(Well this is a jolly good read. Easy bump. -- Ross)
It was January in London and I had been shut in for many days owing to an persistent throb in my leg. This month is particularly ill at odds with the Afghan souvenir I had acquired, quite against my preference, and which remains lodged in my 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. Upon returning from my days errands I noticed that the handsome had turned down Baker Street and with my mood somewhat buoyed I requested that the driver halt as I would like to go visit my dear friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
I found Holmes, much to my delight, in a positively manic state and once he saw me begged for me to enter and allow him to tell me of his latest and most troubling case.
"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." Holmes said in an excited and serious tone.
His words struck me as the most serious and drew me quickly to his couch so that he may proceed with his story. I sat and Holmes tossed a large envelope into my lap.
"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 paced purposefully as he listened.
"The University of Iowa?" I asked as I noticed the return address on the envelop.
"Yes, according to my files it is a middling school of no great import, set deep in the heartland of America."
I proceeded to the letter itself.
Dearest Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
I hope this correspondence finds you as well as it leaves me ill. My name is Garibaldi Barta andI 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 comrades. 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 seems to be in the direst of circumstances. However, I cannot fathom what they might be. The whole matter puts me ill at ease."
"Quite so Watson. It seems unpleasant from the beginning. Though, perhaps we may be able to provide a more comforting end."
"Yes, Holmes. I know that if there is a man 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 Werther's Original as I recall. I must admit it was embarrassingly simple to solve. The suspect candies had all been eaten by 'The Media', unbeknownst to the coach."
"Well sir, what are your thoughts on the letter?" Asked Sherlock Holmes.
"I must admit I see nothing extraordinary. I seems a standard piece of correspondence, even if the content is anything but standard."
"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 he is not the sort for over-emotion."
"Crying would indicate otherwise."
"Aye that, or the gravity of this case which weighs upon him." Sherlock Holmes responded, dancing about in front of the fireplace.
I started to speak again when I was interrupted by Sherlock Holmes.
"Goodness!" Sherlock Holmes exclaimed. "It is nearly 5 pm now and if I am not mistaken our new clients approach the front door."
Very shortly there was a knock at the door and some quiet words were exchanged before we heard footsteps up the stairs. The door to the study opened and in walked three serious and purposeful looking men.
"Come in my good fellows. May I offer you a brandy or cigar?" Sherlock Holmes addressed the visitors.
Each declined with gesture and stood solemnly as if waiting for another in his party to speak. The man who stood furthest to the left was bearded and short. His eyes were keen and shown with an intensity often credited to the meanest predators of the dark jungles of India. His ears had been mangled, but healed and his body was well-muscled. The man in the middle was taller, with a lean face. He seemed of an Irishman as his cheeks grew red as easily from cold or drink or anger. The third man stood apart, chewing loudly upon some substance. It was clear to see that all were men of substance and worth.
"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 regain your full faculties." Sherlock Holmes announced.
"My name is Tom Brands and these are my colleagues, Messrs. Fran McCaffery and Kirk Ferentz. Are you Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" Spoke the short, bearded man on the left as he introduced the men to his right, respectively.
"I am pleased to meet you all. I am Mr. Holmes and this is my indispensable friend Mr. Watson. Together I pray that we may help you gentlemen and your University out of your current predicament."
"Oh, I hope so Mr. Holmes. This circumstance has us all so vexed." Replied Mr. McCaffery.
"Mr. Brands, I hope that your recent altercation did not put you too-long indisposed. Natives of Oklahoma are always formidable opponents." Sherlock Holmes stated.
The men sat back with a start.
"Sir, then you know me? I would not have thought you would be familiar with our recent defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State here in England."
"Not at all. I merely observed the bite marks on your wrist and the faint smell of urine upon your pants. Both biting and urination are known to be martial techniques employed by the Oklahomans, such nasty creatures. As you know Watson, I have made a study of such things in my younger days. I admit to being something of a grappler myself and have met few, but the most troublesome of primates, who could best me" Sherlock Holmes responded.
"Well, however you divined such knowledge I believe you the right man for the current task." Stated Mr. McCaffery.
"Tell me all about it. Spare no detail gentlemen. I must have it all."
"It is a matter of offense sir." Said Mr. Brands.
"Who has offended you good sirs?"
"No no, offense. It is matter of offensive production. We each coach a sports team at the University and over preceding years we have seen varying declines in offensive production. This year has been especially troubling and we each fear that the offense may never return." Mr. Brands earnestly stated.
Just then Mr. Ferentz left his seat and shot across the room to the window. He was visibly angry and wrote vigorously upon a small pad.
"Do not listen to these fools Mr. Holmes. I beg you. There is nothing wrong with my team sir, you must believe me. I know precisely where my offense is and it is well protected." Mr. Ferentz stated unconvincingly.
"Come now Kirk. Your team is more anemic than ours." Said McCaffery.
"Gentlemen, calm yourselves. I must have details. The story, please."
"My troubles are recent sir." Stated Mr. Brands. "They have begun only these last two years with the loss of our most experienced wrestlers. Our best man was beaten by a one-legged wrestler last year and the losses have continued since. Now, we find ourselves ill-used at the hands of the hated Cowboys. It is all for naught sir. My team has been to the height of success, but now I fear the fall like nothing before."
"Calm yourself Mr. Brands. It will be all right." I said, hoping to comfort the man.
"I believe that the cause is something supernatural. It is most assuredly that David Taylor and his horrible horned donkey that have caused this calamity. I know this, because it was shortly after I received the most disturbing package that my team began to decline."
"What was the content of this package and do you have the packaging?" Sherlock Holmes asked.
Mr. Brands looked about the room with embarrassment showing on his face.
"It was…it was a child's toy, a 'My Little Pony' with a cone taped to its head and it was forcing itself upon a doll with the likeness of our mascot, Herky the Hawk. Here is the paper and box in which it was enclosed. There was no return address. "
"Rascals!!" Exclaimed Sherlock Holmes. "Whether guilty for the loss of your offense or not, this Taylor must meet punishment for his sins against decency."
Brands appeared lightened by his admission and once again a resolute spirit returned to his face. Mr. Ferentz declined to speak about his troubles, blaming the whole matter on the overreaction of some sloppy journalists.
"I seem to have inherited the 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 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. It said that I was woefully under-educated for my position and went on to threaten me with a full court press. I do not understand the exact meaning, but the letter filled me with deep foreboding."
"Was the letter typed or hand written?" Asked Sherlock Holmes.
"Interesting gentlemen. I find this all very interesting. Watson and I will most surely take your case." Said Sherlock Holmes.
"Thank you Mr. Holmes." Exclaimed Mr. Brands as he shook both mine and my friend's hands furiously.
"That is quite all right. Watson and I will be leaving for America first thing in the morning. That is if your wife agrees, old fellow."
"I do not see why she would not." I replied.
"Good then. Gentlemen, I bid you a pleasant 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 somewhat startled, Sherlock Holmes and I shrugged off this rebuke and faced each other before the fire.
"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."
End of Part 1