This story is by Jeanne Lemire and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Bonjour Madame Houle.” I smiled brightly at the stern-looking lady. She wore round wire spectacles like mine, and her brown hair was pinned up neatly in the latest style that my mother called the Mary Astor. She stood in the small yard hanging white sheets on the laundry line. Her youngest daughter was chasing after the dog. She was named Rose, but everyone called her baby Rose or baby Rosie even though she was three years old. The dog was a fluffy white mutt named Ti-Loup, My best friend Eddie Houle had explained the dog’s name meant little wolf in French Canadian. He was teaching me French, and I hoped my efforts would impress his mother.
“May I play with Eddie?” I waited for permission while standing outside of the white picket fence that enclosed their yard. I nervously passed my hands over my dark hair. I wanted to appear neat and always tried to mind my manners. I knew all the neighbors said that we Johnson boys were nothing but trouble, thanks to my seven older brothers. I had used that to my advantage once by telling the school bullies that my brothers would avenge Eddie and me if we ever got hurt. It was a lie, my brothers lived to torture me, but Eddie and I had become firm friends at that moment. I knew Mrs. Houle heard the gossip and I wanted her to know that I was different from my brothers.
“Vas-y, mais fais attention. ” She inclined her head towards the house, watching to make sure I had shut the gate properly and by the time I had climbed the stairs, she was stretching another crisp white sheet across the laundry line. Five kids meant a full laundry basket. She wouldn’t finish for a while.
“Hey Eddie, where are you?” I called loudly, as I knew no one else was home.
“Down here, Lee! Wait till you see what I’ve been doing.” A voice called from the basement. I ran down the stairs to find my friend wearing old motorcycle goggles. He was standing in front of a card table that had bottles of different colors with smoke rising out of them.
“What’s all this?” I asked. My friend loved science and experiments of every kind. His blond hair was cut short and stuck up at odd angles. I had hoped to influence him to slick his hair back with a pomade like I did. My mother liked to call it the Ruddy Valentino style. Unfortunately, Eddie said he preferred the mad scientist style.
“I’m testing if the color changes the boiling points, but I can only sneak in a few of bottles while my mom soaks the laundry. If you hear her coming, I have to take them out.” He grinned revealing a missing front tooth and showed me the potholders that covered his hands.
“Great! I can read you the next chapter in The Hounds of Baskerville while you time your experiments.” I smiled, he truly was the Watson to my Sherlock. I pulled out an old chair and dusted it off with my handkerchief, then thumbed through the worn novel to find the right page. Just as I cleared my throat to start reading a shrill scream pierced the air, and we froze staring at each other.
“Rosie, where are you? Rosie, Rosie!” The screaming continued, and we ran upstairs to find a frantic Mrs. Houle tearing down the clean sheets and throwing them on the ground.
“Mama, what’s wrong?” Eddie was paler than usual, and he never spoke to his mother in English. Clearly, he was in shock.
“Rosie’s gone, I can’t find your baby sister, help me. Don’t just stand there!” Mrs. Houle’s hair was disheveled, and her glasses were crooked. It was as if she had wrestled with the sheets and lost. Her eyes were red, and she wiped her tears with a lace handkerchief as she surveyed the yard looking for signs of Rosie.
“We’ll find her Mrs. Houle, don’t you worry.” I stood as tall as I could, this was what I was born for, solving mysteries.
She eyed me wearily, “I’ll call the police and look in the house, you two look outside the yard, but don’t go too far or anywhere you’re not supposed to.”
She ran into the house, and I could hear her crying to the other tenants who rushed to help search the house.
I headed to open the gate and survey the yard from the alley that separated the white picket fence from the factory lot. The alley was a dead end with shrubs lining the right side, and a six-foot chain link fence surrounded the factory lot on the left. Rosie wouldn’t have gone there. I turned to look down the street and saw plenty of places to hide.
“Eddie, you check down there, ask the other kids to help look under porches, behind parked cars and trees. I’m going to analyze the yard for more clues.”
Eddie took off like a bullet, and I went into the yard lifting the sheets to make sure baby Rose hadn’t crawled into the laundry. I quickly moved the sheets into the empty laundry basket, and now I was free to look for footprints. The dog eyed me lazily from its dog house as I crawled across the yard, using my trusty magnifying glass that I always carried with me. It wasn’t very useful as the grass was so dry it didn’t reveal any footprints. I turned my head to the left and noticed the crawl space under the side porch. It seemed like the perfect place a little girl might hide. So, I set off to explore, calling her name softly so as not to scare her. A screaming mother might have caused the poor kid to think she was in trouble. I would calmly reassure her she was safe.
“Rosie, come out. It’s OK; no one is mad. We just want to play; you can even pick the game.” I’d give anything to see her round chubby cheeks and big blue eyes again. I pushed through the shrubbery not realizing there were rose bushes. I tore my shirt, and my skin bled as I dragged myself through the dirt and into the crawl space. I was a small eight-year-old boy; I could barely fit in here. I inched forward until I was flat on my belly and came to a cement wall. She wasn’t there. Still, I reached out my hands exploring everywhere I could, and when I tried to back out, I realized I was stuck.
“Help! Help me, someone! I’m stuck.” I was humiliated, these things always happen to me. I prayed my brothers wouldn’t see this. I needed to solve this mystery now before things got worse for poor baby Rose and me.
“Lee is that you? Where are you?” Eddie had come back; maybe he had found Rose.
“Under the side porch, did you find Rosie?” I could barely turn my head and was inches away from a spider web. Luckily, I liked insects.
“No, the police are coming I can hear the sirens. How do I get you out?” Eddie shouted. I could hear the sirens too and shouted at him to just pull my legs back so I could slide out. Eddie crawled under and pulled me free. We were stuck under the porch as the policemen ran into the house followed by curious neighbors. When the crowd had cleared, we could finally exit from under the porch. That’s when my eyes were drawn again to the dog. Ti-Loup was a watch dog, how could he be so calm, sitting halfway out of the dog house on such a hot day.
“I’ve got it! Come on Eddie.” I ran to the dog house. “Move doggie, come on.” My knees buckled when the dog growled at me.
“Lee, this is no time to lie down.” Eddie knelt over me looking worried.
“I’m trying to solve this case if you don’t mind. Help me up.” Eddie grabbed my hand and pulled me up. “Eddie please move your dog and hold him over there.” I pointed far away from the dog house.
“Allez Ti-Loup!” Eddie moved the mutt, holding the dog firmly by the collar.
I entered the dog house and there soundly sleeping was baby Rose. I gently slid her out as Eddie shouted for joy, calling his mother and everyone to come and see that I had found Rosie.
Mrs. Houle ran to her daughter and kissed her repeatedly. She even went to kiss me but stopped short when she saw how dirty I was.
“You go get cleaned up, and you can stay for supper. I’m going to bake you a hero’s cake.” Her eyes smiled at me for the first time.