The walk around town was a little bit awkward. Thinking back actually, this might be the longest that Jimmy’s ever gone without talking since I met him, and that includes when he sleeps.
He shuffled around like a zombie, trapped in a trance-like state ever since we left the clubhouse. I tried joking around with him, I tried talking about all the fun stuff we could do. After I told him I thought the Mr. SauerKrause thing was funny and he didn’t even grunt in return, I gave up. He needed some time to digest what I said, and that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to meet people where they are. Another thing my dad taught me. Jimmy wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, so I settled into as comfortable a silence as I could manage, given the circumstances, and just walked beside him.
In the absence of conversation, I wondered in my head if I should tell him that Mr. Gruetwine had OCD and does everything three times, something that a good detective would have noticed. I decided to keep that to myself.
We did a long loop around the park and then walked up and down a few side streets. It seemed like an aimless journey, like Jimmy was just walking while he thought, not paying attention to where we went. By the time I saw this wasn’t the case, it was too late to change direction.
About fifty yards in front of us, looming large and ominously empty now, was our school. Our stupid school! My stomach dropped. We just left this stupid place! Jimmy, I noticed, was no longer blurry eyed. He was back to walking at a normal, if not slightly faster, pace too. Once we passed the square off-white sign that read Norma Berger High, he started talking again.
“I’m starting to feel better,” he said, his pace almost quickening to a skip. “Gee whiz, as long as we’re all the way back here we might as well stop and investigate. What do you think?” Then, for the second time in the last hour, he took off without waiting for me to respond. Sometimes I think about making new friends.
By the time I had caught up with Jimmy, he had already wiped a clean circle from the window to Mr. Krause’s office with a now filthy red bandana which, upon closer inspection, sure looked a lot like the one that I owned. I jogged up behind him and he turned around, a half smile on his face that made you just want to punch him. Just a little bit. “About time you caught up. Getting a little flabby there guy, have you been keeping up on your workout I gave you? The guy on the internet said it was the real workout that The Rock does.”
As a matter of fact no, I haven’t been doing the workout that Jimmy gave me. The main reason for that was because it was insane. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, first off, they spelled the name Dwayne wrong. The ‘Dwain Johnson’ workout involved so many stupid versions of pushups and curls that that read like a wikipedia article of exercises that were copied and pasted and then had tiny bits of wrestling tidbits sprinkled in. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it was. But for only a cool crisp twenty dollar bill, Jimmy was convinced that it would up his training to the next level.
“Up yours,” was the best I managed to say back. I was still fuming at how easily he tricked me into coming here. I was flustered. When I saw him trying to pry open one of the windows, I figured it was time to repeat myself. “I’m not doing any cases with you this summer. I mean it. I don’t need to explain why again either. I’m done, just done. You got it?” This time it was me who walked away without waiting for a response. Screw that. I just got out of school, I’m not trying to break back in.
I wound my way around the corner to the back of the building. Just as I had hoped, the playground was completely deserted. I stomped my way over to the swings and I sat down, trying to swing some of my angry energy out.
He always does things like this. He tricks me into these stupid situations and then when I get upset, he calls me things like Over-reacto 5000 and all these other dumb nicknames his makes up on the fly. To hell with that, not this time. This time is different. This is going to be a relaxing summer, even if it kills me!
While I tried to sort out my thoughts and calm down, I noticed a shadow approach and lengthen as it neared me from behind. I didn’t look up. “I’m mad, douchebag. Leave me alone,” I grumpily tossed over my shoulder. I didn’t care what Jimmy said. Nothing he could do or say would change my mind about this.
“I’m sorry,” an unfamiliar and hurt voice responded, “I didn’t mean to bother you.” A big sniffle and a whine made me stop my swinging dead. I dug my heels into the wood chips to come to a complete stop. When I turned around, I saw a girl who seemed about my age, although I had never seen her before. She was wearing a deep blue rain jacket, the hood up even though there wasn’t a cloud in sight. She pulled the hood even tighter as she cried a little bit more, obscuring her face before I could see what she looked like. At that moment I felt like the worst person who ever lived.
“No, no, no, no,” I clumsily grabbed her shoulders to comfort her, the way that I had seen people do in movies. “It’s me who should be sorry. I’m having a bad day, and I thought you were somebody else. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
I gave her shoulders another awkward squeeze before letting go and stepping back, giving her some room. I was unsure whether or not my stupid attempts at comfort had any effect on her, but either way she very quickly got herself under control and wiped the last of her tears away. She opened the hood up and pulled it back, but not all the way off. It looked like a move she had practiced. Smooth. I still couldn’t make out too many of her features, her dark black hair falling over her eyes as she looked down frequently.
“Sorry,” her small voice came again, this time louder and calmer. “I’m not usually like this, it’s been a very emotional day. My cat is missing.” It was then that I noticed for the first time the small stack of papers clutched in her fist. They were all copies of the same poster. She handed me a copy. LOST CAT it read, with a picture directly below. The missing cat in question was an orange tabby cat, curled up with a plush version of a doobie that read meow-o-rana on the side. Under the picture was a phone number to contact and the basic cat stats. Two years old. Green collar. Little M shaped pattern above the eyes. The name of the cat was Velcro.
“Cute cat,” I offered, knowing as soon as I did that it wasn’t much help. After the obligatory thank you in return, I asked how long he’d been missing. “Just today, but real early in the morning. He’s never been outside before so I’m worried that he won’t do well when it’s night time.” Tears threatened to storm the corners of her eyes once more. I quickly told her that it would be okay, and that a good place to hang posters would be by the library or along the Prairie Path.
From not too far off there came the sound of broken glass, some kind of liquid spilling, and some extremely choice words. Jimmy came flying from around the corner, freezing at the sight of a hooded person he didn’t know. “It was like that when I got here,” he uttered unconvincingly to the girl standing there. It was then that I realized I didn’t know her name yet.
“Um, it’s okay. I don’t work here you know.” The girl nervously fumbled with the zipper of her jacket, causing the head of a small stuffed panda bear to stick his head out of the front pocket. Jimmy looked her up and down and frowned.
“Oh,” he said. “Well then buzz off, we’re doing work here. You’ll contaminate our crime scene.”
Her face momentarily teased some tears, but she held strong and slightly clenched her fists, heels dug into the ground. She raised a hand to offer a copy of the poster to Jimmy. “I lost my cat and I was—“ Jimmy rudely swatted the poster away.
“Look sweetheart, I’m sorry you lost your cat but, if we’re being honest, you girls lose your stuff all the time. I have two sisters and they can’t find their own butts with four hands. We’re on a dangerous mission here, we don’t have time for your average missing pet case. We’re trying to stop the third, fourth, or even the fifth Reich over here!”
Before Jimmy could set off on his fourth tangent about Nazis that day, I stepped in and pulled him aside, giving the girl my best we’ll be right with you smile. As soon as we were out of earshot, I hit him in the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked him in as harsh a whisper as I could. “She’s trying to find her cat, there’s no reason to be such a jerk to her. And weren’t you just saying you wanted to solve all these cases this summer?”
Jimmy fixed me with a hard stare, his beady eyeballs sizing me up from underneath his lucky green beanie, the one he wears for infiltrations. Crap, I really should have seen today coming. “And weren’t YOU just telling me that you absolutely, no way no how, will not take on any cases this summer at all or else you owe me a hundred bucks?”
I popped him in the shoulder again and then decided to not even acknowledge the thing about the money. “Look man, I’m still not sure I want to do this, I’m so worn out from the year. So let’s start with something small, something just like this, to see how I feel about working cases this summer. And didn’t you just say that it’s a basic missing pet case? You should be able to solve it in twenty four hours, easy!”
He was nodding, already thinking a few steps ahead, the gears in motion. “Fine,” he said while eyeing me suspiciously. “We’ll take the case. And you can owe me the three hundred bucks you mentioned earlier. Three fifty it might have been.”
I waved the girl over, who had now half unzipped her jacket revealing a black promo shirt for the movie Scream underneath it. Her panda was once more in hiding, the pocket he was in hanging heavily and gently thumping against her jeans as she came over. I quickly let her know that we would help her.
Her hood came down a bit more and she brushed her hair back, revealing for the first time the face that I would never forget. “Hey,” she said nervously, revealing a big beautiful smile, “I’m Lizzy.” She handed the poster to Jimmy, who took it this time. “And this is Velcro. He’s been missing since this morning.”
Jimmy looked it over and nodded, murmuring to himself as he took in the details. “Right,” he said, “and did he run away because he wants to change his name?” After convincing Lizzy that he was only kidding, which was no easy task considering he wasn’t, I told her our names in return.
She was shy, reserved, but had a great smile when you could coax a small one out. I assured her that we could handle it and I made great care to fold a copy of the poster and put it in my pocket. I had a feeling I would use the phone number on it.
After a few more minutes of clumsy conversation, we all parted ways, Jimmy desperate to return to the clubhouse to discuss this stupid case so he could wrap it up and go back to hunting evil old Germans.
I didn’t know why, but I really didn’t like having to say goodbye to her.