To find Scarlet’s precious “Frozen” tricycle (retail price: like eleventy-billion dollars), I had to draw on my Mr. Rogers’ fever-dream. FunkMister R told me I had to retrace the steps (or tire-treads, rather) of the trike if I wanted to find it. The next day, after some Fruit Loops and milk (milk poured in after the Fruit Loops, you psychopaths), Mommy drove me over to Scarlet’s for what was nominally a “play-date,” but, in reality, a full-scale investigation that could leave some scars.
As we drove over, I stared out the window, trying to put together what few pieces I had. Like any puzzle I’ve ever done, I kind-of just mashed pieces together randomly, hoping that I’d happen on a match. But Lady Luck was not with me that day. As I was really getting lost in my thoughts, we stopped short outside of Scarlet’s, banging my still-developing forehead on the window. Occupational hazard, I suppose.
I walked up to Scarlet’s giant wooden doors, a juicey in one hand and Mommy’s hand in the other. Before I could even knock, the door swung open. Scarlet was smiling.
“Hi there, Scarlet! I love your dress!”
“Huwwo, Mrs. Wansom. My mommy is upstairs.”
Mommy walked in, and Scarlet’s smile dropped.
“You’re late, Charles. Where in the heck have you been?
“I’ve never known you to swear, Scarlet. Something eating at you?”
“Get in here, you fool.”
Scarlet took me into the playroom, and it was like seeing El Dorado. Operation, Monopoly, Power Rangers, Lincoln Logs, Legos, model trains, Barbie mansions, footballs, basketballs, a foosball table, air hockey, a Wii Platinum, and… could it have really been? I still don’t believe it.
“Yes, yes—Elmo’s goldfish bowl. I had it shipped in last month. Won’t you join me for tea, Charles, and then you can ask me all the questions you’d like.”
The fake tea is cold and the fake biscuits aren’t filling, so I get down to business. “Where was the party that day, Scarlet?”
“In this room. The presents were over in the gaming corner, right next to the bathroom. The room is fairly spacious, so when the actual party took place, we were on the other side room, facing away from the presents.”
“Right. And who had present access?”
“Me, of course. Mommy. Daddy. And Nana, of course.”
“And Nana is your grandmother?”
I write down Grandmother. I’ve known some shady grandmothers in my day.
“Do you mind if I look around the space a little bit?”
“What else am I paying you for?”
Scarlet has a way of grating on a guy’s nerves. Or a girl’s, for that matter. Anyone’s, really. Disregarding her comment, I go over to the present corner. I push an embroidered teddy bear aside, digging through the pile of toys until I hit the wall. Nothing. I look over to Scarlet. C’mon, Charlie, I say to myself, you’ve got a client who’s expecting something from you. I knock against the wall. A hollow sound responds.
Stunned, I try again. Hollow. “Scarlet,” I say, “go turn on the television, real loud.” She obliges, and I kick through the wall. “Scarlet, come on over here.”
“Have you gone mad, Charles? I’ll be grounded for a month! You absolute cretin! You—”
“I’ll take the fall. Come look at this.”
Huffing and puffing, she comes to look at the remnant of the wall. And there it was. A tunnel, dug into the wall, lined with cardboard. A price tag on the floor. I pick it up: “Limited Edition ‘Frozen’ Tricycle.”
“Scarlet,” I say, “we have ourselves a case.”