Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Case of the Lingering Cough

Watley and I were settled comfortably in the smoking room. I in my smoking jacket reclined elegantly in my smoking chair, while Watley in his smoking jacket perched somewhat less elegantly on his smoking chair.

"I -kof- say, Sleuthe," said Watley, speaking somewhat indistinctly around the stem of his pipe, "that was quite a nasty bit of the ol' grippe there, wot?" Watley punctuated his statement with a loud hacking noise.

"Indeed, indeed," I muttered as I lit the end of my cigar with my smoking match. "Nasty -kof- fever, unpleasant -kof- muscle pains, stuffed -kof- sinuses, painful -kof- throat. Then of course there's the cough."

"Indeed -hack-, the cough. How do you feel now, -kof- Sleuthe old boy?"

"Fine, just fine, fully recovered. Except of course for this -kof-kof- cough."

"It's been weeks. Wonder why the damned thing won't go away?" Watley tapped some ash into the smoking tray, sputtering.

"No idea, Watley ol' chap. It's a -kof- mystery indeed. Cigar?"

"Don't mind if I -hack- do."

Soon enough Watley and I each had a pipe, cigar, and a few cigarettes puffing along merrily.



Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Leak

Shouldn't the rain be on the outside of the house, not the inside?

The Case of the Unauthorized Casebook (cont'd)

Here the book ended. I slowly became aware of my slovenly state. How many hours had I been absorbed in these tales of derring-do and derring-don't? The stubble on my cheeks felt several days old to the touch of my fingers. I looked down and observed a distressing mixture of drool and filbert dust caking the collar of my dressing gown. My anger at Watley for painting me the fool in these tales was compounded by my anger at Watley for not writing more, and my anger for not informing me about this sure-fire money-making venture. I hastily calculated the royalties that Watley would be earning if he sold a dozen or fewer copies of the book. Then I doubled it. Then I tripled it. Then I wondered what the word was for fourtupling. Probably not 'fourtuple'. Oh, if only Watley were here, we could share an amused laugh at his ignorance of the correct word for 'fourtuple'. After which he would tell me the correct word.

There was nothing for it but to re-read the entire book. First, however, I would quiet that annoying closet door. I strode across the room, pulled open the door, and confronted the most unexpected sight that had ever befallen my eyes. "Why, hello, Watley old chap," I said, feigning the opposite of surprise. "I was just ... erm ... looking for some jam."

After several minutes of actually looking for some jam in the closet, I untied Watley and removed the gag from his mouth.

"I knew you'd come to my rescue," cried Watley, his voice cracking with what others might have mistaken for a burning thirst but I knew to be admiration.

Some time later, after we'd both had a spot of tea and a pipe, I confronted Watley about the casebook and its wild inaccuracies. "Why," I said, nearly chuckling at the ludicrousness of it, "to read this you'd think I was the buffoon and you the idiot, rather than the other way 'round!" I paused, feeling that I might have misspoken. "That is to say, you'd think I was the idiot and you the buffoon." I'd been called 'buffoon' often enough to have induced that it must denote a man of intelligence, good breeding, and hair, and I wasn't about to let Watley forget it.

"But Sleuthe," Watley protested. "Surely I needn't tell you what really happened, as no doubt you've already deduced it."

"Certainly," I replied, "but perhaps you'd best refresh your memory." I congratulated myself on this clever strategem for finding out what really happened. That's the kind of ploy they don't teach in detecting school, or wouldn't, if such a school existed, which it might for all I knew.

"Most kind of you, Sleuthe," mumbled Watley. "As you know, I was just about to knock on your door with a jar of filberts in one hand and a crock of jam in the other, when I realized that I'd have to put at least one of them down in order to successfully accomplish the knocking. At that point I went back up to my flat and put both down on the table, then returned to your door. As I was about to knock, I realized that I'd forgotten both the filberts and the jam."

"Naturally ..." I interjected, to let Watley know that I wished to give the impression that I already knew what he was going to say.

"Precisely, precisely. Naturally, I returned to my flat to collect the items. The moment I stepped inside the door, however, a ruffian attacked me. An editor, by the looks of him. 'I know ye,' he says, 'ye're thet frien' o' th' detector, th' one what solves awl them cases,' he continues to says."

"Sounds just like an editor," I commented, praising Watley's vocalizations.

"I remained silent, fearing for your safety. Then he tied me up, stuffed a gag in my mouth, and threw me in the closet. 'Now,' he says, 'yer'll tells me ev'rythin' what this detect've 'as done, and in all the best d'tail as wel', an 'if ye doon't, thar'll be troobl'.'

"I could tell this fellow meant business. 'Now st'rt t'lk'n,' he says, 'l'st all's wh't' l'ft 'r' 'postr'ph's.'"

"Good lord, Watley," I cried, "whatever did you do?" I paused, then realized my mistake. "I mean, What ever! Did ... you do!"

"Yes, precisely," said Watley, responding to my declarative tone of voice. "I had little choice, as you know. So I recited to him the facts of your most brilliant cases. And he wrote it all down. Only..."

"Yes, Watley?"

"He changed it all 'round, you see. He said it would sell better that way."

"Confounded editor!" I ventured a hypothesis: "So you dictated it all to him while bound and gagged?" Watley nodded. I went on: "And he wrote it all down, but changed it to make me look like less of a buffoon?" Watley paused, considered, then nodded again. I continued, my mind racing ahead of my mouth, intent on the solution. "He got your handwriting accurately, but not the content. And then ... and then ...." Here I paused, trembling at the inevitable conclusion. And yet, as is well known, once all—or some of—the logically possible outcomes have been eliminated, only the logically impossible outcome is left. "And then he left, carefully leaving the casebook behind."

"You've done it again, Sleuthe."

"Indeed I have. I call it ..." I paused for dramatic effect. "The Case of the Unauthorized Casebook!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Case the Fourth: The Case of the Pseudo-Cleft Chin

More! more! I must read more! This dashing detectivator and his brilliant schemes thrilled me to the core. I would be no match for this fictional doppleganger, I mused as I turned the page. A good thing he and I weren't mortal enemies! I chuckled at the thought, then coughed up some errant filbert dust. As it settled onto the pages before me, my eyeballs followed its drift, and began to read.


"Good Lord, Sleuthe," moaned Watley as he somewhat dejectedly pulled on his dressing gown. "Was it really necessary to knock me up at the outrageous hour of ..." Watley patted down the pockets of his robe, but not finding his pocket watch in evidence, left the sentence suspended incomplete. He glanced outside, where the chill, ashen sky betrayed only the merest glimmerings of dawn. "... of, of, of before dawn?" he concluded, not without petulance. Watley was an amiable fellow, though, and after a moment's thought his face brightened considerably.

"I say, Sleuthe, are we out on an adventure this morning?" Now anticipating the unparalleled excitement of another excursion with myself, the world's greatest living detective (not to mention third-place winner of the most recent annual Welsh All-Round filbert-eating contest), Watley shook off the last vestiges of his somnolent state, and set about attending to his wardrobe.

"Not quite, Watley," I muttered. The man was dense as a post. Any fool could see that I wasn't about to set off on a case in my Duke of Windsor slippers. "But I assure you, it was absolutely necessary to wake you at this hour. I'm short of marmalade, with breakfast not more than a few hours off. Be a good chap and fetch me a jar from the jammers' on Claxton Street, will you?"

As Watley headed down the stairs and out the front door, I padded back through the sitting room to my own chamber, eager to return to my bed. As I settled in for another few hours of precious sleep, I congratulated myself on yet another brilliant ploy. The jammers' wouldn't open their doors for another two hours, and Watley would be obliged to wait. The man's deafening snores would no longer trouble me as I slumbered. And my marmalade supply would be restocked in the bargain. "Two birds in the bush for the price of one stone in the hand!" I remarked happily to myself.

I was on the verge of falling into a deep repose when the lingering echo of my last brilliant thought snapped my powerful brain to attention. Something seemed not quite right.

"A stone in the hand is worth killing two birds for!" I announced.
"The early bush catches two stones for the price of one," I ventured.
"Leave no bird in the bush unturned," I essayed.
"Don't hatch your birds unless they've bushed," I surmised.
"A bush in the bird is worth tuppence," I concluded.

Confound it! Nearly three quarters of an hour had passed, and I was no closer to my sought-after sleepful state than when I'd started. It was becoming clear that unless I solved this, and solved it fast, there'd be no shut-eye at all for me this morning. This was quite possibly my most difficult case yet!

Throwing back the covers, I rose to a sitting position, and focused every last synapse of my renowned cogitating organ on the correct wording of the aphorism.

I could practically hear the hum emitted by my mighty instrument as the words slowly congealed like pectinated lumps of fruit within the marmalade jar of my skull. In a brilliant epiphany, I suddenly saw the whole sentence laid out before me, in all its complex glory. But as I prepared to pounce upon it, my reverie was disturbed by the clatter of footsteps rapidly ascending the stairway, and the sought-after sentence dispersed across the shadows of my mind like pipe smoke on an errant breeze.

"Confound it, Watley," I cried with agitation, "the jammers' can hardly have opened yet."

But it was not Watley. Had I not been concentrating all my mental energies on that dastardly riddle of an old saw, I would surely have deduced from the sound of the footfalls that they belonged instead to a stunningly beautiful tall young blonde named, most probably, Emma Hawtheshorne, or somesuch. Cursing my own brilliance, I rose quickly, fastening my robe about my person and combing back my dark, thick hair with a practiced hand. I strode into the sitting room, prepared to meet my pulchritudinous guest. The handle of the door turned, and without the slightest by-your-leave a burly male figure entered the room. I realized that the deduction I had failed to make was itself wrong in some particulars. This realization impressed me as being particularly accurate, for which I made a mental note to congratulate myself later.

Standing before me, breathing hard, was a strapping middle-aged fellow. His dress, neither refined nor vulgar, was disordered, apparently from his exertions. His green eyes were so lifeless with anxiety as to appear grey, matching the hue of the hoary flecks in his thinning hair. But it was his chin that was his most striking feature. Or, I should say, what was his most striking feature was his chin. Its dimple was enormous, nearly a half inch deep, and the bulbous ends thrust out steeply from that cleft valley. Indeed, his chin was so long that it seemed a very pendulum. The rest of his head bobbed and swung around behind it so that it seemed nearly beyond his control.

"Professor Sleuthe!" he cried in the coarse accent of the northern dockyards, aiming that monstrous projectile straight at me. Etiquette demanded that I inform him that my doctorate was only honorary, but I reasoned that given the dire circumstances, I should not trouble my guest with the details of my higher education. 'Still,' I couldn't help thinking with some indignation, 'Professor Wiggins had no right to discharge me from the College simply for accidently killing a man. Even if it was the dean.' I then reflected, with no small satisfaction, on Wiggins' discomfort when that very same college presented me with an honorary doctorate for my assistance in the Case of the Sideways Doughnut.

At this point my thoughts were arrested by a most puzzling question: Did the diploma read 'doughnut' or 'donut'? Surely the latter spelling would be considered insulting to my highly refined intelligence. Did they think I was unaware of the silent 'gh' and might mispronounce the word as 'doff-nut'? I had long ago corrected myself of that learnèd habit. And where was that diploma? For the life of me I couldn't remember where I had placed it. Just as I had resolved to set this question aside, I was struck square between the lobes by an even more inexplicable mystery. The meaning of 'dough' was clear enough, but what on God's green earth did 'nut' mean? In comparing the consistency and flavor of a doughnut with that of a filbert, few parallels were apparent. Ah, filberts, nectar of the gods! I headed back into my private chamber in search of a bowl of the tasty foodstuffs, when a loud voice stopped me in my tracks.

"Professor Sleuthe!" it cried, and I turned to see a man with the most enormous cleft chin I had ever seen, standing in my sitting room. He struck me as vaguely familiar. I cocked an eyebrow in what was sure to impress him as a look of alert inquiry.

"Time is short, and we've already wasted much of the morning," I admonished him. "I suggest you state your business, and be quick about it." I gestured him into a chair with my right hand, simultaneously using my left to discreetly scratch a devilish itch on my left buttock. I silently congratulated myself on this maneuver, and settled into the facing chair.

"My name," my visitor began in an urgent tone, "is Evan Horthefawn." I made a mental note of the name, in case it should prove important later. As yet I was at a loss to see what the nature of the case at hand was. I resolved to listen further, and see if the situation didn't achieve some sort of clarity. "Ye've noticed my chin I'm sure, Mr. Sleuthe, and ye've no doubt pondered its origins. An accident of birth, you may suppose, but I tell you 'tis not so." In point of fact I had not yet had the opportunity to consider all aspects of the chin before me, let alone the question of its provenance, and yet my guest showed remarkable perspicacity, for I would surely have been pondering that very question had my brain not been so consumed with all the other pressing issues of the day, such as that of the bird and bushes, the diploma and the doughnut. It suddenly occurred to me that 'doff-nut' would be a rather amusing pronunciation of the word, which had me somewhat inclined to chuckle, but with a prolonged application of my famed iron will I resettled my concentration upon the words of my visitor.

"... and, in short, that's why I need your help," he concluded. I decided I'd best stall for time while I came up with a plan to induce him to repeat his explanation, and the second time, I resolved, he would be hard-pressed to prevent me from listening all the way through.

"Quite, quite," I assured him, stalling with practiced expertise. He fixed an expectant gaze upon me. "Filbert?" I asked. He declined—fortunately, for there were no filberts at hand. At that moment Watley burst in the door. "Sleuthe, old boy," he announced with exuberance, "you'll never guess what flavor of marmalade I've brought back from the jammers'!" Then, seeing my guest, he speedily uttered an apology. "My good man, pardon my intrusion. Watley at your service." I motioned Watley to his chair, and quite pleased at my good fortune, said, "Mr. Horseshorn, if I might trouble you to repeat your tale for the benefit of my assistant Watley, I'm sure he would be much obliged."

"Very well," replied the man gravely. I was glad to see that Watley had pulled a notebook from his pocket. He was a right-meaning fellow, was Watley, but he had a brain like a leaky sieve. No, I thought, seeking a more appropriate metaphor: like two leaky sieves.

"... my chin was in fact normal at birth and throughout my youth," Mr. Forthelawn was saying. "How, you may suppose, did it come to acquire the configuration and proportion which ye now see before ye?"

My curiosity piqued, I obliged him by asking, "How did it come to acquire the configuration and proportion which I now see before me?" He looked at me, puzzled, and I hastily added, "... is what Watley was about to say, I'm sure."

"Yes," he continued, "well. I shall tell you. It was nearly thirteen years ago, on a sea voyage back from the colonies, that we found ourselves set upon by vicious pirates. In defending the honor of some of the female passengers, I regrettably took a knife thrust to the chin. The wound itself cut out a portion of my flesh, while the swelling raised the area around the wound. The formation of scar tissue resulted in permanent disfigurement. So you see, it is a cleft chin, yet not a cleft chin."

"What it is is a pseudo-cleft chin," offered Watley. It occurred to me that Watley was not the sharpest card in the deck, nor for that matter the brightest bird in the bush.

"A pseudo-cleft chin is what it is," replied Hoarsefrawn, nodding his agreement. With each bob of his head, his chin struck his upper chest with a dull thunk. This case seemed extremely difficult, I mused. I could hardly determine where to begin. I ticked off the facts in my brain. 'Chin'. tick. 'pirate'. tick. 'psuedo-cleft'. tick. 'doff-nut'. tick. It didn't add up. Gripped by despair, I was on the verge of declaring defeat for the first time in my long and most illustrious career.

My ruminations were interrupted by Watley's voice. "And what brings you here today, my good man?" he asked. The visitor replied: "That same pirate vowed, those many years ago, that he would some day give me a cleft skull to match my chin. And he has finally tracked me down. He has, in fact, been in hot pursuit all morning, and having heard of your reputation, Mr. Sleuthe,"—I here nodded in a kindly fashion at him—"I determined to seek your help and protection. It's a wonder that he didn't make his appearance here some quarter-hours ago."

At precisely this moment, there was a furious thumping outside. I heard the door slam and then rapid footsteps rushing up the stairs. 'Surely this time it's Watley,' I thought, pleased at the opportunity for my original conjecture of the morning to be proven correct in the end. But a quick glance at Watley, furiously scribbling in his notebook, led me to frame a new hypothesis. The door flew open. "Miss Emma Hawtheshorne, I presume!" I announced triumphantly.

Sometimes in the course of human history, an event occurs which is so unprecedented, so unheralded by both fact and circumstance, that it remains beyond the predictive powers of even the world's greatest living detective and his famous brain. Such was the case at this moment, for standing before us was, as shocking and incongruous as it may seem, a pirate. He stood in the doorway, legs planted firmly apart, his teeth set in an expression of rage. The morning sunlight streaming in through the window glinted off his unsheathed cuirass, which he held aloft in one hand. On his feet were some sort of boots, and he was, in terms of pants and upper garment, also dressed exactly as pirates do, most probably. Indeed, with his long black beard, he matched exactly the stereotypical impression of a pirate, except that there was no parrot perched upon his left shoulder.

"Which one of you is Horthefawn?" he roared. "Horthefawn!" croaked the parrot perched upon his right shoulder, in a taunting echo. Thinking quickly, I pointed at Horthefawn. Imagine my shock when I realized that both Horthefawn and Watley were pointing at me! Thinking even more quickly, I came to the conclusion that I should begin to back away slowly. If only I could flee into my chamber, or perhaps lift a heavy vase from the mantel to use as a cudgel! But was the mantel behind me? I now wished I had paid more attention to the layout of the flat. Then, seeing the mantel off to my left, I realized I was done for. My back touched the wall, and the villain, now holding his weapon in both hands above his head, advanced rapidly upon me. The last thing I saw over his shoulders were Watley on the one side and a parrot, obscuring my view, on the other. Then blackness.

By the time I came to, I had figured the whole thing out. My impressive brain, freed from the necessary but demanding task of processing sensory input, had concentrated all its prowess upon deductive—or was it 'inductive', I could never keep those two straight—reasoning. When the harsh, painful light of the world broke in upon my consciousness, I had all the answers. This man who had tried to kill me was evidently the pirate from Horfethawn's story. This explained not only his dress, but also his evident desire to kill Horfethawn. It all fit so cleanly I was almost surprised I hadn't figured it out earlier.

With a groan I rose to my feet, supported by Watley on one side and Horselawn on the other. My head was pounding. On the floor before me lay the villain himself, face down. Two small close-set pools of blood were oozing from a spot on his upper back just below the neck. The parrot was standing over him, weeping in the most pitiable way.

"It's elementary," I announced, when I had recovered somewhat from my swoon. "That man was trying to kill you, Shortfawn!"

"Sleuthe, you've done it again," announced Watley, his voice redolent with admiration. "Although if Horthefawn here hadn't nodded with quite as much vigor, I dare say we'd be proudly hailing you right now as the world's greatest not living detective." Hawthehorne clasped my shoulder in unabashed gratitude, somewhat more painfully than was strictly necessary I thought. Bits of cloth and blood were stuck to each tiny hillock of his chin.

"What you both are," said the man with the pseudo-cleft chin, "are foo..."

"...fabulous detectives, yes indeed," I said, kindly finishing his sentence for him. I was loathe to let the poor fellow embarrass himself through excessive praise, deserved as it might be. "Though I might remind you that Watley is merely my assistant, and deserves little credit." I felt quite certain that I'd read somewhere or other that the rules of etiquette demanded that I point this out.

When Hawthemorne had left, I pondered the problem of what to do with the loudly mourning parrot. Then, thinking quickly, I removed one of the villain's boots, stuffed the bird inside, and replaced it. The bird's weeping, heavily muffled, was now much more bearable. Then I dragged the pirate's body out the door and kicked it down the stairs. It came to rest on the landing below with a satisfying finality. Closing the door, I proposed to wipe my hands of the whole sordid affair.

"Breakfast, Watley?" I asked. He grunted in agreement. "Incidentally, old friend, what did you buy at the jammers'?"

Watley beamed. "What I bought was filbert marmalade."

I felt anticipatory pleasure suffusing my nervous system. "Watley," I said with affection, "what this marmalade is is a fitting end to what this case is is The Case of the Pseudo-cleft Chin."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Case the Third: The Case of the Missing Hat

Well, that one was pretty good. Perhaps I had written it? But no, there was no mistaking Watley's spidery handwriting. But then how to explain the first-person narration? Perhaps I had forged Watley's hand? Or—and here I shuddered with the apprehension of a concept both horrifyingly foul and devilishly clever—had Watley forged my mind, slipping me on like a dressing gown woven from a thread of "I"s and "me"s, with the occasional "myself" filigree?

All this talk about my dressing gown made me think, momentarily, about my dressing gown. Absent-mindedly sliding a hand into the pocket, I happily came upon a handful of old filberts. Popping them into my mouth, I eagerly flipped the page, and read on.


It was an exceptionally fine Tuesday morning, and I was relaxing in my favorite armchair by the window, enjoying the crisp autumn breeze and a handful of roasted filberts. Although my body appeared relaxed, my brain, which housed the brilliant mind of the world's greatest living detective, was hard at work. I was trying to remember if I had scheduled a 9:30 appointment.

Just as I was really getting going on the problem, however, my ruminations were interrupted by a lively knock on the parlor door. A small figure burst in, clothed from head to foot in herringbone. "My dear Sleuthe!" he cried around the pipestem clenched firmly between his teeth, and his small eyes beamed excitedly behind his round wire-rimmed spectacles.

It was my upstairs neighbor, sometime assistant, and ardent admirer Watley. He was a decent enough chap, but he could be a bit dense at times. "'Morning, Watley," I said, with feigned joviality. I was only too well aware that my chances of sneaking a morning nap had just gone up in smoke. To be quite honest, Watley was often downright annoying, but on the other hand he was affianced to the daughter of the man who owned the largest filbert-packaging plant in all of Wales. Sure enough, I noted that in his right hand he carried a sealed glass jar which was practically chock full of the tasty round nuggets.

"Set those down on the endtable, my good man," I told him, and waved him over to the small high-backed chair on my left. "You're just in time for my 9:30 appointment. Stay and observe, Watley. You may yet learn a thing or two." Watley's eyes lit with excitement as he settled his frame into the chair. "Is it a case, Sleuthe?" he inquired eagerly. "Yes," I replied gravely. "I expect so. I call it ... The Case of the 9:30 Appointment".

"Quite so, quite so," mumbled Watley, taking a few rapid puffs on his pipe. At that very moment a tall, slightly handsome young man strode confidently into the room through the open doorway, set his cane by the door, then doffed his greatcoat and hung it upon the coatrack which I had cleverly provided for that very purpose. "Mr. Sleuthe," he said by way of greeting, bowing slightly toward me, and then settled himself in the chair opposite from mine. Instantly my renowned powers of observation and deduction were at the ready.

"Allow me to introduce myself," my guest said. "I am ..."

I interrupted him. "You," I intoned, "are Lord Peter Whipfish". An audible gasp of admiration was heard, and with some embarrassment I realized it had emanated from myself. I went on. "You reside at 27 Hampton Court. You are a collector of fine Egyptian tableware and I dare say a connoisseur of Welsh wines. You appear to be unmarried and have no pets larger than a goldfish. And," I paused, for dramatic affect, "you are here because someone has stolen your hat!"

"Bravo!" cried a voice. I scanned my short-term memory to determine if, once again, it was myself who had cried out in admiration, but with relief I noticed that Watley had risen to his feet and was shaking his head in awe and disbelief. "Brilliant!" he cried. "How do you do it, Sleuthe old boy?"

My guest, Lord Peter, smiled indulgently. "Well, Mr. Sleuthe, I am pleased to see that you remember the details of our last meeting so clearly. I had been attempting to introduce myself to your companion here."

I coughed twice to cover my embarrassment, then a third time. It seemed to work, since I observed with a quick sidelong glance that Watley was now fast asleep in his chair. His pipe had fallen impotently upon my new fire-retardant rug. "Now, as for your missing hat," I shouted, straining to be heard over the deafening snoring noises which filled the room. Then I coughed some more, to stall for time. The truth was, you see, that I had no idea where the fellow's hat was, or who had stolen it. Unless ... unless it had been Watley all along! I stole another sidelong glance at him, and after several moments of keen observation determined that he was not, in fact, wearing a hat. Yet another dead lead. But at least now I had a story to tell my client. "Lord Peter, I have been following several leads, but they have led nowhere I'm afraid. Of course, in a case as intricate as this one, it may take a detective of even my impressive intellectual prowess several weeks to make any headway."

To test the agility of my brain, I quickly and silently spelled out the word "prowess", first forward, then backward. I then concentrated on the question of whether or not the word is a palindrome, and concluded with astonishing speed that it is not, despite the presence of a double 's'. Thus reassured of my brilliance, I focused again on my guest. He appeared quite agitated. "Mr. Sleuthe, thank goodness you've come round! You've been gazing into the distance for the last five minutes, softly whistling. I thought something terrible had happened."

I snagged a handful of filberts, and chewed on them with determination. To my astonishment, my guest was still speaking.

"What I've been trying to say, Mr. Sleuthe, is that my hat wasn't stolen at all. I'd simply misplaced it. In fact, it's been here atop your coat rack all week. I must have left it here after my last visit. I can't see how you failed to notice it."

I chewed noisily on my filberts. My guest rose, donned his hat and coat, and moved toward the door. "Well, see you next week," he called cheerily, then he was gone. I was about to wake Watley when we were both startled by a loud cry from outside. It was Lord Peter's voice, carried back to us on the autumn breeze as his carriage sped away. "Good God, my cane's been stolen!"

Watley rose to his feet. "Another case for you, Sleuthe!" he announced enthusiastically. "Might I suggest ... The Case of the Missing Cane?"

"Excellent choice, Watley. But it will have to wait. I'm a busy man, you know."

"Indeed. You are, after all, the world's greatest living detective." As he turned to leave I drew his attention to the cane propped up by the doorway. "I say, is that yours, Watley?"

"I've never seen it before in my life," he answered. I assured him that neither had I, and he departed. I tried to focus my weary brain on the provenance of the mysterious cane, but there was no solving the problem. So instead I directed my attention toward a well-deserved and long overdue morning nap.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Case the Second: The Case of the Flaming Curtains

Upon reaching the end of the first chapter, I slammed the book closed in dismay, and hurled it across the room at the closet door. It struck the door with a loud thud, fell to the ground with a second loud thud, and sat there on the ground with a third, fourth, and fifth loud thud. This seemed odd. It took a tremendous effort of my notoriously puissant will power to avoid thinking about it further, and concentrate on the matter at hand.

What was Watley's game? This "tale" he had "written" was a deceitful goulash of lies, half-lies, quarter-lies, eighth-lies, and whatever-half-of-an-eighth-is-lies. I resolved to do the division later, when I had more time and a slide rule. Why, according to the "story", Watley wasn't even present during the case! How could he have written it all down, every last damnable truthful word of it? The odd thing is, I remember him sitting there in the corner of the room while Miss Winston jabbered away at me, furiously scribbling in a leather-bound notebook. Perhaps if he'd been paying attention instead of whatever it was he as doing with that pen and book, he would have gotten some of his facts straight. I resolved to tell Watley as much, next time I saw him—unless, of course, he were already dead—and with even more scare quotes. If only there were some mechanism by which I might record the resolution, freeing my highly reliable remembering capability from the burden. Perhaps then I could devote more energy to recalling where I'd stashed my filberts.

Here I spied the book, lying by the foot of the closet door, mysteriously thumping. With a flash of insight the likes of which have made me block-renowned for my mental acuity, I resolved to note down my resolution, using writing, in the book, where it would be available to me at any future time. That is, assuming that I resolved to look in the book. But how might I record a reminder to do so? Here I leapt to my feet, avoiding a Charybdis of infinite mental recursion with only long minutes to spare, and crossed the room in quick, long strides redolent with determination. As I picked up the book, I noted with annoyance that the thumping seemed to be coming from within the adjacent closet. Confound Watley and his noisy closets!

Settling back into the chair, I flipped open the book. Whatever my intentions had been, they were immediately displaced by my astonishment upon seeing another chapter heading, and I began to read "The Case of the Flaming Curtains" ...


She swept into the room like a woman who is accustomed to knowing where she is going and why. Below an elegant hat and above a stunning black silk dress hung a face of delicately delineated beauty. I observed her flushed cheeks and slightly agitated breathing from my seat in the corner of the walk-up flat. I could tell she was worried about something.

"Mr. Sleuthe!" She shot the words out, fixing me with a penetrating stare. Hazel eyes. "I'm extremely worried."

"So I gathered. Take a seat, Miss Athershaughm. Tell me everything, from the beginning."

She sat down in the chair facing mine, and peered at me over her impossibly long nose. I felt the blood beginning to race through my temples. Hazel eyes. I took a handful of filberts from the bowl on the table beside my chair, and tossed a few into my mouth to hide my momentary discomfort. The oil from the nuts mixed imperfectly with my saliva, generating a slight irritation. I felt myself about to cough, and put my pipe to my lips in order to forestall it. Injudiciously, I inhaled deeply just at the moment I was swallowing the filberts, and suddenly my windpipe was blocked. Rather than let my lovely guest observe the discoloration of my face and the bulging of my eyes that would surely result, I thought to stand and turn my back to her, as if gazing out the window in solemn reflection. As I arose, however, the lack of oxygen reaching my brain induced a certain clumsiness of movement. My chair flew over backwards behind me, and when I flung my arm forward to regain my balance, my pipe shot sailing through the air, setting the curtains alight.

As I struggled, sputtering, to disentangle myself from the fallen chair, I stole a discreet glance at my guest. Fortunately the crackling flames, which had now completely engulfed the curtains and were beginning to lick hungrily at the edges of the wallpaper, had completely arrested her attention. I took the opportunity to snag another handful of filberts. Reflected flame had gilded her hazel eyes with a sunset glow. Quickly brushing myself off, I stood and summoned up my most assured tone of voice. "Miss Athershaughm! Outside, quickly! I'll follow." The urgent calm of my commands evidently pierced her veil of terror. She leaped up from her chair, and turned towards the door. In a flash I was past her, hurtling down the stairs to the landing as fast my long legs could carry me. Apparently my momentary clumsiness had not left me; I tripped on one of the lower steps, and saw the world spinning crazily around me. There was a crushing blow. Slightly stunned, I found myself flat on my back gazing up at the ceiling chandelier swaying gently above the staircase. A black apparition appeared over the stairs, a tumbling mass of silk, and spiraled down toward me. I deduced that Miss Athershaughm had tripped on the stairs as well. Two pools of hazel consumed my field of vision; then all was black.

* * *

A slightly sour filberty flavor penetrated the mist first. My mouth was dry; I had probably eaten too many nuts. A ringing filled my ears. Gradually the ringing sharpened, coalesced and took form. It had become more of a shrieking. "Mr. Sleuthe! Mr. Sleuthe! Wake up!" Despite the edge of panic in the voice, I recognized the warm brown undertone. Was it chocolate? Not quite. With an intense effort of will, I hauled up my eyelids. They creaked and groaned like an old drawgate.

It was her. When she saw that I was not dead, the lines of her face softened and her voice lost its strident edge. "Oh, Mr. Sleuthe, thank heaven!"

"Call me Lance," I offered generously, and then grimaced, as if the effort had been painful.

"Lance. How can I ever thank you?"

My mind raced. Those enticing hazel eyes .... I was trying to frame my reply delicately. Too late, I realized her query was merely rhetorical. She was already well into her next sentence.

"... you truly are the world's greatest deductive genius! Those flaming curtains were exactly the stimulus needed to bring my old repressed childhood memories alive again! I can see it all now ... the drafty library in the castle of my father, the Duke of Haughey-Upon-Howghey; the great wall hangings rippling languorously as the flames consumed them and cast burning billowy pieces off to float gently to the floor. And outside, scurrying across the lawn, the subhuman figure of the man who killed my father! As I stared into the flames, I lived again that moment, and for the first time clearly saw the face of the man who has brought my life to this sorry and ignoble state. And who, who should it be? No other than ..."

I had stopped listening. The logical sequence of events was too complex for me to follow, so I took instead to speculating on whether any other portions of her body might possibly match the warm dark color of her hazel eyes. I closed my own eyes again, and allowed the monotonous drone of her smooth brown voice to wash over my weary brain.

When I awoke, she was gone. Vanished. I could think of no way to track her down. After all, I knew nothing about her other than her name and physical appearance. Oh yes, and the name of her father and location of her ancestral home. Also, of course, I had taken her phone number when she first called to make an appointment. But these meager facts were all I had to go on, and they could lead nowhere as far as I could see.

That night I went through three jars of filbert nuts, but still had trouble falling asleep. Sometimes it's no picnic being the world's greatest living detective.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Case the First: Lance Sleuthe, Detective

"At last!" cried Lance Sleuthe, brilliant but currently unemployed private detective. "At last, a case!" He had been searching for the right briefcase for months now, and had at last tracked it down. Later, he relaxed in his parlor after returning home with his new purchase.

Suddenly, his bell was rung. Brrrring, brrrring, brrrring.

"Come in," called Sleuthe, expecting it was Mr. Barnes, the deaf telephone operator who lived in the upstairs rooms. To his surprise, the door opened. A tall, thinly veiled woman dressed in black entered the room. "Am I addressing Mr. Lance Sleuthe?" she queried in a soft, low voice. The detective put down his briefcase, picked up his pipe, lit it, and nodded slowly. His keen eyes and razor-sharp mind, as quick as ball bearings on ice, were constantly evaluating the most minute details before him.

The woman continued. "My name..."

"Your name," suavely interrupted Sleuthe, "is Priscilla Winston."

The woman gasped. "Why yes, but how did you..."

"Never mind that. You are Priscilla Winston, daughter of the late Duke Neville Winston. You are thirty-seven years of age. You have come, no doubt, concerning your parrot."

"Why, Mr. Sleuthe, that's absolutely remark..."

"You have never been married; you own, besides your parrot, two goldfish and a French poodle, you enjoy ginseng tea and your slip is showing."

The woman blushed as she bent down to attend to this last detail. Sleuthe blew a few smoke rings and mentally congratulated himself. 'Sleuthe, old boy,' he thought, 'you are truly a deductive genius.'

"Well, Mr. Sleuthe," announced Miss Winston after fixing her skirts, "I'm impressed that you remember our conversation of last week so well."

"Yes, yes, never mind all that," stated Sleuthe briskly. "Are there any further developments?"

"Indeed there are." Miss Winston seated herself, quite accidently doing so on Sleuthe's heroin needle. He was always leaving it lying around. 'That deaf fellow can't see it anyway,' he would reason to himself.

"My parrot, I'm afraid, has absconded with my funds again," began Miss Winston. Instantly, Sleuthe's mind was churning like a vat of butter. He analyzed the incident from every angle imaginable. 'Parrot,' he thought. 'Funds.'

"He's made off with over 600,000 pounds, all in hard cash." Sleuthe, considering his current financial status, toyed with the idea of a career change. 'Absconding funds is much more profitable than being an impoverished private detective,' he thought.

"I don't know who to turn to this time," sobbed Miss Winston. "The police are no help. They've already told me that there's no mention of parrots anywhere in the criminal code and ...sniff... I'm at my wits' end."

"Very well," announced Sleuthe, "I will take the case." Picking up his briefcase, he dramatically flipped the metal catch. The case sprung open, revealing a somewhat worse-for-wear parrot. "Here is your parrot," said Sleuthe. "I picked him up this morning after anticipating your arrival here today. I regret to tell you, however, that the £600,000 has already been spent on gourmet bird food."

"No matter," said the woman as she stood up. She held the parrot in a throttling grip. "I can at least bring the miserable creature to justice. Now, as to your fee..."

"No fee," Sleuthe shot back. The woman raised an eyebrow. "The puzzling solution to the case is a reward in itself," he explained. The woman in black nodded, and a moment later was gone. Sleuthe, the world's greatest living detective, eased back in his chair and re-counted the large sum of money in his briefcase. 'Six hundred thousand pounds,' he thought, his mind whirling like so much confetti on a windy day. 'That should support my secret drug habit for...' Suddenly, his bell was rung.

"Come in," he called. He was satisfied to hear several seconds of silence, followed by a slow shuffle of footsteps up the outside stair . 'I knew it was that deaf fellow,' he thought, congratulating himself once again on yet another brilliant deduction. He settled back into his chair and closed the briefcase.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Case of the Unauthorized Casebook

It's quite unusual for a Saturday morning to creep past 9:30 o'clock without a cheerful rap on the door from old reliable Watley, a jar of filberts in one hand, a crock of jam in the other, the morning paper in the first, and a second crock of another type of jam also in the first. The rap on the door is usually followed by a series of loud bangs and crashes, after the which at least we still have our morning paper to peruse in silent but jovial fellowship.

This particular morning, however, was neither typical nor usual. Indeed, I could scarcely wake myself from my torpor--induced by excessive quantities of induction the previous evening--until I had stepped into the hallway and given myself a loud rap on the head. Once it had cleared, the possibilities that Watley had been abducted, drafted into the Crimean Irregulars, or forced against his will into an ill-advised marriage with a Boheman arch-duchess occurred to me, not necessarily in that order. A momentary panic gripped me, until it was dispelled by a momentary brilliant solution that had somehow injected itself into my feverish brain. I must locate a private detectator. Only someone of brilliant acumen, fearless character, sound fortitude, repetitive diction, and courageous disposition, not to mention all of the above, could meet the challenge. But where to find such a person? One could hardly look up "private detectant" in the locally distributed volume of the Amber Sheaves. The very idea was so ludicrous that I guffawed loudly.

"I say, Sleuthe," said a voice at my elbow. "What's so funny?"

"Funny!" I cried indignantly. "How dare you make light of Watley's tragic disappearance!" Whirling about unexpectedly, I connected one of my enraged fists with one of the impudent chins of the speaker, who collapsed in a heap upon the floor of the landing.

"Good Lord," I cried, most likely aloud. "What have I done! It's Watley!" Clenching my fist lest Watley make another callous remark about his disappearance, I kneeled at his side. Immediately I saw my error. In my grief and rage, my over-heated brain had hallucinated Watley's appearance. This groaning supine figure was simply the landlady, who so far as I was aware was not missing, nor in harm's way. Lest her presence distract me from my cogitation, I sent her flying down the stairs toward her flat with a swift kick.

Moments later I was inside my flat, flipping through the pages of the Amber Sheaves, chuckling at my own genius. Why, the idea was so ludicrous that nobody--least of all Watley's nefarious enemies--would ever have predicted that I would engage in such behaviour. I was already ahead of the game, for I had the element of surprise in my favor.

Within mere moments after reading the first name listed under the "Private Detectivator" heading, I recognized it as my own. It was all coming back to me now: the Amber Sheaves salesman at the door, our fierce disagreement over the spelling and pronunciating of certain nouns and proper nouns, the signed contract, the additional disputation, the clinking of empty gin bottles as they and we rolled happily about on the carpeted floor.

Very well then. If I was to take the case, I would charge an exorbitant fee. And in exchange, I would seek out clues, assemble them into an incoherent picture, and then present them to Watley, who would no doubt provide the crucial insight that my brilliant mind would ingeniously take credit for. But for that to happen, I would first have to locate Watley.

Every once in a while I am seized by an insight so insightful, so penetrating, that I surprise a man of even my own genius. That was not the case this time. Instead, I decided to search Watley's flat.

Remembering only moments after I had kicked the door down that I had a spare copy of Watley's key in my coat pocket, I congratulated myself on how quickly I had come to that realization. But this was no time for self-congratulation: after all, Watley was missing and my foot hurt considerably. I set about ransacking the flat, pulling open drawers, emptying the contents of cupboards, and so forth, in the search for clues.

"Wait, what's this!" I cried, as I pried open the drawer of Watley's beloved priceless antique secretary, severely damaging it in the process. Inside lay a dark red leather-bound draft-book, upon which was scrawled "The Adventures of Lance Sleuthe". I felt my lower jaw stay up with pride, my head continue in a non-rotating state with equanimity, and my knees remain unbuckled with a lack of distress. Then my eyes fell upon the next line: "Copyright Watley, all rights, royalties, profits, praise, and acknowledgment exclusively reserved". I felt my jaw slacken, my head spin, and my knees buckle. The entire room danced feverishly before my eyes, at least until I stopped dancing feverishly in the middle of the room.

My heart pounding, I cracked open the volume. Watley's childish handwriting splayed across the pages, the dark blue ink tendriling into spider webs across the uneven brownish-white surface of the paper.

"CONTENTS of CASES" I read on the first page.

"Case the First: Lance Sleuthe, Detective"
"Case the Second: The Case of the Flaming Curtains"
"Case the Third: The Case of the Missing Hat"
"Case the Fourth: The Case of the Pseudo-Cleft Chin"
"Case the Fifth: The Case of the Chinese Character"

Carrying the tome to the other side of the room, I settled into the one armchair that had not been rendered unsittable by my relentless search for clues, and began to read ....