[While we pull ourselves together after a weekend of general malaise, read another remarkably well-done fanpost from Lycurgus. -- PV]
Chapter Three: The Lady, The Loquace, and The Lout
Our quest to seek out Mr. Brands met with a small hindrance, as we found that he had abandoned his office for the afternoon and had engaged his athletes in intense training in the arena. Nevertheless, we were able to locate our quarry with small delay and continue on our mission. We found Mr. Brands in Carver Hawkeye Arena, at the top of a large stadium bowl. The contemplative, worried man we had met in London was nowhere to be seen; he had been replaced by a great, fearsome bear who seemed to be preparing for a battle of such singular ferocity that it would have Mars yield before its end. In those first minutes, as we approached, Mr. Brands was not aware of our presence and we were able to observe the man as he assaulted his charges, a rather dour-faced group of youths I must say, with the most caustic of verbal utterance and wild gesticulation. From this display I was struck by the curious fact that, though his words themselves were not indecent, his delivery rendered the whole impressive reproach positively obscene. I could only marvel at the frustration that was borne out before us, but, before we could hear more, a sideways glance from one of his hulking, humbled grapplers betrayed our presence and put an end to the spectacle. Mr. Brands turned and, seeing Holmes and me, his look of anger broke and was replaced by a slight half-smile, more an indication of mischievous pleasure than an appreciation of the warm bonds of manly kinship.
"Ah, gentlemen. It is good to see you again. Why don't we step away from the training, so that we might speak in peace?"
"My dear Mr. Brands, you seem very much at odds with the day. I fear we have chosen a particularly poor time to approach you." Holmes stated.
Mr. Brands laughed deeply and replied "Not at all. Not at all my friends. In fact, as you see me here I am very much more myself than that whimpering fool you met in England."
"Then things here are on the mend?" I asked.
"Oh dear no, my good fellow. Very much the opposite. We have performed poorly in three contests and quite badly in one since our last meeting. This is a most distressing predicament in which we find ourselves."
"Then, I do not understand your improvement in mood." I replied.
"My dear Dr. Watson, my mood seems improved for two important reasons. First, I am doing what I love, what gives me breath, what nourishes my very soul. Second, I recognize the same fire in others and I see it here in your companion, Mr. Holmes. I do not doubt that you will succeed in solving this mystery and help to return us to the glory which we have held dear for so long."
Holmes smiled at this, a public recognition of his abilities. "Mr. Brands, you are most kind. The tenacity which you display in such abundance will be, I think, very useful in furthering our cause. Now sir, I need from you a history of events, as you may recount them."
"Certainly, where should I begin."
"Begin with the circumstances surrounding your installment as head wrestling coach at The University of Iowa."
"As you say, Mr. Holmes. I was a three-time national champion here at the University of Iowa and, following my days as a student, I served as an assistant coach under my mentor, Mr. Dan Gable. I believed I was destined to be the future head coach for the Hawkeyes, but once my mentor retired I was maintained as an assistant to his successor, Coach Jim Zalesky, an extremely well-accomplished wrestler in his own right. You might say that Coach Zalesky and I did not agree on the direction of the program and, in 2004, I left to become the head coach at Virginia Tech University. In so doing, I took a number of highly talented athletes with me. Upon my departure, the success of the Iowa program continued to decline in such a way that was anathema to most Iowa fans and alumni. Eventually, the losses became too much and Coach Zalesky was fired, with myself as his replacement. The first year of my head coaching tenure at Iowa we finished eighth in the nation and that was followed by three straight first place finishes. Last year we finished third and this year I am worried that we will not be in the top five. It is most troubling."
"Indeed." replied Holmes. "Where is this Mr. Zalesky now?"
"He coaches at Oregon State University and has done quite well there."
"I see. Do you feel there is any ongoing dispute between the two of you?"
"Mr. Holmes, I believe that I am a good man, but I am not a man given to the ways of boon fellowship and that has resulted in many strained relations. I respect the man, Zalesky, but I cannot speak for his feelings toward myself."
"What of Mr. Gable? I would expect that former coach and athlete would maintain a close bond."
"Sadly, no. I think their bond is somewhat more strained than it once was. You see, Mr. Gable had a hand in Mr. Zalesky's removal."
"One more thing. Are you sir, familiar with any ancient dialects?"
"No, I should think not. I know but one word in Latin, exitium, and I seek to visit it upon any who stand before the black and gold."
"Very good, sir. Very good. I think that is all I require today Mr. Brands. Now, if you would be so kind as to direct Watson and myself to our hotel. We are quite tired and could use some rest before we continue our investigation."
Holmes and I left the company of Mr. Brands and his wrestlers to once again chance the streets of this strange American city. As we walked from the arena, I was struck by the appearance of a woman strangely familiar to me. She passed with an easy, youthful grace and seemed to return my gaze as one might to an old adversary.
"Holmes!" I cried. "That is the woman from the train. Or rather, as she appears somewhat younger, it could be her very daughter."
"Excellent Watson. Your powers of observation improve by the day. Though you were right the first time, that is the same woman."
"Impossible. The woman on the train was a score older than she. I would swear on that."
"Then you would bear false witness and fall in with the unfortunate damned. I tell you Watson, it is the same woman, though you are right that she appears different today. It is a wonderful thing, the art of concealment, and her skills are so developed that only the most trained eye may see through the ruse."
"She was disguised, but why?"
"Yes Watson, that is the very question. Quickly, let us trail her in hopes of discovering her motives."
The woman was obviously aware of our presence in the street and maneuvered accordingly. I would have been quite lost without Holmes' expertise in matters of tracking and surveillance. His stratagem was simple; we were to let the woman think she had evaded us and, all the while, maintain her within our sight. The plan was good, but the execution lacking and the woman finally did escape us as she passed through a Levantine dining establishment with a rather unfortunate name.
"That is an admirable woman, Watson. I should not worry about losing her though, for we will be dining with her and her employers this evening."
"Holmes!" I exclaimed. "What a boast you make."
"Watson, really. It is no boast, you shall see."
Later that evening, after being installed in our lodgings, there came a loud, impatient knock at the door of our room. Having a familiar, impertinent quality to it, I was not surprised when I opened the door to the same street Arab I had encountered on the train. The youth ignored me and crossed the room quickly to confront Holmes.
"Here sir, what you have asked for." The boy said as he handed Holmes another roughly folded note.
"Very good, young Rambler. Your payment." Holmes replied as he handed the boy another fifty cent piece.
As the boy scampered out of the room, I asked "Holmes, what does it say?"
"It is the location of our dinner companions, Watson." Holmes said as he turned his head towards the window in contemplation.
We arrived at our evening's destination shortly after seven. The place was a quaint, little bistro with few patrons. On the far side of the main room sat our woman and two companions. The darkness of the room made it difficult, at first, to characterize our targets, but, as we approached the table, they became quite clear. The young woman was seated with two gentlemen, each old enough to be of her father's age. They listened intently while the woman busied herself, no doubt, in describing the travails of her day. The man on her left wore a great, grey mustache that overhung an endearing, but devilish smile. I noticed that his leg was held out straight to the side of his table, instead of being bent under it as the other. This was no doubt the result of some serious injury. The other man had a sweeter disposition and his voice boomed with a melodic tone that, at once, commanded attention and respect. It was clear, by their clothing which was emblazoned with all aspects of The University of Iowa trademark, that they were both native denizens of this city and loyal adherents to its University.
"Halloa Watson. Why, if it is not Mr. Edward Podolak, Mr. Gary Dolphin, and Ms. Katherine Conners. Well hello there gentlemen and lady." Holmes announced, giving quite a start to the three at the table.
"Excuse me sir." Said the man on the left. "You have us at a disadvantage. I am Mr. Podolak, but I am afraid I do not know your name."
"Oh, tut. These lies will not do. You know me well, sir. For you have engaged the employment of this young woman to trail my friend and me from London."
"Very well, you have us Mr. Holmes. What do you intend to do?" Asked the man on the right, who must have been Mr. Dolphin.
"Do? Why nothing, sir. I know or presume that you are not the culprits in any standing matter. I merely want to sound out the depth of your knowledge in the case of Iowa's missing offense."
"As you said, Mr. Holmes, we are not culprits, but our knowledge of these evil doings renders us marked nonetheless. We hoped that by following your movements we might learn something of the deep truth in this matter and gain some upper hand over our tormentors." Explained Mr. Dolphin.
"You men are right to be concerned, but I think you rather clumsy in your movements. It is quite possible that your involvement of Ms. Conners in this case will only result in a greater danger being visited upon you and her."
"You are right, sir. Excuse our missteps and allow us to aid your investigation in any way."
"It is alright. We may begin again, as friends. Tell me what you know and I will promise myself and Watson to your safekeeping."
"We know rather more than is safe to discuss in a public place such as this, sir." Said Mr. Podolak.
"Let us retire then, to a safer location."
Our new companions escorted us out of the restaurant and into the night air. We walked over a mile before we came to a bridge which spanned a dark, meandering river. Holmes and I followed our guides to the middle of the bridge where they stopped and commenced their story.
"My friends, you have come to this place in evil times." Spoke Mr. Podolak. "I speak of an evil that lurks in the shadows of mens' minds and haunts the borders of our happiness, ever ready to encroach upon that which we hold most dear. The trouble with this place, gentlemen, is beyond mortal, but it has mortal agents. The acts committed upon this institution were done by vengeful men in the service of some great power, awakened by our own blind hubris."
"Good god man! Of what horror do you speak?" Holmes exclaimed.
"I believe it an ancient evil. One that has visited this land before. It has been nigh on three and half decades since it entered its slumber, but it seems it has awakened and we are the worse for it. I fought this evil when I was a student here and its recurrence is an event too horrible to be endured."
"Calm yourself, sir. It may be best if we confine our discussion to these human agents of which you speak."
"Yes yes, of course you are right." Mr. Podolak uttered quietly. "As I have said, they must be men of the darkest designs and intimate position."
"You mean to say that they are installed within the University?" I asked as the man nodded in response.
"I presumed as much." Said Holmes.
"This agent permits the others access to visit upon us their calamitous deeds. They are all men of power and their convictions wash away any reluctance to violence." Explained Mr. Dolphin.
"Who is this man?" I asked.
"We do not know, Dr. Watson. Though he is near the top, he keeps himself well hid. We know that one of the men is rather well educated."
"How is it you have come by this knowledge?" asked Holmes.
"Last year, I was injured by an automobile as I attempted to cross a street in Arizona. Just before I was struck I heard a bit of Latin that I believed was directed at me." explained Mr. Podolak.
"You are familiar with the language then?"
"No, sir. I recalled the phrase and asked Gary here to investigate its meaning for me."
"And the words?"
"I only heard the last two clearly. They were 'virtutes conservamus'."
"Good, very good, Mr. Podolak. That is a keen observation and we are fortunate for your memory."
"And now good sirs, I am quite tired from the day. Perhaps we can continue our discussion over breakfast?"
"Of course Mr. Podolak. How does eight suit you?"
"Quite smartly. Eight it is."
"Excellent. We will see you then at our hotel."
With that, we parted company with our three new companions. The night air had grown close and the long shadows, menacing.
"Holmes, what do you make of it all?"
"The case unwinds, we should be careful we do not follow suit."
"Do you believe that Mr. Podolak's unfortunate accident was connected with this case? Perhaps it was a coincidence."
"No, I am quite convinced that the attack upon Mr. Podolak was closely connected to the present case. Remain alert, Watson. The danger of our situation grows by the minute. I should be wholly lost if something were to befall you, my friend, before I am able to secure these depraved criminals."
"Then you have hope of success?"
"Rather more than that, Watson! I am very close to unraveling this whole sordid business. Let us hope that it is in time."