“Don’t move and stand against the wall!”
The guard issued a stern warning, drawing a pair of handcuffs from behind.
When the man pretending to be a waiter saw Zhang Heng getting detained, he silently fled via a nearby flight of stairs. Even in such moments of peril, Zhang Heng remained calm and unruffled. He turned and asked Holmes, “What are the consequences of killing the prime minister’s guards?”
Sherlock, still gasping for breath, replied, “It depends on the situation. However, I’m pretty sure you can’t stay in London after that.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll leave it in your capable hands.”
Zhang Heng walked back into the box, opened the window, and leaped out of it in front of Holmes.
The guards soon filled the box, but Zhang Heng was long gone. A stricken Holmes, however, was found lying on the ground dumbfounded.
Zhang Heng had Lv1 rock climbing skills, and with a little assistance from the decorations on the walls outside the theater, he managed to rappel down with ease. The moment his feet touched the ground, the masquerading waiter exited the theater, bolting instantly in the opposite direction when he saw Zhang Heng. Not wasting a single second, Zhang Heng went after the escapee.
The hot pursuit covered half of the street. West District was a very lively spot at night, where the roadsides were lit to the bone with old gas lamps. Compared to the dark, dingy, wet cobblestones of East District, this place was another country. Pedestrians strolled, and carriages rumbled on the streets. The turn of the 19th century saw nightlife blooming along London’s main business arteries. A rarity in that era, eateries, theaters, saunas, clubs, and many stores were still open for business after sunset.
The waiter in disguise frantically searched around before finally racing into a barbershop. Zhang Heng followed him in, but only after a few running steps, he stopped in the alert. It was but too late. He heard the click of the door’s lock behind him.
Meanwhile, several barbers who were chatting and reading newspapers rose in unison, grabbing the razors on the barber stations.
Zhang Heng did a quick headcount of his enemies. Together with the apprentices, there were seven in total, all armed with the sharpest weapon they could get their hands on. This battle would by no means be easy, and he was all prepared to endure the upcoming challenge. He gestured for them to wait and slipped out of his suit. Like a mantis poised for its kill, he wiggled up his wrists and ankles, taunting the plump barber closest to him with a finger.
As a response, the entire seven began to swarm around Zhang Heng. Having no intention to be had no intention to be tonight’s carving, he turned around and ran. The weakest looking kid of the bunch, probably about 14 or 15 years old, acted instantly, thrusting the razor forward, but Zhang Heng managed to dodge it. Not to be outdone, he picked up the kid’s collar and threw him over the shoulder at two assailants. At that very instant, his bogey’s behind him had arrived.
Zhang Heng dropped low, rolling quickly on the ground to avoid the attack. However, before he could get up, a small knife was drawn at his back. The enemies were ruthless. While Zhang Heng focused on dodging the attacks, he managed to pick up a knife the apprentice had dropped.
Once he avoided the first blow, Zhang Heng subsequently blocked the second, and at the same time, grabbed hold of the knifed barber and tossed him to a mirror on the side. It caused the man a temporary loss of his fighting abilities, but at the cost of getting a deep gash on the left arm. The two barbers that had been rendered paralyzed had now caught up to him too.
There wasn’t much choice except for plucking up courage and standing up. One split second was all Zhang Heng needed to grab another knife from the station beside him. He could now use both hands to attack. Armed, he gained the ability to defend himself fully. The caged battleground lasted for about six minutes, and at the end of it all, four barbers, and one apprentice were defeated. The remaining two barbers were in exhaustion, gasping for breath. Zhang Heng wasn’t in good shape himself, now having a few slash wounds on his body. Fortunately, it wasn’t his face they went for.
Sure, Zhang Heng had an endurance of a bull, but he had already endured a battle earlier at the theater. A sprint of pursuit then followed, consuming more of his stamina. Having spent all his energy, he no longer bothered to deal with the remaining two, leaning against the table, gasping with short, shallow breath.
In these tense moments, someone suddenly knocked on the door, causing the entire room to jump in fright. Zhang Heng saw Holmes standing outside, signaling for someone to open the door for him. The two barbers merely looked at each other, and no one went and opened the door. Holmes shrugged, having no choice but to figure it himself. Holding his cane with two hands, he drove it into the door’s glass, shattering it to smithereens. He then and reached in with his right hand and unlocked the door from the inside.
Seeing how the situation had escalated, a barber rushed over to Holmes with a knife. However, Holmes still did not retract his hand. He waited for the opponent to get closer before hooking the barber’s neck with his cane. Along with the rod, the barber’s head was dragged into the door, jamming itself between the door and Holmes with an awful thump.
After that, Holmes opened the door quickly and walked in. He put his cane on the ground. “Sorry, did I interrupt you?” he quizzed the room. “A little bit, I would say. I thought you would have retreated to the safety of the carriage, well on your way to Scotland Yard by now,” Zhang Heng replied, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Ha! Nice move to let me deal with the police. Lucky for me, the theater’s guards know who I am, and the precinct’s deputy chief in the other box can testify for me as well,” Holmes said. “So, here we are. If you stayed for a little longer, you would have heard my warning. The man who pretended to be a waiter is a Prussian, and the Prussians in London happen to love them group fights. So, it wasn’t a coincidence you were ambushed. Best avoid Prussian places when you are going after your target.”
Holmes looked around, seeing the defeated Prussian barbers at his feet.
“However, I have to admit the results surprised me a bit. I know you’re a good fighter, but I didn’t have the faintest that you were this good.
After saying that, Sherlock swung his cane at lightning speed, striking the only barber who was still standing. The latter was about to escape, but his lower abdomen was smacked so hard that he fell on the ground.
“You are welcome.”
“Is your neck better?” Zhang Heng asked.
“It has seen better days… I don’t know. When this fiasco is over, I’ll probably visit the clinic for a basic checkup.”
Holmes’s mood had turned sour after Zhang Heng mentioned his neck injuries. “Is that guy still inside?” he asked Zhang Heng while rubbing the sore spot.
“I don’t think so. Otherwise, I would have fought eight men instead of seven.”
After that, Holmes walked to the back room. As expected, the window was wide open.
“Well, we are not without gain this time. At least, we got an answer to your second question.”
“Aren’t you curious about how Mr. M knew the secret behind the viscount’s oil painting?”
Holmes rubbed his chin.
“After this incident, I become more and more convinced that Mr. M is not acting alone. Since he has errand-boys, he would naturally have people helping him gather information. I’m afraid we didn’t simply come across a simple criminal this time. It’s a criminal organization. They have a clear division of labor. Some are responsible for gathering information, some to the area, and some to bribe those around the target. Mr. M is the head of the snake. All he needs to do is to plan.”
Sherlock watched Zhang Heng pick up the dusty, wrinkled suit that had been trampled.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Back to the theater to enjoy tonight’s interrupted show,” Zhang Heng replied as he put on the suit again. “Anyway, the ticket is a gift. It would be rude for me to leave halfway through the show. And, oh…” Zhang Heng stopped at the door.
“You don’t have to thank me for saving your life.”
“I thought it had slipped your mind. Apparently not,” said Holmes.
“It’s not easy to forget that red and bloated tomato of a face when you got strangled,” chuckled Zhang Heng. “I’m leaving,” he waved. “And I will leave you to deal with this mess. I didn’t kill any of them. Their injuries are only external.” “Well, the female lead is indeed gorgeous. I hope her fatal attraction on you won’t compromise our plan, dear Oriental friend of mine,” Holmes smiled, troubled, and with a cocked eyebrow.