My feet pounded against the polished cobblestone pavement with such force that I felt as though they might break at any moment. My lungs heaved as we tore through the dark city streets of London, the icy cold rush of bitter wind streaking across my pale face.
Holmes, a few meters ahead of me, had managed to keep track of the criminal we were hunting down, and though I could not, the detective could see the man we were pursuing at such great speeds, and I merely followed him, revolver in hand, should the criminal try to turn on us.
The man in question, Mr. Thomas Hart, had been no match for Holmes' clever wits. He was an amateur jewelry thief, nothing more, but his intricate break-in and ominous ransom notes sent to the victim of the theft, Mrs. Judith Dale, had rather amused my friend, and he had taken interest in the case.
Not more than a week ago Mrs. Dale had stepped into our apartment at 221B Baker Street and explained her situation to Holmes. Some searching, snooping, and several smokes later had finally taken us to this final point in the case; the climax, if you will.
And, of course, every good story has a confrontation of the main conflict – in this case, Mr. Hart.
As my partner and I rounded a corner, Holmes suddenly skidded to a halt, stopping to face the criminal, who was backed into an alleyway about fifty meters away.
I followed suit, stopping behind my friend, breathing heavily from the exhausting run. I kept a firm grip on my revolver as Holmes began to speak.
"Give up, Mr. Hart. There's no-where for you to scamper off to now. Ah, don't bother taking out your revolver – my friend here will have you down before you've even gotten a chance to take aim. Now, the Yard will be here at any moment, so don't try to do anything rash."
Mr. Hart gave my friend an ugly grin, his yellow teeth glinting sickly in the pale moonlight.
"It seems you've gotten me right and good, Misser 'Olmes. Nicely done, there. But even with your great and genius mind, why don't you tell me somethin'?"
Holmes kept his eyes locked on Hart as he asked, "And what's that?"
"Where're the jewels kept, then? Bet you 'aven't got the faintest clue where I've stashed 'em, eh?"
He gave Holmes a challenging chuckle, a glint of defiance in his eye. But I glanced at my friend's face and saw the small smile that was creeping up upon his features.
"Well, Mr. Hart, if I am not mistaken, I believe that Mrs. Dale's prized ruby necklace in is the uppermost pocket of your inner jacket, upon the left side."
Hart had quite obviously underestimated my friend's abilities a great deal, and the smile was gone from his face in an instant, shock and slight horror beginning to set in.
In the distance, the rumble of horse's hooves was not far away, and we all knew that Hart would soon be in the hands of the Yard.
Relaxing his stance just a little, Holmes gave Hart a disapproving look. "Really, now. Let's not make this too difficult. Give me the necklace."
The shock still plain on Hart's face was beginning to become rather amusing, but his reaction to Holmes' statement was not at all what we were expecting, and not in the least bit humorous.
I saw him glance at either side of him, but it never occurred to me what he would do next. Holmes, however, saw his plan just before it was executed, and he gave an annoyed cry just as Hart took off running, dashing towards us out of the alleyway and then away behind some buildings, out of sight.
I heard Holmes curse as we charged after him again, the look on his face rather agitated. "Damn it all, Watson," said he as we trotted through the alleys, searching for Hart. "The Inspector is going to arrive upon the scene and find no-one there. I'm afraid he isn't bright enough to think to come looking for us. He'll most likely stand about and confuse his slow brain as to where we've run off too."
I chuckled. "Well, I guess it's up to us to find him, then."
Holmes came to a stop and motioned to the revolver still clutched in my frozen fingers. "If you see him, Watson, don't hesitate to shoot. I've got his story pretty set, and I don't believe there are any loose ends or extra facts Mr. Hart would be able to bring to light, so if you did shoot and kill him I don't think it would be much of a loss. Let us split up and go looking for the man. He can't be far."
With that, Holmes gave me a quick pat on the arm and disappeared into the shadows.
I cleared my throat as I pulled my jacket closer to me. My breath materialized and was now visible as a thin mist in the frosty night air. It was indeed very cold so late at night.
Looking around, I thought about going back to the inspectors of the Yard, who were most likely standing about getting cold, as Holmes had suggested. After a bit of thought, I decided against it. I would be fine on my own.
I began to walk in the general direction that Holmes had taken, trying to keep my steps very quiet so that I would be able to hear any sounds in the darkness. The moonlight provided just enough illumination to see, though it was still difficult to make things out. Large shapes looming in the darkness could have been anything, from a jumble of crates to a human form, and I wasn't sure how Holmes or I were going to find Hart at this time of day.
My friend was very determined, but I knew that he was without a revolver, unlike myself, so perhaps I had a better chance at subduing the escapee Thomas Hart.
I knelt behind a crate and sat very still, the faint sound of my breathing and the whistling of the wind the only two things I could hear.
Presently, I heard a crash of what sounded like a combination of wood and metal, followed by some cursing which I immediately knew to be Hart. I stood and kept my back against the wall, listening closely.
I heard a few more crashing noises, though they were quieter than the first. A few seconds passed, then the sound of running feet upon the pavement. As I listened, it seemed as though the feet were getting closer as they clapped noisily against the ground.
Yes. I could heard it clearly now. I raised my revolver as the steps seemed to be just a few meters away…
Hart blew past my hiding spot and veered sharply to the left, just about twenty meters in front of me, and I didn't hesitate to raise my arm and pull the trigger of my revolver.
By some unimaginable luck, Hart's sharp turn caused him to slip on the pavement just as I fired, and he hit the ground, managing to dodge the bullet altogether.
I stood there for a few seconds, stupidly unable to fully grasp the strange and seemingly impossible events that had just taken place.
By now, of course, Hart had leaped to his feet and was off again. Now, it was my turn to curse. How the hell had I just missed such an easy shot?
Still, why had Hart been running in the first place?
My question was soon answered when Holmes came rushing around the corner as well. He quickly spotted me and came to my side, his cheeks flushed from his sprint.
He gave a hearty laugh and placed his hand on my shoulder. "Now, this is getting rather fun, isn't it, Watson?" said he. "Here we are, looking like fools as we chase a fat jewel thief through London at some ridiculous hour of night, and he's managed to escape not once, but twice. Indeed, what fools we are."
But his smile faded and my friend glanced in the direction Hart had run. "However, I'm sure being overweight does not help one keep up running for long. He's likely hiding, Watson, rather than continuing to flee. I'll flush him out, and you shoot him."
I nodded to show I understood, and we crept along the rough building wall, the scratchy bricks pulling at my jacket as we slid along the side.
Holmes then hurried in front of me, still staying very quiet, and held his hand out, signaling me to wait. I froze and held my gun ready.
Holmes disappeared into the darkness, and I stayed perfectly still so not to rouse anyone's suspicions that I might be hiding there.
I waited in the frosty air, not daring to move to pull my jacket tighter. My collar had come undone in the excitement, and the wind was snaking sharp wisps of icy air right down to my bare skin. I shivered.
It was taking Holmes longer than I had expected to drive Hart from his hiding place, but I also knew that when Holmes did flush him out, he would do it right the first time. Sherlock Holmes was not one for mistakes.
But I didn't have to wait much longer. It was clear Holmes had done his job when I heard a shout and then the sound of running steps once again. However, Hart didn't arrive immediately, as I had thought he would. The steps began to die – there were faint noises for another second or two – then, nothing.
Still, I kept my finger, poised and ready, on the trigger of my revolver, waiting for any sign of movement.
This thrill, this waiting, the catching of the criminal – this is what I loved about Holmes' cases. They were never boring.
A few more seconds, then…
A loud crashing of crates, and then I saw a shape streak through the darkness in front of me, not far away, and my reaction could not have been quicker. I shoot and he goes down. An excellent shot – I haven't quite killed him, just injured him. He's still moving on the ground. From what I can see, it appears I've just missed his heart.
I call out into the darkness, "I got him, Holmes!" so that my companion would know we had succeeded.
I begin to walk to the man, and I hear a gasp of pain escape his throat as he clutches his wound. "We've gotten you, Hart," I say with a smirk as I stop a few feet from the body. "The Yard will be here in a min-"
But as I look at the man on the ground, blood pouring from his gunshot wound, my heart seems to stop and a chill colder than any wind courses through my body.
It's not Hart I've shot.