I am thankful to be once more in the bosom of my dear wife this morning, after a lengthy, albeit fascinating, overnight visit to the slums of Londen Towne. Following my plan to ply our old friend Bill Sikes with a few shillings in exchange for an insight into the slovenly ways of the lower classes (and in particular, begging his assistance in locating the individual known as The Hooded Claw), I called on Sikes at his lodgings at 14A Nobfiddler’s Lane. I found that same fellow imbibing a pot of what he likes to call ‘Charlie’.
“Docter Watson, my old pal,” said he, stumbling back from the door. “I ain’t never been so ‘appy ter see yer.”
Inviting me in, he offered me a mug of the aforementioned drink, which I sensibly declined. After we’d settled ourselves in front of the fire and warmed our hands (for it was truly a disagreeably cold evening), I told him what I wanted.
Sikes frowned and gazed into his pint pot. Finally, he looked up. “Well, Docter, I ‘ave ‘eard of this feller what yous talkin’ about, but I’m powerful certain you won’t be wantin’ ter track him down.”
“Why ever not?” said I.
“Cos where he be found, ain’t a place as I’d be ‘appy ter be takin’ you, on account of you being a gen’leman, an’ that.”
I assured him that I was more than up to the task of dealing with a little ‘working class dirt,’ and that I should be happy to accompany him to wherever he was inclined to take me.
Back on the street, the fog was rolling in from the Thames and there was a sharp nip in the air. I began to wonder if I should heed Bill’s advice. However, I was also curious to explore ‘The Dark Side’ of Londen, as my companion called it, and we thus set out towards the docks.
A short while later, we found ourselves at Cutter’s Corner, an area frequented by pickpockets, murderers and limerick-writers. Bill urged me to stay close and held onto my jacket, guiding me towards a particularly dilapidated building.
“In there,” he muttered, pointing to a rickety doorway.
We crossed the street and I gave the outer door a gentle push. It creaked open, revealing a dark passage beyond. At the far end, was the faint glimmer of candlelight. Taking my courage in both hands, I strode forward and knocked on the door.
After a moment, a head appeared, followed by a scrawny neck and shoulders. “Whatcha want?”
I raised my hat. “Ah, good evening sir, I wonder if…”
The door slammed shut.
Bill sighed and pushed past me. With a single kick, he caved in the door and bounded into the room.
The owner of the scrawny neck was an old man who was now cowering behind a table, hands trembling, and eyes as round and bloodshot as any I have yet seen.
Grabbing the man by the neck, Bill slammed him against the wall. “What you know abaht this geezer they call the ‘Ooded Claw’, eh?”
The man shook his head so vigorously, I thought it might fall off. Gazing past me, he pointed a feeble finger.
Turning to look back along the passage, I caught sight of a familiar figure silhouetted in the doorway, the gas lamp outside casting an eerie glow around his features.
“That’s him!” I cried.
Bill shoved the old man aside and the two of us hurried back to the street, but The Hooded Claw (for I am certain it was he), had disappeared.
We stood in the street, our eyes searching every nook and corner for our quarry, but there was nothing to see but darkness and creeping fog all around.
“I know where he’s gone,” said Bill, hurrying past me. “Come on, Doc.”
I ran down the cobbled lane after him, unsure of my surroundings and feeling more than a little afraid. If I lost sight of Sikes, I’d have a jolly hard time finding my way home again.
As we ran into a dark alley, I felt that familiar loosening sensation in my nether regions…