A study in maroon and orange
December 7, 2021
Legendary feline detective Furlock Holmes unravels a mystery at the veterinary college
Published in Tracks Magazine, fall/winter 2021
I have come to learn in my years as aide-de-camp to Furlock Holmes, that most renowned of feline detectives, that a knock on the door at midnight usually bodes ill.
I, as was my habit of a winter’s evening, lay curled upon a cushion in front of the fire, gnawing at a braided strip of rawhide. Furlock, lacking a suitable occupation for his capacious mental endowments, had consoled himself with a snoot full of catnip and now reclined languidly upon the windowsill, his faculties possessed by that powerful intoxicant.
“Watson,” he called, shaking off the influence of the catnip. He sprang up from his sentry post, alert, his tail aloft. “A vehicle approaches.”
A heavy tread fell upon the stairs, followed a moment later by an insistent knock.
“Enter,” Furlock called, bounding from the windowsill to the top of his cat tower. His ice blue eyes were keen as he took stock of our visitor. “Welcome, Dean Givens,” he purred. “Please take a seat by the fire.”
“How did you know who I am?” the dean sputtered, occupying his place upon the chair we reserve for our human clientele.
“Deduction.” Furlock inclined his delicate, triangular head toward the window. “You arrived in a well-used truck with Alabama license plates — the trappings of someone accustomed to farm life recently arrived in Virginia — and yet, your well-tailored clothes indicate that you hold a superior station. The maroon and orange of your tie provided the final clue. It’s an objectionable color combination, favored only by the denizens of a certain locale within the New River Valley of Virginia. Pray, tell us what brings you here at this late hour.”
The dean’s eyes flitted to my dog bed. “Is he ... ?”
I dropped the rawhide from my mouth, concealing it under my paws.
“Anything you can say to me, you can say to my companion,” Furlock interrupted. “I assure you that he is a hound of the greatest judiciousness.”
“I have a matter of considerable delicacy and seriousness to discuss with you,” the dean began. “I hope I can rely upon your discretion. You see, a valuable shipment of stethoscopes has gone missing.”
The dean proceeded to describe a most extraordinary chain of events. The veterinary college had recently established a new program, employing dogs from area shelters to assist in the teaching of the veterinary students. On the very eve of the introduction of this new program, the stethoscope of every student in the program had vanished, as if into thin air. Extensive police investigations had turned up neither evidence nor suspects.
“Pray, tell me, Dean. In what manner do these dogs assist the students? Do they teach?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” the dean replied.
“Do they hold doctorate of philosophy degrees, as does my companion, Dogtor Watson?” Furlock asked.
“No,” replied the dean. “In fact, it’s quite rare for dogs to capitulate to involvement in graduation ceremonies. Dogtor Watson and the late, esteemed psychotherapist Moose Davis, Ph.D., are some of the very few canine scholars to do so.”
I admit that my tail wagged of its own accord upon hearing myself mentioned alongside such revered company.
“The dogs in our program,” continued the dean, “participate in teaching by serving as models for our students to learn skills and procedures, such as examinations and safe handling techniques. The program is set to begin in two days’ time, but without their stethoscopes, the students will be powerless to perform complete cardiovascular and respiratory exams on the dogs.”
“I see,” Furlock said. “Most intriguing. If I’m not very much mistaken, I believe this to be the work of my vile nemesis, Professor Meowriority!”
The dean’s eyes widened in horrified surprise at the mention of the notorious cat burglar’s name.
Furlock leapt from his perch on the cat tower. “Come, Watson, the game is apaw!”
There could be no doubt that Dean Givens’ extraordinary account of a vanished shipment of stethoscopes had intrigued my companion, the renowned feline detective Furlock Holmes.
Calling upon us at our Baker Street accommodations late the previous evening, the dean had detailed a most vexing mystery. The veterinary college was set to inaugurate a new program, employing dogs from area shelters to assist in the teaching of veterinary students. The dogs were to be housed within the college for several weeks, serving as models to enable first-year students to conduct examinations, administer preventative medications, and perform basic clinical procedures. In return, the dogs would receive socialization training and health care to increase their adoptability.
The initiative, along with the fates of the students and their canine instructors, was now imperiled by the disappearance of the students’ stethoscopes. Despite extensive police investigations, neither evidence nor suspects had been uncovered.
Furlock had become convinced that the crime was the work of none other than his nemesis, the notorious cat burglar, Professor Meowriorty.
I’d awoken that morning to find a note upon the pewter salver that held my morning kibble.
“Watson,” it read, “I departed before dawn to begin forthwith my enquires into the matter of the missing stethoscopes. I would be most obliged if you would join me at your earliest convenience. Keep your wits about you. Meowriorty has dedicated himself to the perpetration of criminality of a most audacious nature and will stop at nothing to see his evil schemes succeed.”
After digesting the contents both of this sobering note and of my kibble bowl, I set out with no small degree of trepidation toward Blacksburg, Virginia. The reprehensible academician Professor Meowriorty, a Devon rex cat of middling age, was rumored to have a prodigious mind to match even that of Furlock Holmes. Meowriorty had shown astounding academic promise, having obtained a degree in physics with an original thesis exploring Schrödinger’s paradox of quantum superposition. A formidable foe, indeed.
I arrived at the veterinary college complex just before noon and padded down the long, graceful driveway, unsure of what I might find. A heavy frost clung to the grass, and the captivating scents of animals and people mingled on the breeze with drifting snowflakes.
Furlock, tail aloft, awaited me on a low wall in front of the school’s iconic Running Together bronze — a life-sized sculpture depicting the form of a young veterinary student, a horse, and a rather fetching spaniel.
Without preamble, Furlock launched into a recounting of his investigation thus far. “As you know, Watson, the thief’s method of ingress and egress from the college has been one of the most confounding aspects of this case.” His eyes lit up with the manic gleam they so often did when my feline friend had caught on to a promising lead.
I nodded, my long, brown ears flapping in the stiff wind. “The police have reviewed every moment of surveillance video and checked the locking mechanisms of each door and window. They found nothing suspicious,” I affirmed.
“I have here a small sample of Meowriorty’s fur,” Furlock said, removing a glass vial from within a hidden compartment of his cat-sized deerstalker hat. “This was obtained from the first-year classroom, from whence the stethoscopes disappeared. Might I ask you to undertake a little experiment? Inhale the aroma, circumnavigate the grounds, and report whether you can catch the scent.”
I did so at once. When I had thoroughly sniffed the entire perimeter and investigated each of the outbuildings, I returned to my companion and relayed my findings. “I was unable to detect Meowriorty’s scent.” I did not need to remind my friend that in addition to being a dogtor, I also had the distinction of being a bloodhound who had undergone extensive olfactory training whilst in the armed services. My bona fides and bone-n-hides were both impeccable.
“Quite so. This confirms my own findings. Unless we are to believe that our perpetrator has some supernatural ability, then reason must be our guide. If we cannot find the method by which Meowriorty left the veterinary college, the only logical conclusion is that he did not leave.”
I gasped. “But that would mean ... ”
“Indeed,” Furlock purred, finishing my thought. “That would mean that the criminal Meowriorty is still inside the building.”
* * *
Furlock summoned the dean to the first-year classroom, where we relayed our findings. As Furlock spoke, the mild-mannered dean’s look of astonishment grew.
“Impossible,” cried he, shaking his head. “How could Meowriorty be hiding under our very noses undetected?”
“Under your very noses,” Furlock mused. “A most apt turn of phrase.” He inclined his head toward me. “Watson, kindly indulge a little notion of mine. Please, let us repeat our experiment from earlier.” He again removed the sample of Meowriorty’s fur for me to sniff.
This time, I was able to pick up a scent trail immediately. I pursued the beckoning fragrance across the hallway to a large, strangely outfitted room. It contained all manner of unusual wares — gowns, gloves, anatomical models, bits of foam and suturing equipment. Laboratory tables were laden with realistic mannequins resembling live animals, down to such details as vein-like tubes in the leg of a dog model whose resemblance to my cousin, Sparky, was uncanny. In the center of the room stood a model of a full-sized cow.
“What is this place?” said I, lifting my nose from the floor and looking around in wonderment at the impressive array of veterinary paraphernalia.
“This is our clinical skills laboratory. We’re quite proud of it,” answered the dean. He patted the side of the model cow affectionately. “These realistic replicas allow our students to perform techniques as they would on a real animal, but without putting a live creature at risk or distressing it. For example, the top of this cow can be opened to insert a full-sized model calf so that the students can practice palpation techniques.”
Furlock had lingered in the doorway, seeming almost rudely disinterested in this fascinating room. Instead, he combed the area around the door with his keen, almond-shaped eyes. “Tell me, Watson,” he said. “What does your nose tell you?”
Nose to ground, I replied, “Meowriorty has been here recently.”
“Would you say his scent is strong?”
“Quite overpowering,” I replied.
“That’s hardly surprising,” Dean Givens responded. “We’re just across the hallway from the place the stethoscopes were stored before they went missing. Perhaps the villain passed this way.”
“Does this mean we have come to a dead end?” I asked Furlock.
“Far from it,” he replied. “Indeed, we are closer than ever to unraveling this mystery.” He turned to the dean. “Dean Givens, would you kindly lift the top of the cow model? Exercise caution, please, and tell us what you see.”
Although the dean appeared dubious, he did as instructed.
“By Jove!” the dean cried. “I can see the missing stethoscopes. They are nestled within the cavity of the model, coiled tightly like a den of vipers.”
As the dean reached inside to take hold of one, Furlock cried out, “Remain vigilant!”
Just then, an almighty hiss arose from the depths of the cow’s belly. The dean recoiled, flinging his arm protectively across his face.
For out of the replica cow sprang that fearsome Devon rex, Professor Meowriorty, teeth bared, claws extended, looking half-wild with fury.
“It is he!” I cried, as the criminal cat rushed past us in a violent frenzy.
“Come, Watson!” Furlock beckoned, giving chase.
Meowriorty proved a tireless athlete, leading us down long hallways, up and down stairwells, and through classrooms. More than once, we feared we’d lost him, but fortunately, I was able to catch his scent, and our pursuit resumed.
Little by little, we gained ground, until at last we cornered our quarry in the college’s Waterfall Room, a quiet study space adjacent to the library. The room was so named because of its defining architectural feature — a central stone wall that contained a free-flowing waterfall at its heart.
I blocked one entrance to the room while Furlock confronted the professor.
“The game is up,” said Furlock, his ice-blue eyes narrowing at his foe. “You are captured.”
Meowriorty stood in front of the gushing waterfall. His breath came quickly due to his recent exertions, but he seemed otherwise untroubled by his imminent apprehension. A bitter laugh escaped his lips, a nasty little noise that could have been mistaken for the hiss of a cobra.
“So it would seem,” he mused, with a twisted smile on his small, triangular mouth. “The great Furlock Holmes has bested me.”
Surprised that so vile a villain might go so gently, I seized upon the opportunity to discover the motive behind the crime. “Why have you perpetrated this theft? Why steal the stethoscopes?”
Meowriorty fixed a disdainful stare upon me. “I don’t make a habit of speaking to mere canines, but I do very much enjoy recounting my cunning exploits, so I shall make an exception.” He bathed his front paw with his long, pink tongue. “You see, I have managed my enterprise quite comfortably from within the capacious confines of the model cow for some months. When I got word of the impending arrival of the shelter dogs, however, I realized that something must be done to stop them. The last thing this establishment needs is more mongrels like yourself, sniffing around where their noses don’t belong.” He retched violently, bringing forth a gelatinous ball of hair and saliva as if the very mention of my species nauseated him.
“How dare you, sir!” I exclaimed, my ears pricking at the imputation. I took a step toward him, intending to demand an apology.
“Watson!” Furlock cried.
Before I was fully aware of what was occurring, a small door concealed behind the waterfall slid open. Into this hidden passage, the devious Devon rex disappeared as if by magic.
Furlock and I charged forward, but we were too late. The outlines of the door were barely visible, so cleverly had it been engineered. I pushed upon it with my paw, but it had locked fast behind the professor.
The dean strode into the Waterfall Room, panting with the effort of following our maneuvers as we had pursued Meowriorty throughout the building. “Where is the professor?” he asked. “Did I not just hear the sound of his voice?”
“We have achieved our mission in recovering the stethoscopes, but the perpetrator of the crime has escaped,” Furlock said. “It was imprudent to believe he could be captured with such ease.”
“I fear that this is not the last we will see of that depraved Devon rex,” said I, shaking my head so that my ears slapped gently against the sides of my face.
“Oh, indeed, it is assured, Watson! And next time we will be prepared. Meowriorty is the head of a far-reaching criminal syndicate. We have won the day, but only a fool would think this setback will stall his nefarious ambitions.” Furlock ran his claws along the door through which the despicable villain had disappeared. “I fear with our study in maroon and orange, we have only just scratched the surface.”