I held the copy of my letter in my paws. What did I do wrong?
I’d started over eight times. Mom always says first impressions are lasting impressions. I’d wanted my letter to be purrfect. I’d hoped that if he liked what I wrote, he would want to meet me in purrrson. Maybe even solve a case with me.
Dear Mr. Holmes,
I wanted to introduce myself since we are in the same business of detecting stuff. I am Sherlock Herms of the Wonderpurr Detective Agency. I have one assistant, like you do with Watson…only my assistant is my little sisfur, Dori. I don’t suppose you’ve ever had to take your little sisfur on a caper. Anyway! We just solved our first case. It had ghosts that needed to be busted. We were paid two huge quarters. Have you ever solved a case with ghosts? Just wondering. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.
I’m a huge fan of yours. I watched one of your hissstorical doc-mew-mentaries last night on teevee to pick up tips on solving cases. Maybe someday when I get real good at solving cases myself, you and me could maybe get together… Discuss stuff. Or maybe not if you’re real busy. You probably are, so…
Maybe if you have an extra picture of yourself lying around, you could pawtograph it for me. I would hang it over my desk and look at it all the time for inspurration. But if you don’t have time to have your picture taken…or don’t want to just because… I understand.
Countless weeks had passed since I’d mailed my fan letter business correspondence to my hero. Sherlock Holmes had to be back from his case by now. He had to have gone through his stack of mail. He had to have seen my letter. Unless the mail carrier had gone postal and flung my letter into the River Thames…there was only one conclusion: I’d been rejected. Rejected by my hero.
I felt like sobbing. The empty spot over my desk where I’d planned to hang his photograph for inspurration would remain empty. Mocking me. Reminding me that my hero thought I wasn’t worth the time or energy to pick up his mother-of-pearl dip pen and write to me on shag tobacco-scented stationery embossed wif his initials so the lucky ones he actually wrote to would know the letter is really from him.
As hot tears stung my eyes, I slumped over my desk with my head in my paws. Dori knew about my letter to Sherlock Holmes. So did Charley. I was pretty sure they had mentioned it to Opie and Jack and the rest of the Wonderpurr Gang. I crumbled my business correspondence fan letter and threw it into the trash basket. Opie used to be my arch-nemesis-slash-brofur, but we had sorta made peace. Still, I could envision a smirk on his puss when he heard I’d been rejected.
I sat back to stare at my desktop with all its drawers and nooks and crannies. The desk had belonged to Charley Feeble when he was alive. Charley had been a real private detective. Even though he suffered from some weird phobia about being around other people, he had worked around it by creating an alter ego—Maxwell Shallowford—and then hiring an out-of-work actor from Nova Scotia to pretend to be the almost-famous detective. While things didn’t work out so good for Charley—he died from a heart attack after being scared by the actor’s demon-like wife—he hadn’t let it get him down. In fact, he’d followed me seventy years into the future to teach me how to be a detective.
Except…I sucked at it. Charley’s lesson on The Art of Surveillance had me and The Wonderpurr Gang taking a picnic into the woods, and while we were there we were supposed to find Charley who was hiding. Everyone found Charley. Except me. Dori was the first—of course! Dori is a natural born investigator. I’m pretty sure she could find Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa and D.B. Cooper over one weekend if she was fed enough Smittens to keep her tummy full while she investigated.
I, on the other paw, can’t detect my way out of a litter box.
My gaze shifted to my 1940’s Bakelite telephone with the rotary dial. To my cup of purrrple crayons. To my pocket watch that told excellent time when it belonged to Charley seventy years in the past, but then froze with disinterest cuz it now belonged to me. To my white piggy bank with the happy smile that held several huge quarters because Dori was gifted at solving mysteries.
Piggy’s eyes looked glazed over, like he was struggling to maintain his smile in spite of me being an abysmal failure as a detective. Resentment shot through me. How dare Piggy judge me? Did he ever get out there and detect something? No! He was always here on my desk. Fat and lazy. Taking up space! I hissed at him, and my paw shot out to knock him to the floor. With horror at what I’d done, I squeezed my eyes shut, expecting to hear a loud crash.
It never came.
I heard a burp and smelled something fishy. I opened my eyes to see Dori holding Piggy in her paws. She had her mouth full of Smittens, but the box lay at her feet with several of the treats scattered on the floor. Her eyes were round with concern. “Yoo okay, Hwermie?” Her gaze flicked to my crumbled fan letter in the trash basket.
Embarrassed to be caught in a vulnerable moment, I didn’t answer. She placed Piggy on my desk, then picked up her Smittens and offered me the ones that had fallen on the floor. My whiskers tried to jerk my mouth into a smile, but I was battling an anxiety attack. My legs jiggled on their own. I felt hot, then cold. My tummy churned, and my paws tingled.
“How did you know where to find Charley?” I whispurred. “You practically ran him over.”
As though she wanted to avoid answering me right away, she shoved the treats into her mouth. I could see the truth in her eyes: she didn’t know how to answer without further upsetting me. Finally, she said, “I cheated.”
I blinked. “What?”
She hung her head. “I snucked out to the yawd while everyone was filling the picnic basket. I waited for Chawley to arrive and get hidden. I knew where he was from the stawrt.”
I didn’t believe her. I clearly recalled her in the kitchen, sitting inside the picnic basket while Peaches and Gidget filled it, licking the tasty crust off the chicken. “Dori, in The Case of the Dancing Ghosts…how did you know the CritterZone Air Naturalizer would neutralize the ghosts?”
As though ashamed of her confession, she continued to stare at her feet where a single Smitten lay beside her toes. “I saw it used on teevee. I think on the Ghost Guy’s show.” She snatched the treat from the floor and shoved it into her mouth. “I’m a frawd, Hwermie. I wanted to impwess yoo so yoo would let me pway detective.” Her golden green eyes squeezed out a tear. “Pwease don’t fire me. Pwease let me pway detective. I pwomise to be a good girl.”
She crawled onto my lap and sobbed into my shoulder…all the while polishing off her box of treats. Something smelled fishy, beside Dori’s breath, but I suck as a hardboiled detective so there was no telling what aroused my suspicions.
“Here’s my favorite hardboiled detective!” Charley materialized on my office couch. Grinning his grin that made his squinty eyes disappear into his face, he exclaimed, “What a beautiful day! The sun is singing. Birds are blooming. Flowers are shining!”
Dori crawled off my lap. “Hi Chawley. Excuse me, I need to widdle.” She zoomed from my office, leaving the empty treat box on my desk. I whisked it into the trash on top of my rejected fan letter.
Charley looked at me. “Was it something I said?”
I joined him on the couch and got right to the point: “I failed your lesson on Surveillance. I didn’t find you.”
Charley looked thoughtful. “I tried really hard to hide from you. Maybe too hard.”
“Everyone else found you. Not me.” I took a deep breath. “I’m not cut out to be a hardboiled detective.”
“Nonsense! You have superior sight. Superior hearing. Superior sense of smell. Whiskers! You’re designed to be an investigator. Destined to be the greatest feline sleuth imaginable!”
I bowed my head to avoid rolling my eyes in his face. It may be rude of me to say, but my boo-sheet meter was fully operational and Charley had just scored 100.
Why? Why was he so determined to make me feel like a winner when clearly I was a loser? As my author mom’s mews, I know stuff about character development. About goals, motivations and conflicts. What was Charley’s goal in making me think I could ever be a successful hardboiled detective with grit in his blood? What motivated him to do this? Especially when he knew—conflict—that I sucked at it?
“I see you don’t believe me,” he said at last. “What has brought this on?”
I fidgeted with my floofy tail to give my paws something to do. “Sherlock Holmes is the greatest detective in the world. Better than Philip Marlowe. Better than Sam Spade. Better than—dare I say it—The Scooby Gang. Sherlock has superior instincts for detecting stuff that I can only dream of. He knows I don’t have what it takes to be a hardboiled detective with grit in my blood. That’s why he didn’t answer my letter. That’s why he won’t send me a pawtographed photo to inspire me. I’m not worthy of being inspired.”
There! I’d confessed my deep dark secret to the one man—ghost—that I admired almost as much as my hero.
Charley reached out to place his hand on my back. Although he meant it to be comforting, I tensed from the sudden iciness that shot through my body. Ghosts can drop temperature faster than the town of Spearfish, South Dakota. I help my mom with research and remember reading how in January of 1943 Spearfish went from -4 degrees at 7:30 a.m. to 45 degrees two minutes later. Then, after reaching 54 degrees at 9:00 a.m., it crashed back down to -4 degrees, twenty-seven minutes later. This has nothing to do with my story. I just found it inpurresting enough to share with you.
“Herman,” Charley said, “Every private investigator admires Sherlock Holmes. Wants to be like Sherlock Holmes. Even Sam Spade and Scooby Doo. I happen to know that Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher both wrote fan letters to Mr. Holmes every week for a year and still didn’t receive an autographed photo.”
My heart picked up its beat. I so wanted to believe Charley wasn’t still boo-sheeting me.
“In fact,” he went on, “I cannot recall that Mr. Holmes has ever sent anyone an autographed photo. I believe he restricts his correspondence to case business. While I’m sure he appreciates your interest in him, there has to be dozens…nay! Hundreds of private detectives who write to him, hoping to glean some secret of his success. If he spent all his time answering personal mail, he would surely fail as the world’s greatest detective. Don’t you think?”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. What Charley said made sense. But that didn’t change the fact that I had failed Charley’s lesson on Surveillance. “I still suck as a hardboiled detective,” I told him. “I’m so embarrassed. Everyone found you at the picnic, except me.”
Charley shifted with impatience. “Herman, my little mancat… You do not suck, as you so eloquently put it. If you are comparing your ability to detect to the great Sherlock Holmes, then… We all suck. No one can compete with Mr. Holmes’ ability to detect. No one. Not even Nancy Drew!”
I hung my head, feeling worse than ever. I’d forgotten about Nancy Drew being a kick-butt investigator. Like Dori, Nancy could detect the one bad apple in a hundred acre orchard.
“Since I’ve arrived in the Twenty-First Century, there is something I’ve noticed that didn’t exist back when I was alive…besides Costco and pump your own gasoline,” Charley continued. “With iphones, Androids, Wi-Fi, Netflix, Twitter, Bookface, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Amazon… The world population now has the attention span of a squirrel on methamphetamines! It takes a lot of mental energy to pay attention to everything at once. I’m quite certain that if Sherlock Holmes moved in today’s society, he would struggle to maintain his superlative ability to see and observe.”
I took a moment to digest what Charley said. “What do you mean, if Sherlock Holmes moved in today’s society?”
Charley looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a moving truck. “Uhhh. What I meant to say was… If Mr. Holmes moved from his address on Baker Street into your neighborhood, he would be highly distracted.” Without pause, he continued. “The secret to Sherlock Holmes’ impeccable skills as a detective lies in his ability to fully concentrate on the present moment to the fullest, free of any and all distractions. Distractions like Email, Hotmail and Gmail.”
“You forgot Yahoo,” I mumbled.
“Herman. You live in a world hampered by inattentional blindness. So highly distracted by everything—your ability to focus on any one thing at a time is impossible. To clarify what I mean by inattentional blindness… It’s like scrolling through Bookface and not seeing the advertisements on the side of your page. They’re there. You just had your attention focused on the latest Aaron’s Animals video…”
I smiled with sudden joy. “I wuv Aaron’s Animals videos. Didja see the one called Fast & Furryest where…”
Charley’s gaze drifted over my shoulder. As his squinty eyes widened behind his glasses, I turned to see what had distracted him.
In the corner of my office is a bookcase where my mom keeps her research library. The shelves are crammed with books about authoring mysteries, books about detecting stuff, and books about ghosts. During my last case when I met Charley (read my case notes on Mrs. Shallowford’s Ghost by clicking here) I learned there was a secret staircase hidden behind the bookcase. I’d zoomed down that staircase with Dori to escape being seen by the demon known as Loud Lady. Back in 1945 it led into the garden with a swimmy pool and pool house (where Charley died) that no longer existed.
Brilliant light now seeped from behind the bookcase. With wonder I watched as it slowly creaked open to reveal the secret staircase. As it opened the brilliant light burst into my office, blinding me with its…um…brilliance.
A sudden icy chill stabbed my shoulder, making me turn to see Charley had reached out to touch me. His attention was on the staircase. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. I, however, flicked a desperate look at my Ride, quivering in the corner. Had I left my sunglasses in the pocket? I thought about fetching them when Charley suddenly moaned, “No! Not yet. I’m not ready to go.”
What the Friskies!
Be sure to come back next Friday to find out if Charley has a choice about going somewhere. In the meantime, how do you deal with rejection? Also, I’d love to hear how you manage “inattentional blindness?” to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the plague of too much social media interaction.
Until next Friday…Have a Wonderpurr Week.