
Immediately, John took out his revolver, aimed, and fired. The bullet ricocheted off the head of one of the robotic men, and hit a wall, which cracked and splintered a few jagged pieces onto the floor. “Drat, the bullets are useless.”
“You’ll have to use your rugby skills again, my good man.”
John lowered himself for a lunge. “I never thought I’d be tackling a steaming contraption.”
Timing the tackle perfectly, he caught a soldier as it was balanced on one leg. It crashed onto the floor beside him. Leaping over them and ducking under the swishing blades, Sherlock grabbed Maxwell. “The games up, Maxwell.”
“You’ll never get pass the residents of this city. You can hear them shouting just outside the door.”
Just then, the shrill note of police whistles silenced the crowd for a moment. “Looks like Inspector Hoyle arrived just in time to move your residents to his jail.”
After the police cleared the area, Inspector Hoyle walked over to the heroes. “Thank you, gentlemen. This whole underground city will doubtless be off limits as soon as Whitehall gets the news. Incredible, absolutely incredible! By the way, Mr. Holmes, could you stop by my office tomorrow to help with the report?”
“Certainly, Inspector.” Sherlock extracted a handkerchief, bend down, and wrapping a large shard of diamond, picked it up. “Do you mind if I take this piece of mirror?”
“Not at all, Mr. Holmes. But, for what purpose would you want a piece of glass?”
“Just a souvenir, sir.”
Hours later, the pair climbed out of the sewer. The fog was gone. In its place, dawn was lighting up the horizon.
“That was quite an adventure, John. You saved us twice.”
“That I did. But, now, I just want to drag myself home and climb into bed.”
“A wonderful plan. Let’s head home.”
They walked to the corner to look for a cab. The rising sun cast the long shadow of a man with wild hair framing his head in front of them. They heard a familiar voice behind them.
“I’ll drag you both to your graves. You can sleep very well there.”
The two men paused to look at each other. Unseen, John took out his revolver from under his jacket, and Sherlock pulled out the broken piece of mirror wrapped in cloth. Letting the cloth fall, he held the mirror out in front, showing his partner where the villain stood. Then, he raised it higher till it reflected the sun into the evil eyes.
John pivoted.The shot hit Rasputin squarely in the center of his forehead.