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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 4)

5th March 2018
(Short Story)

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On the morning of the broadcast, I attempted to put any thoughts of my radio debut behind me and set off for WH Smiths at Teesside Park. In a further attempt to get the sales of my book up and running, I’d arranged with the manager, Dave Brown, to do a book signing.

I took my perch by the door with a degree of trepidation. A book signing was another new experience for me and I had no way of knowing how it might turn out.

My trepidation was not unfounded. In the first hour, I hadn’t signed or sold a single book. Indeed, I’d hardly been able to muster eye contact with any of the shop’s customers. There were enough people coming into the shop that day for me to expect someone to show some interest, but not one of them did. They all seemed to have a technique of avoiding me. They led with their shoulder and side-stepped their way past me facing in the opposite direction. I was beginning to wonder if I’d showered properly. To rub salt into the wounds of my confidence, at least half a dozen of them bought the early edition of the Evening Gazette, which featured a story of mine. As I sat there, it was as if my will to live had thrown on its jacket and turned its collar up against the wind, before easing its way out of the door.


Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small“Sold many?” asked Dave cheerfully, probably on noticing the evaporation of my spirit.

“Not one,” I replied, trying to mask the extent of my despondency.


“I’m afraid so.”

“Here, chuck us a few,” he said before disappearing down the aisle in search of a receptive customer. Half an hour or so later he returned with the four books I’d given him in hand.

“I don’t understand it, mate,” he said. “There was a bloke here last week selling a book about a gay parakeet. He did a bundle.”

“How did he know it was gay?”

“I dunno, mate. You don’t like to ask, d’you? Maybe he noticed it had its eye on a cockatoo.”

 I didn’t react. It seemed wrong to do so on a number of levels.

“I tell you what sells well,” continued Dave, breaking the silence. “Dogs. Has Sherlock ever investigated a case that included some sort of hound? I dunno, maybe one terrorising a bunch of posh ****s. That would go down really well.”

“Not since I’ve been with him,” I replied.

“Shame. I could probably sell a few of them for yer.”

“Never mind,” I said. “I suppose it’s just the name of the game. I think I’ll get off. I have an interview going out on BBC Radio Tees later. Maybe that will kick start things.”

“Probably, yeah. I’ll put some extra staff on to cope with the rush. Grease the runners on the tills.”

I acknowledged his friendly mockery with a smile.

“Who interviewed you?” he asked.

“Charles Darlington.”

“Darlo?” he exclaimed. “He’s a right ****.”

“Yeah? He seemed alright to me.”

“You’re kidding. He used to drink in the Woodman’s. He was a right flash *******. It wouldn’t be so bad but rumour has it he’s on the bones of his arse. Three divorces and a liking for the gee gees has left him up **** street. I’ve heard he’s got forty grand on a horse running in the Beryl Coronet and if that loses he’ll be sleeping under a bench in Albert Park.”

“Where’s the Woodman’s?” I asked, more out of idle curiosity than anything.


“Is that where he lives?”

“He used to. But I think he moved out to Guisborough now.”

“That’s not cheap.”

“No, man, it’s all debt and dodgy accounting.”

“How long has it been since he moved?” I asked.

“I can’t remember really. It was a while back. Probably around the time of the Boro’s last shot on target,” he said with a smile of resignation.

“Not that recently then,” I replied, before reaching to shake his hand.

I gathered my things together and made my way to the door only to be called back by Dave.

“Before you go, Doc, is there anything you need stationery wise? We’re doing a great deal on book signing pens at the minute.”

“I think I’m alright in that respect,” I said, with a shake of the head.


In spite of the debacle at Teesside Park, I entered the Twisted Lip with feelings of excitement and trepidation jostling for position. I wasn’t looking forward to hearing my voice beamed across the airways, my every mumble and stutter amplified, however it did feel like a key milestone in my career as an author.

As was a constant, Holmes was imparting no emotion. However, as he strode ahead of me to the bar there appeared to be the slightest of springs in his step. He may well have had some appreciation of the occasion and what it meant to me. “Two digits,” he called to Mary who was busy tidying up after the lunchtime rush.

“Sorry?” she responded with a scowl before glancing to gauge my reaction.

“Two digits, thumbs, two pints of Engineer’s Thumb,” he said, raising both his thumbs and returning a faux grin. “I thought we could introduce a code and save a bit of time.”

“You’ll ask for your drinks properly with a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ or I won’t serve you and will bar you,” she replied with precision.

“Okay, two English pints of that fine libation commonly referred to as Engineer’s Thumb, dearest landlady,” he responded in a posh chinless accent.

“Too much,” conceded Mary, before pulling our drinks.


“Who slept on the wrong side of her bed last night?” muttered Holmes, flashing a knowing glance at me as he carried both beers to our usual table. “We’ve made this place famous and this is the thanks we get. She’s never even chucked me a free bag of Quavers.”

“Sherlock,” I appealed. “All she’s asking is you show some common courtesy.”

“That’s just extra words,” he replied dismissively as we sat. “Do you want to go and ask her for the radio? She’d probably throw it at me.”

I stood back up and turned to face the bar to see Mary coming towards us with both the radio and a teacup and saucer. “I don’t want to miss my darling’s debut transmission,” she said as she sat, placing both the radio and her drink on the table. Without acknowledging her, Holmes switched on the radio and scanned for the channel.

As we settled in to listen, there was the noise of someone in the doorway. I walked over to investigate and found Martha, Holmes’ landlady, struggling with her arms full of pizza boxes. I relieved her of her load and carried the boxes into the bar.

“Look,” I said as I returned. “Missus Hudson has brought us all pizza.”

“No, I haven’t,” she said as she pulled a couple of the surrounding tables together in order to spread the boxes out. “It’s homemade.”

“Really?” I replied, opening the boxes to find an array of treats including sausage rolls, a variety of cheeses and what I suspected were those lovely scotch eggs with a runny yolk. “Did you really make all this?” I asked.

“Of course,” she replied with a straight smile of satisfaction. In the corner of my eye I noticed Holmes flash a look in my direction. His smile was one of knowing.

With my face feigning confusion, I continued my questioning. “If you hadn’t told me otherwise, I would have sworn Cathryn was responsible for this manna you lay before us.”

“Okay,” she conceded, “I thought he was the defective not you.”

“Martha, it doesn’t take a detective to spot these boxes are all branded Kitty Cooks.”

Disregarding her brittle deception, she scraped a chair up to the table. Sitting with her slender legs crossed at the knees, she leaned forward to move closer to the radio. “This is brilliant,” she said, excitedly after popping a piece of cheese into her mouth. “Those stories in the Gazette are cool, but this is the next level. This is radio.”

“Thank you, Martha,” I said. “I appreciate your support.”

“My support?” she queried. “The takings in my shop have gone through the roof since you two started dicking around pretending to be Missus Marple. I’m not even that bothered that all I seem to do in the stories is straighten the bloody shelves.”

“And there was me thinking you cared.”

Martha dismissed my comment with a look of mock surprise.


“Heads up,” said Holmes, interrupting the escalation of our exchange. “The Doc’s about to make his debut.” His tone was that of an announcement.

We all turned to the radio to listen to the aerobicised tones of Charles Darlington.

“Hello, and welcome to A Chat with Charlie. My guest this week is local author Mick Richardson. Mick, The Boro Phallacy, what’s it all about?”

“Mick Richardson?” exclaimed Martha. “Who the **** is Mick Richardson?”

I scanned around the table, catching confused glances from all except Holmes, whose gaze remained fixed to the radio. His only concession to this surprise revelation was a barely-noticeable creasing of his brow.

In a quiet comical manner, the rest of us almost snapped our necks to align our attention to Holmes.

“Alright, pal,” said Mick, replying to Darlington with a slight chuckle. “Basically, it’s a comedy crime thriller, set in Middlesbrough, in which the central character is an anatomically challenged robot.”

“ ‘Anatomically challenged’ in what way?” asked Darlington.

“Well,” he replied, “not to put too fine a point on it, he hasn’t got a co…”

The station went dead. There were a few minutes of dead air before some music started to play. As if to mock me the first track was Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, a song I had included on the playlist to be used during my interview.

“I shut the shop for that?” remarked Martha. “That’s not gonna do much for my sales, is it?”

“Martha,” exclaimed Mary, on noticing my consternation.

“I’m off,” said Martha. “I don’t want to lose any more customers.” She jumped up out of her seat, grabbing a sausage roll and a few more pieces of cheese from one of the pizza boxes as she rose.

“I’ve read that bloke’s book,” said Mary as Martha exited and took the few steps along the street to Hud Couture.

“It doesn’t sound like your sort of thing,” remarked Holmes, thoughtfully, speaking for the first time since the broadcast had ended.

“Yes, Mick came in with a copy and asked me if I would put it above the bar. He thought it might help him drum up a few sales. Given it was set in Middlesbrough I thought I would give it a read. It left me wanting less… much less.”

“Is it that bad?” I asked.

“No. It’s very funny. Put it this way,” she said, “if the wind had changed when I was reading it my mother wouldn’t recognise me anymore.” She contorted her face into a look of horror.

“Really?” I asked.

“Really,” she confirmed. “Sherlock, what do you think about all this?”

“It would be wrong to speculate without data,” he said pensively, before straightening out in his chair to lean back and stare at the ceiling.


After a short period to allow him to deliberate, I broke the silence. “This has got something to do with this Richardson chap, hasn’t it? He must have coerced Darlington in some way. A bribe probably, or some sort of blackmail. Why else would he give him my slot? It can’t have anything to do with what I said.”

Holmes closed his eyes and exhaled through his nostrils. “Doc, you’ve already sliced off most of the search space. This might not be about putting Richardson in, but rather taking you out.”

“Taking me out? What reason could there be for that?”

“To spare the world of literature another two hundred and fifty pages of me, me, me?” interjected Mary.

Holmes laughed. “I don’t know, my mate. But he clearly didn't know enough about Richardson’s book to bring him off the bench. What did you say that someone doesn’t want to be broadcast?”

“Nothing. We just talked about you, and our little adventures.”

“ ‘Little adventures’?” he interrupted.

“Yes. I didn’t actually mention that much about the content of the book, because I didn’t want to spoil it for people.”

“That’s all?”

“Yes, definitely.” My mind was racing, replaying the various discussion points of the interview. “I didn’t tell him anything that isn’t already in the public domain. Everything I mentioned could be found in the pages of the Evening Gazette.”

“Are you sure?” asked Holmes.


Holmes grabbed his drink and took a small sip before turning his attention to the open boxes of food. He selected a scotch egg and nibbled into it, taking care not to let the yolk dribble down his chin.

“There was one thing,” I said as an apparently innocuous thought slipped into my consciousness. “I did mention an idea I’d had for a book about a fictional detective.”

“Oh, ****,” exclaimed Holmes as some egg yolk dropped onto his tee shirt. “What? You’ve been writing about other detectives?”

“I’ve been thinking about it.”

“For how long?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied, surprised at his agitation. “A couple of months maybe.”

“So, what’s this gadgie called?

“What ‘gadgie’?”

“This other detective.”

“Sherlock, it’s a fictional character.”

“The way you write, so am I.”

I laughed, unsure whether he was serious or if this was another example of his teasing.

“So,” he pressed. “What’s his name? I’m assuming it’s a he.”

“Dirk Orb.”

“He sounds like a right ****.”

I turned to my drink, still perplexed by his mood. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. I wasn’t aware we had some sort of exclusivity agreement.”

“We haven’t. It would just have been nice if you’d told me, that’s all.”

“Told you what?”

“About this Dirk bloody Orb character.”

“It’s just an idea.”

I was baffled.

“Of course, there is one hypothesis,” said Holmes, switching in tone and assuming a pose he often took when he pondered what to the rest of us seemed imponderable. He sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling to disappear to that other realm, his place of deep contemplation.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a scenario that can’t be ruled out given the scant data we have to hand. No matter how improbable it may seem, it remains possible.” He pointed a dark look of concern at me. “Perhaps...” he said, pausing to re-orientate a thought slightly, “perhaps you were a bit ****.”

“Thanks for that,” I exclaimed, flicking my hand in his direction to demonstrate my disregard.

“Don’t be like that, Doc. Everyone knows you’re a great writer. I loved that New Yarm Strangler story. But maybe, in real time, when you don’t have time to tart things up a bit, you know… well… ****.”

Rather impetuously I sat back in my chair, my arms folded. “I work hard on those stories,” I barked. “Without me and my tarting up, no one would even be aware of you.”

“You worked hard?” he appealed. “I’m in ’em. I’ve had my face kicked in two… or is it three times? It’s something like that.”

I dismissed him with a shake of the head and pointed an angry scowl in his direction. “I’m often tempted to make a few beatings up,” I said. As I spoke, I noticed a familiar smirk to his face. It was the grin of victory he often let loose when I was on the wrong end of one of his wind ups. “And?” I barked.

“And nothing.”

“Of course,” I remarked. “No data.”

“Exactly,” he replied, his tone becoming more conciliatory. “I can see no reason why they didn’t play it. It must have been interesting.”

“Must it?”

“Yes. You mentioned me in it,” he replied, bouncing and coughing as he laughed.

I shook my head.

Holmes tut tutted. “Doc, the game, whatever it is, is afoot,” he said.

My only reply was a puzzled look.

“I like saying that,” he said.

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Mel Small
Mel Small
(United Kingdom)

The founder of Indipenned and the writer of some books. I also write under the pen name of Michael RN Jones. Dislikes turnip and beetroot (the Devil's fruit). /indipenned /indipenned