Sherlock Holmes is the singular and exceptional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This story is a work of fan fiction, written by a fan, for the pleasure of other fans and no harm is meant or intended by its creation.
The Mystery of the Tankerville Leopard
I run, because delay is foolhardy against such odds. I have taken desperate measures against ruthless men and in my folly have I underestimated my foe. I had not anticipated the other, the stalking horse set to catch the unwary. And so I must run, to find escape from this infernal establishment, and in my haste I err.
My footsteps echo along deserted corridors, beating out a sharp staccato rhythm on the polished wood floors. I hear them behind me, their blood lust raised, hunters keen on the scent. Their cries, like so many hounds, alert others and in full flight they chase.
I do not look back. Ahead lies the staircase, and would my burning lungs and aching legs permit, I shall be free of this place and out into the street where dark deeds are not concealed behind respectable walls and painted eyes bear silent witness to the crimes perpetrated at their feet. Lestrade should be there by now, but should my messenger fail, I know they would not dare to raise arms against me in so public a place. Not even the dullest witted of London policemen would ignore bloody murder committed in front of him.
I run, my hopes alive. Then, in front of me, a figure appears, a crony designed to arrest my flight. If I stop and fight, the others will be upon me in no time at all. My thoughts turn, I find an exit, an open doorway, and through it I run.
And here have I erred. This gymnasium, whose floor have I tortured my back and pained my knees in endless scrubbing, has only one exit, that through which I have come. Too late, I try to retrace my steps to make my escape. But then they are there, their leader at their helm, and I have nowhere to go but back.
"Well, now, Mr Holmes," says he advancing, swordstick in his hand. "Did you think to slip away so easily after casting such a slur on my honour? I have you, you scoundrel!"
"Better a scoundrel than a murderer!" I declare.
He stops in his tracks and regards me from beneath hooded lids. "You repeat your slander, sir. For the stain you have cast upon my good name, I demand satisfaction!"
This meets with a general roar of approval from the rest of the pack.
"You will have your day in court, never fear," say I.
"Oh, no, Mr Holmes, I demand it now. You forget where you are, sir. This is the Tankerville Club. Different rules apply here. We mete out our own brand of justice."
He goes to the racks of fencing weapons. His hand hovers over the foils, then a sickly smile comes to his features, and instead he takes up a sabre. Another is thrown to me and I catch it, feeling its weight slightly pull on my arm.
It has been some time since I have had handled a blade such as this and my technique, although ambitiously described as 'expert' in later years by my friend and biographer, had been lamentably neglected of late. Up against the second finest swordsman this side of the Alps, I would not place a bet on myself as emerging victorious from this bout.
"A duel, sir," says my opponent. "Let it be to first blood, and then I will expect an apology. If not…"
He strokes the blade of his weapon and tests the keenness of the tip on his thumb. What should have been a blunted edge produces a globule of blood that he sucks from his skin. As befits a military club, these are genuine weapons of war, not for created for sport. The nicks and gouges I notice in my own blade can only have come from its use on the battlefield.
"I do prefer the sabre," says he. "Truly, it is a man's weapon. I see you hold it with accustomed ease, Mr Holmes."
"I believe you will find me a greater challenge than your last adversary."
"Hah! But then he was not a gentleman. He was gutter scum, a rank, snivelling coward. And what of you, sir! A wolf in sheep's clothing if ever I saw one. Come to spy upon us, have you? But what happens in the Tankerville stays in the Tankerville, as you will soon discover!"
He raises the hilt to his face in the traditional form of salute before adopting the en garde stance. I take a moment to discard my coat and waistcoat before returning the gesture. No matter that what we are doing has been banned some six-and-twenty years; as he has said, the members of the Tankerville Club make their own rules. That includes gambling on illegal bouts such as this, for behind him, I notice the others making wagers on the outcome. First blood, so he says, but I know he will accept nothing less than my demise.
Civilities over, he charges like a madman, swinging his blade in a deadly arc. I am forced immediately into retreat, so far back that I hit the far wall and dodge away just in time as his weapon hits the place I had been a second before. He feints, lunges and I parry his blow, only to find myself with his weight pressing down on my blade.
The sheer power of the man is terrifying. His eyes are wild, bloodshot and staring, and his mouth half-open in a feral snarl. We have forsaken elegance for brute force. He means to best me; it will mean my very life if he does.
Our knuckleguards have become locked, and only with supreme effort am I able to disengage and throw him off. He glares at me, his nostrils flaring. We circle like wary lions before he throws caution to the wind and charges. The hall fills with the sound of clashing steel before we part. His blade whistles past my ear and smashes to the floor. Had I been slower, he would have taken my head with it.
He recovers and slashes wildly. Again in retreat, I fall back, tripping over my own feet in my haste and sprawling on the floor. He attacks; I parry and somehow manage to evade the deadly sweep of his sabre. I leap up to find a lock of my hair still on the ground where I had fallen. That last blow was too close. Already my limitations are showing.
My shoulder aches and perspiration is running freely down my face. I have been too long out of practice. What such neglect could cost me does not bear thinking.
We perform our deadly dance across the hall, sometimes attacking, sometimes falling back, but always relentlessly heading towards the farthermost corner. I anticipate too late. The wall slams into my back and in my moment of hesitation there is a flash, my weapon is dashed away and I feel a sharp pain above my left eye. My opponent falls back, his sabre lowered and his eyes alight with triumph. Something warm wends its way over my eyelids and I wipe away the blood that threatens to spill down my face.
He has his victory. First blood has been drawn. I have lost.
His fellows cheer and offer their congratulations, but this is not over. He wants more. He raises the sabre so its tip is pressed against my windpipe.
"On your knees, you wretch," he hisses. "I want my apology, Mr Holmes."
"You may want it, but you will never get it!" I declare.
"You should not have meddled in my affairs, boy," says he. "No one crosses me and lives to tell of it."
"The police know. They have enough to arrest you and send you to the gallows."
He laughs mirthlessly. "Men of my calibre are not hanged like common criminals."
"And yet that is exactly what you are. Men like you overestimate their importance."
His eyes widen a fraction. This is what he has been waiting for all along.
"Get out!" he yells over shoulder. "I have private matters to discuss with this blackguard."
The others look askance. They know the meaning of this command. As in the past, they obey. They file out, not looking back. They have no wish to be party to murder.
With the final member gone, his cronies close the door and one lounges up against it, fingering the pistol he keeps out of habit in his coat pocket. In the unlikely event of my winning, he will ensure that his master is avenged.
"Now," says my opponent. "Pick up your weapon."
I have no choice. I must comply.
My hopes rest on the fleetness of a child and my trust in the best of the professionals. Should they fail me, I know I will not leave this room alive.
Good heavens! Whatever has that young Mr Holmes got himself into now? I think he might have bitten off slightly more than he can chew this time!
To find out how this situation came about, onwards to Chapter One!
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