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 hungry sisfur/ assistant, Dori – they had just received payment in advance for their first case. Roland Blunden of the Chelmsford Blunden’s—who said ‘whilst’ instead of ‘while’ because he was British—wanted them to prove his house wasn’t haunted, and if it was haunted, he wanted the ghosts busted so he could sell the property at triple his investment. They had 24 hours to do their job, or Blunden would demand his two quarters back.
With their work cut out for them—they saw a dancing ghost couple on the staircase shortly after Blunden left—Herman and Dori headed across the street to question a neighbor about the house’s original owner who mysteriously disappeared in 1923—twenty years ago. As Herman lived in the 21st Century before his stroller was sucked into a glowing kitty play tunnel rumored to be a trans-portal, he surmised he had time traveled to the 1940s for his first case.
The neighbor, aka Broom Lady, had vivid recall of the night twenty years ago when the owner left town on a business trip, and his young wife and her bawdy mother threw a dilly of a party with liquor and cigarettes. But then her favorite radio program came on and she flicked her broom at them to shoo them off her porch. Disappointed that neither Blunden nor Broom Lady would serve her refreshments, Dori got revenge by eating grass and then throwing up on Blunden’s valuable Oriental (an old rug, not a Siamese cat.)
And now…Part 4
“Dori! Our client is going to demand his money back.”
She wiped her mouth with the back of her paw. “The rug is green like grass. He’ll never notice. Let’s explore upstairs.”
On the second floor we inspected a bath to the left of the stairs. It had a claw-foot tub and an ornate sink. A petrified bar of soap and a scrub brush lay on a wooden bath rack across the tub. The room had one floor to ceiling window shrouded with dusty, formerly white curtains.
The floor also had three bedrooms. One to the right of the stairs had an ornately carved four poster bed with a frilly bedspread covered with an inch of dust, and a vanity table with silver-capped bottles and jars, boar-bristled hairbrushes and a large mirror. There were three floor-to-ceiling curtained windows that overlooked the front yard. The room smelled of thick perfume and stale cigarettes.
To the left of the stairs, beyond the bathroom, were two rooms with two windows each. One served as an office with a plain wooden desk, a swivel Bankers arm chair, and a file cabinet. The room at the end of the hall had been used as a closet with racks of dresses, hats and shoes, all smelling of the same thick perfume and stale cigarettes as in the room to the right of the stairs.
“It’s like time stood still,” I whispurred, as though someone might be listening. Even as I said it, I felt a chill ripple my fur, and my ears twitched with apprehension.
Suddenly, we heard hammering over our heads. As Dori catapulted into my arms, we looked at each other with wide-open eyes. “We should go see who is building something,” I told her.
She slipped from my arms. “I need mom’s book about ghosts. I left it in the stroller.”
Alone, I nervously climbed the stairs to the third floor. The hammering stopped the moment I set paw on the fifth step from the top. There was only one room on this floor to the left of the stairs. It had a window-door that opened onto a balcony, and a plain wooden bed with a blue spread. A dusty pair of men’s black leather shoes sat in front of a wooden chest at the bottom of the bed.
Suddenly, the room turned really cold. Cold like in winter, not cold like when my pawrents fight over control of the air conditioning in July. My breath looked smoky in front of my face. I also smelled an odor that reminded me of food Mom wouldn’t let me eat, like chicken with garlic sauce from Poo Ping’s Palace.
Actually, the restaurant is called Ping’s Palace, but years ago Dad called it ‘Poo Ping’s’ and now the whole town does, too. Mr. Ping always adds twenty percent to my pawrent’s bill. They don’t have the nerve to complain.
Slowly a shadow of an old man appeared, lying on the bed. My tummy didn’t feel so good. As I watched, the shadow turned into a transparent man who clutched his stomach and rolled from side to side, like he was in pain.
Then he stopped rolling and looked right at me. He slowly sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. Drooling like a hungry dog, his eyes turned dark and scary, and he made a mad face. As he moved to stand up, I’m ashamed to say I widdled my floofy britches. Beyond embarrassed—I’m pretty sure Sam Spade never peed his shorts—I scampered down the stairs, all the way to the first floor. There I saw Dori sitting inside my stroller reading a book, parked on the Oriental rug.
She glanced up as she turned a page. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I think I just met Old Man Throckley. Pretty sure he’s a ghost. I could see through him.”
“Was he drooling?”
I nodded. “And he smelled like garlic.”
She flipped more pages in her book. “Inpurresting. I didn’t know ghosts could drool or stink. It says rooms usually turn freezy when a ghost shows up.”
“It did. So cold I could see my breath.”
Dori wrote in her notebook. “Did you figure out where the hammering came from?”
“It stopped before I reached the third floor.”
“Maybe he was done building whatever he was building.”
“Who building what?”
“Mister Thwockley, of course. Broom Lady said he owned a constwuction company. He built houses. Probably this house.”
I sniffed the air. “Do you smell smoke?”
Dori’s ears perked up. “Like someone is cooking bacon?”
“Like someone is smoking a cigarette.” Side-stepping the now ruined Oriental rug, I followed my nose to the parlor. There I saw a dozen ghosts. Men and women dressed for a party. They were eating noms, and drinking likker, and smoking cigarettes.
Loud scratchy squealy music drew my attention to a large woman stuffed into a blue dress seated at the piano. Her grey-brown hair, twirled on top of her head, bobbled loose as she threw back her head and sang. I put my paws over my ears. This had to be the bawdy mother that Broom Lady told us about.
Dori appeared beside me. “Quiet!” she yowled, and stomped her paw. “QUIET!”
Every ghost in the room turned to look at us, including the piano-playing momma. I held my breath, expecting them to morph into screaming skeletons, like they did in the Ghostbusters mew-vee. But they didn’t. Instead they vanished.
Except the momma ghost. She approached us, and walked through us as though we were invisible. I felt really really cold as she floated through me. As Dori widdled on the Oriental, I mumbled under my breath, “Goodbye my two quarters.”
Dori went back to reading her book while I followed the momma ghost—‘Gladys’ the Broom Lady had called her—into the dining room where a couple dozen ghosts were eating, drinking and smoking. I watched Gladys laugh and clink her glass of likker as she threaded her way through the room. Then she walked through the kitchen door.
I pushed the door open to see Gladys at the stove, frying ghost chicken in the greasy black pan. She then went to the cupboard that held the aging tins of potatoes, salmon, steak and kidney pudding and jars of pineapple. She unscrewed one of the jars, removed a packet, then screwed the lid back on and put the jar back in place. As the blue kettle began to steam, she sprinkled the packet contents over the chicken, added boiling water, and then…she vanished.
I returned to the front hall to find the party ghosts had also vanished, along with my little sisfur. “Dori!” I meowed. “Where are you?”
“Up here.” She appeared at the top of the staircase. “I can’t find her.”
I climbed the stairs to join her. “Who?”
I pointed to the room to the right of the stairs. “That’s her bedroom.” From where we stood in the hall the sour smell of perfume and cigarettes made my nose scrunch.
“No. That’s where her mama lived.” Dori scampered down the hall, past the bathroom and the office to the room at the end of the hall that served as a woman’s supersized closet. “See? The clothes are bigger. And they’re stinky, like her bedroom. Mrs. Thwockley was younger. Where is her stuff? I didn’t see anything on the third floor.”
“Stolen?” I wondered.
“Maybe. But I don’t think so. It’s like all trace of her has vanished.”
“Let’s go back up to the third floor. Maybe we missed something.” I didn’t really want to return to the third floor—that’s where I saw Old Man Throckley’s ghost—but I didn’t want Dori to think I was afraid. I had accepted payment from Blunden to rid his house of ghosts, and I didn’t want to return my two quarters…although that was still a possibility since Dori had barfed and widdled on his precious Oriental.
At the top of the stairs I expected to feel the winter cold I’d felt before when I saw Throckley’s ghost. But I didn’t. As Dori wandered into his bedroom with its wooden bed and dusty leather shoes, I remained in the hall. Something about this floor bothered me, aside from it being haunted, but I couldn’t put my paw on it.
I leaned against the handrail while I thought. I didn’t own a pipe like Sherlock Holmes, or smoke cigarettes like Sam Spade while they figured out clues, so instead I stroked my sensitive whiskers. They were tingling, very much the same way they did when my feline instincts told me my pawrents were taking me on a long car ride to visit Grammy in Michigan, as opposed to a short ride to visit Dr. Ellis at the vet clinic.
“Okay, what do we know for sure?” I meowed to Dori. “Broom Lady said she last saw Old Man Throckley in 1923. She said he didn’t look well. Pale and sweaty with drool on his chin, and he swallowed a lot. He also had a bad headache and his breath smelled like garlic.”
Dori emerged from Throckley’s bedroom. “He told her he was going out of town for a big business twip. She had asked him why he was telling her since he had lived across the street for years, but had never said hello until that day. Before he could answer, he ran back into the house looking sick. Bwoom Lady said he doubled over like he had cwamps.” She clapped a paw over her mouth, her eyes twinkling with glee. “You think he poo’d his shorts?”
“Don’t be heartless. He was sick!”
She shrugged, unconcerned. “Bwoom Lady said he was so mad about Mama Gladys dwinking likker and reawanging his furniture that he didn’t notice his young wife was carrying on with Gor-jus Geowge.”
“While Throckley was out of town on his business trip, Gladys, Christina and George opened all the window curtains, despite Throckley always keeping them closed. And then they threw a big party with guests drinking and smoking on the front lawn.”
Bwoom Lady had just gotten her baby to sleep—the Wonderpurr Betty who later in life would feed hungwy stway kitties—when she heard loud hammering and Betty woke up. She was going to throw a wock through Thwockley’s window when the hammering stopped. She said all the people at the pawty were gone.”
“And the window curtains were closed.”
Dori scratched an itch. “I don’t wanna do this anymore. Let’s go home.”
I stared at my sisfur. “Go home? Dori, we accepted money for doing this job. Two huge quarters! We can’t go home until we get rid of Blunden’s ghosts so he can sell this house and triple his investment.”
“I thought bustin’ ghosts would be funner, like in the mew-vees. I’m bored.”
I swallowed the growl I felt curling deep in my throat. “Well, I’m sorry you’re bored, but you got us this job and we’re going to finish it. I have no intention of giving Blunden back his money, so while I figure out how to get rid of these ghosts, I want you to go clean your grass barf off his Oriental.” Dori squinted at me: her usual look when threatening to give me a migraine. I pointed down the stairs. “Go!”
“You’re no fun either,” she growled, and turned to take the stairs when the air changed around us, from normal to cold. From below we heard the sound of music and laughter. “The ghost pawty has returned,” Dori whispurred. “Look!”
I gazed down the staircase to where I saw Throckey’s young wife, Christina, and her boyfriend, Gorgeous George, dancing up the stairs toward us. I felt the fur on the back of my neck bristle, and I growled.
“I can’t move!” Dori hissed. “My foots are fwozen.”
My foots were frozen, too. Together we watched as the ghost couple neared closer and closer, until they danced right through us. Numb with cold and fright, we watched them kiss. Then George twirled Christina in his arms and danced her through the solid wall.
Dori and I stared at the wall with shock. “Where did they go?” she whispurred.
“I don’t—” A scream cut me off. A shrill, horrible scream that came from behind the wall.
Then all was eerily silent.
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If you missed Part 1, click here.