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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 9)

18th April 2018
(Short Story)

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A short while later we were sitting in the Twisted Lip. Both of us with a full pint of beer, we stooped over the iPad, primed to receive the information that I was certain was going to exonerate me.

Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small“Ready?” asked Holmes.

“Of course,” I replied.

Holmes tapped the screen and we heard the voice of Charles Darlington introducing his show. It was pretty much as I remembered it. Holmes listened intently, giving away little in the way of reaction. As the recording drew to its conclusion, something struck me. It was so trivial, so irrelevant that it had struggled to lodge in my memory. To that point it was as important as the colour of Darlington’s tie or the number of windows on the front of the Twisted Lip. My impending castigation rumbled towards me like a train dragging around the bend into a station of relentless mockery.

“That’ll be it then,” said Holmes.

“Sorry, Sherlock. That had completely slipped my mind.”

“Don’t worry, Doc. It’s easily done.”

The little gem of a fact resurfaced by the recording was my mention of Agnes Chapel. That fact triggered another thought. Agnes lived in Guisborough. Surely, she hadn’t died in the same blaze that had seen for Darlington’s property? I shared this thought with Holmes. His response was to gather in his eyebrows.

“Can I borrow your phone?” he asked.

I took my phone from my pocket and unlocked the keypad before passing it to him. I didn’t need to as he always worked out the PIN anyway.

Holmes made a call. “Lestrade, it’s Sherlock. That old dear who kippered when Darlington’s house went up in flames, can you remember her name?”

I couldn’t make out what the inspector was saying, other than it had the tone of a warning.

“Cheers, mate,” said Holmes before returning me my phone. He looked to me and nodded a confirmation before scraping the palm of his hand across the stubble on his chin.

“Is it too soon to jump to a conclusion?”

“It’s always too soon. You should never jump. It’s far better to sneak up on them, tickle them behind the ear and say boo.”

“But that must be it, Sherlock. Darlington must have had something to do with Agnes’ death. My mention of Agnes and him not picking up on it would look suspicious to anyone listening in who remembered the fire.”

“Darlington would have no problem explaining that. He could say it was still too traumatic to talk about.”

“So, you don’t think this has anything to do with Agnes Chapel’s death?”

“No.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

“I think it has everything to do with Agnes Chapel’s death,” he replied, pensively. “I just don’t think he killed her.”

“What do you think?”

“I think we’re still missing a piece of the puzzle.”

“Where do we find that?”

“Agnes.”

“That’s unfortunate,” I said.

“Maybe,” replied Holmes.

Thinking out loud I returned to my original assumption.

“Sherlock, maybe this time the obvious conclusion is the right one. Darlington had money troubles, so he did an insurance job on his house. I’m not suggesting he intended to kill poor Agnes. She was probably just unfortunate collateral damage. Kind of friendly fire.”

“Doc, please.”

“Sorry.”

“Darlington’s not that daft. When we saw him in Yates’s, he was expecting us. He’d rehearsed it. He thinks things through. Fire investigators are difficult people to fool. If he was up for a bit of arson, he would have researched that and found out how difficult it would be to pull off. Trumpton concluded the fire was an accident and I reckon they’re not far short.”

“Maybe he was desperate.”

“Desperate people don’t execute apparently perfect crimes.”

It was hard to disagree; however, through the course of my association with Holmes I harboured the thought that at some point we would stumble on a case where the obvious conclusion was the right one. Statistically it had to happen. It never did.

“Do you remember Agnes?” I asked.

“Yes. She was a nice old lady. It was a shame we couldn’t help her.”

“At the time, you said she wasn’t knitting with both needles and it was a relief not to have to take her case on.”

Holmes narrowed his eyes. “That doesn’t sound like me,” he said.

“Yeah, you said her being ‘a bit biscuits’ would corrupt the data and negate the usefulness of anything she said.”

“You remember some things then? Anything that might be useful now?”

“Sorry,” I said. “I think I’m still annoyed with myself for overlooking that part of the interview.”

“It doesn’t matter, Doc. Nothing has spoiled. The house is still charcoal and Agnes is still Hovis.”

“It matters to me,” I replied. “This case might turn into nothing, but I need to get better at this.”

“What and put me out of a job?”

“You know what I mean.”

Holmes flashed me a conspiratorial smile, which served to improve my mood a little.

“Is there anything Agnes said to us that might shed some light on this?” I asked. “As I recall it was over before it started. Do you remember much of it?”

“I remember it all,” he replied. “She wanted us to go on some sort of treasure hunt. A fella called Eligius Chapel seemed to be the key. She said something about the treasure being left with Eligius for safekeeping. I say seemed because she appeared to be talking in riddles.”

“Or ‘a bit biscuits’ as you referred to it at the time.”

Holmes dismissed me with a look before continuing. “I had a quick look into it after she died. I found out that she had a husband called Kenneth in the births, marriages and deaths register. He’d done all three. He died eight or nine years earlier and is now six foot under in Acklam Cemetery.”

“What did he do for a living?”

“He worked at ICI in the stores. After he retired he became some sort of travelling vicar.”

“What? A missionary? Did he spread the word of God across Skinningrove and the far-flung places of East Cleveland?”

“That’s the sort of thing I would say. No. He was more like an on-demand service, a bible basher on a moped. He used to fill in when other vicars were on holiday or had been suspended for getting too friendly with the nuns.”

“So, who was Eligius? A son? Kenneth’s brother?”

“I don’t know,” replied Holmes, shaking his head. “I looked at the time and there was nothing. The only bloke I could find with that name, who may have been related, died two hundred years ago in Wichita, Kansas.”

“Maybe you missed something.”

“If I did, so did every government computer system in the western world.”

“So where do we go from here?” I asked. “Back to Darlington?”

“Maybe,” replied Holmes, “but there’s something not quite right. It feels a bit like putting your tee shirt on the wrong way around.”

“Other than Darlington, what other option do we have? It’s either him, a dead woman or a chap who apparently never existed.”

“I think Darlington has parked the bus. He won’t speak to us. He went crying to Lestrade in order to close us down. If we go and see him now, he’ll just trot out the line that we’re harassing him.”

“So, what can we do?”

“We need to have a think. I might have got this spectacularly wrong, but this has got something to do with the ‘treasure’ Agnes mentioned. It seems Darlington knows something about Eligius Chapel that the rest of the world doesn’t.”

“But what? The fire was months ago. If he knew about some treasure, he’d have been away with it by now. He’d be living it up in the Seychelles or the like.”

“No, Doc. He was missing a piece of the jigsaw too. Your interview let him know that the treasure didn’t go up in flames with old Agnes after all. This has got something to do with Eligius Chapel, whoever he was or is. If we take away everything you said that is already in the public domain, he’s all there is left. The good news is someone other than Charles Darlington knows who Eligius Chapel is. That’s why he didn’t broadcast the interview.” Holmes pursed his lips, before shaping them to the side of his face and raising his eyebrows in that way he did when the wheels were starting to turn on his train of thought. “He’s the key, Doc. We need to find him and what he unlocks.”

It seemed hopeless. Holmes’ best efforts to date hadn’t located Eligius Chapel and that perhaps one of Darlington’s thousands of listeners might know something didn’t appear to be particularly helpful either. How would we even find out who they were? Even if we did, Darlington had a head start on us. It felt like a race against time and we were stuck on the starting blocks. I looked towards Holmes, hoping he had some sort of idea.

“She slept downstairs,” said Holmes.

“Did she?”

“Yes. When we went to see her, there was a bed in what would have been her dining room. But the upstairs windows were all open. And then there’s the cat. She couldn’t make it up the stairs for a kip and yet she rushed back into a burning building to save her cat.”

“Just because she found stairs difficult doesn’t mean she was completely immobile. Besides the adrenaline caused by all the excitement of the fire would have been a factor.”

“Either that or she was fiddling the social security.”

“Is that relevant?” I asked.

“Only that it would provide more insight into her. I think I’m clutching at straws.”

Read Chapter 10 Now >


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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).


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