The stairs creaked beneath Dirk’s weight as he and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms made their up to their hotel rooms.
“Make sure to get some sleep,” Dirk said, eyeing up the heap of old papers in Blaze-Simms’s arms. They’d borrowed a lot of material from the York archives, authorised by the mayor to help them investigate why the city kept shaking. Given Blaze-Simms’s delight in late night study, there was a risk that he would be in no condition for real investigation the next day.
“I’ll be find, old chap,” Blaze-Simms said, opening the door to his room. “See you for breakfast!”
Dirk opened the next door and went into his own room. A bowl was steaming on the washstand. Given the luxury of ready hot water, he would always wash at the end of the day, and he stripped off his shirt, looking forward to feeling clean.
As he passed the mirror he paused, caught by the sight of the scars that decorated his muscles, remembering the moments in which they were carved. His reverie was interrupted by a yelp from next door.
Dirk rolled his eyes. Blaze-Simms had probably stumbled across some unusual piece of Latin and was busily translating instead of resting.
A thud followed the yelp. That was less characteristic.
“Tim?” Dirk called out. “You alright?”
For reply, he heard a muffled grunt.
Dirk dashed into the corridor and grabbed the handle of Blaze-Simms’s door. He rattled it futilely. The place was locked.
He didn’t hesitate, despite the vast bruise already decorating his shoulder. He took a step back and then flung himself at the door, as the sounds of a scuffle grew. The door was well built, but not as solid as the ancient oak he’d faced in the city archives. On the third attempt, there was a splintering crash. As the door flew open, he staggered in behind it, finding his footing as he looked around.
Four men, all wearing pillowcases with eyes cut out to hide their faces, were in the room with Blaze-Simms. Two of them had the skinny inventor pinned to the wall, the third had a hand over his mouth and was punching him with the other hand. The fourth man was by the bed, stuffing papers into a pillowcase. All had pins topped with silver crowns through the lapels of their jackets.
In a fraction of a second, Dirk saw an all too familiar choice. Look after someone in danger or protect the evidence to a mystery.
It wasn’t much of a choice.
He grabbed the man punching Blaze-Simms and flung him across the room. One of the others let go and turned to face Dirk, fists raised like a pugilist, while Blaze-Simms tried to wriggle free of his remaining opponent.
Dirk let the guy have the first shot. He wasn’t slow but he clearly wasn’t a pro either and Dirk stepped aside in time for the fist to sail past his face. He grabbed the man’s extended arm, twisted, and took a step to the right. The man howled in pain as Dirk twisted the arm behind his back, then swept his feet out from under him, driving him to the floor. A swift kick left the guy too preoccupied with pain to get back up for a while.
Blaze-Simms was wrestling with one of the intruders, each of them failing to get a solid grip on the other.
As Dirk stepped up to intervene, he caught a movement in the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time for a bedpan to him square in the face. There was a crashing of shattering porcelain and a crunch that he felt as much as heard, his nose breaking for the third time in his life.
Pain shot through Dirk and his vision blurred but he’d been through worse before. He could make out the shape of the guy in front of him and so he lunged, arms outstretched, catching the intruder with strong hands. He lifted him from his feet and, with a strength reinforced by fury, flung him at the window.
There was a sharp crash, a thud, and a howl of pain from the street below.
As Dirk’s vision returned, he saw the last intruder break free of a winded Blaze-Simms, grab the pillowcase of papers, and dash out of the door. Dirk made to follow him, but his spinning head betrayed him. He stumbled into the door frame and by the time he was back on his feet the man was gone.
He walked back into the room, wiping blood from beneath his nose. He’d be breathing through his mouth for a while, and his face would ache for a week, but he’d been through worse.
“You OK?” he asked Blaze-Simms.
“Better than you look,” his friend replied. “But I’m afraid they got away with our research.”
“Could have been worse,” Dirk said, suppressing his frustration. Sometime in the chaos, the other intruders had gotten away. There was no-one left to question.
A nervous voice from the corridor told him that the hotel owner had come to see what was happening.
“Better get your chequebook out,” he said. “We’re going to be paying for damages.”
“And our investigation?” Blaze-Simms said sadly, looking at where the papers had been.
“We’ll see what we can do.”