Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson are creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thank you to everyone who has left reviews and/or favorted my previous stories. I really do appreciate the feedback. I also want to thank Protector of the Gray Fortress for giving me some much needed advice for this story. This one is a bit different from my usual stuff.

"Well Thurston, it looks as though you've lost for once," said Doctor Watson with surprise as the eight ball rolled into the corner pocket. Thurston, a tall man with thin blond hair and muddy brown eyes gave him a weak smile. "Victory is indeed yours my good man. I should consider myself grateful we were not playing for money." He coughed and rubbed the back of his neck. Watson looked at him with concern.

"It was hardly a fair contest, your mind was clearly somewhere else the entire game. Normally you are far better at American pool than I am. What is troubling you? Is there anything I can do to help?"

Thurston chewed on his lower lip and looked wildly around the room. Leaning forward, he whispered softly, "May I speak with you? In private, I mean."

Watson smiled kindly. "Certainly, just give me a moment to retrieve my hat and coat and we'll be on our way." He wondered what was wrong with his companion. Whatever it was, it must be quite personal for Thurston to fear someone over hearing them.

Outside the night was clear but bitterly cold. Every now and then there would be an icy gust of wind that seemed to cut through Watson's clothes and straight to the bone. He shivered slightly and wrapped his coat more tightly around himself. The streets were practically deserted, and Thurston seemed relieved. "Come on, this way," he whispered, pulling Watson along behind him. They crossed the street and passed two buildings before ducking into an alleyway.

Watson took a quick glance at his surroundings. The building to his left was rundown with the windows boarded up. A wooden stairway led to a side entrance. The building to his right was unremarkable, save for a pile of rubbish that included some wooden boards that lay against it. Watson leaned against the banister and rubbed his leg, the cold was making it ache dreadfully.

Thurston leaned against the building opposite. "Watson, I-" he started to say, and then stopped. "It is a terrible position-" Thurston stopped again. "Do you have a match? I really need a cigarette right now."

Watson sighed and reached into his pocket. "Here you are. I don't know why we can't have this conversation indoors." Thurston tried to light his cigarette but his hands were shaking too hard. Finally Watson lit it for him. "Now, what sort of terrible position are you in?"

Thurston continued to shake as he took a long drag off his cigarette. Whether it was from the cold or his nerves Watson could not be certain.

"I am in trouble Watson," Thurston said finally. "I found myself in serious debt after a bad investment and was forced to borrow money from a neighbor. He gave me a deadline in which to pay him back and told me if I could not meet it I could work off the debt by doing some favors."

Watson felt a sense of dread. The desperation in Thurston's voice told him that Thurston had not been able to pay off the loan-and that the favors were most likely illegal. When Watson voiced his suspicions Thurston looked down at the pavement and nodded. "Please Watson, I am at my wit's end. You must help me! I cannot go to the police, he will have me killed for sure!"

Watson was uncertain about what to do. If Thurston was too afraid to talk to the police Watson would not be able to force him to. Perhaps Holmes would be willing to help.

"Would you trust my friend Sherlock Holmes to help?"

Thurston swallowed hard. "Perhaps," he said uncertainly.

"Then let us go there now. I will fetch us a cab." As Watson turned to leave the alley he heard a clatter behind him. Before he could turn to look, something struck him in the back of the head, sending him sprawling to the pavement. "What-" he tried to say as he struggled to stand, just before another blow came down rendering him unconscious.

Thurston tossed the board aside and tried to swallow down the bile rising in his throat as he knelt at Watson's side, checking to make sure the doctor still breathed. "Forgive me," he whispered.

"Well done, Thurston," said a voice behind him. "For a moment there I was afraid you had lost your nerve."

Thurston looked over his shoulder. A man stood at the top of the stairs, his face obscured by shadows. Thurston scrambled to his feet. "I-I kept up my end of the bargain," he stuttered, "w-will you keep yours?"

The newcomer chuckled. "Certainly," he said as he removed a roll of pound notes from his pocket and threw it at Thurston. "A deal is a deal, after all." Thurston grabbed the money and turned to go. He hesitated and glanced back at Watson. "Um, you aren't-you won't hurt him, will you?"he asked, knowing how foolish the question sounded after what he had just done, and unable to voice the real question on his mind.

"Of course not," the man said soothingly. "I have already told you I need him alive, remember?"

Thurston nodded slowly and after taking one last look at Watson ran off into the night.

The gentleman on the stairs climbed down and knelt at Watson's side. "Of course," he said slowly as he lifted Watson off the ground, "it is simply amazing what a person can live through. Wouldn't you agree, doctor?"

To be continued...