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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 8)

7th April 2018
(Short Story)

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The following morning, as we sat in the Baker Street Kitchen, we were joined by Detective Inspector Barry Lestrade. Without invite, he took a seat at our table.

“Sherlock, we’ve had a complaint,” said Lestrade who was clearly annoyed.

“Never mind. Just stay off the garlic sauce and give yourself a good rinse with Listerine.”

“The complaint was against you. Charles Darlington called into the station yesterday and claimed you’ve been harassing him. He said you’d had a pop at him for refusing to promote the Doc’s book.”

“That’s not true, inspector,” I interjected. “Sherlock might have been a bit antsy with him but it was only to keep him on his toes.”

“And why does he need to be on his toes?”

Holmes took over. “We don’t know, Baz. But there is something not right with him.”

“Has he committed a crime?”

“There has been mention of something,” I said. “A house he owned in Guisborough did burn down in suspicious circumstances.”

Holmes pointed a look of curiosity at me.

“Suspicious?” exclaimed Lestrade. “That wasn’t suspicious. I investigated it. The fire didn’t even start in his house. It was down to the old dear next door and her love of antique electrics.” Lestrade turned to Holmes. “Look, Sherlock, leave off it, will yer? I know you’ve done us a few favours in the past but that doesn’t mean you can go hassling local celebrities.”

“Local celebrity?” queried a dismayed Holmes.

“He’s on the wireless, for ****’s sake. That’s celebrity enough for me.” He then returned his attention to me. “Doc, if you’re so keen to get rid of those bloody books of yours, just chuck us a slack handful for the police raffle. The lads can use them as firelighters.”

Without allowing either of us to respond, Lestrade stood up, shook his head and left.

“Don’t you just love that,” said Holmes.

“What? Getting castigated by a member of Her Majesty’s Constabulary? Yeah, it’s the one thing I can’t get enough of.”

“No, I mean when someone acts exactly how you want them to?”

“Explain,” I said.

“If Darlington has nothing to hide, he has no need to get the police involved. He wants us to leave him alone and there must be a reason for that.”

“What’s the reason?”

“It doesn’t matter,” replied Holmes. “It only matters that there is one.”

“I assume we will be carrying on?”

“Yep. That’s a rare example of a safe assumption.”

“The thing is, Sherlock, if Darlington has been up to something, then bringing the police into the equation doesn’t appear to be the wisest of moves.”

“No. I think he’s being cleverer than we credit him for.”

I sat for a while to consider.

“Doc, you didn’t mention this thing about the fire.”

“Didn’t I? It does appear that it was nothing more than an accident. Is it important?”

“It’s data.”

I struggle when it comes to the data bit. For Sherlock Holmes, even the most seemingly inconsequential fact can have massive significance. The problem is that there are so many seemingly inconsequential facts. It’s very difficult for me to determine which ones might be relevant. In this case however, the burning of a house to the ground is something I should have perhaps thought to mention earlier.

“I’m sorry, Sherlock,” I said. “Darlington’s house fire slipped my mind.”

“It’s easily done, Doc. And as you say it was probably nothing more than a tragic accident. Besides, I knew. Martha remembered it being in the paper.”

“You already knew?”

“Yep.”

“You swine. You made me feel bad for no reason.”

“There’s always a reason, Doc. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to forget something.”

“Thank you. Let that be a lesson to me.” It was then that I was struck by a thought. “Oh, I know where this is going. We’re back to the recording of the interview, aren’t we?”

Holmes just sat there, as enigmatic as always.

“Sherlock, I’ve wracked my brain and there really is nothing.”

Still he didn’t respond.

“It’s been deleted anyway,” I protested.

“I can find it.”

I slumped back into my chair.

“Well?” asked Holmes.

I knew where he was going. “Well what?” I replied petulantly.

“Are you coming for a shufty around the BBC?”

“I thought I’d made my position on breaking and entering quite clear.”

“You did. But you’ve had time to think about it now and the balance has tipped. Your need to prove me wrong about the content of your interview is greater than your fear of getting caught.”

“I’m not scared of getting caught. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’m… abiding.”

“No you’re not. Come on.”

He was nearly right. But it wasn’t about proving him wrong. It was more about putting my mind at rest. I needed to know if there was something I’d forgotten about. I was certain I hadn’t said anything to Darlington or, for that matter, his producer that I hadn’t subsequently relayed to Holmes. They didn’t even know how many sugars I had in my tea. They hadn’t offered me one. The problem was Holmes’ insistence had created a gnawing doubt. He had that effect on you sometimes. He knew he did.

 

“Sherlock,” I asked, as we made our way along Newport Road, “didn’t you mention the other day that you’d hacked into the computers of the Pentagon?”

“I’m not sure you’d call it hacking. I just had a peek through the slats in the fence. What a waste of time that was. What’s the world coming to when Uncle Sam doesn’t have a decent recipe for buffalo wings?”

“So why do we need to physically enter the BBC? Why can’t you peek through their fence?”

“Good point, Doc. The file we’re looking for is a voice file. It will be quite large. It’s okay getting a few bytes of data through a firewall, but not something that big. It’s easier if we log directly into their network and carry it out in a bucket.”

It made sense. As we got closer to the scene of the impending crime, my nerve started to waver. This wasn’t the first time Holmes had dragged me across the thin line of legality, however I always had the feeling that the next time would be the time we got caught. Holmes was clever enough, but everyone runs into some bad luck eventually.

Our path to Broadcasting House was blocked by a congregation of youths on bicycles performing tricks on and around the building frontage.

“Oy!” shouted Holmes. “Bikes are for riding about on not bouncing up and down. Off you **** and deliver some pizzas or something.”

“Okay, Sherlock,” replied the youths in a resigned chorus.

I was taken aback. I was expecting some resistance; instead, the six or seven teenagers rode off in single file. I looked towards Holmes, whose focus was firmly on the building in front of us. “Let’s nip around the back,” he said.

“Sherlock,” I said, pulling him back by the shoulder, “is this wise?”

Holmes pointed me a confused look.

“We’ve just been spotted at the scene by a handful of witnesses.”

He shook his head. “They won’t say anything. They wouldn’t dare. Doc, don’t worry. No one will ever know we’ve ever been anywhere near the place.”

We slipped around the side of the building until we reached a door that, thankfully, was hidden in some shadow. Holmes pulled a piece of metal from the coin pocket of his jeans and set to work on the lock. He had it open in seconds. He pushed the door open a few inches and looked back over his shoulder to address me.

“Doc, before we go on there’s something I need to point out.” His tone was the one of artificial seriousness that he often used to tee up some mockery. “Once we find this, we can’t unfind it. It might be that your interview being lost is a good result for you. There’s still the possibility that they deleted it because you came across as a bit of a dick.”

“Just get on with it,” I said in a whispered shout.

Holmes shrugged in a manner that suggested I’d given him some sort of approval to continue. There wasn’t really a choice. He was toying with me. It was something he did when we found ourselves in stressful scenarios. I would be beside myself whilst he would treat it like a game. You know, perhaps he did it to distract me. Maybe by playing down the seriousness of the situation, he was trying to calm my nerves. It didn’t work. At least I don’t think it did.

Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small

We made our way through the shadows cast by the streetlights through the windows, him leading and myself following close behind. The building was clearly empty, but the corners of my eyes were doing their best to disagree. I don’t ever recall feeling so jumpy. Every so often the building would make a sound. It was probably nothing more than the cladding contracting after a day in the warm sun, however each noise had me twisting to investigate. It was clear Holmes was aware of this as several of my reactions resulted in him shaking his head.

“Sherlock,” I whispered, “if we get caught, I’ll be struck off.”

“I’m on parole. If we get caught, I’ll be locked up.” Holmes stopped in his tracks and turned to face me. “I’ve got an idea,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s not get caught.”

I stared back at him, my shoulders falling to demonstrate his failure to put me at any ease.

“Don’t worry, Doc. We’re at the BBC. It usually takes years for the police to investigate crimes round here.”

With my heart racing like a drum machine from the early nineties, we entered the office I’d been led through earlier.

“Do you always breathe that loud?” asked Holmes. “You’re starting to make me nervous.”

I took a deep breath and held it before exhaling to try and calm myself. Holmes stopped in his tracks. He stood almost motionless. His only movements were the slight ones his head made as his eyes surveyed the room.

“Righto,” he said. “I’m on the leader.”

He strode across the office and took a seat at one of the desks. I followed, dragging a seat from a nearby desk to sit alongside him.

“We might as well use Charlie’s PC,” he said. “Let him cop for any fall out.”

“How do you know he sits here,” I asked.

“Have we got time for explanations?”

“No.”

 

I watched Holmes work but understood little of what he was doing. He spread his hand to press several keys at once and the screen turned blue. At first, I thought he’d broken it. He then started typing indecipherable commands in white writing. At regular intervals, he sucked some air through his teeth before making a clicking sound and seemingly heading off in another direction. My observation alternated between the messages on the screen and the expression on his face. Neither revealed any indicators of progress.

“There’s all sorts in here,” said Holmes. “It’s like the middle aisle at Aldi.”

After ten long minutes he sat back, coasting across the carpet tiles in his chair.

“The filing is atrocious,” he said. “I’m not surprised they lost all those Doctor Who episodes.”

I’d seen that look on his face many times. He wasn’t defeated. He was deciding how best to adjust his approach. He stuck his hand in his jacket pocket and pulled out an object.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s our mam’s iPad. I’ve switched it with the blackboard from the kitchen. It’ll be weeks before she realises.” He drummed on the screen and then turned to me. “I need a sample of your voice to search against.” He held the device up to my face. “Say my name is Doctor John Watson and I’m an alcoholic.”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Okay, say I’d been harbouring homosexual thoughts for my friend Sherlock Holmes for some time.”

I think he was trying to mimic the prose in our stories.

“I’m definitely not saying that.”

“For ****’s sake,” exclaimed Holmes. “What’s a bloke got to do to get a decent ringtone round here?”

“Sherlock, stop messing about,” I said in a hurried whisper. “It might have escaped your notice but we’re currently in the process of burglarising the BBC.”

“That’ll do.”

Holmes took a lead from his other jacket and plugged it into the iPad. He then dived under the desk to sit cross legged on the floor. After what seemed like an age, he reappeared.

“My word, Watson,” he said. “I think we have it.”

“Come on then,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”

Read Chapter 9 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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