STEVE BRIXTON, A.K.A. STEVE, was reading on his too-small bed. He was having trouble getting comfortable, and for a few good reasons. His feet were hanging off the edge. Bedsprings were poking his ribs. His sheets were full of cinnamon-graham-cracker crumbs. But the main reason Steve was uncomfortable was that he was lying on an old copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, which was 959 pages long, and which he had hidden under his mattress.
If for some reason you were looking under Steve’s mattress and found the Guinness Book of World Records, you’d probably think it was just an ordinary book. That was the point. Open it up and you’d see that Steve had cut an identical rectangle out from the middle of every one of its pages. Then he had pasted the pages together. It had taken over two weeks to finish, and Steve had developed an allergic reaction to the paste, but it was worth it. When Steve was done, the book had a secret compartment. It wasn’t just a book anymore. It was a top secret book-box. And inside that top secret book-box was Steve’s top secret notebook. And that top secret notebook was where Steve recorded all sorts of notes and observations, including, on page one, a list of the Fifty-Nine Greatest Books of All Time.
First on his list was a shiny red book called The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook, written by MacArthur Bart. The handbook was packed with the Real Crime-Solving Tips and Tricks employed by Shawn and Kevin Bailey, a.k.a. America’s Favorite Teenage Supersleuths, a.k.a. the Bailey Brothers, in their never-ending fight against goons and baddies and criminals and crime. The Bailey Brothers, of course, were the heroes of the best detective stories of all time, the Bailey Brothers Mysteries. And their handbook told you everything they knew: what to look for at a crime scene (shoe prints, tire marks, and fingerprints), the ways to crack a safe (rip jobs, punch jobs, and old man jobs), and where to hide a top secret notebook (in a top secret book-box). Basically, The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook told you how to do all the stuff that the Bailey Brothers were completely ace at.
The Bailey Brothers, of course, were the sons of world-famous detective Harris Bailey. They helped their dad solve his toughest cases, and they had all sorts of dangerous adventures, and these adventures were the subject of the fifty-eight shiny red volumes that made up the Bailey Brothers Mysteries, also written by MacArthur Bart. Numbers two through fifty-nine on Steve Brixton’s list of the Fifty-Nine Greatest Books of All Time were taken up by the Bailey Brothers Mysteries.
Steve had already read all the Bailey Brothers books. Most of them he had read twice. A few he’d read three times. His favorite Bailey Brothers mystery was whichever one he was reading at the time. That meant that right now, as Steve lay on his lumpy bed, his favorite book was Bailey Brothers #13: The Mystery of the Hidden Secret. Steve was finishing up chapter seventeen, which at the moment was his favorite chapter, and which ended like this:
“Jumping jackals!” dark-haired Shawn exclaimed, pointing to the back wall of the dusty old parlor. “Look, Kevin! That bookcase looks newer than the rest!”
“General George Washington!” his blond older brother cried out. “I think you’re right!” Kevin rubbed his chin and thought. “Hold on just a minute, Shawn. This mansion has been abandoned for years. Nobody lives here. So who would have built a new bookshelf?”
Shawn and Kevin grinned at each other. “The robbers!” they shouted in unison.
“Say, I’ll bet this bookshelf covers a secret passageway that leads to their hideout,” Shawn surmised.
“Which is where we’ll find the suitcase full of stolen loot!” Kevin cried.
The two sleuths crossed over to the wall and stood in front of the suspicious bookcase. Shawn thought quietly for a few seconds.
“I know! Let’s try to push the bookcase over,” Shawn suggested.
“Hey, it can’t be any harder than Coach Biltmore’s tackling practice,” joked athletic Kevin, who lettered in football and many other varsity sports.
“One, two, three, heave!” shouted Shawn. The boys threw their weight into the bookshelf, lifting with their legs to avoid back injuries. There was a loud crash as the bookshelf detached from the wall and toppled over. The dust cleared and revealed a long, dark hallway!
“I knew it!” whooped Shawn. “Let’s go!”
“Not so fast, kids,” said a strange voice. “You won’t be recoverin’ the loot that easy.”
Shawn and Kevin whirled around to see a shifty-eyed man limping toward them, his scarred face visible in the moonlight through the window.
The man was holding a knife!
That was where the chapter ended, and when Carol Brixton, a.k.a. Steve’s mom, called him downstairs to dinner.
The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity
An Exciting Case
THE BAILEY BROTHERS’ DETECTIVE HANDBOOK tells you how to size up suspicious characters, which is useful if you’re eating dinner with safecrackers, or cat burglars, or your mom’s new boyfriend. Here’s what the handbook says about identifying crooks:
Hey, sleuths! Shawn and Kevin are always on the lookout for lawbreakers! You should keep your eyes peeled too. There are scoundrels everywhere! Spotting baddies is easy. They all look, dress, and act in a certain way! Take it from the Bailey Brothers: There are really only three types of criminals, and once you’ve got their distinguishing features memorized, you’ll be an unstoppable crime-solving machine!
TYPE 1: The Tough Greasy hair Scars on face Stubble Tattoos Loud necktie Cheap suit Poorly concealed knife or gun Limp
TYPE 2: The Ringleader Red hair Shifty eyes Uses gel or pomade Well-trimmed mustache Turtleneck Tall, slender build Mysterious pinkie ring Dressy trousers Limp
TYPE 3: The Hermit Long white hair Wrinkly Crazy gleam in eye Missing teeth Large beard Uses an anchor as a weapon Torn shorts Limp
Steve’s mom had a new boyfriend, a.k.a. Rick. Even though he’d never met Rick, Steve already knew he didn’t like him. Rick might just be a dangerous criminal. Steve secretly hoped so.
When Steve came downstairs, Rick was standing in the kitchen with his hands clasped behind his back. His mom was there too, nervously stirring a pot of spaghetti. Steve strode into the room, looking hard at Rick but trying hard to look like he wasn’t looking.
“I’m Rick,” said Rick. “You must be Steven.”
Rick was five feet ten inches tall.
“Steve,” said Steve.
Rick had a blond mustache.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Steve,” Rick said.
Rick had no knife scars or prison tattoos. At least no visible ones.
“Great,” said Steve, who never knew what to say when people told him they’d heard a lot about him.
It looked like Rick blow-dried his hair.
Rick didn’t have a limp.
Rick was dressed in the tan uniform of an Ocean Park police officer.
And so even Steve had to admit that Rick didn’t fit the description of a hardened criminal. Too bad.
For a few seconds nobody spoke.
“Dinner’s ready!” said Steve’s mom, a little too cheerfully.
Rick was off the hook. For now. There was always Bailey Brothers #24: The Crooked Cop Caper.
Rick may not have looked like a criminal, but he sure ate like a goon. When he sucked noodles off his fork, he sounded like a vacuum cleaner in need of repair.
“What do you like to do for fun, Steve?” Rick asked after slurping a seemingly endless noodle into his mouth.
“I don’t know,” Steve answered. “Stuff.”
Rick raised his eyebrows.
“Steve’s a big reader,” Carol Brixton offered helpfully.
Great. Now Steve was going to have to talk to Rick about books.
“Oh, yeah?” said Rick. “What do you like reading?”
“The Bailey Brothers.”
“Hey,” said Rick, “those books were big when I was a kid. They’re about spies, right?”
“Detectives.” It took all Steve’s willpower to keep his eyes from rolling. Only a doofus thought the Bailey Brothers were spies.
“Right. Detectives. The Bailey Brothers were those kids who were always riding around on motorbikes, saying ‘gee whiz’ and ‘golly’ while breaking up smuggling rings.” Rick was smiling in a way Steve didn’t like. “Well, let me tell you from experience, Steve. Real private detectives are nothing like those Bailey Brothers.”
Steve clenched his teeth. He felt his neck heating up. The Bailey Brothers were real private detectives. This guy didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Trust me,” said Rick, tapping his badge. “I know what I’m talking about. In the real world, detectives don’t use magnifying glasses. They don’t race around in roadsters. There are no hidden passageways. Nope, private detectives spend most their time alone in their cars, eating french fries and spying on jealous men’s wives.”
Steve wished he could wallop Rick with a haymaker punch right to the kisser, just like Shawn Bailey would do. He looked at his mom for help. Unbelievable: His mom was smiling at Rick. She actually seemed interested in what this guy was saying.
“Yep,” said Rick, “real detective work is done by the cops. Take the case I’m working on now, trying to catch this guy they call the Blackbird Robber.”
“The Blackbird Robber?” said Steve’s mom. “Sounds interesting, doesn’t it, Steve?”
Steve had to admit it did sound interesting. Still, he wasn’t going to say so.
“Yep. The Blackbird Robber. A jewel thief. This guy has been terrorizing all the rich old ladies in Ocean Park. Just last week he stole a ring from Mrs. Wertheimer, the woman who owns that mansion on the cliffs. This ring was worth fifty thousand dollars.” Rick whistled. “He took it while she was on a drive up the coast. And nobody can figure out how.” Rick leaned over his elbows and lowered his voice. “The whole place was locked up. Mrs. Wertheimer has the best burglar alarm money can buy. Motion sensors all over the house. Guard dogs so fierce you could catch rabies just from looking at them. I mean, this woman’s got a serious jewel stash, and she’s gone out of her way to make sure it stays safe, you know? But when the old lady got back home that night, the ring was missing from her bedroom. And get this: There were no broken windows, no open doors, and no fingerprints anywhere.”
“My goodness!” said Steve’s mom. Steve didn’t say anything. But he was listening.
“Here’s the weird thing,” Rick said. “The thief didn’t take anything else. This ring was sitting out on a dresser next to a bunch of necklaces, bracelets, fancy watches. But he only took the ring. Guess he’s not too greedy.” Rick chuckled.
Steve rocked back and forth in his chair. He could think better when he was moving.
“Why do they call him the Blackbird Robber?” Steve asked.
“That’s the best part. Every place the thief hits, he leaves behind a calling card: a single black feather. This guy’s so confident he’s taunting us.”
“How exciting!” said Steve’s mom.
“Very exciting.” Rick grinned. “I’ve been pulling up files on jewel thieves from all over the state, and I’m working some promising leads. See, Steve, that’s what real detective work is all about: hard work and diligence.” Rick emphasized his point by gracefully weaving a forkful of pasta through the air and slurping the noodles horribly. His mouth full of spaghetti, Rick said, “And don’t worry. Rick Elliot always gets his man.”
Steve looked right at Rick. “I’m not sure your thief is a man.”
Rick stopped chewing. “A female robber, huh? Look, I’ve always believed women are equal”—Rick looked meaningfully at Carol—“but most jewel thieves are men. That’s just a fact. I mean these guys steal jewelry—they don’t wear it.” Rick laughed at his own joke, and little pieces of spaghetti flew out of his mouth. “But sure, Steve, just for you: Rick Elliot always gets his man or woman.”
Steve kept his eyes on Rick. “I’m not sure the thief is even a human.”