For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Warren J. Morton. I was orphaned at an early age and spent most of my early childhood in foster homes. I look back on those years as the worst of my life. That isn’t to say anything against the foster care system. I was always well cared for, had plenty to eat, always had the basic necessities. No, the reason I was so miserable back then was because I was lonely. There were usually lots of kids around, but I was very nervous around people and, therefore, had a hard time making friends.
That all changed when I was nine years old. It was October 7th, 1993, and I was transferred to a new foster home. It was on East Treebark Street, #122. A fairly large building where several other kids were staying. I was terrified as I looked around, thinking about how hard it was at my last home. I was worried that it would be the same thing all over again and I wouldn’t have any friends here. And people don’t want to adopt kids who can’t make friends.
The lady who ran the place was Mrs. Holloway and she was very nice when she first met me. She showed me around the activity room and the kitchen. There was a small room with a table and some chairs for adoption interviews and even a small infirmary of sorts known as the first aid room (“Hopefully you won’t be seeing much of this room,” she added and I forced a small smile) and introduced me to the other kids. I think I may have managed to say “hi” to a few of them, but I was scared and don’t remember. Then she took me to Room B, my room, which she said I’d have to share with another kid. That made me even more scared.
I was surprised that my roommate was a girl, since I was expecting to share with another boy. When we came in, she was sitting on her bed with her nose buried in a big book called The Valley Of Fear. I could see that she was wearing a sweater that was at least a size too big, old blue jeans, and a pair of very, very worn tennis shoes.
“Shelly,” said Mrs. Holloway, “I’d like you to meet Warren. He’s going to be your new roommate.”
The girl, Shelly, looked up from her book and eyed me carefully. I saw that she was my age, with glasses and large green eyes, with which she was carefully scrutinizing me. After a few seconds she said, quite simply, “How did you like living with Mrs. Stamford?”
I was surprised, but Mrs. Holloway just sighed (or maybe groaned; she did both quite a lot when Shelly was around) and said, “Shelly, please, don’t start with this again.”
“But, Mrs. Holloway, I have to practice on people I don’t know. I already know everything about you and the other kids here.”
“Excuse me, Shelly,” said Mrs. Holloway, perturbed by Shelly’s impertinence, “but you do not know everything about me.”
“Oh, then you’re not fifty-five years old, widowed, divorced, with no children, born and raised in Michigan, allergic to ragweed and at high risk for diabetes?”
A peculiar expression crossed Mrs. Holloway’s face. It was an expression I came to see a lot when I was with Shelly. It was equal parts anger, at being spoken to so rudely, embarrassment, at having personal information blurted out so casually, and amazement, because everything Shelly had said was completely correct. That was followed by exasperation at not knowing precisely how to respond, and, in the end, Mrs. Holloway just grunted angrily and stormed out, leaving me alone in room B with the girl who I did not yet realize was going to change my life forever.
“Sorry about that,” said Shelly. “I sometimes get carried away. I’ll have to apologize to her later. Anyway, here’s your bed.” With that she picked up her book and disappeared into it once again.
Engaging others in conversation was never easy for me, but in this case I found the strength because I just had to know. “How did you know that?”
“Huh? Oh, that your last home was with Mrs. Stamford? Simple. There’s a very unusual stain on your shirt. The combination of textures and colors is very distinctive. It was caused by Mrs. Stamford’s infamous Hungarian goulash. The stain is only a few days old, and today is Thursday. Two days ago was Tuesday and that’s goulash day at Mrs. Stamford’s house. Therefore, you were there, eating goulash—or more likely not eating it—two days ago. Of course, you might have been a guest, but it’s more likely that you were living there at the time. Am I right?”
“Yes,” I said. Then, without really intending to, I added, “that’s amazing.”
Shelly looked up at me again. But I think this was the first time she was really seeing me and not studying me. She smiled at me. I smiled back.
“It’s not so amazing. Logic, observation, deduction. It’s elementary.”
“Where did you learn to do all that?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?” she showed me an illustration from the book she was reading. It was a tall, slender man with an overcoat, a pipe and a funny-looking hat. “He’s the greatest detective in the whole wide world. He uses his skills of observation and reason to solve mysteries by finding clues that even the police overlook. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. Except, you know, a girl.”
“Wow. That’s cool.”
“Really? You think it’s cool? Most people think it’s weird.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Shelly was not used to being praised for her deductions. “Weird” was one of the kinder words people used to describe her. But I meant it. I thought it was really cool!
Still do, in fact.
“Anyway,” said Shelly, “if you want to unpack your things, there’s a dresser you can use in the closet.”
I started to unpack my things. I was a little embarrassed, because I didn’t have very much to unpack. Just a few clothes and the only toy I owned: A doctor’s kit. I didn’t even remember where I got it from, which makes me think it must’ve come from my birth parents. But, for whatever reason, I always had it with me. Most of the kids thought it was weird that that’s the only toy I had, but Shelly looked at it with wide eyes.
“Is that a doctor’s kit?” she asked.
“Y-y-yes?” I said, nervously.
“That’s great! That means you can be my Watson!”
I thought she had gotten my name wrong, so I said “Warren,” very quietly. Apparently too quietly, because Shelly asked me to repeat it. I did and she started laughing. I felt like I was going to cry but I didn’t know why. I guess Shelly noticed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she said. “I know your name is Warren, but I thought you could be my Watson. Here, I’ll show you.” She flipped through the book again until she found another illustration. This time the tall, thin man was sitting in a chair facing another man in a chair. This man was stockier and had a mustache. “Whenever Sherlock Holmes solved a mystery, he always had help from his best friend, Dr. Watson. I just thought since you like to pretend to be a doctor, you could be my sidekick when I pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. Okay?”
I didn’t understand most of what she had said…in fact, there was a lot that Shelly said that I didn’t understand (part of that’s because she said it very, very fast). But what I did hear made it sound like she wanted to be my friend, so I nodded. Shelly squealed excitedly and put out her hand. I took it and we shook. “Welcome aboard, my dear Watson.”
“No, I know, I just…fine, whatever, my dear Warren it is.”
How could I have known? How could I possibly have known that this simple interaction with a perfect stranger was going to change me in ways I still don’t fully understand? I didn’t know that this was going to be the beginning of many great adventures with a truly remarkable person. At the time, all I knew was that I had a friend and I was happy.
From then on, Shelly and I were practically inseparable. She showed me around the neighborhood, told me everything I needed to know about the other kids (and quite a few things I didn’t need to know and which I had no idea how she had figured them out), and she showed me her special Sherlock hat, which she told me was really called a “deerstalker” and which Arthur Conan Doyle only made mention of briefly on one occasion, but most people associate it with Sherlock because of an illustration by Sidney Paget…Again, I didn’t know what any of that meant, but it was really exciting hearing her talk about it. That night, before bed, she even read to me from one of her Sherlock books. I say she read it to me, but what she was doing could more accurately be described as “translating.” Shelly was way more advanced than I was, but she had no problem, for lack of a better term, “dumbing down” the parts I didn’t understand.
“‘How are you?’ he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’ ‘How on earth did you know that?’ I asked in astonishment.”
“That’s like what you did when we met.”
“Exactly. I saw the stain on your shirt, I knew it could only have been made by Mrs. Stamford's goulash, so I came to the conclusion that you were at her house. I just skipped to the end and told you the conclusion before I told you how I got there. That's what makes it sound so amazing, but it's really simple.”
“I don't think it's simple. You're like...Nancy Drew or somebody.”
Shelly winced at the sound of the name. “I know you think you're complimenting me by comparing me to Nancy Drew, but you're not. Nancy Drew was the worst! Some kind of supergirl who could solve the case, swim in the Olympics, win a dance contest, design a box girder bridge, star in a play and still get home in time to cook like Betty Crocker. I don't see how anybody could relate to someone so far-fetched and unrealistic.”
It was the last time I ever mentioned the name “Nancy Drew” in her presence again.
But what Shelly liked to do most of all was to hone her detective skills. She used to tell me the most important thing about being a detective was observation. Noticing details that others overlook. To illustrate this she asked three of the other kids who lived with us a simple question: “How many steps are there in the front stoop of this building?” Of course, every one of them had walked up and down that stoop more times than they could count…but none of them could remember how many steps there were. “See what I mean?” Shelly said. “Logic, observation, deduction.”
It was six, by the way. Six steps. In case you were curious.
There were six other kids living in the house besides us—Joey, Rachel, Sarah, Charlie, Scarlet and Lee—and while I still spent most of my time with Shelly, I was beginning to make friends with them as well. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but suddenly I wasn’t so shy and nervous around people as I used to be. Something about Shelly being my friend made me feel more confident and helped me open up. From then on, I was never short on friends…though, of course, one always stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Then came that fateful evening, about four days after we had first met. Shelly and I were playing Connect Four in our room (she was killing me!) when we started to hear moaning in the next room. Shelly quickly put on her Sherlock hat and shouted, “C’mon, Warren! And bring your kit!” and ran out the door. I didn’t know why, but I took my doctor’s kit and followed her to the next room, where Scarlet and Sarah slept, and there was Scarlet on her bed, moaning and wailing and clutching her tummy in pain. Shelly told me to examine her and I took out my toy stethoscope and listened to her tummy. It was growling and grumbling like an angry bear.
“Yep,” I said to the small crowd of kids that had gathered at the door. “Definitely a tummyache.”
“Yes, thank you, Warren,” said Mrs. Holloway, coming in and scooping Scarlet up in her arms. “But if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take it from here.” She took Scarlet downstairs to the first aid room to give her something for her upset tummy. The kids started to go back to their own rooms but Shelly grabbed me by the arm and led me back inside Scarlet’s now empty room. Sarah was going back downstairs to watch TV, so we had the room to ourselves.
“Now that everyone's gone,” she told me, “we can start looking for clues.”
“Clues? What clues?”
“A crime has been committed here, Warren!”
“Yes!...well, maybe...I don't know, that's why we have to investigate! Just in case it is a crime.” Shelly looked at me. My confusion must have showed on my face. She sighed. “Warren, how can I be a detective if I never solve a mystery? There are no crimes or criminals these days. I need a case to prove to everyone that I'm not just some weird little kid who's read too many books. That I really can be a detective. Now will yo help me look for clues or not?”
“Okay,” I said, still not entirely sure why.
“Thank you.” She smiled and took her magnifying glass out of her pocket. “The game is afoot!”
“Just start looking.”
I wasn't expecting to find anything. I figured Scarlet had just eaten something that had disagreed with her. But it was, for some reason, important to Shelly, so I looked. I did find something, though: a small carton of soy milk. Most of it had been drunk and it was lying on the ground next to Scarlet’s bed. A bendy straw was sticking out the opening.
“Interesting,” said Shelly when I showed it to her. “She was drinking this soy milk right before the tummyache hit.”
“Maybe it’s spoiled?” I suggested.
“No,” said Shelly, looking at the expiration date on the carton. “It says here it’s good for another week. Or as good as it can be…soy milk. Yuch!” She put the half-full carton on the bedside table between Sarah and Scarlet’s beds. That’s when Shelly found our next clue: Scarlet’s drawing book! Scarlet was an artist and always had her drawing book and colored pencils with her. It was open to a page with no drawings, though. Just a word in her favorite color, red: “RACHE.”
“Rache? What does that mean?”
To find out, Shelly led me to the library…actually, the two book-shelves in the activity room, but she insisted we call it a library. We eventually found out that “rache” is the German word for “revenge.” We didn’t know what that meant, so we went back to Scarlet and Sarah’s room to find more clues. Instead, we found Sarah herself, who had beaten us back to her room while we were busy learning about “rache.”
“Oh, hi Sarah,” said Shelly, awkwardly. “Sorry to barge in like this, but we’re investigating what happened to Scarlet.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” said Sarah. “She was feeling fine after dinner. Then she came up here and started feeling bad.” Sarah picked up the carton of soy milk and took a sip. “You know, this stuff’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Tastes almost like real milk.”
“I don’t think so!” said Shelly. “But maybe you can help us. What has Scarlet been doing lately?”
“Well, a few days ago, she had that tea party. Then yesterday she and I drew pictures and talked about what kind of animals we’d like to be. Then we pretended we were those kinds of animals. Then today we mostly watched TV and read.”
“Hmmm,” said Shelly, and I could tell she was doing some very careful thinking. Just then, we heard more moaning, from down the hall this time and we ran to Rachel and Joey’s room where Joey was moaning and crying just like Scarlet had been doing. And a moment later, Mrs. Holloway had taken him downstairs to join Scarlet in the first aid room. Once again, Shelly and I started looking for clues.
“Another one!” I said.
“Another what?” asked Shelly.
“Another carton of soy milk. With another bendy straw. I didn’t think so many people liked soy milk. The bendy straws I get, but…”
“It’s not so much that they like it, but it’s all they can have. Joey and Scarlet are lactose intolerant.”
I thought about that, and then I sniffed the milk in the carton. “Funny,” I said. “Sarah was right. This does seem like real milk to me.”
“Let me try it.” Shelly took the carton and sipped it. “Wait a minute…this is not soy milk!”
“Sure it is. It says so right—”
“Scarlet got me to drink some of her soy milk once and it was disgusting. This is real, actual, for real, out of a cow type milk!”
“Then it’s no wonder they feel sick. If they’re lactose intolerant and they drank all this milk, of course they’d get upset tummies.” Looking back, I realize that this case was my first practical exercise in diagnostics. “But why was there real milk in a carton of soy milk?”
“Elementary, my dear Warren,” said Shelly (I always did like it when she called me that). “Someone must have put it there. And what’s more, it was someone in this house!”
“What?” I said. “How do you know? How do you know it wasn’t a mistake at the milk company?”
“What, you think the people who put soy milk in those little cartons accidentally put real milk in some of the cartons? It’s impossible! And once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth! Therefore, the switch must’ve taken place here in this house. And there’s something else that leads me to think this was intentional.”
“Bendy straws, Warren! Bendy straws! Joey and Scarlet don’t have bendy straws in their rooms, those are in the kitchen. Which means the cartons must’ve been opened long before they got to either Scarlet or Joey. Someone must’ve opened the cartons, poured out the soy milk, poured in real milk, added bendy straws and given them to our victims.”
“But who? And why?”
“I think I know who. In fact, I think Scarlet was trying to tell us before her tummyache got so bad.”
“She did? When?”
“When she was writing in her drawing book! Don’t you get it?”
I didn’t, but it didn’t matter because just at that moment, Rachel came in (it was her room after all).
“What are you two doing in here?” she asked.
“We were just…” I began, but Shelly cut across me.
“We’re proving that you’re responsible for giving tummyaches to Scarlet and Joey!”
“I still don’t think I understand it all,” I said when we were getting into bed that night. “Explain it again, please, Shelly.”
“It’s very simple, Warren,” she said. “I first became suspicious of Rachel when I realized that the two victims were lactose intolerant. A condition which Rachel also shares. Once they felt better, both Scarlet and Joey were able to confirm that Rachel had been the one to bring them their soy milk and that it had already been opened and bendy-strawed before it got to them.”
“But I don’t understand why.”
“The tea party, Warren. Don’t you remember? The day after you got here, Scarlet held a tea party. Rachel happens to love tea parties but she wasn’t invited. In fact, the only person who was invited was Joey.”
“A boy going to a tea party?”
“Exactly! I deduced that Scarlet like-likes Joey, and the tea party was actually a secret date they were having. But Rachel thought Scarlet was being rude by not inviting her and wanted revenge.”
“So ‘rache’ did mean revenge…sort of.”
“Sort of. But mostly, it meant that Scarlet got too sick to finish after she started writing ‘Rachel.’ Anyway, the rest you know. She put real milk in a soy milk carton, then took a regular soy milk and went to Scarlet’s room, pretending to apologize and offering to drink a soy milk toast. She drank the real soy, and Scarlet drank the real milk, making her sick. Then she did the same thing to Joey.”
“Amazing! You figured that all out all by yourself?”
“Well, not all by myself,” she said with a smile. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” I smiled back at my new best friend. “G’night, Warren.”
“G’night, Shelly,” I said. But I couldn’t sleep. I was so excited about the mystery, and my new friend and all the wonderful adventures I knew we’d go on. And, sure enough, this was only the first of many adventures I would have with my best friend: Shelly Hobbes, the Master Detective!
Learn more about the Master Detective and her faithful friend, Warren, by buying their books HERE.