The Case of the Vanishing Books
The first time I noticed that my books were disappearing, I figured that Hazel must have taken it- she does that sometimes when she needs to research something. She never puts them back unless I hunt them down, so the next day, while she was on a date, I broke into her room to look for it. To my consternation, I couldn't find it anywhere. I looked on her desk, her bookshelves, under her bed – all the usual places, but the book was nowhere to be found. I retreated back to my room. While checking the rest of my books to make sure that none of them were missing, I realized that the book was sitting innocently there between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Basics of Python as if it had never left. My mind began to whirl, coming up with worst-case scenarios ranging from early onset Alzheimer's to poltergeists, before my more rational, detective side came into play with the calming words of Bernstein, Never make assumptions before you see the evidence. If you go in with a preconceived notion, you will alter the facts to fit the theory rather than changing the theory to fit the facts. With this in mind I went over to my desk and put on a pair of rubber gloves so I could pick up the book without destroying any marks the thief could have left.
My search for clues was doomed to frustration. The thief, whoever he might have been, was very clever about covering their tracks. The only proof that it had ever left my room was the fact that there were no fingerprints on it whatsoever – including mine. It also smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol – presumably used to rid the book of said prints. I inspected my other books and found about a dozen with the same scent and lack of prints. I went through a brief mental list for anyone who might want to steal my books but came up blank. Oh, there were plenty of people who might take them to get back at me for various reasons, most involving their implication in some crime; it was the return of the book apparently undamaged that confused me. My room is on the second floor, so unless the burglar was in my immediate family, they probably would have had to climb up the side and come in through the window. Not impossible, but they would have left some evidence in the process.
I went out the side door to avoid talking to my father who was having lunch in the kitchen. He still has some problems with my detective work since the events of the talent show, so Red and I have decided that in this case, discretion is the better part of valor. I stood at the back of my house, carefully observing the ground all around. It had rained recently so the thief would have almost certainly left tracks, but there were none to be found. This case was becoming stranger and stranger by the second. It was time to make this investigation official.
Of course to do so would involve talking to Red so I told my dad where I was going and left. A brief walk saw me hammering on Red's door, fighting to be heard over Herod's video game and Genie's punk rock music. After a few minutes of this, Red answered the door and said, "Hey Half Moon, why are you here?"
To this day I cannot tell you what impulse made me lie besides some sort of detectives instinct honed by years of finding missing lunchboxes, uncovering sports fraud, and revealing school conspiracies. But something did, so instead of telling Red about the book incident I said, "Hazel broke up with her boyfriend – she's going on a drama queen binge. She wants me to play the cheating boyfriend in her four-part epic saga. Can I hide here until she's got it out of her system?" It wasn't a total lie – in fact, if Red decided to fact check it with the local gossips, it would he would find it completely true. It was not, however, the reason I came.
Red laughed and replied, "You're in the wrong place for peace and quiet, but I can promise that Genie won't try to make you act."
The day passed quickly and soon it was time for me to head home. While I was walking home, my lie kept gnawing at me. I trusted my instincts – they had been instrumental in solving more than one case – but I just couldn't figure out why they didn't want me to tell Red.
When I reached my home, I went straight to my room, hoping that typing out the facts of the case would make them clearer. It didn't. In fact, all it did was make the case even more muddled. The burglar had to be someone who had access to my room; that meant my family, Red, and my clients. Since the talent show debacle, in the interest of keeping my investigations out of the eyes of my parents, Red and I had moved our services to his house, so that meant clients were ruled out. My father wouldn't take my books, and my mother was in London for the week. Hazel would steal my books, but I had already checked that avenue. That left only Red. He certainly had the means- he came to my house regularly, and would have no trouble stealing a book if he chose to – but it was the motive that I couldn't understand. If he had asked I would have lent him them and he knew that, so why was he stealing them? It just didn't make sense. My father called me down to dinner, so I resolved to confront Red about the theft at school tomorrow.
I slept uneasily that night, possibly due to a combination of anxiety and the chicken curry that I suspected had been past its use by date. The next morning, because my father's ability to cook closely resembles Captain Kirk's ability to keep his shirt on, I was nearly late to school and just barely slid into my seat next to Red as the bell rang. It wasn't until lunch that I was able to talk to him. I shifted uneasily in my seat, trying to find a way to confront him that wasn't likely to lose me my best only friend. Finally Red noticed my uneasiness and asked, "What's up? You look like you're about to piss your pants."
I glared at him, and decided to just say it outright, "Thanks Red, I'm flattered. I have a new case. Someone's been stealing my books."
He paled considerably but managed to stutter out a reply, "R-really? D-do you know who?"
I sighed; I had been right. Normally I love being right about criminals, but something about your best friend being the crook takes the fun out of it. I decided to give him a chance to come clean, so I said, "I have a suspicion, yes."
If it was possible, Red turned even whiter, making his flaming hair and freckles stand out in sharp contrast. I waited for a few seconds until it became clear that he wasn't going to say something. I normally let Red deal with this sort of thing, but that wouldn't really work in this case, so I tried to make my voice as non-confrontational as possible and said, "You've been taking my books, haven't you. Why? I would've let you borrow them if you asked."
He looked down at the sandwich in his hands and responded, "Your birthday's in a few weeks."
I had no idea where Red was going with this, so I said noncommittally, "Yes."
"I wanted to get you something good. Something you'd like."
Still confused, I nodded, and then realizing he couldn't see me, replied in the affirmative.
"You're really hard to buy things for. I thought that your books might help," said Red still refusing to look at me.
"Oh," I said stupidly. I was … touched. Touched and flattered I had never had anyone put that much thought into a present before. I mean, Mom normally got me clothes that I never wore, Dad gave me sports stuff or books, and I could rely on Hazel and Murt for chocolate. As Red got up to leave, I realized that I had stayed silent for a long time and he must have interpreted that negatively. I grabbed his arm to stop him, saying disjointedly, "No, don't, I was just surprised. Thank you," I paused here, wracking my brain for something else to say, "Did they help?"
Red relaxed slightly, and sat back down. He was regaining color and even gave me a smile – admittedly a pale shadow of his normal blinding grin – as he responded, "Ah, but if I give you any clues, you'll do your detective thing and it won't be a surprise anymore."
I stuck my tongue out at him – juvenile, yes, but effective – and got up as the bell rang signaling that it was time for us to go.
All in all, the Case of the Vanishing books was quite successful; my friendship with Red was safe and I now knew how important I was to Red. The only problem was that Red insisted on keeping my present a secret. Maybe I could bribe Herod to break in . . .