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One of the things that Andrew J. Chronister never did was to attend music class. They could not make him, and they knew it. He could not carry a tune, and he knew it. They was the Emerson Country Day School.
Andy had gone to Emerson C.D.S. (Country. Day. School.) for almost seven years, counting kindergarten. The policy there was not to make Andrew go to music but to make him want to go. They never succeeded. So when the other students went to singing, Andy went to the art room where he drew dragons. Sometimes he painted dragons. One was made out of papier-m<$#226>ch<$#233> and two were made out of construction paper, burlap and Elmer's glue; those took four music lessons each and were the largest.
Dragons, however, were not Andy's true passion; crime was. He was determined to be a detective when he grew up. Not an ordinary police detective. A famous one. Famous, tough and cool. Like Ellery Queen, for God's sake.
Immediately after he had decided that he would be a (famous) (tough) (cool) detective, Andy had put himself into training. He would be ready to solve the crime of the century the minute it occurred in Foxmeadow. Foxmeadow was where Andy lived, and it met the logical requirements of being the scene of a puzzling murder. That is, when a famous, tough, cool detective like Ellery or Sherlock solved a crime, it always involved a closed group of people. Like guests in a hotel. Or movie stars working on a film. Or travelers on an ocean liner. Foxmeadow met that requirement. It certainly was closed.
Foxmeadow was part of the town of Gainesboro. It was a ring of houses built around acres and acres (eighteen holes) of a championship golf course. Plus four tennis courts and one swimming pool, Olympic sized. There were only seven named streets and 126 houses in Foxmeadow. But it was home and the whole world to the people who lived there. A fence circled all around it, and a security guard was posted at the only gate. The guard checked cars to see if they belonged. Cars that belonged had a plate saying FOXMEADOW in the place where the front license plate should be. The guard stopped the cars that didn't belong and made them sign (name, time and destination) in. No one ever walked into Foxmeadow. Hardly anyone walked inside it either, except people with dogs of the variety that needed to or people on the golf course who didn't take a cart.
Famous murders were mostly done for money. Or jealousy. Or revenge. Andy figured that money was usually the one reason behind the other two. And Foxmeadow had plenty of the real thing: money. Everyone who lived in Foxmeadow was something between very comfortable and very rich. Andy's family was in the middle; their maid did not live in.
His family consisted of himself (age eleven-and-a-half); a mother, Mrs. Chronister; a father, Mr. Chronister; and a sister, Mary Jane, age twenty-two, engaged to be married on May 17 and making a very big fuss about it. Andy called her Cleopatra because she acted like one.
Andy kept track of everything that happened in Foxmeadow. That was part of his training. He practiced being cool, and he practiced observing: houses, power mowers, deodorants; water softeners and work schedules and the brand names of the champagne bottles tossed into the garbage. Andy counted, too: French poodles (seventeen), garbage compactors (two, but they were catching on fast), Yamahas and Princess telephones. And wedding gifts; his sister had already received a fondue set and two silver coffeepots (one was inherited). Andy also volunteered. He had collected for the Heart Fund, Cancer Crusade, Mother's March Against Birth Defects, Arthritis, Kidneys, Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis. He figured that if one disease could not get him into someone's house, another disease, another month, would.
Andy would be ready the minute a murder was committed in Foxmeadow. He would put all his clues together, gather all his suspects around him and make brilliant deductions. Besides the actual murder, he lacked only one other thing: a sidekick.
Every cool, tough, famous detective had one: a buddy, a pal, someone who ran his errands, someone who understood stood his needs and who took care of the details. Someone who did what had to be done -- even if it was only asking the right questions. Like Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson, and Nero Wolfe had Archie Goodwin, and Charlie Chan had Number One Son. But he didn't have anyone yet.
He had tried the kids in Foxmeadow. They weren't interested in any kind of training unless it involved at athletics. They were all jocks. He had tried Theodore Patterson, Jr., and Harley Preston III, two of his class mates who didn't live in Foxmeadow; they weren't interested either. He had gone to their houses, three times each, but they always did it partly wrong. Like they wanted to give orders as well as take them. And that was not the way a real sidekick worked. The only kind of order a sidekick was supposed to give was, "Be careful, sir" or "Be careful, boss." Boss or sir, it didn't matter to Andrew.
After Theodore and Harley and two jocks from Foxmeadow had failed, Andy had thought of using Timothy Feagin, the daytime security guard at Foxmeadow. An older, crotchety character with a charming brogue might work out. And Timothy was already in the business so to speak. But Andy soon discovered that being a security guard was just a job to Timothy Feagin. He was more interested in getting home to his TV and his beer than he was in fingerprints or handwriting. Besides, Timothy had a bad habit of tugging at his crotch all the time. Andy didn't know where to look when Tim did that, and he always ended up staring at Tim's crotch, something he found very distracting.
As a detective Andrew was supposed to be slightly hard to get along with, in a lovable sort of way; he figured that he already met that requirement. He was hard to get along with, but lovable. Not like his sister Mary Jane. She was hard to get along with but not in any lovable sort of way. He was supposed to be very observant, very cool and was supposed to like the nice things that money can buy without caring very much about money itself. There was another kind of detective, the rough-'em-up, sweaty kind. That was not what he would be. He saw himself as meeting all the requirements of being the kind of detective he wanted to be except that he needed a sidekick. Only rough-'em-up, sweaty detectives like those on television did without.
He was at a low point in his search for a sidekick when he met Mrs. Harry Yakots, named Edith or Edie. She was hardly what Andy had in mind; she was twenty-nine years old and married, for God's sake.
Andy met her after school on the day that she had gone to the meeting of the Foxmeadow Garden Circle. It was the first meeting of the new year and the first one that Edie had ever attended. Edie liked to grow things. She had planted the seed from every avocado she had ever eaten, and she had been talking to plants for a long time before anyone told her that it was good for them. Edie's plants would start growing every which-away before growing straight up (or down). Edie herself would start talking every which-a-way before talking straight up. (She never talked down to anyone.)
Edie went to the Garden Circle meeting thinking that it would give her a chance to talk to someone besides plants. She also wanted to learn about growing day lilies and kumquats. But the ladies didn't know anything about kumquats except what they looked like (shining orange cocoons). And they talked to each other more than Edie. After the meeting was called to order, they talked about their project, which had something to do with gardening, one degree removed. The ladies raised money for the men at the prison farm in Chawtahawnee. The men at the prison farm in Chawtahawnee gardened; they grew vegetables and camellias and leatherleaf fern, and one club member reported that they were growing marijuana between the rows of tomatoes. The president of the Garden Circle made a motion, and the treasurer seconded it, that they form a committee to investigate the marijuana rumors, but they couldn't find a committee. No one in the Garden Circle could tell a tomato plant from a marijuana. Edie could, but she didn't think she should admit it at the first meeting she had ever attended.
The program for that meeting was to visit the art exhibit at Emerson C.D.S. where most of the ladies had a child going to or graduated from. Emerson actually sat on the edge of Foxmeadow; part of the Foxmeadow fence surrounded it, but no one walked there from the meeting. The school was five fairways distant. All the ladies offered each other rides. Edie would have liked to walk, but she accepted a ride from two of the ladies. She rode in the back seat alone, and the ride didn't take long enough for them to become intimate or even well acquainted.
As the ladies walked from one picture to another and talked about detergents and creativity, Edie visited each picture. She smiled at some and tilted her head, puzzled, at others. But when she came to Andy's dragon, she stopped looking. She knew what she wanted to do, and she did it.
She went to the office of the headmaster and asked if she could please purchase the dragon that was on the left wall as you entered the media center. (The media center used to be called the library before it got married to a slide projector and two tape recorders.) The secretary in the Office of the Headmaster said that she would tell Andrew J. Chronister that there was a customer for his dragon.
"How do you know that it is his?" Edie asked.
"Because," the secretary answered, "if it's a dragon, it must be Andy's. This is the fourth year I've been at Emerson, and I can't remember him drawing or painting anything that isn't a dragon. Even when the assignment was to do a self-portrait, his came out a dragon. That was in the third grade,"
"I often feel dragonish," Edie said. "He probably felt it that day. I think that it's perfectly all right to do a dragon as a self-portrait, personally."
"Oh," the secretary replied, "I'm sure it was all right, considering that when he was asked to do a family portrait, his mother, father and sister all turned out to be dragons, too. That was fourth grade. You might say that Andrew J. Chronister is a dragon master."
Edie smiled. "Like George and Michael."
"George and Michael who?" the secretary asked.
"Saints," Edie said. The secretary still looked puzzled. "Saint George and Saint Michael. They mastered dragons."
The secretary said, "Yes...well..." and then asked for Edie's name, address and telephone number and told her that she would give Andrew the message. And she did.
Copyright © 1974 by E.L. Konigsburg