I found out I wanted to be a detective a long time ago when I was just a kid. I learned back then that I didn’t want to just solve crimes, I wanted the bad guys to pay for what they did. That was before I knew anything about the criminal justice system. That was before I knew a crook could go in and out of the system and forget about what he did before the victim was able to clean up the mess. Without knowing any of that, I had a feeling back then: if I didn’t do something, the bad guys wouldn’t pay. That just wasn’t right.
I remember my dad took me camping that summer. I had just gotten a bike for my birthday – a blue BMX bike. I scraped Mike into the down tube part of the frame with a nail: they called me Mike back then. I begged my dad to let me take my bike with us to camp. He let me take it as long I promised not to ask him to repair any flat tires.
I had the best time riding that bike on the trails. I didn’t need to worry about cars. There were no dogs around. There was only the crackling sound of tires rolling over the trail. I rode through the woods. The trees flew past me in a blur. The clean air gently stroked my face. I felt like I was going 100 miles per hour.
Part of the trail led me out of the woods to a river. It was a discovery for me. I was as excited as if I was the first ever to see it. I rode up right next to a big tree, jumped off my bike, and gently leaned it on the tree. I glanced proudly at my transportation before walking away. I was grateful to it for making my adventure possible.
I had some crackers in my pocket. I wanted to feed them to fish. I walked up and down the shore looking for some, but you know how they hide when they see you coming. After some time looking, I stood quietly in one spot for a minute. Then, I tossed some bits of cracker next to a weed bed that I saw in the water. Sun fish came out and ate the crumbs. I felt like I was doing something good. I don’t know how long I did that. You know how it is when you’re having fun.
When I ran out of crumbs, I went to get my bike. My brand new bike was gone.
I had to walk back. I was going to have to tell my dad that someone stole my bike. He was going to ask me what I was doing when I let that happen – as if I let it happen. The trees didn’t fly past me in a blur. They stood tall and silent. They looked down at me with pity. I didn’t want to look up at them, so I looked down at the ground as I walked.
It was a good thing that I did, because I noticed bicycle tracks going on and off the trail. They were fresh. I rode down the middle, so they weren’t the tracks I made. Tracks on the hard worn trail could not be seen. The only tracks I could see were those left where someone rode on and off. I think I gave too much significance to those tracks, but they were the only clue I had. So, I looked for them and saw them appear now and then as I walked back to my campsite.
A good distance before my camp, the tracks led off of the trail completely. There were two sets of tracks. I hoped that the tracks would lead to my bike. Even if they didn’t, maybe the riders saw something.
The tracks led to a campsite. I couldn’t follow them further since the tires didn’t leave marks on the well beaten ground. I looked around. There was a woman sitting on a camp chair looking through a magazine. The camp looked like it was made for more than a few people, but I didn’t see anyone else around. No bikes.
Then, I heard a little kid’s voice. “Hi, I’m Mason,” the voice said. I looked around and saw a happy blond haired boy looking at me with innocent maple syrup colored eyes. He was standing at the threshold between the woods and camp. “I’m going to be six. What’s your name?”
“Mike,” I replied. “Hey, did you see someone ride a bike through here?”
“Yeah, Chris and Josh.”
“Who are Chris and Josh?”
“Chris is my brother. Josh is our friend.”
“So they rode their bikes through here?”
“Yeah, I don’t have a bike,” Mason said. He looked at me as if waiting for a reply. To keep the conversation going he added, “They have an old one and a new one.”
“I had a new bike too. It was blue.”
“His new bike is blue.”
“Your brother’s new bike?”
“My brother has a black bike.”
“So your friend has a new blue bike?”
“I’m getting sticks for the fire,” Mason said. He grew tired of the subject of the bikes, but he wanted to keep the conversation going.
“Mason, do you know how many bikes you brought?”
“I can count to a hundred,” he said keeping off the subject of the bikes. “Do you want to hear me count?”
“No, that’s OK. Where’s your brother?”
“They went to the pond. They wouldn’t take me with them.”
What Mason said sounded strange to me and not just because he was five. I didn’t want to keep asking him questions that led nowhere. I also didn’t want to attract his mom’s attention. I wouldn’t know what to tell her if she asked me what I was doing at her camp.
I remember thinking that everyone with a bike was a bicycle thief until I knew they were not. These two boys were the only people near me with bikes. I had to check them out. If they didn’t take the bike and knew nothing, then I would need to go back to camp and tell my dad it had been stolen. If they did take the bike, I wanted several things happen. I didn’t know how I was going to make them happen, but I wouldn’t be able to walk away without trying.
When I arrived at the pond, I saw two boys fishing. They used red berries on a hook tied to fishing line that was tied to a stick. I could name them by looking at them. Chris was blond and looked like a bigger more athletic version of Mason. Josh was the other one. He had red hair, freckles, and was dressed in black clothes meant to look rebellious.
I looked around the perimeter of the pond and saw two bikes. They looked like they had been carelessly thrown down on arrival. One bike was black. The other bike was a blue BMX like that one that was stolen from me.
I walked quietly and concealed by the woods to where the bikes were. The boys were distracted by fishing like I was distracted when I fed crumbs to the fish. I wondered if they had watched me as I watched them. They could not have been as excited as I was because they did not have as much to lose.
I got close enough to inspect the blue bike. I was sure the stores sold many blue BMX bikes. It could have been a coincidence that these boys had a bike just like mine, but this bike had Mike scraped into the down tube.
I could have hopped on, rode off, and that would have been the end of it; but that wasn’t going to satisfy me. I flipped the front quick release. I turned it counterclockwise a few times to loosen it up. Then, I walked toward the boys.
“Which one of you stole my bike?” I asked. Chris looked at me with startled brown eyes. Josh was not surprised in the least. He looked over at me like I had just asked for directions. I couldn’t be sure by their reaction who stole it, so I asked again. “Which one of you stole my bike?” They didn’t answer. It was important to me to identify the thief and the accessory. I wasn’t going to let it go.
They both clutched their fishing poles. I couldn’t tell if they were going to hit me with them. They both looked toward the bikes on the ground. I didn’t stand between boys and the bikes. Josh motioned toward them with his head telling Chris it was time for them to go. They walked slowly, wrapping the line around their fishing sticks using an exaggerated threatening motion.
I let them get close to the bikes. When I felt the timing was right, I snatched up from the ground a large branch. The boys ran, hastily picked up the bikes, got on, and pedaled madly away. Chris rode the black bike. Josh rode mine.
Josh hit a bump in the trail. The fork and wheel separated. The wheel continued rolling forward, but the fork stabbed itself into the dirt. The bike and rider flipped forward. Josh hit the ground making a dull, heavy sound.
Chris stopped. For a moment there was complete silence. Josh started to cry. Chris looked at Josh who was a mess on the ground. Then, he looked at me. I walked calmly to Josh holding the branch in my fist and stood over him. I waited and let the fear of what I might do with the branch grip them.
I watched Chris’s face. I waited for one moment. I waited for the moment when Chris realized that they wouldn’t be where they were if they hadn’t stolen that bike. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees joined Josh’s sobbing. Then, Chris’s eyes marked that moment. I dropped the branch, retrieved my wheel, attached it to my bike, and rode casually back to my camp.