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The Darlington Substitution (Chapter 3)

27th February 2018
(Short Story)

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The following Friday I arrived at Broadcasting House to be greeted by the show’s producer who led me through the BBC offices and into the studio. The studio at BBC Radio Tees was exactly like I expected it to be. It was exciting. I handed my list of songs to the producer and she gave them a brief glance before nodding in approval.

“Charles will be here any minute,” she said. “I’m just going to nip next door and get things lined up.”

I sat alone in the studio trying to read through my other sheet of foolscap containing notes of what I wanted to say in the interview. At the same time, I did my utmost to suck in every detail of the experience. I’d never been in such an environment previously. Unless what was to come exceeded my pessimistic expectations, there seemed a strong chance I may never return. This felt like my one chance to spark my writing career into life. After about twenty minutes of revision, I realised that I wasn’t remembering much and decided it was better to just use my notes as a reference for glancing at during the interview. It was about another twenty-five minutes after that that Darlington arrived. Although he was nearly an hour late, he offered no apology.

“Charles Darlington,” he announced as he barged through the studio door and offered me his hand.

“John Watson,” I replied.

“Of course you are,” he said with a rather disingenuous smile. “Is Sherlock not with you?”

“No, he had other plans.”

“Plans to drink some Engineer’s Thumb if your book is anything to go by,” he said before laughing heartily.

“Indeed,” I replied with a smile. At least he’d read it.

“Okay,” he said, his voice rising an octave, “this is all very straight forward. Just relax, I’ll ask you a few questions and you do your best to answer them. There really is nothing to worry about. With this being a recording, we can fix anything that doesn’t work in the edit.”

He then noticed the piece of paper I had beside me. “I better give this to Stacey,” he said before grabbing it and disappearing into the same room as the producer had earlier. I thought it was odd that he would take it, but reasoned there was some rule about paper in the studio. Maybe the rustling of it would be picked up by the microphones or perhaps having notes caused the interview to seem less spontaneous. Either way, I was going to have to busk it a bit, as Holmes might say.

As I watched Darlington through the window of the studio, there appeared to be some sort of contretemps occurring between him and the producer. He seemed to be giving her somewhat of a dressing down and her body language suggested that she was defending her part in whatever the disagreement was. Occasionally he would glance sideways at me suggesting I was in some way involved.

When he re-entered the studio, it was as if the altercation had never happened. He flashed me a smile and, without warning, launched straight into the interview. “Hello, and welcome to A Chat with Charlie. My guest this week is none other than Doctor John Watson, the author of those amazing stories we’ve all been following so avidly in the Evening Gazette.”

It was quite a transformation, his on-air persona being far more animated than anything I’d seen previously.

“Doctor Watson, is the great Sherlock Holmes not with you today?”

“Please, Charles, call me John. No, I’m afraid Sherlock prefers to stay away from the limelight.”

“Oh, that’s such a shame. In your stories, you seem so inseparable. It’s like having chips without the fish.”

“Yes, Sherlock sometimes calls us Eric and Ern.”

“Ha ha,” he exclaimed. “I’m assuming you’re Ern?”

“Quite possibly.”

He gave me a conciliatory look before continuing. “It’s interesting. If Sherlock doesn’t crave notoriety, how does he feel about you writing what’s effectively a biography of this life? Warts and all.”

“Yes, his Boswell. He’s never complained,” I replied, ponderously. “There’s no denying he favours anonymity; however, that people are aware of his talents does have its advantages. Some who may not have done otherwise, will open up when they realise who he is.”

“And what a talented boy he is. How much of what you write is real? It all seems very dramatic.”

“All of it,” I replied. “I think you are right. In telling a story you can’t help but add a little bit of drama, but, other than the changes I need to make for legal reasons, what I write is a pretty accurate record of what actually occurred.”

Darlington nodded an acknowledgement.

“Actually,” I continued, “Sherlock does tend to keep my exaggerations in check on those odd occasions when I run a little too free with artistic license.”

Darlington smiled. He seemed genuinely fond of Holmes and this warmed me. He’d never met him, so his apparent admiration could only have been as a result of my writing.

“So, Doctor, sorry, John, the book. What you’ve done is taken the stories we’ve all followed so avidly in the Evening Gazette and turned them into a paperback.”

“Yes, I was approached by a publishing company in Billingham called Sixth Element…”

“Ah, of course, Gillie and Graeme. I’ve had them on this show. They never mentioned they knew you.”

“That’s them. They had the great idea of turning what I’d written into a book. The hope is that this will open up the tales of our adventures to a new and wider audience.”

“I’m sure it will. So, this is the first batch of six stories, however in the Gazette we’re currently engrossed in your ninth or tenth. At the minute, you have us all captivated with your investigation into the theft of the Orb of Ironopolis. I assume there is another book to follow.”

“Hopefully. However, that is rather dependent on a few more cases falling into our laps.”

“Come come, Doctor, yourself and Sherlock seem to attract trouble… in the nicest possible way of course.”

“That’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Neither myself nor Sherlock ever had thought of crime investigation as a career path. It really is something we kind of fell into. However, he has these skills that are quite unique to him and, because of what I can only think of as fate, we’ve had several opportunities to use them.”

“Thank the heavens we have him. From what I read, the local police aren’t exactly pulling up trees.”

“I think that’s a little unfair. Without Sherlock Holmes, criminals would still be brought to task, but, if he’s there, why not use him?”

“Mister Holmes doesn’t seem particularly enamoured with our boys in blue.”

“No, but that’s just Sherlock being Sherlock. He likes to keep people on their toes.”

“So, it’s nothing to do with him once spending a brief period at Her Majesty’s pleasure?”

“I’m sorry, no,” I replied, trying to frame a response. “I don’t think revenge is something Sherlock has a lot of time for. As I hopefully get across in the stories, he’s very prone to pragmatism. I might be wrong. You know Sherlock’s not the easiest person to read. But, I’m sure he doesn’t harbour much in the way of grudges.”

“As I’ve just mentioned, you’ve now published around ten of your adventures. Do you have a favourite?”

“That’s difficult,” I replied. “What you have to remember is these cases involve real people, some of whom have been embroiled in some heinous crimes.”

“Yes, I suppose it’s easy to forget that.”

“If I’m pressed, I would say the case I’m most proud of was the one that concerned the murder in the Twisted Lip. Sherlock seemed to step up a level or two. He conjured up a solution from nowhere. I’m not saying the police wouldn’t have got there in the end, but I think it would have taken them longer without Sherlock.”

“I wish I had your confidence in the local constabulary, John.”

“Actually, I think they’re very good. Perhaps I’ve done them a bit of a disservice in my writing. Which of the stories did you find most interesting, Charles?”

Darlington pondered as long as the danger of creating radio dead air allowed.

“I thought the Valley Drive Mystery was clever, however the case that I think has captivated me the most was one of the recent ones, The Case of the New Yarm Strangler. Who knew all that sort of stuff was going on in Norton?”

“Spoilers, Charles,” I said with a smile. “Some people save up copies of the Gazette and binge read them.”

Darlington smiled in acknowledgement.

“Something you won’t need to do now there’s a book,” I added.

“So, John, given neither yourself nor Holmes have any formal training in detective work, you have been incredibly successful. Has there been a case that left Sherlock stumped? Is there anything you haven’t told us about?”

I wracked my brains, cycling through the cases that I hadn’t written about in the paper.

“The Case of The Goldfish Bowl,” I said. “I suppose that came to a rather unexpected conclusion. But, other than that, we’ve had a good run.”

It seemed a reasonable question and if anything, an example of a minor hiccup would serve to ground the other stories. The problem with Sherlock Holmes was that he was talented to the point where it became unbelievable.

“I suppose there was one thing,” I said on the recollection of a case that had long since pushed to the back of my mind. “There was one case concerning a missing person that we never got to the bottom of. An old lady in Guisborough, Agnes Chapel I think she was called. She sought us out to locate a relative of hers, some chap called Eligius Chapel. She told us he had a valuable family heirloom she thought belonged to her. However, before we really got started on the case, she passed away.”

“An heirloom, you say. How interesting. That sounds like it had all the ingredients of a rollicking good tale.”

“Possibly. She called it her treasure. Holmes did have a brief look at it, but when she died there wasn’t much point in going on, or indeed, much information to ‘go on’ with. It was rather sad. I only met Missus Chapel once but she seemed very nice. A little eccentric perhaps.”

“That is sad,” said Darlington in a thoughtful whisper before returning to his bouncy on-air personality. “So, John, do you have plans to write anything else, something other than your adventures with the great Sherlock Holmes?”

That question caught me off guard a little. I did have several ideas, some of which I’d started to scribble down, but nothing was at the stage where I wanted to go public with it. I mumbled something about an idea I’d had about a character called Dirk Orb and shook my head to tell him the idea wasn’t that advanced.

Sherlock Holmes, The Darlington Substitution“Okay,” he interrupted. “The book is in the shops now?”

“It is.”

“Doctor John Watson, thank you for taking part in this week's A Chat with Charlie.”

Darlington looked through the window to the producer in the next room who in return gave him a thumbs up.

“Well, John, how was that?”

“Okay, I think.”

“Okay? It was very good. Thank you very much for coming in.”

We shook hands and he passed me over to the producer who led me back to the door.

“He took your notes off you, didn’t he?” she said.

“Yes, I wondered why that was.”

“He must have thought that was your list of songs. I’ve got that. I’ll edit them in later.”

 

I left the studio feeling a little indifferent. I thought the interview had gone reasonably well, especially for my first attempt, however it seemed I’d missed an opportunity to give my book the push it needed. I ambled into the Twisted Lip that evening to find Holmes at our usual table, two pints of Engineer's Thumb sitting in front of him. As I sat, he edged one of the drinks to my side of the table.

“How, did it go?” he asked.

“It was okay,” I replied before taking a large gulp of my drink.

Holmes glanced a look of curiosity at me.

“Well,” I sighed, “we spent most of the time talking about you.”

“Sounds great.”

“Yes, but I was supposed to be promoting my book.”

“Ah, never mind. You sell the sizzle not the sausage.”

“And you are the sizzle?”

“Apparently so,” he replied with a broad, cheesy smile.

I wasn’t so certain. I returned him a look of disappointment.

“It will be alright,” he said with a grin. “It’s all publicity and the stories are really good. As long as people find out about the book they will buy it. It might take a while, but it will happen. You’ll be a famous author before you know it.”

I thought the prospect unlikely, feeling my literary star to be already on the wane.

Read Chapter 4 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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