Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Case of the Oriental Fungus

"Good lord, Watley!" I cried, impressively suppressing any note of panic in my voice. "What in the world do you suppose this is?"

I had been poking with my cane at the accumulating mass of old newspapers and hypodermic needles in one of the danker corners of my study, hoping to find some coinage. It had been my intention to send Watley down to the jammers' to purchase a jar of their new hazelberry marmelade.

Watley looked up from his reading, then strode over to my side. I indicated a location with my extended index finger, and he bent over to peer at it. A smallish clump of light-brown matter appeared to be growing up out of one damp clod of disintegrating newspaper.

"I say," said Watley. Copying me again. Surely he knew that "I say" was one of my favorite expressions. "I've seen something similar once before, during the war. Growing between Private Furshoughm's toes, poor old punter. A most peculiar fungus."

Inexplicably, Watley pulled out a large pair of silver tweezers from his vest pocket, and gently plucked up a section of the fungus. He sniffed at it tentatively.

"Whatever happened to poor old Furshoughm?" I inquired, my voice bravely barely quavering.

"He made a fine meal of it," Watley replied.

I am loathe to admit that this is one case I have yet to crack. The difficulty, it seems, is that the evidence has been ingested. A lack of hazelberry marmalade can cloud the mind.

Should more of the mystery fungus appear in my study, I will call in one of my associates, a botanicalist who sailed on Dorwin's Bagel, to assist me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Case of the Gyroball

I was sitting in my study puzzling over a mysterious note that someone had apparently left for me on the floor in the corner of the room, upside down. The note read, cryptically "To Self: Expect the Do". [The forgetful reader may wish at this point to review The Case of the Newfangled Device.] There were at least two odd things that I noticed immediately about the note:

1) The author of the mysterious message was apparently under the misapprehension that my name was "Self". Using my brain, I deduced that this was a common Bavarian surname.

2) The message was written in a strangely familiar hand. Again making use of my brain, I induced that the author must be Watley.

Yet why would Watley, who had known me for years, mistake me for a Bavarian? And, even more apropos, what in the devil was a "Do"? Despite my inability to answer these questions, I resolved to expect the Do, as my mysterious benefactor (aka Watley) had warned. Unless, of course, he had foul play in mind.

Just then, the door flew open unexpectedly. And, even more unexpectedly, Watley entered the room.

"I say, Sleuthe," he announced. With lightning speed, I swallowed the enigmatic note, lest Watley become suspicious of my suspicions. Watley stared at me for a few seconds while I chewed and swallowed it, no doubt distracted by his failure to notice me chewing and swallowing the note. I began to congratulate myself on the quality of this clever ruse, but was interrupted by Watley.

"'I say', I said, Sleuthe," he said, in a confusing barrage of nested quotation marks. We then stared at each other for several seconds. I'm happy to report that Watley blinked first.

"Sleuthe," he said, striding farther into the room, "take a look at this." With a dramatic flourish, he tossed a news-paper onto the reading table. The name of the paper was "The Boston Intelligencer".

"It's from the colonies," explained Watley. "'Intelligencer' is not a word," he added.

"Now, now," I chastised. "You know as well as I that they are no longer colonies. They have their own king now."

"That's beside the point," Watley retorted, jabbing a thumb at the lower right corner of the paper. "Look here. According to this report, the local base-ball club has hired a bowler from the mysterious East. Apparently he bowls an inscrutable googly termed the 'gyroball'."

"That's astonishing, Watley. We must get to the bottom of this. How could the cricket association possibly permit a bowler to throw a Levantine sandwich? It would be practically un-batsable!"

"I'm afraid this might come as quite a shock," declared Watley solemnly. "Colonial base-ball is not cricket. Also, the gyroball is not a sandwich."

Now, Watley may have barely 7,456 times the mental power of a walrus, but if there's one thing he knows, it's his cricket. When he served with His Majesty's regulars in the Boer War, he was reputed to be the best all-rounder on the club.

"That's exactly what I meant to say," I chastised. "How many times do I have to remind you not to forget to insert 'not' in some of my sentences?"

This time I blinked first, but only because my adpositional monocle was dry.

"Look, Sleuthe," Watley continued. I polished my monocle with an air of aloof but intellectually engaged non-chalance. "It goes on to say that this bowler, or 'pitcher' as they call him, whose name is utterly unpronounceable, is thought to be the secret weapon that will finally enable the Boston Redstockings, for that is the name of this particular base-ball club, to achieve success against their hated rivals, the New York Highlanders."

"The Highlanders!" I cried. "Wasn't that the name of your regiment in the Crimean? Wasn't that the proud banner under which you received your war wound? Good lord, Watley, something must be done!"

Over the next few days my mouth engaged in a whirlwind of activity, ordering Watley to observe this and investigate that, pack this and for heaven's sake you idiot don't pack that, and also eating lunch. Over the following several days I engaged in a whirlwind of inactivity, having ordered Watley to order himself to observe this and investigate that, pack this and for heaven's sake you idiot don't pack that, and also to feed me lunch. That's the kind of stroke of brilliance that a man of my superior intelligence can come up with after several days of resting in a chair.

Several months later, we stepped off the boat at Boston Harbor. Disguised as revolutionaries, Watley and I made our way to the base-ball stadium. "Our diguises are working perfectly," I observed to Watley. "It's evident that no one knows that my name isn't 'Weirdo', which I believe is of Bavarian origin."

I need not describe in great detail how Watley and I ambushed the two men in masks, and took up our places behind the home pentagram. While Watley's legs served as the batsman's wickets (which had somehow gone missing), I stood behind him in order to observe the flight of the ball at close range. "Ah-ha!" I cried, raising my right arm in triumph as the first bowl ricocheted off Watley's head. For reasons that I am still puzzling over, this caused the assembled crowd of spectators to cheer wildly, even though I had not yet explained to them the series of deductions that had led to my astonishing conclusion. The batsman too stared at me in utter bewilderment and amazement, perhaps in awe of my prodigious mentalistic feat.

"Run, Sleuthe, run," cried Watley in alarm. He directed my attention to several pugilistically-minded fellows, dressed in pinstripes much like the batsman, running toward us across the grass. Thinking only of my companion, I hastily pushed him aside and made for the exits.

Several months later, I was sitting in my favorite chair, when the door unexpectedly flew open. It was Watley.

"Watley," I cried in alarm, "but you're supposed to be ... alive!"

"Yes, old sport," he replied. "Sorry I'm late. But there were the ticker-tape parades, the mayoral meeting, and the groupies to attend to."

He strode into the room, and threw a news-paper onto the reading table. "Look at the head-line," he announced proudly.

"Substitute Catcher Saves Game and Season" read the head-line. A smaller line of text under it appeared also to be a head-line, so I read it as well: "Had presence of mind to throw to first after called third strike ricocheted off his head in ninth inning." Below this, a slightly smaller line of text, which I presumed to be the sub-sub-head-line, read, "Redstockings end nine-year World's Series drought; first championship since 1903". The sub-sub-sub-head-line seemed to be several paragraphs long. "'I was afeared my dog Sparky wouldn't live to see a Redstockings championship in his lifetime,' crowed little Jimmy Williams, of Dorchester. 'Now he can die happy,' the boy added, striking at the dog viciously. Similar scenes of joy and mayhem were reported all over our fair city ...." it began, but I soon grew too distracted by my own distractions in my head to continue.

"Sleuthe," asked Watley, "I have been wondering -- what did you determine at that fateful moment? Did you unlock the secret of the gyroball's mysterious physics-defying properties?"

"Hardly, Watley," I replied. "Only a physician could do that. No, I achieved an even more impressive breakthrough. When that ball bounced off your head, I noted a tuft of hair was left disheveled. Don't you see, Watley? The 'Do'! It wasn't a 'Do' at all! It was a '"do'! I mean, a "'do"!" Confounded nested quotation marks! I batted at them with both hands, but only succeeded in making myself dizzy.

"Do you mean a 'do?" asked Watley.

"Precisely!" I proclaimed. "Colonial English for 'hairdo'. And 'hairdo'," I announced triumphantly, "derives from the Bavarian!" Out of consideration for Watley's fragile self-esteem, I neglected to add that he was notorious, to me, for lacking command of the apostrophe in his written notes, this one time. In short, it all fit together.

I slept better that night than I had in years.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Case of the Newfangled Device

The door flew open unexpectedly. I reminded myself once again that I should expect the door to fly open. Then it occurred to me that a handwritten note might be more effective. I was halfway through my message ("To Self: Expect the Do...") when, even more unexpectedly, Watley entered the room through the unexpectedly open door.

"Watley!" I cried, feigning casual disinterest. "Do come in old chap, I've been expecting you. I was just in the middle of writing down some, er, very important clues."

"My Dear Sleuthe", Watley enthused, "I've discovered the most amazing contraption. I found it in Inner Mongolistan, not long after you returned home unexpectedly early from our vacation due to your unfortunate medical situation." Before I could explain to Watley yet again how severe the toe stubbing was that had cut my trip short, he had gone back out into the hallway, and a moment later reappeared pulling behind him a cart upon which sat an alarmingly complex device. Its central element was a large carved box of fine stained mahogany, from which protruded on all sides a number of tubes, wires, and probosces in a profusion of lengths and colorations.

"Most interesting," I observed, peering at it through my magnification oculus.

"Yes," replied Watley, "it's a ..."

"You needn't tell me what it is, Watley," I interjected coldly. "To a man of my astonishing intellect, determining the provenance and function of such a device, even though it may not be known to civilized man, is child's play." Once Watley looked sufficiently abashed, I prodded him further: "Well, go on, what is it?"

"Yes, well, indeed. It is ... a Diachronical Videometric Regurgitatotron!"

"A DVR!" I cried. "I mean: That's what I thought. Ahem."

"You see, Sleuthe, you no longer need to worry about forgetting to keep annotated records of your favorite phonographical broadcasts or 'talkies'. All we have to do is hook the device up like so ..." Here Watley busied himself about the room, clamping wires and tying tubes, soldering and gluing, until my quarters had been reduced to a scene of utter chaos.

Watley slid open a hidden panel on the side of the box, pulled out a small dictating machine consisting of a number of metal keys incised with the letters of the alphabet and a number of other symbols, and began tapping away at them, explaining that he was instructing the machine to store an exact duplicate of every Gilbert & Sullivan musical extravaganza performed at the Savoy Theater over the next 35 years.

The machine sputtered to life, huffing and chuffing, shuddering and shaking. Small puffs of steam were noisily discharged from small openings at the top of the box, and sparks flew up and down the wires.

Moments later, the machine began vibrating violently, and within seconds it had shaken itself to bits. Watley looked quite distraught.

"My dear chap," I said, attempting to console him, "No matter! I have little fondness for Gilbert & Sullivan."

"But I paid that Inner Mongolistanian chap for six years of service in advance!" lamented Watley.

The door unexpectedly flew open once again, with Watley pulling on it. In a moment he was gone. I made a mental note to complete the handwritten note to myself about expecting the door to open unexpectedly. Or perhaps a handwritten note to that effect would be more effective ...

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Case of the New Magnetic Wonder

A mysterious yet catchy tune was playing. Determined to track it to its source, I discovered that Watley had once again been using my CD player without my permission. Or possibly it was someone else. I can't be bothered to figure these things out.

A carelessly discarded CD jacket revealed the name of the tunesmiths, as well as the title of their eponymous album, respectively "The Apples in Stereo" and "New Magnetic Wonder".

I have resolved this case by declaring the first track, "Can You Feel It?", to be the feel-good pop song of 2007.

Watley wishes me to add that "The vocoder hasn't been used so creatively in pop production since the heyday of Peter Frampton". Watley's a fool. Everyone knows that Frampton used a TalkBox.