We sat down to dinner but there was something in the air. Some sort of weird energy between my parents. I got doubly worried when I saw that my mom had made meatloaf. She always makes her meatloaf when she needs to talk about something serious. But what? And why was Lizzy invited here for it?
After everything had been served, my dad coughed and cleared his throat, his mustache twitched slightly, like a gunslinger readying for high noon in those Westerns we used to watch together.
“Kids,” he said, then fell silent. He sat lost in thought a moment. His mustache twitched again, and then he got it all out. “You know that we love Jimmy and that he’s welcome here anytime. But after whatever you all got up to this summer,” he paused, emphasizing without words how he still was mad about that, “we think that we need to try to do something. To help him.”
My dad looked to my mom but she only nodded her head, encouraging him to go on. “We spoke with his therapist. She said that she thinks this whole detective thing is just a phase. She said that if he gets encouraged for a while and solves another case or two, then he’ll give it up. Like he gave up magic, or T-ball.”
I distinctly remembered the day that Jimmy had quit T-ball. He set the bat down one day, right there in the dugout. He just looked out at the infield, frowned, and said, “So we just hit a ball off of a stick with another stick, and then run in a circle? Seems pointless.” And then he walked off the field and never played again. I think I’m actually with him on that one, but I at least would have finished the game. I think it also had something to do with the fact he still had trouble hitting the ball, even though it wasn’t moving.
My dad cleared his throat again, bringing my attention back to the dinner table. Back to the awkward conversation that seemed to me to be dragging on forever even though it just got started. My dad took a few swigs of water. He looked over at mom. “Honey,” he said, “would you like to chime in here?” My dad wasn’t accustomed to speaking this much at dinner. She rolled her eyes and elbowed him playfully.
“Fine,” my mom said, then focused her attention on me and Lizzy. “The doctor called it something like ‘forcing the next step of his evolution,” she said slowly, making sure she said it correctly. “Once he feels like he accomplished enough, he’ll get bored and move on. Like when he abandoned his worm farm idea.”
I wanted to point out that you had to admit, Wriggly Field was a name that was so good it just had to be used, but I wasn’t going to interject. I wanted this talk to be over as quickly as possible. It was real awkward in this room.
“So since this whole cat thing is over, we thought another win, another case he could solve that we can control, well, that’ll help him get over it. So we have a plan and we need you kids to do it, since you’re his friends.” She fixed me with her most serious stare, the one she thought was threatening. It wasn’t, but she always got her way when she used it so I just sighed and shrugged once, meekly.
“What do you need us to do?”
One painstaking hour later, they were finished going over their master plan. It was so easy, and so simple, that it didn’t need that long to explain, but they wanted to make sure we understood. They had no idea the kinds of convoluted plans I was used to hearing on the daily, prong this and prong that. This plan came from adults but it was child’s play in comparison.
The plan was, step one: hang the laundry. Step two: put a single pair of pants a few yards into the tree-line behind our house. Step three: use the hose to spray down the yard to leave obvious footprints in the mud. Step four: call Jimmy.
My mom and dad exchanged a satisfied look when we said that we understood the plan. They next made a grand show of giving us their cellphones, in order to make sure things went right during the investigation. If we needed anything, we could call them on the landline.
When my parents left the room to fetch the laundry, I asked Lizzy what she thought of the plan. She shrugged. When she did so, her panda flopped its face out of her trusty jacket. She tucked it back in and told me it sounded easy. Kind of boring, but easy. She said one more thing, one thing that surprised me. She said she kind of liked the detective thing, and was hoping they weren’t right about it being a phase. Before I could tell her that’s because she’d only been dragged into one investigation so far, she didn’t know how out of control they could get, my parents walked back into the room and told me to call Jimmy.
The plan was in action.