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!