Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Dead Cat

Dr. John Dolan
Dept of English
University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand

Deep South v.2. n.3. (Spring 1996)

Copyright (c) 1996 by Dr. John Dolan

Holmes and Watson are walking along Pleasant Hill Blvd, in Pleasant Hill, California. It's only May, but it's already hot and smoggy, and they're both sweating, Holmes too embarassed to take off that scratchy, hot deerstalking hat, and Watson puffing along, his celluloid collar choking his fat red throat and huge circles of sweat seeping through his hot stiff clothes. They're puffing up the hill to the Hillcrest Mini-mall when they pass a dead cat by the side of the road.

Watson, doggedly trying to do his sidekick job, asks Hilmes what he can tell about the cat and how it died. Holmes is in a rotten mood already, agonising over the possibility that some suburban video freak has gotten their undignified trudge on tape already. His forehead itches horribly where the cap chafes, but he can't ake it off because his hair is thinning, and he can't be seen to sweat, because he's Holmes, and besides, if he keeps it on, maybe they won't be able to prove it's him on the videotape on which, he knows in his secret miserable heart, some polo-short republican is even now recordinghis march up the hill, with the grasshopper whine buzzing in the dead yellow grass, looking down at the little spraypainted codes left by the water and gas people on the curb. No sidewalk. No public sector in those rightwing suburbs. That's whay the dead cat is in their path; no sidewalk.

Watson's question about the dead cat infuriates Holmes so much he feels sick, nauseous. The moral cowardice implied in settling for such a complete, unredeemed idiot for a sidekick echoes is evey syllable of Watson's question, the waste of his best years showing off to a fat fool and arm-wrestling with fatuous police officials, fixing his ethos in formaldehyde while the only life he will ever be granted dribbled away in stupid schoolyard displays of smarts and unconcern. A runnel of sweat goes into his eye, as if his body will cry for him, even if he won't. And why won't he? Because all that matters is keeping the stunted fetus which is his could-have-been soul, long since foreclosed by the past subjunctive, safely preserved, dozing in a crouch, in its bottle of formaldehyde, in the back cabinet where the maid never cleans, back on Baker Street.

And now Watson chirping this request for a theory, another, yet another theory on this dead orange-and-white cat -- it can't even have been a nice or attractive cat when it was alive --Watson, whose vaudeville role is so simple even a dog, a nice Newfoundland, could do it better -- Watson woofs now, in this head, for that run-over cat? Is this stupidity -- or malice? That's the question.

It's a dead cat; it's been run over by a car; there are flies on it; it's hot, and this patch of asphalt has no name, no history, will never matter to anayone, never be chockablock, hansom cab, fog, colourful, history -- none of that, ever. No clever answers, no way to show off, just a dead cat in the heat, in the smog, in the suburbs.

The worst thug in London is a baby beside this place. The worst thug in London would faint in this place. It's just a cat, it's dead. But he won't give Watson the satifaction. He keeps walking, hearing the laughter of every well-pleased insect humming in the dead hot yellow grass. It's just a dead cat. It's just a hot day. It's jsut this given street in the suburbs. It has no name. It has no case history. But he won't be able to give Watson the satisfaction of saying so. How nice it would be to smash Watson's fat moustache with a cobblestone -- but there are no cobblestones. To split his skull with a Sumatran canow paddle. Memorabilia. More showing off. And for whom? That's what most makes his stomach clench in a violent retch: for whom, Holmes -- eh? For whom?

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