Chapter 9: Diversionary Tactics

Baker Street at Marylebone Road, London
"Look in the glass, Watson," my friend Sherlock Holmes said, suddenly vibrant with excitement. "Fix up your 'beard'. Are you ready? This should be fun!"

"I don't look very much like Bucky did when he arrived, Holmes," I said, adjusting the hat-wig-beard our previous visitor had worn.

"That won't matter much, Watson," the great detective replied. "The thugs in the doorway across the street are looking for that hair and that beard, and they will certainly give chase. I think for once the odds are on our side to make a good show of it."

"Where are we going, Holmes?" I asked.

"Don't worry. And don't say anything," he cautioned. "Just come along with me, and enjoy the ride!"

I followed him down the stairs and he paused at the door, looking intently out into the street. After a few moments he was satisfied that the time was right, and he said, "Here we go, Watson. Follow me."

He stepped out into the street and I did the same. Holmes waved for a cab, and the men in the doorway followed suit.

Almost immediately, a cab pulled over to pick us up. As we stepped in, Holmes shouted above the din of the street, "The Edinburgh Express leaves in twenty minutes, driver. Double your fare if you get us to King's Cross in time!"

Then, softly, Holmes said, "Watch the men across the street, Watson." Taking his advice, I saw them climbing into another newly-arrived cab.

"Some days you can't find a cab; other days they're everywhere," I remarked, but Holmes looked preoccupied and didn't respond. The cab across the street made a quick, illegal, 180-degree turn and followed close behind us.

"Faster if you can, driver," Holmes said, and we started to gain on our pursuers.

"Slow down a bit now," Holmes said next, and I gave him a quizzical look.

"We want to lose them, but not yet, Watson," he said. "We should play out the line a bit, no?"

As we sped east along Marylebone Road, Holmes kept watching both behind and ahead of us, and advising the driver as to how fast he should try to go. The congestion was heavy in spots, and we couldn't always go as fast as Holmes would have liked, but just before we reached Regent's Park Crescent, space seemed to open up before us, and we darted ahead.

Suddenly the traffic behind us became snarled again, and Holmes, seeing this, told the driver to take the next two available turns. Thus we found ourselves heading south and then west, and then Holmes consulted with the driver and we turned again, three times in rapid succession, and suddenly I was lost. But soon I regained my bearings and was simultaneously shocked to see that we were on Marylebone Road again but now going west, back towards Baker Street.

"Where are we going, Holmes?" I asked again, my first attempt to elicit this information having failed.

"I'm going to Wales, Watson," replied Holmes. "Will you come with me?"

"I'll come if I can help you," I offered. "But aren't we going to the train station?"

"Not yet, my dear friend," he replied. "We haven't even packed."

"But what about the Edinburgh Express?" I prodded.

"I hope the men who were following us enjoy the ride, Watson. They'll be halfway to Luton before they realize we're not on their train, and then they'll be unable to do anything about it until they get to Scotland. By the time they make their way back to London, we'll be in Chester at the very least, maybe even all the way to Holyhead."

"That was diabolical, Holmes," I said, finally seeing what we had done. "But wasn't it dangerous? Suppose they'd caught us!"

"I was certain they wouldn't, Watson," he said, "and I am equally certain that they'll arrive at King's Cross in good time, and that they will board the train to Edinburgh!"

"How can you be sure of these things, Holmes?" I asked, and he showed me the face of a reluctant magician about to reveal one of his most treasured secrets.

"For the same reason I was sure they would find a cab at the same time we did," he said.

"And how was that, Holmes?"

"I took the precaution of arranging both cabs myself," he said.

"Wonderful!" I exclaimed.

"Ordinary," said he. "But did you happen to recognize the driver of the cab that followed us?"

I gasped. "Not your brother, Holmes?"

"Ever since the affair of the missing naval blueprints," Holmes smiled, "brother Mycroft has been talking about how much he 'owes' me. Well, now he owes me one less!"

Our pursuers would certainly board their train, with Mycroft assisting them to the very edge of the platform, no doubt. We returned to 221B Baker Street, Holmes paid the fare -- the equivalent of a one-way trip to King's Cross Station, plus a hefty tip -- and we were back inside our flat once more.

"The tattered jacket and the ratty old hat-wig-beard have served us well today, Watson," said Holmes. "I'll hang onto them until I see Bucky again."

I removed the components of Buckingham Slate's disguise and handed them to Holmes. "Can you be ready to leave in less than an hour, Watson?" he asked. "The next train for Chester departs in just 75 minutes.

"Wales is beautiful at this time of year," he continued, "and I'm looking forward to a bit of scenery."

My mind was swimming with questions, and evidently Holmes could see the confusion in my face. "Pack for two nights, Watson," he said. "We may return sooner, but it's best to be prepared."

"As for your other questions," he added, "we'll have plenty of time to talk on the train."