“Study this photo, class, and tell me what you see,” instructed Lewis Golden, a math teacher at the Marin Middle School in Carmen, New York. Lew held up a picture of a tortured, dismembered body. The seventh graders squealed with delight before he slapped the picture face down on his desk and took several deep breaths to compose himself.
The realization came too late. When he stopped by the crime lab this morning to have a cup of coffee with his brother Ralph in nearby Renssalear, he picked up the wrong folder from his brother’s cluttered desk. Lew’s folder had photos of rare plant and insect specimens which he was going to incorporate into a statistical study project for the class in session.
Right now, faced with the prospect of having to scrap the Tuesday morning project, he decided he could make this error work for him.
Giving the class a five minute drill assignment, and managing to keep his breakfast down while flipping through the grotesque photos in his brother’s gory collection, Lew chose several photos suitable for viewing by the youngsters.
Lew rapped his desk with a pointer. “Class, there will be a change in format. Rather than studying plant and insect specimens, we’ll identify geometric patterns and shapes.”
Moaning and caterwauling erupted in the classroom.
“We’ll make the project fun. I promise.” Lew indicated the photograph pinched between his thumb and forefinger, depicting a large metal beam falling from a New York City skyscraper with black geometric patterns of tall and angular buildings in the background.
“Who will be first to identify two geometric shapes and give a brief sci-fi fantasy?” Lew asked.
A wriggling hand rose in the third to last row.
“Jeremy Therry.” Lew nodded at the tall, stocky youth.
Jeremy stood up awkwardly and said in a changing voice, “I see two squares a little left to the asymmetrical gray shapes in the middle of those big buildings. The squares are alien computer boxes and Venus microchips are stored inside them, meaning big trouble for the people in New York City.” He pressed inky fingertips to his pudgy lips. “Uh, Mr. Golden, can we see those other pictures, pul-ease.”
All of the youngsters chanted, “More, more…of what we had before.”
Lew scratched the stubble on his chin. “For obvious reasons, class, we cannot view the first set of photos. I apologize for my absentmindedness. I must return that package of photographs to Detective Golden as soon as possible.”
Lew grimaced at the thought of Ralph frantically searching for the explicit crime photos in his smoky, airless office at the Rensselaer Police Headquarters. He winced at the thought of Ralph’s reaction as he eyed the pastoral nature scenes. He planned to call him during recess to confirm the mix-up.
“Let’s continue.” He gave Jeremy permission to sit down.
A small, straight arm stretched upwards.
Golden looked over his glasses at the waif-like Tarah Lawrence.
Tarah arose lazily, twiddling a pink plastic medallion hanging on a silk ribbon circling her neck. She squinted hard at the picture, having left her eyeglasses at home. “I see,” she said in a tiny voice, “a message. It’s inside a triangle and there’s another message inside a square.” She looked shyly at her instructor.
Lew drummed his fingers on his desk contemplating what appeared to him to be squiggles.
“And what do these messages say, Tarah?”
A funny expression came on Tarah’s face. She said, “from right to left…’Horse is smoked’…that’s in the triangle, and in the square, ‘Ashes are snorted’…’Runner’ is printed in the small script at the bottom of the page.”
Lew knew just enough about police work to be dangerous. Intuitively, he felt Tarah was on to something. Why, he couldn’t say. He just did.
“How did you come by these messages, Tarah?”
“The codes are written in hieroglyphics, Mr. Golden,” Tarah explained. “My dad is an Ancient History Professor at MST College. He and I decipher hieroglyphics every night after supper, instead of watching television. It’s like a game. Sometimes we play Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble, too.”
Lew announced in a loud voice, “Class, go to your library stations immediately and bring your math assignments. Ms. Harris will monitor you while I attend to some urgent business with Tarah.”
“Not fair!” the class thumped their desks before order could be maintained.
Lew Golden sat opposite his brother, Ralph, and Ralph’s superior, Detective Mick Connors, in Connor’s paper-littered office at the 7th Street Precinct in Rensselaer.
Tarah Lawrence leaned forward on the desk with chin in her hands, sipping a Diet Pepsi through a straw. Her dad stood behind her with his back against the wall, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
“Tarah,” Lew coaxed. “I want you to answer Investigator Golden’s questions about the assignment we did in class today.”
Tarah slurped Pepsi and nodded.
Ralph Golden’s stern, hard-lined face softened as he spoke, “Tarah, this photograph is important to an investigation we are doing into a drug ring. Will you decode the hieroglyphics for us?” He made eye contact with her father.
“Tarah’s an expert.” Ty Lawrence said with confidence.
“Repeat to me what the message in the triangle means,” Detective Golden pressed.
Tarah viewed the skyscrapers.
“Horse,” Tarah answered.
“And in the big square?”
“Ashes.” In a tiny, breathless voice, she added, “And in the middle square, the little words mean ‘Bronx.’” Then she pointed to the square at the bottom of the page. “‘Runner.’”
Ralph rolled his chair back and said to his brother, “Do me a favor, Lew, give an A plus or higher to Tarah if that’s possible. This young lady has cracked a tough case. That photo, which was on its way to a dealer and was intercepted by one of our men, has been dubbed at the Precinct, The Mysterious Photograph. No one in the squad has been able to come up with a solution. I’ve just made contact with an expert to decode these hieroglyphics. Along comes a pint-sized kid in my academic brother’s classroom who decodes messages through hieroglyphics with her dad, and lifts the lid off a million dollar heroin ring that reached from South East Asia to New York City and Albany.”
Mick Connors twisted his 6’ 4” frame out of his chair. He dwarfed the others in the room and said, “I’ll never let my men live this down. Furthermore, due to the crime-busting success of Miss Lawrence, guess what’s going to be a requirement for all squad members including you, Ralph.”
He turned to Detective Golden.
Ralph rolled his eyes. “I can’t wait to hear this.”
“Hieroglyphics!” Connors sneered.
The Lawrences’ left the Precinct, having been assured the drug dealers would be arrested and jailed for a long time.
Lou laughed at the smouldering look on his brother’s face.
“Must I take a course in hieroglyphics?” Ralph lip-synced.
“What was the message Tarah decoded?” Lew broke into his brother’s meanderings.
Ralph massaged the back of his neck and said, “The message in the triangle alluded to ‘Horse,’ and the one in the square, ‘Ashes’ – in some cases equals ‘smack,’ both of which to drug users are known as heroin. The tiny, cramped wording in the bottom square refers to the ‘Bronx,” where the dope was to be cut and diluted into a quantity four times its original weight.
Once cut and packaged for sale, it was to be shipped to drug peddlers upstate. With the help of the national computer system, I was able to track the code in the square at the bottom of the page revealing Eddie Hodges, alias ‘Runner,’ as head of the ring. Hodges has eluded international police and our police force for more years than I care to remember. Once in a while you get lucky.”
There was a buzz of excitement in the middle school auditorium. Tarah Lawrence stood beaming on the stage. Her parents stood at her right, and teacher, Lew Golden, at her left.
Detective Ralph Golden was behind the podium, flanked by Detective Mick Connors and several officers from the Rensselaer Precinct. Detective Golden looked out at the audience consisting mostly of students being hushed by their teachers. He cleared his throat and explained how the mix-up between the two folders had transpired. He went on to describe the success Tarah Lawrence had in decoding the hieroglyphics which led to the closure of the Mysterious Photograph case.
In a formidable voice, he said, “Tarah Lawrence, we present you with this $300.00 check and a plaque stating you are a Nancy Drew Detective in the Renssalear Police Department. We look forward to your further sleuthing with the Force in the future.”
There was a standing ovation and loud applause from the audience as Tarah wobbled up to the podium in high-clog shoes to accept her awards.
“And to my brother, Ralph Golden, who wisely brought the answers to the drug ring to our attention, albeit through a mistake, I return your manila folder.”
There were hoots and hollers from the students as Lew accepted the nature prints from Ralph and returned a brotherly grin.
Ralph motioned Tarah to come forward again, and handed her an envelope. “The Police Department also wishes to send you and a classmate, Mr. Golden, and Dad, in a limo to The Dinosaur Restaurant for dinner.”
Tarah Lawrence and Lew Golden raised their entwined hands in the air. Lew shouted, “Hey kids – it doesn’t get any better than this!”
© 2016, Patricia Crandall. All rights reserved.
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