Virginia Tech®home

The Adventure of the Speckled Bandana

Professor Meowriority: Illustration by Steven White
Professor Meowriority: Illustration by Steven White

The legendary feline detective Furlock Holmes, unravels a veterinary mystery

In my time working alongside the renowned feline detective Furlock Holmes, I have witnessed no shortage of life’s oddities. Of the many strange and vexing cases involving my friend, however, few have made so strong an impression upon me as that relating to the planned expansion of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. For indeed, few mysteries have entailed a solution so fantastical as to seem not only improbable, but indeed quite impossible.

I awoke one April morning to the sound of insistent knocking upon the door of the suite of rooms Furlock and I shared. Furlock, like many his species, is not as a rule, an early riser, often prowling the neighborhood into the wee hours and retiring to his cat bed as the first rays of dawn pierced the sky. Thus, I was much surprised as I stretched my forelimbs and stirred from my sleeping place to find Furlock already ushering a much-agitated human visitor into the parlor.

“Pray, take a seat,” bid the inimitable Siamese sleuth. “I, as I’m sure you are aware, am Furlock Holmes. And may I introduce my colleague, Dogtor Watson.”

The visitor, a slim, intelligent-looking woman, shook my proffered paw and took a seat upon the chair we maintain for our homo sapiens clientele. She fidgeted nervously and then cleared her throat. “I’m not sure where to begin. I trust what I say will be kept in confidence?”

“Of course, Professor Larson,” Furlock replied.

The visitor and I regarded one another with mirror-image looks of astonishment.

“But how have you divined her identity, Holmes?” I gasped, giving my long ears a baffled shake.

“I have been expecting her,” Furlock said.

“We had no indication that we would be receiving a visitor,” said I, “and even if we had, how would you have known her identity or that she would arrive at this hour?”

“My knowledge of her identity, Watson, is but a feat of keen observation.” Furlock inclined his delicate, triangular head toward our visitor. “By our visitor’s pale visage and contracted pupils, I deduced that she must spend a great deal of time in darkened rooms. Most veterinary specialties require light for examining patients. The requirements of radiologists, who examine images on computer screens, are quite the opposite. Thereby I concluded that the woman before us must be Martha Moon Larson, illustrious professor of radiology.”

He groomed his paws with slow, methodical laps of his tongue and continued, “As for her coming here, her appearance at this hour and upon this day fell into a pattern that was so foreseeable as to be foreordained.” 

“Foreordained?” our astonished visitor sputtered. “But what can you mean? I only decided to seek your counsel this morning. Until just a few hours ago I had no need of it. How can you have known I would come when I myself did not know it?”

“I will endeavor to explain how I came to know of your coming, but first, you must relate the details of what befell you this morning. Pray, be as precise as you can,” Furlock replied.

Our visitor then launched into her extraordinary tale. “As you may know,” she began, “the veterinary teaching hospital has embarked upon an ambitious expansion, and has begun raising the significant sums of money that will be needed for that purpose. A total of $15 million is required.”

Furlock nodded, sitting back upon his haunches, his eyes closed in deep concentration.

“You see, yesterday evening,” Prof. Larson continued, “a very generous client, upon whose dog I performed an ultrasound, made a substantial donation to the teaching hospital construction fund. Her check was entrusted into my care. Since these events transpired after regular hours, I placed the check upon my desk, intending to deliver it to our Advancement Office first thing this morning.” She withdrew a maroon-colored triangle of fabric from her briefcase. Emblazoned on it was a speckled pattern of orange pawprints. “However, when I arrived this morning, the check had vanished and in its place was this.”

Furlock’s eyes flew open to examine the cloth. “It appears to be a bandana, of the sort a creature of the canine persuasion might wear to appear…” He paused, looking in my direction, “festive.”

I nodded. “Indeed, I myself have several.” I trotted to my sleeping place and used my mouth to extract a jaunty plaid neckerchief I used for weekends in the country and the snowflake-patterned neckwear I saved for Christmas.

Furlock Holmes: Illustration by Steven White
Furlock Holmes

“This is no ordinary pet bandana,” Prof. Larson continued, offering the cloth for closer inspection. “These bandanas were given out as part of the fundraising kick-off for the teaching hospital’s expansion. I can’t help but believe there is some meaning to this item, in particular, having been left in place of the stolen check.”

“I concur. We are not dealing with a random criminal act,” Furlock declared. “This is the work of a mastermind.”

“But surely there is a straightforward explanation,” I exclaimed dubiously. “An avaricious thief stole the money and left the bandana, either by mistake or to mislead us in some way.”

“That’s just it, though,” Prof. Larson said. “No one could have entered or exited my office. The door remained locked fast this morning, just as I’d left it.”

“It is a simple matter for thieves to pick locks,” I replied. “Or climb through windows.”

The professor shook her head. “I assure you that is absolutely impossible. The windows are fixed panes of glass. And as for coming in through the door, no one could have gained entry in that manner. As I left yesterday evening, a member of our housekeeping staff was waxing the floors in the hallway. She followed right behind me with the machine used for that purpose. This morning, the wax finish on the floor was perfect, disturbed only by my own footprints as I gained ingress.” She pressed her knuckles to her temples. “I have been over and over it in my mind. The crime is impossible.”

“I admit that the details are most vexing,” Furlock said. “And the crime does, on its face, seem impossible. As did the others.”

The others?” I asked.

“Yes. That is how I knew we would receive a visit from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. This crime falls into a pattern observed by my network of informants within the college. Each day this week, a check that was designated for the hospital construction fund has vanished from a secure location, as if by magic. None of the victims were aware of one another, and each seems to have ascribed the loss to their own carelessness.

“In one case,” Furlock continued, “the entrance to the room in question can be accessed only by swiping a key card. No such key swipe was recorded. In another, video cameras were trained upon all possible entrances. No one could be observed entering or leaving, and the cameras were not interfered with. In each case, nothing was disturbed, save the check, and in each case, a speckled bandana was left behind.”

“So our thief is unusually cunning,” I said.

“You call him a thief. In the strictest sense, you could define him thusly, for he does take what does not belong to him. But pure financial gain cannot be the motive. None of the checks was cashed. The disappearance of the checks was the goal, rather than the acquisition of the money.”

“How strange,” remarked Prof. Larson. “A thief who does not seek to enrich him or herself must be very rare.”

“Indeed, there is only one criminal I know of that could enact a series of crimes this ingenious. Watson, if you would be so kind as to sniff this…”

He held aloft the speckled bandana, and I inhaled deeply, sifting through the catalogue of scents stored in my memory. The offensive tang of felonious feline caused me to recoil in revulsion. I live by the hound’s code, greeting all scents with curiosity, rather than judgement. This scent, however, was made acrid to my delicately-tuned olfactory system by the malevolent nature of its source.

Looking at my face, Furlock nodded. “It is as I feared. This is the work of none other than our arch-nemesis, Professor Meowriarty.”

Furlock and I took our leave of Prof. Larson and hastened at once to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“You see, Watson,” he explained, as we padded along the corridor, “the floor of the intensive care ward is being refurbished this very day, which provides us the perfect means to entrap our diabolical feline foe.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Through my network of accomplices,” said he, “I have let it be known that another substantial donation check has been received, and will this night be kept on an examination table in the very center of the ward. The process of refurbishment is complex, with alternating layers of concrete, epoxy, and a special grit material to improve traction. The work must be done to precise specifications to meet the rigorous hygiene standards of the medical facility, and all patients have been temporarily relocated while this refurbishment occurs.”

By now, we had arrived at the exterior door of the intensive care ward. Furlock demonstrated how ingress to the windowless room could only be obtained through a secure door, which would only open using specially coded swipe cards.

“The final coat of epoxy will be applied to the top layer of grit this afternoon, rendering the room inaccessible. Anyone setting paw on this floor would leave a clear trail and would collect a considerable amount of the sticky substance on their fur,” Furlock explained.

“It is a well-laid trap…” I replied slowly.

Furlock regarded me with his penetrative blue-eyed gaze. “And yet there is doubt in your voice.”

“It is merely that Meowriarty has managed to surmount any number of such defenses. The freshly-waxed floor, the single-entry point, the video cameras—he has eluded them all.”

“That is why, Watson, there will be one last line of defense: the two of us. We will secrete ourselves inside one of the kennels within the ward prior to the final coat of epoxy being laid. Then we will lie in wait. Whatever transpires, we will be ready for it.”

Dogtor Watson: Illustration by Steven White
Dogtor Watson

The hour of midnight came and went. One o’clock and two passed with a similar lack of action. Outside the pitch-dark ward, the nighttime routines of the hospital continued. In our hiding place, Furlock and I lay perfectly still. My muscles grew increasingly stiff from the effort of remaining motionless, and my already saggy eyelids began to drop yet further from sheer exhaustion.

Suddenly, Furlock sprang open the door of our shared kennel, his claws unfurled, flying in all directions.

“Do you see it, Watson?” he yelled. “Do you?”

But in the darkness, a dog’s eyes are no match for a cat’s. Furlock struck the light, and the sudden glare into my weary eyes made it impossible to see why my friend had lashed out so savagely.

My vision adjusting to the light, I looked frantically about me. The room remained as empty as it had been at the start of our vigil. The coarse surface of the floor had not been disturbed. One thing had been, however—the check which we were to safeguard was missing. Instead, the table contained the thief’s calling card—a speckled bandana.

I regarded Furlock with a hangdog expression, which is to say, my natural expression. “No grit, Furlock! No grit has been disturbed, nor any of the epoxy.” Could it be that my friend had failed in his attempt to entrap the villain?

Just then, from directly over our heads came the faintest of sounds. Although the noise was the mere whisper of a footstep, it struck cold through my heart, and for a brief moment I stood gazing at Furlock, and he at me.

“Up, Watson, up!” Furlock gestured for me to leap across the still-wet floor and unto the examination table where the check had lain. “Make haste.”

I leapt from the kennel onto the tall table, and in the blink of an eye, Furlock sprang nimbly onto my back and from there upwards through a loose tile in the drop ceiling.

The thunderous din ensued from overhead. The sound swelled up louder—a caterwaul of intermingling pain and fear and anger. High-pitched shrieks were exchanged in a feline language I could not comprehend. The sounds of a ferocious battle emanated from the ceiling, and several of the tiles became dislodged. And then, all fell silent. Furlock’s head emerged, upside-down, from a gap where one of the fallen tiles had been. In his teeth, he clutched something, and holding it tightly, he alighted upon the table.

He dropped the object—an envelope—on the table in front of me, and began to lick a wound on his front paw.

“Furlock! Are you injured?” I asked, my instincts as a qualified dogtor coming to the forefront.

He waved away my concerns. “Only a scratch. The greater wound is to my pride for allowing this master of criminality, this conjuror of devilry, Meowriarty, to escape!” Furlock’s eyes grew bright. It was rare for him to find a foe capable of matching wits, and clearly he had found a worthy adversary in Meowriarty. “If only I could defeat him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit. Alas, another day.” He shook himself. “At least we have recovered the missing checks,” he said, tilting his head toward the envelope. “And the construction may proceed.”

I looked overhead. “So he was gaining access through the ceiling this entire time.”

“It is so,” he replied. “He used his feline agility to move easily in and out of spaces that, to the human brain, seemed impossible to traverse. It is most fortunate that I am a cat, and cats do not possess such a limited perception of what is and is not physically possible.”

“Were you able to discover anything of his motivation for these strange crimes?” I asked.

“I was, indeed. It seems that the hospital expansion will encompass a patch of grass that Meowriarty greatly prizes. He considers it his own territory and has marked it thusly.” He gave me a knowing look. “It is a motivation any one of our mammalian brethren can well understand, and yet any but the most fiendish among us would see that the expansion of the hospital must be accomplished in order to ensure the welfare of us all. Ut Paw-sim.”  

“Is that Pig Latin?” I asked.

“Cat Latin. It means that we must seek to serve others. When it suits us, of course. I am, after all, a cat.”