Chapter Six: The Thing is Done; the Bonds are Fixed and the Thing is Done
"The Devil began the game up three and I mean to put him everywhere behind the chains." - Sherlock Holmes
Charged by Holmes with the care of Mssrs. Podolak and Dolphin, I made my way to the hotel in which the gentlemen were installed. I arrived in the lobby at approximately 8 o'clock and was directed to a top floor suite. I found their number and proceeded to tap loudly upon the solid oak door. My approach was answered by an unintelligible grumble from inside the room and a loud shot that could not be mistaken for anything other than the discharge of a large caliber rifle. The sudden appearance of a gaping hole in the plaster next to the door frame confirmed my suspicions.
My momentary catatonia was broken by a shout issuing from inside the room. "Try that again, varmit!".
I swallowed a mouthful of air and rallied my nerves against the fear of friendly fire. As I approached the door, hand raised, I remembered that Holmes had instructed us on a special knocking pattern that might help differentiate between friend and foe.
"Of all the absent-minded… that nearly cost you, Watson. To survive the mad ghazis of central Asia only to be struck down by an American radio announcer. Holmes would never forgive you." I whispered to myself.
I inched my fist closer to the door and clenched my teeth knowing that in failure I would hardly have time to hear a second blast from that frightening weapon before I would take up the cold, damp comfort of an English grave. Da Da Da Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum. I waited anxiously for a friendly response and was greatly relieved when I heard the click of the door handle and saw a frightened and sheepish looking Mr. Podolak before me.
"Oh dear, Mr. Watson!" He exclaimed. "I am so sorry, but we just couldn't take any chances and when you did not use the agreed upon knock we thought you might have been some sort of villain."
"It is quite alright, sir. I understand completely. One cannot be too careful in these dark days." I answered glancing at the hole in the wall. "Though, perhaps, I should be grateful that some care was indeed spared."
"I suppose we ought to do something about that before long. Wouldn't want anyone peeking in on us tonight." Mr. Dolphin observed as he entered the parlor from one of the two adjoining bedrooms.
"Quite right, quite right." I replied and promptly moved a small chestnut cabinet in front of the hole. "There, that might give us some protection."
Mr. Podolak nodded and smiled. The anxiety of the last few minutes was beginning to leave him and his warmer qualities began to show through once more.
"Gary and I were just about to play a bit of Gin. Would you like to join us, Dr.?"
"I am afraid I don't know the game gentlemen, but I was not raised in Her Majesty's service to decline a hand or ten of cards. Proceed with the rules."
It was shortly after 10 when my companions each excused themselves to prepare for bed. It was then that I began to prepare myself for the long night of vigilance that lay before me. I have heretofore neglected to describe the room in which I spent that restless night and will do so now. The main door opened into a large parlor decorated in very familiar and somewhat gloomy English style. A large window sat directly opposite the main door on the far wall and provided an excellent view of the city when it wasn't obscured by heavy, velvet drapes pulled tightly across its sash, as it was that night. The lack of light from the street was hardly overcome by the room, which was lit by a large, grey-stone fireplace on the west interior wall and two small oil lamps, which teetered precariously upon two bookshelves piled high with tomes, no doubt documenting past Iowa greatness. In any other room this might be thought sufficient for those purposes which abound in the common and carefree life, but not here. In this room the walls were painted a rich, dark wine color that seemed to drain the light from the very air. This made navigating the space of the parlor particularly challenging as it was cluttered with a peculiar overabundance of seemingly useless antique furniture. Foot rest upon foot rest and end table upon end table seemed to conspire with the darkness in a cunning idleness to prevent one from successfully reaching the lavatory without so much as a bruised shin or wrenched ankle. Amidst the dark walls of the parlor were two strong oak doors, one on the east wall and one on the west. Through these doors were the bedrooms in which my wards were to sleep; I prayed, safely.
Despite the general inconvenience of the dark, I was indeed grateful for the concealment it provided me against any detection by confederates who might seek to do harm of mischief. I placed myself in a comfortable sitting chair off in the darkest corner of the room and commenced my watch. The night passed slowly and quietly. Hardly a heart beat would not be thought a thunderous tumult in the eery silence of that room. It must have been nearly 3 o'clock when I began to slowly drift to dream. It is a curious thing about the nature of men that we should so often fear that which is unseen and unknown above that whose danger is plain, but surpassing. As my eyes closed and my breath relaxed, my mind came alive with the most frightful panoply. I found myself upon the northern wastes, alone and unclothed. My gaze was unfocused, but I was aware of a great threat beyond my sight. The specter moon glowed with an rusted shade that called to mind the diseased blood or rising bile of the piteous indigents I so often attended in my early practice. I strode across the spongy vegetation of the asian steppe, but the invisible threat followed, though did not attack. I felt that I could not escape the fear either through safety or death and my heart plunged into despair. It was then that the assault began. Before my blind eyes a great shadow rose up and, as it descended upon me in menace and rage, I found myself suddenly delivered far to the south. I reeled as I peeked below the quivering lids of my eyes and saw members of my old unit tramping about the earthworks of a frontier fort on the perilous border of the subcontinent. I pulled myself up to my feet and mounted the rampart to peer into the country about. Just then an ominous sound awoke in the hills beyond our perimeter. A slow, deep drum was pounding like the march of a great and terrible host. "Dum dum dum." The blood drained from me and, though my courage rarely failed in my waking life, I now felt the irresistible need to flee. My feet, however, had forgotten their uses and now adopted the nature of clay or brick. My strength waning, I pulled my legs into a slow trot and began to make my way from the fort. It was just as I had reached the gate that I was grasped by the shoulder and held firmly to my place. All hope of escape was lost.
"Watson, my friend, wake. You have forsaken your duty."
I woke in repose upon the chair that had been my post and a dark figure loomed above. My hand, acting alone among my faculties, brought my service revolver to bear upon the intruder.
The shadow spoke, "Watson, gather yourself. It is me, Holmes."
"Holmes?" I was dazed from sleep and had little sense of the familiar. "I see now, where have you been?"
"I will tell you, but first I pray you lower your pistol."
"My pisto… Quite right." I lowered the revolver and cleared my eyes of the fantasy in which I had been previously so engaged. Regaining my focus, I noticed that Holmes was dressed rather curiously. He was wearing a black sweater emblazoned with the visage of a sport-playing raptor on the chest. His pants were made of a rough denim that is so popular among the working peoples of this country. His customary pipe and overcoat were no where to be seen. He smelled strongly of pork and shoes were covered in a rich black dirt. "It seems you have had something of an adventure, my friend."
"Oh Watson, indeed I have." Holmes responded as he took a seat by the fire. "The night has revealed a great deal to me and in a few hours I believe our business here will be concluded."
"Excellent Holmes! Most excellent. Recount to me your discoveries."
"In good time, my dear Watson. In good time. Presently, however, I must find something to eat. I have been out all night and I am famished."
"There is some cheese and sausage in the ice box along the far wall. I will make you a sandwich while you tell me of your night."
"Very well, Watson, you have drawn it from me. I will tell you everything you wish."
"Should I wake the others?"
"No, let them sleep. We have time before the trap is sprung and the day ahead will be long for all alike. Now to my investigation."
I handed Holmes his sandwich and took up my place in the chair.
"Ms. Conners and I disguised ourselves as 'typical' Iowans, both in appearance and odor. Pork is something of an aphrodisiac to these people and its scent garnered us more attention than I would have liked. As I have informed you, I believe I know the identities of the perpetrators. Well, I should say that I was sure of two, but the third had me in doubt. With the help of my young street arab, Rambler, we discovered that they were staying at the Brown Street Inn. Ms. Conners and I picked up their trail there and followed two of the men to a meeting place behind the auditorium near the river. After some hours of waiting we saw a third man approach from out of the shadows. All three spoke in hushed voices, but Ms. Conners superior hearing was able to detect a few phrases that will be of immense use to us."
"What did they say, Holmes?"
"Oh, yes. They plan to kill Coach McCaffery." Holmes replied, more focused on the sandwich than the shocking revelation he just produced.
"What villains!" I ejaculated. "When do they mean to execute their plan?"
"I should think in only a few hours. Do not fear, Watson, we shall be waiting for them. I have already informed Detective Brewster and Mr. Barta has insisted on being there himself to 'crack some skulls', as he put it."
"So, it seems to be finished, Holmes, but you have not told me the identities of the criminals."
"Indeed, I have not. Would you like to know them, Watson?"
"Very much so."
"Well, I must say that I am disappointed you were not able to deduce their identities yourself, but I have come to accept that my talent for criminal investigation might be singular among the cultivated minds of the world. Very well, the two I have known of for some time are ex-coaches Dr. Tom Davis and Jim Zalesky. You may recall that the paper used to wrap the package sent to coach Brands was from the Pacific Northwest where Mr. Zalesky is the wrestling coach for the Oregon State Beavers. Mr. Bowlsby, the man who fired Mr. Zalesky in favor of Coach Brands, informed me that the termination was far from amicable and some threats were traded between the parties. Further, Mr. Zalesky was a student at Iowa in the early 1980's and would have been aware of the H.A.W.K. society. Dr. Davis has long harbored resentment over his own firing from the University and has had issue with those less academically credentialed than he taking up his mantle. You will recall, Watson, some mention to Coach McCaffery's lack of education in reference to his suitability to coach?"
"Yes, I do remember that comment."
"Well, those were the two I knew of, though, as I said, the identity of the third had eluded me until this night. For some time I was afraid that his identity would remain shrouded as he stood conversing with his accomplices, his face wrapped in shadow. Long I struggled to define his features in my mind and just as I thought to surrender the task, he stepped briefly into the moonlight. I recognized him immediately from my own research and once the meeting adjourned, Ms. Conners took me to the library to find out more on the man."
"I believe I know this man."
"Oh yes? Well then, my dear Watson, proffer your guess."
"It was Coach Norm Parker. The amputated leg at the O'Keefe crime scene was clear enough to indicate that. Not to mention that he had access to the Iowa athletic department."
"Very good, Watson. I had briefly thought it him as well. However, the weight distribution in the prosthetic tracks was all wrong. The gait was awkward and weight fell heavily toward the posterior. No, those marks were made by a man who wanted us to think he had had an amputation. In reality, his lower leg was intact and folded back against his thigh. It was a clever ruse and one that seemed to have worked on you, Watson."
"Who then is the despicable character at the heart of this conspiracy?"
"Coach Rick Kaczenski."
"He was a defensive coach at Iowa and has recently taken a position at the University of Nebraska."
"But why would this man want to harm the University?"
"That is a sordid tale of woe and insanity. Mr. Kaczenski attended the University of Notre Dame on a football scholarship and early in his days there, he became enamored with a football film called 'The Program' and one character in particular, a Mr. Alvin Mack. This character was an excellent player, but his career was cut short by an injury sustained while playing a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Apparently, Mr. Kaczenski was devastated by this injury to a fictional character, whom he idolised, and he became obsessed with revenge against all things Iowa. Mr. Kaczenski even went so far as to create a daily electronic pamphlet called "Alvin and the Quip Hunks". In a fit of delusion folded upon unreality, this 'blog', as it is known in America, describes itself as 'the witty musings of three attractive guys concerning the NFL career of one Mr. Alvin Mack'. Apparently, these men have taken to speculating on the hypothetical professional football career of a fictional character, including position, team, and statistics. He has never forgiven the University of Iowa for Alvin Mack's injury and his coaching position here was the perfect opportunity to destroy the athletic department from the inside. With his addition, the other two conspirators could finally effect the total destruction of Iowa athletics and exact their final revenge."
"That is terribly disturbing, Holmes. This has been a trying case and I am glad it nears its end."
"It is not finished yet, Watson. I suspect these men will not be cowed so easily."
"But look." Holmes said as he pulled back the drapes swaddling the window. "The light breaks and our task is near. Soon enough we will discover of what stuff our American friends are made."
"Then let us be off, Holmes, and when their bonds are fixed, let the thing be done."
Holmes and I walked briskly toward the University athletic offices. Holmes and Ms. Conners had learned the location of the attack, a lot near Mr. McCaffery's office, and we thought to set ourselves nearby to intervene when the moment arrived. Detective Brewster and Mr. Barta met us near the lot and we proceeded to our hiding space in a row of bushes. It had been only a few minutes when I noticed Mr. Barta was repeatedly clenching his large and imposing fist.
"Are you alright, sir?" I whispered.
Mr. Barta responded with a devilish smile and nod. If it is possible, his confidence at once both frightened and comforted me. Shortly before 7 o'clock we saw Coach McCaffery approach in his automobile. He parked and stepped from the vehicle. I expected the attack to commence, but we saw no sign of the conspirators. Mr. McCaffery pulled a few items from his vehicle and then began to make his way across the lot to his office. It was when he had nearly reached half way to the building that he was assailed. Two, somewhat short, men came running from behind a building, wielding very large knives yelling in deep, angry voices. Mr. McCaffery dropped his things and prepared to defend himself.
"Now, Mr. Holmes? We must go now." Mr. Barta was nearly to his feet in anticipation.
"No, I do not see the third. We must make sure we capture them all."
"There Holmes, behind the tree. I see him." I pointed to a hunched shadow behind a large oak tree.
"Indeed, that is he. Go Mr. Barta, go Mr. Brewster!! Rally to our cause and capture the villains!!"
Upon hearing Holmes' shout the two assailants stopped quickly, perhaps rethinking their course. It was, however, too late. For just then Mr. Dolphin, Mr. Podolak, Mr. Brands, and Mr. Ferentz appeared behind the attackers, cutting off all hope of escape. The fight was short and vicious. Mr. Barta used head strikes to subdue Dr. Davis, while Mr. Brands engaged Mr. Zalesky in a lengthy match of strength and skill. Holmes and I ran toward the hiding place of the third conspirator. Mr. Kaczenski had quickly noticed that his plans had gone awry and was trying to make his escape. Despite the false prosthetic, which was still attached to his leg, Mr. Kaczenski was a limber man and both Holmes and I were gaining little ground on him.
"Watson…I fear…we may lose this fellow." Holmes said, breathing heavily.
We had just crossed into a grassy field and could see our quarry some ways ahead when a shout was heard from a stand of trees to the east.
"Grass him, JP!" A short boy, no older than 13, ran from behind the trees and drove himself into Mr. Kaczenski with such force as not often seen but in a great hunting beast. The man fell roughly upon the ground and did not move again until we were upon him. As we approached, we saw young Rambler emerge from the trees and lend the other boy a hand.
"I hope you don't mind, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but I thought my friend, j-to-the-p, might be of some help on this errand."
"Mind, no I do not mind. You are both most appreciated. Thank you for this service, my dear boys." Holmes said chuckling as he handed both boys silver dollars.
"You are a strong boy. I have seen none the like as you." I directed my amazement to JP.
"I had me scrapple this morning, sir, and I am as right as rain. With pig bits in me belly, no husker of corn nor of catholic girls can weather me strike."
"Bless you son."
Detective Brewster approached, red-faced and covered in perspiration.
"How have you done then?"
"We have done well, Mr. Brewster. And how are you? Have you got them?" Responded Holmes.
"Yes sir. We have them both. Mr. Zalesky fought like a tiger, but with the addition of Coach Brands' brother we were able to capture him."
"Good then, it seems our job is finished." I said to Holmes.
"Nearly, Watson. We must present our evidence to the authorities, but I think that it will be more than enough to place these men in prison for a very long time."
Mr. Brewster took hold of Mr. Kaczenski and escorted him to a waiting constable.
Holmes turned to me and with a smile he said "America is not a bad sort of place. It seems the criminals here might be of a class worthy of my talents." With that he walked slowly back to the lot and I began to think once again about a nice roast goose and my dear wife Mary.