Posts Tagged: Case of the Secret Pitch (1965)

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Herb Stein went to the Brown Detective Agency because his bike had been stolen. Herb’s neighbor said she saw Biff Logan riding off with the bike; and when he went to Biff’s, Herb saw him covering something with a canvas tarp in his backyard. Biff was a 16-year-old who, not only stole bikes from younger kids, but punched anyone he didn’t like in the stomach.

Herb wasn’t about to deal with this himself. Since parents don’t seem too interested in getting involved in their children’s affairs, he went to Encyclopedia to deal with the problem. No seriously, where are the parents? We have a big teen stealing bikes and hitting kids.

Encyclopedia, in a move that predates A Fistful of Dollars, put a piece of sheet metal under his shirt as a kind of armor. Though it predates Clint Eastwood’s character, it should be noted that another Clint Eastwood pulled a similar trick during a gunfight against Mad Dog Tannen in Hill Valley, Calif., in 1885.

The two headed down to a vacant lot next to Biff’s house to make it seem like they were playing baseball. At one point, they threw the baseball over the fence, near the canvas. That way, they had a reason to go into the yard and maybe even sneak a peek under the canvas. Sure enough, there was Herb’s bike lying there on the green grass under the canvas.

Biff came out, angry, and punched Encyclopedia in the stomach, which probably broke his hand. Biff explained that that bike had been under the tarp when he got it and that was two months earlier.

Encyclopedia pointed out that if that canvas had been covering the grass for two months, the grass would have died.

It seems that no one thought to call the cops on this bike thief with a violent past.

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Chief Brown was called to the home of famous blind violinist, Rafino de Verona after he lost a bet to Hans Braun, concertmaster of the Glendon Symphony. The two were hanging out at de Verona’s living room when Braun mentioned liking “locked room puzzles.” I don’t know. Apparently, that’s a thing.

Braun came up with an insane way of passing the time. He was going to put four ice cubes into a glass and leave the room with a bottle of ginger ale. He wanted de Verona to put the glass of ice into the safe and lock all of the windows and the door. And then he wanted de Verona to sit in the room for an hour. He bet de Verona that he could sneak into the room, get into the safe, fill the glass with ginger ale and leave without being heard. They bet each other’s prized Stradivarius violins.

I’m going to come out and say it. The town of Idaville, as a whole, has a gambling problem. I can understand kids putting up their valued possessions in stupid bets because they don’t know any better. In 2006, a Stradivarius was auctioned off for $3.5 million. This doesn’t sound like it should be a multimillion-dollar bet. Twenty dollars, maybe. Fifty, tops.

De Verona checked the glass, and it was filled with ice cubes. He locked up and sat down and waited. An hour later, he hadn’t heard anything, so he opened up the safe. He got the glass and tasted that it had been filled with ginger ale. He lost.

Somehow, Encyclopedia figured out that Braun didn’t fill the glass with regular ice cubes. He figured out that Braun actually brought his own ice cubes made of frozen ginger ale in an insulated bag – and possibly with dry ice, I don’t even know – and put those ice cubes in the glass. That way, he wouldn’t have to break into the room; he would just wait for the ice to melt.

I can’t really say this is a “swish” moment for Encyclopedia. All of this is highly implausible, and there’s no way to prove any of it. I suppose they could ask Braun if that’s actually what happened, but why would Braun tell the truth? He’s the kind of person who would go to the trouble of making up this elaborate challenge that would involve him bringing frozen ginger ale cubes to his friend’s house and starting a conversation that would lead to him using said ice cubes, all so that he could “win” a priceless violin from a blind guy. Does anyone believe that this low-life would own up to any of this? Why would he go through all of that trouble only to crumble the minute someone asks him the truth?

Why did he go through all of that to steal from a blind guy. Braun could have just taken the violin right in front of de Verona, and as long as he was quiet about it, he would have gotten away with it.

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The Brown Detective Agency had an unlikely customer one day. Bugs Meany plopped a quarter down to get Encyclopedia to look into the theft of his pen knife, Excalibur. He claimed that he saw Woody Fanfingle steal it from the Tigers’ clubhouse just fifteen minutes earlier. Why? Because Excalibur is the best pen knife in the world, and because Woody knew that without it, Bugs wouldn’t win Idaville’s Mumblety-Peg championship (more on what the hell that is later).

Bugs said he saw Woody put the knife in his left back pocket as he was running out of the clubhouse. Bugs didn’t chase him because he took pity on Woody. His left arm was broken, so it was in a cast. Yeah, you see where we’re going with this. With is left arm in a cast, why is he putting stuff in his left back pocket? Once again, Bugs could have saved himself by not specifying which pocket, but instead he got burned by giving too much information.

Well, shit. I just ruined the mystery. Whatever, I’ll keep going.

Bugs told Encyclopedia that he didn’t want to accuse Woody of stealing the knife, because he thought that Woody’s mother was going to be Bugs’ teacher the following year. He didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her. He just wanted Encyclopedia to retrieve the knife without anyone knowing. The concern wasn’t that Bugs was lying about whether or not the knife is his. Bugs’ name is carved in the handle.

Sally was suspicious. I would be too. If this was simply a case of needing to track down Woody and getting the knife, why would he need Encyclopedia? He had a band of petty thugs at his disposal. Why wasn’t Bugs saving himself the quarter and getting one of the Tigers to do it?

Encyclopedia found Woody at the Little League game. Though he wasn’t playing, he still got in uniform. The teammates thought he was good luck to have him around. Encyclopedia went down to the locker room (Idaville’s Little League teams have locker rooms?), found Woody’s locker and his pants. Sure enough, the knife was in the left back pocket. He took the knife and put it in his pocket. Before you ask, no, it’s not important which pocket he put it in. That’s when Bugs appeared with Mr. Evans, the school’s security guard. “So you’re the one who has been stealing from the lockers during the games,” Evans said.

At first, this seemed like a remarkably smart plan on Bugs’ part. He gave Encyclopedia a reason to take something from a locker, and then showed up with an adult to make it look like he had been stealing. Except, when you think about it, it’s not really all that great of a plan.

Bugs then told Evans that Woody stole the knife. He didn’t want to publically accuse Woody at first. Why did he change his mind? Well, wait. Who was Bugs accusing here? Encyclopedia or Woody? If it was Woody, then why involve Encyclopedia? If it was Encyclopedia, then that makes even less sense. If he was going to accuse Encyclopedia of stealing something out of Woody’s locker, why have it be an object that clearly belonged to Bugs? If Bugs was telling the truth and Woody did steal the knife, then it would appear that Encyclopedia was just taking something that had been stolen. While two wrongs don’t make a right, Bugs would have no reason to blow the whistle on Encyclopedia taking something to return it to Bugs.

And how shitty is Evans at being a security guard? Someone had supposedly been stealing things from the locker room during games. There was a game going on, he should be keeping watch of the place where people have been stealing stuff. Instead, not only was Encyclopedia able to just waltz into the locker room to take something from a locker – which he would have gotten away with had Bugs not dimed him out – but Bugs was also able to sneak in to plant the knife in the first place.

Of course Idaville’s elementary school would hire the world’s worst security guard.

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In this story, we get a pretty good look at the life of Charlie Stewart, the weird kid with the tooth collection. Charlie and Encyclopedia went hunting for teeth. He likes to go looking for teeth after a good rain. “Rainwater washes off the dirt,” Charlie reasons. Charlie also likes to go barefoot, on the off chance that he accidentally steps on a tooth that he didn’t see.

The two went to the woods near Mill Creek so that they could avoid the garbage dump. Charlie didn’t like the dump because he once hurt his foot on an old dishwasher. The problem with the woods is that it meant that they would have to pass the ancient burial grounds.

The boys found some interesting things. They found two raccoon teeth that were ultimately rejected from the collection because Charlie apparently already had a complete set. They found a Tigers hat, which aroused suspicion. They also found a target attached to a tree near the ancient burial grounds. Encyclopedia wanted to investigate further. I’m not sure why, but whatever.

This required Charlie to get on Encyclopedia’s shoulders to get a better look. Sure enough, it was a target filled with pellets. I don’t know what else he was expecting to find near a target besides evidence that someone had been shooting at it. Whatever, kids are curious.

At some point, Charlie’s left big toe got injured. Upon closer inspection, they figured out that he had actually been shot with a pellet.

Later, a doctor tended to the wound as Charlie’s mother looked on. Charlie’s mother asked if they knew who shot him. They mentioned that they had noticed a Tigers hat in the area. I’m not one to come to the defense of the Tigers, but the fact that one of their hats was nearby is, by no means, proof of anything.

Mrs. Stewart then showed the first instance of good parenting we’ve ever witnessed in Idaville. She told them to “stay away from those boys. They’re wild. Let the police handle them.” Great idea, even if it’s from the woman who allowed her son walk around the dump barefoot so that he could build up his tooth collection.

The doctor told them that they would need an old shoe of Charlie’s, so that they can cut a hole in it to allow room for the bandage. Mrs. Stewart sent Encyclopedia to her house to get a shoe. On his way, he passed Tiger member Duke Kelly, pacing up and down the sidewalk with a worried look on his face. Encyclopedia asked Duke to go to Charlie’s house to get an old shoe.

Encyclopedia! Mrs. Stewart just told you to stay away from the Tigers. When she said that, she didn’t mean, “please send one of them to my house while I’m not there.”

Duke returned with a left shoe, which Encyclopedia thought was a little weird because he didn’t specify which shoe to get. Duke knew which shoe to get because he’s the one who shot Charlie.

Duke claimed that he didn’t mean to shoot Charlie. He meant to shoot near the two of them to scare them away from their secret shooting range.

I feel like I should reiterate the fact that this town has ancient burial grounds and that it was used as a secret shooting range.

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Sally had a date with Percy Arbuthnot, a poetry-spewing fancypants who went to school in England. Percy put it in Sally’s head that a girl shouldn’t be a bodyguard because it’s not ladylike.

Percy was going to show Sally a good time. By that, I mean he was going to get dressed to the nines and take her to the movies to see Gone With the Wind. He was going to have a taxicab pick her up because, as the Internet meme would say, bitches love taxicabs.

Encyclopedia, clearly seething with jealousy, went to the movie theater to spy on the two lovebirds. He was staking out at the theater when, sure enough, the cab dropped off Percy and Sally. As they were walking to the theater, a teenager bumped into Percy. Percy put his glasses into his breast pocket and challenged the older boy to a fight. They traded body blows while Percy was spouting rhymes and stanzas until Percy finished him off.

He put his glasses back on ready to go his merry way. Sally called him a phony. Percy, obsessed with his honor, told Sally that he would hit her if she wasn’t a girl. Sally said, “Nuts to that,” and gave Percy a good punch, knocking him out.

Sally knew Percy was faking because he put his glasses in his breast pocket and then got punched several times in the torso. That would have broken his glasses, unless the much bigger kid was holding back, which he was. Percy’s plan was to have a bigger kid instigate a fight with him and then he’d beat up the bigger kid in front of Sally, because bitches love violence.

Did Percy actually think this would work? Let’s assume that Sally is the kind of person who finds dating a violent person a turn on, was he going to spend the entire relationship arranging for different people to have fake fights with him? Eventually, he’d build up a reputation as a fighter, and then someone’s going to want to actually fight him. Or, word would get out that he’s a liar, which would get back to Sally.

Sally Kimball could do a lot better.

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Encyclopedia was hanging out with his friends at Mill Creek when his father picked him up on his way home from the police station. He appreciated being in his father’s air conditioned car.

Then, The Chief’s radio gave news of a bank robbery. The getaway car, which had four or five guys in it, was last seen heading north on National Highway. The Chief went towards the highway. Yes, he willingly involved his 10-year-old son in a police chase with a gang of potentially dangerous bank robbers.

On their way to the highway, they saw a hitchhiker. The Chief stopped to see if he had seen the getaway car. The hitchhiker said that he had been standing out there for about an hour and that he had seen the car in question. He pointed out which direction they went. Father of the Year did what anyone in his position would do: he told the stranger to get into the car, with his son, so that he could help identify the car.

The hitchhiker paused. He was worried that he was going to get arrested for hitchhiking. He didn’t know this, but this was actually a valid concern. Remember, following another bank robbery, The Chief went after the blind beggar for violating the town’s panhandling laws, and not the guy who fired a gun in a crowded bank.

The Chief promised that the hitchhiker was not going to get arrested for hitchhiking, so he got in, and they went on their way. The hitchhiker, being the polite citizen, offered Encyclopedia and The Chief an orange or some chocolate. Encyclopedia asked his dad if he could have some chocolate. The Chief, who had already put his son in enough danger, responded with, “Of course you can have candy from a stranger.”

As Encyclopedia ate the candy, he wondered why chocolate that had supposedly been in the bag of someone standing out in the heat for over an hour wasn’t melted.

Well, because he was part of the group who robbed the bank. That’s why. He had actually just gotten out of an air conditioned car, but he lied.

Wait, so he helped robbed a bank, and part of the plan was for him to get out of the getaway car and hitchhike somewhere? What kind of plan is that? Where was he going? I understand it’s smart to split up, but why not plan ahead and park a car somewhere. Wouldn’t it be better to drop off your co-conspirators at a car where they can drive away and not just some random spot on the side of the road where he could be spotted by the police?

And why would a bank robber willingly get into a police car? If he’s hitchhiking after a bank robbery and a squad car asks him for questions, he shouldn’t say, “Yeah, I’ll get in your car and help you find these guys.” He should say, “Yeah, I noticed the car, but I didn’t really get a good look at it. Have a nice day. Bye.”

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The “Historic Scenes of the Old Wild West” tour continued. Mr. Scotty told the story of Outlaw Cemetery.

In the 1880s, a group of five bank robbers hit the bank and made off with $12,000 in gold. When Sheriff Wiggins heard about the robbery, he left so quickly after the outlaws that he forgot his gun, so a posse left and followed the sheriff to get it to him.

When the posse reached the sheriff, he had been shot in the arm, but the outlaws were dead. The sheriff said that one of the guys shot at him twice, with one of the bullets hitting him. He was able to wrestle the six-shooter out of the outlaw’s hand and shoot him with it. Then he shot the other four in no time.

The money was recovered and the sheriff became an instant hero. There was talk of him running for president (which seems silly, but whatever). Everyone loved him, except for Mr. Baker, the bank’s president. Mr. Baker made an announcement, which caused everyone in town to change their mind about the sheriff. He was hanged the next day.

Mr. Scotty challenged the tour group to guess what Baker said?  No one knew, except for Encyclopedia, that Baker questioned the sheriff’s claim that the gun he took from the outlaw shot seven bullets.

Apparently, the sheriff was in on the robbery. While the group was making their getaway, they supposedly got into a fight over how to split up the gold. I don’t know how it started, but it was possibly when someone asked, “Hey, why are we splitting the money with the crooked sheriff who had absolutely nothing to do with the robbery?” A gunfight among the six of them broke out and the sheriff was the last one standing. He was ready to make off with the money, but the posse arrived and he had to make up the story about shooting everyone when the posse arrived.

According to the story, he didn’t forget his gun. He just left it, because he thought he wouldn’t need it. He was traveling with a group of outlaws who just stole $12,000 and he didn’t think he needed his gun?

Also, I’m a bit uncomfortable with how easily swayed everyone in this town supposedly was. Everyone loved this sheriff until the banker asked how the gun shot seven bullets. No one seemed to care what the answer was. No one considered the fact that he was able to fast enough to reload the gun in time to shoot the remaining outlaw. I find it hard to believe that everyone in town turned on the sheriff so quickly. Even if he had come up with a flimsy excuse, someone would have been gullible enough to believe him.

These people sound dumber than the ones in Idaville. Speaking of Idaville, this lame two-story “Hey, let’s go to Texas” arc is now over, which means that Encyclopedia can go back to solving Idaville cases.

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Idaville’s police blotter had been quiet for a couple of days, so instead of the normal dinner conversation of Encyclopedia figuring out things his police chief father couldn’t, the Browns had to result to normal conversation. That’s when they got the idea to go on vacation in Texas.

While there, the Brown men took a tour of “Historic Scenes of the Old Wild West,” and Encyclopedia used that opportunity to learn that the people of Idaville weren’t the only ones in need of Encyclopedia’s brain.

One of the stops in Mr. Scotty’s tour was the spot of an 1870s gunfight that started with a poker feud. Johnny Kid claimed that Ringo Charlie was a cheater, but he was the fastest draw in Texas and he seemed to be related to half the town, so challenging him to a duel didn’t seem like a good idea. Instead, the story goes, Johnny Kid decided to ambush his rival one morning. He stood behind a rock and waited. When Ringo Charlie’s shadow appeared, Johnny Kid jumped out and shot.

Ringo Charlie was hit, but he got back to town and his relatives ran Johnny Kid out of the state.

Encyclopedia knew that Ringo Charlie was lying because the sun would have been behind Johnny Kid the morning of the gunfight, just as it was the morning of that tour. Since the sun was behind Johnny Kid, Ringo Charlie’s shadow would have been behind him, not in front of him.

Ringo Charlie probably made that up because he was upset about losing the gunfight.

Encyclopedia Brown took a beloved story from local folklore and disproved it. It’s kind of like when Lisa Simpson started telling people that Springfield’s founder wasn’t a hero, but a murderous pirate who even got into a fight with George Washington.

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Encyclopedia’s rich schoolmate, Bobby Tyler, was kidnapped and Bobby’s neighbor, Mr. Potts, said he saw Izzy the Balloon Man take him.

Izzy drives a truck around town and sells candy, ice cream and soda to the neighborhood children. If a child spends more than 70 cents, Izzy blows up a balloon for the customer.

One afternoon, Potts was hanging out in his backyard with Reverend Bevin when he noticed one of Izzy’s signature balloons up in his tree. While he was on a ladder to retrieve the balloon, he was able to see over a brick wall into the Tylers’ yard. That’s when he saw Bobby get into Izzy’s truck. Potts mentioned that to Bevin, but neither thought it was very noteworthy because the children of Idaville are seemingly always getting into people’s trucks.

Later, when Bevin heard that Tyler had been kidnapped and that his parents received a ransom note demanding $60,000, he told Potts to tell the police what he saw. Potts told The Chief, but the police had not been able to find Izzy.

Encyclopedia told his dad that no one could find Izzy because Potts kidnapped him, along with Bobby. He knew that because Izzy blows his balloons up himself. The one in Potts’ tree was filled with helium, so he must have planted it himself in order to cook up the story about seeing Bobby getting into Izzy’s truck.

Potts, it turns out, is kind of a sick bastard. He rented the place near the Tylers’ home so that he could kidnap their son for ransom money. He also abducted Izzy, so that he could frame him for Bobby’s kidnapping. He even concocted a situation where he’d plant a balloon in his tree, invite the Reverend over and make up that lie about seeing Bobby getting into Izzy’s truck.

That’s a pretty complex plan. I’d say I really have to hand it to Potts for going through those lengths, except for the fact that he didn’t seem to take into account what would happen later. If all went according to plan, he’d get the $60,000 and Bobby would return home, where he would likely tell his parents or the police who the kidnapper was. I buy the fact that maybe Potts would scare Bobby into not telling anyone that he was the kidnapper, but what about Izzy? Potts isn’t going to scare an adult into not telling the authorities. Even if Izzy didn’t go to the police as soon as he was released, the police would be looking for him because he was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. Izzy would get questioned and he would immediately say that Potts kidnapped the both of them.

Now we have Potts’ word against Izzy’s. The next thing the police would do is ask Bobby again. Who is Bobby going to throw under the bus? The beloved balloon man who shared this harrowing experience with him or the creepy neighbor who is actually guilty?

Was Potts planning on killing Izzy so that he wouldn’t talk to the police? I would imagine the Idaville PD would take a homicide case pretty seriously. They would wonder who killed a recent kidnapping suspect, but they’d also wonder why he didn’t have the $60,000 he had just supposedly received.

Potts didn’t realize just how complicated a double-kidnapping is.

Also, I have some business advice for Izzy. Buy a helium tank for your truck. Helium balloons are less lame than regular ones.

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Speedy Flanagan paid a visit to the Brown Detective Agency in regards to a bet he had entered with Bugs Meany. Bugs bet Speedy that he would be able to sell New York Yankees star pitcher Robert “Spike” Browning a new kind of pitch. The winner would get the loser’s baseball bat. Speedy took the bet. Who wouldn’t?

C’mon, if I bet you that I would be able to not only meet Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but I’d also be able to teach him a new way to pass a football, you’d be a fool not to take this bet.

However, Bugs visited New York with his father and returned with a check for $100 and a letter thanking Bugs for the advice, both supposedly signed by Browning. Bugs’ pitch called for the pitcher to cross his eyes so that he’d be able to see the runners at first and third base at the same time. According to the theory, the runners would be able to see that the pitcher was watching them, and keep them from stealing a base or getting too much of a lead.

Speedy thought this entire story was complete bullshit, and for good reason. However, since Bugs seemed to have proof, Speedy had to accept his defeat. Of course, he made a beeline to Encyclopedia, whose reaction to this story was not, “What?! How frickin’ insane is this asshole to dream up such crap? That’s idiotic.” I make note of that, because that was my reaction as I was reading it.

The two went to the Tigers’ clubhouse and asked Bugs to see the proof. Bugs showed them the check – which, though it looked like it wassigned by Browning, didn’t have his name and address printed on it, as checks should – and a letter; both dated June 31.

Are you serious, Bugs? You invent this preposterous story of helping a professional athlete’s career all for some kid’s baseball bat and you eventually get burned because you don’t know that June has only thirty days? Why not keep it simple and just bet the kid that he could get Browning’s autograph? At least that’s plausible and much easier to fake.

You would think with all of the lies this asshole spews, he’d eventually get somewhat good at it. But no. In this case, practice does not make perfect. He’s an awful liar and an awful person.