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.”