Previous episode: Sherlock Herms in…A Meatball Lunch with a Side Order of Clues.
As I zoomed for the cat colony behind my house, my whiskers sizzled with suspicion. I’d had my A-Ha moment when our nonagenarian neighbor, Fjarskarfinn Skredskarvig—aka Finn—mentioned Patty Kiss may have been upset when her grandmother, Violet, left her multi-million dollar estate to Dottie.
Upset enough to murder her sister? Maybe not, but it was a good clue.
I had plans to chat with Patty Kiss, who was the realtor who sold us our home, but I needed more than a meatball-making old lady’s suggestion that she had motive. Finn said Dottie would never leave town with a strange man. She loved her cats too much, especially the homeless kitties in the colony. Yet that’s was what Patty Kiss told everyone. Dottie ran off with a strange boyfriend.
Amazing how one little suggestion had started to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle of how Dottie got dead.
Dottie’s colony lived in the woodland park behind our home. I didn’t have to search long to find them. Dottie had built shelters among the thick brush by the pond. At a glance I saw ten cats, but my strong sense of smell told me there were more. My heart hurt for them, not having a home. No longer having Dottie to care for them. Did they hunt? Or did kind hoomons bring them noms and fresh water?
I crouched under a bush while I waited for my little sister to catch up with me. I’d sent Dori on a mission after we left Finn’s house. The colony knew I was here, but crouching gave me the appearance of being small and non-threatening.
It didn’t take Dori long to join me. “Mission accomplished. Yoor WAD team is in place,” she whispered as she crouched beside me. “How many are there?”
“I see ten, but smell at least twenty.”
“Poor kitties. Yoo think our mom will adopt them?”
My heart hurt to even think that. She was already pulled in too many directions with the current kitties living under our roof. “I think Mom will take care of them, if they don’t already have someone.” I fervently prayed they did.
“There’s a black and white tom with chewed ears looking our way. Do I have to expose my belly? I feel vulnerable doing that.”
“No. Just crouch and stare. Maybe rotate your ears to the side and downward. Leave the talking to me.” The tom was now walking toward us on tiptoe with a lowered head, followed by an aggressive kitty committee comprised of three black, two tabby and one ratty ginger puss.
“I’m scared.” Dori hid her face in my fur.
“Don’t show fear. We aren’t going to fight. If they think we are territorial they will attack.” The black and white tom stopped several feet from us, his stare prolonged and unblinking. “Okay. It’s show time.”
With Dori hugging my right hip like a barnacle on a ship, I walked toward him with my floofy tail held high in the breeze like a white flag of truce. I stopped three feet in front of him. “I come in peace.”
The tom’s stare made my sphincter tighten, but I didn’t look away. “I’m here to ask you for information about our mew-tual friend, Dottie.”
The tom lifted his nose to the breeze. His stare zeroed in on the smear of marinara on Dori’s chest and turned envious. “You smell like meatballs.”
I flicked a glance at Dori, who spun on her tail to zoom back to Finn’s house.
“Dottie’s gone,” the tom said, his voice filled with anger and hopelessness.
“I want to find out why she’s gone,” I told him. “Who made her gone.”
“Why do you care? You clearly have a home.”
“I care because I met Dottie. She’s a nice lady. I live in her house now. She was there for awhile. Her ghost, I mean. I’m Sherlock Herms, a hardboiled detective with grit in my blood.”
“Detective? So you’re investigating what happened to our Dottie?”
The tom’s gaze left mine to watch the approach of Dori followed by Finn, carrying a platter of meatballs. Her steps slowed as she saw the tom and his gang. “I had no idea there were so many.” The “so many” doubled as homeless strays came out of hiding. “Goodness! I must go make more.”
Finn passed out the meatballs, then returned to her home.
Dori and I waited until the ferals finished their meal. It didn’t take long. They were clearly hungry.
“Did anyone take Dottie’s place caring for you after she went gone?” I asked.
“A few stop by, but not every day like Dottie did. She would change our drinking water, and clean our shelters. She cooked for us, and gave us medicine when we were sick and ear scritches when we needed love.”
“I miss the love,” said the ginger tabby. I noticed his nose was a little red and swollen, like he had a cold, and made a mental note to tell my mom.
“There are rumors that Dottie left town with a strange man,” I told them.
“She didn’t leave,” said the tom. “She’s buried.”
Dori asked, “Yoo know where Dottie is buried? Could yoo show me?”
I shot my little sister a look of warning. I didn’t want her going off with a feral, but it was too late. The ginger stepped forward.
“Dottie named me Nacho. I can show you.”
With trepidation I watched Dori follow Nacho through the woods.
“She’ll be okay,” said the black and white tom. “He’s nootered. Dottie named me Orion.” He nodded to the others. “And that’s Bunny, Muppet, Dumpling, Gumdrop, Huggie, Jellybean, Lollipop…”
Orion rattled off more than two dozen names. “Dottie named us all, and she never forgot our names. Names are important, you know that Sherlock.”
“Call me Herman,” I told him. “Yes, names are important. Life is hard enough when you have to fight for food, much less fight without an identity.”
“Or love,” the tabby named Huggie added.“I miss the love,” said the tabby. His nose was red and swollen, like he had a cold. Click To Tweet
“It’s not fair what happened to you. It’s not fair that Dottie got dead. I want to find out who made her dead. If you know anything that can help me, I would appreciate it.”
Orion turned his back on me to confer with his fellow ferals. Several looked back at me once or twice, as though assessing my worth to have their information. After a while, Orion said, “Follow me,” and headed into the brush.
With Dori gone and my WAD team on assignment, I had no choice but to follow the ferals without anyone knowing of my whereabouts. But my instincts told me to trust them. After all, these were Dottie’s ferals. She had trusted them.
The brush was thick in places, filled with bits of fur and malevolent scents that told of territorial wars. Walking along side me, Huggie saw me scrunching my nose against the stink and laughed. “Yeah, we’re a scrappy bunch at times, but we’re all nootered and spayed so the battles are mostly out of frustration.”
“Do you?” Orion challenged. “You’re clean and wear a collar. And by the smear of marinara on your paws, your tummy is full. How can you understand the life we live?”
“Because I was homeless once myself. My sister, Dori, was too. All of us who live at my house were once homeless. I do understand. And I promise to help you.”
We were now passing the shelters Dottie had built for them. The straw stank of pee and worse, and the water bowls were empty. Not seeing food anywhere made me ashamed of my marinara-smeared paws. I would help them. But first I had to help Dottie.
“Where are we going?” I asked Orion.
“Almost there.” While the others stayed behind, he led me down a slope, stopping at the bottom. “Dottie always came with food. She never missed a day. So the morning Dottie didn’t come with food, we went in search of her. We never had reason to go to her house, because she always came to us. But that morning we followed her scent to her house. It was strong there by the gate.”
I looked to see the wood gate that led to my new house’s backyard. “It was strong by the gate? What does that mean?”
“You’re the detective,” Orion snapped. “I’m sorry. I don’t like talking about this. It upsets me.”
“I understand. So, you think Dottie went through that gate?”
“I think she used that gate to feed us, yes. But the morning she didn’t come with food, I smelled Her by the gate, too.”
I didn’t understand who ‘Her’ was, but Orion seemed like the type of feral that would turn on me, so I let him talk.
“I felt the fur on my neck stand up when I smelled Her by the gate. Don’t like Her. Not at all. Her smell made me afraid. But I love Dottie, so I followed Her’s smell. It mixed with the smell of Dottie, and ran along the fence to Her’s gate.”
My breath held as I abruptly comprehended who ‘Her’ was. Patty Kiss lived next door to her sister, Dottie. That was Patty’s gate Orion had indicated.
“Dottie’s smell went inside Her’s gate. Then it stopped until Nacho and Dumpling picked it up in front of Her’s house. Her’s car had Dottie’s smell.”
I put my head down. This was very bad.
“I have something to show you.” Orion led me to a nearby grassy mound. “Some of my gang were starving after three days, and came here looking for Dottie. They didn’t understand why she wasn’t feeding us anymore. They knocked over the trash can. Something rolled out. It smelled bad. They brought me here and I buried it.”
“What is it?”
“It’s bad. That’s all I know. If you dig it up, be careful. I got some on my paws. I made the mistake of licking them and got very sick. I almost died.”
I gasped. “Who took care of you?”
Orion gave me his unblinking stare. “No one.”
I left the grassy mound untouched. “Thank you for sharing your information with me. I’m sorry you got sick. My mom will help you. And Finn will return with more food for you. She’s a nice lady. Don’t spray her.”
“You’re just a cat,” Orion said, not unkindly but with curiosity. “What are you going to do about Dottie being dead?”
“I’m going to expose her murderer. Hopefully by doing so, Dottie will be able to rest in peace.”
Orion’s left eye looked leaky. “I miss her. She was the only hoomon I ever let touch me.”
“There are a lot of nice hoomons out there. Let them touch you. Let them help you.”
He shrugged. “I’m too set in my ways. I’m old.”
“How old are you?”
Dori’s age! But Orion looked closer to my age. My heart hurt for him. “At least trust my mom. Please.”
Orion stared into my eyes. I didn’t look away, but after a moment I gave him a slow, languid blink. Closing one’s eyes in the presence of another is the ultimate sign of trust. By blinking slowly at the feral leader, I was reassuring him I posed no threat.
After a moment, Orion returned the fluttering blink, awarding me with his trust.
“Where did Nacho take Dori?” I asked.
“To the place where hoomons bury themselves. At the edge of town.”
I knew the place. I’d seen Dottie’s ghost standing beside the Welcome to Welcome Home sign when we first moved into town. There was a cemetery behind it.
Leaving Orion, I headed back to my house to fetch my mom. My WAD team was in place to expose the murderer, but suddenly I felt scared. I’d put my team at risk.Orion said, “I’m too set in my ways. I’m old.” “How old are you?” I asked and he said, “Four.” Click To Tweet
I wasn’t dealing with someone who had killed by accident, and tried to cover up the accident with a lie. I was dealing with someone who had poisoned her sister to get her inheritance. I had no doubt the stuff that had almost killed Orion had taken Dottie’s life.
I scampered up the front steps to my house. I pawed open the screen door, lifted my nose to find my Mom’s scent. I found her in her office on the second floor. She wasn’t writing stories. She was paying bills.
“I haven’t written a creative word since we moved here,” she told me as I crawled into her lap.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “It’s my fault.”
She smooched my brow. “No, it’s not. I thought buying a bed and breakfast would be fun. I just didn’t expect the hard work, long hours and bills to snuff out the fun part. At this rate, I’ll never write a mystery.”
That clearly was my opening. Putting my paws on her chest, I looked into her eyes and asked, “What about solving a mystery?”
To Be Continued