Professor James Moriarty took his place at the head of the table and cleared his throat to address the rogues gallery he had gathered for the evening.
"Order, order...I say order, gentlemen! ...Thank you. Now, we all know why we are here tonight. Despite our varied backgrounds and disparate villainy, we all have one element in common--Sherlock Holmes. We all have had the dubious honor of being bested by him. I believe it's high time we return the favor. Vengeance is the order of this meeting, and we are here to decide how best to employ it."
Moriarty then turned to his second-in-command. "Colonel, how is our guest of honor?"
Moran could not contain a satisfied smirk as he reported, "Bound and gagged in the cellar as you requested, Professor. Our two best bludgers are keeping him company should he be foolish enough to try anything."
Baron Gruner shifted forward in his seat, dark malice beginning to coalesce in his eyes. "You have Holmes?"
"No. We have Watson."
Gruner prudently hid his frustration from Moriarty as he returned to his original position in his chair. Young Jack Ferguson, however, was far less discreet in his disappointment. "So what? Why should we bother with him?"
Moriarty responded magnanimously in his good mood. "It is very simple, young man. The Great Detective wishes us to believe he cares for no one, that he is all brain and no heart. But now thanks to Mr. Evans, we have discovered otherwise. Break Doctor Watson, and you will break Sherlock Holmes."
Von Bork matched the Professor's devious expression. "If we play our cards correctly, we could get Holmes to perform some favors for us to ensure Watson's safety. We'll eliminate the doctor eventually, of course."
Milverton chuckled softly as he turned to Ferguson, who still looked uncertain. "A little emotional blackmail goes a long way, my boy."
Stapleton nodded in agreement. "Oh yes. I well know how people can get attached to their pets, and I owe him dearly for my hound. I vote that we drown the doctor. The Grimpen Mire is simply lovely this time of year."
Holy Peter interjected, "If we're voting already, I say we bury him alive."
The other criminals then offered their macabre suggestions, with Moran dutifully recording them all. The tension at the start of the meeting quickly gave way to sadistic glee. Cigars were given out and wine flowed as they planned their long-awaited revenge throughout the night.
After a toast, Moran stood up and addressed his commander. "Professor, whatever punishment is ultimately decided, I request that I be the one to mete it out."
John Woodley, deep in his cups, snorted in anger. "Why should you have all the fun?"
Moran coolly ignored the belligerent drunkard and continued. "Doctor Watson and I are alike in many respects. I submit that as Watson's nemesis, I should have the pleasure...if you would do me the honor, Professor."
Moriarty stared at Moran a long while before he raised his glass to the old shikari. "It would be rather fitting, I agree--"
The door abruptly crashed open and one of the bludgers who had been assigned to guard Watson stumbled in, the left side of his face bruised and bleeding freely.
"Sir! The doc's escaped!"
Furious chaos erupted as the cutthroats' dreams were dashed. Moriarty's jaw clenched in pent-up frustration, the man an island of barely-contained control amidst a sea of disorder. He refused to give up so easily, now that at last the mathematician knew the key to permanently balancing the equation that was Sherlock Holmes.
But unfortunately, he would have to wait for a fresh opportunity to present itself.
Moriarty pulled Moran down by his lapel and hissed furiously in his ear, "Our 'two best bludgers'? Fire them, Colonel. Permanently."