(BUMP. -- Ross)
Chapter One: The Letter From Iowa [This is a slightly rewritten version of the chapter I posted the other day. I wanted it to fit better with the rest of the story]
It was January in London and I had been shut in for many days owing to persistent and infernal throb in my leg. This month is particularly ill-at-odds with the Jezail souvenir I acquired in Afghanistan, quite against my preference, which remains lodged in my lower extremity. Having had her fill of my loitering, my dear wife Mary had shooed me from the door with instructions to return with a fat goose, a round of roquefort, and a decidedly more pleasant disposition. On my return from the day's errands, I found that the handsome in which I was a passenger had turned down Baker Street and, with my mood somewhat buoyed, I requested the driver halt so that I might visit my dear friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
I found Holmes, much to my delight, in a positively manic state. He had not slept the night before, which was evidenced by the strong smell of acid emanating from his laboratory and the great volume tobacco usings heaped upon the mantle. His cheeks were of a vibrant hue that often comes to him when in the midst of a thrilling mystery. He paced near the fireplace, clutching his clay pipe in the corner of his mouth, no doubt in deep contemplation of some murderous vexation.
"Watson! You have come at precisely the right moment. I know that you may be of great assistance to me in resolving a matter of the most peculiar and troubling nature."
Familiar with his many entreaties, I found this request singularly urgent and it drew me quickly inside the chamber so that he might produce the details of the case. As I took my seat near the fire, Holmes handed me a brandy and a large yellow envelope.
"Engage yourself with the particulars Watson. You know my methods, read aloud from the letter enclosed and then offer your thoughts on the matter."
Holmes continued to pace as I took up the envelope and examined the outside.
"The University of Iowa?" I exclaimed on examination of the return address.
"Yes! Quite intriguing Watson, is it not? According to my files, it is a middling school of no great repute, located deep in the heartland of America."
"America." I said softly to myself. "But what country crime could command your attention, Holmes?"
"I believe the most heinous. Watson, you know my opinion on the depravities that must exist…nay, are allowed to exist among country folk. The more bucolic the setting, the closer one is to evil." Holmes stated ardently.
I proceeded to reading the letter.
Dearest Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
I hope this correspondence finds you as well as it leaves me ill. My name is Garibaldi Barta and I hold the honored position of Athletic Director for the University of Iowa. It is in this position that I find need of your services, as I fear some great evil has befallen myself and my employees. I have recently confided my fears in my close friend, Mr. Joe Paterno, and it was he that recommended I contact you, as he has had some reason in the past to enlist your services. I do not wish to go into great detail in this letter, but you must know that the matter concerns the very heart of our University and its future. Because of this, I have dispatched three of my representatives to relate the particulars of the case to you in person. They will call upon you at 5 pm on January 10th. I thank you sir for any assistance you may provide.
University of Iowa
"Dear me, this man appears to be in the direst of circumstances; however, I cannot fathom what could frighten a man of such position so. The whole affair puts me ill-at-ease Holmes."
"Quite so Watson. It seems most unpleasant from the beginning. Though, perhaps we may be able to provide a satisfying end."
"Yes, Holmes. I know that if there is a man alive who may help poor Mr. Barta it is my companion in this very room."
"You are kind, sir."
"Mr. Paterno? I do not recall that case." I asked.
"Yes, yes. It was quite before we became acquainted, Watson. The Case of the Missing Turkish Delight as I recall. I must admit it was embarrassingly simple to solve. The suspect candies, for which Mr. Paterno had acquired a taste while serving in the Crimea, had absconded with a particular oafish man of Madison, Wisconsin. The critical clue had been a phrase written upon the wall of Mr. Paterno's office in cream filling."
"Cream filling!" I ejaculated. "A strange case, indeed. What was this phrase, if I might ask?"
"It read, 'The card commands me'. The case was easily solved from that alone." Holmes explained. "Nevermind the past; we must move to the case at hand, Watson. What are your thoughts on the letter?"
"I must admit that I see nothing extraordinary. It seems a standard piece of correspondence, even if the content is so unusual."
"Again Watson, you see but you do not observe. What of the dampness at the bottom of the letter? Salty taste, do you see?"
"Yes, but what could that mean?" I asked.
"Tears Watson, the man was crying when he enclosed this letter. I have researched this Mr. Barta and I think him a man of granite constitution."
"Crying would indicate otherwise."
"Aye, that or the gravity of this case which weighs heavily upon him." Holmes responded.
As I turned back to the letter, I was interrupted.
"Goodness!" Sherlock exclaimed. "It is very nearly 5 pm now and if I am not mistaken our new clients approach the front door."
After a short interval, the door to the room opened and in walked three serious and purposeful looking men. The man furthest to the left was bearded and rather shorter than his partners. His eyes were keen and shown with an intensity often credited to the meanest predators of the dark jungles of the subcontinent. His ears were mangled, but healed, and his body was well-muscled. He was powerful and instilled in me a kind of nervousness that one would feel around any creature who would make his living by tooth and fang. The man in the middle was taller than the others and had a lean face. He seemed of an Irishman as his cheeks grew red easily from cold or drink or anger. He wore a suit of an unknown fashion, but did not project the outward appearance of high station. The third man stood apart, quiet, but masticating furiously upon a piece of chewing gum. He appeared older, more worn by life than his partners and there was was an air of defiance in the man that suggested to me a troublesome temperament.
"Come in, come in my good fellows. May I offer you a brandy or cigar?" Holmes addressed the visitors. All declined.
"Well, I have here the letter from Mr. Barta and I am eager to hear of your troubles gentlemen. I know you must be tired from your journey, but the matter seems serious and it would be imprudent to wait until you have regained your full faculties."
The man to the left stepped forward with his hand outstretched. "I am –."
"I know you, Mr. Brands." Holmes interrupted, much to the shock of his visitors. "I know each of you."
"But how sir?" Asked the middle man. "I presume you do not follow our business here in England."
"Quite right, Mr. McCaffery, I do not. I know you because I have observed you and have researched a little about your case." Holmes explained.
"Mr. Holmes, perhaps a demonstration of your deductive process will put our guests more at ease." I encouraged.
"As you say, Dr. Watson. Upon reading the letter from Mr. Barta, I quickly did some research into the University of Iowa Athletic Department. As Mr. Barta stated, three men would be coming to see me and so, I identified the three most high profile programs at the University, American football, wrestling, and basketball. All three of these had seen some struggle within the last few years and I surmised that I would be meeting the coaches of these teams in a few days." Holmes then turned to the man on the left. "Mr. Tom Brands, you are the wrestling coach. This is a simple deduction given the state of your ears, the bite marks upon your arms, and the faint smell of urine that wafts from your person. 'Cauliflower ear' is common condition among wrestlers, caused by the build up of fluid in the cartilaginous portion of the ear. The bite marks and urine smell are tell-tale signs of a recent encounter with Oklahomans, as biting and urination are martial defense techniques employed by that nasty race. As you know Watson, I have made a study of such things in my younger days. I even admit to being something of a grappler myself and have met few, but the strangest of primates, who could best me. If I am not mistaken, you have recently engaged in a contest with Oklahoma State University."
"Yes sir." Mr. Brands responded.
Holmes then turned to the man on the right. "You sir, are Mr. Kirk Ferentz, the football coach."
"Yes, exactly right. How did you know that?"
"You have, on the tread of your shoe, a few stray pieces of artificial grass, which is used to surface the pitch of American football stadiums. You also have the faint smell of urine upon you, but it is much lighter than that coming from Mr. Brands. Your contest with Oklahomans was some weeks ago. If I am not mistaken this scent was acquired during the Insight Bowl, in which you were overcome by the Sooners of Oklahoma."
"Right again, Mr. Holmes." Said the startled man.
"You are Mr. Fran McCaffery, the basketball coach." Holmes said turning to the middle man.
"Yes. Amazing, simply amazing." Responded Mr. McCaffery.
"Not so amazing, sir. It was through a simple process of elimination that I was able to identify you. Though, I also know the habits of an Irishman when I see them." Said Holmes, gesturing to Mr. McCaffery's hand where the man held a small, half-eaten potato.
"Well, however you divined such knowledge, I now believe you the right man to assist us with our problem." Responded Mr. McCaffery.
"I will do my best. Now tell me about your troubles gentlemen. Spare no detail, I must have it all."
"Mr. Holmes, it is a matter of offense, sir." Said Mr. Brands.
"Who has offended you good fellows? While the insult grieves me, I must confess that such concerns do not usually warrant my attention."
"No, no. Offense, sir. It is a matter of offensive production. Each of our teams has experienced varying declines in offensive production over the preceding years. This year has been especially troubling and we each fear that the offense may never return." Mr. Brands stated earnestly.
Just then Mr. Ferentz sprang from his seat and shot across the room to the window. He was visibly angry and made quite a clamour as he walked. I caught sight of a small writing pad in the his hand and noticed him scribble vigorously upon it as he spoke.
"Do not listen to these fools Mr. Holmes. I beg you. There is nothing wrong with my team, sir, you must believe me. No one believes me" The last Mr. Ferentz spoke softly, as if to himself. His voice then regained its command of the room "I know precisely where my offense is and it is well protected. I need nothing from you, sirs."
"Come now Kirk. Your team is more anemic than ours." Said Mr. McCaffery.
"Gentlemen, calm yourselves. I must have details. The story if you please, I beg you." Said Holmes with some exasperation in his voice.
"My troubles, sir, are recent." Stated Mr. Brands. "They have begun only these last two years with the loss of our best wrestlers of the last decade. Last season our best man was beaten by a one-legged wrestler."
"An ill-omen if ever there was one." Interjected Holmes.
"Quite so, and now the losses seem to continue. We have finished second in our conference and third nationally. Now, we find ourselves ill-used at the hands of the hated Cowboys. It seems all for naught sir. My team has seen the height of success, but now I fear the fall like nothing before." Continued Mr. Brands.
"All will be well Mr. Brands. We will regain your offense, sir." I said, trying to comfort the poor man, just as Holmes shot me a glance indicating uncertainty in my claim.
"I believe that the cause is supernatural. It is most assuredly that David Taylor and his horrid horned donkey that are to blame for this calamity. I know this for certain, because it was shortly after I received the most disturbing package that my team began to decline."
"Did you bring the package?" Asked Holmes.
"Yes sir. I thought you might like to see it." Mr. Brands responded as he produced a small box, covered in heavy brown paper.
Sherlock Holmes opened the box and removed the most offensive piece of sculpture I have yet laid eyes upon. It was a small toy horse with a cone taped to its head and it appeared to be forcing itself upon a doll, made in the likeness of an anthropomorphized black and yellow bird. Holmes took out his powerful magnifying glass and examined both the package and its contents.
"The return address is State College, Pennsylvania." Stated Holmes.
"Yes sir. The home of that detestable Taylor and my nemesis, Cael Sanderson."
"Mmm, I see. Did you notice this small marking on the bottom of the package?" Asked Holmes as he pointed to a scribble near the edge of the box.
"It says, 'The eye of the H.A.W.K. is upon you'. What could that mean?" I asked as I read aloud.
Each of us in the room seemed unsettled by the contents of the package and the discovery of the curious inscription. Mr. Ferentz stood close to the window, peering into the night and obviously trying to appear uninterested in the scandal that unfolded before us.
"I have inherited my situation from my predecessor." Stated Mr. McCaffery. "It seems the basketball team has been absent offense for some years. I do not know the circumstances surrounding its disappearance, but I do know the consequences. We had been improving as of late, that is until we were recently beaten very soundly by the Buckeyes of Ohio State. It was shortly before this outing that I received an anonymous letter, I have brought it and the envelope with me."
Mr. McCaffery handed them both to Sherlock Holmes who examined both with intense interest.
"The letter states that I was woefully under-educated for my position and went on to threaten me and my team with continued failure. I do not understand the exact meaning, but the letter filled me with deep foreboding."
"Heavens! The same mark is upon this envelope." Holmes exclaimed.
We all, even Mr. Ferentz, moved close to observe that the same tiny phrase that had haunted Mr. Brands' packaging was upon that of Mr. McCaffery. The owner's face took on a pallid character and I encouraged him to sit in the hopes of avoiding any fall.
"The letter is typed, but that will be of little matter." Said Holmes, unaware of his guests concern. "I find this all very interesting gentlemen. Watson and I will most surely take your case."
Mr. Brands' concern quickly left his face upon hearing Holmes' words and he jumped from his seat to embrace us.
"Thank you Mr. Holmes. Thank you Dr. Watson."
"That is quite all right. We will be leaving for America first thing in the morning. That is if your wife is so inclined to see you off, old fellow."
"I do not see why she would object. She grows tired of my moping at any rate." I replied.
"Good then. Gentlemen, I bid you a good night and a safe journey home. We will meet you again upon our arrival in Iowa."
"Thank you sirs, so much. Mr. Barta will be so pleased to hear the news." Stated Mr. McCaffery.
The men began to leave the study when Mr. Ferentz turned around abruptly and flashed us a cold stare.
"Neither of you will get an ounce worth of cooperation from me. I dislike this whole business and I loath your inclusion in it."
Though startled, Sherlock Holmes and I shrugged off this rebuke and regained our bearings.
Facing me before the fire, Holmes stated "Ah, Watson. What a mystery? One surely worthy of my talents. I am so glad you will be with me on this adventure. I presume that there is much more to this matter than we have been led to understand."
"What could be more sinister than that which we have already heard?"
"I fear we will see. Pray Watson, if you still possess your service revolver, see that you pack it. We may require it before this thing has seen its end."
Chapter Two: Steam Conveyance and Arrival
Sherlock Holmes and I arrived in New York City on February 12th, having left Liverpool on a steamer three weeks prior, and endeavored to travel the rest of the way to Iowa by rail. Our rather minimalist sleeping car was nearly too small for the both of us; however, that mattered little as Holmes took to spending much of his time in thought in the dining car or engaging in seemingly trivial conversation with the other passengers. I expect he slept only a few hours a night and, as was his custom, barely spoke of our present mission to me or any other. One night I awoke with a start at having fallen victim to a particularly vicious apparition of a ghazi soldier wielding a fearsome sword and howling like a mad dog. After regaining my wits, I noticed that Holmes was again absent the car, though the clothes that he had been wearing earlier were laid out on his bed. Curious to this, I decided to search him out in whatever odd corner of the train he could be found.
I reached the dining car a little after 2 AM and soon abandoned my night's errand for a sip of brandy and a cigar. I gave the barman my order and turned to look about the car. At the far end sat a middle-aged woman of exceeding beauty. Her auburn hair was done up in curls and was topped by the most stunning emerald hat. Her dress was of like color and its elegance, along with the brilliant ruby necklace she wore, indicated a station that near passes for royalty in America. She stayed seated during my time in the car, all the while peering ceaselessly into the inky darkness. She seemed not at all bothered by the commotion at the other end of the car.
Just behind my right shoulder sat the cause of this commotion, two men whose appearance could not be further from that of their female cohabitant. They looked like deranged philosophers and carried on a conversation that seemed to confirm my diagnosis of mental defect. Both men wore long, unkempt beards which were topped with great red noses. The man facing me had silver hair, which fell in great, chaotic heaps down the sides of his face and served to frame two eyes of a wild and frenzied nature. He was dressed according to the best fashion, but his clothes appeared dirty and disheveled. He drank corn whiskey, pouring it down a great cavern of a mouth. The occasional drop would catch a stalactite whisker and run along the side of his cheek onto his jacket. He appeared a man of powerful action and mercurial temperament. His companion, who had a less imposing stature, wore a grey frock coat and a bowler, which did little to contain a mass of greasy brown hair. I could hardly see his face, but pictured the near double of Whitman or Tolstoy in their most obscene moods. Both men spoke, not in conversation, but more in simultaneous diatribe, producing a curious and slightly unsettling harmony of madness that serves both to repel and attract the casual listener. The jeremiad of the silver-haired man was delivered almost entirely in a haphazard meter.
"Winter, spring and summer
so far from you
my autumn lover
count me lost to you forever!
The winged hawk
all bonds to sever"
The brown-haired man spoke quietly, almost in a whisper.
"Two owls are in the house. Two owls have seen the mouse. Which owl will eat tonight? And which is forced to flight? Two owls…two owls to come to arms. Two owls to ply their charms. Which owl will have the day? And which owl will the other slay?"
The silver-haired man continued.
"Once a man with many a plan
I am lost once more
with no hope in store
to wander throughout the land
The book was written of Zook
he won a few
and lost to Purdue
his name they quickly forsook
The hawk is made of chalk
it writes my name
and breaks my head with greenish rock."
I turned back to my drink, more than a little confused by this strange manner of conversation. I finished my glass and resigned myself to ending my hopeless search for such a master of concealment as my friend, Sherlock Holmes. Not long had a walked after leaving the dining car when I felt a tug at my coat sleeve and was startled to see the brown-haired man at my back. I began to chastise him when he pulled at his beard and to my surprise it came free of his face. At once I recognized my good friend and my nerves were immediately settled.
"Holmes! You rascal. In what sort of mischief have you been engaged?"
"Lower your voice Watson. I believe my fellow conversant to be much more lucid than he lets on. That is Mr. Ron Zook, formerly of the University of Illinois. He was recently relieved of his position and has taken to riding about the country as a sort of gentleman vagabond."
"But what do you gain by listening to that lunatic?"
"Information Watson, data. Though his decline seems to have been of his own doing, I believe that the same shadowy figure that hangs over our clients had a hand in Mr. Zook's demise."
"Goodness, that is unsettling. What have you learned of the case, Holmes?"
"I believe we are dealing with not one man, but a group. A cabal, if you will, that seeks the destruction of the Iowa Athletics Department. Their resources are great and their motivations are most certainly personal. Their moniker is the very hawk that was referenced in the writing on envelope and package I examined."
"Could it not be David Taylor? The man who sent the troubling package to Mr. Brands."
"Possible, but unlikely. Pennsylvania State University is located in the eastern portion of the country. The paper which enclosed that package was of a rare kind only found in the Northwestern United States. The address posted on the package was a blind, meant to mislead us and abuse our valuable time."
"This case has become more troubling by the day."
"Yes Watson, very troubling indeed. I fear that things grow worse for our clients as well. I have been told that, during the course of our journey, Mr. McCaffery's team has suffered another humiliating loss and Mr. Ferentz, the defection of his most prominent offensive player. The consequences of these events demand the keenest wit and most steadfast courage. Now, I suggest we both return to sleep, so that we may be refreshed for our arrival in Iowa City in the morning."
The next morning I was awakened by a loud banging at the door.
"Message for Mr. Holmes! I have a message for Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" Cried the voice of young boy.
I opened the door to confront my tormentor. "My dear fellow, get a hold of yourself. Mr. Holmes is not here. I presume he is in the dining car."
The young lad scampered away in the direction of the dining car and I grabbed my coat to follow close behind. We Holmes lounging in a corner booth with his breakfast laid out and a newspaper stretched before him.
"Mr. Holmes. I have the message you were expecting." Said the boy, slightly out of breath.
"Good lad. Here is a fifty cent piece. Run along now, but do not stray far. I will need you once we reach Iowa City."
"Yessir!" The boy exclaimed as he ran off.
"Holmes, who was that child?"
"Him? Oh, I found him at one of the stops we made as we passed through Pennsylvania. He claims he ran away from a enclave of Amishmen who treated him quite cruelly. He calls himself Rambler and he is properly boisterous for an irregular."
"You mean to engage him in the case then?"
"He is already engaged. He has brought me this message sent by the Athletic Director at Stanford University."
Holmes unfolded the paper and glanced over its contents.
"Just as I suspected!"
"What is it?"
"Nothing to concern you with now, but it may provide the key to this whole business. Let us eat quickly, for we are almost to our destination."
We reached Iowa City shortly before midday and took a cab directly to the office of Mr. Garibaldi Barta. The city was quiet and the streets unobstructed by pedestrians or vendors. The air was brisk and bit sharply at my face. To escape its assault, I pulled my scarf over my mouth. Holmes, however, seemed unaffected as he jabbered away about the classical history of wrestling and the roots of American football in our own English sport.
We were escorted into Mr. Barta's office by his secretary and told to wait until he returned from an errand. Once we were left alone Holmes went immediately to snooping about the place, turning around photographs and digging in potted plants. He returned to his seat only moments before we were joined by two men. The first to enter was undoubtedly our host, Mr. Barta. He carried himself as a man who did not turn from action. His silver hair was shown incandescent in the light of the room and set off an immaculate suit that would produce envy in the finest tailor of Savile Row. He smelled of leather and bourbon and greeted both Holmes and me with a yeoman's handshake and a stout slap at the back.
"Hello boys. It is so good of you to come."
The man that followed Mr. Barta was so much the lesser example of virile composure that his cherubic appearance had an almost comical effect. He was dressed sloppily as a man who owns fine clothes, yet has no sense to wear them appropriately. He carried himself similar to a street beggar and had an air of false confidence that was sure to elicit confusion and embarrassment in friend and foe alike.
"Mr. Holmes and Mr. Watson, I would like you to meet Detective Tim Brewster. I hope you do not mind, but I thought to engage another's services in this matter, considering its great import."
"Not at all, Mr. Barta." Replied Holmes. "The more minds on this case the better, in my opinion. I am sure Detective Brewster has many useful qualities that may be applied to this matter."
"I apologize Mr. Holmes, but I am not familiar with your work. I presume you are with Scotland Yard?" Questioned Mr. Brewster.
"Then you are a private detective?"
"No. I am a…I am the world's only consulting detective. I provide insight to other detectives when they have reached the end of their wits."
"I see. I can assure you that your skills will not be needed in this case. In fact, I have just informed Mr. Barta that I have solved the case."
"Excellent!" Holmes ejaculated. "Pray tell us of your culprit."
"Certainly. It is none other than the dastardly DJK, Derrell Johnson-Koulianous. The scourge of the Hawkeyes and a notorious member of the Iowa City underground crime community. It is a revenge case, I am afraid. DJK was unhappy with his dismissal from the football team and has since endeavored to destroy its success."
"Ha. Very good Mr. Brewster. You will make a fine detective, sir. Though I am afraid you are quite wrong regarding this case."
"Oh, am I?"
"Yes. You fail to consider the loss of offense on the other teams."
"A blind, to confuse the issue."
"Possibly, though why go through the trouble to send threatening letters to the other coaches? No sir, I think this goes much deeper than one disgruntled former player."
"Well, that may be Mr. Holmes, but I have already instructed the local authorities to arrest Mr. Johnson-Koulianous." Stated Mr. Barta.
"I see. Unfortunate business." Holmes said rather dejectedly. "Well, Mr. Barta, have there been any other developments?"
"Not of which I am aware, sir."
"Good, then we will leave you gentlemen to your day and call on Mr. Brands, if you don't mind." Said Holmes.
"Not at all. Good day to you gentlemen."
As we left Mr. Barta's office, Holmes turned and whispered in my ear, "Watson, we must work vigorously to reverse this injustice. I shall not see this DJK convicted for the crimes of those much more sinister than he."
I nodded in agreement and together we proceeded on to Mr. Brands' office.