Like every major metropolitan newspaper, the Idaville Gazette had a book reviewer. Bernice Sturgess, whose son Cicero was Idaville’s leading child actor, wrote a column that appeared every Thursday. Her tastes ran to romance authors and non-fiction, so it was no surprise when a review appeared for a book called 100 Greatest Literary Detectives. The town’s citizens were, every one of them, mystery fans, and they hurried to the book shop at the town square after reading Mrs. Sturgess’ review and scooped up every copy of the book so that Mr. Thurlow, the shop’s owner, had to re-stock several times!
In most towns around the country, the book met with great enthusiasm. But as soon as the townsfolk of Idaville read through the table of contents, a great muttering went up and down the high street. A very important omission had occurred, and all of Idaville was upset!
“It’s not right, I tell you! Not right at all,” said Mrs. Brown as she stood at the stove on Saturday morning, flipping pancakes in great distress.
“Now, now, my dear,” said her husband in his most placating tone, a tone he most certainly did not use as chief of police when facing down criminals. “There’s no point in getting upset.”
“There most certainly is a reason.” Mrs. Brown laid the plates down on the counter with such severity that Chief Brown feared they would all crack. “Who does this Mr. Eric Sandberg think he is? Claiming that he has named the hundred best literary detectives when one of the the very best – if not the very best – has escaped his notice? Well, you haven’t escaped ours, my love.”
And with that, Mrs. Brown laid a plate piled high with hotcakes drenched in maple syrup before an intelligent looking boy waiting hungrily at the table.
Leroy Brown, known far and wide as “Encyclopedia,” shrugged, picked up his fork and made fast work of his meal. “That’s okay, mom,” he mumbled cheerfully through a mouthful of pancake. “Makes no difference to me.”
Mrs. Brown set a plate in front of the Chief and then sat down angrily in her chair. “It matters to me, son. It matters to everyone in Idaville who has benefited from your help. And that includes your father, doesn’t it, dear?”
Chief Brown winced. It was true that his very own son had been helping him on his toughest cases for years. In addition, Encyclopedia ran a detective agency out of his garage: “25 cents per day, plus expenses – No case too small.” Dozens of children had come to him for help, and he had never failed to solve their problems.
“Aw, shucks,” said the boy modestly. “Maybe there was an age limit or something.”
“I tell you people are angry,” said his mother. “And when people are angry, something bad always happens.”
Sure enough, something bad happened that very night. Somebody broke the front window of Mr. Thurlow’s book shop and stole every copy of 100 Greatest Literary Detectives!
* * *
On Sunday morning, when most of Idaville was at church, Chief Brown and his men were examining the scene of the crime. Naturally, the Chief agreed when Encyclopedia asked if he could tag along. The boy strode unobtrusively behind his father, carefully navigating the sidewalk outside the book shop to avoid the large amount of broken glass strewn everywhere. He spotted Sally Kimball, his co-detective and bodyguard, rounding the corner and hurried to meet her.
“Well, well, well, boss,” the sporty young lady cried, “Another case for us?”
“Just seeing if I can help Dad,” Encyclopedia said. “Stick around and help us out?”
“Sure thing,” Sally replied with a smile. The two youngsters turned to see Chief Brown standing in the shop’s doorway with Mr. Thurlow, questioning him.
“The thieves took every one of the books and managed to open my cash register!” the crestfallen store manager explained. “I’ve been doing such good business that I had a lot of ready cash stored in there. And now it’s all gone.” He shook his head sadly
“I can understand their taking the money,” said the Chief. “But why would they grab all those books?”
“Because they were selling like hotcakes! I figure the burglars want to fence them to some greedy bookseller in another burg!” Mr. Thurlow looked pleadingly at Chief Brown. “Can you get my money and my merchandise back?
The Chief shook his head. He turned to his lieutenant. “Anything?”
The man shrugged. “We’re dusting for prints, Chief, but it looks like they wore gloves.”
The Chief sighed and turned to the bookseller. “Did you see anyone suspicious lurking around last night?”
Mr. Thurlow’s eyes narrowed. “As a matter of fact, yes I did. After I closed, I couldn’t help but notice three different people lurking about throughout the evening.”
“Would you know them if you saw them again?”
The chubby little man drew himself up. “I would know them anywhere. You see, I know who they are!”
Encyclopedia’s ears pricked up excitedly. “Who were the three people you saw, Mr. Thurlow?”
“The first one was Bugs Meany!”
Encyclopedia winced at the mention of his arch-nemesis. Bugs Meany, the leader of the Tigers, a mischievous gang, had been behind some of the boy detective’s most fiendish cases, including “The Case of the Civil War Sword” and “The Case of Bugs Meany, Detective.” It made sense that he might be behind this dastardly theft.
Chief Brown echoed his son’s sentiments. “I might have known,” he sighed. “Who else did you see, Mr. Thurlow?”
“I was sure I saw Wilford Wiggins lurking about.”
Encyclopedia gasped. Wilford was another regular adversary of his, a high school dropout who was always trying to con the other kids out of their well-earned allowance money.
“And the third person –“ Mr. Thurlow’s small grey moustache twitched. Encyclopedia and Sally unconsciously leaned in closer.
“Yes?” asked the Chief.
“The third person – “ The book shop owner’s arm rose and an accusing finger shot forth, – “was HER!!”
And he pointed at Sally!
* * *
“Me?” gasped the astonished girl. “But I didn’t do this!”
“I’m not saying you did,” muttered Mr. Thurlow. “I’m only saying I saw you last night outside my shop.”
“What time did you see Sally?” asked the Chief.
“It must have been around 6:30 because I looked out the window and saw her walk by right before I climbed the stairs to have my supper.”
“I did come by here on my way to the market,” explained the embarrassed bodyguard. “Mother wanted me to buy an extra pound of butter for the cake she was making for the church social this afternoon.”
“You stopped and looked in my window,” said the store owner accusingly.
“Well, sure, I always look in your window,” said the red-faced girl. “I was thinking about that book and why the heck it didn’t include Encyclopedia’s name in it.” She turned to her friend. “That just wasn’t right, Leroy!” Then she turned to the Chief. “But I would never do such a bad thing, Chief!”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t, Sally,” said the Chief soothingly. He turned to Mr. Thurlow. “Tell me about the other two. When did you see them?”
“I saw Bugs Meany pacing on the sidewalk across the street most of the afternoon. He would pace back and forth, stop, and look over toward my shop. He might have been casing the joint!”
“Hmm,” said the Chief. He thought for a moment. “And Wiggins?”
“Young Wiggins was a regular customer of mine until I caught him trying to slip a book under his jacket without paying for it! I have banned him from the store forever!” Mr. Thurlow sniffed. “He appeared in my shop just before closing time, pleading to be given one more chance. Of course, I refused and sent him on his way!”
“He could have burglarized you out of revenge,” mused the Chief. “As for that Bugs Meany . . . I wonder why he was pacing across the street.”
“Let me try and find out, Dad,” said Encyclopedia. He headed for the door. Sally started after him, but the Chief stopped her.
“I’m sorry, Sally, but you had better wait here until we clear up this case!” Sally sulked and walked over to the display case, running her hand across the surface now smooth and clean, absent of all the books that had been on display the night before.
Encyclopedia watched her thoughtfully and said gently, “Don’t worry, Sally! I’ll get to the bottom of this!
* * *
Encyclopedia raced across the street – looking both ways for traffic first, of course – and entered the shop opposite the bookstore. It’s was Mr. Hurlihy’s insurance company. Mr. Hurlihy was behind his desk, looking dignified in a pinstriped suit.
“Working on a Sunday, Mr. Hurlihy?” asked the inquisitive boy sleuth.
“Why, hello, Encyclopedia!” The man gazed ruefully at a stack of papers. “Yes, I have to get all these policies aligned before Monday morning. What on earth is going on at Mr. Thurlow’s shop?”
“He was robbed last night.”
Mr. Hurlihy gasped in shock. “Oh no, not Ed Thurlow. Poor guy! He’s a good friend and a good customer. What a shame!” Then the man put his pen down and gave the boy a worried look. “Say, Encyclopedia, do you think a burglar is making his way through all the shops downtown?”
“Could be, Mr. Hurlihy. You might want to check your safe to make sure it’s locked tight.”
“I certainly will.”
“Can I ask you something, sir? Did you see Bugs Meany walking in front of your store last night?
“Why yes, I did. He was parading back and forth for about an hour. I finally went out and asked him what his business was. He gave me a very rude reply.”
“May I ask what he said?”
“He said to me, ‘Not that it’s any of your dang business, but I’m meeting someone. Now scoot along or I’ll make you sorry you left your office.” He looked up over Encyclopedia’s shoulder and squinted. “I may be mistaken, but isn’t that Bugs Meany standing outside the book shop now?”
Encyclopedia turned and stared out the window. He could see both Bugs Meany and Wilford Wiggins, each standing before the Chief, a cop behind each with a big hand on their collars.
Encyclopedia grinned, nodded thanks to the insurance agent, and scurried back to the book shop. The Chief had his handkerchief out and was mopping his brow.
“Okay, boys, you can go, but stick around town so I can find you easily.”
“Wait a minute, Dad,” cried Encyclopedia. “You’re just going to let Bugs Meany go?”
The surly delinquent snarled at the young detective. “You can’t pin this on me, Brown. I had nothing to do with this crime. I’ve never even been in that bookstore. What would I want with a book?”
“You could improve what little mind you’ve got left,” snapped Encyclopedia. “This crime is right up your alley.”
Bugs Meany laughed. “You’re just upset because your name isn’t listed in that dumb book!”
“Ah hah!” cried the sleuth. “If you’ve never stepped into Mr. Thurlow’s shop, how did you know my name isn’t in that book?”
Bugs stamped his foot. “Because every idiot in town is complaining about it. Don’t think you can trick me again, you – “ He snarled once more and hurried down the street and out of sight.
“What a hoodlum,” sniffed Wilford Wiggins with exaggerated disdain. “You should arrest him, Chief.”
“Or maybe I should arrest you,” said the Chief. Wilford’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Me? Great heavens, why ever should I rob this store?”
“Because you were angry at Mr. Thurlow for banning you.”
Wilford fluttered his eyelids in an unbecoming fashion. “That is ridiculous. I refuse to stand here and be insulted.” He turned and sauntered to the door. Turning around, he smirked at Encyclopedia. “Terribly sorry you didn’t make it into that book, Leroy!” And with that, he exited. As he did, the Chief couldn’t help but notice a tear in the right cuff of Wilford’s trousers. He turned and noticed that his son saw it too.
“Dad,” said Encyclopedia dreamily, looking after Wilford.
“I see it, son.”
The boy turned to his father.
“Do you, dad? Because I know who robbed Mr. Thurlow’s store.”
Who is the thief? How did Encyclopedia know? Post your answers below. (No fair peeking at other people’s solutions.) The correct answer will be posted later this week – proving that Encyclopedia Brown SHOULD have been included in that dang book!!!!