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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 7)

31st March 2018
(Short Story)

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Later that day I entered the Baker Street Kitchen to find Holmes sitting at a window-side table. A pot of tea, too large for a singleton’s consumption, sat in front of him, along with one tea cup. “Cathryn,” he called as I sat, “can you fetch another cup for the Doc, please?”

“I sold fifteen books,” I announced, jubilantly.

He flicked the briefest of acknowledgements in my direction before resuming his observation of the early afternoon activity framed by the window. I took a seat and scanned briefly around the room at my fellow diners.

“Good morning, John,” said Cathryn, cheerfully, as she placed a cup and saucer on the table in front of me.

Holmes turned to the table, picked up the teapot and filled my cup. “Help yourself to milk,” he said.

“Thank you.”

“I’ve been thinking about your interview not being broadcast,” he continued, as I splashed some milk into my tea.

“And?” I replied.

“As I’ve said a dozen times before, once you’ve excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“So, what’s the truth? What remains?”

“Nah, it doesn’t matter,” he replied, sitting back in his chair, before turning to resume his review of those passing by the window.

“Sherlock, if you don’t tell me I’ll make the beating you took at the hands of Colonel Sebastian Moran look like a stubbed toe.”

“He just got lucky,” he said, still facing away from me.

“Really?” I remarked with surprise. “I think you’re the lucky one. Lucky that you’re not still drinking through a straw.”

Over his shoulder, Holmes cast me the dismissive look I saw on the rare occasions when one of our little to and froes ended in a win for me.

Scraping his chair around, he looked me dead in the eye. He looked away as if he was wrestling with some inner turmoil. Although the noise of the room was around us, I hung in silence, waiting for him to share his conclusion.

“There’s something you haven’t told me about that interview.”

“I’ve told you everything,” I protested, shaking my head with dismissal.

“Doc, you’ve missed something. If you haven’t, the data doesn’t stack up.”

“Sherlock, is it that important? They didn’t play my interview. Big deal. From what I’ve been hearing, this Darlington fellow is a bit of a rum sort anyway. I’m really not that bothered that I didn’t share the airwaves with him. I was talking to a chap earlier who thinks he was involved in an insurance fiddle.”

“I suppose there’s always the original theory,” said Holmes.

“That being?” I asked.

“That you were ****.”

“Very funny,” I replied as Holmes broke into laughter.

I refilled my cup, making sure to take the last of the milk.

 

If I’m honest, I was trying to move on and forget about Charles Darlington and my visit to the BBC. It was a little odd that they had gone to the trouble of deleting my one foray into the world of broadcasting, however, it seemed no more than that. If those times with Holmes had taught me anything, it was that there would soon be a far more interesting mystery for us to unravel. By now I saw Darlington as something far from the upstanding gentleman he attempted to portray, but there was nothing more sinister than that. I’d even dismissed the idea of him being involved in the fire as the product of an author’s imagination. Essentially, I didn’t want to expend any more energy on it. I was more interested in how I might sell another batch of my books. Perhaps another session at WH Smiths, on a different day, might be more successful?

Holmes stuck with it. He pondered it for days to the point where it wasn’t possible for me to move on. In the mornings, we’d breakfast in the Baker Street Kitchen, we’d take the occasional lunch in The Chairman or The Nuthatch on Bedford Street and each evening we’d nurse pints of Engineer’s Thumb in the Twisted Lip. He hardly spoke. He hardly even touched his drink. Two out of the three evenings he left the pub without reaching the bottom of his only pint. Holmes did have his periods of silence, but this was atypical. I don’t think I’d ever seen him so quiet for so long, and I’d rarely seen anything impact upon his drinking. I began to think it bizarre. He’d sit with his elbows on the table and the fingertips of both his hands pressed together in front of his face. For the large part, he was inanimate, his only movement being to purse together his lips as he cradled a thought. Each time his face would drop, before creasing his brow as the thought was dismissed.

One day he spoke. “There’s a data issue.”

“You’ve said that,” I replied, waiting from him to elaborate further. Instead he grabbed his glass, took a large gulp of beer and slipped back into his chair.

“And?” I asked.

“And what?”

“What do we do about it?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? That’s okay then. Let’s just forget all about it.”

Holmes shot me a puzzled look. “There is one thing.”

“Which is?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

“Can you let me be the judge of that?”

“We need to break into the BBC.”

My face dropped. The illegal aspects of my association with Holmes were the ones I relished the least. Holmes saw the law as some minor inconvenience, but I had a professional life outside our adventures. Even the suggestion of impropriety could end my career as a psychologist. A large proportion of my work involved the rehabilitation of offenders passed to me by the law courts. How would they react if I became one?

“See. I told yer,” said Holmes, with a look of confirmation.

“Sorry, why do we need to break the law?”

“I need to hear the recording of your interview.”

“Why? I’ve told you everything.”

“No, you haven’t,” he said.

“I have,” I protested. “We talked about the cases that have appeared in the Gazette and my idea to write some stories about this Dirk Orb character. That’s it.”

Other than to stare back at me, blank-faced, Holmes didn’t respond.

I dismissed him with a shake of the head and slumped back into my chair despondently.

“Do you fancy nipping over to the Slater’s Pick for one?” said Holmes. “They serve Blue Moon. It comes with a slice of orange. I want to check that baby out.”

“Very exotic,” I remarked, mockingly.

“It is,” said Holmes. “Fruit is good for you.”

 

Blue Moon is a Belgian white beer that is a little more bitter than Engineer’s Thumb. Our enjoyment of it was interrupted by Bradley, a local youth and acquaintance of Holmes, who came bundling into the bar.

“He’s in Yates’s,” he said, struggling to catch his breath.

“And you’ve ran here to tell me this?” asked Holmes. “You could have just texted me.”

“I thought you could buy me a pint for my trouble, like,” replied Bradley, taking a seat and broadening his shoulders to the full extent that his slight frame allowed.

Holmes looked towards Sarah behind the bar, who returned him a puzzled look.

“In your dreams, kid,” said Holmes. “Here’s a fiver. Go and get yourself a milkshake or something.”

The youth looked disappointed but gladly accepted his payment, which he rolled into a bundle of notes from his pocket.

“Cheers, Sherley,” he said as he rose to leave. “I should have known better than to expect you to get a round in.”

Holmes shaped to cuff him, however it was all in good humour.

“Who is in Yates’s?” I asked.

“Your mate, Charles Darlington.”

I sighed. “Can’t we just leave this?”

“We can,” replied Holmes. “But we’re not.”

 

We entered Yates’s Wine Lodge to find Darlington tucking into a large plate of scampi and chips.

“John Watson,” he announced cheerfully on seeing us. “And you must be Sherlock Holmes?” Darlington rose to shake our hands.

I shook. Holmes refused.

A confused Darlington sat back down. “Hey, I’m sorry about not broadcasting your interview,” he said. “We just didn’t think it sat well with our listeners. When you’ve been in the game as long as I have, you get a feel for this sort of thing.”

Holmes pulled back a chair and sat down. “In what way?” he asked.

“Well, some of the crimes are quite gruesome. I didn’t think it was quite right when people are looking forward to what they are going to have for their afternoon tea.”

“And you reckon the sexual exploits of an anatomically challenged robot and his hoover are suitable?” said Holmes.

“Ah, yes. The Boro Phallacy. That was a bit of a mistake. It’s a hell of a funny book, but my research team neglected to tell me what it was actually about. You know since the Beeb started keeping a tighter control on budgets, we just haven't been able to get the staff.”

“Could we get a copy of John’s interview?” asked Holmes. “I’m dying to hear it.”

“Didn’t you have this conversation with Stacey? I’m afraid we deleted it. We’re struggling a bit for disk space so we tend to delete the stuff we don’t broadcast. If you don’t keep on top of things, you end up deleting episodes of Doctor Who.”

“It can be undeleted,” said Holmes.

“I’m afraid not. We’ve asked about that in the past. It’s all about data protection or something. You know what it’s like in places like the Beeb. They’re afraid of their own shadows.”

Holmes returned a long stare that had the effect of unnerving Darlington and causing his jovial persona to slip a little. There was no real menace from Holmes, however it was enough to unsettle him.

“And that’s it, is it?” asked Holmes.

“Yes, Mister Holmes, we scrap recordings all the time.”

“But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”

“Like what?” asked a confused Darlington.

“I don’t know. But, until I find out, I’m going to be all over you like a salad dodger at a foam party.”

Darlington appeared unnerved. He tried to mask this by dismissing Holmes with a confused laugh.

 Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small

“That could have gone better,” I remarked as we left the pub.

“It was alright. I’ll admit that style works a bit better for Columbo,” replied Holmes.

“Right,” I remarked. “You planned that approach, did you?”

“Yeah, I wanted him to do all the talking.”

“Was antagonising him part of the plan too?”

“No. That was just a bonus.”

“Sherlock, did we learn anything from that?”

“We learnt that he isn’t as posh as he thinks he is. He hadn’t touched his tartar sauce.”

As we walked back towards Baker Street, I looked to Holmes to try and ascertain if he’d learnt anything more than what he’d gleaned from Darlington’s use of condiments. There was that slight twitch in his lips that he seemed to reserve for me.

“Any thoughts?” I asked.

“No. We’re still in the data gathering stage.”

“But you are thinking something?”

“I’m trying my best not to. It’s far too early to start speculating.”

“Sherlock, stop being so bloody enigmatic.”

“I’m not,” he protested in good humour. “I still don’t know what we’re looking for. I only know that there’s something to find.”

“What?” I replied, frustration starting to take over.

“His responses were too pat, too templated, too post-match interview.”

I agreed. “His side of conversation did feel a bit scripted. It did feel like he was not telling us something. But, maybe he just talks like that?”

“It’s possible. That’s why we need more data.”

Read Chapter 8 Now >


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Mel Small
Mel Small
(United Kingdom)

The founder of Indipenned and the writer of some books. These include Holmes Volume 1 and the imaginatively titled follow up Holmes Volume 2. Dislikes turnip and beetroot (the Devil's fruit).


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