Friday, March 03, 2006

The Case of the Missing Statue

Someone stole the statue of Mary from the grotto at St. Agnes, my cousins' church, on Halloween. My cousins Eli and Kevin, who are in second and first grade, and my sons Johnny, 5, and Richie, 3, are still trying to solve the case.

Whoever stole the statue also wrote bad words and drew stars inside circles on the stone archway that used to protect Mary from the wind.

The big kids said the culprits killed squirrels and left them by the benches where people used to pray. But the little kids don't know about that. They are having a hard enough time wrapping their brains around the fact that someone stole Jesus' mommy and wrote bad symbols in her place.

My cousin Kevin, 7, said, "They steal Mary? They write devil worship signs? What is wrong with people these days? They worship the devil? They act like the devil! They must think it's opposite day and it's Valentine's Day."

Meaning they hate instead of love.

Though the crime occurred months ago, the boys haven't given up hope on finding the culprit.

I drove the kids down to the creek behind the grotto yesterday.

When it's just the two of them, Johnny and Richie search this shallow creek for crawdads, but with their cousins, the quest is for clues.

With their cousins, Johnny and Richie walk through dark, damp tunnels, where the creek crawls over concrete under a busy street. Alone, they imagine that alligators and trolls populate the tunnel.

With his cousins, Richie laughs instead of falling to pieces when his shoe comes off in muddy water. The big boys help him up. The big cousins bark orders to Richie to avoid tangles of thorn bushes as he climbs up the banks without his mommy's help.

With their cousins, Johnny and Richie are brave. A wolf pack on the hunt.

In the car, the big kids, Hannah and Danny, said there was sad news about the creek. Some kids found a dead dog lying in it.

"I thought it was a dead duck," Kevin said.

"No, you heard wrong," Danny said. "It was a dead dog. But it's gone now."

Everybody was quiet.

We reached the grotto, where the evidence of the Halloween crime had long ago been cleared away. The statue of Mary was still missing. The big kids saw a bad word scrawled on a nearby tree and tied a string around it, crossing it out with a single line.

I imagined a different kind of wolf pack--a group of teenagers who egged each other on to do stupid, mean things--was responsible for all this. And I wondered if, as little kids, they roamed this creek and helped each other up when they tripped over a rock and landed in the water.

The little boys--Eli, Kevin, Johnny and Richie--combed the creek for clues about the thieves. Finding McDonald's cups and french fry containers, Danny, who was too old to play detective but was looking for rocks for his collection, suggested that the bad guys worked at McDonald's. Luckily, before the kids turned the McDonald's employee lounge into an interrogation room, they found a Wendy's wrapper. The theory changed. Now they were looking for chubby people. Guys who ate nothing but French fries and cheeseburgers.

Hannah offered another explanation for all the fast food clues: the teenagers from the nearby high school.

Johnny found a yellow notepad page and Hannah helped him read what it said. It was a list of names, she said.

This was no good. The paper trail was leading every which way but loose. What they needed to do, Kevin and Eli said, was stake out the creek at night. Catch the bad guys--or girls, Eli pointed out--in the act of writing bad words on trees.

Hannah, a seventh grader, and I took turns holding J.J., the baby while the boys followed the trash trail and helped each other when their feet got stuck between rocks.

Occassionally, someone stood on a steep incline and I yelled, "Be careful."

I'm sure the little detectives were thinking, "Who brought their mom to the crime scene?"

Eli kept barking orders to other cops into a folded up piece of purple paper--his "cell phone."

"Oh, no!" I heard Kevin say.

"It's a puppy!" Eli said.

Danny, Johnny, Kevin, Eli and Richie gathered around the dead dog. He was still there after all. For the first time, the little boys turned to Hannah and I. They looked ready to cry.

Hannah held the baby and I climbed down and saw that it was not a puppy but a little dog. A cream colored terrier, his teeth bared, his claws long. He looked old.

My face mirrored the boys. Nobody knew what to do, so Eli laid two sticks over him like a cross.

Johnny had presided over many hermit crab funerals, so he led us in prayer.

"God, this is very sad," he said. "We found this dead dog here. We hope he has a great day in heaven."

"Amen," we answered.

Kevin's voice rose like a preacher's.

"May this never happen again!" he proclaimed. "May he have a great day in heaven."

"Amen," we said again and left the dog to rest in peace. We agreed to call the city police when we got home. Eli called them right away on his paper cell phone.

The boys walked down the creek for a while longer, throwing rocks in the water and squeezing long strands of algae. The wind turned colder and the big boys ran for the car, the little boys chasing after them.

Eli said that because of his long claws, the dead dog was a wild animal. The little boys agreed. They said again that it was very sad.

The dog looked to me like old soul who had walked into the woods to die alone.

It was a mystery, like the missing statue. They weren't related except in that they gave the boys the feeling that things were not as they should be. The dog should not have died alone in the water. The statue of Mary should be in the grotto. Bad words should not be sprayed on trees. These are things little kids know.

Whoever stole the statue probably knew this at one time, too. They got big and forgot. Hopefully, they'll get bigger and remember again. Then they'll walk their dogs by the empty grotto and say a prayer where the statue used to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful,, Beth

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm crying! It was a great day they'll always remember! Thanks, love, Mom

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. to PVD ~~~ So you're making fun of my daughter for having arterial sclerotic heart disease? PB, OTR

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Betsy Delahunt said...

Wonderful characters! Where ever did you get them? Keep on blogging, Bridget! Betsy

11:20 AM  
Anonymous kevin from the story said...

That was a true story and I really loved it, and when can we go again? Thanks for taking me, I hope we can finish the mystery soon! P.S. say hi to Johnny, Ritchie, and JJ for me. Love, Kevin

8:17 AM  

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