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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 10)

5th May 2018
(Short Story)

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A few days later I walked into the Twisted Lip to find Holmes in a familiar pose. Sitting at our usual table by the window, he had the fingers of each hand pressed together and held up in front of his face. His index fingers touched his forehead and his chin rested on his thumb. Staring out into Baker Street, he didn’t acknowledge, or perhaps even notice, my arrival.

I sat down and took a drink from one of the two pints of Engineer’s Thumb sitting on the table. I was halfway down my glass before Holmes turned to face me. He spun around and pointed a finger at me, before pausing to look down at his still full glass. Raising it to his mouth, he took a large gulp of the beer.

“Your Mary knows how to pull a pint,” he said.

“I’ll pass on your endorsement,” I replied.

He nodded a please do.

“Doc, I think we’ve dropped a bit of a *******.”

“Have we? When it comes to mistakes, how come it’s always ‘we’?”

“I don’t like you feeling you’ve been left out.”

“Aw, you’re so thoughtful.”

“I am,” he replied with a sigh.

Holmes paused to ponder on what he was going to say next.

“You see we’ve been assuming Eligius Chapel is or was a person, a relative of Agnes Chapel. At least that’s what I thought when we looked into this originally. I scoured all sorts of archives and government databases at the time and the only Eligius Chapel I could find was hundreds of years old. In the end, I just assumed the old dear was a bit fruit loop. When she died, there was no reason to spend any more time on it.

“Now what if Eligius Chapel is not a person but a place. What if it’s Saint Eligius Chapel and this treasure that old Agnes was mumbling on about is hidden there? Remember her old fella got a job as a travelling vicar. He must have been in and out of churches all across the Northeast.”

“He may have got even further than that,” I postulated.

“Not on a scooter,” replied Holmes.

“But what’s this got to do with Charles Darlington?”

“For a while, he was her neighbour. Perhaps she’d mentioned the treasure to him. I think she was canny enough not to mention Eligius Chapel and when their houses went up in flames, he assumed this treasure, whatever it was, went up with them.”

“So, have you found Saint Eligius Chapel?”

“No. If it did exist, any record of it is long gone.”

“But if you can’t find it, surely Darlington would struggle?”

“You would think, wouldn’t you? But he’s found it.”

“Really?”

“There doesn’t seem to be many other reasons for him to be blasting down the A19 every night to Saint Mary’s Church, Leake.”

“And this church is where the Eligius Chapel is or was?”

“There’s nothing to say that anywhere, but it must be what Darlington thinks.”

“Have you been following him?”

“No, but I have had a look into the recent movement of his mobile phone.”

“What now?”

“We need to catch him in the act. We’re off to the country. We need to pull on our welly boots and prepare ourselves for the constant smell of cow ****.”

Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small

On the dot of seven o’clock I heard the rumble of a diesel engine in the street below. I looked out of my bedroom window to see Holmes grinning up at me from behind the wheel of Martha’s London cab, Hansom. I threw on my jacket and bounded down the stairs.

“Is Darlington on his way to Leake?” I asked as I took my seat in the back of the cab.

“No,” replied Holmes. “He doesn’t usually get there until after ten. We need to get there beforehand and have a dig around.”

“I hope you don’t mean literally. I’m not digging up a graveyard.”

“Me neither, mate,” he replied.

“You know, Sherlock,” I called as I bounced and slid around in my seat, “this treasure could be anything. Given that Kenneth was a man of the cloth and the treasure appears to be hidden in a church it could be some sort of religious artefact. We could be on the hunt of something of real significance.”

“We could,” he called back. “Sherlock Holmes and the Quest for the Holy Grail could be a story in your next book.”

“Do you think that could be the treasure we’re after?”

“Do I *******s. I was speaking metaphorically.”

To be fair I was getting a little ahead of myself. On reflection, that the most sought after relic in Christendom had been hidden in a church in North Yorkshire by a man who used to work at ICI Wilton did seem a little too fantastic.

 

After about a twenty minute drive, Holmes pulled off the A19 and parked outside the church. We both jumped out and stood to survey the scene. It was a beautiful old building and at the same time a quite eerie sight. Without talking, Holmes led me through the gates of the churchyard and to the door of the church. He stood for a while, staring at the door with his hands in his pockets. He then turned left and took us on a lap of the building.

“Shall we have a look inside?” I asked as we returned to our starting point and resumed our observation of the door.

Holmes reached for the door handle and tried it.

“It’s not open,” he said.

“Pick the lock,” I suggested.

“I’m not breaking into a church.”

“I didn’t think you were religious.”

“I’m not,” he said, his eyes fixed to the door.

“But you think there’s a god?”

“You can’t prove something doesn’t exist,” he replied. “Come on.”

He spun round and strode back along the path to the cab.

“Where are we going?” I asked as I dived back into my seat.

“To find the vicar,” he called back to me.

 

We travelled the short distance to Borrowby and drove slowly through the village, Holmes scanning the buildings as we went. The road was filled with cars with the carpark of, what seemed to be, the only pub filled and overflowing onto the main road.

“That’s the problem with places like this,” said Holmes. “There is never anywhere to park. It’s a Wednesday night, for ****’s sake.”

We had nearly reached the other side of the village before we found a place to park. With his mood as it was, he parked the cab haphazardly with one wheel on the kerb and we set off walking back along the route we’d just driven.

“I don’t like the countryside,” he said as we made our way up the road.

“Really,” I remarked. “It’s beautiful, so serene.”

“No,” he sneered, shaking his head gravely. “It’s too isolated, too scattered. It doesn’t police itself like towns and cities do. There’ll be one copper on a bike who’s too busy shagging the woman in the butchers to notice the weirdo in the next farm having it away with his sheep.”

“I’ve been here during the day, Sherlock. They’re pleasant people. Everyone greets you with a smile.”

Holmes cast me one of his looks of confused derision. “That’s not normal.”

“Sometimes you horrify me,” I replied with a shake of the head.

“You won’t be saying that if this mist clears and they all tip out into their gardens to point pitchforks at the moon.”

“The pub seems popular,” I remarked as we reached the cause of the parking congestion.

“It does, Doc. Let’s move down here. We could run the post office. It’ll be great. Right up until they decide to stick us up in a big scarecrow and burn the **** out of us.”

“Maybe it’s quiz night,” I remarked.

Again, Holmes scowled at me. It seemed unlikely that I was going to turn his mood, so I gave up.

“This way,” said Holmes, leading us in the direction of one of the houses.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“It’s the only one with a gardener,” he replied, impatiently.

“How can you tell?”

“Labour of love. The work here has been done for someone else. But it hasn’t been done for the money or pride.”

We reached the door of the property and Holmes rapped gently on the door knocker. After a short while the lights inside lit up and an old lady unlocked and opened the door. Holmes’ mood transformed.

“Hello there,” he said, pleasantly. “I’m looking for the vicar. I would like to book a Christening for my son here.”

He then flicked his neck to one side and smiled. The woman stared back in confusion.

“I’m kidding,” he smiled. “We need to speak to him about a matter concerning the church at Leake. Is he around?”

“No,” she replied. “He always goes out on a Wednesday.”

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“When the Wheatsheaf throws out,” she said, pointing us in the direction of the pub opposite.

“Thank you,” replied Holmes with a straight smile. “I’ll go and buy him a drink.”

The old lady glowered at him and closed the door.

“She was pleasant enough,” remarked Holmes. “I wonder what the schools are like round here.”

 

We crossed the road and entered the pub.

“It’s the Slaughtered Lamb,” muttered Holmes as we passed the threshold.

Choosing to ignore him, I made my way to the bar and ordered a pint and a half of a local pale ale.

“You’re driving,” I said, as I handed him the half.

Holmes pointed me a begrudging nod and took the drink from me before turning his attention to the people in the bar. It was obvious what he was doing. Standing by his shoulder I tried to replicate his method. With my eyes scanning in a manner I’d seen him employ on numerous occasions, I tried to figure out which of those in front of me could be a man of the cloth. They all looked pretty much the same. I was naturally drawn to the older demographic, which predominated. But then, thinking that may be an unsafe assumption, I broadened my search. I can tell you it’s really hard to employ the methods of Sherlock Holmes. There was nothing in anyone’s dress or demeanour that made them appear any more ecclesiastical than another.

“I think we’ve dropped the average age in this place by about twenty years,” said Holmes. “There are rocks younger than some of this lot.”

“It’s not that bad,” I countered.

“It is. Look at her. It looks like she went to school with God. And one of the old ones. Olympus or someone like that.”

“Sherlock,” I castigated, before having a proper look myself. “Okay,” I conceded. “She may have seen better days.”

“Yeah, Doc, about forty thousand of them. It’s all that inbreeding. It ages people.”

I shook my head in despair.

“It also gives you that look,” he added.

“Look?” I queried.

“You know. That stepped-on-the-end-of-a-rake look.”

“Sherlock,” I admonished.

Holmes dismissed me with a glance. “Scratch that idea about coming down here to live,” he said.

“Were you ever coming?”

“Nope.” Holmes looked to me and flashed me a wide smile. “There he is,” he said, gesturing in the direction of a slightly built gentleman with short white hair and a white beard.

We walked over to the man, who was holding the attention of a number of people. Given the erratic nature of Holmes’ mood, I thought it better that I started the conversation.

“Hello, Father,” I said. “Do you mind if we interrupt?”

“Of course not, my son,” he replied with a warming smile.

“My name is John Watson. This is my associate Sherlock Holmes. We have a few questions about Leake Church.”

He responded with a look of perplexed interest.

“Have you ever heard of Eligius Chapel?” I asked.

“I haven’t heard that name in a long time,” he said.

“Bloody hell. It’s Obi-Wan Kenobi,” said Holmes out of the corner of his mouth.

The vicar gave Holmes a confused look.

I intervened. “Is it an old name for the church?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “There’s a small ante-chapel built onto the side of the main building. We never use it now, other than as a storeroom. It’s a shame really. Legend has it that it was built as a private prayer area for the Knights Templar to use if ever they were passing.”

I glanced sideways at Holmes. Perhaps my holy grail theory wasn’t so farfetched after all.

“Could we take a look, Father?” asked Holmes.

“At this time of night?” queried the vicar.

“Yes, we think you may be getting a late-night visitor.”

“We get the odd bat in the belfry, but I’ve never noticed anything else.”

“No, this is a bit bigger than a bat. Sounds similar.”

“Sounds similar to ‘a bat’?” he replied.

“Do you mind, Father?” I interceded. “We’d be very grateful.”

“Of course not. Can we squeeze in a drink before we go?” he said, handing me his glass. “A double malt.”

“ ‘A double malt’?” I asked.

“A large single malt whisky.”

The vicar sipped on his drink and regaled us with various anecdotes of his time as a man of the cloth. As he rambled on, Holmes grew steadily more impatient. I did my best to distract the vicar from this by appearing to be as interested as I could. Holmes offered no such concession. When the vicar reached the bottom of the glass, Holmes and I shaped to leave only to feel a tug on the back of our jackets.

“One for the ditch, boys?” said the vicar.

“He’s taking the ****,” said Holmes across his shoulder at me.

“Vicar, I’m afraid we really do need to get over there before your visitor arrives,” I said.

“Okay, son, I was just thinking it would be good to have something to keep the chill out.”

“It’s twenty degrees out there,” said Holmes as he led us both out of the door.

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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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