Harbinger's Mark

Chapter 1

Rain lashed at the cobblestones, silencing the sound of footsteps rushing across them. A translucent mist clung to the streets, masking the approach. Nature was an ally this time. The figure moved swiftly and silently through London, heard and seen by no one. Its ears heard every murmur of sound, eyes saw the tiniest flicker of movement despite its swiftness. This task was important one; not one tiny detail could be left to chance. Suddenly the figure stopped at the corner of Clarence Street, keeping close to the shadows. Some yards opposite, the window of the Singing Stream restaurant could be seen, brightly lit by crystal chandeliers and roses creeping along the mahogany frame. The figure's cunningly keen eyes pierced through the cloud of mist and scanned the rows of tables. In an instant, they fixed on a mouse seated facing the window at the rear of the restaurant, sipping his glass of red wine. The eyes widened with intent and the figure's breathing intensified. Its hand caressed the smooth wood as the crossbow was pulled to shoulder-height. With each laboured breath, the eyes followed the line of the bolt, through the busy restaurant, resting between the targets eyes. The ears heard his muffled conversation. Seconds felt like hours. You cannot miss. Now!

"You really must have a glass of the Ch√Ęteau Lafite, Dawson. A superb vintage."

Basil of Baker Street took another sip before replacing his glass on the table and tucking into his meal. Dr Dawson swallowed the last drop from his glass and smiled broadly.

"I say Basil, if the Lafite is even half as good as the Rochefort 87, then I simply must!" he said heartily, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin.

"Oh indeed, old boy. Excuse me?" Basil gestured to a passing waiter who stopped by them. "A bottle of your finest Ch√Ęteau Lafite for my colleague here, there's a good chap."

The waiter bowed and hurried off. Basil added a few grains of pepper to his dish before continuing, "Well Dawson, we have much to celebrate. The Case of the Tarnished Brooch was quite the taxing one, to be sure."

"Indeed," Dawson replied nodding. "Those Claw Gang scoundrels were rather fiendish. Using an innocent young lady to distribute weapons, by Jove!"

The waiter then emerged from the inner room, carrying the wine and two glasses on a silver platter. He placed the platter on the table and removed the cork. Suddenly there was a shattering of glass and a high-pitched scream from a number of ladies, causing Dawson to start in alarm and Basil to drop his fork. The waiter's eyes became wide and his mouth dropped open. The bottle fell from his hands and his body crumpled to the floor with a deaden thud. The Singing Stream descended into pandemonium; ladies wept hysterically and men rushed about, demanding to know what had happened. Dawson placed his fingers on the waiter's neck feeling for a pulse while Basil leapt from his seat and burst open the door to the restaurant. He looked about him frantically, examining the street corners and trying to listen beyond the torrent of rain. But he saw nothing, heard nothing. The streets were completely deserted, no assailant, no witnesses.

"Confound it!" Basil cursed aloud and retreated back into the restaurant. He pushed his way past the throng of guests now hurrying to the door with all speed. Dawson was kneeling over the waiter placing his arm on the floor while the manager rushed out into the street towards the police station.

"Is he..?"

"I'm afraid so, Basil." He had known the answer before he asked. "Quite dead."

Basil knelt beside Dawson and began to turn the body.

"Shouldn't we wait until the Inspector arrives?" Dawson asked anxiously, "He will want to handle every aspect of this matter."

"No time for that!" Basil snapped. "In the time it takes for that oaf to arrive, the killer and every iota of evidence he may have left behind him will be long gone."

He turned the waiter's body on its side and as he did so, the thin metal rod of a crossbow bolt could be clearly seen protruding from the neck. Basil gasped in triumph and pulled a tiny magnifying glass out of his waistcoat pocket before examining the bolt closely.

"Aha! This is our culprit, Dawson!" Basil exclaimed, "A crossbow bolt, iron broadhead by the look of it. Struck our poor chap here below the base of the skull."

Dawson took out his spectacles and bent to look.

"Indeed," he said, "Judging from the entry, several arteries were severed and..." He tentatively moved the head, "...from the malleability of his neck, even shattered the spinal cord." He shuddered slightly and looked away. "Poor man."

Basil looked through the broken window towards the streets. He narrowed his eyes as he thought.

"Note where he was standing, Dawson," he murmured. "His position and the angle of the entry wound suggests a straight trajectory rather than angled, not a shot taken from a roof or high window..." His eyes settled on a shadowy corner at the crossroads. "...but rather from the shadows on the corner of Clarence Street."

Just then, M'sieur Renoir the manager returned with a constable in tow. He shook nervously as he approached the two detectives and the constable took up a position outside the door, saying the Inspector was on his way.

"Mon dieu! How could zees happen?!" Renoir babbled, "My best waiter killed in cold blood! You could not find a kinder man in all of London. Who could do zees?!"

Basil did not answer, but continued to stare out towards Clarence Street. Dawson rose to his feet and faced the manager.

"We are doing all we can to get to the bottom of this terrible incident, M'sieur Renoir," he comforted, putting his hands together. "Might we know this unfortunate fellow's name so his family may be informed?"

"Sands, William Sands," Renoir replied. "Such a gentleman, taken so young."

Dawson committed this to memory.

"Thank you, sir. Could you tell me anything about young Mr Sands? His nature? Any enemies he may have?"

"Impossible!" Renoir spoke with pride. "He was ze kindest and most modest man on zees good Earth. A good, church-going man who cherished his family. I cannot zink of a single reason why anyone would murder him, Dr Dawson."

Dawson nodded compassionately and turned to see Basil streaking towards the shadows of the crossroads with an oil lamp in hand. He excused himself and raced after him. The rain continued to beat down upon them, but Basil cared nothing for it. Holding the light before him, he groped about, searching for anything that could assist him, anything that could shed more light on the miasma of shadows that was this death. Presently, he caught a glimpse of something and snatched it up in his hand.

"Basil, what on Earth made you rush out here?" Dawson called as he hurried up to him, clutching his umbrella. "What have you found?"

Basil turned to face him. "Something which illuminates much of tonight's events, Doctor." He opened his palm to reveal a crumpled piece of newspaper and a tiny scrap of material. Dawson took the paper from him and looked at it closely. It read 'FAMOUS DETECTIVE FOILS SLIPPERY SMUGGLERS' and underneath was a picture of Basil himself with a thick circle of black ink around it.

"By Jove!" Dawson said, "Then this means..."

"Yes." Basil's face became closed and grave. "Young Mr Sands was just unfortunately caught in the path of the bolt. He was not the target." He walked slowly away from the shadows and leaned against the wall, his face half lit. "I was."