Thursday, March 10, 2005


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

From the Crime Files of Detectives, Inc.
Job #1: Boy Detective
The Dog That Didn't Bark

Looking back on those days of hunting for a mystery--any mystery--to solve, I realize now how blind I was. Or maybe just picky. Because when you're a kid, mysteries surround you.

Take Shawn, my partner in crime-solving. He was the oldest of four kids, but each one of them had a different last name. I knew not to ask too many questions--this was a very sore subject with my best friend--but I also knew that his mom had only been married twice. So what was up with that? A deeper mystery was why he hated going home. I knew that he was often left in charge of his brothers and sister while his mom went off on "long dates" with her numerous boyfriends on evenings and weekends. But even when he was free, we never played at his house. In fact, every chance he got, he was at my house. At first I thought it was because he needed a break from taking care of his sibs (God knows I would have), but they absolutely adored one another. In fact, Shawn once remarked that his little brothers and sister were the only reason he made himself go home some days.

Whereas I loved my house. We lived in an enormous old stone house--it had originally been a schoolhouse and was the oldest building in town. It sat in the middle of a 4-acre lot behind a small orchard of pear trees and a stand of blueberry bushes. Behind the house stood two tall walnut trees that we used to climb (I begged to build a treehouse, but was vetoed), as well as three ramshackle sheds. These were mysteries too. I dearly wanted one for a clubhouse (and finally ended up using the abandoned mail truck in the field behind us). But my father kept some of his welding tools in one, but the other two were generally locked. My father said they were for storage and he didn't want anyone breaking in (an idea that sounded downright appealing to me). He went in and out of one shed quite a lot: usually right when he got home from work, sometimes in the evening after dinner, and several times a day on the weekends. My brother and I used to ask him what he did in there, and he'd generally ignore us. Then my brother asked one time too many and my father slapped him to the ground and told him never to ask him his business again. We never did. My father's erratic behavior for most of my childhood was another mystery, but one I didn't investigate until I was about 16. And then I was sorry I did.

Our classmate Melinda was another mystery, at least my reaction to her was. I mentioned last time that I really didn't like her, and there was no real reason for that. She was a bit of a whiner and generally regarded as a crybaby, but she probably had cause. She was regularly bullied and teased by other girls in our class. She was a skinny thing with an ungainly walk and ungodly large glasses--your standard nerd archetype, completed by the fact that she was also really smart and an amazing reader.

In fact, she was a lot like me, right down to the ungodly glasses. And having started school early, I was almost two years younger than my classmates, which made me something of a runt physically, and therefore prime punching bag material for a variety of middle school predators. I was lucky in that my brother--three years older and three times my size--wouldn't tolerate anyone pounding on me and made some early examples of bullies to illustrate this point. (He informed me that he did this not because he loved or even liked me, you understand, but because pounding on me was a pleasure he reserved for himself.) That took care of the big kids, but there were still a few boys my size, in my class, who had it out for me. Such as Bruce Peavey (not to be confused with the Bruce from the puking anecdote).

Bruce was the only kid in class who was shorter than I was, which meant that the big perpetual chip on his shoulder was about eye-level for me. For whatever reason, Bruce and I took an instant disliking to each other. He was rude and mean and had the most annoying, disgusting habit of licking his fingers and daubing my glasses with them. Unfortunately, he was way stronger than I and in two schoolyard tussles, he easily pinned me and smeared my glasses mercilessly.

So yes, I should have sympathized with Melinda. But instead, I think she was too much like me, and I saw my worst faults in her, so it was easy to treat her like a pariah.

It also didn't help that she won everything. In spelling bees, it often came down to her and me, and she regularly won. And of course, she had just won the Readathon for our school.

Surely your school participated in the MS Readathon, where you signed up people to sponsor you and you read as many books as you could in a month? At the end, there was a big assembly and prizes awarded to people who read the most books or collected the most money. I think they happen mostly in the fall, but back then, at our school ,we did it in the spring.

I loved participating because I read books like my brother ate food. So for me, it was like getting credit for something I was already doing. At my top speed, I could average a book a day (sometimes a longer work, like a Hardy Boys book--which were fricking doorstops compared your average juvenile paperback--took a weekend) By the end of the Readathon, I had tallied 26 books in 30 days. I only had two sponsors, but that was pretty respectable.

Well, Melinda had read 32 books. And she had signed up several more sponsors, so she was the hands down winner. I remember the school awards assembly hazily, but I seem to recall our principal gave her an envelope (a savings bond? A gift certificate?), and also one other thing: this insanely cute stuffed animal, some kind of cartoon dog (I'm pretty sure he was the mascot of the Readathon).

So when Melinda screamed that someone had stolen her dog, we knew exactly what she was talking about.

While the big girls got her calmed down, Shawn pointed at one of the pouches on the Mobile Crime Lab I wore around my waist. I nodded and took out the notepad and one of the pencils. "I'll talk to her," he whispered. "You take notes." It was smart of him to suggest this. Melinda liked Shawn, and she'd talk more easily to him than to me. Plus it's hard to talk and take notes at the same time. Teamwork, man. Dig those Detectives, Inc.!

Here's a transcript of my notes:

Interview with Melinda B-----
Taken Friday April 20th, 1979 AD
By Shawn S-----
Recorded By MM

S: Tell us what happened.

M: I had my dog that Mr. Terry [school principal] gave me. And they took it.

S: You still had it at school? The awards were Monday.

M: I had it in my locker. I forgot to take it home. But I remembered today and when I got on the bus, Michelle and Kathy asked to see it.

S: So they took it?

M: No. Everyone wanted to look at it. And when I asked for it back, someone threw it to the back of the bus.

S: Who threw it?

M: Earl Lee David. He threw it to Dee Dee.

S: Dee Dee Meek?

M: No, Dee Dee Peavey.

S: Then what happened?

M: Then the bus stopped.

S: Mr. Cecil stopped the bus? He made them give it back?

M: No, the bus stopped running. Mr. Cecil tried to get it to run but it wouldn't. Then it did and we started driving again. We were all watching him and people were yelling when the bus stopped, but when it started up I looked around and couldn't see the dog. I asked for it back but Dee Dee said she didn't have it. But Bruce was laughing and acting like he had something under his shirt. When the bus stopped at the school, they opened that little door in back and jumped out and ran back behind the school.


I looked up from the notepad. "You're sure it was Bruce Peavey and his sister?" I asked, a tad weakly.

Melinda started crying again. Two of the bigger girls nodded. They had seen the same thing. While I jotted down their names and a couple things they said, Shawn grabbed the extra pencil from the Mobile Crime Lab and a piece of notepad paper and wrote down a description of the dog (he was a very thorough guy). But at this point my heart really wasn't in it. This seemed like an open-and-shut case, and one that involved my nemesis. A smart kid would leave well enough alone, go catch up with his friends and play some ball.

But as I said, mysteries surround you when you're a kid. For example, it didn't seem like we had a case to solve, but as we would learn on Monday, we did.

Moreover, we would soon be working to clear Bruce's name.

How did we get roped into doing that? It's still a mystery to me...


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