Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Minds and The Case of Missing Waffles by Gabriel Valjan


I was killing commas by the light of my laptop when the police stopped us on the rural road. I counted casualties onscreen while Jim and Susan argued French grammar. If a punctuation mark slowed down anything more than a sentence, our driver didn’t know it. We were the third car in a caravan of Criminal Minds when the whelp of a siren and cherry lights directed us to the shoulder of the highway.

            An officer’s flashlight tapped glass.

            Everyone was asked to vacate their vehicles and present identification. We shivered on the blacktop as one of two officers reviewed our credentials. A driver inquired and we heard: “Three dark sedans attract attention.”

Another driver said, “We were driving under the speed limit.”

“Which makes you more suspicious. The tinted windows didn’t help.”

His partner approached him. “They say they’re writers: one’s from Texas; two are from Boston; two Canadians. Of the three Californians, one of them has a weird accent.”

“Excuse me,” Catriona said. “You’re the one with the accent.”

The officer asked his partner, “And the last one?”

A whisper. “Foreign national, but wait until you hear the voice.”

“Flashlight their vehicles, while I return their paperwork.”

He walked down the line, handing back their documents. Brenda, Susan, and Terry tolerated ‘Ma’am’ in triplicate, while Catriona huffed, “What’s with the torch?”

“The what?”

“The flashlight.”

“Procedure. I’d like a word with this last gentleman.”

He stood before Abir and perused the passport again. “You’ve grown whiskers since this photo was taken. Says here you were born in London.”


“You don’t sound like you’re from London.”

“Because I spent my formative years in South Lanarkashire, Scotland.”

“Same as your friend who called a flashlight a torch?”

“No, she’s from Em-bra.”

The officer would’ve pressed further, but his partner returned. “Anything?”

“Silver flask in a back seat. You gotta see the size of this thing. You could drown your liver in it.”

Jim stepped forward. “That would be mine, and it’s strictly for show.”


We decamped at the B&B, arranged by the group’s mistress-mind, Cathy, who had given us the choice of a cruise ship or a spot of land for the writer’s retreat. Since none of us had either sea-legs or a script for Dramamine, we opted for terra firma. We thought it suspicious that Cathy had been lured away at the last minute to give a lecture on locked-room mysteries to a maritime audience.

            Our hostess, Mrs. Muchmore, ran the place like a drill sergeant with an egg timer. She enumerated the times for reveille, lights-out, and meals. She defined ‘respectable attire’ tableside and set our daily word counts.

After she clopped off, we socialized in the parlor. Josh was the first to voice what we were thinking. “Isn’t she the epitome of less is more?”

            Terry added, “Why do I feel like we’re the Torrances at the Overlook Hotel?”

            I joined the medley of mixed-genres. “Let’s hope she isn’t Annie Wilkes.”

             Catriona said, “There goes any hope for a proper tea.”

Abir replied, “You mean a cup of hot water, with tea bags on cold plates.”

            “If Mrs. Muchmore mucks it up, then it’s Jim’s flask of Dewar’s for me,” she said. “Is that okay with you, Jim?”

            “Scotch for the Scots, all in the service of a noble cause.”




I was debating clemency for a comma when Mrs. Muchmore rushed into the room like a fullback. “Waffles is missing.”

            Her verb disagreed with her noun, but none of us played editor. A tired Dietrich didn’t hear the nuance and asked, “Breakfast for dinner?”

            Minimalist as Carver the writer, what the distressed Muchmore talked about when she talked about Waffles was to say that Waffles was a rare ginger, a polydactyl descendant of Snow White from Finca Vigia, and so named for the color of his fur.

            “A cat?” Brenda said.

            Susan replied, “A Hemingway cat, to be exact.”

            Josh stood up. “A Cuban cat in America is a great title for a short story.”

            Either due to the loss of her feline or what she perceived as insensitive writers hungry for a story prompt, Mrs. Muchmore fled the room. As if we were in a bad movie, lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled. We all looked up and heard the rain.

            Catriona said, “I’ll insist on tea if I’m to go out in a monsoon for a moggy.”

            She didn’t. We didn’t.

Each Mind searched a room, east to west, north to south, and above and below, finding no evidence of Waffles. Not even a kitty tumbleweed. What we did find, however, were the castaways from bygone visitors. Books and bookmarkers. One Mind hurled a copy of Rod McKuen’s poetry across his room. I think if it were not raining he would’ve requested his room to be saged and exorcised.

            At last we reconvened in the main room and commiserated over generous pours of Dewar’s from Jim’s flask. Flames in the fireplace crackled and the recriminations set in. Jim and I felt the heat, and it wasn’t from the hearth. We lived with cats. We knew the ways of the feline. I had Munchkin, and Boko and Tuppy owned Jim. At last, Terry spoke for the magnificent seven sitting across from us, the two writers from New England.

            “Aren’t you two supposed to be cat whisperers?”

            Before either of us responded, Jim’s cell rang. The ringtone was of an insistent meow.

Out from under the couch Waffles crab-crawled and mewed.

Jim answered the call, after which Susan said, “You solved the case.”

“No, I didn’t. Cathy did.”

I asked, “How is that possible?”

“The ringtone I have for her attracted Waffles, but I’m afraid we have a new mystery.”


“It seems somehow Cathy has locked herself out from the blog, and she’s asking for our help.”


James W. Ziskin said...

Great story, Gabriel! I love a locked-room, thunder and lightning, and my flask.


Gabriel Valjan said...

May you never part ways with your flask. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...


Cathy Ace said...

LOVE it!!! Thanks for all letting me back into the blog, and I wonder what that ringtone is??? LOL!

Catriona McPherson said...

Loved the twist in the tale - that's where it became science fiction because that could never happen.

Anonymous said...

Love this and your intimate writing. Definitely gift .

Josh Stallings said...

Wonderful. Made me want to be going on that retreat. Bad tea and lost cats not withstanding. I miss hanging with writers.

Terry said...

Just got around to reading this. What a hoot!