48 Hours a Day

Chapter 507 - New Discovery

Chapter 507 New Discovery

Regardless of creed and period, gambling had always stood to be one of humanity’s favorite choices for entertainment.

19th century London was no exception. There were probably hundreds, if not thousands, counting pubs, street arm wrestling, and gambling houses, both large and small. The next evening, Holmes, Zhang Heng, and Villard met up at 221b Baker Street.

“Considering the nature of the bloke’s job, he won’t go to popular gambling houses,” said Holmes. “Pubs suit him better, and fighting clubs as well. Last night I had… a, uhh… an amicable conversation with the Prussian barbers, and I was able to find out the name of the tavern they usually gather at. We’ll use that as the basis for our search to improve efficiency.”

“So, we’ll be splitting up?” Zhang Heng asked.

“Sure. We’ve both seen the man. Villard will go with you, and I will go on my own. But since they’ve seen our faces, we should put on a disguise,” Holmes added with a thin beam on his face.

He brought out two wigs and some makeup tools. “Your skin color is a problem. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb in London, but most of that could be covered up with clothes and an application of soot on the face. It’s nighttime, so unless you take a real close look, you won’t be able to tell. Of course, you shouldn’t get too close to him.”

Holmes immediately got to work. After a while, a batch of fresh soot was ready. Holmes had disguised himself as an old, chain-smoking sailor.

Zhang Heng paid close attention, taking note of the techniques Holmes employed. Of course, it was all relatively elementary disguise, nowhere nearly as good and as fine of handiwork as Sherlock Holmes’s earlier coachman impression. Irene Adler’s gender-bender, gypsy busker disguise, on the other hand, was on a whole different level.

Pockets filled with change, they left the apartment once all was ready. At the crossroads, Zhang Heng and Holmes each went in a different direction. Zhang Heng and Villard’s first stop was a pub called the Pigeon, but after sitting down for a drink, they discovered that the target wasn’t present. It appeared the Pigeon’s patrons were mostly refined gentlemen, and since there were only a handful of gamblers there, Zhang Heng and Villard left for the fight club next door.

The atmosphere of the place was crowded, stifling and deafening. Two brawny men battled it out in the ring while the others watched in eagerness. Through the mass of body odor and overflowing testosterone, Zhang Heng and Villard painstakingly combed through every corner of the place. By the time they were done, the match was over. One of the fighters lay motionless on the floor, unable to get up.

The spectators erupted into cheers and applause-obviously, these had placed their bets on the winner. In juxtaposition, there were also men with their faces buried in their hands, looking ravaged and destroyed. It was apparent that these were the unlucky ones tonight.

Having been here a few times himself, Zhang Heng understood all too well how those who watched the game couldn’t help but wager a part of their money. The lure of easy money could have been the most infectious disease, where one would be infected with an almost instant effect the moment they saw how so much money could be made so easily. It was an infection that would force you to scratch that itch, despite the best abstinence efforts. There was a caveat to that, however, where most of the time, there was a much higher chance of making a loss.

The French detective, against all odds, was completely unaffected by any of this. Zhang Heng finally understood how Villard could garner praise from someone as austere as Holmes. Not only did he know how to bow and scrape, but he would also be absolutely unyielding once given a task, completely focussed on the mission at hand. Each time he spotted someone that remotely fitted the target’s description, he would covertly approach Zhang Heng for confirmation. Despite their best efforts, neither of the two spotted the man who escaped from the opera house. Zhang Heng even suspected that he must have fled London after getting spooked by last night’s incident.

But Holmes somehow adamantly insisted that he was still in the city.

“Even though he’s not the one who calls the shots, his caliber is difficult to replace. At this point, he won’t abandon the plan just because of a small hiccup,” Holmes reminded them in their earlier discussion.

Subsequently, Zhang Heng and Villard visited two taverns and another fight club. And yet, perhaps it was just bad luck or juju that their expedition was again unfruitful, not to mention it was already getting dark.

“I wonder how Mr. Holmes is doing,” asked Villard in exhaustion, wiping his forehead.

But then, Zhang Heng suddenly stopped walking. Villard followed his partner’s gaze and saw that he was looking at a man that did not fit the target’s description. However, the red-haired detective carefully set his doubts aside and said nothing to deter Zhang Heng. When Villard looked back, Zhang Heng was leaning against the wall all of a sudden, stumbling wildly and emptying the contents of his stomach. Villard played along, patting his friend on the back.

The target in question didn’t seem to suspect anything. He merely glanced over at the two gentlemen, and as if in a mighty hurry, he strode away as quickly as he could.

Zhang Heng waited until the man had left before he terminated the act, getting to his feet.

Villard could finally ask the question he’d been longing to ask. “Who’s that?”

“One of the prime minister’s guards. We met at the opera house last night.”

He was the one who wanted to put Zhang Heng in handcuffs. Because they had seen each others’ faces and Zhang Heng’s rudimentary disguise, Zhang Heng wanted to take no chances. Mulling over how Mr. M had bribed the maid to be fake the oil painting theft, Zhang Heng concluded that this was his modus operandi, and it seemed that he planned to use the same approach this time.

“What should we do? Should we go after him?” asked the French detective.

Zhang Heng considered the proposition, shaking his head after that. “It would be great if we can find out who the new target is, but it doesn’t make sense to follow a guard. Do you remember where he came from?”.

“Of course,” answered Villard.

“Let’s go see if the man I fought last night is still there.”

Zhang Heng and Villard entered the café that the guard had just walked out of. It was late, and since it was nearly time to close, only a few customers remained. Even the waitresses were yawning and stretching their arms. Zhang Heng looked around, but the Prussian was nowhere to be seen.

Zhang Heng and Villard decided to expand their search scope, but unfortunately, there wasn’t a single trace of the waiter from last night. Deciding that it was time to call it a day, they rejoined Holmes two blocks away.

When the private detective heard Zhang Heng’s account of what took place, he nodded.

“You’re right. The person who was bribed is not part of the group. Bribery aside, since we can’t prove it just yet—if you had apprehended him, it would’ve caused Mr. M and his group to panic. Conversely, now that we know who their next target is, and we have the advantage here. Let’s play this game with them.”