CHAPTER 1: A PROBLEM ARISES
It's a hot day in Sacramento, and sweat drips down the detective's face. His demeanor is that of a cat waiting to pounce, and everything about his appearance reinforces his no-nonsense approach to solving mysteries.
He wears a fedora, slightly cocked to the side, as if to say, 'I know more than I'm letting on.' His white button-up is as crisp as ever, and the black tie, which he wears every day, sits in stark contrast against the shirt, which he refuses to unbutton despite the extreme temperatures.
And despite his inability to speak human, the detective's eyes speak volumes of his street smarts, cleverness and intelligence. Oh yes, Dinger is a top-notch private eye.
Sitting in his dark office, Dinger shifts his fedora, slowly to cover his eyes, and puts his feet up on his desk. The mascot for the Sacramento River Cats reminisces about how he got into this dicey game of hardboiled detective work.
He had been sitting at the very same desk, doing the piles and piles of mascot paperwork that pile up while the team is in town, when a distraught River Cats fan burst into his office.
"Oh, Dinger, it's just awful! I went to the River Cats Facebook Page to see highlights from last night's game, and it was gone! Our Facebook Fan Page is gone! Whatever shall we do?"
Dinger quickly resolved the matter of the missing Facebook page, negotiating the mystery's twists and turns and returning the Fan Page to glory. And just as Dinger began to reminisce on the pride he felt of solving his first mystery, his office door flew open again and light streamed into the dark room.
There, standing in the doorway, was River Cats relief pitcher Brad Kilby.
"What can I help you with?" Dinger asked, sitting up from his relaxed position.
"It would seem we have a new mystery on our hands, Dinger," Kilby proclaimed, lips quivering with fear. "I went to check on the Rally Pants this morning, and instead of the Pants, I found this note."
Dinger looked down at the tattered piece of paper. It had started to turn that shade of yellow that paper gets when it's been left out in the sun too long. Unfolding the note carefully, Dinger slowly read aloud: "The PANTS are mine! I have hidden them within the park, somewhere where you will never be able to find them! You will NEVER be able to outsmart me!"
Signed at the bottom, in large flourished writing, were the letters "MvM".
"Well, what do you make of it?" Kilby frantically asked. "Can you find my Rally Pants?"
"I'll find your Magic Pants. This note can only mean one thing: Mascot VonMascot is back!"
CHAPTER 2: TREACHEROUS TALE OF MASCOT VON MASCOT
Even today, the mere thought of Dinger makes Mascot VonMascot's skin crawl with jealousy. Ten years ago, the two had been eager and impressionable young cats. Full of youth and wonder, the two had been blissfully unaware of the other until the day came for the River Cats to choose a mascot.
VonMascot remembers that day clearly. He had tried to groom his wild and mangy hair as best he could, with little success. He had chosen to wear the only outfit he had -- a well-worn corduroy suit he found on the street months before. It was a little tight, but it was better than nothing. And then, poised and ready to go, VonMascot marched down to Raley Field to accept, what he felt was, his position as the River Cats' mascot.
But it was too late. The Raley Field Front Office had already found Dinger, with his shiny coat and bright smile, and brought him back to Raley Field to fawn over him. No one even noticed VonMascot standing there in his run-down suit and wild hair, stunned in the doorway.
So VonMascot turned and ran.
Deep beneath Raley Field, in the sewage lines that VonMascot called home, the anger and indignation he felt brewed inside the young cat. His anger slowly began to warp his mind, and the more he let his anger grow, the crazier he became. He would find himself walking the concourse of Raley Field late at night, with no recollection of how he got there.
Before long, without even realizing it, VonMascot had Raley Field's layout memorized.
One night, after finding himself in the Solon Club, VonMascot heard a noise. Turning sharply, he found Dinger, looking at him with a gaze somewhere between surprised and welcoming. It irked VonMoscot.
"Who are you?" Dinger asked.
"Who am I? Who am I? You stole the one thing I wanted. I should have been mascot! So, who am I? I am Mascot VonMascot, and I am your arch-nemesis!"
VonMascot then turned and ran back to the sewers he called home.
VonMascot began attempting dastardly feats that night, but he was never successful. Showing up at Dinger community appearances only to have the kids ignore him when Dinger arrived. Moving Dinger's uniform to different lockers. Giving Dinger excessive amounts of fake Mascot Paperwork.
One time, VonMascot even wrote a menacing note.
"Long before you were here, and long after you leave, I will be here. I have a wealth of knowledge on the history of this town, and one day I will use it against you!"
And signed at the bottom was his flourished "MvM" signature. All of it was rather ... pathetic. Dinger knew it, and VonMascot knew it as well.
So VonMascot packed his few possessions and went in search of a school he heard whispers about in the back alleys and shady bars he calls home. It was a place where he could reach his true evil mascot potential. He searched for five years, through South America, into Asia, until he finally found the Academia D'Evil, on the outskirts of Prague, Czech Republic.
It took him another year to gain admittance into the Academy, but when he finally got in, he excelled at everything. The Academy refined him, and upon graduation four years later, VonMascot was the very picture of Arch-Villain-ry. His hair slicked back and clad in a solid black outfit, save for a red ascot, VonMascot left Prague to return to the nemesis he had left behind ten years ago.
It was time to pay Dinger a little visit.
CHAPTER 3: THE SEARCH BEGINS
Dinger looked down at two notes in his hands. One, Brad Kilby had given him minutes ago, and the other was from 10 years before.
They were clearly connected. VonMascot had warned that one day he would come back to seek his vengeance. Dinger supposed that day was today. The Rally Pants were gone and all Dinger had to go on were VonMascot's cryptic notes.
Dinger didn't like being taunted, he didn't like cryptic. He liked facts. He liked tangible clues. One's that led him to another piece of the puzzle. All VonMascot's notes did was give him clues he didn't understand; clues that didn't add up yet. So Dinger went off in search of clues he could use. Something that would help him understand how VonMascot had gotten away with the Pants.
Grabbing his detective's pad, and setting his fedora firmly on his head, Dinger stood up.
"Mr. Kilby, walk with me," Dinger said to the distraught pitcher, who had never left his office. "We are going down to the clubhouse in search of clues. While we walk, I want you to tell me everything you can about the Pants."
"Well, you know the magic of the Pants. I wear them when the Cats are trailing in late innings. I put them on and coach first base," Kilby explained. " The Pants help us come from behind to win.
"But what you may not know is how they are guarded. They are magic pants, so they can't be kept with the team's everyday pants. We keep the Rally Pants in a safe. There is a secret compartment behind my locker. At the bottom of my locker, hidden toward the back is a little latch, which, when pulled, pops the back of my locker out. Hidden behind this false back is the safe that houses the Pants. It requires two keys and a numbered combination to get in. I need two clubhouse managers to help me put the pants on, so each one has a key and I have the combination. I am the only person who has the combination, which is a final safe guard in case someone tries to get into the safe," Kilby said as the two walked down to the clubhouse.
Upon reaching the clubhouse, Dinger immediately opened his detective's pad, told Kilby he should head home, and began searching for clues.
He found scratch marks on the big metal handle of the clubhouse door. Sharp, pointed claws had clearly been used to pick the lock on the heavy door. Dinger wrote this down in his pad, and entered the clubhouse. One of the lights in the hall was broken, or burned out. The hall was eerily dark.
Dinger moved into the locker room, where the Pants were kept. Everything was pristine. As if a mystery hadn't been discovered here only an hour ago. Dinger moved to Kilby's locker and felt for the latch that once protected the Rally Pants. Finally finding it with his paw, Dinger pulled the latch and the back of the locker swung out, just as Kilby had said it would.
The safe, which Dinger had never seen before this moment, was big, black and ominous. There were the same sort of scratch marks on the safe as had been on the front door; sharp claws had been used to get in. Having collected the keys from the clubhouse managers, Dinger opened the first lock with a click! With a second click, the second lock opened. And then, placing his ear to the safe, DInger used his feline sense of hearing to figure out the final combination; with a final resounding CLICK!, the safe door creaked open. It was empty, as Dinger expected. There was no sign of tampering beyond the scratches, and Dinger suspected VonMascot had been too careful to leave any helpful hints for him to find.
Dinger started to close the safe, shutting the heavy door, spinning the combination lock and turning the keys back into their locked position. Dinger reached for the false back, when something caught his eye: It was another scrap of yellowish paper, stuck to the back of the door.
Kilby must have missed it in his panic, thought Dinger, as he pulled the note off the door.
The handwriting was unmistakeable, even without the flourished signature at the bottom; another VonMascot note, taunting Dinger.
"You silly Cat, I look down on your meager attempts to find the Rally Pants. You aren't even close."
It was clear to Dinger that the only real clues, the only clues that could possibly point Dinger toward the Pants, were going to be these cryptic notes. VonMascot was smart, but he had a bad habit of leaving hints in his notes, and Dinger was determined to capitalize.
There was only one thing to do now, so Dinger pocketed the note, and headed off to once again best VonMascot at his own game. It was time to search Raley Field.
CHAPTER 4: UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
Dinger crumpled the note in his hand in frustration. "I don't need the notes!" Dinger thought, vexed by the condescension of VonMascot's message. And then, taking a slow, calming breath, Dinger smoothed out the note, because he knew that he would, in fact, need this note later. He was tired of VonMascot and his blasted notes. They were only just starting to make sense. And Dinger was nothing if not determined to find the Rally Pants before it was too late.
Dinger walked out of the clubhouse and looked out at Raley Field. He needed to go up, that much was clear. He immediately turned toward the On Deck Shop. It was the perfect place to hide the Pants. If VonMascot was going to hide them, why not hide them in plain sight.
Dinger walked along the foul line toward the stands. Dinger loved the park, and was ready to bring VonMascot to justice. If he could catch his arch-nemesis, Dinger was sure the River Cats would continue their Division-winning ways. As far as mascots went, he was lucky one: 8 Division titles in 10 seasons, not many mascots could be say that. But without the Pants, the River Cats had been struggling at home.
Dinger reached the stands and ended his musings, ascending the stairs quickly. Taking the last four steps two at a time, Dinger found himself standing on the pristine concourse of Raley Field. Walking past concession stand after concession stand, Dinger found himself in front of the On Deck Shop. It was time to find the Pants.
Dinger pushed open the doors of the On Deck Shop and looked around. Along the left wall were the women's clothes: sweaters, pajama bottoms, tanks and shirts all sat neatly on shelves or hung orderly on racks. Dinger thought he could rule out the Pants being over there. Dinger also ruled out the Kids section; Brad Kilby was significantly larger than any child Dinger had ever seen. His best bet was to check the Men's section for the Pants.
Dinger moved over to the right side of the shop and began systematically looking through the racks and shelves of merchandise. His first hunch was that VonMascot would put them in with the signed game-worn jerseys. A fan would take home the real Rally Pants and never even know it.
But they weren't there.
So he checked near the sweaters, and the replica jerseys and he even checked by the rows and rows of hats, because he wanted to make sure. When he felt he had checked everything and everywhere in the store, Dinger's heart sank. He had been so sure the Rally Pants would be here.
And then he had a revelation, and his stomach sank to the same place his heart had just gone. The register. The shiny screen that sat above the locked box of cash and receipts smiled up at him mischievously.
Dinger called for Rose, the On Deck Shop manager.
"I'm going to need that register opened, Rose," Dinger sighed, as Rose pushed in her code to pop open the register.
Sitting there, laying neatly on top of all of the money slots, was a little piece of yellowish paper. Paper that, by now, Dinger was all too familiar with.
Dinger thanked Rose and moved to the corner of the Shop before finally reading the note that VonMascot had left him.
"Dinger, I have been drinking it all in. Your poor attempts at finding the Pants are intoxicating to me. Try harder. I'm starting to get bored."
Dinger looked up from the flourished "MvM" and smiled. If VonMascot wanted a challenge, Dinger would give him one.
CHAPTER 5: BEAT AT HIS OWN GAME (FINAL CHAPTER)
Dinger knew where the Pants were. Or at least he thought he did. All of the clues pointed toward one place. But to just find the Pants was not enough; he wanted VonMascot to lead him to them. Dinger wanted to beat him at his own game.
What Dinger needed to do was catch VonMascot placing one of his now infamous notes. Dinger could tell he was placing them only minutes before he arrived. VonMascot wanted to ensure that Dinger found his notes, so Dinger knew that VonMascot was lurking somewhere in Raley Field.
So Dinger headed up to the suites. Based on VonMascot's clues, it was a logical conclusion, but Dinger knew it was not the correct one. VonMascot had stolen the Pants out of revenge. Dinger was sure this had factored into his arch-nemesis' thought process.
Dinger needed to move quickly. He wanted to make sure he went into the correct suite, instead of having to search every last one. Walking briskly up the stairs, Dinger turned the corner toward the suites, and then wondered if he should go left or right. After a moment's hesitation, Dinger went right.
The decision proved to be a good one. Three suites down, he caught the sight of a tail darting out of view. Dinger rushed to the door. It was time to catch VonMascot
Bursting through the door, Dinger prepared to utter a triumphant "AHA!", but as the door flew open, VonMascot was nowhere in sight. Dinger narrowed his eyes in suspicion. He knew VonMascot was there, but it was clear that he was going to have to be drawn out.
Dinger wanted the note, hoping to confirm his suspicions on the whereabouts of the missing Rally Pants. He knew there would be few places to hide the note, but the most likely place to search was in the cushions of the plush chairs in the suite.
Dinger made quick work of the cushions, pulling them off of the seats and couch. There, under the middle cushion of the couch, sat Dinger's reward: the yellowish note that would definitively confirm for him the location of the Rally Pants.
Picking up the note Dinger gave it a quick glance, before a wide smile spread across his face. It read:
"Dearest Dinger, have I not painted a picture of all the players involved. I leave you clue after clue, and yet I still continue to mock you. I'm sure you will be hearing from me soon!"
The note told DInger all he needed to know. He knew where the Pants were. Now he just needed to catch VonMascot ... who was still in the suite, thinking he had outsmarted Dinger. Now was the time to prove him wrong.
Dinger reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone and a piece of paper containing the phone number of Brad Kilby, owner of the Rally Pants. Dinger slowly dialed his number. The phone rang once. The phone rang twice. On the third ring, Kilby picked up the phone.
"Brad, this is Dinger. I know where the Pants are," Dinger spoke into the phone.
Whatever Brad was going to say was drowned out by the sound of VonMascot letting out an enraged roar as he came out of his hiding spot, from somewhere in the corner. VonMascot charged at Dinger, knocking the phone out of his paw.
"You cannot know where the Pants are! I haven't even come close to tormenting you the way you tormented me 10 years ago!" VonMascot cried.
"I didn't wrong you," Dinger responded. "And I do know where the Pants are. All of your clues point back to our first meeting. You never could let go of the past, VonMascot. And now that you have once again let your anger get the best of you, I'm taking you in to pay for your crimes!"
Just then, Dinger's cell phone loudly rang, as the very anxious and distraught Kilby called, frantically awaiting the location of his magical pants. Dinger looked down in surprise at the loud buzzing noise that had suddenly interrupted his moment of triumph. And when Dinger looked back up at VonMascot, his arch-nemesis was gone.
Frustrated that he had let VonMascot escape, he bent over and picked up his cell, answering the call.
"Dinger! What's going on? Did you really find my Rally Pants?" Kilby asked urgently.
"I have located the Pants," Dinger replied. "Meet me in my office in 20 minutes. I will take you to your Pants personally." Dinger hung up the phone and heading back to his office. He had paperwork to do.
What happened to the beloved Rally Pants, and will Brad Kilby get them back before it's too late!? Be the first to solve the Case of the Rally Pants and win four tickets to the River Cats' Thursday night playoff game! Answers should be posted to the River Cats Facebook Page.