Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wiki and the Dog that Barked (Wiki Magenta 2)

Wiki Magenta was a detective, but detectives need cases and cases can be very hard to come by. Solving, so effectively, the case of her own being robbed was impressive enough to Phoebe and I, but not the sort of thing with a lot of future to it. Wiki allowed herself to be carefully introduced to kids around the neighborhood and even had a couple of my friends over. She inspired more awe and respect than outright affection, and when the information was quietly made available that she worked, at a small, sliding fee, as a detective, it did not inspire the derision and skepticism nearly anyone else would have engendered. Nevertheless, it did not either get her clients. Few people, and perhaps even more so kids, think in terms of detectives as useful tools in life, and an extraordinary resource such as Wiki was outside of the normal conception. She had to be learned.

My and Phoebe's summer was coming out way better than I had any hope. On the one hand there was the perfectly enjoyable standard stuff I had every reason to expect. I had a long little league season with a team that had its act together and a shot at state glory, and the aimless adventures of the neighborhood kids and the long bike rides with longtime buddies James and Keith. My dad, head chef at one of the best restaurants in the city, liked to whisk Phoebs and I off on strange culinary experiments around town for the education of our palates (Phoebe went at this with more gusto than me, but I loved the different cultures and strange people we got to meet more than the things people managed to do with the fat of geese). My mother, an avant garde composer (meaning no disrespect, but this means she made music you likely wouldn't recognize as, well, music), saw to our arts entertainments when she had a chance (this was interesting, but something closer to hard work than to the experience of seeing the latest Star Trek movie). But whereas in past summers there was a large chunk of leftover time spent spacing out in front of screens or asking people what they wanted to do in a desperate and futile hope that they will say, first, anything possible, and second, something actually appealing, this summer, instead, nearly obliterating that chunk, was Wiki.

Wiki events tended to be highly orchestrated things. Dropping in on her sometimes worked out, but the real rewards came when we were invited, or perhaps instructed, to show up at appointed times. I did what I could to undercut her high handedness, but if there was an invitation of any kind I strove mightily to accept it. These invitations led to fascinating times. And though, as often as not, Phoebe and I had no idea why we were doing what we were doing, it did not detract from the pleasure of it. The dawn we spent with Wiki buying and collecting an astonishing amount of sometimes very rare and mainly fantastically beautiful flowers, and then transforming Wiki's house into some sort of exotic wonderland, was all to a purpose Phoebe and I speculated wildly at, but never knew. Nevertheless it was a notably fun day. Perhaps my favorite endeavor of that early part of summer was a canoe trip on the cannon river wherein we tracked down, with a GPS and a page of Wiki's notes, a buried box containing a ruby. I'd actually be telling you that story now, but, well, that's not exactly the story, and Wiki, justifiably, made me promise not to write about it for awhile.

But Wiki Magenta could be a person of extraordinary energy and as her detective dreams were slow to pan out I felt her restlessness grow. I also felt a faint sense of responsibility and so it was a kind of relief when, on a hot July day, while hanging out listlessly with my friend Keith listening to his exhaustive collection of Wilco music, he said “It's gotten so bad I'm thinking about hiring Wiki.”

I was also concerned. “What's gotten so bad?” I asked.

“The dog.” he said in strained agony. “The miserable stupid dog. I guess you can't hear where you are?” Keith lived no more than a quarter mile down the same street as me, but it was twisty and hilly.

“No, nothing.” I responded. “You've got an annoying dog?”

“Oh, Henry, annoying is too mild! It's a beast from hell. A piercing, agonized barking tottering on the edge of madness. It starts up every single night around two or three or four. It's killing me and all my neighbors. And it's not just that it wakes me. It's like I fear it and dread it so much I can't sleep knowing it's coming. It is utterly horrible.” Keith shuttered. He did look pretty overtired. “And no one can find the dog,” He added. “It doesn't belong to anyone. No one has even seen it. We've even had humane traps put out for it. Nothing!”

“Wiki can help.” I said with utter confidence.

“Seriously?” He asked, grasping at any hope.

“Absolutely.” I said. “We'll go see her. I'm sure she can help.”

The problem was that Wiki wasn't actually home. It wasn't until the next afternoon that I was able to track her down and get over to her house. Keith seemed to be in steady decline, and, while I'm sure the wet heat was wearing on us all, I felt I could actually see the lack of sleep dragging the flesh of his face and his spirits down.

Actually, I take that back about the wet heat wearing on us all. When she answered her door Wiki held out her hands to the air as if to make every possible inch of contact with it and said “I love this weather!” Keith and I were too weak to groan and stumbled mutely into her house. The big house had no air conditioning, but was a bit cooler somehow. A couple fans kept the air moving.

Perhaps the cruel, searing heat had put Wiki in an especially good mood, but, whatever the reason, she had chosen to be the consummate host. Only when we were both settled in with a bottle of one of the exotic sodas Wiki favored (I had rhubarb, Keith had kumquat) would Wiki listen to Keith's story.

There wasn't actually much to the story. A couple of weeks ago this hideous beast, some dog, started carrying on most unpleasantly in the wee hours of the morning and it was driving everyone in Keith's section of the block into sleep deprived madness. Wiki was sympathetic and delved deeply into the neighbors' growing pursuit of the animal. The most diligent attempt to track down the animal involved Mr. Lewis, who set up a watch in an open area that led into three of the backyards. The dog woke him out of his alert watch at about 4, and, just as he felt he was tracking in close, the dog clammed up or fled. At about that time the police arrived and took him into custody for prowling. It took much of the morning to clear it up, but no one ever did find out who called the police. And still the dog remained a phantom.

“So, what do you think?” Keith asked.

“I think I can solve your problem.” Wiki said with simple confidence.

“Really?” Keith asked all bubbling with hope. “How much?”

I was thinking Wiki had Keith right where she wanted him, and I was extremely interested in how she would respond. I expected almost anything, but was still surprised at the answer.

“My rates are quite reasonable.” Wiki started. “But in this case I believe I already have a client whose interests are aligned with yours.”

Keith looked at me a bit confused.

“Someone else is already paying you to take care of the dog problem? Who?” I asked Wiki.

“Actually,” Wiki replied “She should be here shortly. I'd really appreciate it if you'd both stick around. Things will be more clear soon.”

After about ten minutes of restlessly sipping our sodas and starting on seconds (if you have a chance don't ever try banana soda) a knock came at the door. Wiki's fake mom answering system was off. She just answered the door and showed in Mrs Lewis.

Mrs. Lewis, Her first name is Elana, looks like she maybe runs a large corporation. I don't really know her well because her kids are much older than me, in college or beyond, and, of course, she's an adult. She's something of a fan of my dad though, so I know her a bit from the restaurant. She was dressed like she was coming from, or on her way to, the office, but somehow she wasn't sweating even slightly. Her husband, I don't even have a guess at his first name, was the one who was picked up by the police for prowling during his failed pursuit of the dog.

“Mrs. Lewis.” Wiki said, showing her in. “I think you know Keith and Henry. They are concerned in this matter as well and will be joining us.”

“Hello Keith. How is your father's back?”

“Bit better.” Mumbled Keith, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the developments.

“Henry.” Mrs. Lewis nodded at me shortly with efficient eye contact. I nodded back. She turned her piercing attention to Wiki. “I understood your mother would be here.”

“No,” Wiki replied. “I merely said that we could clear up the matter.”

“Don't you play games with me young lady.” Mrs. Lewis looked to me. “Have you met Wiki's mother?”

“Yes, of course.” I said. I was a little surprised at how terribly smoothly it came out.

“Have you.” Mrs. Lewis intoned skeptically.

“They live across the street from us. Haven't you?”

“No, I haven't, and I don't actually know anyone else in this neighborhood who has. Let me ask you this young man; Do you have any idea how dangerous it could be for Wiki to be on her own? Do you have any idea what her situation is or might be?”

“Mrs. Lewis.” I started tersely. “I have friends, several friends, and quite a few acquaintances, whose parents are around far more than Wiki's mom, who are in considerably more danger, in so many ways, than Wiki will ever be!”

Mrs. Lewis opened her mouth angrily, but Wiki cut in sharply. “Thank you Henry, but we need not argue this. I think we can resolve this problem to at least a reasonable portion of everyone's satisfaction.

“I'd like to speak with your mother.” Mrs. Lewis said implacably.

“I can take care of your dog problem.” Wiki said flatly.

“Dog problem?” Mrs. Lewis asked, a bit taken aback. “Is it your dog?”

“Of course not.” Said Wiki. “I detest dogs.”

“Well, at least we share that.” Mrs. Lewis said bitterly. I reflected to myself that I sensed some other commonalities. “It's ridiculous.” She added.

“No, not at all.” Wiki countered. “Keith here came by to ask me to look into the problem. I know your family is extremely concerned in this issue, and felt my service could best be arranged with you.”

“I think we can handle this problem on our own.” It was the first time Mrs. Lewis spoke without full ballistic missile type confidence.

“Absolutely.” Said Wiki cheerfully.

There was a rich pause, a small game of chicken. Because these were two master chicken players it went on for an unnerving length of time. Keith and I had the good sense to admire the old house's impressive wainscoting.

“Do you have some knowledge about this dog?” Mrs. Lewis relented, as if doing a favor.

“I do.” Wiki was at her simple best.

“I think you should tell me what it is.” Mrs. Lewis demanded.

“There are certain confidentialities that must be protected.”

“But you could resolve the problem?”

“Yes.” Wiki answered without hesitation. It was like watching a tennis match.


“Immediately.” Wiki stated.

“Immediately?” Mrs. Lewis asked in a quick, fierce way that made me think she was sort of enjoying the whole think. I was wracked with tension myself.

“Immediately.” Wiki reiterated in her flat, confident tone.

Mrs. Lewis relaxed. She had been standing this whole time. “Would it be all right if I sat down?” She asked. She suddenly struck me as tired.

Wiki gestured to a chair. “Please.” Mrs Lewis sank into it.

“Would you like some of my banana soda?” I offered graciously. Wiki spared me a brief glare. Mrs. Lewis waved the suggestion off without looking.

“I am somehow thinking you would like some compensation for this service.” Mrs. Lewis said.

“Not money or anything like that.” Wiki countered.

“But?” Mrs. Lewis inquired with the air of someone who harbors suspicions.

“You will leave my family alone.” Mrs. Lewis opened her mouth just enough to give the impression she would interrupt, but Wiki rode through it. “While you may not agree with my situation or that it is the best possible one for me and those who care about me you will respect it completely. At the absolute least you will remain neutral in regards to my situation in every way. At best you will be my ally, but in regard to one emancipated, one entered into her majority.”

Mrs. Lewis regarded Wiki quietly for awhile while Keith and I tried to work out just exactly what Wiki was asking for. I was about 95% of the way there when Wiki kindly turned to us to help out. “I am asking that in exchange for ridding the neighborhood of the barking dog Mrs Lewis will treat me functionally and legally as if I am an adult, and socially if she wishes.”

Mrs. Lewis stood up. Wiki stood up. We all stood up. Mrs. Lewis extended her hand to Wiki. “You may call me Elana.” She said.

Wiki smiled a businesslike smile, but if you looked carefully you could see a bit of warmth and, even more, of relief, around the edges of it. “We have a deal then, Elana?” She asked.

“We do, but one tiny, miserable yelp from that dog and it's off.” Mrs. Lewis said, remembering that she was ferocious. She was almost smiling though.

“I cannot protect you from all dogs and all neighborhood noises, but you may rest assured that this one never will bother any of you again.” Wiki stated firmly.

“No,” Mrs. Lewis said, sort of distantly, maybe sadly. “I don't believe it will.”

I think Keith misread this. “You're not going to kill the dog, are you, Wiki?”

Wiki was pretty gentle with Keith. “I wont kill the dog or hurt it.”

Keith nodded.

Mrs. Lewis's patience was utterly exhausted by this endless peripheral discussion. She said she must be going. Halfway out the door she turned. “Perhaps I could visit again, Wiki?” She asked.

“I'd like that, Elana.” Wiki answered.

I wasn't surprised as I was already becoming aware of Wiki's sometimes strange and mercenary tastes in friendship.

Then, rudely and with almost no justification Mrs. Lewis turned to me and said “You can still call me Mrs. Lewis.” And then she was gone.

I was not surprised to hear reports over the next couple of days establishing that Keith and Elanas' neighborhood had returned to the state of moderate peacefulness that existed before the dog took up it's nighttime expositions. I was also relatively unsurprised to find that in Keith's estimation Wiki was now among a tiny pantheon of Gods that included Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco, and Keith's uncle Marcus, who was a utility infielder in the Major Leagues for 3 years in the early nineties, had a lifetime batting average of .242, and in 64 games at 2nd base never made a single error (Sorry, but as I understand it it is all required to be said together. There is some debate as to whether the six or seven following paragraphs that go into more detail about his career are optional. I like to believe so). The fact is that I am pretty sure Wiki does belong to some pantheon of gods, but definitely not the sort it would be a prudent idea to worship. Keith, being of simple, but truly good heart, had not yet worked out any separation between “God” and “Worship” and so could not be restrained when it came to Wiki. Wiki, perhaps the most imperturbable person on the planet, seemed slightly discomfited by this. I believe it was just this shred of discomfort I have to thank for receiving any closure on this case.

Ten days after the dog stopped barking Phoebe and I were hanging out with Wiki shooting pool and drinking...something, when Wiki asked “Keith doesn't like me, does he?”

“It's more like he thinks you control the universe.” I responded.

Wiki gave me her daggers look.

“No, really,” I said, “Look at it from his perspective. He's being tortured out of sleep every night. His usually reliable parents find the problem unsolvable. His powerful neighbors flail so miserably at the job that they end up in jail. In agony, he turns to a girl who both worries the neighborhood and defies description. She not only solves the problem instantly, but somehow in the process bends to her will the most ferocious woman he has ever met.”

Phoebe snorted, but not, it seemed, at the punchiness of my wisdom.

“What?” I asked.

She got a little shy. “Just, like, I don't think you're in a good position to tell if Keith likes Wiki.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“You're just a little close in on the subject.”

“You think Keith likes Wiki?” I asked a little more heatedly than I meant to.

My sister rolled her eyes. “No, on the whole, you sounded pretty much right about his feelings.”

“Well that's all I'm saying.” I said as if I'd won some sort of argument I'd clearly lost.
All of this made Wiki thoughtful, me irritable, and Phoebe uncomfortable. We shot pool for awhile without conversation. Finally Wiki came to some resolution and spoke.

“Can you two get over here without anyone knowing, tomorrow night, at 2?”

“Yes.” I answered while Phoebe nodded.

“Wear dark clothes and meet me in the backyard.”

The next day was a long one for me and I was a bit too cautious about burying my alarm clock so that it didn't wake the house. I slept right through it and no doubt would have continued right along if my sister wasn't there shaking me awake.

“C'mon Henry.” She whispered loudly “We've got less than 5 minutes!”

With a bit of scrambling in the dark and only a couple of small injuries we made it to our rendezvous with Wiki at the appointed time. She handed us backpacks and issued instructions.

“Just hang with me and be as quiet as you can.” She spoke softly. “I'll answer questions after we're back. You up for this?”

We nodded and were off.

Our journey took us slowly and carefully through backyards. Wiki occasionally consulted a hand drawn map and delved into deep shrubs while Phoebe and I privately developed ideas about things. When we got to a thick area of thorny raspberry bushes that I knew well because they were in a gully behind Keith's garage it became clear what we were doing: collecting electronic equipment, three full backpacks worth. It was hard work actually because it was all so well hidden and Wiki was clearly being very thorough. We retrieved one piece at a time, loaded it up, and Wiki checked it off. Phoebe mainly did the tree stuff, Wiki the low stuff, and some that was lightly buried and I handled the ones that involved getting shredded by psychopathic plants. You'd think at that time of night there wouldn't be any mosquitoes, but I guess it was a special year or something. It wasn't particularly fun, but you have to look on the bright side sometimes; there were no ticks, no one got poison ivy, we weren't arrested, we weren't spotted, we got everything on Wiki's list, and there was a cold bottle of Guava-Paprika soda waiting for each of us when we got back to Wiki's house.

Back in Wiki's house we dumped the stuff out of our packs onto a big wooden table in her oversized kitchen. I picked up a little radio looking thing at random.

“What's this?” I asked.

“A relay, to bounce a signal along.” Wiki replied

“To here?”

Wiki nodded. Phoebe picked up some bulbous thing that maybe looked like it could be a speaker or maybe just a lump of plastic. “Is this little thing a speaker?” She asked.

“Here.” Wiki said, and she booted up one of her laptops and did a couple things on it until the speaker produced a particularly irritating string of disturbed barks. “Of course it was a lot louder out there.”

“Wow.” My sister exhaled softly.

I held up some tiny thing in front of my face and peered at it. “I have no idea. What's this thing?”

Wiki smiled, hit a key and turned the laptop to Phoebe, who laughed, then turned it to me. A fish eye vision of my face filled the screen. “You needed cameras to know if people were hunting the dog?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Wiki said. “So I could shut it down before anyone could home in on the sound. Motion detectors too.” She explained picking up something that looked like it was part cell phone and part light switch. It looked like Wiki had roughly painted it brown and black.

“This was all for the Lewis's?” I asked.

“I was very close to having to run.” Wiki explained.

“You can tell us about this kind of thing, Wiki.” I said. “We can help you work it out.”

“It can get a little dark sometimes.” Wiki said, looking down at all her electric instruments of mild torture. “And there are things I will not give up.”

“It's okay.” I said

“Yeah, it's okay.” Phoebe added.

“I'm not a god, Henry. I'm just a person really.” Wiki said.

I grinned at her.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, jumping up and brightening. “I've got something for you.” She pulled an envelope out of a drawer and handed it to me. “It's your birthday gift to Keith, in September.” she said as I looked inside. There were two tickets to a Wilco concert in October.
“Row A?” I asked.

“Just, you know...” Wiki said.

I didn't, and my expression showed it.

“Maybe.” She suggested “You should just leave my name out of it.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Your Tiny Introduction to Wiki

Located just below this little blogpost is the first of the Wiki Magenta stories. These are ongoing mystery stories about a young super genius girl detective, and though I started out with a vision of Pippi Longstocking meets Encyclopedia Brown, and really like that idea and tagline, they so far have gone pretty far along into the deep shadows of Nero Wolfe. But really, they're just some stories I wrote, am writing, and so only have a little to do with me. Which is odd, fun and disconcerting. Anyway, you can try this story out. I mean, you might as well, you've come this far.

But one last thing. These stories only get longer and longer, so I'll allow decent intervals for digestion as I post them. I am currently at work on the 4th or 5th one, but have been blogging a lot, so it'll be a bit before we go all the way through that last one. Either way, there's just this one for now...

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Case of Bob Dylan's Harmonicas

The original story follows, but I am just hijacking the start here for some absurd thing I'm doing in which you click here

Anyway, here's the story. Apologies to non clickers.

The Case of Bob Dylan's Harmonicas

A mere week and a half into it and I was ready to do the unholy: complain about summer vacation. My usually odd and hopping near downtown neighborhood was laid quiet by friends' ailments, family trips to Duluth, and journeys to fossil camp. If that wasn't enough, it was miserably drizzling, and my mighty little sister was even crabbier than me. When an enormous moving van pulled up in front of the derelict mansion across the street I was eager, no, desperate, for diversion.

I got a whole lot more than that, but I'm not complaining.

I sat in an upstairs bay window and watched, slack jawed for an hour, as a tiny, ferocious, blue-haired girl ordered around two fully grown moving guys until they were on the brink of collapse (and possibly tears) and the full contents of the truck had been emptied into the ruin of a house. She paid them, in cash, from a wad of bills the size of my head, went inside, and closed the door, alone. The men got in the truck and left.

Phoebe, my aforementioned sister, had joined me for the last half of this spectacle, and at the cessation of activity we rose as one and went to meet our neighbor.

I confess that as we waited at the door of the crumbling mansion for an answer to our knocking I was consoled by the protective presence of my sister. Yes, my sister, at a mere 11 years of age, is two years younger than me. Yes, she is also several inches smaller than I. But through some odd genetic twist she has the strength of, well, maybe not an NFL lineman, but definitely one of those moving guys. Actually I'd put it right around the level of a biker. This comforted me because there was something about the coiled energy of the blue-haired girl that made me fear for my life. Of course, I was in no real physical danger. My peril was of an entirely different, and far greater, nature.

“We should have a plate of cookies.” My little sister commented.

The door was opened by a small girl. Yes, she was small, smaller even than my sister, but even at that first encounter it was hard to think of her as small. She had blue hair which I have since come to believe is naturally so. Confidence steamed off of her like radiation off a broken nuclear plant. I received my first little lesson in how completely justified her confidence is.

“Henry, Phoebe” She said in greeting “Come in. Did you bring any cookies?”

“Ach, I knew it!” Exclaimed my sister.

“But you know our names.” I said.

“Oh, I know everything.” She said dismissively. Then she sort of looked us up and down. “You I know about.” She said to my sister, not without warmth. “Do you write?” She asked me.

“I thought you knew everything.” I replied placidly.

She almost smiled. “You'll do.” She said. “I need an Archie.”

“What's an Archie?” Asked my sister.

“Archie Griffin. Assistant to the fictional detective Nero Wolfe. A chronicler. A Watson.”

I got the Watson thing. He was the guy who wrote about Sherlock Holmes. “So you're a detective?” I asked, but I didn't keep the skepticism out of my voice so she didn't really answer. She just sort of hummed.

“What's your name?” I asked

“Wiki Magenta.”

“You on your own?”

“Outside my wits, my bodyguard, and my Archie...”

“But you're how old?” I asked, truly mystified.

She just looked at me levelly. “Help me unpack.” She said. And that was that.

Unpacking was surprisingly fascinating. The delivered furniture consisted entirely of shelving and there was plenty of it arrayed neatly along all the walls of the huge living room. Everything else was boxes, and most of them were filled with strange and mysterious stuff. One of the first boxes I opened had stacks of really old baseball cards, I mean huge stars from the 50's and 60's: Koufax, Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. They looked old and everything, but oddly they were all in sets of twenty.

“These are worth a fortune.” I said. I got that non committal hum for an answer.

Phoebe opened a box of fossilized skulls which was, well, amazing, but I found myself fascinated by two very well packed ceramic cups. They looked ancient and mysterious, but they were colorful and looked almost like they were covered in cartoons. Wiki noticed my interest.

“Inca Civilization. Late 1400's I think” She said.

I whistled and shelved it carefully. Then I had a thought. “How much of this stuff is for real?”

Wiki looked sideways at me. “Good.” she said with satisfaction. Then she went back to what she was doing. Just when I'd given up on getting an answer she replied without looking. “About half.”

Phoebe and I unpacked and Wiki occasionally answered our questions but otherwise did not help. She was busy on two laptops she had set up, and two cell phones. From what I could tell she was ordering; workmen, furniture, appliances, food, all with such great urgency and force that many of her calls ended with something like “Good, then I'll expect that by 5:00 today. My daughter will receive it.” Wiki didn't exactly sound like an adult, but I could see how on the phone no one could possibly believe anyone who talked like her could be anything but.

“Are you terribly rich?” My sister asked at one point. Wiki didn't answer, but I was already beginning to learn how inquiries worked with Wiki: Reasonable questions Wiki wanted to answer were usually answered with at least some measure of promptness, reasonable questions she didn't much want to answer were only answered if they were very reasonable and after you'd given up all hope of their ever being answered. Good luck with anything else. She did not seem to ascribe to the “There are no stupid questions” school.

Two large refrigerators arrived, an electrician, and a cleaning crew that was really a crew. There were seven of them. Having long ago given up hope on two of our questions Wiki answered them both from out of nowhere. “When you're on your own at twelve you need to be as rich as possible.” After a long pause she added darkly “This is not the best world.”

“It looks like there's a bit more to it than money.” I said. Wiki typed for five minutes and then hummed in a way I decided was pleased agreement, but might have had nothing to do with anything.

By seven everyone was gone from Wiki's new house but us. It looked clean but ramshackle and was half furnished with top-of-the-line sorts of things that bore no relation to each other. We invited Wiki over for dinner, but she declined politely, looking a little wistful, and said she'd see us the day after tomorrow at 10 as if we had already made careful plans.

Phoebe and I made sure to keep our Thursday completely clear, not that the world was so much clamoring for us, just, our summer seemed to be developing a lot of focus. My Dad had made some cookies for us to bring (at Phoebe's insistence) and we stood holding them at Wiki's front door at 9:57. We'd both been busy all day Wednesday, me with baseball and Phoebs with soccer, but clearly people had been swarming all over Wiki's house. On the outside the change was low key , but it was also dramatic to anyone whose memory went back a day or two. Nothing about the house seemed derelict anymore. The whole massive thing was freshly painted. It was subtly straightened and little broken bits fixed like they'd never been broken. The ratty yard was landscaped, simply and neatly, mostly grass, but enough full shrubs and hostas and flowers to make it seem complete. The whole look of the place was not so much that of a place that had been completely and professionally repaired, neatened and landscaped, but that of a place that had always been a nice, well-tended and average (large) house.

We rang Wiki's bell to see if it worked. It did. After a few moments we heard a woman call from a distance. “I'll be just a minute.” About 30 seconds later, through a little speaker, the same woman asked “Who's there?”

“It's Henry and Phoebe.” I said. “We're here to see Wiki.”

There was a short delay, then, “My daughter will be down in just a moment.”

Phoebe and I gaped at each other, then waited. Wiki opened the door. She was grinning. “C'mon in.” She said.

“You have a Mother?” Phoebe asked astonished.

“No.” Answered Wiki very plainly. I came very close to asking who the woman was then, but was saved by the sudden sense that letting Phoebe ask any questions if I could help it would always get me farther. I looked around as we walked into the house.

“But who was the woman?” Phoebe asked urgently.

“Oh, we're alone.” Wiki answered confusingly. “So, what do you think of the place?”

“It's paradise.” I said. And it was.

It was nothing like the outside of the house. It had no interest in being nondescript. It seemed entirely concerned with it's own utility and fun. Things still had no relation to one another, but it had all filled in to where there was something almost gleeful about it, busy but neat, full of lush, plush and colorful furniture, screens and computers perched randomly and scattered generously, glassed in refrigerators next to Greek statues and giant, rough-hewn cabinets carved intricately by hand, pool tables, enormous white boards with racks of dry erase markers. I think Phoebe and I would have been happy for weeks just exploring around in there, trying stuff out. But it was not to be.

“I'm glad you like it.” Wiki said, her mouth full of cookie. “Will you call a cab?” And she tossed me a cell phone.

I've never called a cab. I rode in one once to the airport and several times a few years ago on a trip with my parents to New York. I was sorely tempted to ask Wiki for guidance but also really did not want to. She was showing Phoebe something that was making her look astonished. I scrolled through Wiki's saved numbers. Airport Taxis. Excellent. I called it. “I need a cab.” I said to the person who answered.

“Is this a joke.” The person answered.”

“Uh, no.” I replied. “My aunt said call and get a cab. We're at... What's the street number here?” I called out to Wiki.

“2242.” She called back.

“2242.” I continued to the cab company “Groveland Terrace.” And that was that. They were there in less than ten minutes.

As we piled into the back of the cab the driver, a young Somali guy, said “You kids got money? It costs money you know to ride a cab.”

Wiki handed him three twenties and said “4400 Cedar, just north of the 62.”

“I didn't know cabs were so big inside. This is spacious!” Exclaimed my sister bouncing a little on the just slightly mangy backseat.

“What's the plan, Captain?” I asked Wiki.

She glared a bit. “My harmonicas are missing.”

“You play harmonica?” I asked. Even I could see that was not going to score a real answer.

“They're Bob Dylan's harmonicas.”

“I thought you said they were your harmonicas.” I said.

Wiki stared very hard at me. Phoebe stopped bouncing. I stared back. The cab got very quiet. I held up my hands.

“Look,” I said “I am never going to meet anyone a bit like you and this is all fascinating, but if you're not going to be my friend there is no point.”

“Hmmm.” She replied. “First of all, you're the one being all snarky, and, second of all, I have never had a friend.”

“I bet Phoebs would agree to be thrown in in a two-for-one deal. And I'm sorry I'm so snarky. If we can be friends I can be only sort of snarky.”

Wiki smiled a little. Phoebe said sullenly “Me and Wiki are already friends so you can't throw me in.”

“There you have it.” I said to Wiki “You already have a friend, so there's no precedent to break.” I smiled. I put out my hand. “Same side?” I asked.

“Same side.” She answered. We shook and began to experiment with trusting each other a little.

I looked searchingly at her. She looked straight ahead, but talked.

“As you saw, I had a lot of things moved into my new house. A small box of Bob Dylan's harmonicas did not make it. I believe one of the movers, Raymond March, found them irresistible. We are headed to his house.”

The cab pulled up in front of a small neglected looking one story house with sheets hanging in the windows. Wiki told the cab driver to wait for us and we walked to the front door. Wiki seemed to be taking an interest in everything. I wanted to ask questions, but had become careful of them, or noticed how interestingly they sometimes spilled their own answers around Wiki. We knocked.

A skinny blonde man answered the door in a dirty shirt. The smell of stale smoke greeted us, but the man didn't. He just looked.

“Yes, I know we're kids.” Said Wiki by way of introduction.

“Um.” Said the man.

“Is Raymond here?” Wiki sort of drew out the “Raaay” part of the name in a way that signified a slight hint of contempt. This seemed to win over dirty shirt guy because he snickered a bit and managed to vocalize.

“No.” He said.

Well, it didn't win him over that much because that was it.

“Look, Mitch,” Wiki said after the pause “I have a twenty for you if you can let me know where he is and if he has been excited about anything he recently acquired.”

“How do you know my...Who are you?” Mitch stammered out.

“Ray's newly adopted children. Twenty dollars.” Said Wiki flatly.

“Let's see the twenty.”

Wiki held one out in her two hands, not offering, just exhibiting.

“Ray was all hot on some harmonicas he got, a case of old ones he said Dylan played. They looked like crap to me, but what do I know. I don't know where he went, but I have a good guess for another twenty.”

Wiki nodded ascent.

“Positively 4th Street. It's a Dylan club he hangs out at. Boringest place I have ever been in my life.”

Wiki handed Mitch the twenty and started to leave.

“Hey! My other twenty!” Mitch demanded.

“For twenty dollars” Wiki said “I won't tell Ray you told me any of this. Deal?”

Mitch looked angry for half a second, then considered it and resignedly gestured at us to go.

The cab was still there and as we got in Wiki gave an address on 4th Street.

“That was thrilling!” My sister said enthusiastically. I was pretty high on it myself. What seemed deranged when Mitch answered the door now seemed like a very good way to spend a summer day.

“That was awfully nice, Wiki.” I added.

“It was good to have you two with me.” She said to my surprise. “I think our next stop could get even more interesting.”

Our next stop was in a neighborhood near the U. It was full of bookstores, coffeehouses, used clothes stores and restaurants. Our cab let us out at a set of stairs that headed down to ornate doors with a fancy sign over it that said “Positively 4th Street.” Wiki paid off the driver and we headed down.

The doors were closed so we rang the bell. A voice came over a speaker. “Yes, friend.” It said.

“I'm looking for Ray, Ray March.” Wiki announced.

“He might be here,” the voice said “But Positively 4th Street is for Dylan fans only. No exceptions.”

“You've got a lot of nerve.” I said in a nasally Bob Dylanish voice. 'You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend' is the start of the Dylan song “Positively 4th Street.” The speaker voice was silent, but the door buzzed open. Wiki gave me an impressed look and I shrugged humbly and said “My mom's a fan and it's been growing on me lately.”

“Well, well done.” Said Wiki as we stepped into the establishment.

I expected something of a basement dive, but it was actually pretty nice in there. It was a big room with little tables in the middle, an unattended old fashioned bar off the side and what I think was a stage concealed behind a large red velvet curtain. It was all fancy in a wildly out of date way, but not quite run down, just comfortable. The moment we were in we could hear one man's deep voice carrying above everyone else, all rich and professorial.

“Of course he deserves the Nobel prize.” He was expounding, “But it matters not. Caravaggio could do without a Nobel Prize, Mark Twain, Duchamp. Whatever ahhhwards” (he drew the word out disdainfully) “Pride and Prejudice” or “Catcher in the Rye” receive or don't receive they themselves are fixed points. Whole cultures revolve around them. The view faces one way before, another after. The consciousness of peoples alters on them, and because of them “

As this speech carried on the three of us approached across the room. The speaker was a very large fat man dressed in a white suit. He had a gray-blonde goatee he stroked as he pontificated. He sat in a great tall-backed chair that put one instantly in mind of thrones, but the men and one woman gathered around him seemed comfortable and independent. One was starting some kind of argumentative retort to this when we were noticed. The small group fell silent and the big man said “Welcome to our little club. Can I help you in any way?” He was surprisingly respectful and somehow knew to address himself mainly to Wiki. Perhaps like calls to like.

“I'm looking for Raymond March.” Wiki stated simply.

“And what is your relationship with Mr. March?” Asked the man.

“I am Wiki Magenta.” Wiki said and the man raised his eyebrows, but shook her hand and nodded.

“Thurs Gregor.” Thurs said.

“These are my colleagues, Henry and Phoebe.” We exchanged handshakes as Wiki continued.

“In the process of moving my family's belongings I believe Mr. March walked off with some valuable harmonicas of mine.”

“Harmonicas are not generally known to be terribly valuable or expensive instruments, nor ones highly sought after in a used state.” Mr. Gregor said.

“The value in these is less intrinsic and more historical. Bob Dylan played them extensively.”

Mr. Gregor stroked his goatee several times. “I see. Ray!” He called across the room.

A tall thin man in a stetson hat and jean blazer looked up and headed promptly over to our not insignificant group. He had a bag over his shoulder and a beer in his hand. I was thinking I sort of recognized him from my time watching him unload Wiki's stuff. When he noticed Wiki there was what appeared to be a ever so slight interruption in the flow of blood to his body and face, but it passed quickly and he studiously ignored Wiki as he approached.

“Thurs.” He said in greeting, but there was also a wary question in his voice.

“The young lady here claims those harmonicas we discussed belong rightfully to her. Have you a response to such a claim?”

Ray looked with disgust at Wiki. “Man, this is crazy. What kid, you hear me talking to Chris or something during the move?” He turned to Thurs. “I moved for this kid's family, but I never saw the family. There's something weird going on with this kid, but she's just trying to run some kind of con or something. You know I've been collecting for years.” Ray turned back to Wiki. He didn't seem to breathe. “I've been collecting for years, little one. I've seen Dylan over 200 times, had a beer once with Levon Helm. I have Dylan's own copy of the Pat Garrett Billy the Kid script, signed! By him! You're a five year old kid, where are you gonna get Bob Dylan's harmonicas?”

While I wondered what this guy was even talking about Wiki just stared at him. Thurs stared at him. Everyone stared at him so he just continued talking. “Greatest concert of my life! Dylan was on. He was awesome. Visions of Johanna that would blow your mind. He whips out these harmonicas.” Ray reached into what I thought was a laptop bag he was carrying and pulled out a wooden box. He opened it and lifted up an old, sort of crusty looking harmonica with great reverence. Then, moist-eyed, he continued. “Then Dylan plays Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Greatest thing I ever saw. Took me years to track these down. They meant something to me! They said something to me about my life. You though, you say these are your harmonicas. You tell me kid, how are these your harmonicas? Where did you get Bob Dylan's harmonicas?”

Ray paused again. For breath? For effect? I don't know, but this time Wiki spoke. Calmly, quietly and clearly she said “Bob Dylan has never played Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands in concert.”

“Aw this is ridiculous!” Ray blurted, and he stormed off.

Only the weirdest thing happened. He didn't get anywhere. He struggled, but he couldn't get free. My little sister had him by the hem of his blazer and Ray just couldn't move. He got more and more frustrated until he rared back his arm to hit Phoebe. That's when we all rushed him.

The scuffle wasn't much and a few adults had a good hold of him in seconds. I was gratified to get a good kick in on his shin. He soon went limp and they let him go, but stayed close. One of them took the harmonicas from him. Thurs looked sadly into Ray's eyes.

“Bob Dylan has never played Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands in concert.” He affirmed, shaking his head.

“Fine.” Ray pouted. “Take the stupid harmonicas.” And he walked away. This time no one stopped him.

“Well done.” I said quietly to Phoebe. She beamed.

“Yes, well done to you all.” Thurs added. “Now, Ms Magenta, I'd be most interested in discussing a business proposition with you.”

“And I with you Mr. Gregor.” Replied Wiki.

It really was a great day, except maybe when that guy almost slugged Phoebe. I would have been delighted to see him struck dead in that moment. We hung out at the Positively 4th Street club for a couple hours while Wiki and Thurs conducted their business, We ate pizza and drank sodas and enjoyed some popularity. When it became known that I was a Dylan fan I was overwhelmed with attentions and by the time we left had, believe it or not, 37 burned CDS to bring home with me.

Thurs graciously gave us his chauffeur to get us home. Wiki did not leave with the harmonicas. She had a suitcase instead. I was unable to resist asking what was in it.

Perhaps one day she'll answer.