Author’s note: a piece set in the In Her Majesty’s Name Victorian steampunk setting. Just to prove I can do Conan Doyle.
“You’re sure, Holmes?” I ventured.
“Of course I am sure, Watson. Observe – the wheel marks the vehicle left are quadruple, which rules out a hansom cab. The horses are light on their feet, and neat of hoof, which rules out the Clydesdales of a brewer’s dray. The wheel tracks are closely spaced, which likewise excludes a milk cart and a number of other similar possibilities. And… If you would excuse me, Lestrade. A step to your left, if you please.”
He bent, and retrieved a crumpled, soggy mass of formerly stiff black material from within one of the muddier wheel ruts, just where the Chief Inspector had been standing. “I believe the enigmatic Mr. Callaway managed to lose his hat. Which, as you will perceive, Watson, is of the variety of top hat commonly worn by members of the undertaking profession. From which fact, coupled with the narrow tracks of the vehicle, we may conclude that our thief is in fact driving a hearse. Singularly appropriate, given the nature of the missing exhibit from the British Museum we seek. Also, observe that this is not one of those vulgar cheap items of headwear favoured of those who bury the general commons, but rather a rather more expensive article that has, sadly, seen better days: that, coupled with the vehicle’s direction of travel, leads me to believe that the stolen sarcophagus we seek will be found amid the older mausoleums of Highgate Cemetery. And that Colonel Smythe and the Explorers’ club will be racing us there. Watson, Inspector: let us make haste.”
“What do you propose we do, Holmes?” Our cab driver had taken a leap off the seat at the first sign of trouble, and I took his place.
“Why, Watson, we will seek out the fellow later and recompense him for the use of his vehicle. In the meantime, I suggest we circle past the gentleman from Special Branch and adopt a position of cover behind the Carter-Shaw memorial.”
“As you wish, Holmes.” As we did so, a most frightful noise, a bellowing and growling emanated from the vicinity of Callaway’s hearse. “Good Heavens, Holmes: what is that noise?”
Holmes, calmly reloading his revolver, did not look up. “From the sound, Watson, I would venture it is a member of the species Gorilla gorilla giganticus, or giant ape. When you are next in my study, you should examine a monograph I published on the topic after a safari in deepest Africa with Mycroft some years ago. Also, I believe there is a popular rumour afoot that Colonel Smythe has tamed one for use as a mount.”
One of Smythe’s native fellows had reached Callaway’s hearse, and dragged the man off the driver’s seat. As I halted the borrowed hansom by the aforementioned mausoleum, Lestrade and a pair of constables attempted to wrestle control of the hearse from him.
“Look to the horse, Watson, then follow me.” Holmes leapt from the seat of the cab and crossed one of the gravel paths of the cemetery at a run, just in time to intercept a pair of Smythe’s natives as they attacked two more of Scotland Yard’s finest. A shot rang out, chipping the stone by my head as I settled the horse, and likewise ran for cover.
“A trifle hot, Sir…”, observed the Special Branch constable I had crouched next to, reloading his carbine. “Don’t like the look of that monkey, neither, Sir.”
I refrained from comment, choosing instead to assist Holmes in succouring the two constables. Just in time, as Smythe directed the great ape towards the hearse. One of the constables had just successfully claimed the seat, just in time for a huge arm to knock him senseless from it.
“The ape, Watson!” Suiting the action to the words, Holmes pressed home an attack, using his knowledge of the Oriental art of baritsu to evade its clumsy but heavy-handed swipes before eventually striking it an incapacitating blow behind one huge knee. Smythe rolled clear of his howdah as the giant beast toppled and fell, levelling his rifle at me. Holmes, meanwhile, leapt to the aid of Lestrade, too late to save him from a dizzying punch from Patel, Smythe’s loyal manservant, that sent him reeling into the back of the vehicle atop its cargo.
Meanwhile, I closed with Smythe, knocking the rifle aside before he could work the action and pull the trigger. We exchanged a number of passes of a more English martial art, before a misstep on his part allowed me an opening, and my fist met his jaw. I looked round to see Holmes vaulting onto the seat of the hearse, and two more of Smythe’s followers levelling hunting rifles at me. “Enough valour, Watson. Time for discretion.”
I blinked, for a moment confused.
“We have what we came for, Watson. Run!”