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.