[A-bump. Bump. Bumpity bump. A-bump bump bumpity bump. -- PTV]
Chapter Four: The Corpse in the Copse
I awoke the following morning with such a sense of foreboding as I had not experienced since I was on campaign in the Kush. The events of the previous night had well robbed me of a peaceful sleep and my own nerves, which had served as faithful faculty on many previous Holmesian adventures, were in outright, tremulous rebellion. The day was calm and moist. The early spring air seeped into my bones and only exacerbated the shaking first caused by my neurotic affliction. I found Holmes in the common room; he was staring rather intently at a set of chess that was placed on the desk near a great window.
"What do you think of these pieces, Watson?" Holmes called out without turning away from the object of his question. "Peculiar, are they not?"
Eager for reprieve from my own depressed thoughts, I walked to where Holmes was standing and attempted a feat of observation for which my companion was well known and I, myself, had gained some skill.
"I see nothing peculiar. They are of the Staunton design and appear perfectly regular examples of Jacques' fine craftsmanship." I said in a rather defeated tone.
"Quite right, Watson. To a man suffering infirmity of the eye or to a simple child these pieces would be exactly as you have said."
"Holmes! Really, I must protest!"
"However, to a trained eye, one familiar with the equine nostril flare specific to over one hundred and twenty different master chess designers, this set is an obvious, ill-executed forgery."
My companion rattled on regarding the intricacies of the St. George carving style, but I had ceased to listen. It was clear that Holmes was exhibiting the same diversionary train of thought that had oft times served to relieve his mind during a stressful case. That we did not have his chemical apparatuses available to occupy him and smother me in fumes was something for which I was exceedingly grateful.
"Shall we proceed to breakfast Holmes? I am sure that our guests will be waiting for us."
"Yes, of course Watson."
We entered the HotelVetro's dining room and met Mssrs. Podolak and Dolphin and Ms. Conners. The mood of the gentlemen appeared much improved from the previous night, as they both, following our greeting, embarked on a surprisingly jovial, salutatory circuit of the hotel's other patrons.
"It seems that the pillow has worked its somnial wonder yet again. Our friends seem refreshed anew." Said Holmes.
"Alas, that is only partly true, Mr. Holmes. They are brave men and in the light of day they may act as they once were, but their own brightness does not last. This malignancy hangs about us like a dense fog and it is inescapable. It is a villainous hand that blinds and wounds, but has, itself, no form to behold and no heart to strike." Replied Ms. Conners with a sad desperation in her eyes.
"There is no denying the truth of what you have said; nevertheless, I hold that even in the deep of earth the spring knows there is light and seeks its warmth and so must you my dear." Said Holmes, displaying a depth of compassion starkly absent from his usual calculative process.
This kindness was short-lived, as a clamor near the hotel's lobby drew our attention. In my haste to investigate the commotion I walked squarely into detective Brewster, who was in a state of intense agitation.
"Mr. Holmes, where is he? I must speak with him."
"What is it my good man? What could have you in such a fluster?"
"Mr. Holmes? I must speak with him, Mr. Watson. It is of the utmost importance."
"I am here Mr. Brewster. What is the matter, dear man? You have disrupted our breakfast"
"Mr. Holmes, there has been a development." Said Detective Brewster. By this time, Mssrs. Podolak and Dolphin had returned to the table to learn more of what had caused such tumult in the dining room. "A body has been found and I believe it is connected to our case."
"A body? Where? Have you identified the victim?"
"At Finkbine Golf Course. The corpse belongs to the offensive coordinator, Mr. Ken O'Keefe."
"We are too late, Watson. I shall never forgive myself." Holmes spoke to me in a hushed voice.
"This nefarious business must be brought to an end. We must try our wits, fight this evil, and win the safety of this town and these people." Said Brewster.
"Quite right, Mr. Brewster. I must inspect the scene of the crime immediately. Do you have transport to the Golf Course?"
"My automobile is just outside the hotel. Accompany me, gentlemen, and we shall be there shortly."
The body lay beside the trunk of a great oak near the green on the third hole. We found Mr. O'Keefe on his back and covered with a light layer of early morning snow. His face was arrested in a look of serene, childlike innocence, which was in shocking contrast to the grisly nature of the wounds about his torso and lower limbs. Holmes asked that we remove ourselves from the scene and then proceeded to examine the body and its surroundings. Just as we hoped that he might have finished his investigation, Holmes stood and proceeded quickly down the fairway in pursuit, no doubt, of some elusive clue. When Holmes finally returned to us almost two and a half hours had passed and Detective Brewster, unused to my companions eccentricities, had grown quite short of temper.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, what say you? What is your conclusion? You have certainly taken up much of my day with your scrounging about the grass."
Holmes smiled at the characterization of his technique. "Why, Mr. Brewster, it is simplicity itself. Mr. O'Keefe was killed between three and five this morning by at least three men; two or more followed him to this place and one was waiting here when he arrived. The assailants were mistaken in their target, with their intended victim being a man of some amicable bond to Mr. O'Keefe. You should be looking for three men of average to below-average height. Of the two that chased the victim, one is physically well-developed and has had extensive training in martial combat. The man who waited here wears a false leg and is likely our confederate within the athletic department."
"You are a conjurer of the first rate, Mr. Holmes. Your theories are, no doubt, popular for entertaining the patricians of London society, sir, but they carry no weight in America, I assure you." Cried Brewster in a fit of jealous skepticism.
"Perhaps, if I detail the facts that have led to these conclusions, Mr. Brewster, you will see that they represent no deception on my part." Said Holmes defiant in the face of Brewster's accusation. "The time of the murder can easily be placed between three and five this morning. At three I heard a succession of wind gusts, which felled small branches and leaves outside of our hotel. I imagine this was the case throughout the city. The snow, which was found covering Mr. O'Keefe's body, began falling near five and ceased only fifteen minutes later. As you may have noticed, below the body there are a number of leaves and twigs, which would have been removed by the course's caretaker only yesterday evening. Also, the thickness of the snow on the body is near exactly the same thickness as that which fell on the surrounding grass. Thus, the body must have been placed here after the wind gusts and before the snow fall. As for the assailants, the snow and hardness of the soil obscures any sign of footprints, however you can see by his wounds that Mr. O'Keefe was killed by two weapons, wielded simultaneously by two very different men. Judging by the length and depth of these wounds, I would say that the suspect weapons are a short handled axe and the saber of a naval officer. The bruise on the victims cheek and eye suggest a series of rather brutal strikes to the face. One of these men was familiar with the infliction of pain and was built well for this purpose. You see that the victim was first struck lightly behind the legs, which indicates that he was fleeing and his attackers meant to immobilize him. In this orientation his face would have been hidden from their view and, given that Mr. O'Keefe wore the clothes of another man, I should think that he was not the intended target of their misdeed."
"By heavens, what would compel one to venture out on a night such as the last in the guise of another?" Asked Brewster.
"Kinship, Mr. Brewster. This man was loaned these garments by one close to him." Holmes said as he knelt by the body and motioned that he might show us some illuminating fact. Holmes opened the man's jacket and pointed to the initials scrawled across the tailor's tag.
"KF! The man they intended to kill was the head coach, Mr. Kirk Ferentz!" Exclaimed Brewster.
"Yes, I am afraid that is the case."
"But why would Mr. Ferentz give his clothes to Mr. O'Keefe?"
"Why indeed. There is something about these initials that must be investigated. Mr. Brewster, would you be so kind as to see Watson and me to the coach's office? I must speak with him forthwith."
"Certainly, Holmes. Though first I must ask you to explain one last detail. What of the waiting man?"
"Oh, yes. Well, I said that the snow and frozen soil obscured footprints, but a false leg distributes weight much more specifically and may leave a mark even in the dead of winter. The ground near the oak tree is covered with such marks, though they do not extend out into the fairway, removing him from the initial chase. This crumpled note, found near the edge of the fairway, likely dropped there by one of the attackers, reads 'FB at 2:30 Bring equipment'. The paper is marked with the insignia of the Iowa Athletic Department, suggesting the note was written by the university confederate and leader of this conspiracy. That the one-legged man did not participate in the violence, again evidenced by the distance of the false leg marks from the body, would suggest to me that he was the principal in this murderous detail. It is a curious thing that the captains of men so often abhor their own involvement in the savageness they so willing order."
"Splendid Holmes!" I ejaculated, having never ceased to marvel at my friend's abilities to unravel the truth from the most Gordian of entanglements.
"Now, if you please, Mr. Brewster, I must speak with Kirk Ferentz."
"Of course. Right away, Mr. Holmes."
We had been in Mr. Brewster's automobile only a few minutes before Holmes suddenly cried out. "Watson, the time!" Before I could respond he called out to our chauffeur. "Mr. Brewster, we must first stop at the university library. The special collections and archives department."
We arrived at the library and were met there by a man so old that he might have well shook hands with the pharaohs themselves. Holmes took the man aside, leaned close, and whispered something in his ear. The man turned to my friend with a quizzical look and then, with his exceedingly wrinkled right hand, grabbed Holmes by the arm and led him into the bowels of the archives. I started to follow, but, just before I saw the pair disappear into the stacks, I saw Holmes turn to me and hold up his hand in a sign that I should wait for him there. It was a half hour before Sherlock Holmes returned to the main desk. He was alone and wore a slight smile upon his face. Following a short greeting, he handed me a slip of paper.
"Read and translate please, Watson."
I unfolded the paper and read its content. "Horrifici Accipitris Virtutes Conservamus. My latin is somewhat out of practice, but I believe it says: we preserve the virtue of the dreaded hawk."
"Excellent Watson. That is an superb translation. Do you see? Now we have our answer."
"To what, Holmes?"
"To the meaning of that mysterious acronym, H.A.W.K."
"I see, but these initials do not match."
"Phonetics Watson, phonetics. You know as well as I that in latin the 'v' is pronounced as a 'w' and the 'c' as a 'k'. According to the university archives, this is the moniker of an old society, one started in the early 1920's by the famous football coach, Howard Jones. At that time, it was meant to commit young men to a calling greater than themselves, greater than their sport. The initiates included Iowa athletic luminaries such as Cal Jones, Aubrey Devine, and Nile Kinnick. It continued as a benevolent organization, working for the good of the university, until the 1960's when the spurned athletic directory, Forest Evashevski, bent it to his nefarious purpose. In a bid to regain his coaching position, Evashevski and the society sabotaged the efforts of the football program and enforced a climate of hopelessness and terror. The society was eventually dissolved when coach Hayden Fry and his acolytes, in a legendary campaign, defeated the society and forced its adherents to disband. Now Watson, it appears as if someone has revived this old curse and is using its specter to exact some terrible revenge."
"Holmes, we must act. We must search out this one-legged man and effect his arrest."
"With what evidence, Watson? No, my dear friend, though your enthusiasm is laudatory, I think we must wait until my net has fully closed around these villains. As of yet, we cannot make a case against any."
"What then, Holmes?"
"To Mr. Ferentz's office. I feel that he holds a key to this business and we must have it from him."