The Bluekiln Wharf AFFAIR
The Bidulph Road Affair had severe repercussions. Holmes and I had to go to court and for a while it seemed that we might be tried for housebreaking! However our lawyers, stout fellows, did a deal with the opposition. The two cardsharps received reduced sentences of three years each, in return for not pressing charges. Alas we were unable to help the Davenports, so Holmes refused to take any payment from them. The Occult Verification people had told them that Charles Davenport had committed suicide by drowning. This was much in accord with our own findings. At least two people must have moved the body from the Pond where it was supposed to have happened, to the Graveyard but after a year how could we establish whom? And if we did, was such tidying up a crime? The Davenports would not thank us for making their brother’s folly public. Criminal folly, for suicide is a crime! Anyway we made a fine profit from the affair because Mr James Verity gave us £500 for revealing that he had been cheated. Pretty scaly of him actually, since we saved him £76,990. Sir Amos Doubtfire paid us a whole £1,000, as well us giving us the information about the tournament. A few days after that cheque, there arrived three cases of top quality champagne, purportedly from him. Since we had already been thanked this made even me suspicious! Sure enough two bottles in each case was laced with strychnine! “Professor Moriarty’s thank-you!” declared Holmes.
I told him that he had Moriarty on the brain and that he had made plenty of other enemies but he professed to be certain. “None so determinedly cunning and evil!” The next week he found a poison dart stuck in his deerstalker hat but he made little of that. “I must be more careful!” was all that he said.
One evening two weeks later a nihilist bomb was thrown into Mrs Hudson’s sitting room. Fortunately she was in the kitchen at the time but quite a lot of damage was done. "My being here is making things too dangerous for you and Mrs Hudson, Watson. I shall have to go away for a while. My studies into oriental drugs and medicines are far from complete. I have a friend out in Bombay who says that there are druggists of several nationalities there. Since the Chapel Lane affair there have been few worthwhile cases meriting my expert powers! I shall have a holiday in warmer climes.”
So he disappeared away to India or so he said. I had my doubts, suspecting that he was going round disguised somewhere or other. I took good care to spread the word that he had gone away. Nasty things these bombs and they might pick the right window next time! Anyway we soon had evidence that he was lurking somewhere in London. One of his Baker Street Irregulars called with a written message from him asking for his pipe. Mrs Hudson came to me with it and it did appear to be in Holmes’ handwriting. He had taken one of his calabashes with him but one remained in the rack so I gave that to the boy. “I hope we are doing the right thing Doctor?” said Mrs Hudson.
“Of course we are! I expect he has lost or broken his other one. Or he has found a two pipe problem to solve!” I joked.
“Perhaps. I wish he would finish doing whatever he is doing and get life back to normal here! I do not like to think that he is smoking that stuff with the revolting smell in some low class den! I hope there was nothing vital hidden in that pipe and bad ones have now got it. I am not sure that I have seen that youngster before.”
“Oh it is all right the pipe going away Mr Hudson, it is anything strange coming into the house that we have to worry about. A pipe coming in might be stuffed with explosives!”
“Mercy me whatever will those bad ones think of next!”
Then I received a letter from Holmes
As you will have guessed I am trying to track down Professor Moriarty’s lair. The activities of the Stiff Sleeve toughs in the docklands made me suspect that he has had some influence there. The big strike has made the local communities there resistant to giving information to strangers so I have tried the seafarers. I contacted a Lieutenant Thomas Hibberd of the Customs and Excise who has been very informative. I considered smuggling as a possible sphere of Moriarty’s money-making activities. Hibberd says that our free trade policies have made the profits to be made from avoiding duties too small to be a major money-spinner. Large scale smuggling ceased around forty years ago and consequently the forces to counter it have been run down to a token presence. With the hundreds of vessels coming and going daily in the port of London, fully checking manifests is an impossible task. However at present there seems to be a considerable traffic in stolen artistic artefacts and the Foreign Office has asked Hibberd to try and stop this. Statues, carpets, tapestries, china and pictures are stolen from great houses all over Europe and are then sold to our burgeoning wealthy merchant families. It is thought that the few so far traced are the tip of an iceberg and large Moriarty type profits are being made from this business. We have an extradition treaty with France but even that is not much help. The new owners of the stolen goods always resist having them taken back and bad feeling is generated between the Empire and the European states. The stolen artefacts are usually traced by private agents, who say our police are not interested in the problem. Hibberd has been trying to track down the vessels carrying these stolen goods and amongst others suspects the Silchester Line vessels. The now mature playboy, Viscount Silchester, owns the Silchester Line! His steam yacht Calleva has been present in harbours near to where art thefts have taken place. The Calleva has not called at a British port for three years, so it is thought that the goods are transferred to other vessels at sea. The only other vessels presently in the Silchester Line are the old screw steamers Iron Duke and Maid of Orleans. These used to carry coastal cargoes round the North Sea and the English Channel but spend most of their time now moored at Blue Kiln Wharf. Suspiciously they always have one steamed up at all times. When they do sail they make a habit of returning on foggy days! Twice the Maid of Orleans has been searched at sea but nothing was found. My investigations proceed as I suspect Moriarty is connected with this. You may contact me at the Trinity Lodge Hedge Street Shadwell. Eric knows where it is. Holmes.
Then some time later I received a letter from Madam Hsing Song.
Honourable Doctor Watson,
I have urgent need of the services of Mr Sherlock Holmes. I trust you will be able to contact him. My brother Hsing Shrill has been kidnapped with the heads of the Lou and Kerli tongs. They each went with two bodyguards to meet at the Ristorante Garibaldi in Poplar for a conference and did not come back! A parcel with the head of one of the bodyguards was sent to my nephew Hsing Lo whom you may remember from the Jade Dagger affair. The letter with it, written in Chinese demands that £400 a week is to be paid to Lee Chow to keep my brother alive! Any default will result in the death of my brother. This perpetual ransom is crippling the Tong and we have had to halve the pay to our employees and raise the insurance rates to our clients. Hsing Lo at eighteen is too young to head the Tong and as a woman I cannot! If the clan Leader Hsing Mi Te back in Canton hears of our plight he will send another Head of Tong. In such a case we will lose our status and my establishment may be closed or converted to ignoble purposes. I believe that the Kerli and Lou Tongs who come from other parts of China are in a similar position. The payments are made to the account of Lee Chow in the Shanghai Bank Poplar which is opposite a police station! It would cause any Tong a grave loss of face to report the kidnapping to the police. Besides which Hsing Shrill has not been officially admitted into Great Britain or its Empire. Please beseech Mr Holmes to discover where my brother is held, so that we may make an attempt to rescue him.
Your admiring friend Hsing Song
I contacted young Eric who dispatched this letter to Holmes by one of his lads. He replied with a note the following day asking me to meet him at the Cafe Orleans in Oxford Street at seven o’clock. Shortly after I had received it at quarter to eleven, the doorbell rang and Mrs Hudson said that there were two ladies arrived. Though I expected to have to fob them off with Holmes absence, I was surprised at being able to recognise them. They were Miss Cordelia Higginbottom and the Rumanian lady Leica Badamaru from the Occult Verification Society. I told them that Mr Holmes was in India, so Miss Badamaru said that ‘I would have to do’!
Miss Higginbottom pleaded, “The thing is that we have need of a private detective to help us and we know that you and Mr Holmes covered yourselves in glory at St. Radegunds and in the Bidulph Road affair. At least hear us out?”
So I said that I could at least do that.
The Rumanian woman then said “Our Society has received a plea to rescue a Chinese man called Hsing Shrill from his kidnappers. Our resources indicate that he is secreted somewhere in the Bluekiln Wharf area. That is east of Chinatown in Limehouse. Though as you may know we are not unarmed, we feel that taking on armed kidnappers is not really our sphere of expertise. Hence we are now asking for your assistance?”
I asked them if they had contacted the police but they said that the Chinese do not trust the police. “And nor do we!” muttered the Rumanian woman.
I thought for a while. Whilst Holmes would not like his presence being known, on the other hand if these people had a means of locating Hsing Shrill, they could be useful!
I told them, “It is a secret that Mr Holmes is not in India. Madam Hsing Song is hiring him to rescue Hsing Shrill whom you claim to have located. I am going to a meeting with him tonight him at the Cafe Orleans in Oxford Street at seven o’clock. If you can get someone there, I think he will be very interested in your locating methods? It seems that we will be working together ladies.”
That evening I went to the Cafe and was very sure that I was being followed. A disguised Holmes was there, sitting with Inspector Hastings and another man. “Doctor Watson, you know the Inspector but this is Lieutenant Thomas Hibberd of the Customs. I am sure this seizing of the three Tong leaders is the work of Moriarty’s organisation. It may well be that his lair is next to where they are being held!”
“Do not speak too loud Holmes for I am sure I was followed coming here!”
“My God Watson, so you have been! It is the Occult Verification Society. A whole lot of them!” I turned and there were five of them bearing down on us!
“It was only one man who was following me Holmes and not one of them. I admit it is my fault that they are here but I did not expect so many.”
One spoke, “Gentlemen I am Ronald Helping, these are Miss Higginbottom, Miss Badamaru, Professor Learning and Wun a retainer of the Hsing Clan. We are here to assist you rescue Hsing Shrill!”
“They think he is held somewhere in the Bluekiln Wharf area! They told me so this morning.”
Holmes and the Customs man looked at each other. The lieutenant spoke, “We too suspect this, possibly in the vessels moored there. I have a warrant, which allows me to search any vessel in the Port of London. But Mr Holmes is very keen to ensnare the kidnappers as well as rescue the victims.”
Inspector Hastings looked grave, “Proceeding in that area will be a very dangerous proposition as there is almost no chance of taking them by surprise! The locals are very suspicious of strangers.”
“Are there a lot of crimes committed there then?” asked Mr Helping.
“Not officially. That is what worries me. I believe that the Stiff Sleeve thugs hold the police powerless there. I believe that there are many crimes but they never get onto report!”
I said that it seemed a very likely place to hold kidnap victims but that with the strength we had, an attempt should be made!
Lieutenant Hibberd frowned, “I do not think there is any place for the ladies in this plan. They can only be a handicap in what may be a violent proceeding!”
Whereupon the Rumanian woman took umbrage, “When I first dared to visit lawless London I prepared to protect myself!” and she whipped out an evil looking dagger.
“Here Madam be careful with that, you might cut yourself!” gasped the Lieutenant.
With deft flick of her wrist, she sliced of the top of one of three lit candles in the candelabra on the table. She caught it with her left hand, blew it out and threw it to Hibberd.
“Me too!” said the Chinaman Wun drawing out another wicked looking knife. “Missie Higginbottom, she speak good Chinese. Maybe we go through Chinatown!”
“I have scouted out the land and the way into Bluekiln Wharf is down Mary Road. Then through the main gate which is in daytime normally controlled by a porter.” Said Holmes, “The wharf wall though of moderate height is topped with broken glass. There are three vessels moored along the wharf, the screw steamers Iron Duke and Maid of Orleans and a sailing barge. The Iron Duke had smoke showing and I think she should be our first objective?”
“There is always one or the other with steam up.” Said Lieutenant Hibberd. “If we go at night we should climb over the gate and rush it! I am afraid you ladies will not manage that!”
I said that I thought it would be a desperate undertaking and could we involve some of the Citizen’s Concerns vigilantes? Inspector Hastings replied that since the loss of Steadyman these had rather lost heart. Besides this was not one of their areas!
Wun then spoke to Miss Higginbottom in Chinese.
“Master Wun says that there is a pedestrian gate into the Kiln works that his friend has a key to. He suggests going in that way quietly and doing the magics to find Hsing Shrill to be sure?”
“Magics! What magics!” snorted the Lieutenant, “Either he or contraband is aboard those vessels or they are not! The four of us should be enough to search the vessels one by one.”
“But the perpetrators may well escape whilst we are on the first vessel!” Said Holmes, “I may as well tell you that I suspect that the arch criminal Professor Moriarty, may be involved in the kidnapping. Mr Helping if I can give you a pistol, could you and your people ensure no-one leaves the other two vessels, whilst we make a thorough search?”
Mr Helping looked rather nervous but said “Yes, the Professor has a firearm and so does one of our other members Doktor Nichtwissen. I expect him to join us.”
“Splendid fellow! So if we four storm the gate, your party can enter by the Kiln gate and hold the wharf for us? The question is when?”
The Lieutenant said, “I am sure it should be tonight! It is Thursday so the Streets should be quiet just before pay-day by eleven o’clock. Can everybody be there by then?”
“I will need to contact the Doktor so we had best go at once. Mr Wun can you get the key for eleven o’clock?” Miss Higginbottom translated this into Chinese and answered that he could. He would lead their party out of Chinatown at eleven and do as Mr Holmes had requested.
When the Occult Verification Society had left, the Lieutenant wondered if we should not make our attempt at ten thirty. “Then perhaps we will not need that lot!”
But Holmes said that we should do as we had agreed. “Perhaps we will need them to rescue us!” He laughed but I did not think it funny. “By the way, Lee Chow to whom they pay their cheques is a known associate of Professor Moriarty and is thought to be a trained assassin.”
The Lieutenant said “Well I only hope that that band of cranks do not blab out all our plan to goodness knows whom! That is why I was for striking tonight. If we left it any longer no doubt but that the word would have spread. I tell you only a quarter of our searches strike home because the word gets out too easily!”
So we arrived at the top of Queen Street.
The Game's afoot!
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