My name is Sherlock Herms. It is my business to know what others don’t know. At least that’s what I hoped for once I got my paws wet as a private investigator. It was my first day on the job.
The Wonderpurr Detective Agency had been open for business all of twenty minutes, but my phone hadn’t rung once. I flicked my floofy tail with impatience. How long would I have to wait before someone hired me to solve a caper?
It all began a couple nights ago when Mom and I were wide awake cuz Dad was snoring Classic 70’s rock songs in his sleep. We ended up in front of the TV watching a documentary on famous detectives. Mom told me to pay close attention. She had decided to write mysteries. She seemed pretty set on doing it. That made me nervous.
I’m her mews, you see. I inspire her when she writes novels. I even starred in FINDING MYA for her. But how could I inspire her when I know nuffin’ about solving mysteries? If I fell down on the job, she might ask my arch-nemesis to be her mews. He’s a chunky orange tabby named Opie. He’s also my brofur.
With that in mind, I paid close attention to the documentary featuring Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Dick Tracy, Charlie Chan, and the husband and wife team, Nick and Nora Charles. My purrrsonal favorites were Spade and Marlowe for their hardboiled detective lingo, and Sherlock Holmes for his use of logical reason to solve cases. Plus I liked his hat.
I began to pace. Mom had just finished publishing both A MAD FLING and KRINGLE in one year, and was taking a much-needed break to grow more brain cells. I needed experience solving capers. Now! Before she started plotting her first mystery. But what if no one hired me? Ever! I’d be washed up before the sun set on my first day as a hardboiled detective. Plus I’d be out of a job as a purrfessional mews.
On Google I’d read that privacy is extremely important when you’re a detective. I needed an office with at least one window, a place nobody else used so I could detect in peace. And the room couldn’t make my meow echo in case someone eavesdropped in on my meetings. I’d had my heart set on an office in a dingy building, slowly collapsing under the weight of time and despair, but I couldn’t afford one of those. Until I got clients who paid me cold hard cash–preferably quarters since they’re bigger than pennies and dimes–I was stuck doing business in our house attic next to my mom’s author-office. Handy, but so not cool.
Overnight I’d set up the kind of office Detectives Spade and Marlowe would envy with traps for criminals and secret places to stash my detecting gadgets. My desk is huge with lots of nooks and crannies. It came with my office. Actually, it came with the house. It’s too big to get through the door without chopping to pieces. Mom says our home was built around an older house that refused to be torn down.
Happily my desk is next to a window so I can clearly see my suspect’s expression of guilt while I questioned them. I also had a snake-necked lamp to shine blindly into their eyes during interrogation. For a phone I had an old 1940’s black Bakelite with a rotary dial that I’d found inside one of the desk’s cubbyholes. I’d hung a bell over my door so no one could sneak up on me, and tacked a measuring tape from top to bottom to tell how tall my clients were in case they turned out to be suspects. I’d even sprinkled talcum powder on the floor to trap paw prints. I still needed a camera and a coffee maker cuz detectives drink a lot of coffee, but I couldn’t afford either of them, yet.
As I waited for my first client, I pictured my office with a finished floor and walls separating the open space into rooms. But nothing real nice since I’m a hardboiled detective with grit in my blood.
Why wasn’t my phone ringing? The world is full of despurration and despair. Surely someone needed a caper solved. I didn’t have all day to wait. I’m on the 8th of my 9 lives. Plus, as the sun hovered at high noon, the attic—I mean, my office—had turned steamy.
I tugged at my collar with its silver and orange enamel ‘H’ charm. I pictured Mom writing in her air-conditioned office with sunlight warming her African violets. I put my nose to the door crack to inhale the fragrance of lemony sunlight puddling on the buttery carpet in front of her desk. I loved that sun puddle. So much! I also loved air conditioning.
I wondered if Dad would growl if I clawed holes in the door’s coffin-like wood so some of that A/C could seep into my office. What I really wanted was a frosted glass door with Wonderpurr Detective Agency in foil block letters, but Mom said “Ask your dad,” and Dad said, “What? No!”
Maybe if I sniffed enough A/C my insides would chill and make me comfortapurr. I snuffled harder at the crack. A faint fishy odor seeped into my nostrils, followed by a loud burp. A thrill skittered through me. My first client had arrived!
I opened the door to see my little sisfur, Adorapurr. She wore her rainbow pawty collar and held a box of cat treats. At first I thought she had brought me an office-warming pawsent. Instead she broke into a commercial.
“Smittens tweats are made by The Honest Kitchen,” she said. “They are cute, heart-shaped and crunchy, all very impawtent to me. They are also 100% grain-free, made from pure, wild, line-caught Haddock from the pristine waters off the coast of Iceland, all very impawtent to my meowmy.”
“Are you going to share with me, or snarf them all yourself?” I asked.
She hugged the box to her chest. “Mine.”
“What do you want, Dori?”
“Meowmy said I can pway detective, too.”
The fur bristled under my collar. “I’m not playing detective. I’m a hardboiled private investigator. And no. You can’t play— I mean, be a detective, too.”
I watched her eyes narrow. I’d seen that look before—right before I got a headache. She claims she can give migraines just by thinking one into your head, and I believe her.
But then her eyes filled with tears. Oh no. I’d rather have a migraine.
“Meowmy,” she yowled. “Hwermie won’t let me pway detective.”
“Let her play, Herms,” Mom called from her desk. “Please? I’m plotting.”
Plotting! Had she started mystery writing without me?
As Dori pushed past me, her paw prints marred my freshly talcum-powdered floor. I told her, “Don’t make anything crash.”
She’s clumsy. She climbs stuff and stuff breaks. Since she joined our family Mom writes slower as she is always getting up from her desk to see what Dori has destroyed.
“Dibs!” She jumped onto my desk, knocking my cup of purrrple crayons to the floor. Several disappeared into the cracks, never to be seen again.
“That’s my desk.” I grabbed my piggy bank before it crashed too. “You sit there.” I pointed to a storage bin.
She crawled on top of it, clutching her bag of Smittens. “Hwermie, why do you have a piggy bank on your desk?”
“To remind clients to pay me.” I checked my pocket watch. I don’t have pockets and I can’t tell time, plus the watch doesn’t work—I’d found it in one of my desk’s drawers—but it adds to my mystique. My whiskers sensed I’d been open for business a full thirty minutes. Was I dried up before I got washed behind the ears? A failure? A has been? A never was? I didn’t want to be just another ordinary cat…although with my looks and purrrsonality that will never happen.
Go ahead. Gaze upon my purrrfection. Take your time. No rush.
“What’s that?” Dori pointed to the corner where I’d arranged a couch and chair with a lamp and table spread with much-read copies of my favorite magazines.
“That’s where I will interrogate suspects,” I told her. “I’ll let them get comfortapurr and then hit ’em with hard questions. And while I’m waiting for my first client, I can read American Trucker magazines. I love trucks, especially big red ones. Or maybe they’re green…don’t know for sure since cats are sorta color blind.”
She shook her head. “No. I mean that box thingy sucking on the wall plug.”
I squinted through the attic shadows to see what she referred to. “Oh. That’s my CritterZone Air Naturalizer. I got it when I was at Blogpaws in Vegas.”
“It attacks germs, bacteria, dust particles and neutralizes the coughy, sneezy, itchy-eye stuff in the air.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Absolutely. You know how miserable our parents get during allergy season. Me too. My eyes get runny and turn crusty. But CritterZone Air Naturalizer reactivates indoor air, and helps it to clean itself. Just like if we lived outdoors with sunshine and summery breezes. It breaks down every day air contaminants and magically turns them into clean-smelling oxygen.”
“What are con-tammy-ants?”
“Dad’s gardening shoes. Wet towels. Garbage. Litter box poo.”
Dori’s eyes widened with amazement. “Weally? Maybe we should plug it into Fwank’s pa-tootie.” She giggled behind her paw.
Frank is our tabby brofur. Mom rescued him a couple years ago, and he’s known to stink up the litter boxes. I started to laugh, then coughed because I remembered I was supposed to be a hardboiled detective. In the documentary I’d watch with Mom, I hadn’t seen Sam Spade or Sherlock Holmes crack so much as a smirk.
“What’s truly great about CritterZone Air Naturalizer is that it cleans up to eight hundred square feet without filters or chemicals,” I explained to Dori. “Nothing more to buy. You just need to clean it every two weeks, but that’s pretty simple. Especially when it helps eliminate odors along with mold spores and other nasties that can harm those of us with asthma and allergies.”
Dori petted the softly humming unit. “But Hwermie, why do you have one in here? Your office smells good.”
I thrust out my floofy chest. “Why does the Wonderpurr Detective Agency have a CritterZone Air Naturalizer? Because, Dori… Crime stinks!”
Suddenly my phone rang. I was so surprised I just stared at it. Dori pounced. “Wonderpurr Detective Agency. Detective Adorapurr speaking. How may I help mew?”
I reached to take the phone. It was my office, after all. She turned her back on me. All I could hear was her side of the conversation. “Mmmm. Oh my. Weally?” She began to pace, winding the fabric-covered cord around both of us until we were bound together like the legs of a store-bought chicken. I put my ear against the phone in time to hear the caller say, “I’m willing to pay cold hard cash. I’m desperate.”
“Despurrate is good,” Dori said, more to me than the caller. “We charge fifty cents.”
Fifty cents. I felt my eyes go round like two huge quarters. Cold Hard Cash!
“I’ll pay you double,” the caller shouted.
I gasped. Double? As in… Hm.
50₵ + 50₵ = ?
(Cats don’t do math)
“That’s too much,” Dori said. “This is our first case. We might suck.”
I would have slapped my paw over my eyes if I had been able to move my arms.
“Fifty cents is to be paid up fwont before we begin,” Dori told our first client. “Give me the addwess.”
We hobbled over to my desk where she smacked a floor board with her foot and a purrrple crayon jumped out of the crack. I worked a paw free and wrote down the address she meowed out loud for me.
She hung up. “Concatulations. Yoo got a case.”
“I can’t take it. I—”
A knock made us hobble to open the door. There stood my ginger-furred arch-nemesis-slash-brofur, Opie. “I suppose Mom is making me let you ‘pway’ detective, too,” I growled.
He elbowed past me followed by our tabby brofur, Jack, pushing my mint chip-colored Gen7Pets Regal stroller over Dori’s paw prints on my talcum-powered floor. “What did you do to my Ride?” It looked different.
“We heard you got your first case,” Jack said, “and needed transportation to get there.”
“I can’t take the case. I’m not allowed to leave the yard.”
“Hwermie has purrformance anxiety,” Dori told them. “Untie us, pwease.”
Opie ripped the phone cord. Dori and I spun like twin yo yo’s. I think she even performed ‘Walking the Dog.’
“Yoo want to be a pwivate detective,” Dori told me. “In case yoo haven’t noticed, we don’t live in a high cwime household. Yoo gonna have to leave the yard in order to solve a case.”
I hung my head. “But Mom gets upset when I jump the fence. I promised I wouldn’t do it anymore.”
“No problemo,” Jack said. “We took the liberty of adding a few gizmo’s to your buggy.” He unzipped the hood. I was happy to see my mint chip cushion still there, as I like to ride in comfort. Then he swatted it aside to reveal a control panel with a scary array of buttons.
“Purrrrty.” Dori reached for the pink one.
Opie slapped her paw. “Don’t touch.”
In a flash she wrassled him to the floor. Over their loud grunting and growling, Jack explained the panel, but because Opie was grunting and Dori was growling, the only thing I heard him say was, “Whatever you do, don’t touch the pink button.” He punched me in the shoulder. “And don’t stare at the control panel.”
“What does the pink button do?” I rubbed my shoulder. “What happens if I stare?”
“Bunny KICK!” Dori punted Opie in his belly. He flew through the air, ripping her pawty collar from around her neck, and banked off the wall with a thud.
“Behave,” Mom shouted from her office. “Don’t make me get my squirt gun.”
We rolled our eyes. She never uses it, just picks it up.
As Dori crouched in front of Mom’s research library in the corner to paw through books, Jack removed a nylon ring from my stroller’s storage compartment. He pulled a string and it popped open into a tunnel.
“Jack, thanks for the toy, but I don’t have time to play. I got my first caper to solve.”
“It’s not a toy, Herms. It’s a trans-portal. An Energy Gate. I’ll explain later…if you return.”
I swallowed hard. “If?”
Jack gestured to the H on my collar. “Your bling is the key to your Ride.” He pointed to the H impression on the right of the panel. “Touch your charm here. Then meow the address and paw the button that lights up.”
Dori climbed into my stroller with a book under her arm. “Let’s roll.”
“You’re not going. I’m the hardboiled detective. Not you.”
Her eyes teared. Jack and Opie zoomed for the door.
“Herms!” Mom shouted. “Let her play.”
As I touched my H charm to the control panel, I growled under my breath, “Sam Spade didn’t take his little sisfur on capers.” The buttons lit up. Pale at first, then gradually stronger with dazzling brightness. So dazzling, I couldn’t stop staring. I was fascinated. Entranced. Awe-struck. Hypnotized. Captivated even…
As Dori meowed the address and pawed a light blue button, my Ride began to shiver, then quiver. When it started to shake like a wet dog, Dori yowled, “Make it stop!” and leaned over the side. I thought she was barfing, but then I saw she was hanging onto my CritterZone Air Naturalizer, probably trying to hold us still. It wasn’t working. We were now bouncing around like a couple of LOTTO balls, so hard she wrenched the CritterZone from the wall, and fell back with it into the stroller.
I saw my office now looked blurry, and the nylon tunnel glowed in the attic’s shadowy darkness. In fact, it looked like it was growing bigger…or maybe we were shrinking. Either way, my Ride was rolling toward it, as though being sucked inside.
“Haalllp!” Dori screamed. “We are being eaten!”
I shouted, “Help me put the hood up,” but instead she curled into a tight ball around the CritterZone, leaving me to zip the hood into place. Hearing her sob, I said, “We aren’t being eaten. I’m sure this is a joke Opie is playing on us.”
Dori sobbed harder. “Opie isn’t that cweative. He’s no Stevie Spwelberg.”
Just then the door burst open, and Opie and Jack rushed in, waving their paws. Despite the bouncing and the blurring I could see the fur on their backs stood straight up.
“Stop!” Jack yowled. “I forgot to tell you—”
Then he was gone. And Opie was gone.
So was my desk, my interrogation corner, my piggy bank and collection of trucker magazines.
Everything was gone!