Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Entry: Mystery!

Thoreau and Poirot
By Karri Compton

Darkness descended on the fine suburban landscape as Saturday drew to a close. I flipped on the floodlights and peered out the back door’s window, searching my sprawling yard for the hundredth time. Nothing.

Fall leaves whirled and crackled as the wind relieved our poplars and maples of them, whipping them into a frenzied dance on the deck. I didn’t want to panic, but I tried in vain to push down the gurgling fear in my stomach. My cat Thoreau went outside every day, and sometimes he didn’t come home until dinner time. But it was nine o’clock and no Thoreau. Where could he be?

It was time I did something drastic. I had told an illustrious neighbor I would never take advantage of his celebrity status in order to solve a mystery, but tonight it was personal and I knew the rotund, eccentric man would be settled into his favorite chair, drinking an exotic drink, marveling at his neatly arranged bookshelves. Would George, his valet, allow me, the widow down the street, an audience with the once-famous detective? There was only one way to find out. And besides, anonymity and retirement are both overrated. I should know. I’ve experienced both.

I arrived and rang the bell, George appearing immediately to invite my entrance. He didn’t seem surprised that I had come.

“Monsieur Poirot has retired to the library. He’s not in the best of health nowadays, so you’ll state your business quickly, I presume?”

“Why yes, of course,” I answered. “So sorry to bother him, but it is quite important—at least to me.”

“Madame.” With a flourish of his hand he directed me to a large room crafted with dark wood. I detected the scent of wax and pomegranate. He’s not the only sleuth around here. George promptly left me alone with the icon.

“Madame Guerney, welcome. I take it you have need of my assistance. My weakness is the desire to show off, and I am afraid you will give me a chance to do just that. Pardon, I shall let you speak.”

After marveling at his thick accent, I explained that my beloved Thoreau was missing and how horrified I was. Of course, he could see that. He didn’t need to be a detective to ascertain that. “Please, sir, could you help me find my cat? I’m afraid something terrible may have happened.”

“Un chat. Mais bien sur. I do not believe there is cause for alarm.”

“But I’ve called him and searched the next few yards around my house and he’s nowhere to be found.” I told myself that Thoreau had probably chased a squirrel up a tree or some such nonsense. On second thought, Halloween was around the corner, and who knows what could happen to a black cat! I gulped—not visibly, I hoped.

“The new neighbors. The Valentino’s. Have you met them? Lovely people.”

I kicked myself, mentally jotting a reminder to take them cookies. “What do they have to do with Thoreau?”

“You see, Madame, they are Catholic.” He nonchalantly twirled his black moustache.

I’m Protestant. Who cares? “Yes? And?”

"The Valentino’s have a fish fry every Friday night. The bones of these fish are contained in their trash cans beside their garage. You will find Thoreau there, feasting on the remains.”

Kicking myself was becoming an all-too-often occurrence. “Amazing.” I’ll take you at your word and look there. Thank you so much, Monsieur Poirot. Truly, you have a gift.”

He gave me a satisfied and rather haughty look. “It is the brain, the little gray cells, on which one must rely. Bon soir, Madame.”

I exited his home, in awe of his powers of deduction. Would my fluffy baby really be all right? Had he just been pigging out on fish bones? I ran-walked as fast as I could to the Valentinos’ home, expecting any moment to spy bright yellow eyes belonging to a ten-pound ball of black fur.

A faint scraping-scratching sound emanated from around the corner of the house. I spied two trash cans—one knocked over and one upright with the lid still intact. The stench assaulted my nose. Torn open bags littered the sidewalk with wrappers, cans, fish bones and other debris. A muffled “meow” emerged from the second garbage bin.

“Thoreau?” I said, gingerly lifting the lid of the can, allowing a floodlight to illuminate it. There sat my now scraggly baby, in a menagerie of fish bones and burnt hush puppies.
Relief flooded me and I smiled. “Whew, you need a bath. Bad kitty.” My tone must’ve sounded brasher than I meant it, because Thoreau looked severely chastened. Having drawn Thoreau up out of the refuse, I grasped his collar to prevent a further escape.

Conscience pricked, I strode to the Valentino’s door and rang the bell. An olive-skinned lady in her 40’s opened the door. “Ms. Guerney?”

“Why, yes, how did you know?” Flabbergasted, I stared.

“We got a call from Mr. Poirot that you may be stopping by.” Her genuine smile lessened my embarrassment.

I stammered, “Oh. My cat turned over your garbage. I’ll be back right away to clean it up. I’m so sorry—it won’t happen again.”

“It’s not a problem.” She smiled the disarming smile again.

“Mr. Poirot is quite a gentleman, isn’t he?” I said as I turned to leave.

“He certainly is. I’m afraid we won’t have any secrets in this neighborhood.”

“I believe you’re right, Mrs. Valentino. I believe you’re right.”
Submitted by
Karri Compton

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