Friday, June 1, 2012

Chapter One. A Letter from Frisco!

Flint Burly
June 6, 1967

Dear Dad,

It’s hard to believe it’s only been one day since I last wrote to you. It seems like we’ve gone to another world. Or like we fell asleep and woke up a thousand years in the future when all of mankind’s customs have changed. Like if a knight from the middle ages, along with his younger brother and their portly page, had fallen asleep in the year 967 and then woken up in modern Balmy Bay. Except all we did was drive across a bridge. I think I’m starting to understand why Chief Chalk thinks someone’s taken over Frisco. Only I can’t imagine even the Reds changing a place so completely. I mean, even in Moscow they still get haircuts and wear real clothes, right?

The first suspicious thing was the weather. All the way across our great nation it was hot. Which is how it’s supposed to be in June, of course. Heck, you don’t even need to be a junior detective to figure that one out! Sometimes it was sunny and hot and sometimes it was cloudy and hot, but it was always hot. But as we came around the big curve and first saw the San Francisco Bay, all of a sudden the temperature started dropping! It must’ve been 90-some degrees at this nifty little restaurant called the Nut Tree we ate lunch at, but by the time we got to the bridge to Frisco it couldn’t have been more than 70.

And as we rode into the city of Frisco itself, what do you think we saw all around us? Fog! Thick, gray, mysterious fog! Every bit as thick as it was in The Mystery of the Singing Foghorn—except that was in January! (I remember, because Chip and I had to rush back for first semester finals right after we deposited those swarthy lighthouse burglars with the Coast Guard.) How does a city get to be so cold and foggy in June, I ask you? Unless someone’s been messing with the weather by way of a Russian space satellite or something! Well, I’m betting that mystery will be unraveled as we discover the secret behind Lucy Diamond’s disappearance.

As we came off the freeway exit into the city, the old wooden houses were barely visible though the fog. Like ghosts, you could say. I’ll have to remember to describe it to Mr. Fairchild. I know he’ll give it just the right literary touch when he writes our next adventure. But here’s something our young readers probably won’t even believe: the street we came onto was called Fell Street! And I remember from Mrs. LeBlanc’s English class (I know you’ll be proud that I remember), “fell” used to mean “destructive, fierce or terrible”!

It got so cold that Jelly Roll wanted to pull over so he could put on an extra sweater. I started to oblige, but then what I saw emerging from the mist made me think twice—Negroes! We were in a neighborhood full of Negroes, but Negroes the like of which none of us had ever seen. There were Negroes in colorful tribal clothing and Negroes in huge hats and Negroes with high-heeled boots. They all had tons of bushy hair, except some of the women, who had short hair, even shorter than the men’s. Really curly hair, as curly as the men’s, not straight and shiny like a normal Negro lady’s. A lot of the Negroes were wearing sun glasses, too, even in the fog. And none of them seemed very friendly as they looked at us. At least, they sure didn’t seem like good old Roscoe who takes care of the yacht club.

When I looked carefully at one man in especially bright magenta pants and a shirt with little amoeba-like designs on it—searching for clues, of course—he said, “What are you staring at, honky?”
What could that mean? “Honky” makes me think of an automobile horn or a goose. And although it’s true that Chip and I have horns on our motor bikes, we sure weren’t honking them at the time. And I can’t imagine why anyone would connect us with geese—but then those young people at the campfire I told you about in my last letter were asking if we were “pigs.” Perhaps there’s some sort of animal theme to this hippie language. When I finish this letter I’ll make a thorough list of all the strange words I’ve been hearing and see if a pattern presents itself.

Then, no sooner had the one Negro called me a “honky” than one of his fellow Negroes, who was dressed all in black so that he might have looked like a priest except that part of his garb was a leather jacket, raised his clenched fist in the air and shouted, “Power to the people!” I nearly answered him by yelling, “You said it! I believe in democracy too!” But there was something about his manner that made me think he might not appreciate it. It’s hard to explain, but I almost think he meant that “power to the people” was something that he had to fight for—as if it’s something we don’t have in our great country, rather than being every American’s birthright. I’m starting to feel as if everyone out here is seeing the world in some sort of topsy-turvy funhouse mirror. As much as I wanted to solve this mystery, I was actually kind of relieved when the light turned green and we continued on our way.

Soon, following our trusty Rand McNally maps, we turned left on Masonic Street and rode up toward Haight Street, as we’d decided to start our investigation on the street that the hippie girl had mentioned the night before. We passed a stretch of park and on the other side we found that there were suddenly far fewer Negroes. But if you think fewer Negroes meant there would be more regular people, you couldn’t be much wronger! Because as strange as the Negroes were, they were nothing compared to the Caucasian people we spied emerging from the fog!

At first I thought we’d fallen asleep and awakened in the future again—only this time we’d slept for four months and twenty-six days and woken up just in time for Halloween! Everybody seemed to be in costume. We saw robes and Army jackets and cowboy boots. We saw weird hats and old-fashioned dresses and funny sandals. But what really struck me was the colors of the costumes. Colors so bright that not even the fog could mute them. People seemed to emerge from the fog like lighthouse beacons. One after another, like in a procession. Or like in a Halloween parade, like we have every year in Balmy Bay. Only nobody was trick-or-treating!

But they were on the move. Walking up one side of the street and then across it and back again. A constant motion. Motion! Like it says in the song I wrote you about in the letter dated June 3rd. People in motion! Is this what that crazy song is referring to? But what does it mean? Why are they in motion? What’s the explanation? Explanation! Like in that song again! A new explanation! But of what? And why wouldn’t an old explanation serve just as well?

After cruising the street for a while we pulled over and killed our motors. That’s when the sounds hit us! Mostly it was the sound of music. People stood or sat here and there strumming guitars or blowing into flutes or pounding on bongos and tambourines. But it wasn’t like in our school band where everybody is on the same page of the score and diligently follows the rise and fall of Mr. Wasp’s baton. It seemed like everybody was playing whatever came into their heads, regardless of what somebody else was playing just a few feet away. And added to that was the music blaring from store fronts and the transistor radios that seemingly half the kids were toting around. Strange music with jarring rhythms and odd, disconcerting words. It made even those crazy pop songs that Chip listens to sound tame! And added on top of all that was a cacophony of bells. People waving bells in the air or wearing bells around their necks or sown into their costumes so that they jingle-jangled as they walked up and down and up and down the street.

After a while we found ourselves walking with them. And I choose the words “found ourselves” carefully. I don’t remember ever deciding to join the procession. It was as if our feet started operating of their own volition. Or as if we were suddenly following some weird Pied Piper. Or maybe I should say Pied Bell Ringer, or Pied Tambourine Man. I felt like I could bolt anytime I wanted to, though. So don’t worry. I’m pretty sure we hadn’t fallen under on of those malignant influences. Not yet, anyway. (Although I should add parenthetically that I am getting a little concerned about Jelly Roll. You know how impressionable he is, dad. Where Chip and I walked around slack-jawed, bewildered and overwhelmed by everything we saw, heard, and smelled—more to come on the latter following the parenthesis—Jelly actually seemed to be…well, "delighted" is the word that seems best to fit his wide-eyed wonderment and tremulous smile. But we’ll keep real close tabs on him. If he really is enjoying any of this we’ll make sure to crack down on him hard!)

It wasn’t until I saw Chip’s nose twitching that my sensory apparatus switched over from the aural to the olfactory. Golly, how I wish it hadn’t! I’ve never smelled such a smell before. At first it was just an all-pervading effluvium, but my trained nose enabled me eventually to isolate its components. It was comprised of one part human sweat, one part incense like you sometimes catch a whiff of when you pass the Catholic Church on the outskirts of Balmy Bay, one part baking bread, and one part smoke. Lots of the kids were smoking, but most of the cigarettes we saw were hand-rolled, like the type favored by tars, Negroes, and gunsels. And the smoke had a peculiar sweet tang to it that I couldn’t place, even though I’ve trained myself to detect the differences in most commercial brands. I also noticed that the kids here share their cigarettes, passing them from hand to hand. I heard one boy say, “Pass me the Reefer, Jack,” and another exclaim, “Hey, man. Don’t Bogart that Joint.” Have you heard of either brand, dad? Reefer or Joint? I ask because I can’t help wondering if they might be popular brands in Moscow.

Well, dad, I guess we don’t have to wonder anymore where all the young people who abandon everything and leave their homes go. It’s obvious they wind up right here in Frisco! Why, I don’t know yet. But I mean to find our just as surely as I mean to find poor Lucy Diamond. If this place is so creepy and repugnant to Chip and me, just imagine how horrible it must be to a young girl!

I have to admit that we weren’t the efficient junior detectives we usually are, because we spent so long just walking around trying to take it all in. Heck, Chip said “Whillikers” 48 times! But at last, drawing on all my inner discipline, I did bring us back to the task at hand and started showing people Lucy’s picture in the hopes someone would have seen her. (Well, me and Chip, anyway. Jelly Roll just followed us around with that goofy grin on his face, saying “Wow” at everything he saw. Actually, now that I think about it, by the end of the evening he was starting to say “Groovy,” like these strange people on the street. Boy, now I am worrying about him!)

Unfortunately, we didn’t really get anywhere with that. The first boy we asked, who had a hair and beard sort of like the pictures of Jesus back in the good old Balmy Bay Non-Denominational Christian Church, but also kind of a glassy look in his eye, took a look at the picture, smiled at me—and then gave me a flower! Except I didn’t take it. After what we heard about Lucy, I realized immediately that this might be a flower plucked illegally from the city park, and Flint Burly sure as heck wasn’t going to be caught accepting stolen goods! Jelly reached for the flower, but with a quick move I was able to block him. “Psst!” I hissed. “I smell a trap!” You’d have been proud of me, dad—this is just the sort of thing you’ve warned me against since I first showed an aptitude for detective work in kindergarten and those other kids were trying to frame me for taking too many Graham crackers.

Well, that oddball didn’t run off cursing his luck, like I expected him to. He just stood there, still holding the flower out toward us, with a grin on his face that I’d have to describe as downright dopey. I showed him the picture of Lucy again and asked if he knew this girl, but all he would say was, “We all know each other, man. It’s about love.” Finally he walked on and gave the flower to someone else.

The rest of our investigation wasn’t as strange, but it wasn’t any more productive, either. Everyone we showed the picture to looked suspiciously at us, and just like at that campfire I described in my previous letter, a few of them asked us if we were “pigs.” Some of them even started making fun of our clothes! But how can anyone make fun of corduroy slacks, oxford shirts, and v-neck sweaters? How can you make fun of what’s normal? Especially since the one who was making the most fun of us was dressed like an early 19th century pioneer in a fringed buckskin jacket, with a bunch of mysterious buttons pinned to it. “Make Love, Not War.” “Haight is Love.” “Stamp out Reality!” What does it all mean?

I tell you, dad, it’s got me stumped so far. I know there’s got to be a pattern to all this. But how does it connect? Strange music, animal references, illegal flower picking? I can understand how the music is used to give kids strange ideas, but why would someone go to all this trouble just to deface a few city parks?

There was only one good thing from the whole experience. At one point I looked up the street and saw a black car disappearing around a corner—a car that looked just like the one that knocked Chip over in Balmy Bay! If Chief Chalk is right, and that car belongs to our pals at the FBI, then it shows that someone in authority is also checking out this situation! I’m hoping we meet up with the G-Men soon so we can coordinate our efforts.

After a little while of that fruitless questioning it was getting pretty dark, so we decided to call it a day. It was hard to find any normal food around there, but there was a place that called itself a drugstore (except they’d misspelled it as “Drogstore”) where we got some sandwiches. I asked the shaggy-haired boy at the counter where the nearest campground was and he told us we could just sleep in the nearby park. That didn’t sound right to me, but when we checked into it we discovered that, sure enough, there were dozens of people already setting up camp and no one stopping them, so here we are. We’ve rolled out our sleeping bags and set up our good old Coleman lanterns to do our homework by (and write this letter, of course!), and it’s almost like being back in the normal world.

Except we keep smelling a funny, sweet smoke blowing over from some of the other campsites. And there’s plenty of weird guitar music. And we hear a heck of a lot of campers thrashing around and making grunting and moaning sounds, guys and gals alike. I wonder if these odd cigarettes are giving them strange nightmares or something.

Well, dad, I’ll write again tomorrow. If you see any clues or patterns in these details that I’ve missed, write back and tell me. As I’m sure you can deduce, being the master detective that you are, the address to reach us at is Flint Burly c/o General Delivery, San Francisco. (Just joking, dad!) Chip and Jelly say hello. Give our love to Aunt Hortense. Tell Mrs. Diamond not to worry. The Burly Boys are on the case!


PS: Please remember to pass this letter on to Mr. Fairchild so that he can use these details when he writes this adventure up into a book packed with mystery and action!

PPS from Chip: And don’t worry, dad! We’re not going to get caught by any of those malignant influences! Scout’s honor!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chapter Two. The Missing Pal!

“Gosh,” Flint Burly said, “it looks like the whole town turned out for the picnic!”
“The whole town except for Lucy Diamond,” said Pixie Powers. “And she and I were bound to win the three-legged race this year!”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll get here in time,” Flint said.
“She’d better!” Pixie said.
It was Memorial Day, and the people of Balmy Bay had gathered in McCarthy Park for the annual celebration. Music wafted from the bandstand. Some of the younger boys had started up an impromptu softball game, and a group of girls were jumping rope. Adults stood conversing in small knots under the shade of stately elms and maples. Wieners roasted over red-hot coals and Aunt Hortense stood proudly over her prize-winning potato salad, ready to start spooning out portions. Pitchers of lemonade tinkled on the tables. Roscoe, the custodian at the yacht club where the Burly Boys berthed their sloop Shamus, flashed a genial smile for everybody as he scurried here and there, scooping up the trash.
“Now where has that brother of yours gotten to?” Pixie asked.
“Oh, near the music, no doubt,” Flint said. “Probably practicing his dance steps for the sock hop in a couple of weeks.”
Sure enough, they found Chip before the bandstand, where most of Balmy Bay’s teenagers had clustered. Mickey Milk and the Milkmen were holding forth on stage, playing one dance tune after another. As expected, Chip was studiously attempting to master the Mashed Potato. Pixie ran to his side and joined in.
“Shootin’ spitballs!” Chip cried. “How’s my favorite gal?”
Flint was soon joined by Candy Horton, who arrived bearing plates heaped with potato salad and hot dogs.
“It’s another wonderful day, don’t you think, Flint?”
“It sure is, Candy!” Flint said.
“Your aunt’s potato salad is delicious!”
“And so are these hot dogs!” Flint said.
“I hope we do well in the limbo contest!”

“Oh, we’ll show them a thing or two, all right!”
Just then Flint Burly noticed the stranger. Although he didn’t presume to know every citizen of Balmy Bay, he had the man pegged as an outsider in no time. If his swarthy complexion, heavily shadowed jowls, and pointed Italian shoes weren’t enough to make him stick out from the crowd, the way he furtively eyeballed the proceedings was the clincher.
The music stopped, and Flint caught his brother’s eye and motioned him over. Candy, he saw, had struck up an animated conversation with Pixie, and he took the opportunity to lead Chip away from the crowd of teenagers. Discreetly, he indicated the stranger.
“Galloping comets!” Chip said. “That guy sticks out like a letterman sweater on a moose! Do you think he’s up to no good?”
“The way he’s furtively checking everything out makes me think he might be a look-out man,” Flint said. “I suggest we keep an eye on him in turn.”
“Then let’s enlist Jelly Roll’s help,” Chip said. “I want to practice some more dance steps before the games start. That Frug is giving me conniptions!”
The boys went off in search of their friend Jelly Roll Horton. They soon found him sitting on the grass under a tree. With him was Peanuts Salter, the tuba player in the school band, and Eddie Muskie, the captain of the chess club. Jelly Roll was reading aloud from a book, and as the boys drew near they realized that it was their latest adventure, The Mystery of the Cross-Eyed Smuggler, as recounted by Jefferson W. Fairchild, the author of all of their published adventures. Still unnoticed by the trio on the grass, the boys listened for a few moments as Jelly Roll intoned:

The floor creaked under their shoes as the trio prowled through the dark, abandoned lumber mill. Flint, dark and intense, had the lead. Chip, a year younger and impetuous where Flint was cautious and deliberate, had to be restrained from dashing off, and possibly alerting their quarry to their presence. Jelly Roll, their stout chum and frequent assistant on their exciting mystery cases, brought up the rear. Unlike the impetuous younger brother, he had to be constantly urged not to fall too far behind.
Suddenly Flint came to a halt. “What’s that sound?” he hissed warily.
“Gibbering gumdrops!” exclaimed Chip. “I thought we were hearing the floors creak. But we’ve stopped walking and I still hear it!”
“Gosh, fellas,” moaned Jelly Roll in a quavering voice. “That’s my stomach rumbling! We haven’t had a bite to eat in nearly two hours.”
The Burly boys, sons of a famous American detective, threw back their heads and laughed good-naturedly.

Jelly tossed down the book. “Can you believe this garbage?” he demanded. “Not only is it the worst writing on the face of the earth, but this Fairchild bum always makes me out to be a food-obsessed maniac!”
“But you are a food-obsessed maniac,” Chip said, stepping forward. He and Flint laughed.
“Go ahead and laugh,” Jelly said. “But the last laugh’s on you chumps! Think about it for a minute. You’re both practically grown men. But what does it say on the back of all your books? For boys aged 10-14, that’s what. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
The brothers were no longer laughing. Flint shrugged and said, “Well, boys read about boy detectives. What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong is that we’re not boys anymore! They publish mysteries that adults read too, you know! Why can’t that damn Fairchild start taking us seriously? Sure, we were thirteen and twelve when the series started, but that was five years ago! We’ve grown up, damn it!”

Jelly Roll reached into his back pocket and pulled out a battered paperback. The boys saw that it was entitled One Fearful Yellow Eye, and it was written by somebody named John D. MacDonald. “This is what our books should be written like!” Jelly Roll said, waving the book in the air. “A book about men. And women. Real women!”
“Hey, can I see that?” Peanuts said.
Flint and Chip exchanged a glance. Neither spoke.
“Ah, the hell with it,” Jelly Roll said. “Let’s go scrounge up some hot dogs.”
“Not just yet,” Flint said. “Look over past the bandstand. See that man with the furtive look?”
“The fellow with the three-day growth of whiskers,” Chip added.
“I still don’t see him.”
“With the dark complexion,” Flint pointed out.
“Okay, I got him pegged,” Jelly Roll said. “What about him?”
“We need you to help us keep an eye on him,” Flint said.
“Why? Because he looks like a foreigner?”
“Not just that,” Flint said. “I suspect he might be a look-out man for some hold-up artists!”
But before Flint could elucidate further the speeches started. Pastor Whitehead mounted the bandstand and led everybody in a prayer. He was followed by Charley Langendorf, the head of the local chapter of the American Legion, who spoke of the need for our armed forces to halt the Domino Effect in Vietnam, no matter what a few crazy protesters in other cities might say. His speech drew a prolonged hurrah.

Finally Chief of Police Chalk took the stage. He sang Balmy Bay’s praises, specifically citing the city’s low crime rate, and concluded that one family was largely responsible for this shining record, the Burlys. “I know Slate Burly is wrapping up a case and couldn’t be here,” he concluded, “but let’s give those swell boys of his a great big hand. Flint! Chip! Step forward and be counted.”
But suddenly the boys were not to be found.
During the prayer, Flint had noticed that the stranger was acting particularly agitated. On a hunch, he’d whispered to Jelly Roll to start walking toward the ticket booth, which had been set up at the Hoover Street entrance to the park.
“You think somebody’s going to rob the proceeds?” Jelly Roll had whispered back.
“Why, that’s dastardly!” Chip had hissed. “The proceeds are slated to help out underprivileged Negro children in a neighboring community!”
“And they still will, if we have anything to say about it!” Flint had said.
No sooner had Jelly Roll ambled off than Flint observed that the stranger had noticed him and his eyes widened in consternation. The stranger lost no time in taking off after their stout chum.
“This way!” Flint said to his brother, and they rounded the bandstand and made a beeline for a copse of trees, all the while endeavoring to stay out of the stranger’s line of sight. Once under cover of the foliage, the boys broke into a run and soon emerged near the Hoover Street entrance. Before their horrified eyes they saw Jelly Roll sprawled on the ground, apparently knocked unconscious, and just beyond him Miss Sheets wrestling with three men for possession of the day’s receipts.
Running on the balls of their feet, they made not a sound as they dashed toward the tableau. Just as one of the swarthy man’s companions wrested the lockbox from Miss Sheets’s hands Flint brought him down with a flying tackle. That left the other two, but fortunately for Chip they were grouped closely together and he was able to topple them both with a hook slide. One of his victims, he heard more than saw, smacked his head against the table. As he pounced on the other one he saw Flint’s meaty fist land on his opponent’s jaw. The one below Chip was still squirming, but a rabbit-punch to the thief’s throat took care of that.
Back at the bandstand, Chief Chalk was calling for the boys to step forward for the third time, a puzzled look on his grizzled face. And suddenly they were there. But to everyone’s shocked surprise, they herded before them three dark strangers, all with hands bound behind their backs with their own neckties. Next to them marched Miss Sheets, the cashbox cradled in her arms, and a woozy-looking Jelly Roll Horton, who had nevertheless latched onto a hot dog on the way.
Explanations and congratulations followed, and when Chief Chalk left to cart the three thieves off to the jailhouse, Mrs. Edelweiss, who was in charge of the entertainment that year, called for the games to begin.
The water balloon toss and Hula Hoop contest were first, and the teenagers gathered together to watch their younger siblings participate. The limbo contest was slated next, to be followed by the three-legged race.
“I just don’t understand it!” Pixie Powers said. “Why hasn’t anyone seen Lucy?”
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” said Albie Snow, another of their classmates. Albie, Pixie remembered, was also Lucy’s next-door neighbor.

“Heard what?” Chip said.
“Lucy’s been missing for three days!”
“What’s that you say?” Flint asked intently.
“I’m surprised you hadn’t heard,” Albie said. “I thought for sure Mrs. Diamond would hire you fellows to find her.”
“You mean to say Lucy Diamond has vanished?!” Chip said.
“I thought I’d already said that,” said Albie.
“No wonder I haven’t seen her!” Pixie cried. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Mrs. Diamond, either. The poor dear must be worried sick!”
“I’ll say,” Albie said. “To make matters worse, Lucy was acting quite strange in the days leading up to her disappearance!”
“How so?” Flint demanded, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
“Well, I have that on second hand,” Albie said. “From her mother, in fact. But I know this much for sure. She was dressing really strangely, and she’d let her grooming go entirely!”
“Not a living doll like Lucy!” Jelly Roll said, around a mouthful of wiener.
“I don’t believe it!” Candy said.
“So are we going to take on the case?” asked Jelly Roll.
Flint looked thoughtful, and after a moment shook his head. “We don’t handle cases like that, Jelly.”
“Like what?” Jelly demanded.
Flint fumbled for the right words. “You know the cases we usually work on as well as I do, Jelly. Smuggling operations. Missing Aztec idols. Weird goings-on in abandoned towers and ziggurats. Tracking down a teenaged girl who’s been acting strangely is a whole other ball of wax, best left to adult authorities.”
They all fell silent as Roscoe shambled by, stooping to pick up the three hot dog wrappers discarded by Jelly Roll. They all sensed it wouldn’t be right to talk about poor Lucy’s problems in front of a hired hand. But as soon as Roscoe had moved on, grinning and bobbing his head, Jelly Roll said, “That’s ridiculous, Flint Burly! It’s like I was saying earlier, we’re grown men now. How will we ever be taken seriously if we don’t take ourselves seriously?” Angrily, he yanked the paperback from his back pocket again and brandished it in the air. “Travis McGee wouldn’t hesitate to take on a case like this! In fact, it’s tailor made for him. Lookee here. Right here on the cover it describes him as ‘an amiable and incurable tilter at conformity, a hopeless sucker for starving kittens and women in distress!’ Why can’t we be like that? Why in hell can’t we help out a school chum in distress?”
“He might have a point there, Flint,” said the younger brother.
Flint again looked thoughtful. Finally he said, “We’ll do this. When dad gets home we’ll see what he has to say. That suit you, Jelly?”
“I guess it’ll have to,” Jelly Roll said.
Just then Mrs. Frost announced that the limbo contest was commencing. Flint took Candy’s hand and said, “Ready?”
“You bet I am!” Candy said.
And off they went, ending the discussion for the present.

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