Sherlock Herms in…Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Previously on Sherlock Herms in Feral Informants.

Mom sighed as she disconnected her phone. “This ghost hunting career of yours has turned dangerous,” she said to me. “And I’m mad at myself that I’ve been too distracted setting up this bed and breakfast to notice what’s been happening right under my roof.”

“I’m getting out of the purranormal biz. At least I hope to,” I reassured as I led her downstairs and out the front door where Dori sat on the porch steps. “What did you find?”

Dori swiped a paw across her weepy eyes. “Nacho led me to Violet’s grave. He said Dottie is buried there, too.”

Mom abruptly went back inside. I wondered if she was nervous about what I’d asked her to do and needed to pee, or was backing out of our plan to trap Dottie’s killer in a confession. But then she returned with scissors and a large shopping tote that smelled like bread. As she snipped several yellow Julia Child roses from the nearby bushes she said, “Crawl inside the tote, under the bread loaves. Patty Kiss claims to be allergic to cats. She won’t allow me inside her home if she sees you.”

I pushed aside the crusty loaves to settle at the bottom of the tote. Dori climbed in beside me. As Mom carried us to the house next door, I whispered the plan to Dori. She seemed uncharacteristically subdued. “Hoomons can be so dissy-pointing.” I couldn’t agree more.

I heard Mom whisper, “It’s show time!” and ring the doorbell. A moment passed before the door opened and I heard Patty Kiss say to Mom, “What a surprise.”

“I was on my way home from the store,” Mom told her, “but when I saw how pretty my roses were, I cut a few for your home.”

“Thank you,” Patty said. “My grandmother planted those bushes years ago. But she never shared them with me.”

“Cuz yoo is a bad lady,” Dori whispered inside the tote, and I told her to Shhh.

“I was also wondering,” Mom continued, “if you might answer a few questions.”

“What kind of questions?” Patty sounded suspicious.

“Who would you recommend for painting and carpentry jobs. We are behind schedule in opening our bed and breakfast, and need to hire help.”

“I have a list of recommendations that I give to every home buyer. I thought I gave you one.”

“I’m sure you did, Patty. I probably lost it.”

“Come in. I’ll get you another copy.”

Inside the bread-reeking tote bag, Dori and I were in danger of succumbing to yeast fumes. Also, Mom’s bread was in danger of being nommed cuz neither of us had eaten lunch.

As we entered the house, Mom laid the tote down. Peeking past the bread, we saw the opening faced the underside of an end table. As Mom said, “Boy am I thirsty. I can’t believe how hot it’s been this week,” leaving Patty no choice but to offer her a drink, Dori and I crept out of the bag and slipped under the sofa where we found Frank and Chauncie Marie—my Senior Optical Buzz Specialists, aka my audio visual experts.

“We got the house bugged in record time,” Frank told me.

“Good job,” I said, just as Patty screamed in the kitchen.

“That would be the box of palmetto beetles,” Chauncie Marie explained, “shipped in fresh from Florida.”

“Shipped in?” I exclaimed.

“You said spare no expense,” C.M. retorted.

“Is something wrong, Patty? Can I help?” Mom’s voice could be heard moving toward the kitchen located in the back of the house.

“Let’s go.” I led my WAD team out from under the sofa and down the hall toward the kitchen. There we saw Mom standing with her cell phone behind her back, clearly dialed in to the Welcome Home Police Department.

As we curled around Mom’s ankles, Patty was busy smacking at the bugs so she didn’t immediately see us. Mom said, “I also have a few questions about the house.”

Patty had her back turned, and was now filling a glass of water for Mom.

“I reviewed the Seller’s Disclosure Statement and wondered why you didn’t reveal that the house is haunted.” Patty dropped the glass and turned, her face pale and her eyes wide with shock. “I have two elderly ghost ladies upstairs, and a pretty blonde who loves pink polka dotted dresses downstairs in the kitchen. Sound familiar?”

Patty sputtered incoherently. Then she pointed to Mom’s ankles. “I’m allergic to cats. Get them out of here.”

“I’m told your sister Dottie loved to wear pink polka dots,” Mom continued. “The ghost’s description sounds like her. I thought you said your sister left town with a strange man. Doesn’t sound like she left town at all.”

Patty continued to sputter. “She left town, I tell you. Left with her rich boyfriend.”

“Mrs. Skredskarvig—Finn—said she didn’t have a rich boyfriend. She told me Dottie would never leave town, especially because of the stray cats she took care of in the woods.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Patty shouted.

“I’m questioning how Dottie’s ghost can be in my home when you said she left town.”

“Maybe her boyfriend murdered her.” Patsy screamed, clearly freaked out by the turn in conversation. “Get those cats out of my home. I can’t breathe around cats.”

“Really? You’ve had ten cats hidden throughout your house all morning, and yet you seem to be breathing perfectly fine… Unlike your sister.”

As Mom said this, my WAD team came out of hiding. They burst out of the cupboards, drawers, and from behind the countertop cookie jar. As Patty Kiss reeled with shock, spinning this way and that, Mom said, “You don’t seem very upset to learn your sister is haunting my home. I assume you killed her in the kitchen since that’s where we hear her scream every morning at six a.m.. What happened? The poison wasn’t working fast enough, so you bludgeoned her to death?”

If looks could kill, my mom would’ve died right there on the spot.

You’ve had ten cats hidden in your house all morning, yet you seem to be breathing fine… Unlike your sister.” Click To Tweet

“Get out!” Patty howled. “Get out of my house!” As she grabbed a sharp carving knife, every member of the Wonderpurr Gang arched their backs and bared their teeth and claws.

“Are you threatening me with that big knife?” Mom asked with amazing calm. I personally thought she’d been watching way too many episodes of Murder She Wrote. Meanwhile Dori widdled on the floor.

“I will do more than threaten you with my knife,” Patty growled, sounding more feral than Orion and his colony. “I will kill you and every one of your damn cats!”

She took a menacing step forward…and tripped over Frank who had stopped—dropped—and rolled in front of her. As the knife flew out of Patty’s hand, Mom yelled, “Run!”

As we zoomed for the door, she held it open, counting heads to make sure we were all out of the house just as a police car pulled up to the curb and a very mad-looking detective got out. “I thought I told you to wait until we arrived.”

“My cats were inside,” Mom told him. “Patty Kiss is in the kitchen.”

I’ve always thought my mom would break the law to protect her cats, and now I had proof.

As the detective drew his gun, more patrol cars arrived, and with them the neighbors came out of their homes to see what was going on.

Later that night, after we’d enjoyed a special shrimp dinner, we gathered in the third floor rec room, with Dad playing a game of chase-balls-with-sticks with Frank, Opie, Jesse, Nik and Jack, and Mom lounging on the couch with the rest of us while talking on the phone to the police detective. As she hung up she told us, “Patty is still on the run, but they’re certain she won’t get far.”

Dad cracked the end of the cue against a ball, sending it zinging across the table. Frank pounced, and sent it whirling over to Jesse who smacked it into a corner pocket. “I’m still furious that you risked confronting that crazy woman without telling me what you were up to.”

“It’s my fault,” I admitted. “I needed help exposing her.” I said to Mom, “Did the police find the bad stuff Orion buried?”

“Yes. They took it to the lab and the bottle has Patty’s fingerprints on it. Good job!”

Dori sat on Mom’s lap, washing her paws. “Orion and Nacho and the others were so happy to have shrimps for dinner too.”

Mom said, “I have contacted the Welcome Home Humane Society and they are arranging for citizens to come twice a day to take care of the ferals. I’m told Finn is heading the group. She’s also selling her meatballs to make money to feed the cats.”

I sniffed the air. “Smells like Finn is busy cooking her meatballs tonight.”

Mom turned to look out the window behind her. “Whoever is cooking, it isn’t Finn. Her kitchen is dark.” She breathed in. “It smells like something is burning.” She sniffed again…then gasped. “Ray! I smell smoke.”

Dad threw down his cue to bolt down the stairs. A moment later he shouted, “Fire! The downstairs is engulfed!”

My heart somersaulted as Mom lurched off the couch, shouting, “Get out! Get out of the house.” She ran to open the windows. As Dad shut the door, sealing off the heat, he joined Mom in tearing through the screens, then lifting each of us out onto the roof.

In the far distance we heard the sound of sirens. While Mom did a head count, Dad slung his leg over the edge of the eaves and shimmied down the drainpipe to the ground. He then dragged over a chaise lounge with cushions, and held out his arms. “I’m ready!”

Mom told us, “Tuck your heads into your bellies, and be sure to keep your claws retracted. Don’t freak out. Daddy will catch you.”

One by one by one by one…the Wonderpurr Gang tumbled through the air into our dad’s waiting arms. Only Opie panicked and flipped out of his belly tuck at the last moment, missing Dad’s arms but landing safely on the chaise lounge.

By now the firetrucks had arrived and were drenching the front of our house. Dad opened his arms. “Come on, Kim.”

Mom looked down at Dad, then at the hunky fireman on a ladder, beckoning her over. “Decisions. Decisions.”

As Mom’s feet touched the ground, the fireman asked, “Is everyone out?”

“Yes. We’re all accounted for. I can’t believe this! We didn’t cook inside tonight. We boiled shrimp on the barbecue.” Mom picked up Dori, who was climbing up her leg to make sure she was okay. “We made sure the fire was out.”

You’ve had ten cats hidden in your house all morning, yet you seem to be breathing fine… Unlike your sister. Click To Tweet

“There will be an investigation, but it appears the fire started on the front porch…and the back patio,” the fireman told her.

“Two fires?” Mom started to weep. “Two fires were deliberately set?” She turned to Dad who said, “Patty Kiss did this. She set our home on fire.”

“And her home too,” said the police detective walking up to us.

We turned in unison to see Patty Kiss’s home crumbling to the ground.

As Mom wept into Dad’s arms, he looked at me with angry eyes. “This is your fault, Sherlock. If you hadn’t poked your pink nose into Patty Kiss’s business, our home wouldn’t be on fire, and she wouldn’t have tried to kill your mom. You’re responsible for this.”

“We are losing our home because of you, Herman,” Gidget hissed.

With shock, I found myself surrounded by every member of my WAD team, looking like they wanted to rip me to shreds.

“Where are we going to live now that our home is destroyed?” Opie yowled, while Jack howled, “I wish I’d never joined your stoopid detective agency.”

“You took playing detective too far,” Peaches told me, and Chauncie Marie added, “What a failure you are, Herman.”

I buried my face in my paws while all around me were the sounds of my life going up in flames.

“I never meant for this to happen,” I sobbed. “I didn’t want to be a purranormal detective, but everyone said I had to help Dottie.”

“You’re a failure,” Frank growled. “Because of you we are now homeless!”

Dori sobbed louder. “We are homeless. All because of yoo, Hwermie. All because of yoo!”

“All because of you, Herman,” Mom said, her voice heavy with grief. “All because of you!”

I heard my Mom’s voice, but I couldn’t believe the words were coming out of her mouth.

Sobbing my little heart out, I ran—blinded by my tears. I had no idea where I was going until I ran smack into a tree. At least I thought it was a tree until arms came around me. Charley!

“The h-house is b-burning and everyone blames me,” I sobbed into his chest. “I didn’t know Patty would b-burn the house down. I didn’t know.”

“Herman,” Charley said softly. “Look at me.”

I pawed away my tears to look into the eyes of my Guardian Angel. But what I saw wasn’t the kind squinty Charley eyes I’d come to know and love. Now his eyes were hard and angry.

“It is your fault,” he told me. “You messed up. You put your family in danger.”

“But I didn’t mean to,” I yowled, heartbroken that my mentor had also turned on me. “Oh Charley. Not you too. Everyone is mad at me. Nobody loves me any more.”

My family surrounded me as Charley plunked me on the ground and joined them in making mad faces at me. “This is a nightmare!” I hide my face in my paws. “This is a horrible, horrible nightmare!”

I felt a kick to my shins and with a gasp I stared into the squinty eyes of my sweet little sister and partner in the Wonderpurr Detective Agency. “Just like hoomons…you dissy-point me, Hwermie.” Dori kicked me again, and punched my arm. “Yoo did a bad bad thing, Hwermie. Bad, Hwermie!”

As I watched her prepare for another roundhouse punch, I gasped, and fell backwards. As I fell, I realized that I was falling into a deep dark pit, about six feet deep. There I lay looking up at the stormy sky at the top of the pit. As the faces of my family crowded around the opening, I realized I was not alone. I was inside the grave with Violet and Dottie, and both were wearing mad faces.

“You are a failure as a hardboiled detective,” Violet told me. “There is no grit in your blood.”

“You are a bad kitty,” Dottie told me. “You let me down. Now I will never find the Light.”

“No! No!” I howled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody!”

“Bad Hwermie!” Dori kicked dirt down into the pit on top of me. “Bad bad, Hwermie!”

“I didn’t want to be a purranormal detective,” I sobbed as my family joined Dori in kicking dirt on top of me. “I want to go home. I want my old life back. I want my old life back!”

With a gasp I opened my eyes. Sweating profusely, my body trembled from the adrenaline rush, causing my heart to pound. “I didn’t mean to do it.” I gasped for air. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”

It took me a moment to realize the darkness around me wasn’t from being inside Violet and Dottie’s grave. They weren’t yelling at me. Dori and my family wasn’t kicking dirt into my face.

I lay on a sofa in a dark room. As my heartbeat calmed and my eyes adjusted, I found myself staring at a bell by the door. Instantly I recognized it as the bell I’d hung over the door to my attic office back at my old house so no one could sneak up on me. I also saw the measuring tape I’d tacked from top to bottom to tell how tall my clients were in case they turned out to be suspects.

With a start I sat up and turned to the corner. There I saw my huge desk with lots of nooks and crannies next to a window where I used to think I could see my suspect’s expression of guilt while I questioned them. I also saw my snake-necked lamp that I’d planned to shine blindly into their eyes during interrogation. And there, right beside the lamp was my old 1940’s black Bakelite with a rotary dial that I’d found inside one of the desk’s cubbyholes.

As clarity washed through me, I realized I was back in my old attic office. I was back home!

What the Friskies!





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