Previously on Sherlock Herms…The Case of the Dancing Ghosts…
When we last left our hero, Herman TattleCat – the dashing hardboiled detective with grit in his blood, and his beautiful yet uncoordinated sisfur/assistant, Dori – they had just arrived at the location of their first case after being sucked through a kitty play tunnel that doubled as a trans-portal. Because Dori had been mesmerized by the pink button on the control panel that she had been warned not to touch, but pawed repeatedly anyway—with each touch the button delayed their arrival by ten days—they arrived in British Columbia eleven months later.
Looking like an extra from The Maltese Falcon, their first client, Roland Blunden of the Chelmsford Blunden’s, explained the house he had purchased ‘whilst’ still in England (he’s British so he said whilst instead of while) was rumored to be haunted, and he couldn’t sell it until they either proved it wasn’t, or got rid of the ghosts. They had 24 hours to do their job, or Blunden would demand his two quarters back that Dori had demanded he prepay.
And now…Part 3
The Wonderpurr Detective Agency’s first client had hired me and my sisfur, Dori, to prove his house wasn’t haunted with ghosts, even though I am a hardboiled detective and not a purranormal investigator. I didn’t know how he got the idea that we could take care of his ghost problem, until Dori admitted she had thought the other private detective specialties like Background Checks and Insurance Fraud sounded boring, whilst…I mean, while…detecting ghosts sounded ‘funner.’
No sooner had Blunden left us standing in the entrance hall with our paws covering our ears because scratchy squealy music had suddenly filled the room, when a ghostly couple appeared on the staircase—dancing! I watched them with a combination of shock and awe. I could see the mustache on the man and the woman wore her hair swirled on top. Then…one moment they were there. The next, they were gone!
“I can’t hear myself think,” Dori growled over the scratchy squealy music. She stomped her foot. “Quiet! QUIET!”
The music abruptly stopped, though our ears continued to ring.
“Blunden said this house hasn’t been lived in since the owner closed the doors in 1923…twenty years ago.” I gazed at the strange furnishings around us, and noted a stack of yellowed envelopes addressed to Mr. John P. Throckley lay on a tarnished silver tray. The top letter had a 1923 postmark. “Dori? What year is it here?”
“Cats know nuffin’ about dates.” She deliberately stepped on the rug. “Let’s find the kitchen.”
I followed her into the room to the right of us. Like the parlor, the dining room’s print wallpaper clashed with the patterned carpet, and the thick fringy curtains with tassels made my paws itch to smack ’em. The walls were decorated with gilt-framed oil paintings, each hanging from a foot of picture wire. The heavy wood table seated twelve and was covered with plates of mummified food, along with empty wine bottles.
From there we entered the kitchen where the cupboards held aging tins of food including potatoes, salmon, pork and beef, tomato soup, steak and kidney pudding, and jars of pineapple. The plain wood table was set for one, with a dirty plate, knife and fork; the food long decomposed. The white gas stove had a blue kettle and an iron frying pan. Dori sniffed the grease that had turned hard and black with age. “This is not acceptable,” she growled. “He should have pwovided us with refweshments.”
A man’s old-fashioned hat and coat hung on pegs by the back door. A calendar hung on a nail over the kitchen fireplace. When I stood on tiptoe to read April 1923, Dori left the room. I found her standing on the Oriental by the giant front doors.
“I’m stawvy,” she said. “Before we explore upstairs, let’s visit the house that feeds stway cats. Blunden said the lady likes to gossip. Maybe she will tell us about Thwockley.”
The lady answered the door holding a broom. “Scat! Betty got married and moved out. I’m not feeding you strays like she did. You multiple like rabbits, and my rose bushes are burned from you peeing on them.”
“We aren’t strays,” I told her over Dori’s loudly growling stomach. “We are detectives.” Dori handed the lady a business card. I peeked to see it read Wonderpurr Detective Agency, Detective Sherlock Herms. “I was told you have lived on this street all of your life. Would you know something about the man who used to live across the street, Mr. Throckley?”
The lady clutched the broom, as if to beat us off in case we begged for food, or sprayed something. “Vinegary old miser. Kept to himself. Always yelling at me and the other neighbor kids. ‘Get off my lawn! Get out of my yard!’ We were all shocked when he married that silly girl. She had to be thirty years younger than him. Had an obnoxious giggle. Had an obnoxious mother, too. Horrible woman!”
“What made her horrible?” I asked.
“Loud. Bossy. Pushy. Ambitious! Drank cheap liquor. Bawdy when drunk.”
“What is bawdy?” Dori pulled out a small notebook and a purrrple crayon.
“Vulgar. Rude. Lewd!”
“What is lewd?”
I elbowed Dori, then asked, “Can you tell us how long Mrs. Throckley and her mother lived with Mr. Throckley?”
Broom Lady thought about it. “I had just given birth to Betty when they moved in. Betty started teething the night of the party. Six—seven months. I remember being disappointed when they closed up the house and left town after the party. Not about the mother or Old Man Throckley. But his young wife, Christina, fascinated me. She was silly, but she had pretty clothes. And…”
We leaned closer. “And…?”
“She had a boyfriend. The same boyfriend she broke her engagement to in order to marry Old Man Throckley.”
Dori looked disappointed. “So?”
“Humans aren’t supposed to have a husband and a boyfriend at the same time,” I told her. To Broom Lady I said, “Do you think Mr. Throckley knew about his wife’s boyfriend coming to visit?”
“He had to. I saw Gorgeous George over there many times. That’s what my friends and I called him: Gorgeous George. He had thick black hair and a mustache. He looked like Clark Gable!”
Dori squinted. “What is Clark…?”
“A mew-vee star,” I told her. To the neighbor I said, “Wait. You saw Gorgeous George hanging around Mr. Throckley’s house? He was coming over to see his ex-girlfriend?”
“Not Christina. Gladys—her mother! Isn’t that shocking?”
Dori looked at me. “I don’t get it.”
“I will explain later.” To Broom Lady I said, “Did Mrs. Throckley know about her ex-boyfriend and her mother?”
Broom Lady shrugged. “I think George only flirted with Gladys so he could stay close to Christina.”
“Do you think Mr. Throckley knew his wife and George were being flirty?”
“I think the Old Man was so busy obsessing over his hatred of Gladys that he didn’t realize Christina was seeing George on the sly. Truth be told, George was handsome, but not very smart. He had the personality of a puppy and did what he was told. My friends and I had our suspicions that it was Gladys who told Christina to break up with George and marry Throckley for his fortune. Maybe the apple didn’t roll too far from the tree. I’ve always wondered if Christina only put George on the side, but didn’t actually break off their relationship.”
Clearly warming to the gossip, Broom Lady left the doorway to collapse into a porch chair. “Old Man Throckley didn’t expect Gladys to move in when he married Christina. But she did. I could hear him yelling all the way over here that Gladys had rearranged his furniture to her liking, and had liquor bottles all over his house. John Throckley was a controlling type of man. He liked everything his way. I know this to be true because my father worked for him at his construction company. Throckley started out building homes with his own hands, and invested his money to create a sizeable fortune. He distrusted his employees to do the job his way, so he scrutinized every job with a magnifying glass. My father said after Throckley married Christina, rumors circulated about how he had finally met his match. Where Throckley was controlling, Gladys was uncontrollable!”
Dori wrote ‘uncontrollable’ in her notebook.
“Throckley hated people,” Broom Lady continued. “He never threw parties. But there was a huge party—just one—the night Betty started teething. I was up late because she wouldn’t stop crying. I could hear the loud scratchy squealy music from behind my closed windows. I saw people smoking on the front lawn. Women too! And they were drinking liquor.”
Dori wrote in her notebook. “Likker.”
“Throckley never spoke to me or any of the other neighbors. Like I said, he was always yelling at people to ‘Get out!’ Ignored us like we were invisible. Except once, a week before the big party. I was out front pushing Betty in her carriage when he came out of his house. I remember he didn’t look well. His face was pale and sweaty. He had disgusting drool on his chin, and was swallowing a lot. And his breath smelled like garlic. When I asked if he was ill, he said he had a bad headache.”
Dori wrote ‘garlic’ and ‘headache’ in her notebook.
“He told me he was leaving town on a big business trip,” Broom Lady continued. “He would not be home for weeks. I asked him why he was telling me this since he had never bothered to even say hello to me in all the years we had been neighbors…but then he doubled over and held his stomach, as though he had bad cramps. And then he ran into the house. That was the last time I saw him.”
“How long after he left town did Mrs. Throckley and her mother throw the party?” I asked.
“A few days. A week maybe. When Throckley was home the window curtains were always drawn, as though he feared the neighbors looking in. But the day after he left town, the curtains were open, day and night. My friends and I did our sewing on this porch so we could try to see inside the house, especially at night when there were lights on in every room. Knowing how thrifty Old Man Throckley was, I’m sure he would have pitched a fit to see his money wasted like that on electricity.”
“What did you see them doing?” Dori asked. “Was it just Mrs. Throckley and her mother? Or was Go-jus Geowge there too?”
“I saw all three of them. Gladys was usually drinking. And singing. She had a horrible voice—scratchy and squealy—but that didn’t stop her from singing. Loud! She would play the parlor piano while she sang, and Christina and George would dance from room to room. With the curtain open, I saw them dance right up the stairs. Scandalous! They were upstairs, but…” She lowered her tone to a whisper. “Not married to each other.”
She looked at us with wide eyes, clearly waiting for a reaction, so Dori squinted and I twitched my whiskers.
Satisfied, Broom Lady continued. “I had a good show of everything going on in that house for a week. The night of the party, there had to be fifty people inside. I could see them in all the windows. Even the bedroom windows!”
As Dori squinted, I asked, “Can you remember anything else from that night? Anything that seemed strange?”
She leaned on her broom to think. “Hammering,” she finally said. “I heard hammering. I remember I had just finally gotten Betty to sleep, when loud hammering woke her up. I was so angry, I thought about throwing a rock through one of Throckley’s windows… But when I stepped outside, the hammering had stopped. And the people were all gone.”
“Were the curtains still open?”
Broom Lady thought about it. “No. They weren’t.”
From inside her house we heard a clock chime. She lurched to her feet. “Frank Sinatra’s radio show is starting. Nice talking to you. Now…scat.” She flicked her broom at us, and we bolted off her porch.
“We didn’t find out anything useful,” Dori complained. “And I’m still hungwy!”
“We learned the identity of the ghosts,” I told her. “The dancing ghosts are Christina and George.”
Dori’s eyes widened. “Yoo think the mama is a ghost, too?”
“We heard scratchy squealy mew-sic. I bet it was Gladys singing, and playing the piano.”
We gazed across the street. While sunlight continued to shine on Broom Lady’s lawn, the sky over Throckley’s house appeared dark and stormy, as though it resented us looking at it.
Dori’s tummy growled angrily. “I wish I hadn’t fo’gotten my tweats.” She abruptly dropped to her knees to chew on the lawn.
“Grass will make you throw up,” I warned.
“I know. I plan to frow up all over Mister Blunden’s Owy-ental so he steps in it when he comes home. He should have pwovided refweshments.”
“The sooner we solve this mystery, the sooner we can go home and eat.” I stared at the Throckley mansion with its eight closed-curtained windows on the second floor, and the two balconies on the third floor: one with a door; the other with three windows.
What would Sam Spade do? Had Sherlock Holmes ever investigated ghosts? Learning the identity of the dancing ghosts didn’t answer any questions for me. It just raised more.
Christina and Gorgeous George had been young in 1923. If Dori and I had time traveled (as I suspected when we drove my stroller through the glowing kitty play tunnel) to 1943, that was only twenty years later. They would be older, but not dead… Unless!
“Are you finished?” I asked Dori. She joined me, chewing a wad of grass like a cow chewing cud. “Let’s resume our tour of the house.”
Taking my little sister’s paw, I led her safely across the street. As we slipped through the iron fence bars, my Ride eagerly rolled to greet us. Whimpering like a lonely puppy, it followed me up the walkway and through the front doors. Noticing the tires were grimy, I used my floofy tail to clean them so our first client wouldn’t demand his two quarters back to cover the cost of cleaning his valuable old Oriental.
While I worked, Dori stepped onto the rug, stuck her paw down her throat and threw up.
Stay tuned for Sherlock Herms in
If you missed Part 1, click here.