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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 1)

14th February 2018
(Short Story)

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Whenever I’m drawn into a conversation concerning the late Sherlock Holmes, which happens a lot, there seems to be a common misconception that the adventures we shared together comprised only those I chronicled in the two volumes of my memoirs. This is not the case. Those accounts were selected from a great pile of scribbled notes and half-butchered prose. Suffice to say, there are a few more tales to tell. Whether the combination of my recollection and those scraps of paper are enough to do these adventures justice, I don’t know. I freely admit that I may have leaned towards the more sensational, perhaps gruesome, escapades when I selected what to publish previously, however I’m confident that what remains contains some entertainment and insight into that strange and captivating creature that I was proud to call my friend.

Whilst Sherlock Holmes cast a long shadow, he also illuminated those few people he kept around him. Although it was Holmes, much to his irritation, who became a local celebrity, I was not without notoriety myself. It was me after all who had documented our various escapades in the local newspaper, The Evening Gazette.

It was an odd state of affairs. Whenever I met someone new, it was common for that person to have some sort of recollection of me. However, at the mention of Sherlock Holmes their faces would light up. Their next question would invariably concern his whereabouts. If I’d been given a pound for each time I’d heard the phrase “Is Sherlock not with you?”, I would have accrued enough wealth to pay for the numerous rounds of Engineer’s Thumb we consumed during that golden period.

 Sherlock Holmes, The Darlington Substitution

If memory serves, the tale I now tell occurred around the same time of the episode I subsequently documented as The Case of the Ironopolis Orb. It was the strangest of weeks, one that contained some events I’d rather expunge from my mind.

The story starts one Thursday evening after I had pulled on my glad rags to head down to the Irish bar on Bedford Street for a habitual libation with Holmes. Those weekly appointments were a highlight for my friend and it was unusual for us to miss a night. There was little he liked more than the sound of an acoustic guitar and a singer that could carry some approximation of a tune.

Given the number of nights we spent in that particular hostelry that, along with the Twisted Lip and the Slater’s Pick, was one of our favoured haunts, I may well be confusing the events of this evening with those of several others, however, this shouldn’t detract from the story or invalidate it in anyway.

As I recall, the talent taking to the mic that night was a little below the standard we’d come to expect. Unusually, several of the acts entertaining us that evening had brought more equipment to the stage than could be slung over a shoulder. This wasn’t something Holmes appeared particularly enamoured with and had the effect of accelerating his alcohol intake. Given we always drank in rounds, I was soon feeling a tad worse for wear. By the sixth or so trip to the bar, I was rocking and this had nothing to do with the music. As for Holmes, he appeared unaffected, his prevailing mood being one of annoyance at the delivery of that night’s music. Perhaps the act that angered him most was the one that I took the most entertainment from, a punk ****krautpop synth outfit calling themselves The Redcar Sound Machine. I can only assume the lead singer, Glorious Eston Fanny, was using a nom de guerre. The highlight of their opus was a comparatively sombre ballad of intense social commentary called Me Dad Knobbed off with Wincey Willis. There can be no doubting the genius of a track containing rhyming couplets ending in “nowt in me belly” and “some bird off the telly”.

“Would you like us to play one more?” asked one of the keyboardists, dressed in a polka dot morph suit, on the completion of their heart-rending finale.

“You can’t play one less,” called Holmes, without glancing in their direction.

As the crowd laughed and I sank into my embarrassment, I was approached by a stranger. “It’s John Watson, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I confirmed, waiting for him to ask if my companion was the great Sherlock Holmes.

“I’m Dave, David McCaffrey. I’ve been reading your stuff in the Gazette. It’s good. I really like it.”

“Thank you,” I replied, still waiting for him to redirect his attention to Holmes.

“I do a bit of writing myself.”

“Really? What genre?”

“Crime. Serial killer stuff. It’s a bit dark.”

“So what is it? A novel?”

“My first book was. I’m now working on a novella. It’s connected to the original book, but it casts the story back into a historical setting.”

“Oh, right,” I replied, making a mental note to download this chap’s book in order that I could assess the competition. “I’ve just published a book of some of my stories.”

“Nice one,” he said. “I’ll look out for that. You should get yourself on the radio. Create a bit of a buzz. There’s a local DJ, a bloke called Charles Darlington. He’s always giving interviews to local authors. John Nicholson’s on there all the time.”

“I’ve never heard of him,” I confessed.

“Who? Darlington or Jonny Nic?”

“Neither.”

“Okay,” he said laughing. “John’s a fantastic writer, a bit of a local legend. Anyway, it’s been nice meeting you.” He shook my hand and returned to his friends who were stood in a group towards the middle of the bar.

It was perhaps that brief conversation that seeded this whole sorry mess.

 

I returned my attention to Holmes to find him staring into the space the band had since vacated.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied after a brief examination of the level of beer in his glass. Our brief flirtation with conversation was interrupted by someone plonking themselves down at our table.

“Are you Sherlock Holmes?” he asked from within a vacuum of decorum.

“Yes,” replied Holmes, tersely.

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said without acknowledging my presence. It appeared normal service had resumed.

“The pleasure’s all yours,” replied Holmes, still not having glanced in his direction.

I’m uncertain whether he intended it or not, but there was an irony in Holmes’ dismissal. Although well into his forties, the pallor individual who had elbowed his way into our company appeared to still be grasping hold of the remnants of his teenage angst.

Admittedly, I had scant information on which to base my assumption, however he displayed all the traits of a serial victim who rarely sought life’s pleasures with much verve. I’ve seen his type so many times before, diviners of misery who seek out disappointment and invariably find it.

“They were ****, weren’t they?” said the man, continuing a conversation in which only he was involved. “They used to be called the Nazi Synthesizers, but there was a bit of a backlash. No one would book them for gigs in case the skinheads smashed up the venue.” There was an uncomfortable pause in which his mean-and-moody-I’m cooler-than-you routine haemorrhaged the last of its plausibility. “We’re playing here next week.”

Holmes shrugged and turned to face him. “Who is ‘we’?” he asked with no apparent interest.

“Murder Misery. My band.”

“You’re ****e.”

“Have you even heard any of our stuff?”

“No.”

“So how do you know it isn’t brilliant?”

“Because I’ve never heard of it.”

“That’s just ****ing stupid,” he sneered. Desperate to recover some standing, he retrieved a CD box from the pocket of his long black woollen coat and threw it across the table. “Here, have a listen,” he said.

It was as if he expected the shoddily put together package to garner some respect. It didn’t. Holmes creased up his brow and contorted his mouth in confusion. He stared at the plastic box for a few seconds and then pointed a look at our new friend. “I’d rather **** out a stickle brick,” he said, dryly.

“I could do without your ****ing sarcasm,” snarled the man, who although slightly built, was significantly taller than Holmes.

“I could do without your face remaining unpunched. Now off you **** before I give you a reason to be miserable, you ****ing moron.”

That was the umpteenth time Holmes had nearly involved us in a fracas, but one of a few times when it seemed justifiable.

Read Chapter 2 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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