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Bookworm lead Arnold to the semi-enclosed area behind the properties of herself and Mr. Emerson Lighthouse. They followed the tracks she and her household had made that morning, to the place where the wind-swept snow had given up its secret. Bookworm watched Arnold intently as he stared down at the body, but whatever reaction he had was too well hidden.
The situation was all too familiar for Arnold. A man or woman clawed to death, someone the cat knew and had trouble with in the past. Dreading what was coming, he turned to Bookworm. “He was one of Cortman’s men.”
“Cortman…” Bookworm remembered that name from other conversations with Arnold. “So that means he did work at the Asylum?”
“Yes, he did,” Arnold replied abstractedly.
Bookworm was silent, wondering if, and how, she could ask Arnold to set out his own paw and claws for a comparison to the marks on the body. But then, as if he’d read her mind, Arnold stretched out a paw, held it against one of the claw marks, and shot out his claws. The spacing was close–very close. Bookworm felt a gnawing dread in her stomach and sighed, a sigh echoed by Arnold.
She looked at him, and decided to let him know all of it now. “He also had a hank of fur in his hand. Black fur.”
Arnold blinked. “He did?” At Bookworm’s nod, he looked away. He didn’t recall missing any fur the last time he had cleaned himself, and he didn’t feel like he had any unexplained bruises. He turned back to her, more excited than he had been. “I don’t think I’m missing any fur.”
“Would you mind if… if someone examined you?” Bookworm hated to ask it of him, but knew it had to be done.
The thought of someone examining him, without his clothes obviously, subdued the cat once again. Finally he shrugged. “I mind, but…it has to be done.”
Bookworm nodded. “There’s enough doubt here that we need to make that check. Perhaps Dr. Solsen could do it?”
Arnold turned away, sullen, replying flatly, “I would prefer it not to be him.”
Bookworm was surprised. “Whom would you suggest?”
“I don’t suppose you’re trained for this?” He looked back at her expectantly.
“For something like this? No, I’m not,” she replied slowly. It wasn’t entirely the truth, but right now, Bookworm doubted her objectivity more than her ability to find, or not find, any marks or evidence on Arnold’s body. “Perhaps Dr. Sonnerstein?” she suggested.
“All right,” Arnold said impatiently. “Whoever. Just not Dr. Solsen.” At the puzzlement in her eyes, he continued, “Did you ever get my files?”
Bookworm looked even more confused. “Files?”
“The ones I told you about–about my previous cases of self-defense,” Arnold clarified.
“Oh!” Bookworm finally remembered his telling her about them. “No, I never did.”
Arnold bristled; Bookworm thought he looked indignant. “I would be willing to bet that was because of Dr. Solsen.”
“Why would he keep those from me?” And how, she wondered. He was a doctor, not an officer.
The cat didn’t offer any answers to her questions today. “It’s a long story. Shall we go to Dr. Sonnerstein’s?”
Bookworm nodded. They maintained an uncomfortable silence during the trek north across the city, until Arnold knocked at Dr. Sonnerstein’s front door. “Hello?” he called.
Dr. Sonnerstein opened the door. “Good morning, Arnold, Ms. Hienrichs.” He stepped aside and ushered them inside. “What brings you my way?”
“Good day, Dr. Sonnerstein,” Bookworm said. “I… I need you to examine Arnold.”
Dr. Sonnerstein tilted his head. “All right. Please, come into the living room.” Bookworm shut the front door behind them and followed Dr. Sonnerstein and Arnold into the appointed room, still decorated for Christmas. “Have a seat, Arnold,” he said, “and please, make yourself comfortable as well, Ms. Hienrichs.” Bookworm settled onto a small sofa, while Arnold took up a usual pose on the floor.
“Is there something particularly wrong?” Dr. Sonnerstein asked.
“He isn’t… ill, per se,” Bookworm replied, and then sighed. “We need to find out if he’s missing any chunks of fur.”
“Missing fur?” Dr. Sonnerstein repeated. Bookworm nodded, and beckoned him close. He leaned down, his ears perking up to her her whisper. “Also, check his claws for any traces of blood.”
Dr. Sonnerstein raised an eyebrow, but nodded, and turned to Arnold. “Well, then, let’s have a look at you. Mind removing your coat and rolling up your sleeves to start?” As Arnold removed his jacket and shirt, Bookworm politely turned her face away.
The silence in the room was broken only by the hissing and popping of the fire and, just barely audible, the rustling of Dr. Sonnerstein’s fingers through Arnold’s fur. The cat stared intently at the ceiling, while his hackles rose, he gritted teeth, and extended his claws to the floor while he tried to ignore the doctors hands.
Bookworm stared off to one side, but could not really have described what she was looking at, her mind was so attuned to going over everything that had happened in the past day or so. Finally, she heard Dr. Sonnerstein sigh and say, “You can go ahead and put your shirt and jacket back on, Arnold.” She turned her attention back to them. “Well?” she asked.
“He’s missing a patch from his chest.”
((To be continued…))