Reading List: Crime Cats SequelOctober 21, 2015 12:49 pm Miriam Bowers Abbott
Wolfgang Parker never planned on being a children’s book author.
He’s a punk singer and recording artist. He’s a photographer and a graphic novelist. But he’s also a guy with nineteen nieces and nephews; he did a little writing for them. Then one thing led to another, and somehow he’s sold over 3000 children’s books in the last eighteen months. Guess he’s children’s book author, after all.
Targeted for readers ages 8-12, Parker’s Crime Cats books follow the exploits of a kid named Jonas Shurmann and his crime cat friends as they solve Columbus mysteries. That means there are lots of local references for readers to recognize.
The endeavor started as a holiday project, Parker says, “I wrote Crime Cats: Missing originally as a Christmas gift for my nineteen nieces and nephews, who all live out of state. I was looking for a way to impart wisdom to them and remain in their lives without geographically being there. I had some extra copies printed to see if some of my Clintonville neighbors might want to read it and it started there.”
So far, that modest start has racked up sales, library and school appearances, and accolades in parenting publications. That first book project has turned in a little mini series.
And though the sales are nice, Parker says the biggest compliment is when kids dress up as CatBob and Neil Higgins, the two main feline characters. Oh, and homemade character plush dolls. Those are good too.
With two Crime Cats book successes under his belt, a new one comes out this fall. Crime Cats: Missing was the first project. In the second installation, Crime Cats: The Dusenbury Curse, the characters explore some of Columbus’ lesser-known history: it was once home to the largest amusement park in America.
And Parker says the new book, Crime Cats: The Deadly Scarab will explore Columbus’ historical connection to the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb. The release date is November 28.
You can watch his website www.crimecatsbooks.com for more information, local appearances and purchasing outlets. As you might guess, the outlets are largely locally-owned (but you can get his books on Amazon too).
Meanwhile, you can catch up and preview the author’s first book right here. Parker gave CU permission to post the first three chapters…
“CRIME CATS: MISSING”
By Wolfgang Parker
Chapter 1 – Chicken Feed
Jonas Shurmann woke up tired and grumpy—probably because he hadn’t heard cats speak yet. He hadn’t saved Clintonville from the mysterious creature that terrorized the neighborhood. Nor had he yet dared to enter the Dusenbury House or befriend the ghost that haunted it. And no one called him a hero—not yet. Jonas woke up an ordinary kid on that chilly autumn morning: tired and grumpy, and not heroic.
He yawned a long, deep yawn, rolled out of bed, and was shuffling toward the bathroom when he felt something soft touch his face.
Jonas looked up to see his father holding before him what looked like a cloth sack covered in white feathers.
“Surprise!” Mr. Shurmann beamed. “It’s for your Halloween party at school today. What do you think? Pretty cool, huh?” He held the costume up to Jonas’s face. “The feathers feel real. Go on, feel ‘em!”
Jonas reached out and gently rubbed one of the feathers between his thumb and forefinger. It felt real enough, but he wasn’t excited about dressing in a sack covered in feathers. All he could muster was, “Wow. Yep.”
Mr. Shurmann peered down at Jonas through his hexagonal eyeglass frames. The smile fell from his rosy cheeks.
“Ah, jeez, Jonas, I’m sorry,” he said. “I went to the antique mall looking for something unique to surprise you with. The old woman who sold it to me said it was one-of-a-kind. She made a big deal about—“ he frowned. “I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Mr. Shurmann was dressed in bib-and-brace overalls. He wore a different, but identical, set almost every day. He called them his “business suits,” because he wore them to work. Jonas liked that his dad worked from home, but he didn’t like that his job caused him to worry so much.
Presently, Jonas noticed his dad’s brows had knitted, turning his forehead into a mess of wrinkles. That always meant something was wrong. Usually, when Jonas would ask his dad what was worrying him he would reply, “work” or, “just adult stuff.”
But despite the never-ending stress of work, Mr. Shurmann always made time for Jonas and Jonas knew not everyone’s dad did. Jonas’s friend Adam moved away when his parents got divorced. Jonas didn’t know all the details, but he knew Adam wasn’t very happy when he found out he would only see his dad on weekends. After that, Jonas always remembered to appreciate that his dad was there for him, even though he seemed to live on another planet sometimes—this being one of those times.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Jonas said. He took the costume and held it up to make a show of his appraisal. That’s when he noticed the sack of feathers had a hood—with a beak attached to it!
Jonas bit his lip. It was one-of-a-kind, all right. He was sure of that. In fact, there was no need to ever make another one. Jonas couldn’t imagine one kid wanting to be a chicken for Halloween, much less two. Still, he hated seeing his father disappointed.
Dressing up as a chicken for Halloween might have been popular when Dad was young, thought Jonas, but things have definitely changed since then.
“Are you sure?” Mr. Shurmann asked. “I know you said you wanted…“
“I’m sure,” Jonas said, forcing a smile. “It’s great, Dad.”
“Well, I think it’s adorable.” Jonas’s mom appeared behind Mr. Shurmann. “Your lunch is packed and waiting for you on the counter, sweetie.”
Most people recognized Mrs. Shurmann from the veterinary hospital where she always wore a white doctor’s smock. But at home she wore T-shirts that exposed the colorful tattoos that covered her arms from shoulder to wrist. Dogs, cats, songbirds, fish, rabbits, and even a couple of Guinea pigs; each tattoo was a memorial to a pet she’d loved.
Jonas loved to lie in bed with his mom and look at her tattoos. Sometimes they would play a game where Jonas would point to a tattoo, and his mom would tell him a story about the pet the tattoo commemorated.
Jonas’s mom was pretty cool most of the time, but the only thing Jonas thought was cool this early in the morning was more sleep.
“Okay,” Jonas mumbled as he shuffled toward the bathroom.
“And don’t forget you have work after school,” she called after him.
“Uh-huh,” Jonas grunted.
“Right after school, Mister. I need you to hustle your bustle, because we’re super-busy, okay?”
“All right! Jeez!” Jonas dragged the sack of feathers into the bathroom and shut the door.
“I love you!” Mrs. Shurmann called. She turned to her husband. “He knows I love him, right?”
Jonas’s dad looked glum. His brows had knitted again.
“Stop worrying,” she said. “It’s adorable. He’ll be fine.”
After recess, Miss Keys announced to her class that it was time to change into their costumes. Jonas went to the restroom where he spent ten minutes hopping and bumping around in a stall.
He’d worn the chicken costume under his clothes and the extra bulk made undressing awkward. Once he’d managed to wrestle free of his shirt and jeans, he took the chicken “feet” out of a crumpled paper bag and replaced them with his clothes. He slipped the feet over his sneakers and stood before the mirror to appraise his new getup.
Jonas looked like a chicken that had been deflated. The hood slouched over his eyes, the yellow beak sat askew, and the points of the comb (that red thing on the top of a chicken’s head) flopped over to one side. It was a far cry from what he’d wanted to be for Halloween.
Miss Keys had instructed the class to dress up as whatever they most wanted to be when they grew up. Jonas told his father that he most wanted to be a hero. It didn’t particularly matter what kind of hero he would be. He just knew that every story he’d ever read, every movie or TV show he’d seen, and every report he’d watched on the news, showed that everyone liked and admired a person who performed heroic deeds. And that’s why Jonas wanted to be a hero, because he wanted to be liked.
Not that he was particularly disliked at school, but he tended to stand out for all the wrong reasons and this chicken costume was bound to be yet another. He would much rather have been a soldier, a fireman, a superhero, a knight, or a cowboy. Really, anything other than a chicken. To Jonas, dressing up as a chicken was the exact opposite of dressing as a hero.
Maybe not literally, Jonas thought, because real chickens could be brave if they had to be. But people get called chicken for being scared, and no one would believe me if I told them I was a brave chicken, because no one’s ever heard of one.
Jonas heaved a sigh and shuffled out of the restroom with his crumpled bag of clothes.
He’d hoped his return to the classroom would go unnoticed, but as he made his way back to his desk, Jonas heard giggling and calls of “Bock-bock chicken!” He turned to find Danny Martin and his friends decked out in camouflage fatigues and green face paint. They were laughing and comically flapping their arms. Jonas pretended not to notice them. He stashed the bag and joined his classmates as the party got underway.
The kids bobbed for apples, took turns adding lines to a ghost story, watched a movie about the history of the holiday, then everyone received a small bag of mixed candy. That is, all except for the bag Jonas was given.
His bag had the words Chicken Feed scrawled on it and was filled entirely with candy corn. When he showed it to Miss Keys, she held it up and asked the class who was responsible. The kids sat hunched over their desks, giggling and sharing secretive glances. Jonas tried to laugh along and insisted it was just a harmless prank.
He took the bag, popped one of the triangular treats in his mouth, and smiled weakly. “It’s just a Halloween trick, see?”
Miss Keys frowned and returned to her desk. As soon as her back was turned, spit the chewed up candy into his hand.
“Blech!” he gagged. “A disgusting Halloween trick.”
He crumpled the bag in his fist and stuffed it in his backpack. Jonas loved Halloween candy like every other kid, but something about the waxy texture and weird flavor of candy corn turned his stomach.
When the bell rang Jonas rushed back to the restroom. His face was flushed and tears had begun to roll down his cheeks. He wanted to tear those feathers off and throw them in the trash, but when he caught sight of himself wrestling with the costume in the mirror he stopped. He thought about his father, how proud and excited he’d been when he presented it to Jonas that morning. Jonas’s shoulders fell. He felt ashamed of himself.
He released the feathers, wiped his cheeks dry then hauled himself into a stall where he put his clothes back over the costume. He stepped out and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the feathers were no longer visible, but unfortunately for Jonas, the party wouldn’t be the last time they made trouble for him.
Chapter 2 – Missing
Jonas hurried down Heanlein Boulevard to Shurmann Veterinary Hospital where his mom worked. He’d started helping her during the summer for an increased allowance and had continued coming in a few days after school every week. He helped with baths, feedings, cleaning and filling water dishes, comforting the patients during exams and treatments, wiping down examination rooms, and prepping pets to go home, which was his first job when he arrived.
A fat, gray, one-eyed cat sat quietly in its cage studying Jonas as he prepared its carrier. When he noticed his furry audience, he knelt down and peered through the cage door. The feline met his gaze with a single amber eye. A lightning bolt-shaped scar was scored into the cat’s face where its other eye should have been.
What a weird cat, Jonas thought.
Jonas didn’t like cats. They usually drove him crazy pacing back and forth in their cages, constantly meowing. But the one-eyed cat seemed content to just watch him work. This was fine, at least at first. But after about five minutes of its creepy staring, Jonas decided he would rather the cat pace and meow like a normal cat—that would be less annoying.
This was just another in a long list of gripes Jonas had with cats. Since working at the vet’s office, he’d decided cats were ungrateful monsters that had it far too easy in life.
As Jonas saw it, people were always fussing over cats like servants. Cleaning their fur off of clothes and furniture, scooping out litter boxes, and cleaning the carpet when cats threw up hairballs—which was like, all the time. Humans feed them, provide shelter, brush them, pet them, give them special treats, and for all of this, what do cats do in return? They pay no attention to anyone, they sleep all the time, and if you pet them too much, they scratch or bite you. Jonas just couldn’t understand why anyone would want something as ungrateful as a cat for a pet.
He opened the cage and scooped the gray cat up.
This cat may have one eye, thought Jonas, but he never had to go to school in a ridiculous-looking chicken costume. He didn’t get laughed at and get stuck with gross “chicken feed” candy corn. This cat probably has treats waiting for him at home.
“Cats have it easy!” Jonas sneered as he shoved the cat into the carrier.
“Hey, watch it!” a voice shouted.
The voice startled Jonas. He thought he was alone. He was alone, wasn’t he?
“Who said that?” he called out.
Before an answer could come, he was startled again by shouting voices coming from beyond the lobby door. Jonas peered out the rectangular window and saw a sunburned man with wild, black hair at the receptionist’s counter. He was waving his arms and yelling. Jonas cracked the door to listen.
“This is serious!” the man exclaimed, waving crumpled papers in his fists. “Puck’s been outside for years and he’s never wandered away from home—ever! He’s a good cat.”
The receptionist held a phone receiver to her chest and nodded. She tried to speak, but as soon as she’d opened her mouth, the man began shouting all over again.
“I don’t think you understand!” he bellowed. “Something’s in the neighborhood that shouldn’t be here, and it might’ve gotten Puck!”
Jonas’s mom appeared and took the man aside. Jonas wasn’t close enough to hear what was said, but after a brief conversation the man seemed calmer and was nodding in agreement with whatever she was saying. He handed her one of his crumpled papers and left. She immediately pinned it to the bulletin board by the front door.
It was a “missing cat” flier, but it wasn’t the only one. In fact, Jonas couldn’t find a spot on the board that wasn’t covered by “missing cat” fliers.
Mrs. Shurmann then greeted a man with a bright smile. She called back to Jonas to bring the gray cat out.
Jonas lugged the carrier over to the receptionist’s counter then took a closer look at the bulletin board.
Every inch had been plastered with missing cat fliers. There weren’t any for missing dogs or any other type of pet, just cats. The flier the sunburned man left promised a cash reward for the person who returned his cat, Puck. According to the flier, Puck had been last seen a street over from where Jonas’s family lived.
Jonas thought about what he would buy if he claimed the reward money. A new bike, some cool shoes, or a smart phone—something that would impress Danny Martin and his friends, that’s what Jonas would buy. Because if he impressed Danny, he was sure to get teased less and be liked a little more by the other kids in his class.
His mom’s voice interrupted his daydream.
She asked if he’d remembered to pack the medication for Mr. Higgins’s cat. Jonas winced. It had slipped his mind amid the excitement. His mother told him he was to drop it off on the way home. Jonas’s shoulders fell.
“Ugh—fine!” he groaned.
Chapter 3 – Bock-Bock Chicken!
Jonas watched some kids climb the jungle gym as he shuffled past George Clinton Elementary. He usually felt nervous any time he saw his school, but without the anxiety of tests, or the anticipation of being teased by his classmates, the building looked ordinary. Jonas wondered if it would look ordinary in three years when he started junior high, or if he would always feel nervous when he saw the school.
He turned onto East North Dusenbury and craned his head at the grand houses that lined the street. Unlike the modest homes in his neighborhood, these places boasted exotic architecture and ornately manicured yards. Some had balconies, others featured sprawling porches with built-in gazebos, and few houses even had turrets—rounded towers, like Jonas had seen built into castles.
Jonas often imagined how cool it would be to have a bedroom in the top floor of a turret, with windows all around. He imagined spending his days pretending to be a pirate or even a knight, surveying his domain and watching for advancing armies on the horizon.
Jonas had heard Danny Martin lived on Dusenbury, but wasn’t sure in which house. Regardless, he was sure that if Danny did live here, his bedroom was probably in the top of a turret.
Then Jonas came upon the one place on Dusenbury Street in which he, or any kid, would never want to live.
A solid wall of gnarled, thorny branches surrounded the property. They rose twice Jonas’s height and pressed into the sidewalk, forcing travelers into the grass to avoid injury. But even the overgrown hedgerow couldn’t hide the Dusenbury House. It loomed just beyond, like a giant monster poised to strike.
The Dusenbury House was haunted. Everyone in Clintonville knew that. The four-story mansion had been erected ages ago when the neighborhood was farmland. Once the pride of the row, its glory days were firmly behind it. It now sat in ruins, a derelict, haunted by its former owner’s tormented ghost.
It was also common knowledge that anything that went over the hedges was lost forever. No one was willing to step foot onto the property and risk their life for something as measly as a ball or a Frisbee.
Jonas was examining the crumbling manor when his attention was drawn to a third floor window.
The curtains were suddenly yanked aside. He squinted, expecting to see someone through the dirty glass, but there was only darkness. He shielded his eyes from the setting sun and gasped as the tattered fabric fell back into place. Someone—the Dusenbury ghost, most likely—was in there watching him.
Jonas looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the phenomenon. Passing cars didn’t slow and the only other people on the sidewalk was a group of kids riding toward him on bikes.
His fright turned to dread when he heard one of the kids call out, “Bock-bock chicken!”
“Oh, no!” he muttered. Jonas tried to walk away, but found his escape blocked as Danny Martin and his friends skidded to a halt, surrounding him.
“Don’t you know the Dusenbury House is haunted?” Danny asked. “Do you wanna end up dead in a bucket, Chicken-Boy?”
Danny’s friends doubled over their handlebars, laughing.
“I know,” Jonas stammered, “I just saw it.”
“Saw what?” Danny sneered.
“The ghost—up there.” Jonas pointed to the window. “The curtain moved back and the ghost looked out at me.”
The boys exchanged glances. They couldn’t tell if Jonas was joking or if he was serious.
“We gave you too much chicken feed at the party,” Danny said. “The sugar’s gone straight to your head, Chicken-Boy.”
Danny’s friends howled.
“I swear, it was right there!” Jonas turned again to point to the window. As he did, the schoolbooks under his arm fell, sprawling across the sidewalk. Before he could retrieve them, Danny had bent over his bike and snatched up Jonas’s math book.
“Since you know the ghost so well,” Danny pitched the book over the hedges, “you won’t have a problem getting your book back.” Danny and his friends laughed and began to ride off. “That is, unless you’re BOCK-BOCK CHICKEN!” he yelled as the gang pedaled away.
Jonas panicked. He looked up at the window. The curtain remained still.
The ghost was probably scared off by the sounds of Danny and his friends, he thought.
He examined the hedgerow and noticed an opening large enough to accommodate a kid about his size. Jonas peeked through the bushes and spotted his textbook hanging on a fallen tree branch in the middle of the yard. He scrambled past the thorns and was pushing through a tall patch of wild grass when a deep creaking sound drew his attention up to the mansion.
The front door slowly yawned open, like an ancient mouth, sucking the air of the living into its dusty, decaying lungs. A faint blue light flickered from somewhere deep within the cavernous husk, but Jonas couldn’t see anyone there. The door had opened by itself.
He quickly crawled backwards, gathered his remaining schoolbooks, and ran the rest of the way down East North Dusenbury Street.
For more, visit www.crimecatsbooks.com.
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