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The Adventure of the Tattooed Fighter

Chapter Text

The man went down with a surprised umph. He didn’t get up. Standing over him, Holmes tilted his head, eyes narrowing with clinical interest. Then he shook his hair off his forehead and raised a hand in triumph.

Back just far enough from the ring to be inconspicuous, Watson smiled and gave himself a moment to appreciate the way Holmes’s muscles moved under the sheen of fight-sweat, the way victory lit up his face.

And then Holmes was gone and another set of fighters was bouncing around the ring, warming up.

“And now,” the master of ceremonies’ voice boomed, “we bring you, from the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, trained in ancient tribal arts of warfare—“

Watson lost the thread of the announcement as he felt a hand slip into the pocket of his trousers and a warm voice tickle his ear. “This should take care of next month’s rent.”

Following the hand with his own, Watson encountered the onionskin feel of banknotes.

“Much obliged, I’m sure, Old Cock. Nothing illegal, I hope.”

“Of course not. I merely had someone place a bet in your name.” Holmes sounded vaguely affronted.

“And did I bet on the right man?”

“Oh, I rather think you did.” Still in Watson’s pocket, the hand executed a slow slide towards the inside of his thigh.

Watson bumped at Holmes’s hip. “Shall we adjourn to a more congenial location to celebrate my winnings?”

“Mmm. Yes.” Holmes abruptly lost interest in the game. He dislodged his hand, crossed his arms, and faced the ring. “After this fight. The place has been buzzing about this chap all day.”

Watson peered down. One of the men in the ring was a boxing veteran, a butcher’s assistant from Whitechapel, with fists like hams and a face pocked by old acne scars. Burt—that was his name. Watson had relocated his shoulder once as a favor to Holmes and the man had stared straight ahead as though he’d been getting a plaster on a skinned knee.

There was no mystery about Burt. Holmes must mean the other man. Who was, now that Watson looked more closely, both new and exotic.

He was dark-haired and long-jawed, his skin a deep, even brown. Both biceps and the span of flesh at the base of his back were covered with intricate tattoos. Not the crude symbols and names that characterized the tattoos of Londoners and the sailors who passed through town, but abstract, multicolored designs, like the ones Watson sometimes glimpsed in Holmes’s collection of anthropological treatises. He was lean, this man, but muscled, and he danced away from Burt’s heavy blows with ease.

“Who is he?” Watson asked, interested despite himself.

“They call him the Tahitian,” Holmes replied, eyes fixed on the bout.

“Is that where he’s from?”

“No, I shouldn’t think so. The trainer who brought him in was American—I expect this fellow is, too.”

Watson squinted at the fighter. The tattoos, the beardless face, the long hair pulled back in a sailor’s queue, weren’t what he usually associated with Americans. But what did he know? It was a part of the world with which he was unfamiliar. Perhaps they all looked like that.

The Tahitian seemed to be landing twice as many blows as Whitechapel Burt, but that might have been simply because he was moving twice as fast. He was a skilled fighter, that much was clear, but there was something barely controlled, almost frenetic about his movements, and his face had started to turn a nasty brick red under the tan.

“Holmes,” Watson ventured, “do you think he’s quite well? He looks—“

“Oh yes, almost certainly drugged.” Holmes nodded, frowning. “Not that that should stop him from putting down poor old Burt.”

As if on cue, the Tahitian delivered a right hook to Burt’s jaw that sent the larger man crashing to the canvas. The referee counted over him while he flopped about helplessly, and then raised the Tahitian’s arm and declared him the winner. Burt’s trainer or manager or friend appeared and hauled him away while the Tahitian turned to the crowd, acknowledging the applause. And then kept on turning, a weirdly slow, off-balance spin. Quite suddenly, his knees gave out under him, and he crumpled to the ground.

Watson threw Holmes a glance. Holmes shrugged infinitesimally. And then they were shouldering their way through the crowd.

“I’m a doctor,” Watson said, elbowing a particularly thick onlooker aside.

By the time they’d slid under the ropes, however, another man was crouching over the fallen fighter, slapping him across the face in an effort to rouse him.

“Dr. John Watson.” Watson put a restraining hand on the man’s shoulder. “Perhaps I can be of assistance?”
The crouching man threw him off. “Thanks but no thanks, doc. He’s okay.” He renewed his efforts with greater vigor. The Tahitian groaned faintly, but did not regain consciousness.

“I beg to differ.” Holmes put in, some steel in his tone. “This man needs medical attention. If you cannot rouse him we will be forced to summon an ambulance.”

The threat of official intervention did the trick. The man rose and faced them. He was thin as a lathe, in his mid-forties, salt-and-pepper hair close-cropped over a long, narrow skull. “Yeah, alright,” he said, his surliness accentuated by his nasal American vowels. “Do what you gotta do.”

He stepped back and let Watson and Holmes kneel on either side of the Tahitian’s prostrate form. Watson pressed his fingers under the man’s jaw, although it was hardly necessary: the pulse in this throat was almost visible to the naked eye, the veins were that close to the skin. Now that Watson was closer, he could see how thin the man was—the muscle the last remnant of a once-strong frame. His ribs pushed against the skin as his chest rapidly expanded and contracted.

Frowning, Watson ran his hands over the inside of the Tahitian’s elbows—the skin was hot and too easily pinched, but there were no needle marks.

“This man is dehydrated and malnourished,” he said, turning towards the American trainer, prepared to give him a tongue-lashing. But the man had disappeared.

As had most of the other patrons of the Punch Bowl. Watson couldn’t blame them. A man badly hurt meant possible police attention, and that was the last thing most of them wanted. He looked at Holmes.

“We need to cool him down and get some fluids in him before I can really assess his condition. I’m not sure he was drugged, after all.” He pointed to the man’s forearms.

Holmes smiled, a little sadly, it seemed to Watson, and pulled off the sock and shoe off the man’s left foot. There was an encrusted puncture mark between his toes. Watson hissed. The Tahitian’s skill might have been his own, but the speed and energy of his wasted frame had been entirely unnatural.

“Hospital?” Holmes asked.

“Not unless you want to bring the kind attentions of the Met down on the unwitting denizens of the Punch Bowl,” Watson said. “Bringing him in like this is bound to raise questions.”

“Baker Street, then,” said Holmes. “I have a few questions of my own.”

+++

They sacrificed Watson’s great coat to the cause of public decency and bundled the Tahitian into a Hansom.

“Drunk again,” said Holmes to the cabbie’s suspicious stare. The cabbie rolled his eyes and flicked the whip at his horses.

They were both panting by the time they’d manhandled the Tahitian onto the settee in Watson’s consulting room. The man had regained some consciousness, if no coherence, in the cab, but he returned to insensibility as soon as he was horizontal again. He was breathing stertorously, and shivering a bit even under Watson’s coat.

Sighing, Watson poured water from a pitcher into a basin, gave it to Holmes with a cloth, and surveyed his supply of smelling salts.

“As I suspected,” Holmes announced, holding up the cloth. It was smudged brown; a corresponding streak of pale skin across the Tahitian’s brow. His dark color, it appeared, was paint.

As Holmes continued to wipe the disguise away, the actual shade of the man’s complexion was revealed: a sallow pallor, dark and bruised-looking around the eyes. Holmes took an experimental swipe at the tattoos on the man’s left arm, but those, it seemed, were real.

“Of European descent after all,” Watson said softly. “I’m surprised he was able to fight at all, as ill as he looks.”

He held the vial of salts under the man’s nose—it would be easier to treat him if he were conscious, he’d decided. The Tahitian snorted, shook his head as if to get away; then his eyes snapped open, a surprisingly bright blue-green in his pale face.

His arms came up too, as if he were prepared to fight himself out of whatever situation he’d found himself in, but Holmes caught them easily enough.

“Steady on,” said Watson, a hand on the man’s chest. “I’m Dr. Watson and this is my colleague, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. You’re safe here.” The man fell back against the cushions, though whether from weakness or because he accepted their bonafides, Watson couldn’t tell.

“Can you tell us your name?” Holmes asked.

“Wai” the Tahitian croaked.

“What was that?” Holmes leaned closer to the man’s mouth, face sharp with interest.

“Wai,” the man tried again, almost pleading. He rubbed the base of his throat with his hand.

Holmes jumped to his feet. “Fascinating,” he said, and was out the door before Watson could protest.

Watson stared after him for a moment, annoyed. It was perfectly clear what the man was asking for, no need for any special research or deductions. He poured a glass of water and helped the Tahitian hold it to his lips.

“You must be very thirsty indeed, old chap,” Watson said as the man clutched at it, trying to gulp. “But take it slowly--small sips, that’s it.”

Halfway through their painstaking progress through the glass of water, Holmes reappeared, brandishing a leather-bound volume entitled Indigenous Languages of the South Seas.

“Wai” he said. “That’s “water” in Hawaiian. You’re from Hawaii, aren’t you?”

The fighter looked at him, half confused, half wary, but didn’t reply. Watson puzzled over the word; it conjured up green dots suspended in the endless blue Pacific of his schoolroom globe, pictures of topless natives in grass skirts. And something else: hadn’t Hawaii been in the papers a good deal lately? Some political upheaval involving the United States and possibly Great Britain? Though his own country hadn’t been involved in the end, he didn’t think. He squinted at his patient, hoping they weren’t about to get involved in some political brouhaha.

Holmes pressed on. “But you’re not Native Hawaiian, initial appearances to the contrary. So you must speak English as well. Can you tell us your name? Can you tell us how you ended up in London?”

The fighter shook his head, more as if he were trying to clear it than in denial, Watson thought. “They call me the Tahitian,” he said slowly. And then made further conversation impossible by sicking up the water Watson had just fed him in a miserable stream of yellow bile.

There followed several wearisome hours during which the Hawaiian, as Watson now supposed they ought to call him, retreated into a drug-induced semi-delirium, thrashing restlessly, resisting their attempts to clean him up and get more liquids into him, and muttering more words that Holmes gleefully translated with the aid of his enormous book. None of said words, however, gave them any further clues to the chain of events that had reduced him to this state.

“I suppose that explains the tattoos, though, if he is from Hawaii,” Watson said, searching the floor for pieces of the third broken glass of the evening. He was so tired himself that the shards seem to wink in and out of sight.

“Not really,” Holmes replied, head still hunched over his tome, ignoring Watson’s efforts to clean up. “Those aren’t Hawaiian designs—something from the Antipodes if I had to hazard a guess.”

“Please don’t,” said Watson.

Finally, Watson managed to rehydrate their guest to the point where he began to perspire freely and copiously. It seemed to be a relief. Soon thereafter, he stopped shivering and fell into a deep if obviously pain-ridden sleep.

“It’s the best thing for him,” Watson declared, wiping down the man’s face. “I don’t think there’s much wrong besides exhaustion and general mistreatment. If his body can rid itself whatever drug they’ve pumped into him, he may be more coherent and less hostile when he wakes up.”

“Shall we keep watch over him?” Holmes asked, in rare deferral to Watson’s medical skill.

“I shouldn’t think so,” Watson said, suddenly heartily sick of boxing and drugs and faraway tropical islands. “He’s well and truly out now, and he’ll be warm enough here. I’ll check on him in an hour or so.” He arranged the Hawaiian on his side and tucked a blanket around him. Then he stifled a yawn and dropped his hand on Holmes’s head, tangled his fingers in his thick hair. “Besides—there’s the unfinished business of celebrating my winnings.”

+++

Watson awoke to the unmistakable click of a door and the sound of feet on the stairs. With a jolt, he remembered the mysterious man in his consulting rooms. He’d meant to look in on him, but clearly hadn’t done so in time. He started to rise, but a heavy weight pinned him to the bed.

“Budge up,” he said, shoving at Holmes. “Our guest is on the move.”

They’d fallen asleep in a tangle of limbs so infernal it actually took a minute to figure out whose leg was whose. Then Watson was shoving his feet into his trousers and Holmes was pulling his dressing gown around his shoulders and they were stumbling downstairs to where the front door swung on its hinges.

Outside, they were greeted by the gray light and bustle of a London morning, but no sign whatsoever of their Hawaiian.

“I’m sorry,” Watson said, spinning on his heels in pure fury at himself. “I wouldn’t have thought he was in any shape to go anywhere—much less so quickly.”

“Not your fault, old boy.” Holmes clapped him heartily on the shoulder, though his tone was bleak. “Some drugs can produce a powerful need—one that overrides mere physical discomfort.”

Mister Holmes,” said Mrs. Hudson, when they re-entered the house, taking in the extreme impropriety of his attire.

“Quite so, my good woman,” Holmes replied. “Quite so. Tea, please, as soon as you can manage it. And extra toast.”

+++

“We should go after him,” Watson said. He had washed and dressed, and was now shaving somewhat haphazardly in front of the small mirror in his room, a cup of cooling tea at his elbow. “He was in a bad way, poor man. Whoever had him in his keeping was clearly abusive—and he might be doing the same to others.”

“I quite agree,” Holmes replied, from his sprawl on Watson’s bed. “I’ll go back to the Punch Bowl in a bit. I’m sure they’ve cleared out by now, but someone might know something.”

Just then, the sound of a commotion reached them from the ground floor.

“Sir,” Mrs. Hudson was saying in the exasperated tones of a woman who was having a distinctly unpleasant morning, “I’ll tell you again, Mr. Holmes is not at home—certainly not to the likes of you. And I’ll thank you to stop waving that thing in my face.”

Thudding footsteps on the stairs indicated that the personage had paid no heed to her words. Rushing into the sitting room, Holmes and Watson found themselves staring down the barrel of a Colt revolver.

“Alright,” demanded a very loud and very American voice, “what’ve you two cocksuckers done with him?”

“Done with whom?” Holmes asked with superbly manufactured innocence.

“McGarrett. Don’t fuck with me, you fuckers. What have you done with McGarrett?”

The man at the other end of the Colt was short, blond and rumpled. In his mid-thirties, he wore a black peacoat and heavy boots. Splendid mutton-chop whiskers dominated a face that would have been handsome if it hadn’t been so contorted with worry and rage.

“My good sir,” Holmes gestured mildly at the Colt, while Watson calculated how many steps it would take him to reach the poker by the fireplace. “Mrs. Hudson is quite right. You can put that down. Your friend McGarrett, if that is his name, was here. But he left early this morning. Under his own power, we believe, but not, sadly, in full possession of his faculties. We were just thinking how to begin our own search for him. Perhaps you could sit down, have some tea, and tell us a bit more about him? In your own inimitable colonial manner, of course,” he added graciously.

The blond man squinted at him, as if he didn’t quite know if he’d been welcomed or insulted. He made a quick search of the flat and circled back to them. Wiping his forehead with his wrist on the way down, he lowered the gun. He looked tired, Watson thought. As if he hadn’t slept the night before. Or perhaps for many nights before that.

“Yeah, alright, why not? I’ve tried just about everything else.” The man sat heavily on the sofa and waved his gun at them. “Just don’t try any funny business.”

“We wouldn’t dream of it,” said Holmes. “Mr.—?”

“Williams,” said the man, accepting a cup of tea and trying unsuccessfully to balance it on his knee. “Officer Daniel Williams of the Honolulu Police Force. And don’t think I don’t know who you are, Mr. Holmes. They told me some good stories about you down at the Punch Bowl.”

“I’m sure they did,” Holmes said with a smile that indicated he believed all tales told about him were flattering. “And your friend, Mr. McGarrett?”

“Lt. Commander Stephen J. McGarrett, Naval Intelligence, recently seconded to the HPF, in light of the recent upheavals our city has undergone.”

Here it comes, Watson thought with an inner groan, the politics. “You do know,” he said aloud, “that when we brought Commander McGarrett here last night, exhausted and ill, he would only identify himself as the Tahitian.”

“I know.” Officer Williams looked up, such sadness in his blue eyes that Watson almost flinched. “They told me as much at the boxing joint.”

“How did that happen?” Holmes asked gently. “Can you tell us?”

“Yeah.” Williams slumped a bit and took a swallow of tea, grimacing at the cup as if he wished it were something else. “I suppose it can’t do any harm to tell you what I can, seeing how you’ve gone out of your way to help Steve already.” He cleared his throat. “The thing you gotta understand is: I’m not from Hawaii.”

“Yes,” said Holmes, who had now taken up a seat opposite Williams and was peering at him intently, chin on his steepled hands. “You’re from New Jersey. Somewhere near Patterson, if I’m not mistaken.”

“How did you--?” Williams looked startled, but shook his head and went on with his tale. “So, yeah, I moved out to the islands about three years ago—domestic entanglements, y’know? Place is a pineapple infested shithole but it kept me near my little girl. You fellas have children?” Holmes and Watson shook their heads. “Well, you wouldn’t understand then, but nothing else mattered to me except for that.”

Watson peered at him: the man was rambling, evidently even more tired than he looked. None of this seemed relevant to the plight of the fighter they’d brought home last night.

Holmes seemed to be thinking the same thing. “And Commander McGarrett?”

“Right.” Williams visibly pulled himself together. “Well, Honolulu was never what you’d call a boring place, but leading up the Annexation in ’98, shit really started to hit the fan—suddenly we were up to our eyeballs in political plots on top of all the regular robbing and murdering. So the Territorial Governor told the Navy as long as they were sitting out there in the harbor they’d better pitch in and help. And they sent us Steve—Commander McGarrett. Who is a crazy person, don’t get me wrong—spent most of his career on lunatic spy missions in the Philippines—hear we might have a war there too, soon—and points south—went a little native, too, if you believe the stories, and I sure as heck do. But he knows Hawaii—grew up there, son of the overseer for one of those giant plantations—knows how things work. So, long story short, he’s a loose cannon, but things got a whole lot easier with him onboard.”

“So is that what this is?” Watson interjected with a sinking feeling. “A spy mission gone wrong?”

“Nah.” Williams shook his head. “Almost wish it were, then the government would have to lend a hand. This is just your-run-of-the-mill people moving operation that’s taken a nasty turn. One of the gangs that brings in coolie labor—not even Chinamen in this case, just local haoles—that’s white men, to you—decided they’d bring some talent back on the return trip—bring them back without their say so, if you know what I mean. Street fighters they could make money off in Shanghai, some high-class whores. Didn’t do more than raise a few eyebrows. Then they made the mistake of kidnapping the Chief Justice’s mistress—well, she used to be a high class whore, so it was an honest mistake—but still, not the kind of thing you can do with impunity in Honolulu. The Chief Justice called the governor, the governor called us—me and Steve and a couple of other fellows, we’re always on call for special assignments. And the next thing I know, Steve’s rushing in like he always does, leaving me a note saying he’s got a lead on the boss—Clemmons, we think he’s called.”

“And then?” Holmes prompted. Watson felt a step or two behind, trying to remember what he knew of the coolie trade.

“And then you tell me.” Williams sagged, looking thoroughly disheartened. “That was the last I heard from him. By dawn Clemmons’s ship had sailed, no Chief Justice’s mistress, no Steve.”

“And so you followed him? You tracked him all the way across the Atlantic?” Watson asked, suddenly touched by the man’s devotion.

“Atlantic?” Williams stared at him. “Just where do you think Hawaii is? Followed them across the goddamn Pacific to Shanghai, but I lost a couple of days there to some local fever, and by the time I was up and about again the trail was cold. Most I could find out was that Clemmons had decided to do a European tour with his best fighters, so I set off overland—Orient Express most of the way. Thought I’d caught up with them in Bucharest, but they slipped away. I won’t bore you with the details, but next thing I know, it’s two months later and here I am—one step behind as usual.”

“You really are the thousandth man,” Watson said.

Williams wrinkled his brow. “Hmm? It’s just ohana, y’know? That’s what they say in Hawaii, anyway.”

“Family,” Holmes translated.

“Yeah.” Williams reached for his teacup with an unsteady hand but managed to overturn it. Hot liquid splashed his trouser leg and he leapt to his feet, cursing and apologizing alternately.

“My good man,” said Watson, “No apologies necessary, you must be completely done in.” He opened the door and called downstairs. “Mrs. Hudson, will you be so kind as to bring up some sandwiches for our guest? Thank you.”

Below, she muttered, “Guest? So it’s a guest now, is it?” but he could hear her stamping off towards the kitchen.

“And Holmes, perhaps you could find Detective Williams some brandy? I know it’s early, but it’ll do him good.”

Holmes startled, as if he’d been pursuing some internal line of inquiry, then moved to find the decanter.

Williams downed the brandy like a shot of whisky, making a satisfied noise at the back of his throat. Then he set to ravenously on the sandwiches Mrs. Hudson disapprovingly delivered. Midway through the third one, however, he frowned, rubbed his fingers across his forehead, leaned back in his chair and fell asleep, mouth open and a sandwich still dangling from his hand.

Watson studied him. The man was clearly even more exhausted than he had thought; or, perhaps he was suffering from some illness or injury not immediately apparent; or—

“Holmes,” Watson said sternly, “did you by any chance tamper with our friend’s drink?”

Holmes looked up from the stack of books on the Pacific Islands he’d brought down from shelves. For a moment, he seemed to consider evading the question. Then he gestured dismissively at Watson’s concern.

“Of course I did. Look at him. We can’t have him running about London like a bull in a china shop. He’d scare away any sources just by walking into a room. This way, I can do some reconnaissance unimpeded, and he can get some much needed rest.”

“And what I am supposed to do with him?” Watson jabbed a finger at the now snoring Detective Williams.

“Why keep an eye on him, my dear,” Holmes said chidingly. “You saw what happened when we let the other one out of our sight.”

+++

Williams awoke three hours later with a sharp snort and a long groan. He swung his feet off the sofa where Watson had carefully arranged them and dragged a hand through his already disheveled hair.

“Whoa.” He fixed a bleary eye on Watson, who sat in the chair opposite, perusing the evening paper. “That English brandy sure packs a punch. Or—hey—“ He scratched at his whiskers and squinted. “You fellas didn’t slip me a mickey, didja?”

“Hmm?” Watson folded his paper and tried to look suitably disingenuous. “I’m not sure what you mean, old chap. You were simply exhausted from your travels, and we thought it best to let you rest.”

“Hmpf.” Williams didn’t seem convinced, but he stretched and looked around for his boots. “Where’s the other one—the detective fellow?”

“Mr. Holmes has gone to make further inquiries about your friend , McGarrett. He should return shortly.”

“And left you here to make sure I didn’t pull a fast one, eh?” Williams gave Watson a knowing glance. He was evidently cannier than his blowhard manner would lead one to expect.

Watson ignored the question. “Perhaps you’d care to use the, uh, facilities while we wait, Officer Williams?” he said, not entirely graciously.

But Williams laughed. “Call me Danny, everyone does. And that’s mighty kind of you, Johnny—I sure must stink. You don’t mind if I call you Johnny, do ya?”

Watson certainly did mind. But he was caught between Danny’s American informality and his own ingrained English politeness. So he merely raised his eyebrows and said, “The bath’s just down the hall—second door on your right.”

Before Danny could leave the room, however, the door was pushed open with the vigorous poke of a cane. A pink-cheeked, white-whiskered old man followed in its wake. He was stooped but spry, wearing a plain but serviceable black suit. He cocked his head inquiringly at the scene in front of him.

Danny gaped for a moment, then stuck out his hand, seemingly determined to make the best of things. “Pleased to meet you, sir. Johnny didn’t tell me his pa lived here, too.”

“Johnny?” The old man appeared on the verge of succumbing to a fit of extremely undignified giggles. “You’ll have to pardon him; never the most polite of lads, our Johnny.”

Watson lost the last shreds of his patience. “Oh, honestly. Straighten up and let us know what you found. And give me back my cane.”

With a slight pout, Holmes rose to his full height, pulling off the white beard as he did so. He held the cane out to Watson like a peace offering. Danny’s mouth dropped open for a moment, but he recovered with admirable rapidity.

“Neat trick,” he noted dryly. “But did you find Steve?”

“No luck, I’m afraid, old son,” Holmes said, pausing in front of the mantelpiece mirror to work the white mustache off his face. “The whole crew has cleared out. Only to be expected with the police threat raised by last night’s goings on.”

“Then I’ve missed them again.” Danny sunk onto the sofa with a deflated sigh.

“Ah,” said Holmes smugly. “But you underestimate the persuasive power of a humble tailor seeking only to have to have his bill paid.”

Danny’s head snapped up again. “You—“

“Why yes,” Holmes fairly preened. “It seems that the humble tailor is not the only one whose demands for payment have gone unheeded. Your Mr. Clemmons is something of a profligate, as it turns out, and more powerful creditors than the tailor have been clamoring for his funds. And so, his merry band of drugged fighters is effectively marooned in London until he can pay at least some of these debts—presumably by staging another fight or two.”

“And so—“ Danny breathed.

“And so, while the Punch Bowl is, as you Americans say, too hot for him, he has merely gone to ground deeper in the city’s nether regions, your friend Commander McGarrett in tow.”

“Holmes,” Watson interjected, “Did you manage to figure where this foxhole of theirs is?”

“It took a bit of doing,” Holmes admitted, “and the aid of the Irregulars, but I think I’ve located a house in Billingsgate that they may be using.” Restored more or less to his ordinary face, he rounded the sofa and clapped Danny on the shoulder. “And so tonight we shall shut down whatever dirty game they’ve been playing.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, however, Danny refused to be comforted by Holmes’s words. “No,” he said sticking an imperative finger in Holmes’s face. “I want Steve out of there before you call the law down on these bastards. I want him away and out of danger.”

“But what difference does it make?” Watson asked. “He won’t be held responsible for anything he’s done under their influence. He’s a victim here.”

Danny smiled grimly, “Better not let him hear you use that word, Johnny. But first, because I don’t want him thrown in jail while they sort things out, like you know they’re gonna do, not if he’s in the state you say he’s in; and second, because I know him and he won’t leave without Annalee—that’s the Chief Justice’s mistress who started this whole mess. See any sign of her in your investigations, Sherlock?”

“Holmes, please, if you don’t mind,” said Holmes mildly. “And no, I’m afraid I didn’t.”

“Well, then, Mr. Holmes, here’s what we’re gonna do.” Danny stood and sketched things out for them with his hands, seemingly unaware that no one told Holmes to follow a plan that wasn’t his. “We go in; we get Steve; we dry him out; we find the lady in question; and then, only then, do we bring in the local cops.”

Holmes, to Watson’s surprise, seemed unperturbed by this highhandedness. “Are you proposing, Officer Williams, that we kidnap your friend back from the blackguards who’ve kidnapped him?”

“That’s exactly what I am proposing.”

Holmes threw a tight, companionable arm around Danny’s neck and squeezed, while Watson looked on in astonishment. “Then you and I,” he said, “will get on famously.”