Inspector Lestrade absently thanked the landlady for showing him up, and I wondered if this were going to become a habit for the man.
I suppose it counted for something that he at least realized and was willing to admit that he could be out of his depth in his chosen profession. I was surprised he was back, however. Between the dressing down he had received from his superior for involving an amateur on that jewelry case, and the way he had taken offense when I pointed out how horribly he had managed things throughout the case, I had expected him not to be back.
Of course, I also hadn't expected him to pay me before he stormed off.
Something flashed in the small man's dark eyes; the insults were not forgotten, then. Absently I wondered what the difference had been between the insults I had thrown out when I had first met the man and the insults that had angered him so on our last encounter.
Lestrade straightened. "I have a case for you, if you're interested." He said, every bit the professional.
I wasn't certain I was. But then, I could certainly use the money-
"I won't be able to offer you the usual amount." He seemed embarrassed. "In fact, I can't really offer you enough to justify taking up your time."
I pondered this development, and wondered just how much he planned to offer.
He blurted the price he could pay; it wasn't even half a day's wages. I considered laughing at the man.
Lestrade fidgeted. "There's a girl gone missing, Mr. Holmes." He explained. "And I only have a few hours to find her before she goes the same way as the last three."
I was interested in spite of myself. I waited for him to say more.
The man looked hopeful. "Somebody kidnapped a young girl, about fourteen, Mr. Holmes. And she isn't the first. There have been three other cases of kidnapping. Each time a note has been left on the front door of the girls' homes. The notes contain some sort of riddle stating where the girls can be found, and the deadline for finding them. So far all we've managed to do is find three corpses the day after the deadlines."
The Inspector hesitated. "I'm not actually supposed to be down here, Mr. Holmes. I'm not supposed to 'encourage' you. But you seem to have more of a head for this sort of thing than I do, and I'm not about to stand by and let another girl die if I can do anything to stop it."
"Do you have the note?" I asked. Lestrade handed several over.
"The first is the one we received today." He explained. "But I wasn't certain if you would want to see the others as well.
"The note says you have twenty-four hours." I observed. "How long ago did the girl disappear?"
Lestrade slumped. "Twenty-one hours ago." He admitted.
I scowled at the man. "Why did you not come to me sooner?" I demanded, considering the riddle before me.
The man didn't answer, but did manage to turn bright red. I disregarded him for the moment and concentrated on the note.
I tried to ignore the fact that there were less than three hours left.
"The docks." I finally said. Lestrade blinked.
"She's at the docks." I said. Then I caught a glance at the time.
Had that much time really passed? Another thought struck me, and I sprang from my chair.
"The tide!" I exclaimed. Lestrade's eyes widened, and he paled. He was through the door and bolting down the stairs before I could start myself. I followed after him, ignoring my landlady as she screamed at us for disturbing the peace.
The little fellow was fast in spite of his foot, but I quickly caught up with him and soon threatened to overtake him. I reached the docks less than a minute ahead of him, and scanned the water below for some sign of her.
I heard the scream as Lestrade caught up with me, and realized she was beneath the pier on which I was standing. The scream was cut off as the water rose even higher.
The Inspector didn't hesitate, but shed his jacket in one fluid motion and launched himself over the side. I heard the splash a second later, and winced. These were not friendly waters. They carried refuse and filth and disease in them.
I waited impatiently, wondering what on earth to do now. Abruptly I heard another cry, and murmured assurances. Then I heard a shout.
"Mr. Holmes!" That was Lestrade.
"Here!" I shouted back.
"See if there's a rope or something you can toss over!" He wouldn't be able to fight the current, not with a panicking girl to worry about. I quickly found a rope, and secured it, and tossed the end over the edge.
I felt the rope pull tight, and a moment later heard him shout again. "Pull her up, Mr. Holmes!"
I obliged, and a few minutes later an arm appeared over the edge of the dock. I sprang forward and finished pulling the girl up. She was completely drenched, and shivering, and looked on the verge of going into shock.
Lestrade was not with her.
I threw the rope back over the edge, and again found myself battling gravity. My muscles strained, and my arms ached as I fought to pull the Inspector back up.
At last, he appeared, and dragged himself over the edge of the pier without my help. He lay sprawled on the pier for less than a second before he was up and speaking with the girl.
His steady questions calmed her, and his jacket helped cease her shivering. He barely seemed to notice that he was dripping wet himself, or that he was starting to shiver as well.
He led her away from the docks; I followed at a distance, certain I had been forgotten.
The man hailed a cab, and glared at the driver when he sniffed at the two of them and tried to refuse them.
"This girl nearly drowned." Lestrade informed the man sharply. "Her family is waiting for her at Scotland Yard, and every minute that passes is another minute they spend thinking she's dead. She needs to be returned to her family, and she needs to be properly taken care of."
The cabbie shifted uneasily. "Now look, Mister-"
"Inspector." Lestrade corrected, and the cabbie blanched.
"Come on, then." The man said. "I didn't know."
Lestrade helped the girl into the cab and climbed in behind her before turning back to me. "Coming?" He asked.
I didn't need to be asked twice.
Lestrade had given up trying to pretend he wasn't shivering by the time we reached Scotland Yard.
He climbed out, and helped the girl down. Then he turned and paid the cabbie before stalking towards the doors, leaving me to follow.
I caught up as the girl's mother flung her arms around her and held her tight, while her father stood there trying not to let his emotions get the better of him.
Lestrade suggested they get her home and taken care of now before stomping off through the building, a trail of water in his wake. He hadn't even bothered to retrieve his jacket from the girl.
I followed him, receiving curious looks from those I didn't know and scornful glances from those I did. He stopped at what passed for their infirmary long enough to grab two blankets and throw one at me.
I realized then that I had managed to get rather wet myself, likely in helping them both up onto the pier.
Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes does not belong to me.