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Authors: Jason Lethcoe

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BOOK: No Place Like Holmes
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But whether the switch was broken or the machine only had one setting was impossible to say. The tracks flew under the churning wheels, the wind whistled fiercely around them, and the engine shuddered to the point that Griffin felt certain if they didn't slow down soon, it was sure to fall apart.

The train suddenly rocketed upward, climbing an impossibly steep mountainside of track. Then, with a resounding
WHOOSH!
the engine burst above ground. Griffin gasped, taking the first breath of fresh air he'd had in hours.

The sun blazed overhead, and the train, showing no signs of slowing, headed straight toward Charring Cross Station. As the train picked up speed on the straightaway, Snodgrass fumbled desperately at the controls, searching for a brake. Other trains were making their way toward the station, and Griffin could see people gawking and pointing at their incredibly fast-moving engine.

Then Griffin realized they weren't just pointing at them. On the same track coming toward them was another train!

“Uncle, look out!” Griffin shouted.

Snodgrass glanced up from the control box just in time to see the fast-approaching train. The big engine's whistle bellowed as the two of them sped on a collision course.

“I can't locate the brake!” Snodgrass shouted.

Griffin's eyes darted around the cockpit, looking for any lever he could find. The blast of the approaching train's whistle grew louder. Suddenly he spotted a brass knob on the floor near his uncle's foot.

“Down there! By your foot! Is that it?” he shouted at Snodgrass.

His uncle looked to where his nephew was pointing.

The big freight train was so close that Griffin could make out the pale face of the other engineer shouting with fright.

Snodgrass stomped on the button.

It wasn't a brake.

Instead, just as their engine was about to crash, they switched tracks. The button, without any appearance of wires, had operated a railroad switch! The other train rocketed by, almost close enough for Griffin to reach out and touch its speeding cars.

Seconds later Charring Cross station was nothing but a speck behind them, and the tracks ahead looked clear. Griffin breathed a huge sigh and wiped his sweating brow.

But he didn't have time to relax. For then, just as he collapsed backward into his seat, rivets suddenly started popping off the front of the train. Griffin watched with horror as a huge piece of smokestack suddenly flew off and went bouncing down the tracks behind them.

“It's falling apart!” he screamed.

Snodgrass turned to Griffin. The wind was howling so loudly around them that he had to shout in Griffin's ear to be heard. “Take the controls!”

“But I don't know how,” Griffin protested. “What about Mr. Dent?”

Snodgrass pointed. The boy turned around and saw that Frederick Dent had fainted.

Trembling from head to foot, Griffin climbed over the back of his uncle's seat and gripped the control handle. Snodgrass, fighting against the terrible winds, climbed out onto the front of the engine with a hammer gripped in his hand.

Terrified, Griffin began to pray, begging God to show them mercy and to somehow rescue them from what looked like a terrible fate. He glanced down at the gauges and noticed that the one that said Water Pressure had gotten so high its measuring needle had broken off.

Faster and faster their engine sped along. It was no wonder that Moriarty hadn't wanted to use it; the thing seemed to possess a mind of its own and didn't respond to any of the controls!

Perched on the front of the train, Snodgrass pounded as many of the rivets as he could back into the metal, desperately trying to keep the train from flying apart. Griffin's eyes flicked over all the controls, searching for anything that might help him find a way to stop.

Glancing up, Griffin saw Westminster Palace suddenly looming in front of them. His quick eye also observed that about a hundred feet ahead of them, almost paralleling the track they were on, was a spur of track that looked newly made. Someone had clearly tried to conceal it, but the passage of the first train must have made it more visible.

Whether it was instinct or Providence, Griffin knew that it was important that they switch over. Without consulting his uncle, Griffin punched the button on the floor with his shoe. Like before, the speeding engine suddenly jumped tracks. And the next thing they knew, they were shooting back down under the earth, going down a set of tracks that led inside a tunnel.

Everything was pitch-black.

All Griffin could hear was the howl of the wind on either side of him and his uncle's furious pounding on the metal casing.

Please, Lord
, Griffin prayed,
help me find a way to stop this
train
.

He couldn't have said why he didn't see it before. Perhaps it was because the world around him had just been plunged into total darkness, but Griffin noticed for the first time that a tiny electric light pulsed in a tight compartment next to his seat. Griffin had only seen an Edison electric bulb once before, when his father had taken him to Menlo Park on a family vacation. At that time, he'd thought it the most wonderful invention in the world.

But now, as he could see what this tiny bulb illuminated, his gratitude to Mr. Edison for his invention doubled. For there, next to his seat, was a handle marked Emergency Brake.

Griffin shouted to his uncle, “I found it!”

A light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Looking ahead, Griffin could see an underground station and the outline of an engine very like the one he was in stopped on the tracks ahead.

Snodgrass must have seen it too. As he leapt back into the compartment beside Griffin, the boy pulled back on the emergency brake lever as hard as he could.

Sparks flew from behind the churning metal wheels, covering the tunnel walls with dancing light. A scraping sound pitched so high that it made Griffin's hair stand on end echoed in the tunnel all around them. Griffin found that he was yelling, his mouth wide-open in a terrified scream that seemed to pitch itself to the same piercing note as the screeching wheels.

The other engine drew impossibly close. There was no way they would stop in time! Frederick Dent awoke from his faint just as the back end of a train rushed toward them.

His eyes flew open, and he threw his arms over his face.

26
THE CLOCK TOWER

B
ut then, just as they were about to impact the back end of the other train, they stopped. And Griffin, pale and shaky, practically melted into the engine's floorboards with relief.

“A little close,” commented Snodgrass. Griffin saw how badly his uncle's hand shook as he ran his hand through his disheveled hair. Griffin looked back and saw that Frederick Dent, once again, had fainted.

“What time is it?” demanded Griffin. Snodgrass checked his pocket watch.

“Eleven fifteen a.m.”

They didn't have a single second to waste. At twelve o'clock the bomb was going to explode!

“We've got to stop them!” Griffin shouted as he ran down the side of tracks toward the metal lift. Snodgrass paused only to retrieve his electric spear from the cab of the train and then followed.

“We'll have to come back for Dent,” Snodgrass said bitterly. “It's his own fault for passing out at a time like this.”

Griffin hated to leave him behind. He was worried that Dent would be kidnapped again if the criminals returned. At the very least they would want to stop Dent from going to Scotland Yard with what he knew. Of course, by then it would be far too late. And since he'd already served his purpose, Griffin could only hope that the clockmaker held no further interest for Moriarty.

Griffin reached the lift first and pulled the lever to bring the platform to their level. He waited impatiently and hopped on as soon as the lift touched the ground, his uncle right behind him. Then he pulled the switch again, and they began to rise up out of the makeshift train station. It moved much more slowly than he'd hoped, and he found himself doing random math equations in his head in an effort to try to calm down.

After what seemed like an eternity, the lift stopped and they were able to open the heavy door. To Griffin's amazement, they found themselves inside the gigantic clock tower, staring upward at the mammoth gears.

“Time?” asked Griffin.

“Eleven twenty-six,” Snodgrass replied.

Now that they were here, Griffin had absolutely no idea what to do next. He'd gotten them within striking distance, but didn't know how to stop the villains or their clock bomb. Running a hand down to his hip, he was comforted to find the Stinger still there in its holster. He gazed around the interior of the clock, searching for a way to go farther up. Then he spotted the twisting staircase that was bolted to the side of a nearby wall and instinctively knew that what he was looking for would probably be at the top.

Griffin dashed toward the staircase and began to climb. Snodgrass followed, his electric spear firmly in his grip. Griffin counted as he climbed, and when he reached the top, hitting stair three hundred thirty-two, his legs felt like rubber.

There was a platform with a window at the top, and Griffin wobbled over to it and looked down. Far below, he could see a courtyard decorated for the ceremony that would honor Sherlock Holmes. Hansom cabs were lined up, and one, possibly the royal coach, was headed toward a throne positioned near the stage.

“Uncle,” Griffin gasped. “What time is it?”

Snodgrass, breathing hard, checked his watch. “Eleven forty.”

Griffin looked wildly around and noticed a heavy door off to one side. He rushed over and threw it open. Before him was a huge room filled with gears and a swinging pendulum. Loud ticking, like a heartbeat, filled the chamber. And standing there, surrounded by his henchmen with the gigantic glass clock face behind them, was someone he recognized.

Quickly filing through several photographs in his mind, Griffin searched his memory to find out where he'd seen his face before. But it didn't take him too long to figure it out. It was the friendly conductor he'd met on the train when he'd first arrived in London. The man wore the same pince-nez glasses and had the same curled moustache.

But he realized that the man he was looking at was not simply a train conductor. He was Moriarty. Griffin knew he had made a terrible mistake when he'd assumed that Moriarty's sleeves were dirty because of coal.

“Well, well, well. If it isn't the nephew of the great detective!” Moriarty exclaimed as he noticed Griffin. “Now you've ridden on my trains twice. Tell me, did you prefer the first or the second?”

“It wasn't coal on your sleeves that day we met, was it? It was gunpowder,” Griffin said softly.

“That is correct. I was posing as a conductor in order to study the tracks and time the arrival of the trains that led to Charring Cross station. Earlier I had been moving the explosives and forgot to change my shirt. Too bad you didn't figure it out sooner,” said Moriarty.

Griffin noted that any hint of the friendly demeanor he'd seen when he first encountered the man was completely gone.

Moriarty's lip twisted in a sneer as he said, “How has your visit been with your uncle, Sherlock Holmes?” Then, turning to Snodgrass, he said, “But who is this, then? Surely it can't be the great detective?”

“Only someone as cruel as you could think up a scheme like this,” said Snodgrass. “And I should have guessed sooner that you were related to the Professor.”

Griffin looked up at his uncle, feeling puzzled. “You mean this isn't Professor Moriarty?”

“No, Griffin. This is Nigel Moriarty, a person for whom I've been searching for many years.”

Then Griffin realized the truth. Nigel Moriarty was the same “Nigel” who had attacked his uncle and his mother when they were children and had tortured Snoops.

A look of disgust flickered across Griffin's face as he stared back at the man on the platform. Moriarty didn't notice. He was looking at Snodgrass, recognition dawning on him at last.

“Well, well, if it isn't my old school chum, ‘Sniveling' Snodgrass.” Moriarty cackled. His thugs joined in, guffawing loudly.

Moriarty strode closer to where they stood, his silver-topped cane swinging as he walked. “I remember enjoying playing with your dog. What did you call him? Snoops?” He registered the tightening on Snodgrass's face. “Yes,” he murmured, “that was the name, wasn't it?”

Then, moving within inches of Snodgrass's face, he said, “You know, the trouble with basset hounds is that they have very sensitive ears. You might want to try a different breed next time. One that isn't so weak—”

Snodgrass lashed out with his spear with such speed that Moriarty was nearly caught off guard. However, he managed to dodge the blow at the last second and with a deft motion unsheathed a hidden sword from inside his cane.

Griffin pulled the Stinger from his holster and began firing at the crowd of thugs. While engaged in combat, his eyes darted constantly to the rows of ticking gears, searching. He couldn't see any explosives, though he assumed they were hidden somewhere inside the giant clock. But that was not what he was looking for.

BOOK: No Place Like Holmes
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