I was awoken in the morning by the great boy detective, banging on the corrugated garage cover I called my front door. I put on my hat and rolled the door up to the ceiling.
‘What time is it?’ I said.
He handed me a vanilla ice cream. ‘We’ve got to arrive early,’ he said.
‘Arrive where?’ I said.
He stood over the circus poster on the table, eating his own vanilla ice cream. ‘The crux of this case.’
‘You found the woman?’
He gave no indication he’d heard me. ‘The circus will come tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Whether we like it or not.’
‘The circus can’t take everything away,’ I said. When he stood next to things, it was really clear he was a boy. And I remembered then that he was too young to have ever seen the circus.
I shut and locked my garage and we set out for our next link in the chain.
We arrived at a blue-gabled house with two-stories and stepped up the few concrete steps to the door. This time I rang the doorbell. Waiting, I realized I needed something to smooth out the lingering vanilla of the ice cream. I tapped the great boy detective’s shoulder with the back of my fingers.
He checked his pockets, front, back, shirt. Finally from his jacket, he gave me a caramel. I untwisted the plastic and popped the caramel in my mouth. The great boy detective was always good for a caramel.
When the man opened the door, he looked at us both. He wore a sweater over his shirt. And his face was pink like he got easily frustrated.
‘Who are you?’ he said.
‘We’re your detectives,’ said the great boy detective.
I smiled, the caramel glued to the back of my teeth.
The man looked up the street, then down the street, then dragged us inside and shut his door. ‘I have a problem with the disposal unit,’ he said. ‘I can’t explain it.’
He led us to the kitchen where every surface was stacked with dishes, pots and pans and puddles of food, which looked already digested and spit up, scattered the floor.
‘Watch,’ he said. He took a plate with some residual red sauce and scraped it into the sink with a knife, then he opened the faucet and flipped on a switch. He promptly turned both off again, but what had already drained in shot forcefully back up, a small geyser. ‘Whore! Cocksucker!’ followed a voice.
I felt as if I were buried alive. The great boy detective, however, treated it calmly. ‘May I take a look under the sink?’ he said.
The color in the man’s face drained and settled about his neck. He pushed his eyes with his thumb and finger. ‘I’m ashamed,’ he said. ‘It’s embarrassing for me.’
The great boy detective opened the cupboards and the man and I stooped down to watch. Behind bottles of cleaner, a plunger and gloves, there was the trunk of a man, arms torso, visible up to the edge of his neck. And the trunk of course was attached to legs. One leg extended awkwardly out, while the other remained tucked, so the upper half arranged crooked. I tried to get a better look, but still the mouth remained hidden. I saw only the Adam’s apple, which was faintly bulged and purple.
‘It’s very clear,’ said the great boy detective, emerging. ‘Do you keep his antacids nearby?’
‘Of course,’ said the man. He opened a drawer and stepped away to leave the boy at it.
Rifling through, the great boy detective produced a near-full role of candy-flavored antacids, and popped a few in his mouth. After a moment, chewing, the great boy detective blew a sizable pink bubble.
The man looked utterly shocked.
‘These aren’t prescription I take it,’ said the great boy detective, rifling through the drawer a second time.
‘No,’ said the man. ‘But the pharmacist always recommends them. I would never. You have to trust me. I-’
But the great boy detective remained unconcerned. Finally, he retrieved a near empty roll of mint-candy antacids from the drawer and examined them closely. He pinched one, but the coating remained steadily intact.
‘Bitch! Whore! Cock!’ came the voice from under the sink.
The great boy detective removed the penultimate tablet and dropped it in the hole the sink. A few moments later, he flicked on the sink. He took up the same plate of red sauce and pushed a few knife-worths into the sink. When he turned off the water, there was at first a large gurgle, a few coughs, but no word, no profanity.
‘Throw all the rest out,’ said the great boy detective, indicating the drawer full of antacid foils. ‘You have only this left.’ He handed him the final tablet, the foil scrap jutting out like a tail. ‘My associate and I will go and speak to the pharmacist.’
The man took the great boy detective’s hands in his own and bowed his head low. ‘I’m so ashamed,’ he said. ‘So ashamed.’
We saw ourselves out.
This time we went to the boardwalk. The ocean was black except for red dappling light in the waves. The boardwalk had boats, but it also had a carnival. People didn’t like to come to it, and it was usually dead. Tonight however there were six people riding the spinning swing set. Its red and white light tickled the ocean.
We walked with cotton candy. Mine was pink and the great boy detective’s was blue. He gobbled his heartily. But I could only pick at mine.
‘She could be dead by now,’ I said.
‘Who’s that?’ His lips, tongue and teeth were all stained blue.
‘The missing woman.’
He held a hand over one eye and said, ‘Arrrr,’ The sugar had hit him.
‘This is serious,’ I said. ‘Someone’s sister is in line for being killed and the circus begins in less than twenty-four hours, we’re not one step closer than we were yesterday-’
He spun around and pointed at my feet. ‘Not one step closer,’ he said. ‘If you do, you’ll end the whole mystery.’
So much had been taken away from him. He stood as if he were about to play hopscotch.
But then I saw it. In the distance behind him. The same balloons. The same as before. The balloon salesman was riding the Ferris wheel, going up and up and up.
‘I want one,’ said the great boy detective, catching his breath. ‘I want a balloon.’
The balloon salesman was nearing the apex of the Ferris wheel. I had enough money for every balloon.
‘Just you wait,’ I said. ‘We’ll-’
But as the balloons rounded over the top, the balloon man and his balloons lifted into the sky. The balloons brightened in moonlight and the man drifted over the sea. We watched him become smaller in the distance, until, like the day star finally blinks out, he vanished.
The great boy detective’s watch began beeping. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’
I stood alone on the boardwalk and listened to the waves and calliope music. This time, there was no crumpled up poster rolling around in the dark. But I did not dare look in the sky. I felt as if a constellation were boring its eyes into me.
Bob Selcrosse grew up with his mother, selling books, in the Pacific Northwest. He is now working on a book about a book. It is based in the Pacific Northwest. The book is The Cabinet of Children.