It was a seemingly completely ordinary day when the new kid, Charlotte Holmes, turned around in her chair and looked me in the eye.
“Jane, right?” She asked it as a question, but the teacher had just finished going over the attendance and we both knew it wasn’t really a question. “I need your help.”
It was a bit surprising to me, because I consider myself a pretty boring person. The most exciting things that ever happen to me are to the alter-egos I write about in my journal, so I was pretty sure she would go ask someone else for help as soon as she actually asked me for help.
I was a bit curious to know what she wanted my help for, but from the look Ms. Perez was giving me, I knew it would have to wait.
“I’m locker number one-oh-three.” I told her, “we’ll talk after class.”
We didn’t have much time between classes, but when lunchtime came, I found Charlotte waiting at my locker. She stood there holding a brown paper bag and a book. There was a pencil through her curly brown ponytail, and she had some strange colored splotches on her otherwise very professional long sleeved, collared gray dress and leggings.
“I need your help.”
“So you’ve mentioned. I have to warn you though, I’m not particularly good at anything. I can potentially recommend someone else, depending on what you need.”
I spun the lock on my locker again, and it clicked open. I put down my books and grabbed my own lunchbag.
“I need a writer,” she said as she fell into step beside me.
“Oh. That I can help you with, although I usually write my own plots, but I could try ghostwriting if you want.”
“No, I want you to do non-fiction. Write the stories of our adventures.”
As we entered the lunchroom and I looked for a spot to sit, I glanced sideways at her. “I just met you. We haven’t had any adventures.” I chose a spot as far from the lunch counter as possible and sat down.
“Oh, so it’s an allergy.” She mentioned, nodding at my lunch. “Not a preference.”
She followed me to the spot and sat down. “You’re allergic to the most of what they serve here. That’s why you brought your lunch. If you were just picky, you wouldn’t try to avoid the side of the room by the kitchens. Dairy?”
“Gluten, but otherwise you got it. How is this relevant?” I pulled my tuna sandwich out, but didn’t open it. “Wait. What about you? Preference or allergy? I hope you’re not allergic to fish?”
“Dairy allergy.” She pulled out a tuna sandwich. “We’d better be careful with our crumbs.”
We both smiled. This new kid was strange, but not so bad in my book.
“About our adventures, we haven’t had them yet because we’ve only just met, but can’t you tell that we’re meant to have them?”
At my confused look, she turned her book over so I could see the cover. It was a collection of Sherlock Homes stories.
She pointed to herself. “Charlotte Holmes.” She pointed to me. “Jane Watson.” She pointed to the book. “It’s clearly meant to be.”
That was a stretch. “Except that you moved in, not me. And we’re kids. And I’m not a doctor or injured, and I certainly don’t plan to become either one.”
“But you already like to read. And I like Science and play the violin.”
“Well, I like painting, and that’s practically the same thing as Science.” That explained the stains. “And I play the guitar, not the violin, but that’s also basically the same thing.”
I rolled my eyes and began to eat. Throughout lunch, Charlotte kept trying to prove that it was meant to be and I continued to make her prove that most of her things were off. But when the bell rang, Charlotte said she would catch up with me later and we would discuss the matter further.
I made my sole evaluation of Charlotte. She was trying too hard. I got that she was new and probably lonely, but she was stretching to try to become my friend. I wasn’t that picky, and I would probably wind up hanging out with her, but the only thing that matched the story was our last names and the fact that I liked writing. After that, that was it. We did have some other things in common, but she wasn’t trying to figure that part out.
When I got on my bus after school, I found another similarity to the original Watson and Holmes. Our bus was #221, and the seat I liked best was letter B, near the back. Charlotte joined me soon with a grin.
“221 B, and here we are. It really is meant to be. We should open for business right here.”
“You’re not getting a mystery to solve on the bus.” I said, trying to keep the cynicism from being too obvious.
“It’s gone!” someone shouted from somewhere in front of us. “It was right here and now it’s gone!”
Charlotte grinned at me. “You were saying?” Then she stood up.
“Are you crazy?” I pulled her back down. “I don’t know how you did things back in Oregon, but here we don’t walk while the bus is moving. It’s dangerous.”
“Ugh. Fine. Give me a paper then.” I tore one out of the back of my notebook.
She took it and started writing. “Wait,” she said, without pausing or looking up, “how’d you know I’m from Oregon? Are you stalking me?”
“No. You brought a sweater, which means you expected the first week of school to be cold, so you’re from the north of North America because your accent isn’t distinct enough to be from anywhere else. Plus, your sweater says Oregon on it, and you have a key-chain on your bag with Oregon’s state flag. The sweater could mean you visited, but the state flag is a dead giveaway because most people don’t know the individual state flags except their own.”
While I was talking, Charlotte folded up the paper into an airplane. She angled one wing slightly, then the other, and set it in motion. The plane landed on the backpack of the boy who had been looking for something earlier. Then she turned to me.
“I hope you don’t mind, I signed your name to that too. So how do you know what the Oregon flag looks like?”
“I’m not most people.” I responded shortly. “And I don’t know if I mind. What did you write?”
“Just that we would help him find whatever it is he lost.”
“Fine. We’ll do a trial case. If we solve it and it makes a good story, maybe we can do another. We’ll see.”
Charlotte clapped her hands. “Yay!”
I rolled my eyes.
Later that night I heard a knock at the door. The next thing I knew, my mother walked into the room with Charlotte in tow. Charlotte had changed into a plaid dress, as if that would help her solve mysteries.
“Jane,” my mother began, “you didn’t tell me you had plans tonight. Charlotte here tells me you’re working on a case tonight. Do you need anything from me?”
“I didn’t have plans. But I guess I do now.” I sighed and got up from where I had been working on my homework. “I’m guessing Charlotte has everything we’ll need, but I’ll bring a notepad just in case.”
Half an hour later, we were at Greg Straker’s kitchen table listening to the details of the case and eating popsicles. Greg sat in front of us with his pencil case. It was the kind of thing that was made of a green zipper that closed into a pouch.
“As you can probably tell, I’m a lefty.” Greg began. “Which makes writing very difficult because everything smudges and I wind up with a huge stain on my hand. Then, the ink on my hand gets on everything else, and it’s a huge problem. So for my birthday last week, my parents bought me a lefty pen. The ink dries very quickly, so when I write with it, there’s no stain. Plus, the pen had a design of overlapping triangles of various colors. It’s a very expensive pen, and I don’t think any other kid in any of my classes has one. Then today, I wanted to show it to Milton, but it was gone. I know I had it in school though, because I used it in Literature for the opening essay Mr. Grant assigns every term, and I had him for fifth period.”
“Did you use it during sixth period?” Charlotte asked.
“No. I had Math then.”
“So the pen went missing between fifth period and when you got on the bus.”
“So that’s a period of about one hour. Where did you leave it for Math?”
“In this, right under my desk.” He slid the pencil case across the table at Charlotte’s gesture.
She opened it up and laid each thing out. There were six ordinary capped stick pens (three black, two blue, and one red), three brand new sharpened pencils and a mechanical sharpener, a pair of orange scissors with balanced even holes, a purple glue-stick, a small Casio calculator, and a putty egg.
“Is anything else missing?”
“No, but the putty isn’t mine.”
“Who sat near you in Math? Maybe someone saw it when you got out your pencil?”
“Uh, you sat behind me, although you were snoring the whole time, Milton sat on one side of me, and Kevin was on the other.”
“So between Milton and Kevin. Okay. I think that’s all we can do tonight. Thank you for your time.” Charlotte stood, threw out her popsicle stick and wrapper, and headed for the door. I quickly repacked the pencil case and handed it back to Greg.
“We’ll let you know if we come up with anything.”
On the walk home, Charlotte seemed very happy. She even skipped back and forth across the sidewalk while she waited for me to catch up with her.
“Are you happy because we have a case? Because you roped me into joining you? Or because you think you know who has the pen?”
“All of the above. Well, almost. I just need to see Milton and Kevin tomorrow and then I’ll see who has it.”
“How will you do that?”
“Simple. One of them is probably a lefty, so there’s the motive. The putty was probably a trade because it takes ink off of hands easily, and whichever of them took it felt bad. Of course, we could also ask to see their pencil cases, because no doubt we’ll find it, although altered in appearance. It’s just like ‘Silver Blaze’. Maybe more so. Maybe Greg dropped it accidentally, and whichever one is a lefty picked it up to return it, but then saw how cool it was and kept it.”
“But what about the other possibility?” I offered.
“There is no other possibility. What else could there be? I’ve covered all the facts. Besides, I’m Holmes and you’re Watson. I’ve got this.”
I gave up.
The next morning, Charlotte was waiting for me in seat B. “I do need your help on one thing though. Which ones are Milton and Kevin?”
“We’ll talk to them later. Kevin is in our homeroom, and Milton is in my English class. He’s the kid in the Star Wars Tshirt over in the front.”
“Okay, we’ll check him now.” she said quietly. Then she called out, “Hey, Milton!”
He turned around in his seat and looked over at us. Charlotte waved. Milton gave us a confused glance and turned away.
“I got it.” I told a dejected Charlotte, “you’ll see.”
When the bus pulled into the schoolyard, I jumped up and darted forward with Charlotte close behind. I fell into step beside Milton as we headed inside. He glanced sideways at me, as if trying to decide if it was an accident and he should ignore me or if it was on purpose and he should say hello.
“Milton.” I decided to clear it up for him. “Are you a lefty?”
“The bonus on my Science was to calculate the percentages of lefties and righties in our grade. Do you know who the other lefties are?”
“Sure. Do you want me to write out a list for you?”
“Yeah. Here, this list is the whole grade, you can just put an ‘L’ by the lefties and then if you have the same bonus question I’ll give it back to you. Thanks.”
Once we were safely in homeroom with our list, I pulled out my calculator and ran the numbers.
“Wait. Was that actually on the homework?”
“Only the people in that class, but yes. Didn’t you do the homework? We’re in the same Science class.”
Charlotte squirmed, then sighed. “I didn’t do any of my homework. I didn’t even take notes. I barely even opened my backpack. I honestly don’t know what I have in there except for my lunch.”
“You’re that upset about moving? You didn’t even try?”
“How did you know that? I thought you would think I have a learning disability.”
“Charlotte, there are people who actually do. You shouldn’t pretend to have one. Plus, those people usually try extra hard. So, psychologically speaking, what could make a person upset enough not to bother even on the first day? Obviously something as big as a move. Especially when it’s with only one of your parents.”
“I thought your passion was writing.” Charlotte was clearly upset. Maybe I had gone too far with my assumptions. “I thought you said you weren’t good at anything else.”
“I didn’t. I said I can’t help you with anything else. Besides, I know this because of my writing. I once wrote about a school psychologist who was helping a kid get over a hard move after his parents split.”
“Oh. Well, my parents didn’t split.” Charlotte turned away, but it seemed to me that she was crying.
At lunchtime, Charlotte seemed herself again. I apologized for earlier, but she told me it wasn’t my fault, and I hadn’t known about her father, so she wasn’t mad at me, and then asked if we could focus on the case.
“So we know Milton is a lefty, and Kevin isn’t, so it must be Milton. But he made the ‘L’s in pencil, so we don’t know if he has the matching pen. Oh! I should have asked for a sample of something he wrote with the pen.” Charlotte shook her head. “How could I have forgotten? Either way, we should be able to find it in his pencil case. You said you had English with him? See if you can find the pen. Remember, he probably disguised it.”
It wasn’t Milton. I knew it couldn’t be, but I didn’t want to argue with Charlotte so soon after I had made her cry. Milton hadn’t seen the pen, and he hadn’t tried to dissuade Greg from showing it to him. He hadn’t acted suspicious either, and Milton was very bad at lying. I had texted Greg more questions after the interview last night, but I also knew anyway because my mother and Milton’s mother were close friends and loved to get our families together for picnics and stuff. It wasn’t his type unless he didn’t know he had it.
That was my theory. That someone had it by accident. I know it’s boring, but crimes aren’t really commonplace among kids in my school, so…
As we stood in line for the bus, Charlotte looked disappointed.
“Finally realize that avoiding learning only makes it worse?” I asked as gently as I could. Then I heard myself.
“No. I thought we had him. What am I supposed to tell Greg?”
“That you didn’t realize you had it and you’re sorry?” I offered.
“Wait. What? You think I took Greg’s pen?”
“No. I think someone else took it and put it in your bag. By accident.”
“You didn’t even look in your bag, but your mother did. She got you the coolest supply tote, the strange scissors, because you’re ambidextrous and you like to switch off which hand you use. That type of scissors work well for both hands, and that type of pen smudges the least. She also got you putty to help you sit still in class, because you like to bounce around, and to remove ink from your hand if the pens do smudge.”
“She did? I didn’t see any.”
“Yes you did. At Greg’s house. If you don’t believe me, text her now and ask. Or,” I reached into her partially open bag. “Look.” I pulled out a green zipper-pouch. “My guess is, you put your bag under your desk, and you were kicking your feet and adjusting positions so much that you knocked yours out. Then, you accidentally kicked it forward, and someone helpfully put his back into your bag while you were sleeping, and he grabbed yours when he left. Also, he dropped his pencil somewhere. Otherwise, one of the pencils would have been slightly shorter or less sharp.”
Charlotte looked from the pencil case in my hands to me and then over to Greg who was running over to join us. She grabbed my notebook.
“Can we trade names?”