Strong To The Bone (Tor/Forge) by best-selling thriller author, Jon Land, is another page-turning addition to Land’s series of novels featuring fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, complete with all the twists and turns, and action, fans have come to expect from Land’s novels. Texas Ranger has faced myriads of tough adversaries in the past, but in Strong To the Bone, she faces perhaps the toughest yet, as she has a very personal stake in the matter. Beware: Spoiler Alerts follow, though I will try not to reveal too much about the fantastic plot of Strong To The Bone.

Here’s the first Spoiler — sorry, in advance: One of the foes she encounters is the man who raped her when she was a college undergraduate. Spoiler Number Two rapidly follows on the heels of the first Spoiler: Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, with the aid of her boyfriend, Cort Wesley Masters, seven-foot-tall friend and protector, Guillermo Paz, and assorted law enforcement officers, also take on a drug-dealing gang of neo-Nazis intent on remodeling the United States and destroying America’s very way of life.

Read on, and get my further thoughts on Strong To The Bone — besides the fact that it is another terrific entry in the series — and please leave a non-Spam comment, below, or Message me on Twitter or Facebook, what your name is, your state, and city, to get the chance to WIN an autographed hardback copy of the thriller, before it is even available in stores on December 5, 2017! Only residents of the United States who are 18 or older are eligible for this particular contest. Jon Land will personally autograph and mail out the prize to the person who wins. There are just a few other simple rules that follow at the end of this review.

As with the other novels in the Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong series, Jon Land interweaves the past with the present, including flashbacks of cases Strong’s illustruous forebearers played key roles in, that resonate in the future and her own cases. In Strong To The Bone, both Strong’s grandfather, Texas Ranger Earl Strong, and father, Texas Ranger Jim Strong, play pivotal roles. Caitlin’s grandfather deals with an escaped Nazi prisoner of war, who murdered everyone else in his barracks before escaping, while her father is understandably enrage when Caitlin gets raped, and he does his best to help find the person responsible.

Early on in Strong To The Bone, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes matters into her own hands, when she, in the company of Cort Wesley, sees drunken college students spilling out of a bar and causing a major disruption. She learns that there is a young female college student still within the bar, who has been sexually assaulted, and goes about coming to her rescue in a decidely flamboyant, but very effective, Caitlin Strong manner, by commandeering a fire truck with her boyfriend’s aid, and turning one of the truck’s hoses on the crowd to give her the space she needs to get through all of the bodies to help the young woman inside.

Cort Wesley’s two teen sons from a previous relationship, are also back in Strong To The Bone. while Wesley’s son, Dylan, is taking off a semester from college at Brown University, he is working at a car body shop where his father got him a job. A group of neo-Nazis that drive a truck by the car shop on a daily basis shout out racial slurs to the Hispanics who also work at the place, and Dylan, being perhaps a bit too much like his father, does not take kindly to the slurs and confronts the neo-Nazis armed with a gun.

Cort Wesley finds out about Dylan’s actions, but he does not want to directly get involved, nor have Caitlin Strong get involved in the matter. Instead, he goes to where Colonel Paz is volunteering at a shelter, dispensing food and philosphy to the homeless men who come there, and enlists him in keeping an eye on his son and stepping in, when necessary.

Jon Land very ably and convincingly ties in these subplots of Strong To The Bone into the main one, about a neo-Nazi drug dealer who has enormous wealth and power, and who has the head of a pharmaceutical company ready to do his bidding, under the threat of blackmail and getting the daylights beaten out of him. Strong To The Bone’s gripping plot, three-dimensional characters, gritty realism and non-stop action will have readers on the edges of their seats, not wanting to put the book down.

Strong To The Bone is not yet on sale either online or in stores. However, by following the rules above and leaving a comment below (or by messaging me via Twitter or my Facebook page) with the requested information, which will only be used to contact the winner, and for no other purposes, one lucky person will win an autographed copy of Strong To The Bone by Jon Land! The contest will run from Monday, September 25, to Friday, October 13, at midnight. The person randomly chosen as the winner will have five days to respond and provide me with his/her complete snail mail address, which I will only use to give to Jon Land, so he will know where to mail the autographed copy of Strong To The Bone. People who have won anything from this website during the past 90 days are not eligible to enter. also, anyone who is a relative of mine is not eligible to enter. Good Luck and Happy Reading!

By: Douglas R. Cobb


City of Saviors (Tor/Forge) by Rachel Howzell Hall is Hall’s fourth gripping thriller in her series featuring LAPD police homicide detective, Elouise “Lou” Norton, who has become a sergeant on the force. In City of Saviors, Lou is suffering from PTSD and recovering from injuries after her run-in with the brutal murderer, Zach Fletcher, who came very close to ending her life in Trail of Echoes. Lou and her partner, Detective Colin Taggert, investigate the death of seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington, who dies after a Labor Day weekend picnic, and determine that the Vietnam vet’s death was anything but a natural one.

I and the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, are pleased to announce that that one lucky reader of this review who enters below will get to WIN a hardback copy of City of Saviors! This giveaway is open to only residents of the United States and Canada who are 18 or older and leave a non-Spam related comment below, meaning the state or province and city he/she lives in. A few other rules are also below. Eleanor Griego was the winner of the last book giveaway, a hardback copy of Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher (Tor/Forge).


City of Saviors Captures Readers’ Attention From the Very First Sentence

City of Saviors captures the readers’ attention from the very first sentence, and holds it to the very end of the novel. Norton has faced many nefarious murderers during her career, but perhaps none who are any more devious than the culprit behind the death of Vitenam vet, Eugene Washington. The house Washington dies in is like a scene out of the suburbs of Hell, with cats, living and dead, roaming around at will, roaches scurrying everywhere, and the oders of spoiled food and death pungently scenting the un-airconditioned air.

Washington is found dead, sitting in an armchair, with a gun in front of him, and an unfinished meal on a rusty tray beside the armchair, with roaches stuck in a casserole dish. Also, Norton and Taggert spot an unfinished 40-ounce bottle of Schlitz on the tray, with roaches sprinting in and out of it. Lou makes it out of the house of horror, somehow, back into the sunlight on a 98-degree day, without throwing up, but just barely.

She and Taggert did not see any bullet holes in Washington’s body, but Norton knew that did not necessarily rule out murder, especially with a “girlfriend” of the victim, Bernice Parrish, on the scene, anxiously awaiting news about a will inside the house, and “soup pennies” she had been promised by Washington upon his death. “Soup pennies,” were slang for gold coins.

It turns out, in City of Saviors, that others also have a motive for wanting to see Washington dead, like some of the congregants of the 6,000-member congregation of Blessed Mission Ministries. The church is led by the colorful and charismatic Bishop Solomon Tate. When Norton, Taggert, and others re-enter Washington’s house, this time wearing HazMat suits, and Norton discovers the victim’s will, another possible suspects is named in it, Oswald Little, who has been promised Washington’s property.

In City of Saviors, LAPD homicide detective finds herself on a case like no other. Her investigation into Eugene Washington’s murder leads her to wonder why Bishop Tate might have a reason to protect a member of his congregation and led her astray. Was Washington poisoned, or did somebody possibly know about an allergy he had, which led to his death?

For the chance to win a hardback copy of City of Saviors, all you need to do is leave a comment below, mentioning your name and what state or province in Canada you reside in, and your city. That information will let me know if you are eligible to enter, as Tor/Forge needs to know in order to mail out a copy when a winner is randomly chosen. The potential winner also needs to be 18 or older, and must provide me his/her complete address upon being chosen as the winner. People who follow me on Twitter @DouglasRCobb can leave the requested information as a Message there, if you would like, rather than below. The contest/giveaway will run from now, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, for two weeks, to Saturday, Sept. 30, at midnight. The potential winner will then have five days to provide me with his/her full snail mail addres, to give to Tor/Forge, who will then mail out the copy of City of Saviors. Enter now, and good luck!

By: Douglas R. Cobb

This contest has now ended. Nobody entered, so sadly, nobody was the winner of this excellent novel by Rachel Howzell Hall.


Killing Is My Business (Tor/Forge) is Adam Christopher’s sequel to his critically acclaimed novel, Made to Kill, featuring noirish robot detective — and killer — Raymond Electromatic. Christopher deftly combines the genres of mysteries, detective dramas, and science fiction, with a good dose of sly humor, in Killing Is My Business, a highly entertaining romp that fans of all of these genres, and just plain good writing, will enjoy reading.

What’s more, thanks to Yours Truly, the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, and Adam Christopher, one lucky reader who is also a resident of the United States who leaves a comment below, mentioning the state he/she lives in, will win a hardback copy of the book! A few more simple rules follow this review. I had a winner for my first-ever giveaway, of the thriller Tower Down, by David Hagberg; but, due to lack of response for the second giveaway, a hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit by Lou Dobbs and James O. Born there were no winners chosen. Sometimes one shot is all it takes….try your luck, and YOU could be the winner of a copy of Killing Is My Business!

As Killing Is My Business opens, robotic sleuth, Raymond “Ray” Electromatic is tracking down yet another person, Los Angeles city planner, Vaughan Delaney. The reason why isn’t personal. It’s to kill Delaney. Ray has been given his orders, via a roll of magnetic tape, changed out at the end of each day. He has no memories of past days, other than what might serve him in continuing on his search, and his “boss” is a brassy supercomputer. Why he has been asked, by some client he has never met and doesn’t know, he does not know. He just has a job to do, and that is to kill whoever he has been assigned to kill.

Ray definitely has a personality, though, and certain meories are hardwired into him, like his love of beautiful cars and admiration of those who also love them, even if…he has been ordered to kill them. Only, in the case of Vaughan, the city planner, on the outside a happy family man, beats Ray to the punch by taking a dive out of a window where he works on the sixth floor and killing himself. To Ray’s unknown client, a dead Vaughan is a dead Vaughan, no matter how he met his end, so Vaughan’s death still filled Ray’s unkonown employer’s pockets with cash.

Then, Ray is charged with locating and killing another man, a very wealthy individual, Emerson Ellis…and the plot of Killing Is My Business really takes off, with the elusive Ellis proving to be quite difficult to track down. Despite going to check out Ellis’ businesses and questioning his secretary, butler, and others, and journeying to his prey’s various houses, Ray comes up empty-handed, but far from defeated or deterred.

Killing Is My Business is a witty, very cool genre-crossing novel by Christopher, an extremely entertaining addition to the author’s series about his robot gumshoe, Ray Electromatic. I highly recommend that you add it to your reading lists today!

To win a hardback copy (one is being given away), simply leave a comment below, with your name and the state you live in, so that I know you are from the United States, for shipping purposes. The giveaway will run from August 31, 2017, to September 14, 2017, at midnight, when I iwll randomly select a winner from all eligible entries. The winner must also be over 18, and be willing to provide me with his/her complete snail mail address, so i can give that information to the publishers, Tor/Forge, as they will mail out the copy to the lucky winner. Good luck, and who knows? YOU might wind up being the winner!

By: Douglas R. Cobb

Putin’s Gambit (Tor/Forge) is a pulse-pounding, page-turning international thriller, an intense adrenaline-fueled collaboration between famed TV broadcaster, Lou Dobbs, and author James O. Born. Its subject is a very relevant one, especially with both Russia and ISIS being in the news so much lately and the past several years. Putin is behind a KGB plot to use terrorist attacks as a cover for an incursion into Estonia by the Russian military.

By leaving a non-Spam related comment below, in the comment section, and also mentioning the state in the United States you live in, you are entered to win a hardback copy of this terrific new read! Due to postage rates, the giveaway is open only to residents of the United States. A few simple rules follow, including the date when the giveaway will end. The winner of the last giveaway, for the thriller, Tower Down (Tor/Forge), by David Hagberg, was won by Patricia Raymond, of Fort Smith, Arkansas!

Putin’s Gambit involves a Valdimir Putin’s scheme to make a behind-the-scenes deal with ISIS to supply them with arms and money, as he also asserts Russia’s power by attempting to build the Soviet empire back up, starting by a military attack on Estonia. Former Marine Derek Walsh and his buddies from his days in the Marines get caught up in the intrigue when the FBI discovers that somehow, a money transfer of $200 million was made by someone using his computer. Walsh has to clear his good name, but that, he finds, is easier said than done, especially with a group of Russians on his and his friends’ trail, who are intent on killing them.

The exciting novel, Putin’s Gambit, opens up with a focus on one of Walsh’s closest friends from the Marines, Major Ronald Jackson, who had been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Jackson has landed a job working for the American embassy in Berlin, Germany, and he is also “responsible for several diplomatic buildings,” including ones in Frankfurt and Bonn. As a part of his job, Major Jackson stops by the U.S. embassy and drops in on a new lieutenant in charge of security there.

While strolling outside the embassy, Jackson notices a Mercedes van ease its way toward the main gate. The occupants jump out, with the driver holding an AK-47 in his hands. Major Jackson quickly takes the initiative, and a firefight ensues. Jackson manages to take out a few of the terrorists, before his own life comes to an end. That is just the start of the action and thrills readers will find as they read the well-researched and thought provoking novel, Putin’s Gambit.

Want to win yourself a hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit? If so, the rules for this giveaway, courtesy of the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, the authors of the novel, Lou Dobbs and James O. Born, and What’s New in Book Reviews, are few and simple! First, you need to be a resident of the United States, and 18 or over. Also, you must leave a comment below, which I will see as Feedback, but which won’t display on the page, mentioning what state you live in, so I will know you are a residnet of the United States.

Then, after the period the giveaway runs, which in this case will be from Friday, August 4 2017 through Friday, August 25 at midnight, I will select one lucky person at random as the winner. I have extended this giveaway on more week, to give people even more of a chance to win!

The person who wins will have five days, up through August 29, to get back to me with his/her complete snail mail address, so I can give it to Tor/Forge, who will mail out the hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit to the lucky winner. If the person chosen as the winner does not respond within the period of five days, I will select an alternate winner at random. You can only enter the giveaway once per contest period. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Putin’s Gambit, you can do so here, at Barnes and Noble. Good luck!

By Douglas R. Cobb

Read Forever, For Less. NOOK Devices Starting at $49.99! Shop

tower downTower Down by award-winning thriller author, David Hagberg, is an exciting, fast-paced novel about events that could have been torn out of today’s headlines, involving terrorism, ISIS, and the bringing down of newly-constructed “pencil towers” in New York City.  A blood-thirsty freelance killer, code-name Al-Nassar, or “the Eagle,” educated in England masquerades as a multi-billionaire, Khalid Seif, after having killed him, and sets into motion a scheme that brings one of the pencil towers crashing down onto Carnegie Hall, killing hundreds of people, including seventy to eighty multi-billionaires from around the world who are inside the building. Can former CIA operative, Kirk McGarvey, prevent the killer from striking again? Details on how to win a copy follow, after this review!

Author David Hagberg delivers the goods with Tower Down, an intense page-turning thriller, the 21st novel Hagberg has written featuring McGarvey. The action begins before McGarvey, known as “Mac” by his friends, enters the picture. Al-Nassar leaves a trial of bodies wherever he goes, but his fingerprints are not on file, and he takes great care to clean up possible loose ends — by methodically killing anybody he thinks might later be able to identify him.

The pencil tower known as the Tower was built to be impossible for terrorists to destroy, so that there would not be any repeat of the events of 9/11. A nine-ton counterweight near the top of the Tower, controlled by a computer, helps the building adjust to any swaying it might otherwise have experience due to high winds. Over 90 percent of the apartments in the Tower were sold prior to the building’s construction, for exorbinant sums of money, with one penthouse going for a hundred fifty million dollars.

Al-Nassar strikes during a party Seif had planned, with some of the world’s wealthiest men and women in attendance. When the Tower inevitably falls, their lives are forfeited, along with the lives of hundreds of people below.

After his wife, Katy, daughter and son-in-law’s murders, and the deaths of other women in McGarvey’s life, he has been cautious about letting his guard down when it comes to his love life. However, in Tower Down, McGarvey has, once again, found love, in the form of his latest girlfriend, Pete Boylan, and he intends for their love to last. But, with his own life hanging in the balance, can McGarvey also protect Boylan’s, as he tracks his elusive prey to Cannes and other locales?

YOU could win a hardback copy of Tower Down from Tor/Forge and What’s New in Book Reviews if you are a resident of the United States, by simply leaving a non-Spam related Comment below and mentioning the state you live in. If you are selected as the winner, I will need your complete mailing address, so I can forward the information to Tor/Forge, so they can mail the copy out to the winner.  The comments will be seen by me as Feedback, instead of as comments. A winner will be chosen on midnight August 1, and if he/she does not respond with his/her mailing address after five days, a new winner will be selected. To purchase a hardback, paperback or Kindle copy of Tower Down at Amazon, click here — good luck to everyone who enters!

By: Douglas R. Cobb




CharmCat CoverWho can resist a delightful story about cats? Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) written and illustrated by the talented Leyla Atke has it all–it’s a tale about love, loss, and continuing on, despite the pain of the loss that exists when one’s beloved pet dies and leaves an empty, cat-shaped hole in one’s heart. How can such an abyss be filled? And, how did the feelings toward the handsome black cat, which the narrator calls Charm, develop in the first place?

In Charm, the author weaves a story that is, itself, charming. Atke introduces the short but sweet book by reminiscing, in the first chapter, about how Charm came into her life and changed it forever for the better. She has the first-person narrator tell of “a hot summer day in June of 2006″ when she “was leaving work for a break.” The reason she is leaving is “to get a new hairstyle” and she is in a hurry to fit in the hairstyle into her busy day. Such are the times when Fate, or God, enters into our plans and sometimes, if we’re lucky, changes them in ways that we’d never planned, but which bring a touch of happiness to our lives.
At a busy intersection, on the way to her hair appointment, the narrator notices “something small and black” in the middle of the road, among the rushing cars. She notices that it is moving, and she decides to see what it is, so she stops her car and gets out to get a closer look. As she approaches the object, she sees that it is “a small black kitten sitting in the middle of the road.” With the cars “waiting for a green light from both sides,” she realizes that she has the chance to rescue the kitten, and she takes it.

Even then after the narrator saves the kitten, she’s not sure what to do with it, and considers if she should just “leave it in the park” which is nearby. However, struck by how cute and gentle the kitten is, though it is dirty and its fur is “smelling like kerosene” she takes the animal to her aunt’s house. She, like the narrator, has her own cat, but she agrees “to shelter the kitten only until the evening.” That enables the narrator to return to work, think about what has transpired, and make her decision about keeping the kitten.

I don’t want to give anything else away, except to say that she does decide to keep the small black kitten, and to call it Charm. I throughly enjoyed reading Leyla Atke’s book, and her wonderful illustrations help give the reader a genuine feel for how Charm must have looked, and how the kitten managed to, well, charm his way into the narrator’s life.

There is something else I should mention, though, about the book. It is written primarily for young teens on up. What ultimately happens to Charm is sad, and the description of the cat’s body after his demise might be too much for younger readers to handle, though the author is being honest about relating the details. Also, the author writes that “Vaccination and castration” will be musts for a new kitten that enters into her life, who she first sees just “a couple of steps away from Charm’s grave,” and who she also decides to call Charm. These elements don’t at all detract (at least not in my humble opinion) from the appeal of the book; but, I thought I should mention these things, so that if someone decides to buy it for younger kids, they will know that the kids might come to them with some very interesting questions about death and the definition of “castration.”

Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) is a truly charming story about how much a kitten can effect a person’s life and bring joy to it. If you are an animal lover, and perhaps own a cat or have owned them in the past, you’ll definitely want to add this delightful short book to your reading lists. It would also make a great gift for a cat lover in your life. I highly recommend Charm to anyone who has ever owned, or who currently owns, a kitten or a cat.

Christtmas CapersHere are the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: Christmas Capers for you to read for FREE. I hope you like what you read, and will then consider buying the novella for just 99 cents from Amazon. It’s a funny, heart-warming, and suspenseful addition to my series The Case File of Lily and PAWS. Can Lily, her 14-year-old “Owner” Celeste, and the rest of PAWS save Christmas and prevent boys & girls around the world from being disappointed on Christmas morning? Find out by reading this cool Christmas novella. Click here to buy it!

Chapter One
“The Twelve Days of

“Celeste,” I said to my bestest friend in the whole wide world, fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince, twelve days before Christmas, “I have an idea.”
“Oh?” Celeste said. “I think I should be scared; very scared.”
“What do you mean by that snide remark?”
“Your ‘ideas’ generally cause us to get into lots of trouble. Your ‘ideas’ have often almost resulted in the destruction of the entire city of Centralia. Your ‘ideas’ have led to our friends being kidnapped, to my death, to—”
“Yeah, yeah—blah, blah, blah,” I said. “That’s all ancient history now. Can’t you let sleeping pterodactyls lie? My ideas had resulted in countless lives being saved, this city being saved, the rescue of my friends and fellow members of PAWS—Private Army of Warrior Sleuths—and your being resurrected from the dead. Why must you always look at the glass as being half-full?”
“What-ev-er,” Celeste said. “None of those things would have had to happen at all, if it weren’t for your so-called spectacular ‘ideas,’ Lily.”
“Oh, don’t be so grumpy, Celeste! Christmas is only twelve days away; where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“I have tons of Christmas spirit, Lily—I just hope that we don’t get visited by any Christmas spirits—like the ghost of Belle Starr who visited us at the start of this past summer! Not to mention the other ghosts that almost made us into ghosts, like the specter of the mad Dr. Norman Baker of the Crescent Hotel.”
“You forgot to mention the steampunk automatons, the werewolves, the vampires, the witches, the evil Leprechauns—”
“I didn’t forget them; I was only trying to refer to ghosts, though, because you mentioned ‘Christmas spirits.’ Lily.”
I am Celeste’s “owner,”—that much is certain, though Celeste still stubbornly clings to the erroneous assumption that she is the “owner” and that I am the pet. The things that teenagers are taught in schools these days…. She and I were conversing with each other in Celeste Quince’s bedroom, on the second floor of her parents’ two-story, 250,000 square foot mansion at 221 Baker Street in Centralia, Arkansas.
Though Celeste and I were the best of friends, we often had disagreements, ranging from minor to major ones; but, no one ever said that friends had to agree on everything. For the most part, though, we got along very well with each other. She just didn’t always like to admit when she was incorrect about certain things, and I, of course, am never and have never been wrong. I suppose I could understand why Celeste wouldn’t want to admit that, though I have cheerfully told her on more than one occasion that the saying is “To err is human.” It says nothing about pterodactyls, like me.
“Celeste,” I said. “I have a modest proposal for you. You’ve heard the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ right?”
“Ye-e-es,” Celeste said cautiously. “Most people have—it’s on the radio every Christmas, and lots of people sing it when they go Caroling—but, what’s your point? What does that have to do with your proposal, if anything?”
“Well, there’s also the Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, and some people still celebrate each night of the twelve nights…wouldn’t it make much more sense to celebrate something else on those twelve nights?”
“Like what, Lily?”
“Umm…er…you almost had it with the question you just asked me, if the words are switched around a bit, and one of them is changed…. The answer is, duh, like me, Lily.”
“So, you’re saying that you’d like the entire world to not celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, but to instead, celebrate the twelve days of Lily?”
“Yes, that’s the ticket; your powers of deduction improve by leaps and bounds daily, Celeste! I’m very impressed that you have reached the same conclusion on this as I have, that ‘The Twelve Days of Lilymas’ has so much of a better ring to it than ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’”
“Now, hold on a minute, Lily!” Celeste said. “I reached no such ‘conclusion.’ I believe that the song and the holiday should be left as they are, and not monkeyed with.”
“Don’t you mean, in this particular case, you don’t want them pterodactyled with? No matter; I suppose I assumed too much about your improved deductive powers, and that they perhaps have not improved quite as much as I was giving you credit for. That is one of my practically nonexistent faults: to think too highly of others, at times. I guess it’s just one of my saintly qualities shining through.”
“’Saintly?’ Ha!” my friend replied. “That is not something I would confuse you as being, Lily! Let’s see—there are a number of other adjectives I might have in mind to call you, though, like egotistical, snide, snarky, a major pain in my—neck—”
“I don’t believe the last thing you said exactly qualifies as an adjective, Celeste,” I said.
“Maybe not, but it does describe how you are, occasionally.”
“Let’s not quibble over minor details; we both know deep down in our hearts that every time I open my mouth, I speak the truth, so let’s move on to our plans to change the name of the song and how people celebrate the ‘Twelve Days of Lilymas.’
“I think, for example, that on the first day of Lilymas, people should decorate their yards and houses with images of me, and—
“Only you, huh? Don’t you think that’s just a wee bit egotistical, just like I said you are?” Celeste asked me.
“No, no—don’t be silly,” I answered. “There could be some decorations of Santa and me, the baby Jesus and me, perhaps a Buddha and me—as long as I am included somewhere in each individual decoration, that’s all that counts, isn’t it? Keeping the spirit of Lilymas in your heart, and proving it to the world in the money you spend on decorating your yards and houses for the most wonderful time of the year, Lilymas?”
”What do you mean, ‘that’s all that counts,’ Lily? You’ve gone way too far—what you’re saying is sacrilegious.”
“Oh, c’mon, Celeste! As usual, you’ve misunderstood what I was saying—I don’t need this Lilymas holiday to be one on which I’m worshipped—I just want to, in my humble way, be remembered every once in a while—like, say, once a year—for the countless times I’ve saved the world from disaster. Now, is that asking too much? What’s the matter—have I left you speechless?”
Celeste shook her head “No” and pointed at her window that overlooked the fenced-in backyard.
There, I saw a being floating, and staring into the room at us. At first, I thought, “Not again! Not another run-in with the vampires of Centralia’s Belgian Quarter!” But, the being at the window was not a vampire. It was something infinitely scarier, at least to dentists everywhere. The being was a Sugar Plum Fairy.
Picture a male Tinkerbell, but human-sized, with purple, sugar-speckled wings, and you might have somewhat of an idea about what this particular Sugar Plum Fairy looked like.
Oh, and he was round, his torso was, anyway, much like a plum. Sugared plums were a delicious Christmas treat that was increasingly rarely made in America by Moms and Grandmothers. Why bother with the fuss and mess of that, when you could just as well buy solid chocolate Santas, and a wide variety of other candy to stuff into Christmas stockings?
“Hmm…” I said, as the Sugar Plum Fairy then began to lightly knock at Celeste’s window, as if he didn’t notice us staring at him. “Are you going to let our visitor in? You know, the lightly knocking one, like the raven in Poe’s famous poem about a….”
“No, no—don’t be ri-donk-ulous, Celeste—more like a…raven, that’s it, not what you said, whatever that was.”
Celeste went to her window, and said: “Come on in, out of the cold, whoever you are. Get warm, and tell us why you’ve decided to visit us on this first night of Christmas.”
Contrary to what you might think, by the fact that the being who flew in Celeste’s window was a Sugar Plum Fairy, he spoke with a deep, sonorous voice, sounding kind of like a cross between the voices of Morgan Freeman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“It’s about time you let me in, Pilgrim,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said to Celeste, imitating the star of Western movies, John Wayne. It seemed he could alter his voice to fit the situation, sort of like Robin Williams did. Of course, Robin Williams would never dress in such an outrageous costume, though—he has way more dignity than that. “I was freezing my wings off out there! You two didn’t see me because you were both engrossed in your argument. Now I know what a fly on the wall feels like!”
“O-kay,” I said. “So we didn’t notice you and you got cold and your feelings got hurt. Waah, waah. You must be here for a reason—what is it? Do you have a mystery for us and PAWS to solve? Is anyone in danger? Well, c’mon, spit it out—are you going to tell us by using charades, or sign language?”
“I do actually have a case for you, Celeste, and PAWS to solve—what’s that stand for, anyway?”
“Umm, Private Army of Warrior Sleuths,” Celeste answered. “Not that Lily and three of her friends amount to an actual army—”
“Hey,” I said, trying to justify the acronym, as it did make sense, if one thought about it, “we may not have the numerical amount of people that most armies have; but, we have the formidable power and strength of an army! At first blush, we may not seem like we’re much—”
“…and at second and third blush….” Celeste rudely added.
“…but, appearances can be deceiving. We each have specialized fighting skills, and the power to control minds. We’re lean, mean, fightin’ machines!”
“Pardon me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “I didn’t mean to start up an argument; I just wanted to ask you for your help. You might recall from having heard a certain poem that, on Christmas night, children around the world are supposed to see visions of sugar plums dancing around their heads. This year, I’m afraid, that tradition might be over.”
“What did you say your name was, again?” I asked, suddenly getting more interested in this strange fellow than I had been before. “You’re not really in cahoots with the evil Christmas elves, are you, or our arch-enemies, the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S?
“Er—nothing personal, though your eyes do look kind of beady and too set close together for my peace of mind and comfort. I’m only asking, you understand, because this seems to be something right up their alley: a master plan to destroy Christmas! It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried to do it, and ruin the joys of good boys and girls (and animals) with their confounded criminal activities!”
“My name’s Peter Trundlebed Johansen. It’s a Swedish name—don’t ask, please. We Sugar Plum Fairies are a close-knit group, and don’t socialize with elves much, whether they be good or evil ones. And, I’ve never even heard of the SNORKLES before, so—”
“Not SNORKLES!” I said. “Sheesh! I said SNURFLES! They’re the Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity! It’s difficult for me to believe you’ve never heard of them! They’re only the most elite, top-notch criminal organization ever, is all! Snorkles, on the other hand, are used to allow people to breathe underwater.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “As you might have surmised, by my wings, I and other Sugar Plum Fairies are not exactly an aquatic race. I wouldn’t know a snorkel from—that other thing you said, that criminal organization, the SNIFFLES or something like that.”
“No, not the SNIFFLES! You get those when you get a cold, or the flu! I said the SNURFLES! Tell me, are you, by any chance, related to a certain Chinese Crested/rhino friend of mine, Fuzzy Wally MacGee?”
“No; why do you ask?”
“No reason—just forget about it—anyway, why is it that the tradition of children seeing sugar plums dancing around their heads on Christmas Eve in danger this year?” I asked.
“Because,” Peter Trundlebed Johansen said, “there are no plums anywhere to be found in the world. It’s as if they’ve disappeared off of the face of the Earth.”
“That must make life tough for little Jack Horner, too—if plums have been wiped out all over the world, what will he pull out of pies with his thumb from now on? Maybe Mandarin oranges, or possibly kiwi fruit?”
“Guys,” Celeste said, “I’ve been just now looking up the term ‘sugar plums’ on the Internet, and—”
“No, not the Internet!” Peter the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “The Internet: the place where dreams are crushed, people lose their beliefs, and where information gets confused with the truth!”
“Yes, the Internet,” Celeste replied. “Anyway, the sources I checked say that sugar plums originally had nothing at all to do with actual plums. Instead, the term referred to layer after layer of sugar that was built up over something tiny, like a coriander, caraway, or cardamom seed, until it was oval or round in shape. They were like jawbreakers, in a way. Almonds could also be used.”
“Ouch,” Peter said, dejectedly. “That really hurts, you know? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—”
“Don’t even go there,” Celeste interrupted. “They’re real, of course; and, whatever the term ‘sugar plum’ used to mean, I see you before me, so I know that you’re real. Plums can be coated with sugar, and there are lots of great recipes I could let you have I looked up on the Internet that explain how to make fantastic sugar-coated plums. Some also use almonds—yum!”
“Yes, yes; yum, indeed,” Peter said. “Exactly my point. If enough people believe in something, eventually it will become true, whether it was before or not. And, if they stop believing—”
“That won’t happen!” said Celeste. “I used to not believe in ghosts, werewolves, witches, aliens, Bigfoot, evil Leprechauns and elves, or talking pterodactyls, but that didn’t stop them from existing and eventually proving to me that they are as real as—well—sugar plum fairies.”
“So, you’re saying you believe me, and that you’ll take my case?” he asked.
“Hmm…” I said. “How’s this for an answer? There’s a meeting of PAWS tomorrow morning, Mr. Johansen. Your case will be the main topic of the meeting, you can rest assured of that.”

Chapter Two
“The Call of Duty”

“In times like these,” I said, speaking before the weekly meeting of PAWS at nine in the morning on a Saturday, “when duty calls, what will your answer be? What will you say?”
“Is my phone going off again?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. He is a rhino, but when humans look at him, they believe they’re seeing a Chinese Crested dog. He’s the “Distracter” of our team. “I probably shouldn’t have chosen the tweeting of birds as my ringtone. It makes it kind of confusing sometimes to tell the difference between my ringtone and, say, a merry robin or barn thrush. But, I guess I’d have to say, ‘Hello? I’m Fuzzy Wally MacGee. Hello? I think you might have the wrong number.’”
“That is not what I was referring to, Fuzzy!” I said.
“My ringtone sounds more like the sound a rattlesnake makes when it’s angry,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. He resembles to the eyes of people a miniature dachshund, but he’s really a Mountain Lion. Alphonse, or “Fonz” or “Fonzie” as he’s often called, is an expert at using Ninja weapons, and he can (sometimes) predict the future by using crystal balls or Tarot cards.
“Nobody asked me,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins exclaimed. “But, my ring tone sounds kind of like a banana.” Lucy was an orangutan, thought humans perceived her as being a Great Dane. She’s an excellent fighter, and she comes in handy for cracking safes and hacking into computers.
“Like a banana?” I asked.
“Yes,” Lucy answered. “Well, not exactly. Bananas generally are sort of…soft and squishy, and don’t make many noises. My ringtone is more like…the sound of bananas when they’re sliced up into crunchy cereal…a ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ sort of sound. But, I know that the bananas are there, and that’s all that really matters, right, Lily?”
“Uh, um…yes, I suppose,” I said. “But, I wasn’t talking about a phone call when I said ‘duty calls,’ I was saying that when you are asked to do something, and you know that you should do it, it’s your duty to do, er, whatever it might be you’ve been asked to do.”
“You said ‘doodie,’ Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, laughing.
“No, no, I did not,” I said. “You misheard me, I suspect on purpose. I said duty, d-u-t-y. When the Sugar Plum Fairy, Peter Trundlebed Johansen—quit laughing, Fuzzy, and you too, Lucy and Fonzie—it’s quite an acceptable, normal-sounding name, at least in Sweden, land of…cheeses and…chocolates, my mouth is watering just mentioning the very word…where was I? Oh, yes—when this Swedish Sugar Plum fellow was fluttering outside of our window, my first instinct was to run and get an ultra-large flyswatter to deal with the problem then and there. But, did I do that?”
“Probably,” Fuzzy said. “That’s what I would have done.”
“Perhaps, Fuzzy, perhaps,” I said. “But, Johansen didn’t flutter outside of your window, so we’ll never really know, now will we?” I asked rhetorically. “Anyway, Celeste let the Sugar Plum Fairy inside, and he told us a tale of woe, indeed. He said that Christmas as we know it might be ruined, that on Christmas Eve, there might not be any sugar plums dancing around or through children’s heads, that—”
“I have bananas dancing through my head,” Lucy said. “But, not just on Christmas Eve—they do it on every eve. As a matter of fact, they’re doing it now. They’re kind of making my stomach growl from hunger….”
“Lucy, did you skip breakfast again? The most important meal of the day?” Celeste asked her.
“No, I just must have bananas on the brain,” she said.
“Fortunately, I have a bunch I always carry with me in my handbag for just such emergencies,” Celeste said. Her “handbag” had gotten rather large over the years since I made her an Honorary Member of PAWS (I couldn’t make her a full-blown member as she wasn’t an animal, unless you counted humans as being animals). She reach in and gave the entire bunch to Lucy, who peeled one after the other, and ate them, with a very contented expression on her face.
“Returning to what I was saying,” I said, “The reason that there might not be sugar plums dancing around children’s heads this Christmas Eve is that all of the plums in the world seem to have been stolen, or they have disappeared.”
“But, Lily,” Fonzie said, “aren’t sugar plums really not plums, but—”
“Originally, they weren’t; but, now they very often are actual sugar-coated plums,” I said, cutting him off before he could complete his thought. “It’s up to us, as members of PAWS, to discover who stole the plums and make sure that they get put back into the world’s stores so that people can once again buy them, and so that Christmas won’t be ruined for children everywhere.”
“Well,” Prince Alphonse Saed said, “if the past was any indication, I’d say that there’s one group of criminals who have a track record of trying to destroy Christmas forever, and they would be—”
“The Grinch Society of America?” Fuzzy pondered out loud.
“No; that’s not it,” Fonzie continued. “It looks like the work of the Scarlet SNURFLES, or maybe the Scarlet Mafia, or both working together.”
“Perhaps,” I said, though it’s also possible that this is the work of the criminal mastermind who most recently plagued us by having us solve seven of the most difficult cases we’ve ever had to…er, solve, namely Professor Polynesia!”
I was, of course, referring to the extremely bad Polly with an attitude that wouldn’t quit, who was the great-granddaughter of Doctor Doolittle’s Polynesia. While I wasn’t really sure what her attitude towards Christmas was, her attitude in general led me to believe that she certainly had to rank very high up on our list of potential suspects.
“Can’t people use prunes?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “They are just dried-up plums, aren’t they? So, couldn’t they be dreamt of by the children of the world, instead of plums?”
“While dried prunes are a fairly tasty treat,” I said, “the idea of prunes to most children would be one of stewed prunes, which would most likely give children nightmares, rather than pleasant dreams. Also, whoever heard of a Sugar Prune Fairy? Besides that, even if children accepted prunes as a substitute, the point is, we can’t allow whoever did this to get away with the crime of stealing the world’s plums, can we?”
“Is that another one of your rhetor-rhetor-questions you don’t really expect an answer to, Lily?” Fuzzy asked, non-rhetorically.
“Yes, and no,” I replied. “I expected that the only possible logical answer anyone here would think of giving me, if they gave me an answer, would be a resounding ‘No, we can’t let the criminals get away with that, Lily!’ But, once again, Fuzzy, you’ve managed to come up with an entirely unexpected answer.”
“Thank you!” Fuzzy said.
“I wasn’t praising you, Fuzzy, by calling your answer ‘unexpected.’ What I was saying is that—”
“Prunes, nature’s magical fruit;/The more you eat,/The more you toot,” Fuzzy sang.
“How many times have I had to say, ‘No singing at the meetings,’ to you, Fuzzy? That’s a rhetorical question, for your information, so don’t bother answering,” I said.
Just then, a flock of Scarlet Macaws appeared on the horizon, headed towards us. They had plastic bags clenched tightly in their claws. When they got immediately over our heads, they squawked, “Bombs away!” and dropped their bags upon our heads, like hundred of water balloons. Only, their plastic bags weren’t filled with water; no, instead they were filled with stewed prunes! Much to our surprise and dismay, we soon found ourselves covered from head to foot—er, paws, hooves, etc.—with stewed prunes and prune juice. Blech!
“That’s just a taste of what the future will be like without your precious ‘sugar plums!’” the leader of the Scarlet Macaws, Frankie Sinister, squawked. “Stewed prunes—bwa-ack! If you can’t get your precious plums back, you’ll be blamed by the children of the world, ’cause you couldn’t even defeat a bunch of parrots! Ba-wah, ha, ha!”
Then, before we could mount a counter-offensive and attack, the Scarlet Macaws flew through a glowing red-framed opening that appeared in the sky, one that quickly closed behind them. They had attacked us like this in the past, flying through a vortex from another dimension, then retreating back through it as it closed. We had been unable to pursue them, that is, until Celeste had gotten a red coral rattlesnake talisman from the ghost of David O. Dodd, the “Boy Martyr” of the Confederacy. The Duke of Owlington told us where to go to find it, to Mount Holy Cemetery. Thanks to Dodd’s ghost, who retrieved it from where it lay buried, we could now follow our foes to whatever dimension or universe they went.
“Maybe there’s still a chance to get them and the sugar plums,” I said, “if you get the rattlesnake talisman and hold it in your hands as we fly up to where the opening was, Celeste!” I cried.
“I—I don’t have it with me, Lily,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d need to carry it with me all of the time, after we defeated the Scarlet SNURFLES and the Scarlet Mafia and they split up into two separate groups, as they had been before Bennie the Beak, the head of the Scarlet Mafia, became the leader of their combined forces.”
“You don’t have it—with you?” I spluttered.
“No—it’s at home, where I put it, inside—” Celeste said.
“Don’t say it, Celeste!” I said. “There are likely spies everywhere! We don’t want one of them that overhears where you hid it to find it and take away from us the one way we can take the attack to the Scarlet SNUFLES when they try to escape from us! We will just have to wait until another day, I suppose.”
“What we need to do,” Celeste said, “is to have you all jump into the pond and wash that prune juice off of your bodies, before I take you back to your ‘owners.’ And, I doubt my Dad would like to drive you anywhere in his blue Mustang like you are, stinking of prunes. It’d take him forever to get the smell out of his car.”
There was a chill in the air, but I saw the logic in Celeste’s words. We ran towards the pond (I say it’s a large lake, but Celeste insists it isn’t) where we had spent so much fun diving into and swimming in this past summer, and dove into its waters once more. The water was very cold, so we were in it only as long as was necessary to wash the prune juice from our bodies, and then we stood shivering on the shores of the pond, waiting for Celeste to towel us dry.
She had, thankfully, included in her handbag enough towels to dry us after our dip. It seemed that the size of her handbag had mysteriously grown in proportion to how much time she’d spent as an Honorary Member of PAWS. She claimed that there was a link; but, I think she just liked large handbags.
We would not be humiliated again, I promised myself. Celeste would have the red rattlesnake talisman with her whenever we might meet up with the Scarlet SNURFLES in the future. The next time, we would be better prepared. We had better be, not for us, but for all of the boys and girls of the world.

Chapter Three
“Here Comes Lily Quince”

Before I closed the meeting, I had to fill in the other members of PAWS about what my plans were to defeat the Scarlet SNURFLES. I had to also fill in Celeste. That’s because, duh, I had just thought up the plans on the spur of the moment. But, I felt sure they couldn’t fail.
“What song,” I asked everyone assembled, “do you usually associate with Christmas?”
Fuzzy’s right hoof automatically went up, but I didn’t want to call on him. Like an unpopular teacher in school, I called upon a member of PAWS who hadn’t raised his paw, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“Fonzie? What song comes to your mind?” I asked.
“Um, er, ‘White Christmas,’” he said, uncomfortably.
“No, that is incorrect. Try again,” I said.
“Well, I—that is the song I’d think of first, but how about ‘Jingle Bells?’”
“Is that a question or an answer?” I asked.
“Sorry, you are wrong again, Fonzie!” I said. “How about you, Lucy; what song would you think of, not counting the ones Fonzie already got wrong?”
“‘The Banana Boat Song’ I’d have to say,” Lucy replied.
“Lucy, a Christmas song; remember the category of song that I’m asking you to give your answer to, okay?”
“Well, maybe ‘Frostie the Snowman,’” Lucy said, “but instead of a carrot, when I build a snowman, I use a banana for its nose. It doesn’t last very long before I eat it, but that’s how I roll—can I get a ‘Wha-What?’”
“No, you may not, and sadly, that is incorrect, as well. Celeste—any ideas?”
“Yes; let’s get in my Dad’s car, out of the cold, and take Fonzie and Lucy to their homes—that’s my idea, Lily!” she said, rather huffily.
“Fi-ine, then,” I said. “The correct answer is ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ But, instead of Santa Claus coming here, because it’s still several days away from Christmas, I—we—are going to go to him.
“Just as it makes very good sense to celebrate the Twelve Days of Lilymas instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas, there’s going to be a brand-new Christmas—er, Lilymas—song, called ‘Here Comes Lily Quince.’”
“Here comes Lily Quince,/Here comes Lily Quince,” Fuzzy sang, “Her singing makes grown men wince—“
“Fuzzy!” I roared. “I told you no more singing at these meetings!”
“I am just trying to get into the holiday spirit, and spread Lilymas joy to everyone around,” he protested.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” I said, “but you always seem to butcher what could have been a perfectly good song, and often, you do it at my expense.
“Anyway,” I said, ever the master at changing the subject, “we need help from the man—”
“Upstairs?” Fuzzy asked.
“Who wrangles snakes?” Fonzie suggested.
“Who tallies the bananas, all the day-o long?” Lucy put in.
“No; we need help from the man up north, at the North Pole—namely, Santa Claus! That means you all need to dress very snuggly when I come to pick you up for the trip tonight, around midnight!” I roared. “Bring your own pillows, blankets, and ropes to strap yourself onto my back, too; but, I doubt you’ll get much shut-eye, once you see the glory of the aurora borealis!”
“I’ve seen what it looks like online, Lily,” Celeste said, “and it is beautiful!”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed, “and bright. By my calculations, it will take us an hour to get there, which means I’ll be flying…well…let’s just say very fast. That’s why the ropes will not only be handy, but very necessary. If you don’t already have your Christmas, er, Lilymas lists made up, I suggest you use the rest of the day thinking up what you might like, so you can give Santa Claus your lists in person tonight!
“Once we’re there, we probably can get Santa’s help without taking up too much time. Maybe he’ll even give us a guided tour of his workshop. That should take an hour at the most, and with the return flight, you should all be at your homes at approximately three in the morning!”
“Lily, I don’t think that even Santa’s reindeer could travel that fast!” Celeste said.
“I could fly much faster, but I don’t want to accidently send the Earth out of its orbit. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race, you know—or, at least that’s what Aesop says is the moral in one of his fables.”
Celeste was on her Christmas holiday, and wouldn’t have to return to school until January 3rd , so she could sleep late tomorrow if our trip lasted longer than I anticipated it would. Her parents would probably believe that she was merely sleeping in, like most teenagers do when they’re not in school for the holidays or in the summertime. She would be; but, the reason would not be one that they would ever expect it to be.
I’d been to Istanbul, Belgrade, London, Egypt, Pakistan, Tahiti, Belgium, the Polynesian Islands, Moscow, and Da Bronx, among many other places; but, traveling to the North Pole and visiting Santa’s workshop would be an entirely new experience for me. I was eagerly looking forward to touring Santa’s Toy Shop and watching the elves assemble toys.
Celeste, Lucy, Fuzzy, and Fonzie would probably not need the ropes I suggested, but I wanted to mess with them and make them wonder. They’d ridden on my back several times before, but for shorter distances, and I’d flown slower then than I would tonight. But, the Earth moves at a very fast rate of speed, and no one falls off. I thought that my friends would likely be plastered to my body, much like people are when they ride certain carnival rides, so that they couldn’t fall off even if they tried.
As midnight neared, I donned my leather flight helmet and goggles in preparation. Celeste wore a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, her heavy winter coat, and gloves. She was hoping to have a snowball fight later. We didn’t get much snow usually in Fort Smith, so she was excited about that, as well as about seeing Santa Claus. Celeste also had her red coral rattlesnake talisman with her, in case we had another encounter with Freddie and his gang of plum-stealing Pollies.
It didn’t take very long to fly to the houses of the MacGees, Saeds, and Higginses. Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie were bundled up like Eskimos. They were not fans of cold weather, like I was—to each his or her own, I guess. Rhinos and orangutans like warmer weather, so they had on two coats and leather water-proof boots. Fuzzy, in particular, looked very bulky wearing so many layers of winter clothing, and he looked more awkward than he normally did, trying to wear boots that were not made for hooves and to walk in them.
“All aboard Pterodactyl One!” I said. “Next stop, the North Pole!”
Celeste, Fonzie, Lucy, and Fuzzy whooped and cheered. I could see the excitement in their eyes, when I craned my head to look at them after they had gotten comfortable and were tied in with ropes that wound around my back, sides, and belly.
As I expected, the speed at which I flew kept them safely on my back, but I had thought that the ropes would ease their minds and make them feel more secure. I’m always concerned about the safety of Celeste, Lucy, Fonzie, and Fuzzy, though despite my best efforts, we have been in many more dangerous situations in the past than I’d have liked us to be in.
To avoid being detected by radar and being mistaken for a UFO, I flied low to the ground (for me), but high enough up so that hopefully no one would notice me if they gazed up into the sky. Maybe, if they did happen to look up as I flew overhead, they’d think that I was a huge eagle soaring above them. They might even think that they’d seen a…dragon. I didn’t breathe fire, but I could form fire balls with my pyrokinetic powers, so I’m fairly sure I’d been mistaken for one on some of our other adventures and detective cases.
The aurora borealis was amazing! It was very beautiful, and waves of shimmering colors flowed into each other like rivers and tributaries, but ones which were side-by-side, intermingling. My passengers “Oohed!” and “Aahed!” at nature’s colorful display, one which the greatest artists who have ever lived couldn’t match.
The hour went by quickly, and soon we were touching down on the landing strip that Santa uses for his wonderful sleigh. Elves dressed in green greeted us, and after my friends were untied we walked with them to Santa’s palace. It was perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the ice and snow, making it difficult to impossible to spot from the sky. Santa required as much privacy as possible, so that he could continue doing his good work of providing toys and other things to good boys and girls without being bothered by constant interruptions and interviews that the media would request from him.
The elves laughed and chattered amongst themselves as we entered through the massive wooden double doors of Santa’s palace.
“Santa’s in his throne room, throne room, throne room!” one of them, whose green hat’s tip drooped at a jaunty angle, said in a high voice.
“He’s been expecting you!” another elf near us said.
“But—but how did he know—” I stammered.
“How did he know that you were coming?” the elf who spoke first asked. “How do you think he knew? He’s Santa Claus, that’s how!”
“We’ve been extra busy,” a short, squatty elf with a wide grin on his face said, “Especially since two weeks ago, when our toy-making was disrupted for three days.”
“That’s terrible!” Celeste said. “What happened?”
“We were attacked by a horde of evil Christmas elves who wanted to shut our operation down,” the same elf replied. “They snuck closer and closer towards us, hiding behind snow banks, icy outcroppings of rocks, and snowmen.”
“We’ve had trouble with evil Christmas elves before, also,” I said. “They tried to destroy Christmas then, and it seems as if they’re trying to do it again, but in a different way. They sang and danced outside of Centralia Mall—Centralia’s the city where we live—and demanded that everyone contributed ‘donations’ into their scarlet-and-green kettles.
“Their songs and acrobatic dances produced a spellbinding, hypnotic effect on the crowds who viewed them. Really, to anyone who was not hypnotized by their singing and dancing, like me, if you listened to the words of the songs, they were singing about kicking in doors and robbing the city’s houses of their valuables. They had to be stopped, before they ruined Centralia’s economy. We were the only ones who knew what was actually going on and who could put a halt to their plans.”
We walked through passageway after passageway, until we finally came to Santa’s Throne Room. We could feel the excitement building in the air. When we entered, Celeste gasped out “Santa! Oh, no!”

Debut author, Freddie Owens, swings for the fences and hits a home run with his excellent coming-of-age story set primarily in Kentucky, Then Like the Blind Man. When Orbie’s father dies, his life changes forever. His mother, Ruby, finds herself attracted to the smooth-talking, poetic atheist Victor Denalsky, who had been Orbie’s father’s foreman at a steel mill in Detroit. After Orbie’s father dies, Victor courts Orbie’s mother, and eventually marries her. Not wanting to nor desiring to take care of a nine-year-old boy with an attitude, like Orbie, who can’t stand his stepfather, anyway, Ruby and Victor decide to drop Orbie off at Ruby’s parents’ house in Kentucky, with the promise that they’ll come back to get him once they’ve settled in Florida, where Victor supposedly has a job lined up. Orbie’s mother and Victor take with them Orbie’s younger sister, Missy.

The novel is told in the first person by Orbie, who, though young, is very insightful for his age. As I read, I was often reminded of another famous novel told from the POV of a child, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird. The themes are different, but Orbie’s and Scout’s perspectives on African Americans in the 1950′s are significant to understanding both books. Orbie has some bad experiences with some of the black people he comes in contact with early on in the novel, so he calls them the “n,” word at various points in the story.

Through the course of Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie eventually realizes that his grandparents are great people who love him. They may not have attained a high level of school education, but they are wise about farm life and human nature.

They don’t like it that their daughter, Ruby, has developed a prejudice for blacks, nor that she’s passed it on to Orbie. That’s one of the many nice touches I liked about Freddie Owen’s debut novel, that in it, it’s not Orbie’s grandparents who live in Kentucky that exhibit a prejudiced point of view, but it’s learned from experiences Orbie and his family have living in Detroit, in the north. Of course, in reality, unfortunately you can find prejudice in every state to this day; but, the author didn’t go the stereotypical route of having his northern characters expressing an enlightened POV, and his southern ones being all racists.
Owens, a published poet, has infused Then Like the Blind Man with a poetic sensibility that makes his story and characters come to life for the reader. Through Owens, and Orbie’s story, we feel the emotions of being dumped off somewhere he doesn’t want to live, at his grandparents’ house; but, we come to see them as positive, nurturing influences on Orbie’s life. Though Orbie despises the alcoholic Victor, and how his mother has made wrong decisions (to his POV, anyway), Victor is not portrayed as being completely bad. He does show an interest in Orbie at times, like when Orbie expresses his fascination with a scar Victor has on his neck that he got in WWII.

Orbie comes to think that Victor acts nicely towards him only further to ingratiate himself with Ruby, Orbie’s mother. Ruby is the type of woman who thinks she can change the man she loves, to rehabilitate him, and she always holds out a spark of hope for Victor. This is an aspect about her that kind of frustrated me as a reader, and made me want to tell her–if she was real and in front of me–to stop deluding herself and wake up and realize what a jerk Victor is most of the time. But, thinking of a man who has faults as being some sort of “project,” or someone who can be “rehabilitated,” is a trait that some women have, so Ruby’s having this trait brought even more realism to the story.

Besides there being various themes and messages in Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie’s boyhood exuberance, how he relates to his grandparents, his changing point of view about much of what he’d taken for granted; and his adventures are what really makes the novel captivating. Freddie Owens fills the pages of his novel with other very memorable characters, like the humpbacked elderly lady, Bird; Moses Mashbone; Mrs. Profit; and Nealy Harlan. If you’re a fan of novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, Freddie Owens’s Then Like the Blind Man is s Must Read!

What follows are the first three chapters of my latest novel in my series The Case Files of Lily and PAWS, called Lily Solves Them All. In it, Lily, her 14-year-old “owner” Celese, and the rest of PAWS attempt to solve seven of the most difficult cases they’re ever faced, using the methods of 7 of the most famous detectives of literature and the Silver Screen, like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and more! If you like what you read, just click
to purchase the book for only $3.99, or you can go to Amazon and buy the papeback version for only $10.99! It, and all of the series, makes for great Christmas gifts!

The Case of the Copper Crooks

Chapter One
“The Game’s Afoot!”
“As you may have already heard,” I said, addressing my friends, the fellow members of PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths),”a letter of great import arrived in my mail today, which prompted me to call this emergency meeting.”
“Hear, hear!” one of my best friends, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, bellowed out. This sentiment was echoed by the other members of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed and Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and also by my best-est friend in the world, the now fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince.
We were convening our meeting in the Centralia, AR. City Dog Park, despite the fact that none of us were—technically speaking—dogs. I, of course, am Lily, the leader of PAWS, and a mutant pterodactyl who has (among other powers) the power to cloud people’s minds into them thinking they’re seeing a wee brindle black-and-white terrier. Fuzzy, Alphonse, and Lucy are also mutants. You humans see only what we want you to see.
Celeste knows our secret, as I let her in on it and made her an Honorary Member of PAWS; and, Billy Zest, who lives in an alt-universe we visited as recounted in the second volume of my cases and memoirs, Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer, knows about us. With the exception of a certain lactose-intolerant Sasquatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and a powerful witch friend of ours, Witch Hagatha, no-one else knows our secret identities, and that we are a powerful crime-fighting organization with the very apt motto: “Be Ever Vigilant!” The public has learned that there is, or may be, a crime-fighting organization called PAWS, but they know scant else about us.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee resembles to humans a Chinese Crested dog, though he is, in reality, a rhinocerous who loves to play rugby. He is known as the Distracter of PAWS, as his peculiar appearance and demeanor is very—um—distracting. He is a fun, rough-and-tumble kinda guy, whose zigzagging gait is a little like the drunken style of walking a dog might have that has licked up too much Antifreeze (not a drink I’d recommend to anyone, as it is quite poisonous, though I’ve heard it is rather sweet-tasting).
Lucy Marmoset Higgins is another dear friend of mine. She looks like a Great Dane to the eyes of humans, but she is actually an orangutan of superior intelligence. She is a fantastic fighter, and is a wonder at cracking safes and hacking into computers. Her skills (and opposable thumbs) have come in handy many times in the past, and have enabled us to enter many buildings which we might not otherwise have been able to access.
Prince Alphonse Saed is the only member of royalty in our close-knit group. He appears to be a relatively harmless, though quite feisty, Miniature Dachsund. However, Fonzie, as he’s often called, is really a Mountain Lion. He is an expert at using several types of ninja weapons and at being stealthy. As well, he often wears a turban, and can foretell the future (to an extent) through the use of Tarot cards and crystal balls.
As for Celeste, she is the teenage daughter of the Quinces, the family I live with. She has trained in martial arts like Aikido and Judo, and she’s become quite a good fighter and an awesome addition to PAWS in several other ways. She earns money now and then, given to her by the “owners,” of Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie, through taking us for walks or taking care of my three friends when their owners are out of town. This serves as an excellent cover for our periodic meetings. It is difficult to put into words how much I care for her, other than to say she is my best-est friend. But, we both like to mess with each other and even exchange…er…playful insults back and forth. Her parents, the Quinces, are both multimillionaires, and are eccentric but very nice people to live with, on the whole.
Quentin Quintilius Quince, or Triple Q, Celeste’s father, has come up with some inventions on his own, but most are ones I have implanted into his mind, to make him believe he came up with them on his own. One of the inventions, for example, are the Melon Bottom Jeans, which aid “shorties” on the dance floor in springing back upright if they happen to get too “low, low, low,” through the use of a strategically hidden squeeze bulb and tube.
Clare, Celeste’s mother, has dreamed up many interesting inventions herself, all without my help. She is a wildlife specialist and an excellent painter. Her inventions are primarily animal-related ones, like coming up with an excellent shampoo for parrots and other animals. She is always volunteering to work with the animals at the zoo, and she often likes to take in and care for injured wildlife. This is very kind-hearted of her, but it has gotten us into many jams in the past.
“It is perhaps not appropriate to shout ‘Hear, hear!’ after a simple statement of fact,” I said to the gathering, “but anyway, about this very odd letter. It is brief, and appears to be threatening in style and suspicious in substance.”
“Maybe it’s just a Get Well card,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins suggested, “or perhaps one wishing you Condolences because a dear, loved one has passed away.”
“No, Lucy,” I said, attempting to be the model of restraint that I most generally am, “No, it is most definitely not either a ‘Get Well card,’ nor one wishing me ‘Condolences.’ First of all, as you can plainly see, what I hold in my hands—er, talons—is not a card at all, but is, in fact, a letter. Secondly, I am not sick, nor do I know anyone who is sick. Thirdly, I also know no-one who has passed away. I deal in facts, as you all well know, not haphazard theories and guesses.
“The author of this letter,” I continued, “has issued me, and by extension, all of us, a challenge: to solve seven mysterious cases. Failure to solve even one of them will brand us laughingstocks, as the person who penned this says he, or she, will expose our failure to the newspapers and television stations.”
“That’s a rather sticky wicket,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “Is that the correct term to use? I get so confused between American English, Australian English, Indian English, English English, and as to the Cockneys—well—“
“Yes, that would be an accurate summation of the state of affairs we’re currently in,” I answered hurriedly, to try to prevent Fonzie from saying anything that might be even more insulting to anyone who might read about this case in the future than what he’d already said.
“Who signed it, Lily, if anyone?” Celeste asked. Through long experience listening to us, and with the help of my tutelage, she’d come to understand our various languages.
“The signer is obviously mocking us, or me, anyway,” I said, “as he/she has not included a name, just saying that he/she is a ‘Friend.’ That can’t be, as why would a friend be writing me a threatening letter?”
I had asked the question rhetorically, but Fuzzy Wally MacGee said: “He could just be playing a game, yeah, that’s the ticket. Maybe like Tiddley-winks, or Uno, or Hide-and-Go-Seek, or—“
“No, Fuzzy, my friend! Well, actually, you could say yes!” I said.
“Which is it, no or yes?” Fuzzy asked. “You can be very confusing sometimes, Lily! I might not be as smart as you, but—”
“The person is not a friend, as he/she is trying to ruin us, and prove to the world that we are inept and can’t solve the cases he will present us. The game the writer of the letter suggests that we play with him is not a simple, though fun, sort of game, like the ones you named, Fuzzy. No, it is a much more deadly game, one that might be a matter of life or death.
As the famous detective Sherlock Bones says in cases like this: ‘The game’s afoot!’” I roared, regretting the unwanted attention in the form of uneasy stares that this caused us.
“Oh, so it’s a deadly game played with the feet, eh?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “You must mean it’s wicked good fun! So, what is it, Lily? Is it soccer, American football, rugby?” He said “rugby,” quite hopefully, but I dashed his ill-conceived notion to the ground with my reply.
“No, none of those,” I explained. “They’re all fine games. What I mean, though, is that whoever sent me this letter (an email would have been so much easier, though less personal, I suppose) is playing a game with our heads. He/she wants us to take the bait, to swallow it hook, line, and sinker, to—”
“Oh, I get what you’re trying to say now!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “You weren’t talking about a game at all; you were talking about that we’re about to go fishing! That sounds like a great idea!”
“GRRR! No, just like my saying ‘game,’ when I’m talking about the evil scheme the author of this letter has dreamt up, I’m using the symbolism of a fish taking bait to describe how this nefarious person wants us to do what he/she requests! He/she wants us to solve seven cases, and we’re going to accept his challenge. Each case must be solved according to the methods certain famous detectives have used in besting their foes. After we solve each case, we will be sent further information about subsequent cases.”
“Which detective does the author of the letter say he wants you to be like for the first case?” Celeste asked me.
“Why, one of my very favorite ones, who, like me, uses deductive logic to solve cases: Sherlock Bones!” I answered her.
“That should be right up your alley!” Celeste said. “It should give you no trouble at all!”
“And what,” Prince Alphonse Saed asked, “is the first case about?”
“I—we—are to solve who’s behind a recent rash of thefts around Centralia,” I answered.
“What’s been stolen?” Fonzie continued. ”Gold, silver, jewels?”
“No, Fonzie,” I said. “Though it is a metal that is becoming ever more scarce daily and is being sought after more and more by crooks who will stop at nothing to obtain it. The metal I’m speaking of is copper, and it appears that someone or possibly a group of thieves is trying to corner the local market on it by stealing it wherever they can find it.”
“I once knew a horse named Copper,” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “Are they after horses, too, Lily?”
“The crooks are after just copper. and not horses.” I replied. “They are ruthless in their drive to obtain the metal, which keeps going up in price, making the costs of many things also greatly increase. We must round up the culprits and stop them! What was perhaps once a penny-ante crime is now a very serious offense, costing the citizens of Centralia, our state, and the world millions, maybe even billions of dollars every year.”
“How can we catch them,” Lucy asked, “when the police have obviously failed?”
“Do not be too hard on the police, Lucy, but that is a good question!” I said, pondering my response to her carefully before I went on. “These thieves, they are like ghosts! The police do capture copper thieves, but the scale that this person or group of people the writer of this letter mentions operates under is much larger than that dreamt of by most of the other criminals involved in stealing copper. We must catch these criminals in the act, which means staking out possible locations where the thieves might strike next!”
“I suppose you have a few ideas of exactly where these ‘ghosts,’ might materialize next that the police have not thought of yet?” Celeste asked, rather snarkily, I thought to myself.
“Why, actually, I do,” I stated, somewhat perturbed. “Businesses like car dealerships, manufacturers of washers and dryers, and building sites. Oh, and also places that cast brass statues, libraries, cemeteries, and any place that has a statue standing in front of it.”
“Well, that really narrows down the list of possible places where the crooks will strike next.” Celeste said. “Why, Lily, would the thieves be interested in brass when you say they are specializing in stealing copper?”
“They desire anything that contains copper—that much is obvious. They want to steal items like copper wires and pipes, so that explains their interest in building sites. They also have used metal saws to cut the catalytic converters from every car at a dealership, all in one night, as the converters contain substantial amounts of copper in them.
“The crooks are interested in anything made out of brass, as they can melt it down into its components, tin and copper, and sell each for more than the overall cost of the brass. They have been stealing statues from in front of government buildings, libraries, and parks. They have even stooped to stealing brass statues and vases from graveyards,” I stated.
“Lily!” Prince Saed shouted. “Over there, by those trees to the left—“
“What is it you sense, or that you see?” I asked, thinking back to our first case (well, at any rate, of those I’ve so far recorded for posterity). “Don’t tell me, let me guess—Scarlet Macaws?”
“No, Lily; something shiny, one could say—” Fonzie began; but, I cut him off, seeing the approaching figure now myself.
“Coppery!” I roared, not caring how loud I was; we were under attack, and all protocol went out the window. “Quick, we must defend ourselves!”
The copper-colored automaton was human in shape, and walked, or ran, on two legs, jointed at the ankles, knees, and hips. It barreled at us, and engaged Lucy in a fight. Though Lucy is very powerful, she was no match for the mechanical might of the Steampunk robot. The android grasped Lucy about her neck, trying its best to choke the life from her body.

Chapter Two
“The Copper-Clad Alibi”
We’d been practically frozen in place, disbelief etched on our faces, but our friend’s desperate gasps for air were so urgent that we emerged from our daze and began hitting the coppery humanoid, until we were finally were able to dislodge its hands and forced it to release Lucy, who collapsed in a heap on the ground, barely breathing.
The android then started to glow, and became a cherry-red in color, as heat built up inside of its shiny metal body. Prince Alphonse Saed and Celeste hefted Lucy onto my back, as I assumed my true shape as a fierce pterodactyl. I hate doing it in the daytime, as I don’t want to chance revealing our identities; but, I saw no-one nearby, and we really had to act quickly and decisively.
I had barely made it into the air, headed for the cover of the same trees the automaton had exited from when the thing exploded with massive force. Cogs, cranks, chains, and other unidentifiable parts were blasted everywhere. I knew such a tremendous explosion would soon have the police here to investigate what had happened, though I doubt they would be able to—er—piece together the remaining evidence.
Who was behind the brilliant creation of the Steampunk android? And, who was the author of the letter? Most importantly , was Lucy going to be okay after the savage attack on her, and was somebody trying to kill all of us, or had the robot simply malfunctioned, causing it then to explode?
Whoever had created the android, I was convinced, must also be the animal or person who was behind the recent wave of copper theft. This person, or animal, must be a genius with mechanical devices, and very adept with his/her hands (though no-one could be as good with them as Lucy, of course). He/she also had to have been tipped off that we were meeting at the Centralia City Dog Park at that particular place and time, and was perhaps even informed of this by the very animal/person who had written the letter. I felt we had to have been close to whoever the culprit was, that he/she likely had been in the park watching us from a distance, with binoculars, to see his/her plan succeed.
But I had foiled him/her with my lightning-fast reflexes and actions. There was no doubt in my mind that he/she would try again.
I lived with Celeste and her parents at 221 Barker Street in a modest 3-story 250,000 square-foot mansion with a gabled roof. We had very recently moved, just about a week ago, from where we used to live, at 1611 Chickamunga Street, though we still lived in Centralia, AR. The move had been planned for awhile, but Celeste’s parents hadn’t officially closed on the house until the first week of August. We were only a mile away from our old house, which was roomy, at 200,000 square feet; but, you know, a growing pterodactyl needs plenty of space! Also, as an added bonus to me, being a great fan of Sherlock Bones, the name of our new street was very similar to the address where that great detective resided: 221and-a-half B Baker Street.
“Whoever the criminal mastermind is that’s behind the copper thefts and the creation of the copper automatons, Celeste,” I said to her in her bedroom that night, “is trying to throw us off the scent of the trail he is oh, so assuredly leaving.”
“What are you talking about, chica?” Celeste asked me. “You are talkin’ crazy talk. Who do you think you are, Sherlock Bones?”
“Well, he is the first famous detective I’m supposed to use the methods of in solving the—what would be a good name to call them—‘Seven Scintillating Cases,’ mentioned in the mysterious letter.”
“What do you mean, he’s trying to ‘throw us off the scent’?” Celeste asked next. “I’m sure whoever it is doesn’t want to be caught—what criminal does? But still—“
“A kleptomaniac does! But, the criminal we’re dealing with is not a kleptomaniac, though he/she is involved in a series of copper-related thefts. But, see this bit of metal I salvaged when I went back later on? The police must have missed it. It says: ‘Made In China.’ The thief must want us to think he, or she, is Chinese!” I said.
“That’s just ridiculous!” Celeste said. “Lots of things are made in China! That doesn’t mean the head of the gang is Chinese!”
“You—you’re ridiculous!” I said back to her. “Burn! You can’t help it, though—you were just born an hour ago, and you don’t know anything about the world! You are a squid-headed whale-baby, with your tentacles flapping around, and when you cry, you squirt your tears out of a blowhole on your neck! Wah! Wah!” Okay; I wasn’t exactly being mature here; but, ya gotta have a little bit of fun now and then. It helps relieve the tension when you’re on a big case, like the one we were currently engaged in solving.
“You’re the baby, and you were just born two minutes ago! You’re a whale-headed squid baby, and you have to were a bag over your head, so people won’t run in terror when they see you! You can’t help it, though; you’re new to the world, and don’t know you’re a freak of nature!”
“That wasn’t exactly being mature, Celeste!” I said. “Nor was it accurate, as you are the freak of nature, but you can’t help it; you’re all alone in the world, and are a new-born! You don’t know why the neighbors are carrying torches to the house; you don’t know things yet!
“Like why,” I said, trying to return to the subject, however much in vain my attempts might be, “the villain was trying to make us believe he’s Chinese! But, it could be he really is Chinese, and he’s trying to make us think that he isn’t, by making it seem too obvious. But, Celeste; whom do we know that is evil, and who is Chinese, that could be behind such an operation? That is the person we must find, mark my words, and then we’ll get to the bottom of this mystery!”
“Chinese?” Celeste asked. “The only person—well, the only animal we’ve ever met before who was Chinese was General Yao Xing, the red panda. But, remember? He lost his memory (because of you), was on exhibit at the Centralia Zoo for awhile, and then got flown back to China! It can’t be him that’s the criminal mastermind here—you must be barking up the wrong tree!”
“Celeste, you know I don’t bark—I roar! But, never mind that,” I said. “This case has all of the hallmarks of General Yao Xing’s being the one behind it! Who else, I ask you, would be able to plan the copper thefts so carefully, so meticulously—(drat! I hate to use two synonyms in a row like that!)? Who else is so interested in mechanical devices—well, you probably haven’t read up on his exploits in China like I have, but he does have a fascination for them—and—who else do we know who is…um…from China?”
“Lily,” Celeste said, doubt in her voice, “as I said, just because you found a hunk of metal that happens to say ‘Made In China,’ on it doesn’t mean that the person behind the thefts is from China!”
“What-ever,” I said. “You just don’t want to admit that I’m right, as usual!”
“Arrgh!” Celeste said. “Sometimes you’re so frustrating and pig-headed!”
“You! You are!” I said. “I’ll admit it seems far-fetched. But, as Sherlock Bones is fond of saying: ‘When you have eliminated the possible, the impossible, however strange it might seem, must be the answer!’”
“Hmm…” Celeste said. “I’m fairly sure that’s not exactly the correct quote—“
“I tell you, I’m on to the truth here, Celeste!” I said. “In the morning, we’ll just look in the phone book, and—“
“The phone book?” Celeste asked. “You really think that if General Yao Xing somehow regained his memory and made it all the way back to America, he would have also traveled to Arkansas once again, just to try to annoy you and foil you?”
“You’re speaking of General Yao Xing, Celeste!” I said. “He not only could have done something just like that, but he would if he could! In that respect, he is somewhat similar to a woodchuck, rather than to a red panda.”
“Just to prove you wrong,” Celeste said, “How about I get the phone book now, and we can see if his name is in it?”
“Ah!” I said. “There’s hope for you yet, my dear Celeste! That’s just what I was about to suggest, though we’ll have to put off trying to find where he lives until the morning, as the hour is getting late….”
“General Yao Xing’s name won’t be in the phone book, Lily! But if it will get you to shut up and admit you’re wrong for once in your life, I’ll look up the name for you!”
Celeste went down the stairs to the kitchen, three flights below, acting oddly huffy. I’m not sure what excuse she gave to her parents, if they asked her what she was doing; but, it didn’t take Cel very long to return with the book in her hands. I impatiently waited, looking over her shoulders, and—BAM—there was his name! Well, it didn’t say ‘General,’ but it did list a number for a ‘Xing, Yao.’ We had, it seems caught a bit of luck for a change!
“Lily, okay, there is a ‘Xing, Yao,” at 1112 Sparrow Street, but that is just a coincidence! There must be a million Yao Xings in the world, and the odds of this particular one being the red panda General Yao Xing must be astronomical!”
“Taking into account the population of China, which is currently at 3,571,896, and factoring in the commonality of the name compared to other Chinese names, there are, it’s safe to say, 2,548,923 gentlemen with that name. But, the vast majority of them are still living in China, not here. In America, there are fewer than 1,000 people with that name, and only one other who lives in Arkansas, an 87-year-old fellow in Little Rock.
“Ergo, by the process of elimination,” I continued, “the Yao Xing now residing at 1112 Sparrow Street has a very high degree of probability of being our General Yao Xing. Besides, he has a Facebook page—check it out!”
I showed her the results of a search I’d just done on my laptop computer, which I kept in her room underneath her bed. There, looking back at us from the monitor’s screen, was the smiling face of the red panda General Yao Xing. There was no mention at all about his ever having had a career in the military, of course; he didn’t want that knowledge broadcast for the authorities to use against him, if they ever had the reason to investigate his background.
“Fine!” Celeste said, again in a very huffy tone of voice. “We’ll go to his address tomorrow, and ask him a few polite questions. Still, it might be just a distant relative, like a second cousin, to General Yao Xing.”
“I’ll admit that there is a microscopic possibility that you could be correct, Celeste,” I said. “Perhaps in the light of the day, my brilliant deductions will be shown to be erroneous. But, I highly doubt that. We shall see, we shall see.”
“Will you please stop talking like that?” Celeste asked me.
“Like what?” I said.
“Like you’re the actor Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Bones in lots of black-and-white movies!” she said.
“There are ears and eyes everywhere!” I said. “I need to not only assume the methods of the great Sherlock Bones, and the deductive ratiocination he displays, but I need to even act like him, lest someone questions whether the case was solved in the manner stated in the letter. One can never be too careful, Celeste!”
“Oh, just shut up and go to bed!” she said.
With those words as my cue—not the kind used in billiards, but as my none-to-subtle hint to leave her room—I did as she asked, and went to sleep, curled up beside her, with my head on her other pillow and my body underneath her toasty-warm covers.
The following day was a Sunday. In just another week on a Monday, Celeste would be starting 9th. grade at Centralia Jr. High, “Home of the Fightin’ Musk Ox.” The skies were cloudy, indicating that a thunderstorm was on the way. Still, if my calculations were accurate, based upon past weather patterns and thunderstorm occurrences, we had time to eat our breakfast (the most important meal of the day), round up the rest of PAWS, and get to the address before the storm began—if we had a little bit of help, in the form of Triple Q’s driving us in his blue Mustang.
The breakfast was spectacular, as usual. The Quinces had ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast with jam. I had…horrors…dog food. But, Celeste slipped me some choice pieces of bacon, and her mother gave me what was left of the scrambled eggs, so I had a pretty decent breakfast, myself.
Triple Q was Centralia’s mayor, despite the attempts of certain criminal elements, i.e., the SNURFLES, at having the election results overturned. Celeste asked her father to drive her to pick up the other members of PAWS for a walk, and he could hardly refuse, as we did not now live as close to them as we once had.
“I’ll give you a ride, no problem!” he said. “I’ll take you to the dog park, and you can walk them there, okay? It could storm soon, so I will wait in the car while you walk them for about a half hour or so. But, get some towels from the bathroom, so if it does start raining, you can wipe off their paws so the car doesn’t get dirty.”
“But, Dad,” Celeste said, “I just took them to the dog park yesterday! I was thinking of walking them around our neighborhood today. Why can’t I do that, instead?”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Triple Q said, “but there are some crazy people around, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“Celeste,” I softly growled, “Don’t worry! Let’s just go; I’ll make sure we make our planned rendezvous with the General!”
With a stack of five towels in hand, and myself on—yet another indignity—a leash we climbed into Triple Q’s Mustang and drove off to gather up the other members of PAWS. Fortunately, we learned upon picking up Lucy, that she had not experienced any lingering effects of the attack. She seemed to be alright, though her voice was a little hoarse. I used my ability to control minds by ordering Celeste’s Dad to then drive us not to the dog park, but to—you guessed it—1112 Sparrow Street.
Getting out of the Mustang, with all of our leashes in her hand, Celeste walked up to General Yao Xing’s front door and rang the bell. Nobody answered it after the first ring, so thirty seconds later, she rang it again. We heard footsteps approaching, and someone fumbling with a chain, and then the door opened and we saw the red panda within.
“Yes? General Yao Xing said. “Can I help you? Have we met before?”
“General Yao Xing, I presume,” I said. “I am Lily Elizabeth Quince, though some people for some odd reason call me Victoria. Anyway, You know very well you’ve seen me, Celeste, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed before. We are the ones who put you behind bars, at the Centralia Zoo, until your country asked for you back!”
“Lily?” General Yao Xing pondered. “I seem to dimly recall a ‘Lily,’ who shot me with a tranquilizer dart even though I was actually trying to turn against the SNURFLES and reform! And then, you made me “accidently” lose my memory, and after wondering who I was and how I’d ended up behind bars in a zoo, I do remember a lengthy boat ride back to China. But, now I’ve returned, and I’ve reformed for good. I am living an honest, honorable life, so—not that I don’t enjoy reunions, but—you can all leave now!” he said, about to close the door.
“Wait just a moment!” I said. “We have some questions for you first!”
“Will you go away and leave me alone if I answer your silly questions?” General Yao Xing asked. Huffiness, it seemed, was like a disease, spreading from person to person to even animal.
“Yes,” I said. “You have my word on it! But, only if you answer me honestly, Yao. Now, admit it; it’s for your own good—you are the one responsible for the recent wave of copper theft in Centralia, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” General Yao Xing stubbornly replied. “I have heard about there being such thefts taking place, but I have nothing to do with them! I told you, I’ve reformed!”
“Where were you the night of August 4th , then, Yao? Answer me that!” I said, trying to shake his story and catch him in a lie.
“I was—out of town visiting a sick relative.”
“And what about the night of August 11th.?” I asked him.
“Yeah, and how about the afternoon of the 12th, and morning of the 14th?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee chimed in, just saying dates at random.
“Uh, um…” General Yao Xing began, thoroughly confused. “The night of August 11th., I was, um, at a basketball game, watching the Centralia Dragons defeat the Alabama Meercats The afternoon of the 12th, I was here, watching TV. The morning of the 14, I was…where was I? Oh, mowing the lawn, I believe!”
“You believe, or you know?” Prince Alphonse interjected. “Tell us what it really was, or we’ll have to turn you over to the cops!”
“That’s what I really was doing!” the red panda said. “Mowing the lawn! It was supposed to rain later in the day, so I wanted to get it over with before the rain started.”
I almost felt sorry for the poor red panda that had once been one of China’s greatest criminal masterminds. Perhaps he still was, and he was just feigning ignorance.
“We’ll check all of those dates, you understand, Yao?” I asked. “If there is anything squirrely about any of them—and you know how much I hate squirrels—though, they taste rather delicious, if prepared correctly—we will be back!”
“What?” Lucy muttered as we walked away from Yao’s door. . “Is that all we’re going to do to him? Just let him go?”
“Why, yes, Lucy,” I answered her. “For now, anyway. You see, if what General Yao Xing is telling us is true, he has a copper-clad alibi. The nights of August 4th and August 11th are two nights when copper thefts occurred. On the night of the 4th, the two bronze statues of lions were stolen from in front of the Centralia Public Library. Then, on the night of August 11th, the housing development that’s being built downtown was also hit, and all of the copper pipes and wiring that was going to be used in constructing the houses was pilfered. We will corroborate his story, but even someone like General Yao Xing can’t be in two places at once.”
“Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that General Yao Xing has an iron-clad alibi, Lily?” Celeste asked, as we got into the Mustang.
“Copper-clad sounds cooler,” I said. “Burn!”

Chapter Three
“He Who Smelt It, Dealt It”
The return drive was uneventful. That is, until suddenly there was an awful aroma in the car, emanating, my keen nose told me, from the direction of Fuzzy Wally MacGee. I wasn’t about to say anything to embarrass him, but truth be told, Fuzzy Wally MacGee is not someone who’s embarrassed easily.
Celeste had no such compunctions, however, about whether or not she embarrassed anyone, so she said: “Holy crap! What is that smell? Did someone die in here?”
“Ha, ha!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee laughed, looking very pleased with himself, as if he’d done an amazing trick. “She who smelled it dealt it!”
“Eureka!” I roared. “Fuzzy Wally, you’re a genius!”
“Yeah, I know…wait…what was that you just said?” he asked, bewildered.
“I said, you’re a genius!” I repeated.
“Why-why are you saying that?” Fuzzy asked.
“Elementary, my dear Fuzzy!” I said. “Everyone knows that to extract copper from copper ore, it must be smelted. Therefore, it stands to reason, wherever the nearest place is that smelts copper must be the next place we investigate!”
“I went on a field trip to the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant in 6th grade,” Celeste said. “It’s pretty near to us, just over on Temple Street.”
“That must be our destination, then!” I said. “There is still time to get to the bottom of this and solve the case, before the storm comes!”
“Do you really think you can solve the case that quickly?” Celeste asked.
“It is entirely possible,” I answered. “Who knows until we try?”
The exterior of the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant was made of white bricks that had gotten progressively dingy over the years. Smokestacks arose from the rooftop and smoke issued forth, but it was not nearly as grey-black as it had been when the plant was first constructed. New antipollution regulations had greatly reduced the amount of pollution they spewed into the atmosphere. An engraved copper sign affixed to the bricks by the entrance stated that the building was the property of Lao Tzu Xing.
We—all of us, including Celeste’s father—entered the facility through the visitors’ entrance, but strangely enough, we saw no secretaries at the front desks nor any other employees within sight. Not letting that stop us, we went through two doors that led onto a railed balcony overlooking the shop floor. Below us, there was a bustle of activity, but none of it coming from humans. There were noisy machines all around us, being operated by copper automatons. There were also huge vats that glowed with the heat of the molten metal that they contained. The entire factory appeared to be self-sufficient, with human employees having been made obsolete due to the extreme efficiency of the androids.
“Get you dirty, stinkin’ robot hands off of me!” Prince Alphonse Saed suddenly yelled. Automatons dress in security guard uniforms had snuck up on us and one had grabbed Fonzie. I blasted the robot with fire I created using my pyrokinetic abilities, doubtless resembling a dragon of old. The automaton immediately let go, and Fonzie whipped out a special pair of steel nunchuks from where he’d kept them hidden inside his turban. He wanted to be prepared after the fiasco yesterday so he’d be ready if he ever had to do battle with automatons again. The fight was on!
Lucy had recovered from her mild injuries, but didn’t want to risk the chance of getting surprised and throttled again, so she was very wary, dodging the attacks of her foes. She got in blow after blow on them, swinging her forearms like they were massive billy clubs, but only seemed to be denting their bodies with her efforts.
Celeste managed to exploit the size and weight of her opponents and use it against them, throwing two of the copper automatons into vats of boiling metal. They landed with a huge splash, sending up waves of molten copper into the air before they then sunk, after thrashing about a bit. Besides fighting the automatons, we needed to prevent them from accidently harming Triple Q, who was still in a hypnotized, dazed state.
“Stop! Stop that fighting right away!” someone yelled. I turned my head and saw the form of a red panda racing as fast as his stubby legs could go towards us.
“Finally!” I said. “So you’re calling off your copper goons?”
“Are you kidding?” the red panda asked, I assume rhetorically. “You might damage them if you’re not careful! Go easy on them!”
“’Go easy on them’?” I repeated. “They’re the ones who started it! We only came here to interrog—uh, ask the owner of this place, Lao Tzu Xing, some questions!”
“I am the person you speak of, Lao Tzu Xing, but you will have to leave immediately! Visiting hours are over!”
“We’re not here to merely ‘visit’” I said. “As I said, we’re here to ask some questions to—the identical twin brother of General Yao Xing!”
“But—how did you know I was the twin brother of General Yao Xing? How did you find me?” Lao Tzu asked.
“Though you both have the same last names, I wasn’t sure until you just now confirmed my suspicions,” I said. “Confess, Lao Tzu! You are the criminal mastermind behind the recent thefts of copper around Centralia, aren’t you?”
“Copper thefts?” Lao Tzu said. “No; I am a law-abiding citizen of America! If my brother, the General, is involved with this mess, go arrest him, if you’re the police! I don’t want anything to do with him. I disowned him years ago, after he became a member of that criminal organization—“
“The S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S.?” I said. “The Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity?
“Yes, that’s the one!” he said.
“So, you deny creating these copper automatons and sending one to try to kill us at the Centralia City Dog Park yesterday afternoon?” I asked him.
“Yes, and no,” Lao Tzu Xing answered. “Yes, I invented the automatons. I wanted to see if I could make some that were just as good as the ones I have read about in Steampunk novels. I’m a fan of them, you see. And, I found that I could make the Steampunk robots I read about come to life! But, I did not send one of them to mur-der you. I would not want to risk that any of my…I think of them as my children…would become damaged!”
“Come now!” I said, anger entering into my voice. “Fact: Someone sent a copper automaton after us! Fact: When the automaton failed at strangling Lucy to death, it still attempted to fulfill its mission by exploding! Who else would have had access to the automatons, other than you?”
“There is one other ‘person,’ who had access to them…” the red panda said.
“Who? Your brother, General Yao Xing? Was he working with you all along, despite your previous claim that you’d ‘disowned’ him?” I asked, pressing the matter, wanting to—nay, needing to—solve this case once and for all.
“No, not him. I’d heard rumors he’d made his way back to America, and had given up his life of crime; but, I didn’t try to find out if the rumors were true or not.”
“If not him, then who was it?” I said.
“I needed help programming my creations,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I had built them, everything seemed to be in order. The robots should have worked. I didn’t know what was wrong, why they wouldn’t get up off of the wooden work tables and move. That’s when I was contacted by a mysterious individual who called herself Professor Polynesia.”
“Professor Polynesia!” I roared. “How could I have been so stupid not to have detected her hand—er, wing—in this whole sordid affair!”
“Professor Polynesia?” Celeste echoed us. “Who’s that? I thought we were done with parrots for awhile, now that you’ve become obsessed with solving these seven mysteries.”
“Professor Polynesia is my arch nemesis, that’s who!” I said. “Well, she’s among my—how would I say it?—arch nemesii? Sometimes even I lose track of how many I have! But, she’s definitely in the Top Five, or Top Ten…
“Anyway,” I went on, “Long story short, she is the granddaughter of the Polynesia, who was Dr. Doolittle’s Macaw..or, he was, I suppose, her doctor…she hatched not more than twenty years ago, so she is still fairly young as far as Macaws go. Unlike Doolittle’s Polynesia, or vice-versa, Professor Polynesia is evil. I wouldn’t doubt if it’s her claw-writing on the letter I received! But why…why would she risk my solving this case, and putting an end to what seems to be a profitable criminal enterprise?”
“Maybe she likes you, and wants to be friends!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “I likes perty birdies! Maybe she could even join PAWS!”
“Wha-wha-what?” I said. “Professor Polynesia is ‘perty,’ as you suggest, Fuzzy; one could even say she’s beautiful; but, she is a criminal, and so she could never be a member of PAWS, so get that idea out of your head!”
“Aw,” Fuzzy said, “Couldn’t we make an eggs-ception? Maybe, like General Yao Xing, she reformed!”
“As you may recall, Fuzzy, it was Professor Polynesia who sent one of these copper-clad criminals after us at the dog park. Lucy, and all of us, could have been killed by what she tried to do!”
“We could let bygones be bygones, can’t we, Lily?” Fuzzy protested.
“About some things, Fuzzy, yes—but, I take an assassination attempt on any of my friends or myself very personally.”
Still without having had my question answered, I pondered it over. “She must not really care very much about this copper theft scheme she’s dragged you into, Lao Tzu,” I finally said. “That’s got to be the answer! She intended you to be left to take the responsibility for the copper crimes, if I made it this far in solving the case. She would be long gone, and—”
“Lily!” Celeste shouted, “We’re being surrounded! All of the robots have been closing in on us while you were yakking with Fuzzy!”
“Nice,” I said. “Blame your ‘best-est friend,’ for this trap we now find ourselves in! I can’t help it if I think aloud sometimes. I guess Professor Polynesia hasn’t gone, after all…she was just ensnaring us in her wicked web!”
“I thought you said that she was a Macaw, Lily, not a spider!” Fuzzy said.
“She is a Macaw, Fuzzmeister,” I said. “but she acted like a spider, in that she—’
“Leave the explanations for later!” Celeste said. “How in the heck can we get out of here? We can’t fight against all of these automatons!”
“Lao Tzu, there is still a chance they will listen to you!” I roared. “Order them to get back to work and leave us alone!”
“I’ll try, but I don’t think it will work,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I command you all to return to your jobs!”
Unfortunately, his order fell on deaf ears. The copper-clad criminals, who likely were the ones who had stolen Centralia’s copper to make even more of themselves at the commands of Professor Polynesia—their real boss—kept getting closer and closer.

Read the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer FREE right here! And, if you like what you read, which I hope you WILL, click the word “here” that’s the first “here” that I wrote, highlightlighted above, to buy it for just $2.99! You can get it at Amazon in paperback, too, for only $8.99!

Chapter One
“Lookin’ Mighty Squatchy”

What started out as a camping trip and a Sasquatch summer turned out to be a ghost-hunting summer filled with spine-tingling chills. Oh, and all of the unusual suspects still plagued me and my friends, the crime-fighting members of P.A.W.S.(Private Army of Warrior Sleuths), namely S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity), scarlet and otherwise hued. Who would think that two scarlet Macaws, liked Frankie Sinister and the Scarlet Mafia head, Benny the Beak, could cause so much trouble? Not to mention, the added headaches a sinister red panda (hiding behind an innocent appearance) General Yao Xing, caused, and Omar Khalid Ali’s, the red Egyptian fox’s, attempts to assassinate me and burn down the Quince’s house.
But, I am getting both ahead of and behind myself. I am living too much in the past, but the Case of the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (recounted in my first book) haunted me almost as much as the ghosts I met did (and still do, in ways), which are the spooky main subject of this book. And, I don’t want to get either too much ahead of myself, nor too much behind myself; then, there’s a danger I wouldn’t know whether I’m coming or going. I don’t want that to happen again–not after the last incident, involving an irate saber tooth tiger and a bubbling tar pit.
Who am I? Lily Elizabeth Quince, a black-and-white (though mostly black) pterodactyl with the heart of a highly courageous terrier. And, because of my ability to cloud peoples’ minds, unless I desire them to see me in my true form, they only see a wee Toto-ish terrier when they look at me. So much the better, as I’ve found it’s more fun to prove how wrong someone was to underestimate me than it is to eat crow if I overestimate my own abilities and screw up. That doesn’t happen much, but still, the former beats the latter, hands down!
“Lily-bear,” fourteen-year-old Celeste said to me as she and her extremely wealthy parents, Quentin Quintilius Quince (or Triple Q, as I like to call him) and Clare set up tents, “camping in the Oauchita National Forest is going to be fantastic, don’t you think? Just smell the pine trees, and don’t you just love breathing the fresh air, and being in the Great Outdoors?”
“Blech!” I said. “The Great Outdoors is overrated!” To Celeste’s parents, my words sounded like a series of barks and yaps, but I had unlocked the elusive part of Celeste’s brain that allowed her to understand what I and the other members of PAWS talked about, when we met with each other. Celeste was, after all, an Honorary Member of PAWS, as well as being my best-est friend in the entire world.”Don’t be so grumpy, Lily!” Celeste said. “This is the oldest and largest National Forest in the South, and has over 700 miles of trails, and some of the best fishing in Arkansas!”
“Yeah, well, if Fuzzy Wally MacGee (he was a rhino who took the appearance of a Chinese crested)or Lucy Marmoset Higgins (an orangutan who looked to humans like a Great Dane)or Prince Alphonse Saed (a Mountain Lion who, to human eyes, looked like a miniature dachsund) was here with me, perhaps I wouldn’t be as ‘grumpy,’ as you put it, because we could get a real investigation going and bring to light all of the crimes that are going on here right under your unsuspecting noses!
“Yes, in a National Forest–don’t look at me like that–there’s crime here, too, just like there is in the Big City! And, I have no doubt at all that there are SNURFLES lurking in the underbrush and perhaps hiding out in hollow trees and logs….”
“SNURFLES? We’re hours away from them! Kick back, take it easy, enjoy yourself–quit dwelling on the nasty scarlet SNURFLES!” Celeste said, trying to make me feel better.”Just because there are no evil Macaws around, red pandas, and Egyptian red foxes, Cel, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still evil squirrels and snakes and other sorts of non-scarlet SNURFLES about, just waiting for their chance to pounce! And then, there are always the Squatches–”
“‘Pounce?’ Lily, nothing is going to try to get us, and we’re only going to be here for the weekend!” Celeste said, sounding exasperated, though for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. “And there are no such thing as Sasquatches, Lily!”
“Whatever, chica!” I grumbled. “That’s what you said about witches, the aliens known as the Greys, and Leprechauns not so very long ago, remember?”
“Every dog has her day….” Celeste said mockingly.
“‘Dog’?” I said. “Don’t insult me like that!”
“Temper, temper, Lily!”
About then, Triple Q and Clare walked over, after setting up their tent. It was the last weekend in May, Celeste had had no snow days in her school district, so she was free for the entire blissful summer. I’d much have preferred it if we had decided to spend our time camping at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge (the Quinces, being multi-millionaires, could have certainly afforded to do so, but it was closed for renovations until 2013), but hey, at least they thought enough of me to take me along, rather than considering having me boarded with actual dogs. “Hey, Celeste!” Triple Q said. “Want any help with your tent?”
“Of course she wants help, Quentin!” Clare said. “She just doesn’t want to admit that she does!” Clare and Triple Q soon had the tent up, though Celeste had done a pretty good job on her own, and probably could have done the same thing, given another ten minutes or so.
“Thanks, Mom, Dad!” she said, graciously. “I’m starving! When do we eat?”
“Right after we catch the fish, of course!” Quentin said.
“No, Celeste–right after we get a fire going and cook up the hotdogs I brought over it,” Clare said. “There’ll be plenty of time to fish tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday, before we leave so your Dad can get back by Tuesday. Being the mayor of Centralia comes with responsibilities, you know.”
“But–but–” Triple Q spluttered. “I want to go fishing now.”
“Oh, you whine sometimes more than Lily, dear,” Clare said. How dare she? I thought to myself. I have never whined in my entire life!
“Do no-ot–nyah!” Triple Q said. “I just am anxious to start reeling the big ones in, and try out my latest invention, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combo! I can’t very well claim it’s ‘Guaranteed to Catch the Big Ones,’ like I have planned to use as it’s motto unless I can catch the ‘Big Ones’ myself, can I?”
Triple Q had made millions on his inventions, and this was the next one he hoped would add more millions to the Quince family’s coffers. I had given him telepathically the ideas for them, and siphoned off a small portion of his profits for myself. He wouldn’t miss a million here or a million there. Clare had made another fortune with her own line of products, as she was quite inventive on her own, with no extra help from me nor anyone else.
“I suppose, but tomorrow’s soon enough; I’m hungry, Celeste’s starving, and I wouldn’t doubt that Lily’s hungry, too. Maybe you could try later tonight, but we’re not going to put off supper while you and Celeste catch our meal, no matter how ‘quick’ your new rod and reel might be in catching fish!”
That was the end of that, and after we had a fire going, we found ourselves good hotdog sticks and sat down to cook ourselves a feast. Well, a ‘feast’ might be exaggerating things somewhat; but, the hotdog Celeste cooked for me sure tasted delicious on an empty stomach, as did the chips she let me have when her parents weren’t looking. Technically, I was on a diet, but when one’s camping, building up a fierce hunger, who cares about diets?
A few hours later, we had that unbeatable camping treat, S’mores. Yes, I know; chocolate is bad for dogs. Fortunately, I’m not a dog, so I wolfed–er–pterodactyled some down when Triple Q inadvertently held one of the tasty treats down by his side as he sat by the fire. He acted all “What’s up with that?” and “quit eatin’ my chocolate, dude–that ain’t even right!” but who ended up with the S’more? I did, that’s who!
We turned in around ten–I could tell by the stars, not to mention from when I took a glimpse at Celeste’s watch–she in her sleeping bag, and I, curled up beside her. We weren’t asleep for much more than an hour when I heard the first, distant, roar from across the sparkling expanse of Lake Ouachita underneath a full moon.
I hurriedly woke Celeste by licking her hand, and when she asked me what was wrong, I just told her to be quiet for a little bit and just listen. Within a couple of minutes, the long, plaintive, echoing, drawn-out roar commenced again, and we both heard it plainly.
“What was that, Lily?” Celeste asked me.
“It could only be one thing that’s making that noise, Cel. The creature that you said doesn’t exist, the Fouke Monster, the Wild Man of the Woods, the Wooly Bugger, the Bogey Creek Monster, the Skunk Ape, the Big Foot, the Sasquatch!”That sounds like more than one creature, Lily….” Celeste said.
“There’re all just different names for the same being, Cel: the Sasquatch, or Squatch, for short!”
“For ‘short’? Don’t you mean for ‘tall’?”
“Never mind that, girl fri-e-e-end!” I said. “Time’s a’wastin’, chica! Let’s investigate this for ourselves!”
“Investigate?” Celeste asked, unable to believe what she’d just heard from my lips. “I don’t want to, nuh-uh, no way, no how!”
“Yes, you do–you may not know it yet, but you do! Do it in the name of science, do it for your own sake, for knowledge–do it for me, chica–eh?”
“I don’t know why I let myself get talked into these things, but I’ll go with you, Lily. As long as you are sure you’re prepared to show the Bigfoot you’ll get all prehistoric on his hairy behind if he tries to do anything to us.”
We snuck quietly out of the tent and headed for the shore of the lake. When we got there, the silence seemed oppressive. Even the crickets had stopped chirping. Time seemed to stand still. I roared, and before very long, we heard an answering roar come back to us. Was it my imagination, or did the roar sound as if whatever was making it was coming closer and closer?
“It’s lookin’ mighty Squatchy around here,” I said. We stood by the shore for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only five minutes. Then, there was a muffled crashing sound, and coming towards us through heavy underbrush was the looming, hairy figure of a Bigfoot that had to be at least seven feet tall. He was covered with shaggy brown hair, and was intimidating-looking, but we held our ground.
“Urgh!” he grunted, and farted at approximately the same time.
“Shoo-weeee!” Celeste exclaimed. “No offense, but it’s no wonder why some people call your kind ‘Skunk Apes’”
“Hey, I am lactose intolerant, and just ate half a cow and chugged a bucket of milk because of a bet I couldn’t do it that some scared farmer left behind—it’s a Squatch thang, you wouldn’t understand! Anyway, I won the bet, you called me as if you were in distress, I came to help, and you don’t even need any help. I guess that’s what I get for tryin’ to do a good deed. I may be hairy and have, well, big feet and have flatulence issues, but there’s no need for you to get personal with me and lay on the insults. Next thing I know, you’ll be talkin’ smack about my mother!”
“Yes, Celeste, apologize to mister–um–what was your name again, sir?”
“You think we might not have names, is that it now? We have names. Mine is Beano Gruntley the Third. Before you ask, I come from a long line of Gruntleys, and Beano is a name that’s been popular in my family for generations.”
“We really meant no offense, Mr. Beano, sir,” Celeste said. “It’s just not every day that you meet a–well–”
“Say it, go ahead–a Squatch, Isn’t that what you were going to say?” Beano asked.
“Okay, yes–a Squatch, if that is not a derogatory term for your kind. And that you speak English is surprising, because on T.V., you’re–”
“Usually portrayed as being dumb Neanderthals? Just because we live in forest and caves doesn’t mean we’re total morons,” Beano replied, sounding even more offended than before.
“There you go again, Celeste, insulting the nice man,” I said. “I dunno, Mr. Gruntley, sir–I can’t take her anywhere,” I said.
“I better get back to my family before you start lighting torches on fire and chasing me with them.” Beano turned away, and trudged back the direction he’d come. He paused, though, and said over his shoulder:
“Ah, I’m too much of a hot-head. You’re both okay, I suppose, for a human girl and a pterodactyl with an image problem. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods again, and actually need help, just roar, and I’ll be there. And, if you’re anywhere else in the state in a forest, do the same, and tell whoever comes that you’re a pal of Beano Gruntley’s, and they’ll treat you right.”
“What a pleasant fellow,” I said to Celeste. “See how nice a person can be when you talk to them kindly?”
“Wha-wha-what?” Celeste said. “You, nice to people? I love you, and all, but you have to admit you’re not always easy to get along with!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, chica. I am always polite and cordial in all of my dealings with others. Playing nice is one of my many admirable qualities, along with modesty and humbleness,” I very humbly replied. She rolled her eyes at me, the Doubting Thomasina that she is, and we went back to our tent to get as much sleep as we could before the rising sun would signal the beginning of another day.

Chapter Two
“The Ghost of Belle Starr”

The next morning, after a yumma-licious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, Celeste and I went fishing with her Dad, Triple Q. He had one of his Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos for himself and one for Cel. Though he’d really wanted to get an even earlier start, at the crack of dawn, soon he and his invention and the container of worms he’d bought at a nearby convenience store had managed to fill two stringers of crappie and large mouth bass. Celeste reeled them in almost as fast as her Dad could bait the hook, and his luck was equally spectacular. By Celeste’s and Triple Qs whoops and hollers of glee, I could tell they were having a ton of fun. Whether it was, in fact, the invention, or the reason was more that the fish were hungry for worms at that particular time and place, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos proved their worth by catching more than enough fish for both our lunch and supper.
Still, we came back to fish some more after lunch, and Clare came, too, and used one of the inventions. They ended up having so much fish they gave some away to the campers on either side of us! I had had faith that the invention would work, and using it, a person could set the hook into a fish’s mouth quicker than with any other method. Nothing could beat seeing the evidence of its success with my own eyes, though.
That night, we told ghost stories around the campfire. Triple Q told one about a cemetery that was not very far away, called the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery. “It was,” he said, “supposedly haunted by the ghost of a girl who was surrounded by wolves in the winter of the year in the 1800’s. She climbed up a tree to escape the ravenous wolves, but she couldn’t escape the cruel icy fingers of winter that gripped her. She was discovered frozen to death, still clinging to the tree in fear. There is a ghostly light that many people have seen at the cemetery late in the night, that is, some say, the ghost of that poor girl.”
When we eventually hit the hay, I roared in a quiet voice (as quietly as a roar could be, anyway): “Don’t even think about going to sleep, chica.”
“What now, Lily?” Celeste tiredly asked. “We already did the ‘Let’s meet the grouchy Squatch’ thang, girl, last night. What do you have up your sleeves—don’t say it; I know you don’t really have sleeves; it’s only an expression–now?”
“You and I are going to take a little flight, that’s what. We’re going to buzz over to–you guessed it–the Rich Mountain Cemetery to do a little bit of ghostly sight-seeing, chica!”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Celeste said in a shouted whisper. “You may go wherever you want to and see how ever many ghosts you want to, Lily, but count this girl out of it!”
“Ah, come on, Celeste. You know how this is going to go—I’ll argue with you, you with me, back and forth, and you’ll eventually cave in and come with me to the cemetery against your better judgment; so, why don’t we just skip all of that, you and I, and fly the friendly skies?”
“Arrrgh! What-ever, Lily! I am not that predictable, and I’m not going to cave in this time, so you can stop even trying to convince me–just give it up!” Cel said angrily.
“Less than a quarter hour later, we were on our way. Celeste brought a blanket with her, as she found my spine somewhat bumpy.
“Next stop, the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery!” I roared in exhilaration when we had achieved the altitude of five hundred feet.
Celeste and I landed at the entrance of the ancient cemetery in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, or the equivalent of a couple thousand flaps of a pterodactyl’s wings. Triple Q’s tale was more than mere superstitious nonsense; it was based on a true story, and Celeste and I saw the ghostly light hovering over the gravestones in a forlorn manner. It wasn’t frightening, but it was kind of eerie, and more than a little sad.
Then it was that we saw the full body apparition of the ghost of the infamous outlaw known in her lifetime as the “Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr. We knew it was her ghost, for she spoke to us, saying quite clearly:
“I am the ghost of Belle Starr! Be not afraid; I mean you no harm. Instead, I have come to you to enlist your help. It’s a matter of afterlife and death!”
“Ma-ma-ma’am, how could we possibly help you?” Celeste inquired, adding indelicately: “After all, you are a ghost, and–well–”
“Am beyond mortal help to save either my life or my eternal soul? Think again, Celeste Elizabeth Quince! Yes, I know your name, and I know the name of your friend, beside you, Lily—you’re well-known in the spectral circles I travel in. This is not my usual haunt, but unusual times call for unusual measures.
“In my life, I was a bandit, finally tried and convicted for the crime of larceny for stealing a horse by Judge Isaac C. Parker of Fort Smith. I was only sentenced to nine months, though I admit the crimes I wasn’t arrested for, both on my own and with Carl Younger and Frank and Jesse James, friends of mine, if I had been held responsible for, would have landed me in jail for the rest of my life or hanging at the end of a noose, swaying in the breeze.
“But, that’s all behind me now. You can’t change the past, more’s the pity. There are things worse than death, and that’s what I’m here about. Someone, or some group of people, are going to all of the famous haunted places in Arkansas trying to siphon off the ghostly energy that charges them and makes the locations such popular sites for people to investigate and tourists to go to, and I want you to help me stop them!”
“Us?” Celeste asked. That’s just impossible!
“Impossible? Nothing’s impossible!” the Bandit Queen thundered.
“Even though it’s summer, and Celeste is not in school now,” I spoke up, “she relies upon her Mom or Dad to take her places. I can fly, but as the leader of PAWS, it’s my duty to Be Ever Vigilant, solve crimes, and make sure the SNURFLES aren’t causing any crimes with their activities. I have an obligation to my fellow PAWS members and friends, and to my best-est friend, Celeste! No, I’m sorry, Belle, but if it involves traveling all throughout Arkansas for the entire summer, I don’t think we can manage that.”
“You might think that for the time being, Lily and Celeste,” Belle Starr said, with what I could have sworn was a twinkle in her translucent eyes, “but Fate, she has her ways. As sure as I’m floating here in front of you, we will meet again. And you will see, you will see, the truth of my words, and realize that helping me and the other ghosts of Arkansas also helps you!”
“Mrs. Starr, ma’am, could you please tell us about your buried treasure?” Celeste asked. Belle had seemed like she’d been about to fade away, after having delivered her ominous message, but she paused and flickered again into view, hat, chaps, and boots fully visible once more.
“That’s a sore topic I don’t really want to discuss,” she said. “I took the loot I and Frank and Jesse stole from a bank in Missouri and buried it in Shiloh, over $30,000 dollars’ worth. Greedy people have been trying to find it ever since, including members of my own family. Truth is, I was bushwhacked and shot off my horse before I could go back and dig it up myself, and I’m not even sure I can remember where exactly I buried it, unless I travel there in person and the places I marked haven’t been destroyed by the whims of time and so-called progress.
“If you be thinkin’ you’ll get a fortune out of this, don’t. I’m sorry to tell you, it ain’t gonna happen. But even if you’re disappointed by what I’m sayin’ about the treasure, and your roles in saving the ghosts and the living, that still won’t stop you from living out your shared fates.” As she was saying these last words, the ghost of Belle Starr slowly faded away, until she was gone.
“What do you think she meant, Lily, about helping her and the other ghosts of Arkansas, and how that would also somehow be helping the living?” Celeste asked me. “And, how can she be so sure we’ll do what she is asking us to do, especially when under the circumstances, it seems to be so impossible to do? I’d like to do whatever I can for her and the other ghosts, but she sure seems to be assuming a lot, and expecting a lot out of us, girl.”
“What I think she meant, Cel, is exactly what she said! She definitely believes that we will somehow find a way to come to her and the other ghosts’ aid, that it’s our, and I quote, ‘shared fates.’ It’s hard to argue with a ghost, you know; especially one who is a Bandit Queen,” I answered.
“She certainly does have a regal and bossy attitude, doesn’t she? Kind of like someone I know quite well, really, kind of like you! And don’t sit there looking all innocent-like–you know it’s true!”
“Celeste, Celeste, Celeste–you do have the most active imagination!” I said. “Now, after I change my appearance to that of a pterodactyl once again, hop onto my back and let’s ride!”
“I think that Ozzy Osbourne must have ridden on a pterodactyl before, don’t you?” I asked as she climbed aboard and situated herself comfortably. “That’s probably where he got the title for his song ‘Flying High Again,’ don’t you think? And, hey, who knows, Celeste? Despite what Miss Bossy Ghost-pants said, we may never see her again, and she could have been just spouting spectral nonsense that doesn’t amount to anything.”
As I said these words, I doubted what I was suggesting, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Celeste that. I felt sure that Belle Starr had met us at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery for a reason, the very reason she stated to us. I felt sure that what she said about our “shared fates” was the truth, and that somehow, someday, we would once again meet up with the ghost of Belle Starr.
The rest of that weekend seemed to pass in a blur. We had fun just being together, and doing family stuff, and of course catching more fish than we could ever eat ourselves (but I gave it a try–to me, nothing beats the taste of freshly caught and fried fish).
Still, a sort of pallor seemed to hang over the rest of the holiday weekend. It was because of the sense of duty, of obligation that Belle Starr’s ghost had imposed on Celeste and myself. I love mysteries and solving crimes and making the world a better place to live in, but I like to do it on my own terms. I like to live life on the edge, but I want to be the one to put myself there, and not to let some ghost make that decision for me.
Also, I was looking forward all that weekend, really, to returning to my friends, the other members of PAWS. I and Celeste would have a lot to tell them, both about the Squatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and about the mission the ghost of Belle Starr had entrusted us with.
Some people would probably say that it was just coincidence that we met Beano and Belle on the same weekend. I would humbly say that those people don’t know what they’re talking about, are not to be trusted, and potentially might be SNURFLES, door-to-door salesmen, mailmen, Girl Scouts, or some other sort of untrustworthy criminal type. The truth is, that there are no coincidences. Everything is tied together, I’ve found over the years. Nothing is truly random, however much it might seem to be at first glance.

Chapter Three
“Botswana Is Not Little Rock”

“Chick-a Chick-a Munga, Chick-a Chick-a Munga!/That’s where I want to be,/Chick-a Chick-a Munga, where life is easy and carefree!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee sang as he strolled down the middle of the street, namely, Chickamunga Street, the one I lived on with the Quinces. He was staggering awkwardly and tangling his legs up and swaying from side to side, as if he was drunk. His eyes goggled, his tongue lolled out, his Mohawk crest of hair blew in the breeze. Yet, he could be as graceful as a ballerina, if, at least, that ballerina also happened to be a rugby-playing rhino.
I was in the front yard, which had recently been fenced in, like the backyard. The backyard’s fence was wooden, though, and the one in the front was a chain-link one. I could have flown and greeted him, but I generally didn’t like to display my true nature during the daytime, so instead I ran and jumped against the metal fence and roared my greeting to my friend. He’d come to be known as the Distractor for obvious reasons, and he’d served PAWS in many capacities during our adventures and investigations together. He’d even almost become the mayor of Centralia, leading in the polls until Triple Q won via write-in votes. Not bad, despite the opinions of some people that will go unnamed (Celeste! Ooops, how did that slip out?) that Fuzzy is–er–intellectually challenged, shall we say.
Triple Q is a great mayor, but I can’t help but wonder how different Centralia would be today if Fuzzy Wally MacGee had received the majority of the votes instead of Celeste’s Dad. His idea, for instance, of repairing potholes in Centralia’s roads by planting trees in them, while being ridiculous on the surface, had its merits. The holes would be filled, the city beautified, and there would have been more toilet facilities strategically placed about the city, also–a win-win situation, all around. Fuzzy came over to the fence, and we talked for awhile. I told him what had happened over the weekend.
“Fuzzy, you’ll never guess what happened to Cel and myself! It’s news I must get to Lucy and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, also, as soon as possible!”
“I know eggs-zactickally what happened, Lily!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, leaving me momentarily at a loss for words.
“What, then?” I eventually asked, after a few seconds.
“You had a great time, and caught a ton of fish, and I see you’ve put on a few pounds!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee answered.
“I don’t dispute your logic, Fuzzy; you’re getting better at deductive reasoning all of the time; but, that was also a fairly obvious answer, as I told you before I left that’s what we were going to do,” I said.
Noticing he was looking crest-fallen, I added, “But, you are correct, Fuzzy. We did catch lots of fish, and had a fun time. And then, here’s the part I was meaning you wouldn’t believe: we met a Sasquatch named Beano Gruntley the Third on Friday night, and to follow that up, we were introduced to the ghost of Belle Starr on Saturday night at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery.”
“Well, that is a pretty big surprise, Lily, to be sure!” my friend said. “And it explains what that Public Service Announcement that’s been on the T.V. ever since you left must be about.”
“What P.S.A., Fuzzy? Tell me what it said! It could be vitally important!” I roared.
“It was about a Bee Call, or something like that, I remember that much….”
“A Bee Call? Are you sure it wasn’t maybe about a recall?” I asked.
Fuzzy looked startled, a bit more so than usual, even, and said: “That’s it! How did you know? Did you see the P.S.A., too?”
“No, I just deduced that you’d really heard the word recall, because it sounds similar to Bee Call. What else do you remember, Fuzzy?”
“Something about–oh, yes–a group that believes that Quentin Quintilius Quince, whoever that is (it sounds like a made-up name, if you ask my opinion), shouldn’t be Centralia’s mayor anymore, and that there should be a brand-new election, and that the scarlet Macaw Frankie ought to be Centralia’s new mayor, because he doesn’t like to befriend ghosts. Instead, he believes they should be forcibly removed from every place they haunt. And, at the end of the P.S.A., a voice mentioned that it was paid for by SNURFLES, and that Frankie Sinister approved the message. That’s all—I’m sorry I can’t rememberize any more.”
“Don’t worry, Fuzzy–you did a great job remembering! I should have suspected that Frankie and his organization, SNURFLES, was behind this whole business. He’s undoubtedly trying to harness the ectoplasmic energy of the ghosts for his own evil purposes. And, if he destroys the meager existence that the ghosts cling to that keeps them here on Earth, it’s just too bad, so sad for them, in the eyes of himself and SNURFLES. Instead of someone exposing Frankie and SNURFLES for the–excuse my language–cabbages they are, Frankie is attempting to use his evil extermination of the ghosts of Arkansas to try to overturn the mayoral election, Fuzzy. He’s trying to claim that it’s a good thing he’s doing, and I’m afraid people might be falling for it.”
“So the world would not be better off without scary ghosties?” Fuzzy asked.
“Some ghosts may be scary, Fuzzy, but no, the world would not be ‘better off’ without them. Ghosts let us know that there is something more after this life, Fuzzy, that at least a part of ourselves, our inner essences, or souls, live on. Most of us hopefully move on beyond this world, but some are doomed to stay here. But still, the ones who stay and are ghosts have a purpose, even if they are unaware of it, other than letting us know there is an afterlife.” I answered Fuzzy.
“What is that, Lily?”
“Why, to do what you and many others think is so bad: to scare people! To warn them about dangers, or what might happen if they continue their ways, like Ebenezer Scrooge, for example, who was visited by three ghosts during the night of Christmas Eve who changed his life for the better after that. And, if an old cemetery, battlefield, school, or house is known as being haunted, the ghosts also attract tourists, ghost hunters with scientific equipment, and authors. The ghosts make these old and important locations, and history, live again for people. History becomes interesting, instead of dull, boring, and forgotten.”
“And here, I’ve just been thinkin’ ghosts are lazy layabouts who, every once in awhile, like to scare the pee out of people and animals, for their own amusement.” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said.
“Well, I won’t lie, Fuzzy–there might be some ghosts who are like that–but still, like I said, in bringing attention and publicity, whether good or bad, to historic locations, even these sorts of ghosts serve a greater purpose.” I explained to him.
“Lily! Stop that barking and come in! You’re bothering the neighbors!” Clare yelled from the open front doorway.
I told Fuzzy Wally MacGee I had to go, but I asked him to tell Lucy Marmoset Higgins and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, about what I said, if he happened to see them. Though he’d never met a dog catcher (nor a rhino catcher) that he couldn’t evade, I also warned him that it wasn’t a very safe behavior to be wandering down the middle of a road. One burst of speed put on by the sadistic driver of an eighteen-wheeler, and it’d be “Bye, Bye, Cruel World,” and “Hello, Road Kill Du Jour!”
I went to Celeste’s bedroom, and told her about the P.S.A. I said: “We need to help the ghost of Belle Starr and the other ghosts of Arkansas even more now, Cel! The Scarlet One, Frankie, is trying to discredit your Dad and force another election, which he intends to win!
“Yeah, Lily-bear, I just saw it while you were outside, girl. The lies and innuendos in it were terrible, but what can we do?” she asked. “We have to get you ready and prettied up for this coming weekend’s American Kennel Club Dog Show in Little Rock, and you have a date with the groomers on Thursday! Helping the ghosts and Dad will have to wait, I guess.”
That night, I went through the doggie/pterodactyl door into the backyard. I felt I had to call an emergency meeting of PAWS, and meet with all of them. Since Fuzzy Wally MacGee lived just three houses down, and I’d already told him about the past weekend, I decided to fly over to Prince Alphonse Saed’s house first, then Lucy Marmoset Higgins’, and then take them to the Fuzzmeister’s for our meeting.
“What’s the haps, Lily-girl?” Lucy asked when I landed in her yard.
“I have a tale to tell you, chica, about ghosts, Squatches, and SNURFLES, so I am calling an emergency meeting of PAWS over at Fuzzy’s place. But first, we must go and pick up Fonz, so we can all be together. The very future of Centralia, Arkansas, and the world might be at stake!” Lucy looked a bit reluctant. “I’ve brought you yummy ba-na-nas!” I said.
Lucy climbed up onto my back and immediately started peeling a banana she’d grabbed from a large bunch of the yellow fruit I had in a plastic bag awaiting her as an enticement. “I dunno, Lily…” The almost neon-orange fur of Lucy Marmoset Higgins practically glowed in the dark like a beacon. Lucy mumbled around the chunks of banana she was biting off: “It sounds kinda sketchy, but you know that the way to my heart is through my stomach, and that I’m not above accepting bribes, so let’s get on with the program, yo, before I change my mind!
Soon, we were at the house of the only member of royalty to be also a member of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“I’ve got news that will blow your mind, Fonz, and convince you that there really is a life after death! I need you to come with Lucy and myself to an emergency meeting of PAWS at Fuzzy’s, so leap aboard!” Without a moment’s hesitation, the Mountain Lion that was Fonzie flexed the muscles of his hind legs and jumped onto my back.
At Fuzzy’s, after Lucy and Alphonse had gotten onto solid ground once again, I called the meeting to order with a subdued roar. I didn’t want to get the neighborhood riled up, so I had to turn down the volume a notch. It didn’t take very long to fill them in on the details about Beano Gruntley the Third and the ghost of Belle Starr, but what would we do next, to combat our long-time foes, the organization known as SNURFLES? How could we ensure that the mayoral election wasn’t a do-over?
“And, on top of what I just told you, I’m going to take part in, of all things perverse and strange, a dog show in Little Rock this coming weekend! I will need you to be my eyes and ears here to keep me alerted as to the activities of SNURFLES while I’m gone, though I wish you could come along with me to aid my investigations in case Celeste and I run into any ghosts while we’re there.”
“You wanna wish that we could come along?” Lucy asked. “You get your wish, then, girl-fri-end, because Mr. and Mrs. Higgins have entered me into the dog show, so I’ll be there, also!
“Me, too!” Prince Alphonse said. “If you wanna wish that, you’re in luck. The Saeds think I have a very good chance of winning, and who am I to disagree with them?
“Wanna, wanna,/Botswana, wanna,/Flora and fauna,/I’m a-gonna, gonna/ Make it thre-he-he!” Fuzzy sang, sounding oddly like Freddie Mercury of Queen. “I’m goin’, too–Botswana, Woo-hoo!”
“I hate to break it to you, Fuzzy, but Botswana is not like Little Rock,” I said, adding: “But I’m glad you all can come to Little Rock, also. Belle Starr’s ghost said that Celeste and I would have ‘shared fates,’ but I’m thinking that she was maybe also referring to everyone in PAWS. It looks like we’re in this together, guys. SNURFLES may think they’ve won this time, but the battle’s barely begun! Each of us individually is tough to beat, but when we work together as a team, we’re unstoppable!
I called the meeting to a close, and tiredly flew Lucy and Fonzie to their homes. After that, I went into the Quince’s house the way I had left, curled myself up next to the sleeping form of Celeste in her bed, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.
Thursday was like any other day. Any other day when I might have one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, that is. Though I had scales, not hair (being a pterodactyl), the illusion I projected needed to be totally realistic, so it had to seem as if my hair grew just as if I was an actual terrier. This was rather awkward when it came time to be taken to Petco to be groomed. The poor groomers would shampoo my non-existent hair, act as if their scissors were cutting fur that was actually there instead of only in their imaginations, and then sweep up piles of what was really just air (as opposed to hair) into dust pans that they would then empty into trash cans. Talk about an exercise in futility! Of course, they didn’t realize this, though, and Mrs. Quince–Clare–had to pay them in real money for shampooing and cutting hair that wasn’t, um, there.
Well, this particular Thursday was, to tell you the truth, really not like any other day, nor even like every other day I’ve suffered the humiliation of going to the groomers. The reason why it wasn’t is that it was a bit crowded that day. There was room for three other dogs to be groomed at the same time, and it so happened that there were three other “dogs” there with me: Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee kept trying to lick the shampoo off of his hair. “Yum! Whippity cream! Tastes a little strange, though–kinda Mango flavored!”
This, of course, prompted Lucy and Fonz to also try the shampoo. “Mine tastes like bananas!” Lucy said.
“Hmm…I dunno….” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “I’d say mine tastes more like shampoo, guys, because that’s what it is, not ‘whippity cream’! But, it does taste pretty good, still…kinda like strawberries. What does your shampoo taste like, Lily?”
“Oh, no, you’re not going to get me to taste any nasty shampoo! It’s meant to be used to clean one’s hair, not to be eaten!” I said indignantly.
“It won’t hurt you, Lily,” Fuzzy said. “It’s really quite good.
I hate to admit it, but I tried licking some of my shampoo after Fuzzy said this, and it wasn’t that bad at all. “Ummm…Blueberries!” I said. “That’s it, fresh-picked blueberries, with a hint of cream!
And then, things went from awkward to worse. The UPS man dropped by with some packages, and he just had time to leave them at the service counter before he was unceremoniously chased out of the store by Fuzzy, Lucy, and Alphonse. Anyone who says I was right in front leading the pack should not be believed, and is a rumor-monger at best, and I wouldn’t doubt he or she is a card-carrying member of SNURFLES. If they even carry cards…I’ve always wondered about that.
“Lily, you look more like a sleek miniature black-and-white brindle greyhound now that you’ve gotten your hair cut,” Celeste said on the drive home, “rather than the pudgy fur-ball of a badger that you looked like before.
“Hey,” I said, “I never have looked like a badger in my entire life! Probably because, for one thing, I don’t have any hair, just scales!
“Humph!” Cel said. “For not having any hair, you sure left a lot behind on the floor at the Petco shop! My Mom had to leave them an extra-large tip for them to ever make another appointment in the future!
“What was that you’re saying, Cel?” Clare asked from the front seat.
“Oh, nothing, Mom–I was just telling Lily how beautiful she looks now, and how she’s sure to win Best of Show in Little Rock this weekend, that’s all.”
“Lies!” I said. “You know better than that, Cel….
“Quit grumbling…you want her to still believe you’re a dog, don’t you?
“Yeah, well….” I said.
I wondered how the dog show would go, especially since the day at the dog groomers’ hadn’t gone so well. And, would we meet the ghost of Belle Starr again in Little Rock, or would it be later? Would we all be able to get together, and do an investigation of a haunted location in Little Rock? If so, what sorts of ghosts would we find, and could we get to them before SNURFLES did, to save them from becoming a power source for SNURFLES’ evil scheme? Would Frankie eventually become Centralia’s mayor, or would Triple Q still retain the position?
These thoughts and more flitted though my brain as we traveled back home. I wanted to have as much faith in our ability to save the day as Belle Starr’s ghost seemed to have, but everything appeared to be stacked against us. Would this be the time when SNURFLES would win not only the battle, but the entire war, getting rid of Arkansas’ ghosts, gaining political control of the state, and possibly destroying PAWS in one fell swoop? It was a future too terrible to contemplate, but one that could quite possibly come to pass.
Saturday was approaching quickly. Saturday, usually one of my favorite days of the week, but not this particular one. I had a sense of foreboding that stuck in my throat like a broken chicken bone. Was my luck going to run out, like the sand in an hourglass? It was not a good idea to tempt fate as many times as I already had done. Was this to be my last case?

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