The secret word is: "Holes"

The daily travails of our fair city have long been sustaining fodder for one Kurt Klinsinger, self-proclaimed investigative reporter and all-around busy body. He's undeniably the one source everyone tunes their television tubes to when they want to know anything worth knowing in Northeast Southweston. And over the past few days he's been wowing the masses with his exclusive scoop on the disappearance of one of our most vital resources . . . the substance which Earth could not exist without . . . that matter which all reporters figuratively but very rarely literally have a chance to report about . . .

"Dirt," Kurt Klinsinger addressed his viewing audience seriously. "How many of us take dirt for granted? Do we truly appreciate the terra firma below our feet? Well, this reporter urges everyone to take dirt more seriously, especially now that it is being pilfered from beneath our very noses!"

"Is my nose dirty?" Doomsday asked worriedly, rubbing his nose. "I just washed it this morning."

Doc, Bugs, Doomsday and myself, P.T., were gathered around the small television set in the C.A.P.E.R. room watching the morning Klinsinger report.

"Oh, you may scoff!" Klinsinger continued.

Doc let out a scoffing noise just for the heck of it.

"But when the very ground upon which Northeast Southweston is built begins disappearing then I take umbrage!" Klinsinger shouted. "Umbrage, I say!"

"Kurt's in fine form today," Bugs noted.

"He's hoping to win an award with this series," I speculated. "'The Dirt on the Missing Dirt!'"

"Shhh!" Doomsday scolded. "I want to hear more about this Um Bridge. I've never heard of it before!"

"Several more occurrences of missing dirt have been reported in a number of vacant lots around town," Klinsinger continued, pounding his fist on his desk. "Now, there are those out there who may say 'Who cares?'"

"Who cares?" Doc asked.

"'Who's going to miss this dirt?'"

"Who is going to miss this dirt?" I inquired.

"'Howdoes this impact my life?'"

"How does this impact my life?" Bugs wondered.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not some harmless, victimless crime," Klinsinger insisted. "The dirt of this city belongs to all of us! We must not allow our precious vacant lots to be violated in this way! And this reporter will stay on this story until the dirty thieves behind the dirt thievery have been stopped!"

Bugs slapped the top of the television set to turn it off, exclaiming, "This sounds like a job for C.A.P.E.R.!"

"No, it doesn't," Doc contradicted.

"It doesn't?" Bugs asked.

"I would hope we have better things to do with our time than to track down missing dirt," Doc sighed.

"And Klinsinger's not exactly correct about the dirt belonging to all of us," I pointed out. "Most of the vacant lots he's referring to are privately owned."

"Still, a crime's a crime," Doomsday noted.

"Well, it can't be that serious," I said. "After all, Sgt. Vinton hasn't asked us to look into the case yet."

The door opened and Sgt. Vinton entered. "Boys, I want you to get to the bottom of this missing dirt thing," he announced.

"It just got serious," I corrected myself.

"You can't be serious!" Doc protested. "You want us to find missing dirt?"

"Look, I know the whole thing seems silly, but Klinsinger has the whole town in an uproar with his reports and people are starting to call asking us what we're going to do about the missing dirt," Sgt. Vinton sighed.

"Did you tell them to check under their fingernails?" Bugs asked. We all looked at our fingernails.

"I'm counting on you, boys, to find out what's behind this mystery," Sgt. Vinton said.

"Now?" Bugs asked.

"Okay, now," I nodded.

"This sounds like a job for C.A.P.E.R.!" Bugs stated.

We jumped to our feet and recited, "The Civilian Authority for the Protection of Everybody, Regardless!"

"Tadaa!" sang Doc.

"Tadaa!" sang Doomsday.

"Tadaa!" sang Bugs.

"Tadaa!" I finished, stretching it out with a nifty country lick.

"Must you do that every time?"Sgt. Vinton moaned impatiently. "I know who you are!"

"Never you fear, Sgt. Vinton. We'll unearth the truth behind the fiends who dare to despoil our topsoil!" I promised as I walked out the door.

"Because grime doesn't pay!" Bugs added, exiting as well.

"And we'll hit the ground running," Doomsday promised as he followed us.

"My sediments exactly," Doc nodded, patting Sgt. Vinton on the shoulder before leaving the room.

Our trip across town in the Big Bologna was uneventful until we had almost reached our destination of a vacant lot we'd seen featured in one of Klinsinger's reports. Mr. Featherstone suddenly became very agitated and started thrashing around in his tank.

"What is it, Mr. Featherstone?" Bugs asked as he held up his arms in a futile attempt to keep from getting wet.

Mr. Featherstone began making short, sharp sounds as if he were in pain.

"Is he okay?" I asked with concern from the driver's seat.

"I don't know," Doomsday said, reaching over to pet the shark as Mr. Featherstone started to calm down. "There, there, Mr. Featherstone. It's okay. What's the matter, fella?"

Mr. Featherstone mumbled wearily, exhausted from his exertion.

"What is it?" Doc asked worriedly.

"I'm not sure," Doomsday said. "Mr. Featherstone said something just really started playing havoc with his radar senses. But he doesn't know what."

"Has that ever happened before?" I asked.

Mr. Featherstone muttered a few more noises and then settled down to rest.

"He says it's happened a few times recently, but he seems to be okay now," Doomsday reported.

"We'll have to be sure to keep an eye on him," Doc suggested.

A few moments later I parked the Big Bologna next to the vacant lot and we climbed out of the vehicle to look around.

"Over there," Doc pointed.

We walked over to inspect several large holes which had been neatly gouged from the lot. Each measured approximately seven feet in circumference and looked to be about five feet deep.

"Holy excavations!" I gasped.

"Well put, Boy Wonder . . . this certainly is unusual," Doc noted as he leaned down to inspect one of the holes. "They all appear to be exactly the same size."

"You know, this could be dangerous!" Bugs noted. "Someone could fall into one of these things!"

"Someone already has," Doomsday said, looking into another hole. "There's a girl in here!"

We walked over to Doomsday just as a girl's head popped up, looking over the top of the hole at us. She was slender with mousey brown hair and wore glasses. She carried a worn notebook which was already filled with an impressive amount of scribblings.

"I wonder if there's a girl in all the holes?" I said hopefully, peering down into a nearby hole. No such luck.

"Oh, hi Sill," Doc greeted her casually.

"Hi, Doc," she replied.

"Find anything interesting?" Doc asked.

"Yes, actually," Sill answered, and she started looking over her notes.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "Since you seem to be acquainted with girls who suddenly appear in holes, why don't you introduce us, Doc?"

"Oh, this is Sylvia," Doc explained. "But I just call her Sill. She's studying geology, you see."

We all stared at him, not understanding.

"It's a pun," Doc explained. "Geologist . . . Sill . . . "

We continued to stare.

"Sill . . . a tabular pluton intruding between layers of rock," Doc explained further.

We continued to stare.

"Um, Doc and I know each other from the library," Sill changed the subject, seeing we weren't going to catch on to Doc's play on words any time soon. "When I heard about the strange dirt disappearances I thought I would look into them myself."

"Well, you've certainly thrown yourself into your work," I noted.

"A likely story," Bugs said, crossing his arms. "You just happen to be down here investigating the holes yourself? Let's see your hands!"

Sill held up her hands for Bugs to see.

"Ah ha!" Bugs exclaimed. "Your hands are dirty! Therefore it's obvious that you are the one who's been stealing the dirt for your geological studies!"

Sill started to laugh, clutching her notebook to her chest. "Oh, you're funny!" she smiled.

Bugs looked confused. Sill didn't realize that he'd actually been making an attempt at a serious deduction.

"Yep, that's our Bugs," I said, patting his shoulder to cover for him. "A laugh a minute."

"I'm sure you've made the same observations I have," Sill continued, looking through her notes again.

"Yeah," Doomsday nodded. "For one thing, the lot is full of holes."

"But surely you've realized how strange it is . . . " Sill began.

"That the holes are all the same size," Doc finished.

"Not only that, but they're all so neat," I noted. "Like someone took a giant cookie cutter and cut them out."

"Mmm, cookies," Doomsday hummed dreamily.

"Not really what you'd expect from dirt thieves," Doc agreed.

"And you wouldn't expect someone stealing dirt to not spill any as they haul it away," Sill added.

I looked around. Sill was right . . . there wasn't a single odd deposit of dirt anywhere to be seen on the lot.

"And that's not all," Sill said, motioning for Doc to lean over to look at the side of the hole she was standing in. "This earth is smooth and almost crystalized. As if it's been scorched."

Doc reached over to feel the strange, solid consistency of the dirt inside the hole. "What do you think caused it?"

"I've never seen anything like it before," Sill admitted.

"Could it have been meteors?" I asked.

"It would be unusual for them to all be the same size," Doc pointed out. "And the dirt would have simply been displaced, it wouldn't just disappear."

"Maybe they're backwards volcanoes," Bugs offered flippantly.

Sill looked at Bugs with confusion.

"You know? Like they start on the surface and go down," Bugs tried to explain. "It's a joke."

Sill continued to look confused, so Bugs let it go.

"I think it's clear that Klinsinger's assertions of someone stealing the dirt from these lots is as empty as the holes themselves," Doc deduced.

"But if someone isn't stealing the dirt, then what's causing all of these holes?" Doomsday asked.

"Giant moles!" Bugs suddenly said seriously.

Sill started to laugh again. "Now that's funny!"

"I can't get a break," Bugs sighed.

"Well, whatever's causing these holes, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of them," I predicted.

"Perhaps a trip to the library would prove useful," Doc suggested.

"Yes, we could see if there is any known precedent for this kind of thing," Sill agreed, and she started to look for a way to climb out of the hole.

"Oh, here," Bugs offered, and he reached down and easily lifted her out, setting her down gently.

"Thanks," she smiled. "You're surprisingly strong for your build."

"Yes, I may look like I'm made out of Legos but I'm actually built like a brick house," he bragged. When she didn't laugh, he added, "That was a joke, too."

"Oh," Sill smiled courteously, then walked away.

I noticed this time Bugs didn't seem as upset that Sill didn't laugh at his joke. He simply watched her with a slight smile as she followed Doc to the Big Bologna.

Soon we were on our way to the library. Doomsday climbed into the driver's seat and Doc sat beside him in the passenger seat. Bugs, Sill and I stepped into the back and I took a moment to check on Mr. Featherstone before buckling myself in.

"Mr. Featherstone seems to be okay now," I assured Doomsday as he pulled away from the lot.

"That's good," Doomsday sighed with relief.

"So you know Doc from the library?" Bugs asked Sill.

"Yes," Sill answered. "We sometimes study together."

"Isn't that somewhat distracting?" I asked.

"Why?" Sill asked.

"Hasn't Doc ever smiled at you?" Bugs asked.

"Well, he may have smiled when we managed to work out a particularly difficult postulation," Sill answered.

"And you didn't hear anything?" Bugs asked with surprise.

"Like what?" Sill asked.

"Like church bells ringing," Bugs offered.

Sill giggled. "You're joking again, right?"

"No, it's true," I confirmed. "Haven't you ever let Doc hold your hand?"

"Yeah, like this?" Bugs asked, taking her hand in his.

"Why would I do that?" Sill asked.

"Listen," Bugs urged, closing his eyes and holding her hand tightly. "Don't you hear anything?"

Sill humored him, listening carefully. "Come to think of it, I do hear something."

"You do?" I asked with surprise.

"You do?" Bugs asked hopefully.

"Mm hmmm," Sill nodded. "It sounds like your van could use a new muffler."

Bugs sighed and released her hand. "How does Doc do it?" he wondered aloud.

"I wonder what's going on over at the Krelvin Building?" Doomsday said from the front.

"The tallest building in the world without elevators," I clarified.

"There's a large crowd of people standing around on the sidewalk and pointing upwards," Doomsday explained.

"There are a number of police cars around the building as well," Doc added.

"Sounds like we'd better investigate," I suggested.

Doomsday pulled the Big Bologna up to the curb outside the Krelvin Building and we climbed out. We spotted Sgt. Vinton almost immediately, directing some people as they exited the building.

"What's going on?" I asked Sgt. Vinton as we approached.

"See for yourself," Sgt. Vinton answered, pointing upwards.

We looked up and gave out a collective gasp. The north side of the Krelvin Building looked like a gigantic chunk of Swiss cheese. There were holes pockmarking the building's facade, exposing various offices and shops within.

"Holy perforations!" I exclaimed.

"Is everyone okay?" Doc asked.

"As far as we can tell, no one's been hurt," Sgt. Vinton reported. "But we're evacuating the building until we know what's going on, just to be on the safe side." He sighed, "And without elevators, you can imagine how long it's taking."

"What happened?" Bugs asked.

"We don't know!" Sgt. Vinton exclaimed with frustration. "Witnesses claim they saw a strange light and heard a strange sound and then the holes just . . . appeared."

"As the walls and windows just . . . disappeared," I speculated. "When did this happen?"

"About thirty minutes ago," Sgt. Vinton answered.

"Just about the time we were arriving at the vacant lot," I noted.

"Doc . . . do you notice . . . ?" Sill began.

"I do," Doc interrupted. "The holes all appear to be the same size as the ones we saw in the vacant lot."

"Someone's stealing concrete and glass as well as dirt?" Doomsday asked with confusion.

"Either that or the giant moles are moving up in the world," Bugs noted. Sill stifled a giggle.

"Sgt. Vinton, is it okay if we go up to inspect the holes more closely?" I asked.

"Well, I dunno," Sgt. Vinton hesitated. "We don't know what kind of structural damage we're dealing with here."

"But if we don't inspect the damage up close, we may never adequately decipher the cause of these strange occurrences," Doc pointed out.

"Well, I suppose it would be okay," Sgt. Vinton conceded. "But be careful!"

We entered the Krelvin Building and made our way up the stairs, which took longer than usual because we had to make our way past all the people still coming down.

We stopped on various floors and inspected the vacated offices on the north side of the building which had been directly affected by the bizarre phenomenon. It was undoubtedly one of the strangest things we had ever seen. Wherever a hole had penetrated the building it had also taken out everything five feet beyond, so we found ourselves observing half desks, gouged tables and bizarre remnants of furniture left with segments cut out that perfectly matched the circular voids.

Sill was busy taking measurements with a tape measure she carried in her pocket, noting down all the numbers she could. "This is the vacant lot all over again," she observed.

"Really?" Doomsday asked with confusion. "You're having deja vu?"

"She means that the holes are all seven feet in circumference and approximately five feet in depth," Doc explained.

"What do you suppose is causing it?" I asked Doc.

"Since there's obviously no debris, it's clear that the missing materials, as well as the dirt in the lots, have been completely disintegrated!" Doc stated dramatically.

"What in the world could do that?" Bugs asked.

"I don't know," Doc admitted. "But whatever it is, it's coming from somewhere north. Sill, did you take measurements of the holes in the vacant lot and the degree of their angles, by any chance?"

"Yes, I did," Sill assured him.

"Let's check the rest of the floors," I suggested, and we continued our long journey through the building.