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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 5)

15th March 2018
(Short Story)

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After a very stop-start morning at my practice, I made my way through a quite balmy summer’s day in the direction of a well-deserved pint at the Twisted Lip. I entered to find Holmes sat where he always was. It was a peculiar scene. He didn’t have a drink in front of him.

Sherlock Holmes, The Darlington Substitution“Engineer’s Thumb?” I asked.


“Are you ill?” I quipped.

“No. We’re going to the Southern Cross.”

“Are we?”

“Yes. I want a word with this Mick Richardson gadgie.”

“The chap who replaced me on the radio?”

“The very one. Have you got any change for the bus fare?”

“Of course.”

With this barely tacit agreement, Holmes jumped from his chair and strode out of the pub. I looked to Mary, who was at the bar serving a customer, and gave pursuit.

“Sherlock,” I asked as we made our away along Newport Road to the bus station, “how do you know Richardson is at the Southern Cross?” I was expecting a precis of some expertly-figured deduction.

“Facebook,” he replied. “He’s just posted a video of him and his missus walking there to the tune of Club Tropicana. As least he’s got some taste in music.” Holmes sighed. “I bet this detective lark was hard in the olden days. Now you can use Twitter to find out everything from what someone’s had for breakfast to their medical records.” He shook his head despondently. Generally, his mood seemed quite black. He was preoccupied with some thought or other, as he often was when we were investigating a case, but this was different. I thought it was odd given the relatively trivial nature of what we were looking into.

After a typically silent bus ride, we entered the Southern Cross and Holmes led us to a table where a couple were seated. On me recognising who it was, I had a potential cause for Holmes’ mood. The chap at the table was the captain of the pub quiz team that had stolen the glory from Holmes and I a few weeks earlier.

“Mick Richardson?” Holmes enquired in a very functional manner.

“Alright, pal,” replied Richardson, rising to shake our hands. “This is the wife, Catherine. Cath, this is Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.”

“The fellas from those stories in the Gazette?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Do you follow them?”

“No,” she said.

“Would you like a drink?” asked Mick. “I’m still working my way through those beer vouchers.”

Holmes pointed him a dark stare.

“Come on, mate, it was only a daft quiz.”

“Peroni,” said Holmes.

“Peroni for me too, please,” I added.

We grabbed chairs from nearby tables and dragged them over to sit with Catherine as Richardson ordered our drinks at the bar.

“What’s this about the quiz?” she asked.

“It’s probably better if we don’t talk about it,” I replied. “Suffice to say myself and Sherlock came second.”

“Right,” she replied, nonplussed.

On returning with our drinks, Richardson asked. “So, what are you doing here?”

“We’ve just got a few questions,” said Holmes.

“Really? About what? Are you working on a case?”

“Not really a case,” I said, “just something that’s been puzzling us.”

“Oh, right. Fire away.”

“You were on the radio last week,” said Holmes. “How did that come about?”

“Well, sort of. It got cut a bit short. My book’s a bit too after the watershed for half two in the afternoon.”

“Just a bit,” added Catherine.

“Who did you set your interview up with?” I asked.

“They rang me. One of Cath’s mates works in the office at the BBC. They were looking for someone to fill the slot and her mate mentioned me. The girl who produces the show rang me. They seemed desperate.”

“They must have been,” remarked Catherine.

“Did he know what your book was about?” I asked.

“Clearly not. The interview was cut about two minutes in.”

“It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” said Holmes, pensively.

“Very odd,” I added.

As we finished off our drinks, Holmes and Richardson chatted about Middlesbrough Football Club and their prospects for the next season. It appeared Holmes had laid the spectre of a second-place quiz finish to rest.


On our arrival back at Middlesbrough Centre, we made our way to the BBC studio. As we walked through the bus station, we’d agreed that we didn’t want to make too much of a fuss and I should take the lead. We entered Broadcasting House and I spoke to the receptionist giving her a brief synopsis of the situation before asking to speak to the producer whose name I couldn’t remember.

“Stacey?” asked the receptionist.

“Yes, I think that’s her.”

As I waited by the reception desk, Holmes lingered a distance away. Seemingly uninterested, he gazed vacantly through the window observing the traffic travelling in fits and starts on the adjacent road.

Stacey arrived in a bit of a fluster. Reintroducing herself with a handshake, she asked me how she could help. In as casual a manner as I could, I explained I was wondering what had happened to the recording of my interview. I made light of it and joked about the scene of us all huddled around the radio in the Twisted Lip. Stacey was very apologetic. She explained how Darlington had made the decision not to broadcast the interview. She told me how there had been a bit of a to-do, but that Darlington had pulled rank. Her story of how she was then faced with a rush to find a replacement aligned with what Richardson had told us an hour or so previously. Playing down my interest, I asked her if I could get a copy of the interview for my friends to have a laugh at. Again, she said she was very sorry and that Darlington had instructed her to delete the recording. I joked about how terrible it must have been. She looked confounded. In her opinion, it was as good as many of the other interviews she had been involved with and she was at a loss to explain Darlington’s actions. I reassured her that it really wasn’t an issue. I thanked her for her help and exited the building into a warm Middlesbrough evening, gathering Holmes on the way.

“This is becoming a bit of a puzzle,” I remarked as we tracked back along Newport Road.

Holmes didn’t reply other than to take an audible breath and return a nod of agreement.

Read Chapter 6 Now >

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Mel Small
Mel Small
(United Kingdom)

The founder of Indipenned and the writer of some books including the Boro’s Greatest Detective series. Goes by the name of Melv!s when writing and performing music. Dislikes turnip and beetroot (the Devil's fruit). /indipenned /indipenned