Home alone again. Message on the machine blinks and blinks. But there's no need to touch the triangle to know the message: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective is a good guesser. He knows it is his mother's voice saying that once again, she will not be home for dinner, and that really, she will try to be home this weekend, and that they will perform some fun activity that really is irrelevant, since she won't be home, and the activity will never actually be performed.
Big house. Empty house. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective checks the hair he put across his parent's bedroom door on Tuesday: still there. Backpack on the floor. Shelves of books reclining lazily in the afternoon light from his window, titles like names of old friends, bindings like shaking hands.
He needs a Watson. He needs a hamsom carriage. He needs a case. Or maybe, he suddenly thinks, he needs some cocaine. He never really considered it before, but the thought stops him cold. He hasn't seen either Mom or Dad in at least a week. Maybe they will never come back, he thinks. Maybe, he thinks, this is it.
He knows where Dad keeps the cocaine. Dad calls it his "medicine" and thinks Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective doesn't know, but he's a good guesser. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, calls it the "7-percent solution" and knows for sure that Dad doesn't know, because Dad was always a lousy guesser.
"Fuck it," says Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, and the profanity tastes good in his mouth. They can't hear or see him, and maybe they'd be sorry for that if they could. "Fuck. It." he says, distinctly. The words send shivers through him. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, would never say those words. He opens the door and breaks the hair. He takes the key from it's hiding place in Dad's sock drawer and opens the bottom desk drawer, the deep one with the dark brown wood. Shove aside the papers and folders, and there it is, one Ziploc baggie of death. Never done it before, and never will again. How does it work? Holmes used a syringe, but Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, hates shots. Maybe he should just snort it like he saw on TV. All of it. One big sweeping white knife.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective doesn't cry because he doesn't know what to do, even though he doesn't. He doesn't cry because he doesn't know if he should use all the cocaine at once and fall over dead, even though he doesn't. He doesn't cry because he doesn't know how long he would lie there before his parents came home, doesn't know it they ever would, or if they ever will, although he doesn't know this either. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, doesn't know any of this. He cries because Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, can guess. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, is a good guesser. A very good guesser.
Down in the drawer, a brown photo album peeks out from under a stack of papers. A book he hasn't read. Hey, it says, quiet. Hey. Forget about that. Forget about it. Hey. You know what to do with me. Open me. Read me. Easy. Hey.
Finally, the Ziploc baggie drops from his fingers and spills along the carpet. He hefts out the photo album, thinking about whether it is better to die alone or go on alone. No Watson. No Mom. No Dad. No nothing.
The photo album is mostly family pictures, preoccupied smiles that seemed to say they would rather be elsewhere. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, bored, pieces together who each of the people are from the notes in the margin, almost unconsciously putting the scribbles together into a story, a solution. Folded in the back is a newspaper, yellowed and brittle.
April 11, 1981. About 5 years before he was born. Why this day? wonders Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detectiuve. A small mystery, but good enough. Out comes the magnifying glass. Out come the tweezers. The cocaine lies forgotten on the ground, and his tears dry forgotten on his face. Careful, careful, not to rip the pages. Turn. Turn. Why did Dad save this? Page. Photograph. Story. Headline. Page. Photograph. Story. Story. Page. Headline. Story. Photograph. Page. There it is, in Bold Helvetica 36. "Local Man, 68, Missing."
Grandfather. Mom's Dad. Disappeared before he was born, he remembered he had been told once. It had been implied he had just gotten drunk and wandered away. Mystery solved. Mom put the newspaper in the album and never found time to cut out the article. The article says that Michael Brown, a widower, was discovered to be missing after his car was found parked near the Independence Arch. A photograph of the car in the snow. Magnifying glass shows slight skid marks on the pavement behind the car. A mass of footprints around the car, impossible to tell anything. To tell anything about what?
A case. A case. Yes. Yes. A case. A case.
A CASE! On goes the deerstalker. Pick up the backpack, fill it with cool things from the shelves, oh, how could he have missed so many cool things just sitting on his shelves. Cut out the article, fold it careful, careful, in a folder, pull out a photograph of Grandather, white shirt, grey pants, Thanksgiving dinner, easy chair, watching TV, white hair, open eyes, big smile. Hey, he seems to say. And Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective says "Hey." Photo goes in the folder too.
Phone's ringing. Phone's ringing. Ignore it. Ignore it. Push up those glasses. Suck in that gut. Comb back that unruly brown hair and tie up the flaps of the deerstalker. Look in that mirror.
"Hi, nobody's here right now. Mom's out cheating on Dad and Dad's out working hard to put food on the table that we'll never eat. And me, I'm out working on a case. If this is Mom, I took the money for expenses. If this is Dad, the cocaine's on the bedroom floor. I spilt it, but I can't really say I'm sorry."
Broiling hot day in St. Louis, and Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, sits on a bench, swinging his legs, trying to massage some life back into his tired feet in his beat-up sneakers. Backpack sits beside him, stuffed with books. The sun is going down. He thinks he knows where the car was parked, but it's hard to say. Over here? Over there? Squint at the photograph again. Push up the glasses. Over there. Amble on over, kicking a chunk of asphalt. It's been over ten years, no point in looking for clues, but at least this is the area. Curvy little road. Grandfather stopped suddenly. Why?
"Hey, Petey." a voice said.
"Hey, Nancy." he replied. Nancy was a little older than him, but not by a lot. She was riding a skateboard.
"Can I use your skateboard, Nancy?" he said.
She rubbed her nose. "Sure. Are you on a case?"
"Yeah." he said. "A real one this time. I'm trying to find out what happened to my grandfather."
"Oh," she said, and shrugged. "My granddad brings me licorice sticks."
He nodded. "Okay." He picked up the skateboard and moved it back down the road a bit. Nancy stood, watching. "So I'm driving along...driving along..." He kicked the ground, and the skateboard wobbled along the way. He thrashed around, waving his arms wildly. Nancy laughed loudly at him. He turned his head...
...and saw a man on horseback galloping towards him, sword raised. He let out a yelp, and the skateboard shot out from under him and he smashed to the ground. He felt around for his glasses: luckily, they weren't broken.
Nancy applauded. "That was great!" she said, howling with laughter and stopping her skateboard with her foot. "You are something else, Petey."
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, looked across the grassy field of the park towards the statue of the man on horseback. His arm was raised, but the part that looked like a sword was really just a branch of the tree behind it, silhouetted in the setting sun.
"I gotta get home." Nancy said. "Don't want to be late for dinner."
"Okay," said Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. "Thanks. See ya." Nancy pushed off into traffic, and disappeared. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, walked towards the statue. The horse was alert: the man on it's back was staring glumly off into the distance. The man's head was stained and discolored on one side, or perhaps it was just the setting sun behind the trees, building and pollution.
The glen of trees around the statue were tall, and their branches hung low. Encyclopedia Brown sat at the feet of the horse and inspected the plaque, but the words were corroded away, and couldn't be made out.
So this was it, he thought. Grandfather was driving, he saw this horse, jammed on the brakes, stopped the car, got out, came over here...then what?
Well, he thought, he could have met someone. He could have found something. Or something could have found him. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective clambered up the statue and hugged it around the waist, peering along the line of sight of the man on it's back. He was looking deeper into the trees, towards the groundskeeper's shack. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective clambered down, and carefully examined the ground with his magnifying glass. Footprints, lots of them, of course, but they seemed to come and go from the shack. And not all of them were the heavy work boots of the gardener that you would expect. Some were wispy, as if a woman in a long dress or a man in a long coat had passed by. Some were obviously high-heeled, though why someone would wear high heels to a park was beyond him. There were animal footprints, too.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, followed the footsteps towards the shack, but then he stopped. The shack was dark, and the area around it was, too. The sun had set. He knew he shouldn't have even gotten this far. He knew he was only 9 years old.
He knew he couldn't possibly be any kind of detective at all. Not all the Sherlock Holmes books in the world could change that. Then why did he know that his grandfather had gotten out of the car, gone to the statue, done something there, and then come back to this shack, nestled in the evening underneath the high white arch?
He knew if he knocked on that door, that would be it. He could never go back home. Ever. Not even if his parents came back. But if it was a choice between this magnifying glass here in his hand and that cocaine now poisoning rats on the bedroom carpet, there wasn't any choice at all. He lowered the magnifying glass to the ground, and saw the footprints clearly, although the sun had set. He followed them right up to the door.
The door was open. Someone was standing in it. The magnifying glass showed a very large black boot. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, ran the magnifying glass up the boot before he realized what it was, then he quickly took a step back. The black man in the doorway was gigantic, wearing a white undershirt and a pair of blue jeans.
"Um." said Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, fumbling in his backpack.
The black man picked up a machete from somewhere inside the pitch-black shack. "What you want?" he said.
"Um." added Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, pulling out the folder, lifting out the worn photograph, and holding it up before him, like a shield, or a flag.
The black man looked at the photograph. Then up at Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. He looked at him again. Then tilted his head on one side and put the machete down. Then he tilted his head to the other side and looked again.
"Come on in." the black man said. "He's right over here."
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective looked back behind him one last time. He wondered if Dad would ever read "A Study In Scarlet." Overhead, the stars came out, all of them, even the ones that never had names given to them, and the man in the moon looked down and lit a cigarette.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, childling of the Sidhe, stepped inside the freehold for the first time on August 15, 1995.
His disappearance was not noted until September 9.