The Case of the Mysterious Man
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction

by HA
        21.000 words




The Case of the Mysterious Man: Chapter 1

Shirley Holmes sat in the attic and clipped out the top story in the newspaper. She studied the headline: "MONA LISA STILL MISSING."

As Shirley placed the clipping in her scrapbook, she thought about the amazing theft. The Mona Lisa, one of the world's well-guarded art treasures, had been missing for a week now. Police around the world were baffled; there were no breakthroughs. The thief or thieves had gotten away without leaving any clues or a ransom note.

Shirley went downstairs to the kitchen, where her father, Robert, and grandmother, Peggy, were having breakfast and watching TV. The reporter on the TV was talking about the theft of the Mona Lisa. "As of yet, Interpol and the Paris police are still trying to find the missing masterpiece."

"Hi, Dad. Hi, Gran," Shirley greeted as she sat down to have a quick bite. Mr. Holmes and Gran returned the hello silently and continued to watch the local news.

"Speaking of the police, the Redington Police Department received a strange note yesterday," the reporter said. "Inspector Markie, who was the first to read the note, read it to our field reporter."

The TV then showed Inspector Markie holding a piece of paper. Shirley knew Inspector Markie from previous encounters; fortunately for her, he did not know her.

"'Playing is easy and fun, but the clothing is murder,'" the police inspector read. When asked what it meant, he replied, "It's utter nonsense. Probably some wise guy's idea of a joke. We're not going to waste our time investigating it."

As the reporter moved on to other stories, Mr. Holmes said to Shirley, "Can you believe it, Shirley? The Mona Lisa, stolen! And no one has a clue on who did it."

"Since there's no ransom note, maybe the thief did it to keep it, to sell it, or to just prove it's possible," Shirley said.

"For any reason, it would be difficult to keep the Mona Lisa," Gran said. "The Mona Lisa is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. No one would be stupid enough to buy it."

Shirley was not so sure about that. The whole subject was dismissed when something more important was brought up by Mr. Holmes. "Better go to school, dear, and let the proper authorities handle this matter. You don't want to be late...again."

Later, in Sussex Academy's lunch hall, Shirley talked with her friend, Bo Sawchuk, about the Mona Lisa theft. "What do you think?"

"To be honest, Shirley, I really don't care," Bo replied. "The theft of some old painting really doesn't affect my life."

Shirley was shocked at how Bo did not see the significance of the theft. "Bo, the Mona Lisa is a famous masterpiece done by the great Leonardo da Vinci! Art lovers around the world are stunned."

"I'm not an art lover," Bo pointed out.

"Well, here are the facts." Shirley began to recall what she had learned about the case. "Before the Louvre was opened for the public, the Mona Lisa was gone. Someone managed to get past the security system and cut through the three inches of glass in front of the painting. The Louvre was closed while the French police investigated the crime. They found the security system was still working, so they concluded that somehow it was shut off from the outside during the crime. They didn't find any fingerprints or any other clues. They checked all persons leaving the country and turned up nothing."

"Maybe the Mona Lisa is still in France," Bo said.

"Maybe, but whoever stole the Mona Lisa knows he or she is marked, so he or she must be hiding it well. The thief needs to keep moving in order to avoid capture," Shirley said.

"Okay, what is the thief going to do with one of the world's most famous paintings?" Bo asked.

"Since there's been no ransom note, I guess the thief is going to keep it or sell it." Shirley took a bite from her lunch. "Of course, keeping it is a risk, not to mention selling it."

"Believe me, people would pay anything to have something so valuable," Bo said.

"True. Who can resist owning the Mona Lisa?" Shirley said.

Bo ate his lunch. "You see all this as a big challenge, don't you?"

Shirley smiled. "The Mona Lisa missing, no clues, no suspects. You're right, Bo; it's a challenge."

"Too bad it's not in Redington," Bo said. "It isn't our problem, Shirley. I'm sure the police will find the Mona Lisa."

"Maybe you're right, Bo." Shirley could not help but be a little disappointed. The Mona Lisa theft was the perfect crime. She remembered her great-grand uncle Sherlock Holmes' words: "Any mystery devised by mortal minds can be solved therewith." It was a shame the Mona Lisa was located in Paris, not Redington.

"Hi, guys." Alicia Gianelli walked up to where Shirley and Bo were sitting. She was with a tall boy with neatly cut light-brown hair, one who Shirley had never met. Alicia introduced him. "Shirley, Bo, this is Blake Hewitt. He just moved to Redington with his mother from California." Alicia added proudly, "Ms. Stratmann asked me to give him a tour of Sussex Academy."

"Hi," Blake greeted the two nervously.

Bo immediately said "Hi" back, but Shirley stared at Blake. She noticed how cute he was. He was, to Shirley, perfect.

"Shirl?" Bo noticed the dumb-struck look on Shirley.

Snapping out of her daze, Shirley replied, "Hi, Blake." Regaining her composure, she continued to talk to the newcomer. "So, what brings you to Redington?"

"My mom's an archeologist," Blake answered. "She's been on a lot of digs in Africa. She felt that she and I needed a change of scenery, so we moved here because she accepted a job at the museum. Also, she was born here."

"What do you think of Sussex?" Bo asked.

"Not bad, although I need to get used to the uniform." Blake scratched his arm. "Too itchy."

"You'll get used to it," Bo said, speaking from experience.

"Mind if we join you?" Alicia asked. "Are we interrupting something?"

"No, not really," Shirley said. "Bo and I were just discussing the Mona Lisa theft."

"The Mona Lisa theft?" Blake sat down next to Shirley. He sounded excited. "No one's solved that yet! Any hypotheses on that?" he asked Shirley.

"I take it you like mysteries?" Shirley asked Blake.

"I read, live, and breath them. The harder the better," Blake replied. "So, what do you think of the Mona Lisa theft? Any thoughts?"

A kindred spirit! Shirley thought happily. "Well," she began, and soon the two were discussing the Mona Lisa theft.

Alicia sat down next to Bo, who watched as Shirley and Blake talked and exchanged ideas. To Alicia, Bo looked a little jealous. Although Alicia was a little disappointed, she was happy at seeing Shirley and Blake together. "Don't they look cute together?" she whispered to Bo.

"Yeah," Bo said, trying not to reveal any emotion and still looking at Shirley and Blake. "They sure do."

Somewhere else, a man in a blue uniform known as Number One approached the large double doors guarded by two armed men in SWAT gear. He was nervous and sweating a little.

The two guards saw Number One. "Halt!" one of them shouted. "State your business!"

Number One was upset. He was the second-most powerful person in the organization and he was being treated like a common lackey! "It's ME, you lugs!" he said angrily.

The guard who spoke realized his mistake. "Sorry, Number One," he apologized. "Mr. E gave us strict orders not to let anyone in unless it's important."

"I have some news concerning the Mona Lisa theft," Number One stated.

The two guards talked to each other, then one of them said, "Okay, you can go in." He opened one of the doors.

"Thank you," Number One said. He walked through the door, wondering if he should demote the guards to the millions. The incident had temporarily cured his anxiety.

Number One looked at the room he was in. It was spacious and was lit by fluorescent lights. About three yards in front of him were two bookcases on each side. One was filled with a mixture of mystery, puzzle, science fiction, and fantasy books. The other contained an assortment of toys, especially Lego creations, buckets filled with Legos, and toy guns. Number One knew how Mr. E loved to build with Legos. He also knew the toy guns were modified to act as real weapons. He noted the real katana swords, shuriken, and claw gauntlet with a dart and shuriken shooter built in. Between the bookcases was a large, wide desk. The desk had a switchboard phone/intercom/fax machine, two TV monitors, one connected to a video camera on a stand, a computer with a modem, a Rolodex, and additional equipment. On the back wall and above the desk was a red banner with a golden question mark drawn like a snake, its mouth open, revealing its fangs. Three spikes shot out of the snake's back as if to form an "E." The word "ENIGMA" was written within the snake's form and was arranged to match it. The same symbol was also on the center of the floor and the front of the desk.

Sitting behind the desk was Mr. E, a young man in his late teens dressed in a dark uniform and a cape. His hands were covered in dark gloves. His eyes were hidden by dark glasses. Number One knew that despite his youth, Mr. E was extremely brilliant...and dangerous. He was currently finishing a game of Freecell on the computer. He smiled as he moved a card and all of them started flying toward the spaces in the right corner of the screen.

"Well played, sir," a thin, elderly man dressed in a butler's uniform said. He was Nigel, Mr. E's manservant. Number One knew that Nigel's frail appearance was deceptive.

Nigel noticed Number One, who was waiting to be acknowledged. "Sir," he began to tell Mr. E, "Number One is here to see you."

Number One beat his fist on his chest, then raised it in the air. "ENIGMA forever!"

Mr. E looked at Number One, then stood up and addressed him in an English accent. "Ah, Number One. You have something important to report?"

"Yes sir." Number One wanted to deliver his news and get out of there fast. "It concerns the Mona Lisa..."

"Ah, the Mona Lisa." Mr. E smiled. "Many thought no one could steal it as long as it resided in the Louvre. They thought the security system and three inches of glass were enough to deter thieves." He chuckled. "Of course, they didn't know about ENIGMA and its advanced tools, did they, Nigel?"

"Most certainly not, sir," Nigel answered. "We have accomplished what other modern criminals have dreamed of doing. We have successfully stolen one of the most famous paintings in the world."

"Yes, Nigel." Mr. E was full of pride. "ENIGMA now has in its possession the Mona Lisa, the seemingly safe Mona Lisa." He took a deep breath. "Think of the money that can be made from its sale, Nigel! This is the greatest operation ENIGMA has ever undertaken. If it succeeds, our bank accounts and prestige in the criminal underworld would be enhanced!"

Nigel clapped. "Your grandfather would be proud of you."

"As well as my famous ancestor," Mr. E added, taking the applause with a bow. He noticed Number One and remembered that he had news about the Mona Lisa. "Sorry, Number One, what is your report?"

Number One cleared his throat. "Well, sir, I have good news and bad news on the Mona Lisa mission."

Mr. E did not like the sound of that. Everything was going according to plan. The Mona Lisa had been smuggled out of France. The ENIGMA agents who had the Mona Lisa were on their way to the place where the sale would take place. How could there be bad news? "Give me the good news," he ordered Number One, trying to stay as calm as possible.

"Well," Number One began, trying not to lose his nerve, "our agents have arrived at the rendezvous point with the Mona Lisa still and Interpol has not caught up to them yet, at least officially."

"Good, good." Mr. E knew that although Interpol officially had no clues about the Mona Lisa's disappearance, he knew of one man's investigation. "The bad news?"

Number One gulped. "The buyer called while you were out. He said he'll arrive a day later than expected."

"WHAT!!?" Mr. E was furious. Everything was going according to plan, and now the client dared to muck up everything. He picked up the receiver from the switchboard phone and started dialing. "That nitwit has thrown off my whole timetable," he muttered to himself as he waited for someone to answer.

Mr. E finally got who he was looking for. "Listen, you," he told the person on the other line, "we agreed that the item you wanted would be given to you on...What?!! You just scheduled an important business meeting? Cancel it! Say you have some out-of-town business to do." He listened for a moment while the other person objected. "Well, it's not exactly a lie, you know. You must pick up your purchase as soon as possible. Everyone's been looking for the Mona Lisa, and someone might get lucky!" He listened to more talk. "Don't think you'll escape any blame if my men are caught! Your reputation won't protect you; we've got proof." He heard more talk. "Don't get too cocky. Double-cross us and you'll regret it. I mean it." He heard the other person talk. "You know, we can find another buyer. We don't need you." He heard the other person plead. "So, you want it that badly, don't you? Cancel your meeting, get to the rendezvous point as scheduled, and you'll get it. Remember to bring the rest of the payment. You know the location. I faxed it to you." He listened to the other person. "Well, get someone! Anyone who can fly a bloody plane! Good day, sir!" With that last remark, he slammed the phone down while the other person was still pleading.

Mr. E sat back in his chair and tried to relax. "You know, sir," he heard Nigel say, "your grandfather had more tact."

Mr. E sighed. "Sorry for that, Nigel, but this is ENIGMA's greatest moment . I will not have that total boob ruin it."

"What did he say, sir?" Nigel inquired.

"He'll cancel the meeting, but all of his personal pilots are on strike. He said he'll get another pilot, but it'll take a while." Mr. E looked at Number One. "Inform our agents that there's going to be a delay. Tell them to keep a close eye on the painting."

"Yes, sir." Relieved that he was still alive, Number One left the office.

Mr. E leaned back in his chair. He was not in a good mood. So far, in all the thefts and sales and other crimes ENIGMA has committed under his command, none of its members has been caught. Now that perfect record was in jeopardy. What else could go wrong? he thought.

The Case of the Mysterious Man : Chapter 2

"Hmmm." Blake studied the big hard rock on the desk. Shirley had invited him over to see her attic, which was set up like a crime laboratory. He picked it up, trying to find out what it was.

"It's petrified mammoth dung," Bo told Blake. "Very rare." He remembered how disgusted he felt when he discovered that fact while playing with it one time. The idea that he was juggling ancient animal excrement was very disturbing to him.

"Really?" Blake looked at Shirley.

"Really," Shirley said.

Blake held the dung to his face for a closer look, much to Bo's amazement. "Fascinating."

Putting the dung back, Blake noticed the portrait of Sherlock Holmes. "Is that who I think it is?"

"It is." Shirley stood next to the painting. "He's my great-granduncle."

"I thought he was just a fictional character," Blake stated, taken aback that there really was a Sherlock Holmes. "I have all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries ever written. Doyle based Holmes on a surgeon he knew, Joseph Bell."

"Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes were based on some of his actual cases," Shirley explained. "Doyle heard about him and was reminded of Bell. Sherlock allowed Doyle to publish the stories so that criminals won't believe he actually existed."

Blake was impressed. "Well, I see where you got your love of mysteries." He grinned at Shirley.

Shirley tried her best not to blush. "Bo and I have solved quite a number of them."

"Oh yeah." Bo was beginning to feel left out before Shirley mentioned his name. "We've pretty much solved every mystery we've come across. You could say I'm the Dr. Watson of this team."

"Now, how did you become interested in mysteries?" Shirley asked Blake.

"I guess I got it from my parents," Blake answered. "My mom's always trying to solve the mysteries of ancient civilizations. She has some plausible theories on stuff that have stumped the experts."

"What about your dad?" Bo asked. Blake hesitated for a moment. He looked at Shirley's chemistry set. "Say, where did you get this?"

Bo gave Shirley a look, and soon the subject was changed to Shirley's chemistry set.

With her backpack slung over her shoulder, Shirley sighed as she looked over the shopping list Gran had given her, Gran was preparing an exotic dish for dinner and had sent Shirley to get the ingredients at the supermarket. Unfortunately, of all the items on the list, Shirley had found only one.

"Hey, Shirley." Shirley turned around to see Alicia walking towards her. "What're you doing?"

"Gran's cooking dinner and she sent me to get the ingredients," Shirley explained. "What about you?"

"Just looking for my favorite health drink," Alicia answered. "You need some help?"

"Sure. Gran's listed some interesting items," Shirley said as she showed Alicia the list.

"Hmmm." Alicia studied the list. "I think I know where these are," she commented, pointing to some items on the list. "I'll show you."

As they walked to the proper section, Alicia decided to ask the question that was on her mind when she spotted Shirley. "So, what do you think of Blake Hewitt?"

Shirley tried to keep a straight face. "He's okay, I guess."

"Okay?" Alicia could not believe Shirley. "He is a drop-dead hunk and all you can say about him is 'Okay?'"

"What's your point?" Shirley asked as she found one of the items on her list and placed it in her shopping cart.

"Well, he talked to you, Shirley," Alicia pointed out. Shirley found another item Gran wanted. "You talked back to him. You like him, don't you?" Alicia said with a grin.

"And you arrived at this conclusion because I talked to Blake?" Shirley reached for something. "I talk to Bo, so does that mean I'm enamored with him?"

"But when you and Blake talked, I saw you two click." Alicia grabbed something and placed it into the shopping cart.

"Alicia, you know full well that I am not interested in any romance," Shirley said matter-of-factly. She did agree with Alicia on one thing: She and Blake did "click," as Alicia so charming put it.

As the two went off to find Alicia's health drink and the rest of Gran's ingredients, Alicia continued the conversation. "You know, Shirley, you have to get interested in boys sometime in your life."

Shirley was annoyed with Alicia at that point. Being a great detective requires focus, and having a boyfriend would be a distraction. Besides, if she ever got interested in someone, it was a personal matter not fit for public consumption. Unfortunately for Shirley, she was interested in boys, but she was not about to reveal that side of herself to Alicia.

Finally, both found what they were looking for and were in line at the cash register. Shirley looked at the tired-looking man in front of her, whose purchases were a tabloid magazine and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. He wore a baseball cap on top of his long, blond hair. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. His clothes looked clean but messy, as if they had not been ironed for days. Shirley noticed how he was looking around the store and how he was muttering about the time as the cashier tallied up his total. He paid for the Pepto-Bismol, got his change, refused a bag and quickly exited the store while looking through the tabloid and with the Pepto-Bismol in his pants pockets.

Shirley watched the man closely through the glass door as the cashier added the cost of her purchases. The man stood outside the door for a moment reading something in the tabloid. He was clearly reacting to what he was reading because he clinched his fist and shook it repeatedly. He seemed to be talking to himself. The man finally folded the tabloid and placed it under his arm and walked away, obviously upset.

"Miss?" Shirley focused her attention to the cashier, who was done with calculating the total cost of her purchases. "Miss, you can pay now."

Shirley turned to Alicia. "Alicia, can you hand me that tabloid?"

"Which one?" Alicia looked puzzled.

"That one right there." Shirley pointed to the same magazine the man had bought. Alicia grabbed it and passed it to Shirley. "Add this to my total," Shirley told the cashier while holding up the tabloid. After the cashier adjusted the final total, Shirley paid, got her change, and got her purchases, now in plastic bags, from the bagger. Before Alicia could ask Shirley why she wanted the tabloid, Shirley was out the door in a flash.

The next day, during lunch at Sussex Academy, Shirley showed the tabloid to Bo and Blake. "So, Shirl, when did you start reading about the private lives of celebrities?" Bo asked with a smile.

Shirley flipped through the tabloid until she found what she was looking for. "Read this, Bo," she told her friend, showing him what she found.

Bo glanced at the article before him and read the title out loud. "MONA LISA THEFT COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED." He read what Shirley had marked in yellow the previous night. "According to a clerk with the Paris police who wished to remain anonymous, two days before the theft of the Mona Lisa, a strange note was sent to the Paris police department. The clerk says he was the first one to see the note. It simply read, in both English and French, 'We will capture a lady who is safe, but not at home.' The note was unsigned. 'The captain thought it was a joke,' the clerk said. 'We ignored it.' After the Mona Lisa was stolen, the clerk came to his own conclusions about the note's meaning. 'When we were informed of the theft of our beloved Mona Lisa, I realized that the lady mentioned in the note was the Mona Lisa. Her painter was Italian and she was well-protected by a fine security system. The Mona Lisa was indeed safe, but not at home.' The clerk tried to convince his colleagues of the note's significance to the case, but they have so far dismissed it as a 'mere joke.'"

Bo looked up from the tabloid at Shirley. "You believe this?"

"Let me see that," Blake requested. Bo handed him the tabloid and Blake read the marked part of the article. After he was done, he remarked, "So, the police did miss something."

"A riddle that hinted at the theft," Shirley said.

"Hold it." Bo was still in disbelief. "Why would anyone send a note to the police with a riddle that tells them what the crime is?"

"Well, whoever took the Mona Lisa must have been good. Too good," Shirley pointed out. "I guess the thief wanted to give the police a chance."

"A small chance," Blake commented. "'We will capture a lady who is safe, but not at home?' That sounds too vague. It could have been a real lady."

"I guess that's the point of the riddle," Shirley said. "Give the police a chance to stop the theft, but baffle them. When the theft was committed, it was too late."

"Adding insult to injury," Blake added. "The Mona Lisa theft happened, and the police were given a hint about it, but they didn't act on it. Boy, no wonder they're still denying the riddle's part in the whole thing."

"Excuse me." Bo raised his hand. "Exactly why, Shirley, are you still obsessed with finding the Mona Lisa?"

"Yesterday, I saw a man buy a copy of this tabloid while I was shopping at the supermarket." Shirley held up the tabloid for emphasis.

"So?" Bo did not understand.

"His clothes were all wrinkly and he seemed tired," Shirley recalled.

"Maybe he's a slob," Bo said. "A slob who stays up late at night."

Shirley shook her head. "He had jet lag, Bo. He was complaining about the time here. He's been living out of a suitcase. Hence the wrinkled clothes."

"Meaning he's not a local." Blake was catching on.

"He also kept looking around, as if looking for someone," Shirley said.

"Like he was being followed." Blake caught on. "He's paranoid about something."

"While I was watching him read the tabloid, he became upset," Shirley said.

"Maybe he got angry at something else," Bo said. "His favorite celebrity probably got some bad press."

Shirley ignored Bo's remark. "A man with jet lag who becomes upset about an article on the Mona Lisa theft and is paranoid. Since the police don't have any leads, and therefore no suspects, that means..."

"That means he's involved with the theft," Blake completed Shirley's thought. "Which probably means..."

"Hold on a minute." Bo looked at Shirley and Blake. "Are you saying that the Mona Lisa is in Redington?"

"Or at least someone who has an insight into the crime," Shirley said. "Now if only I could solve the other riddle."

Bo stared at Shirley. "What other riddle?"

"The one that was delivered to the Redington Police Department three days ago," Shirley answered. "Its significance was lost to me until I read the article."

"So another crime is going to be committed right here in Redington," Blake concluded. "I heard of a strange note being mailed to the Redington Police Department three days ago, but I can't remember what it said."

"'Playing is easy and fun, but the clothing is murder,'" Shirley recited from the top of her head.

"You memorized that?" Blake was impressed.

"She pays attention to every little detail," Bo remarked to Blake. He looked at Shirley. "So someone who has information about the Mona Lisa theft is in town and there's going to be another crime committed if we don't solve a vague riddle." He shook his head. "Can't we just have one day without a mystery to solve?"

"The Mona Lisa missing, a man who may have been involved, and a riddle that hints at another crime," Blake summed up the facts.

"Interesting, isn't it?" Shirley was pleased. "A real challenge."

"We still need to find the guy," Bo pointed out. "I'd be easier to find a needle in a haystack."

"I remember what he looks like," Shirley told Bo. "If I see him again, I'll recognize him."

At that point, Molly Hardy walked up to where Shirley, Bo, and Blake were sitting. She stopped near Blake. "Are you Blake Hewitt?" she asked him, ignoring Shirley and Bo.

"I am." Blake looked at Molly. "And you are...?"

"Molly Hardy, class president," Molly said with pride, holding out her hand to Blake. Blake shook it. "I'd like to welcome you to Sussex Academy. I would've done so yesterday, but I was out sick."

"No wonder it was so peaceful," Bo whispered to Shirley, who tried not to crack a grin.

Molly shot a look of contempt at Bo and Shirley, then refocused on Blake. "If you need to know anyone important in this school, I'm the one who can make it happen," she said with a smile.

"I'll keep that in mind, Molly," Blake said. "Thanks."

"Excellent." Molly looked at her watch. "Well, I must be going. I'll see you around, Blake." As she left, she smiled at Blake.

"I'd be careful when it comes to Molly," Bo warned Blake. "She's..."

"Deceitful, cunning, and manipulative?" Blake said with a smile. "Don't worry about me, Bo. I don't trust her as far as I can throw her."

Bo was surprised. Shirley was impressed. "How did you...?" Bo began to ask Blake.

"Well, you can tell by the way she walks and the way she talks," Blake replied. "I knew someone like her at my school."

"Molly Hardy is definitely not to be trusted," Shirley observed. She knew from experience how Molly could be tricky.

"You know, Shirl, have you ever wondered if there's someone in our age group who's worse than Molly?" Bo asked.

"There's a chance," Shirley answered. "Personally, I hope that person doesn't exist."

Mr. E put down the phone and breathed out a sigh of relief. Nigel looked at his employer, curious on how the call went. "What did he say, sir?"

"He's finally agreed to his pilots' demands for a raise." Mr. E looked amused. "Our client is a miser, Nigel, and the pay raise was at least fifty percent of what the pilots earn. He definitely wants our little painting."

"I'm amazed he didn't hire a new pilot and fire the rest," Nigel wondered.

"Too risky, Nigel." Mr. E opened a new game of Freecell on the computer.

"Security risk. The newcomer probably would demand an outrageous sum to keep him quiet about his new acquisition. He wants only his men, his loyal men. With that pay raise, those men would take a bullet for him or even donate a liver to him while they're still alive."

"When will he arrive at the meeting place?" Nigel inquired.

Mr. E moved a card with the mouse. "In a day, at the least." He sighed. "I hate delays." He moved another card, and then another.

The phone rang. Mr. E picked it up. "Yes?" He listened for a while. "Excellent. Put him on." Another man spoke to him. "Good to hear from you. Report." He heard the other man's report. "Good, good. The painting?" He heard more talk. "Good. Keep it that way. Our client should be arriving at your location soon. Stand by. Over and out." He hung up the phone and continued his game of Freecell.

"Number Four-Four-Zero?" Nigel asked.

"It was," Mr. E answered as he moved a column of cards. "He just gave me his daily report. He and his confederates have not been caught and the Mona Lisa is well-hidden." He moved more cards.

"I take it that everything is going according to plan?" Nigel asked.

Mr. E looked at the screen. One more move and the game was won. He did it and watched as the cards flew to the right corner of the screen. "Yes, Nigel," he said with a sinister smile. "Everything is going according to plan."

"Playing is easy and fun, but the clothing is murder," Bo said out loud. He and Shirley were on their way to the Redington Mall. "It doesn't make sense, Shirley."

"It is rather vague," Shirley agreed. "It's definitely hinting at a place."

"Maybe a clothing store?" Bo guessed.

"Too obvious." Shirley shook her head.

"Well, here's some more weirdness. Stink gave this to me earlier." Bo handed Shirley a folded piece of paper. Shirley opened it and saw that it was a photocopy of a short newspaper clipping. It was a brief public announcement and it read "PLACES CLOSED DUE TO ODOR OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN: Sam's Clock Repair, Computer Counseling, Jazz Java Hut, Quickie Cleaners, Papa Pete's Pizzeria, Redington Community Theater, Costumes, Inc., Redington Public Library, Arturo's Fine Clothing, Alternative Clothing, Newt's Video Arcade, and Maxwell Cinemas."

"Stink found it funny. He was wondering where he can get the stuff that caused that so he can shut down school," Bo said. "Care to solve that case, Shirl?"

Shirley was still looking at the paper when she heard someone call her name. She turned around and saw Blake heading toward her.

"Hi, guys," Blake greeted as he joined them. "Where are you going?"

"The Redington Mall," Bo said.

"What a coincidence!" Blake said. "That's where I'm going, too. Thought I'd check it out."

"Some coincidence," Bo muttered.

"You can come with us, if you like," Shirley said, trying her best not to show her excitement.

"Sure. No problem," Bo said, hiding his discomfort.

As they walked, Shirley showed the paper to Blake. "Strange," he commented. "A pipe leak maybe?"

Shirley was about to say something when she spotted a man step out of a nearby clothing store. She stopped walking and looked carefully at the man.

Bo and Blake stopped also. "Shirley, why'd you...?" Bo started to ask.

"That's him." Shirley pointed to the man.

It was the man Shirley had seen at the supermarket. She recognized the baseball cap, the long blond hair, and the sunglasses. His clothes were different from last time, but they were wrinkled. He walked in front of Shirley, Bo, and Blake and joined the crowd of people crossing the street.

"Come on." Shirley started to cross the street, keeping an eye on the man.

Blake shrugged and followed Shirley. Bo shook his head and reluctantly joined them in the pursuit.


The Case of the Mysterious Man: Chapter 3

The man walked on, unaware that a few feet behind him, Shirley and her friends were following him. Shirley noticed he was deep in thought, as if thinking.

Suddenly, the man stopped. Bo saw this. "Uh, Shirl, I think he knows he's being followed."

"Come on." Shirley darted into a nearby alley. Just as Bo and Blake followed her lead, the man turned around. He saw that no one was following him. Relieved, he continued walking.

Shirley peeked out and saw that the man was still moving. "We'd better hurry if we're going to catch him," she told Bo and Blake. She was the first to leave the alley, followed by Bo and Blake.

The man was still in their sights despite the number of people behind him. Shirley, Bo, and Blake weaved through the other pedestrians, often saying "Excuse me" after bumping into them.

"You know, Shirley," Bo said as he brushed past someone. "What are we going to do when we catch up to this guy? Ask him if he helped steal the Mona Lisa?"

"Exactly," Shirley answered, her focus still on the man.

"And suppose he has a gun?" Bo asked.

"Don't worry," Blake said. "I've got a black belt in karate. I'm a little rusty though."

"Great." Bo shook his head.

The man looked back briefly, then quickened his walking pace. "I believe he knows he's being followed," Shirley stated. "We can't lose him."

"Is she always like this?" Blake asked Bo.

"Unfortunately," Bo said.

As Shirley and her friends cut the distance between them and their target, the man walked faster. Soon he was running, as if his life depended on it. His pursuers matched his speed, racing past people and often knocking them down.

The man quickly turned around a corner. Shirley, a few feet behind him, was the first to reach it and stopped. Bo and Blake caught up to her and caught their breath.

"Well, that was fun," Bo said while panting.

Shirley looked around and saw a taxi speed away. She thought she saw her quarry in the back of the taxi.

Bo and Blake saw the taxi. "Guess we'll never know, huh?" Blake asked.

Shirley tried not to show her disappointment. "I guess not."

"Alms for the poor!" Shirley saw a man in ragged clothes walking towards them with a large mug in his hand. His black hair was a tangled mess and his beard was not trimmed. "Pardon me, youngsters," he said, revealing his yellow-stained teeth. "Can you spare a little to help your fellow man?"

Shirley wrinkled her nose, then covered it with her hand. The stench was so unbearable. Noticing this, the man chuckled. "Sorry, Miss, but I haven't bathed for quite a while now."

Bo also noticed the smell and quickly reached into his pocket. He put a few coins into the cup. "Anything to get you out of here," he muttered to himself. Shirley produced a dollar bill and put it in the mug.

Blake reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took out three dollar bills and placed them in the mug. Bo was surprised. So was the ragged man, who stared at the contents for a while. He looked at Blake. "Bless you, my son," he said with a wink. He looked at Shirley and Bo. "Bless you all." He walked past them, crying out "Alms for the poor!" and taking his unbearable smell with him. Shirley watched as he left and thought for a moment.

"Thanks, Blake. I think that did it," Bo said appreciatively. "I work in a fish market and compared to that guy, working there is paradise."

"No problem." Blake put his wallet back into his pocket. "My mom and dad always told me to be generous to the unfortunate."

"Say, whatever happened to your dad, Blake?" Bo asked.

Blake seemed disturbed for a moment, then he smiled nervously. "Say, aren't we going to the mall?"

"Definitely reminds me of home," Blake commented as he walked with Shirley through the Redington Mall. Bo was behind them, trying his best not to lose his temper.

"Were you a constant visitor to the mall in California?" Shirley asked.

"Actually, I didn't go there much," Blake admitted. "Even on those rare occasions I went, I just went to the bookstore for mystery novels."

Shirley, Blake, and Bo continued walking through the mall and soon were on the second floor.

"Too bad we didn't catch that guy," Blake told Shirley. "If we did, he..." Blake stopped for a moment.

"Blake?" Shirley was concerned. "Blake, are you okay?"

Blake did not answer. He was staring at a man talking to a boy who looked around six years old. The boy apparently was in trouble, for a security guard was present and the man was using a disciplinary tone of voice. "You're very lucky security found you. You shouldn't wander around like that. You could've been hurt," the man told his son.

"But, Dad," the boy said defiantly, "I know how to take care of myself. Besides, I just wanted to see the new toys."

"I know, son, I know." The man looked at his son, who was clearly upset at being lectured. "But there are a lot of bad people in the world, and some of them could be in here. I was just worried about you." The man looked at the security guard and thanked him for finding his son. "He's my pride and joy, sir. If something happened to him, I don't know what I would've done."

The son heard this and hugged his father. The father hugged his son back. This touching scene was too much for Blake. He turned around and started walking away from the reunited father and son. Shirley, concerned, followed him. Bo, curious, was behind Shirley.

"Blake?" Shirley asked. Blake did not answer. He continued walking. Sick of Blake's evasiveness, Bo stepped out from behind Shirley and placed himself in Blake's way. "You're not going anywhere until you explain yourself," Bo said harshly. "What was that all about?"

Blake was silent. Shirley decided to try to do something about the situation. "Blake, we're your friends. If something's bothering you, you can tell us."

Blake looked at Bo, then at Shirley. He sighed, then walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. Shirley and Bo joined him, with Shirley sitting on Blake's right. "Does it have to do with your dad?" Shirley asked.

Blake smiled weakly at Shirley. "You're a good detective, Shirley. You know that?"

"So what happened to him?" Bo asked Blake.

"He's dead," Shirley stated. She looked at Blake. "Your reaction to that man and his son. You didn't look envious, so your parents aren't divorced or separated. You looked depressed, as if you missed having a father."

"What can I say, Shirley? You're a good detective." Seeing he could confide in her, Blake cleared his throat, then started to explain. "My dad was an inspector with the L.A. division of Interpol. He was good at his job, so good that other police agencies around the world requested his assistance in very difficult cases; as a result, he was always busy and usually out of town or even the country. Whenever he wasn't on some case in some other place, he would spend time with my mom and me. I was a handful for them when I was young. One time, when I was five, I wandered off from them while we were at the mall. They called security, and I was found in the bookstore. My dad was mad at me, but while we were heading home, he explained to me that he didn't want me to get hurt, that he loved me and cared about me too much. When dealing with criminals, my dad was a tough guy. But when he came home, he was a caring husband and loving father."

"How did your father die?" Shirley asked Blake.

Blake hesitated, then continued his story. "It was my sixth birthday. My mom threw a party for me with all my friends. Dad had to go on assignment to England, but he promised that he would try to be home in time for my party. Time passed, and Dad hadn't shown up yet. He wasn't there when I blew out my candles, wishing that he would show up at any minute. He wasn't there when I opened my presents. I was so angry at Dad for missing most of my party. While my friends tried to cheer me up, the phone rang. Mom got it, and I watched as her face turned pale as she listened to the person on the other line. She was almost in tears. She thanked the other person, hung up, and told Rosa, our maid, to watch the children. She went upstairs and into her and Dad's bedroom. I wondered what was going on and followed her. Rosa was behind me, trying to stop me. I opened Mom's door and saw her crying. At that point, I knew Dad wasn't coming home, ever. I went up to Mom, hugged her, and cried on her shoulder." Shirley and Bo looked at Blake and felt sorry for him. He said more. "I later learned later when I was older that Dad was killed by a car bomb. After the funeral, a typed letter came from a man named Frederickson. He was assigned with my dad while he was in England, and he witnessed the explosion that killed him. My dad had helped solved the case in England, and to celebrate, he and some of his colleagues went to a local tavern one night. Frederickson, who was an old friend of Dad's, drove him there. He said that Dad enjoyed himself, although even a tiny sip of alcohol didn't pass through his lips. Dad eventually decided to leave since he was going home the next day so that he can make it in time for my birthday. He decided to drive since Frederickson was a little drunk. Dad was first in the car while Frederickson tried to keep himself up. The last thing Frederickson could remember was an explosion and getting thrown back down to the ground. When he got up, the car was a flaming wreck. My dad didn't stand a chance." Blake shook his head. "I saw a shrink for a while, but it didn't help much. I still don't understand why my dad died and I still don't know who killed him. There was an investigation, but it turned up nothing."

Finished, Blake bowed his head. Shirley reached out for his hand and held it between both her hands. She looked at Blake with sympathy, and he finally looked up and met her gaze.

Bo turned away from them. He felt sorry for Blake's loss, but he could not take the sight of him and Shirley together. He got up and stood near the railing, looking down at the other shoppers. He then spotted something interesting.

"Shirley, Blake!" Bo cried out. Both got up and went to Bo. "What is it?" Shirley asked.

Bo pointed to someone in the crowd below. Shirley dug through her backpack and took out her small binoculars. She looked through them at where Bo was pointing. She gasped.

"What is it?" Blake asked.

Shirley handed Blake the binoculars. "It's him."

Through the binoculars, Blake saw the man that they have been following earlier. He was sitting on a bench looking at the sheet of paper. He seemed puzzled. "It is definitely him," Blake said as he handed the binoculars back to Shirley.

"Let's go," Shirley said. Soon, she, Blake, and Bo were heading toward the nearest down escalator. They rushed down it, often bumping into people and apologizing.

Shirley, Blake, and Bo were soon on the bottom floor, looking for the mysterious man. "There he is," Bo said, pointing to someone in the crowd leaving the mall. They watched as he exited the mall. Shirley ran past the other shoppers, with Blake and Bo behind her. She was determined not to lose her quarry again.

When they finally reached the exit, Shirley looked left, then right. She saw the man walking along the sidewalk to her right. She followed the man from a distance. Blake and Bo followed her lead. They quickened their pace and narrowed the gap between them and the mysterious man. The man kept a normal pace, seemingly suspecting nothing. The chase continued for a while. Eventually the man turned right around a corner. Shirley and her friends reached it, then stopped. They looked to their left, then ahead, then to their right. The man was nowhere in sight.

"Well, looks like we've lost him...again," Bo observed.

Shirley was about to agree when she spotted a nearby alley. She pointed it out to her friends. "He probably went through here." She walked into it. Bo and Blake looked at Shirley, then at each other, shrugged, and followed her.

They looked in the alley. It was a dead end and there was no sign of the man. Trash and old cardboard boxes littered the area.

"I don't understand." Shirley walked deeper into the alley for a closer look. "He couldn't have just disappeared."

Bo looked around. "He's definitely good at that."

Blake was about to offer what was on his mind when all three heard a gruff voice from behind. "Don't look behind you."

Shirley and her friends complied. Shirley looked from the corner of her eye and caught a glimpse of the mysterious man, then quickly looked forward again. She could not believe that she ignored the possibility of the man hiding in a building to avoid his pursuers. Blake tried to keep his cool, as did Bo.

"Now, why have you three been following me, eh?" the man asked.

"We're just curious..." Blake began.

"Shut your mouth!" the man shouted. "I know why you've been following me. Don't think I know who you've been working for. Your youth doesn't matter; they'll use anyone these days."

"Who's 'they?'" Bo asked, keeping his gaze on the dead end.

"You really don't know?" The man sounded surprised. "A likely story!" He paused. "Listen, you three, even though you might be just some snoopy kids and not who I think you are, I'm involved in some serious business, and if I catch you three tailing me again, you'll regret it." Shirley heard footsteps as the man ran off.

All three turned around and saw that the man was indeed gone. "That was a close one," Bo commented, wiping his brow. "I thought we were goners."

"You said it," Blake agreed. "I'm amazed he didn't shoot us."

"He wasn't armed," Shirley said. "I didn't hear a gun click. Besides, it wouldn't be a good idea to shoot anyone at this time of day."

"Great. What a day." Bo was not exactly thrilled at being so close to death. "We follow a guy, lose him, go to the mall, find him there, follow him again, he finds out, and he threatens us." He looked at Shirley. "Can't we just call the police?"

"On what grounds?" Shirley countered. "He would probably accuse us of harassment."

Blake turned to Shirley. "So, what's our next move?"

"Our next move is to go home." Shirley looked at her watch. "We don't want to be late for dinner and upset our families now, do we?"

Later at home, Shirley, Mr. Holmes, and Gran were having dinner. Shirley had come just in time to eat, and both Mr. Holmes and Gran accepted her story of her being with friends at the mall.

Midway through the meal, the phone rang. Mr. Holmes got up and answered it. "Hello?" After talking with the person for a while, he called Shirley. "It's for you, Shirley. Someone by the name of Blake Hewitt."

Shirley quickly got out from her seat and snatched the phone out of her father's hand. "Hello?"

"Hi, Shirley." It was indeed Blake's voice. Shirley was surprised. Blake was calling her? "I was wondering. Do you have any plans tomorrow night around 7:00?"

At first, Shirley was having difficulty forming words, but eventually she spoke. "Uh, no. Why?"

"Well, my mom wants to meet you and Bo and have you over for dinner," Blake explained. "I told her that you two were the first real friends I made in Redington."

"She wants to meet us just for that?" Shirley asked.

"Ever since my dad died, I've kept to myself." Blake paused. "My mom's so happy that I've made some friends. So, can you come?"

Shirley searched for the right words to say. "Oh, sure. Okay. I'll be there."

"Great!" Blake sounded excited. "I hope to see you there, Shirley. I'll call Bo. Maybe we can talk about that problem that's been bothering us."

"Oh. Oh, sure. Okay, Blake," Shirley said, trying to control herself.

"Bye, Shirley." Blake hung up.

Shirley hung up and went back to her seat to eat her dinner, Mr. Holmes asked, "Who is Blake Hewitt, Shirley?"

"Oh, he's a new kid at school," Shirley replied. "He and his mom moved here from California."

"Would his mother be Dr. Lauren Hewitt?" Gran asked. "She's the archeologist who took a position at the museum."

"I guess so." Shirley took a bite out of her meal. "Blake never mentioned her name, but he did say she was an archeologist."

"What did he want?" Gran asked.

"He invited me and Bo over for dinner to meet his mom," Shirley answered.

"So, what is your relationship with Blake?" Mr. Holmes asked his daughter.

"Uh, I think I'll go to bed right now." Shirley quickly got up and went upstairs to her room.

Mr. Holmes sighed and shook his head. "Looks like my little girl has grown up."

Gran simply smiled.

The Case of the Mysterious Man : Chapter 4

The next day, Shirley finally found what she was looking for. She was currently standing in front of a building used as a restaurant. "Papa Pete's Pizzeria" was painted on the large front window in red and green letters. On the glass door was the sign "CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE."

Shirley stepped up to the door and started to sniff around it. She reeled back for a moment, then she resumed. She took out a glass test tube from her backpack, took out the cork, and held it to the crack of the door. She quickly replugged the test tube and put it in her pocket. As she did so, she thought she saw the homeless man who had begged from her yesterday. He was once again begging for money from some pedestrians, who were holding their noses and keeping down wind from him. Satisfied, Shirley started for home. She needed to do some things before she went to Blake's for dinner.

Bo was the first to arrive at Blake's house; it was 6:30 PM. Blake answered the door. "Hi, Bo," Blake greeted. "Glad you could make it."

Bo looked at Blake, then walked by him without saying a word. He went to the living room and sat down on the sofa. He looked at the various unpacked boxes in there. The walls were bare. Blake sat down in a chair facing the sofa. A coffee table separated them.

Blake tried to start a conversation. "Mom and Rosa are putting the finishing touches on dinner. Do you like chicken?"

Bo leaned back in the sofa. "So, Blake, how did you end up at Sussex instead of at a public school?"

My mom's dad, my grandfather, was well-to-do. When he died, he left my mom, his only daughter, a lot of money. As for the school choice, my mom attended Sussex," Blake explained. "She liked it, and I guess she felt I would too." Blake smiled. "She was right."

"Are you sure it's Sussex you like?" Bo asked, giving Blake a look.

Blake studied Bo's face. "You don't like me very much, do you, Bo?"

"Gee, why do you think that?" Bo said with a tinge of sarcasm.

"Well, every time you, Shirley, and me hang out, when Shirley and I talk, you look at me as if I'm intruding on something," Blake pointed out.

"You want the truth, Blake?" Bo leaned toward Blake. He tried to control his anger. "Shirley and I are good friends. We're a team, and you are splitting up that team." He leaned back. "Now I'm losing my best friend to you. Everything was just fine until you showed up."

Blake was not aware of all this. "Look, Bo, I'm not trying to ruin your friendship with Shirley. I don't mean to do you any harm. It's been a while since I had some real friends."

Bo started to calm down. "Sorry, Blake. I believe you. It's just that when I see you and Shirley together, I feel left out. She acts differently around you, and you two have the same interests."

Blake gave Bo a look. "Bo, have you ever, even for a short moment, entertained the idea that you and Shirley could be...well...more than friends?"

"No!" Bo quickly responded, but by the look on his face, Blake had doubts about his answer.

"You know, Bo, I'll respect your privacy," Blake said. "I do have some advice, though. If you do have feelings for a girl, I recommend you tell her how you feel."

"And suppose she makes fun of me or never wants to see me again if I tell her how I feel? Bo asked.

"Well, at least you tried," Blake said.

"I'll keep that in mind." Bo's anger was completely gone. "Say, Blake, you're not such a bad guy."

Blake was relieved that Bo did not perceive him as an enemy. He held out his hand. "Friends?"

Bo reached across and shook Blake's hand. "Friends."

Blake breathed out a sigh of relief. "You know, Bo, that in the end, it's Shirley's choice, not ours."

"Yeah." Bo knew what Blake meant. "You do admit that she's different from other girls, right, Blake?"

"Very different," Blake said in agreement. "That's what makes her so special."

"Definitely," Bo said with a grin.

The two boys laughed nervously, then stared at each other quietly. Both had finally reached an understanding between each other. Their moment of silence was interrupted by the doorbell. "Blake, get the door please!" a woman cried out from the kitchen. "Rosa and I are still finishing up."

Blake gestured toward the door. He had a good idea who was at the door. "Go ahead," he told Bo.

Bo got up from the sofa and walked up to the door. Looking through the peephole, he saw Shirley with, as usual, her backpack. He opened the door. "Hi, Shirley," he greeted.

"Hi, Bo." Shirley entered the house. "When did you get here?"

"Oh, a while ago." Bo looked at his watch. "Where have you been?" he asked as he followed her into the living room.

"Putting together the pieces of the puzzle we've been trying to solve," Shirley replied as she sat down on the sofa with Blake. "Hi, Blake," she said as Bo sat next to them.

"Hi, Shirley," Blake said.

"You didn't try to find that guy again, I hope," Bo said to Shirley.

"Actually, I haven't seen him all day," Shirley admitted. "I did conduct a simple investigation, and the results definitely help solve the puzzle."

Before Bo or Blake could ask Shirley what she did, Dr. Hewitt came into the living room. She had light-brown hair which was in a blunt cut. She wore an apron over her clothes. She saw Shirley and Bo, then looked at her son. "So, these are your new friends," she said.

Blake nodded, then gestured to his friends. "Mom, Shirley Holmes and Bo Sawchuk. Shirley and Bo, my mom, Dr. Lauren Hewitt."

"Hi, Dr. Hewitt," Shirley said.

"Hi, Dr. Hewitt," Bo said.

Dr. Hewitt looked at her son, Shirley, and Bo, happy that he had found some friends. "I can't thank you two enough for letting Blake be with you," Dr. Hewitt began. "Blake hasn't had any real friends since his father died."

"We know," Shirley said. "Blake explained everything."

"Well, I'm glad that my son has found some friends," Dr. Hewitt said.

"Blake mentioned you went to Africa," Bo recalled.

"Not to mention Asia and South America." Dr. Hewitt looked at Blake. "You forgot to mention that, Blake?" she said light-heartedly. "For shame."

"Mom." Blake looked down, embarrassed.

The maid called out from the kitchen for Dr. Hewitt. "Looks like Rosa needs my help." She walked toward the kitchen. "I'll call you when everything's ready."

"Your mom seems okay," Bo told Blake.

"She's learned to cope with my dad's death," Blake stated. "She's done a better job than me."

Shirley looked at the unpacked boxes and the blank walls. "Still settling in?"

"We just took out what's necessary, like our clothes and the kitchen stuff," Blake explained. "I did unpack my radio and my book collection, though." He had a thought. "Care to see my books until dinner's ready?"

Before Shirley and Bo could answer, the doorbell rang. "I'll get that," Blake told his guests. "Probably another well-wisher welcoming us to the neighborhood." He got up and went to the front door. Shirley and Bo watched as Blake looked through the peephole. To their surprise, they saw Blake walk carefully away from the door. He seemed terribly frightened when he returned to the living room. "Shirley, are you sure you didn't see that strange guy today?" he said in a whisper.

"I'm sure," Shirley answered. "Why?"

Blake continued to whisper. He was trying not to panic. "Because he's at the door right now."

Bo could not believe this. "Are you sure?"

"Positive," Blake said. "The long blond hair, the shades. Definitely him." He looked at Shirley and Bo. "Any ideas?"

"Wait until he leaves?" Bo suggested.

"Doubt he'll leave," Blake said. "He seems determined to come in."

"How did he find this place?" Bo asked.

"We're about to find out," Shirley said. "Bo, hide behind the door. Blake let him in."

Bo could not believe what Shirley had said. "Excuse me?"

Shirley ignored Bo and continued to give him instructions.. "When he comes in, tackle him on my word."

Shirley got up from the sofa and followed Blake to the door. "I hope you know what you're doing, Shirl," Bo said as he got up and followed them.

Once at the door, they all took their positions. Blake nervously approached the door. "Hello? Is anybody home?" the man asked from outside. Blake looked at Shirley, who nodded. Blake opened the door slowly. Bo stood still in his hiding place.

The mysterious man stood before Shirley and Blake in the doorway. He stepped into the house. "Hi, I was wondering if..." He cut himself short when he saw Shirley. "Hey, I know you..."

"Now!" Shirley shouted.

Quick as a tiger, Bo rushed out from behind the door. The man turned around, but it was too late. Bo tackled him and knocked him to the ground. Blake went around them and shut the door.

"What is the meaning of this?" the man demanded as he struggled to get out of Bo's grip.

Shirley spotted something near the man's head. She bent down to pick it up. It was a long, blond wig. She looked at the man's head and saw black hair with a touch of gray.

Dr. Hewitt had heard the scuffle and came out of the kitchen. "What's going on here?" she asked, seeing Bo and the mysterious man struggle on the floor.

Blake was about to help Bo restrain the stranger when he saw the stranger's face. He was speechless.

Dr. Hewitt got closer to the stranger for a better look. She bent down and took off his sunglasses. She was shocked at who she saw. "Chris?"

Blake looked at the stranger. "Dad?"

Bo, hearing everything, let go and got up. He looked at Shirley, who was also surprised.

"H-hi, guys," the man said weakly. "I'm home."

The Case of the Mysterious Man : Chapter 5

"I must say, Bo, you've got quite a tackle," Inspector Christopher Hewitt observed, rubbing around his abdomen. He was sitting on the sofa with Dr. Hewitt and had just been introduced to his son's new friends. The long, blond wig he once wore was on the coffee table. "Do you play football?"

"Yes, Inspector Hewitt," Bo answered. He, Shirley, and Blake stood in front of Inspector Hewitt. Shirley studied the inspector carefully, noting that except for his hair color, he and Blake looked exactly the same.

"Are you sure you're okay, Chris?" Dr. Hewitt asked her husband with concern.

"I'm fine, Lauren," Inspector Hewitt assured his wife. "Just got the wind knocked out of me."

Blake looked at his dad, still trying to believe that he was sitting in front of him. "But I attended your funeral and saw your body being buried. Your friend Frederickson saw you die."

Inspector Hewitt closed his eyes and shook his head. "I'm afraid you attended Frederickson's funeral and saw his body buried in my grave, Blake. He died in the car bombing, not me."

"Wait a minute." Bo was confused. "You mean Frederickson was blown to bits? What about the letter from him?"

"I typed it myself," Inspector Hewitt revealed. "Everything in it was the absolute truth about that night except for who died."

"So why lie about the car bombing?" Bo could not believe Inspector Hewitt just abandoned his family. "Why didn't you let your family know you were alive?"

"Because he's hiding from someone," Shirley said. "Someone who is apparently very dangerous."

Inspector Hewitt looked at Shirley. Shirley read the expression on his face, seeing that her observation was correct. "If Inspector Hewitt told his family he survived the car bombing, he would've placed them in danger as well."

"You're correct, Shirley," Inspector Hewitt said. "I could not let them use my family to get to me." He said "them" with a touch of hatred.

"Who are you talking about, Dad?" Blake did not understand.

Inspector Hewitt was silent. "ENIGMA," he said finally.

"ENIGMA?" Blake said.

"ENIGMA" Inspector Hewitt nodded. "The Establishment for Nefarious, Insidious, Global, and Malevolent Acts."

"Nice name," Bo commented dryly. "No wonder they shortened it. What's ENIGMA?"

"The most dangerous criminal organization in the world," Inspector Hewitt said.

"I've never heard of them," Shirley said.

"No one has," Inspector Hewitt said. "That's why they're so dangerous."

"So this ENIGMA organization tried to kill you and got your friend instead," Bo said. "Why?"

"It's a long story, but it'll explain everything." Inspector Hewitt sighed. "Besides, I have failed, and ENIGMA has triumphed again."

"Before you start, how did you know where we were?" Blake asked his dad.

"All the time I was hiding, I still kept an eye on you," Inspector Hewitt explained. "One of my friends at my old workplace kept me informed about you and your mom. He believed he was doing it on behalf of Frederickson. From him I learned about your mom's new job in her hometown and he gave me the address."

Rosa, the maid, came into the living room carrying a glass of water. She handed it to Inspector Hewitt. "Your water, Inspector Hewitt," she said.

"Thank you, Rosa," Inspector Hewitt said, taking a sip of water.

"Can I get you anything else?" Rosa asked the inspector.

"No, that'll be all, Rosa," Inspector Hewitt replied. "Just get the table ready for dinner. After my story, I'll be going."

Rosa nodded and returned to the kitchen. Before anyone could ask the inspector why he was leaving after dinner, he began his tale. "A week before I left for England, I was assisting the San Francisco police with a stolen diamond-smuggling ring. Interpol and the San Francisco police had been keeping an eye on these guys for a while. We caught them by surprise at a harbor warehouse when they were about to get the diamonds out of the country. Seeing that they were caught with the goods and totally outnumbered, they surrendered. However, there were three men who didn't. They stood out from the rest because they were wearing weird-looking masks over their heads. They were two foxes and a rat. Instead of giving up, they ran for the back exit. The guys in fox masks were closer to the exit, but the guy with the rat mask was lagging behind. I was the closest, so I tackled the rat guy and held him down. He struggled to get out of my grip, buy I was too strong for him. He looked at his fellow masked men, who were about to help him, but then they saw three policemen running toward them. They looked at their captured friend and said, 'Remember your oath.' Then they bolted out the door, leaving my prisoner to his fate.

"He and the rest of the smugglers were brought to the closest police station. I learned that the two other masked men had gotten away. I became curious about them, so I asked the ringleader about them while he was interrogated. He had just denied his right to counsel and confessed to everything when I brought up the matter. He said that they weren't part of the smuggling ring; they were hired to transport the diamonds out of the country. The ringleader had just met them that day and knew nothing else about them.

"Next I interrogated the man I tackled. His rat mask was off. I had it examined and found it had a small voice distorter near the mouth. As for the guy, he was young-looking and had unruly blond hair. He looked like a regular street punk. Like the ringleader, he refused a lawyer. Throughout the questioning, he kept looking around nervously. He did acknowledge his involvement with the smugglers and confirmed what the ringleader said, but he was evasive about who he was. Finally, after fifteen minutes, I got frustrated and banged my fist on the table. 'Listen, buddy,' I said angrily. 'My patience is wearing thin.'

"'But they'll kill me if I talk!' the man cried out. 'They'll kill me if I break my oath!'

"'What are you talking about?' I asked.

"The man still looked around for something. He was trembling really bad. 'Look, I was supposed to take the diamonds out of the country. I've already confessed to that, but don't pump me for more information, please!' he begged. 'I've taken an oath to keep our secrets, but I was never good at keeping secrets. If I talk, I'm a dead man!'

"I was puzzled. 'Oaths? Secrets? What are you talking about?'

"'If I spill the beans, I'm a goner!' Suddenly, he got up and grabbed me by my coat collar. 'I can't take the pressure anymore! I know I'm gonna break! I'm a dead man! Dead!'

"I shoved him back into his chair. 'Calm down!' I roared. He tried to, but he was shaking nervously. I calmed down myself and cleared my head before I talked to him again. 'Look, if I give you police protection, will you tell me who you are?'

"The man looked scared. 'It won't matter. They'll know. They have eyes and ears everywhere.'

"Now I was really interested; a good mystery always interested me, and I stuck to it until I solved it. I wondered who were 'they.' I tried to reassure him. 'Look, I promise you the best protection the San Francisco police can provide. I'll make sure of that,' I promised sincerely. 'I'll have men watch you twenty-four hours a day if necessary.'

"The man heard what I said and relaxed a little. 'Y-you sure?'

"'I give you my word,' I said.

"I guess he saw the light because he let out a sigh and calmed down. 'Okay, I can tell you're an honest man and that you'll keep your promise, but I'm risking my life if I talk. I'm going to reveal to you stuff that you probably won't believe. But it's all true, and if they find out, I'm a dead man.'

"I repeated my vow that no one would come to him, offered him a glass of water, and then I resigned myself to listening to his story. After he gulped down some water, he began. He said that he was a member of a secret worldwide criminal society called the Establishment for Nefarious, Insidious, Global, and Malevolent Acts, or ENIGMA for short. He said it's been around since the beginning of the twentieth century. Basically, ENIGMA hires out its agents to anyone who's willing to pay. According to my prisoner, if you've got a lot of cash, ENIGMA agents will steal, smuggle, kidnap, or kill for you. They usually wore masks, sometimes personalized, to hide their identities while meeting their clients. Their trademark is a puzzle hinting at the crime they send to the place where the crime will take place. 'Why hint the police at the crime?' I asked him. He replied, 'It gave the local cops a chance to stop us. We've got a lot of hi-tech gizmos and we're good at what we do, whether we steal or kill. The gizmos make the job easy. Too easy. So we throw the cops a bone.' He pointed out that the vaguer the puzzle, the more important the crime was. I asked him what puzzles they used. 'Oh, any type, but mainly riddles,' he answered. There I saw why the group was called ENIGMA. I asked him about membership. 'Anyone can join if he or she proves himself or herself to Mr. E,' he answered.

"'Mr. E?' I said. 'Who's that?'

"'The head of ENIGMA,' he answered."

"Mr. E?" Bo tried not to laugh. "What kind of name is that?"

Shirley gave Bo a look she reserved for him when she was bothered by him. Bo was immediately quiet. "Mr. E. Mystery. Rather appropriate for an organization named ENIGMA. Please continue, Inspector."

Inspector Hewitt nodded. "I next asked him if he's ever seen Mr. E. 'Nope,' he replied. 'Only those with high-ranking identification numbers and the proper clearance know his identity and his location. On a mission, he only speaks to the field supervisor, the high-ranking agent present.' I asked him about ID numbers. 'Well, sir, the agent with the rank of Number One is second only to Mr. E.'"

"How 'Star Trek,'" Bo commented.

Shirley gave Bo "the look" again. Inspector Hewitt continued. "He said that the larger the number, the lower the rank. He said his rank was so low that he was in the millions, but he added he was a new member. My next question was about the oath. 'I don't recall it exactly, but it basically says that we pledge our loyalty to Mr. E and ENIGMA. We swear never to reveal the existence of ENIGMA to anyone, even under threat of torture. If we break that oath, then we would pay with our lives.' He looked at me, sweat falling from his brow. He resumed trembling. 'By telling you all this, Inspector, I've broken my oath, and now I'm supposed to die. If my fellow ENIGMA agents find out about our little talk, I'm a goner. I've also put you in danger as well.' He bowed his head in silence, as if that day was the day of his execution. I saw that he wasn't going to talk anymore, so I left the interrogation room and had a conference with the captain, who watched everything through the one-way mirror. I asked him if he believed our paranoid prisoner. I sure did. The captain was skeptical, however. 'Secret organizations, huh?' he said. 'I believe in concrete proof, and this guy has nothing but his word and a mask he could've bought at any costume shop. I think he's lying, Hewitt.'

"'I don't, but even if he is, he's shaken up about something,' I pointed out. 'I want him guarded around the clock until the date the smugglers will appear in court.'

The captain at first refused to, in his own words, 'waste valuable manpower on a wacko who says he's part of some secret society.' Eventually I persuaded him, and I left the station hoping that my prisoner would be all right.

"Imagine how shocked I was when I was told my prisoner was found dead in his cell. I was at the airport, ready to go home, when a policeman found me and informed me that the 'wacko' I interrogated was dead, apparently of a heart attack. I called the coroner and gave him my work and home phone numbers, telling him to tell me how the autopsy went. From the time I spent on the plane to the time I got home, I was wondering how someone so young could die of a heart attack. Despite his behavior during the time we talked, he seemed physically healthy. After I got home, the coroner in San Francisco called. He informed me that he found a tiny puncture wound on the man's arm that would've been easy to miss by the untrained eye."

"Poison?" Shirley asked.

"The coroner found a tiny amount of an artificial stimulant in his bloodstream," Inspector Hewitt reported. "That tiny amount was enough to give the guy a fatal heart attack. There was no sign of forced entry into his cell, so..."

"It had to be an inside job!" Blake blurted out.

"The coroner and I concluded that, too," Inspector Hewitt said. "He was about to report his findings when something happened to him."

"What happened, Dad?" Blake asked.

"He was killed in a car accident," Inspector Hewitt said grimly. "He was trying to stop at a red light. For some strange reason, his brakes didn't work. His replacement reported that the prisoner's death was due to a sudden heart attack brought on by stress."

"That's weird," Bo commented.

"The new coroner was either a member of ENIGMA or was paid off," Shirley concluded.

"Exactly what I was thinking." Inspector Hewitt continued. "The so-called wacko's paranoia was starting to infect me. I now had an interest in this sinister organization while at the same time I was afraid that there were ENIGMA agents in my neighborhood. But I was determined to find evidence that proved this group existed. What they did to my informant and the coroner proved how dangerous they were. I started researching a number of unsolved crimes in the archives that occurred from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. I noted how many involved riddles and other puzzles. I also researched a number of solved crimes in the same time range and found some similarities. In all cases, the puzzles were thought of as jokes. In the solved cases, people were caught and if something was stolen, it was recovered. I guessed that any ENIGMA agents involved covered their tracks well and left their employers out to dry. That's why ENIGMA is so dangerous. Instead of competing with other criminal groups, they profit from them. They take their money, do their dirty work, and then disappear without a trace." Inspector Hewitt sipped his water. "They're good at covering their tracks. They're good at infiltration. They're in possession of highly-advanced technology. I concluded that if I didn't expose ENIGMA, they could easily dominate the world.

"My colleagues in Interpol didn't share my ideas on ENIGMA. They thought I was crazy to investigate a 'fictional organization.' I didn't care; I was determined to expose ENIGMA. I kept researching and kept an eye out. I didn't want to end up like my informant and the coroner."

Inspector Hewitt sipped his water again. "Then, my superior informed me that there was a case in England that Scotland Yard was having trouble with. He had recommended me to help them out because of my reputation of always solving the case. I think his ulterior motive was to get my mind off ENIGMA. I went to England and rendezvoused with an old college buddy of mine, a fellow Interpol agent by the name of Frederickson. He was a conspiracy nut, so during the time I spent in London, when I wasn't working on the case, I'd discuss ENIGMA with him. He was fascinated by the subject. He mentioned that he's heard rumors of a secret and large criminal organization, but he didn't have a name. In Frederickson, I found a confidant.

"Well, I helped solve the case, and I did go to a local tavern with Frederickson and others to celebrate. The letter I wrote to my family as Frederickson pretty much tells the truth about that night. There was an explosion, but poor Frederickson was the one who was killed, not me." The inspector bowed his head and tried to control himself.

Everyone in the room was silent until Shirley spoke. "What happened after the car exploded?" Blake looked at his father, also wanting to know.

Inspector Hewitt looked at the kids, then his wife. "As I stared at the flaming wreckage and the other patrons of the tavern got out to see what was going on, I realized that the bomb was meant for me. I knew who had rigged the bomb."

"ENIGMA," Blake said.

"ENIGMA?" Bo asked.

"ENIGMA," Inspector Hewitt said with hatred. "It had to be them because Frederickson's car was their target, and I was riding with him. I guessed that they've been keeping a close eye on me since I made their man talk. They saw their opportunity to eliminate me and they took it. By dumb luck, they failed and instead killed an innocent man. I was lucky that time, but I knew that if ENIGMA found out I was still alive, they would keep trying until I was dead, and I was sure that my luck would run out sooner or later. Then, I thought about my family." Inspector Hewitt looked at his wife and son. "I was afraid that ENIGMA would use them to get to me, and I couldn't put my family at risk. I had only one course of action to take at that point in order to protect my wife and my son. From that night on, Inspector Chris Hewitt had to die."

"How did you do it?" Shirley asked.

"When the police came to question everyone about the explosion, I recognized one of the officers who had assisted me during my stay in London. I called him over and gave my account of what happened. Then I told him to relay a message to the top officials at Scotland Yard. The next day I met with them and asked them to declare Inspector Chris Hewitt of Interpol dead, killed in a car bomb the previous night. They were rather surprised by my request, but I told them about my suspicions, leaving ENIGMA out of it. They knew my reputation in Interpol, so they agreed to my request. They called my family to tell them of my 'death' and told the newspapers that Frederickson was the one killed in the explosion. He was with me that night, and since he was the same height and build as I was and his body was burned beyond recognition, it was so easy to pull off the ruse. To make it up to him, I took over his identity and position. We managed to enlist the coroner's office's assistance in the matter, and with a few interesting touches, including a wedding ring identical to mine and properly exposed to heat, Frederickson's body was passed off as mine and that was the corpse buried in my grave. We did so well a cover-up that the probe into my death turned up nothing suspicious. We fooled everyone."

"What about the other people at the tavern?" Shirley asked the inspector. "They saw you and Frederickson together, so they knew what you two looked like. How could you portray Frederickson without anyone recognizing you?"

"Actually, I think everyone was too drunk to remember us, so I felt there was no danger of my secret being exposed," Inspector Hewitt answered.

"What about Frederickson's co-workers?" Shirley asked. "They could've known."

"Actually, Frederickson was very much an introvert; he hardly talked to anyone during or after work. Before I came along, he kept to himself," Inspector Hewitt explained. "He was rather eccentric, letting his hair grow long. In fact, everyone in his department only knew him by his long hair." He pointed to the wig on the coffee table. "As long as I wore that wig, I was Frederickson. Like I said, I owed him. I had persuaded him to come to the tavern to celebrate, so his death was my fault," he said solemnly.

Dr. Hewitt took her husband's hand and tried to comfort him. "You didn't know, Chris."

Inspector Hewitt shook his head. "I can't let that be an excuse, Lauren. Thanks to me, my friend is dead, and his killers are still on the loose." He continued his story after sipping some water. "I swore to Frederickson that I would reveal the group that killed him, and during the time I was 'dead,' I became Frederickson. I adopted his mannerisms and took his job and his flat. I continued my inquiries into ENIGMA, being more determined to bring them to justice."

"Has ENIGMA tried to kill you?" Blake asked with concern.

"No. I guess they were also fooled by my charade," Inspector Hewitt said.

"So what brings you to Redington?" Bo asked the inspector.

Inspector Hewitt reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a wrinkled, folded piece of paper. "This did," he said as he passed the paper to Blake. "About two weeks ago it was delivered to me at work addressed to Frederickson with no return address."

Blake opened the piece of paper and looked at it. Shirley and Bo looked over Blake's shoulder. They saw and read silently the following typed on it:

For your benefit, Mr. Frederickson, friend of Chris Hewitt:

1. We will capture a lady who is safe, but not at home.

2. Crimson dying under heavy weight.

3. Playing is easy, but the clothing is murder.

Try to stop us, if you dare.

Blake handed the paper to his mother so that she could have a look. "Hey, I recognize the first and third riddles!" Bo exclaimed. "The first one was from the tabloid, and the third one was sent here to the Redington Police Department."

"What is it?" Dr. Hewitt asked after she was finished reading the paper to herself.

"A challenge," Shirley concluded. "It's a challenge for Frederickson to try to stop ENIGMA's latest crime--the theft of the Mona Lisa."

"Does this mean ENIGMA knows you're alive?" Blake asked his dad.

"No, although that's what I thought at first," Inspector Hewitt answered. "Since I haven't had any unusual 'accidents,' I guess they didn't know I was still alive."

"Since you and Frederickson were together while you were in London, an ENIGMA agent could have been monitoring you and concluded that you confided in Frederickson about ENIGMA," Shirley said. "This was their way of letting Frederickson know about it."

Inspector Hewitt nodded in agreement. "I believe this was ENIGMA's way of saying 'hi' to Frederickson, to give him a little opportunity to try and stop them."

"Feeling smug that he would fail," Shirley said. "This ENIGMA organization, or at least Mr. E, has quite an ego."

"Did you try to solve the riddles?" Blake asked his dad.

"To be honest, at the time, I didn't have any idea what they meant," Inspector Hewitt admitted. "Everything made sense after I heard that the Mona Lisa was stolen. Once that happened, I put two and two together. I had an urge to call the Paris Police and tell them all I knew, but I was afraid that somehow ENIGMA would find out and I would really be dead. I knew that ENIGMA committed crimes for others, so I figured that someone had hired them to steal the Mona Lisa. The second and third riddles were, respectively, the city where the Mona Lisa would be brought and the place where the Mona Lisa would be given to the client."

"Well, we figured out the first riddle," Bo said. "Anyone want to try the others?"

Blake thought for a moment. "I'm drawing a blank, so far."

Shirley recalled the second riddle aloud. "Redington," she finally announced.

"Exactly," Inspector Hewitt agreed.

Blake understood and looked at Shirley with admiration. Bo was confused. "Huh?" he said with a blank face.

"'Crimson dying under heavy weight,'" Shirley repeated. "'Crimson' is a type of red. 'Dying' has nothing to do with death; here it means dipping in dye. 'Heavy weight' means 'ton.' Put it all together and you get 'Redington.'"

"Exactly," Inspector Hewitt said.

"So you mean to tell me that the Mona Lisa is really in Redington?" Bo asked, still trying to take everything in.

"I'm afraid so," Inspector Hewitt acknowledged. "Somewhere, in my wife's hometown, is the painting sought by law enforcement agencies worldwide. I managed to get approval to leave for Redington at once, telling my superior at Scotland Yard that I got an anonymous tip that the Mona Lisa was there. I did not mention the note. He was hesitant at first, but he let me go anyway, knowing my reputation before I became Frederickson. During my flight, I was afraid that ENIGMA was tailing me to see if I was a serious threat. Once I landed in Redington, I checked into a motel and searched every clothing store and sporting goods store I could find on foot so that I wasn't easy to track. I figured that the third riddle referred to one of those."

Dr. Hewitt looked at the third riddle. "Well, it can be one of them."

Both Bo and Blake looked at Shirley, wondering if she had some ideas. She just stood there silently, thinking and ready to listen to the rest of the inspector's story.

Inspector Hewitt continued. "Fighting jet lag and finding nothing, I decided to take a break..."

"At a supermarket," Shirley finished. "I saw you there buying a tabloid and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. You kept looking for ENIGMA agents, your fear of them has affected your stomach, and you were rather upset when you read the article about the Mona Lisa."

"Correct again, Shirley," Inspector Hewitt said, amazed at her powers of deduction. "I wasn't the same since I heard of that evil organization."

"Hold on a minute." Bo held up his hand to get everyone's attention. He just remembered something. "When you cornered us, did you really think we were ENIGMA agents?" he asked the inspector.

"Well, not quite. I thought ENIGMA hired you to keep an eye on me," Inspector Hewitt said. "They've done it before in Peru."

"You didn't recognize me?" Blake asked, amazed at how his dad did not know his own son.

"To be honest, it's been a while, son. Sorry for scaring you like that," Inspector Hewitt apologized to his son and his friends. "When I saw Shirley and her hat, I was about to panic."

"I guess you haven't found the Mona Lisa, huh, Dad?" Blake said.

Inspector Hewitt shook his head sadly. "I've searched every clothing store and sporting goods store I could, and I've found nothing." He did not sound enthusiastic. "I guess I'm too late." He looked at his wife and son as he got up from the sofa. "I'll be leaving now."

"Why?" Dr. Hewitt asked. She could not believe that her husband, thought dead, was going to leave her and their son again.

"ENIGMA," Blake said, trying not to express any emotion.

"I'm afraid so, son," Inspector Hewitt said as he put on his wig. "They're still out there, and I won't rest until I expose them." He looked at Dr. Hewitt. "You know I can't stay. If ENIGMA found out that Frederickson and Chris Hewitt were really the same person, we'd all be dead."

"Why'd you bother coming back?" Blake asked with a little anger in his voice.

"Because," Inspector Hewitt began, "I wanted to see my family one last time before ENIGMA got to me. I'm sure they know of my actions and consider me a threat. I've got to go before they get me."

Dr. Hewitt got up from the sofa and hugged her husband tightly. Blake joined the family embrace, knowing that it would be the last one. Shirley and Bo watched them.

The Hewitt family broke up the group hug. "So you're going back to England?" Blake looked at his dad.

"If I'm lucky," Inspector Hewitt said. "The Mona Lisa's been moved, so no sense of being a sitting target."

"Actually, you still have a chance," Shirley told Inspector Hewitt. "The Mona Lisa's still in Redington."

All eyes were on Shirley. "Come again?" Bo said.

"The Mona Lisa is still in Redington. ENIGMA hasn't moved it yet," Shirley said. She looked at Bo and Blake. "I was going to tell you before Inspector Hewitt paid us a surprise visit. I managed to pinpoint its exact location."

"You know where the Mona Lisa is?" Inspector Hewitt's voice was full of hope.

"I do," Shirley said matter-of-factly.

"Where is it?" Blake asked.

Everyone looked at Shirley, who finally announced the location of the stolen famous painting. "The Redington Community Theater."

Everyone was silent. Inspector Hewitt quickly thanked Shirley for her help and ran out the door. "This time I've got them," he said to himself. Soon, a car was heard leaving the area.

Blake looked at Shirley. "How...?"

"I'll explain on our way there," Shirley said before taking off after the inspector. Before Dr. Hewitt could stop them, Blake and Bo followed her out the door and into the night.

The Case of the Mysterious Man : Chapter 6

"So, how did you figure out that the Mona Lisa was at the Redington Community Theater?" Blake asked Shirley. The young detective and her friends were on their way there on their bikes.

"Do you recall the list of places affected by that mysterious smell?" Shirley Asked Blake.

"Yeah," Blake answered. "Definitely too weird."

"Exactly why it got my attention," Shirley said. "After conducting a little field research, I concluded that ENIGMA spread some sort of chemical that emitted a strong odor."

"Why?" Bo asked.

"To pretty much keep the police on the wrong track," Shirley said. "To cover their true intent."

"Which is?" Bo asked.

"Selling the Mona Lisa," Blake clarified. "But how did you know what the place was?" he asked Shirley.

"Simple. I solved the riddle." Shirley began to explain. "I looked at the list of places and the only place that matched the answer was the Redington Community Theater."

"Come again?" Bo did not understand Shirley's logic.

"Of course!" Blake exclaimed. "'Playing is easy and fun, but the clothing is murder.'"

Bo looked at Blake with a blank expression on his face. "'Playing,' as in performing in a play or acting," he explained. "Plays are usually done in theaters."

"What about 'clothing is murder?'" Bo inquired.

"Ever experienced getting fitted for a costume and then wearing it for a few hours?" Shirley commented. She had performed in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream. "It was quite bothersome and it took a while to get used to. Apparently Mr. E shares the same opinion."

"Okay, so the Mona Lisa is being hidden in the Redington Community Theater," Bo reviewed. "So why haven't we called the cops? Why are we out here right now?"

"I tried earlier," Shirley said. "They didn't believe me."

"So, we're the only ones who can stop ENIGMA," Bo said, frustrated. "How do we know that they're still here with the Mona Lisa?"

Shirley, Bo, and Blake were now approaching the Redington Community Theater. "Because I saw something that proves they're still here. Also, hardly anyone this area at this time of night," she whispered to her friends. "The perfect time to proceed with any illegal operation."

"Why are we whispering?" Bo asked in a low voice as he and Blake followed Shirley.

"We don't want to alert anyone to our presence," Shirley whispered back. She looked around and saw two cars parked across the street from the theater. She noted that both were rentals. "looks like your dad's here already," she told Blake.

"But where is he?" Blake asked with concern.

"Let's take the back way." Shirley motioned her friends to follow her to the back. Once there, they leaned their bikes against the back wall. Finding the back door locked, Shirley took out her Swiss Army knife, crouched down, and began to work on the lock. Bo and Blake watched as she tried to unlock the door.

"Is there anything you can't do?" Blake asked Shirley.

"Have fun," Bo responded.

Shirley ignored Bo's remark and kept working on the lock until she heard a click. "Yes," she said, keeping her voice down. She got up and was about to open the door when she heard another click behind her. She also smelled a foul odor. She froze, keeping her gaze forward. "Oh, no."

Bo and Blake also froze. "Whew, that stinks," Bo said. "Reminds me of..."

"Bo, don't say another word," Shirley warned.

"Better follow your little friend's advice, boy," a male voice said from behind them. "Otherwise, I'll have to shoot you."

Bo and Blake recognized the voice. Shirley knew who was behind them. She turned her head and confirmed her suspicions. Standing behind her and her friends was the "homeless man" they met yesterday, still in his ragged clothes and now pointing a gun at them.

"Well, well, well," the "homeless man" said with a smile. "Looks like I caught three more snoops." He chuckled a little. "Okay, kids. Raise your hands and march on inside. You might as well see history in the making before I plug you."

Shirley, Bo, and Blake raised their hands. The "homeless man" kept his gun on them as he sprayed himself with a small blue aerosol can. "Don't want the others to complain about the smell," he muttered to himself as he opened the door. As they walked into the theater, he recognized Blake. "Thanks for your generous donation yesterday," he told him. "For that, I'll shoot you last."

The "homeless man" brought Shirley, Bo, and Blake to the stage, where they saw a huge wooden crate in the middle of it. Standing next to it was a tall man in a gray trenchcoat and business suit. He was wearing a jackal mask and was patting the top of the crate with one of his gloved hands, talking to himself. Two muscular men in ski masks, sweaters, and jeans were near the right edge of the stage guarding a man. They had long blue-colored metal canisters strapped to their backs. Each man held a spray gun with a rubber hose connected to his canister. Shirley recognized the man as Inspector Hewitt. His wig had been removed. Blake saw his father and tried to control himself.

The man in the jackal mask looked at Inspector Hewitt. "I'm surprised you managed to hide from us after all these years, Inspector," he said to him. "Mr. E genuinely believed that you were killed in the bombing."

Inspector Hewitt glared at the man in the jackal mask. "You can tell your boss that he got my friend instead," he said angrily.

"Number Two will be so disappointed that his bomb missed the intended target," the man in the jackal mask said. He paused for a moment. "You know what, Inspector? I'll tell Mr. E what you told me, in addition to the report of your confirmed demise."

Inspector Hewitt was about to respond when he saw the "homeless man" show Shirley, Bo, and Blake in. "Right this way, kids," the "homeless man" sneered, escorting them to where Inspector Hewitt was.

"What are you three doing here?" the inspector asked the kids in a whisper.

"I've been wondering the same thing," Bo muttered.

"We wanted to help you," Blake said to his father.

Inspector Hewitt tried his best to contain his anger. "You kids are crazy! These men are dangerous! Cold-blooded killers! Once the Mona Lisa is given to their client, they'll shoot us."

The man in the jackal mask saw the "homeless man," then his prisoners. "Ah, Number Seven-Five-Two," he addressed the bum. "I see you've caught more snoops."

"Caught 'em in the back, Number Four-Four-Zero," the "homeless man" reported, putting his gun in his pocket. "The girl here was trying to pick the lock," he said, pointing to Shirley.

"Well, I was, like, trying to get my book," Shirley said in her best airhead voice.

"Your...book?" Number Four-Four-Zero stared at Shirley.

"Yeah," Shirley said. "I like, totally left it in here after rehearsals about a week ago, maybe two."

"And you just decided to break in here, in the middle of the night, to get your book?" Number Four-Four-Zero asked Shirley.

Shirley shrugged and gave a dumb-girl smile. "I just remembered tonight."

Number Four-Four-Zero shook his head, amazed at Shirley's apparent stupidity. He decided not to question her further.

"Number Four-Four-Zero," a voice from the back addressed the head ENIGMA agent. Another man in a ski mask, sweater, and jeans entered the stage.

"Ah, Number Seven-Zero-One," Number Four-Four-Zero said to the newcomer. "I take it our client is well?"

"He is, Number Four-Four-Zero," Number Seven-Zero-One replied. "He is with three of his pilots and they have the rest of the payment."

"Good. Tell them to come in," Number Four-Four-Zero ordered. Number Seven-Zero-One motioned to someone off-stage. A large-framed balding man with gray hair in a business suit and coat entered the stage, followed by three man in airplane pilot uniforms. He wore glasses on his large, beak-like nose. Behind them, his eyes were full of anticipation. Each of his men carried a large suitcase.

"Ah, Mr. Malkin. Good of you to finally join us," Number Four-Four-Zero said to the fat man.

"Sorry for my tardiness, but I had to deal with some business." Mr. Malkin was about to say more to Number Four-Four-Zero when he saw Shirley, Bo, Blake, and Inspector Hewitt. "What are they doing here?" he said, pointing to the prisoners.

Number Four-Four-Zero looked at the prisoners. "Don't worry about them," he told Mr. Malkin. "We'll get rid of them after the transfer."

Mr. Malkin was reassured. He wiped his brow with a red handkerchief. "Good, good." He calmed down. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can leave," he said to Number Four-Four-Zero. "You have the painting?"

Number Four-Four-Zero waved to the crate. "Right there. You have the rest of our little fee?"

Mr. Malkin pointed to his men and to the suitcases they were carrying. "I always pay full price for my purchases," he grinned. "Now," he said, rubbing his fat hands together, "to see my latest purchase."

Shirley watched as Number Four-Four-Zero led Mr. Malkin and his men to the crate. He motioned to Number Seven-Five-Two and Number Seven-Zero-One, who walked up to the crate. They lifted the top of the crate off carefully and placed it on the floor. Grinning, Mr. Malkin walked up to the crate and looked in it. His face fell when he saw the crate's contents. "Is this some sort of joke?" he said angrily. He reached into the crate and pulled out a handful of straw and some small objects. He showed what he found to Number Four-Four-Zero. Shirley saw that Mr. Malkin was holding a handful of what seemed to be ball bearings. Bo tried not to laugh.

"What are you trying to pull here?" Mr. Malkin asked furiously.

Number Four-Four-Zero chuckled a little. "Don't lose your temper, Mr. Malkin." He nodded at Number Seven-Five-Two and Number Seven-Zero-One. "You just saw what we reported to customs when we sent the crate."

"What are they doing?" Bo asked his fellow captives as the two ENIGMA agents bent down and lifted the top of the crate off the floor. Shirley watched as they flipped it over carefully and placed it on top of the crate. While the criminals were flipping over the top of the crate, she saw a glimpse of what was in it.

"It's the Mona Lisa," Shirley exclaimed in a low voice.

"What?" Bo did not get a good look.

"The Mona Lisa," Shirley answered. "It's hidden in the crate's lid."

Blake looked at Shirley. "Are you sure it was the Mona Lisa?"

"Positive." Shirley looked at Mr. Malkin, who was looking at what was hidden in the top of the crate. The mixture of surprise and amazement that appeared on his face after a period of careful examination confirmed her findings.

"It's mine," Mr. Malkin said gleefully with his eyes wide open. "One of the greatest masterpieces in the world, and it's mine. All mine."

Number Four-Four-Zero looked at the prisoners. Shirley felt that behind his jackal mask, he was grinning. "Care to take a look, Inspector?" he asked. "You and your little friends will have the distinct honor of seeing her before her new owner takes her away."

Number Seven-Five-Two and Number Seven-Zero-One lifted the top of the crate and held it up so that Shirley and the other prisoners could view its underside. They saw the Mona Lisa, with its famous smile, behind a glass panel. It was amazingly intact.

"So, do you want to let us in on how you smuggled the Mona Lisa out of France?" Inspector Hewitt asked Number Four-Four-Zero.

Number Four-Four-Zero laughed and shook his head. "Sorry, Inspector, but that's a trade secret."

Mr. Malkin walked up to the Mona Lisa and looked at it. He spoke as he touched the glass panel. "Soon, my darling, you will be the centerpiece of my vast art collection. In my vault, only I, a true art lover, will be allowed to partake in your beauty."

Bo looked at Shirley and Blake. "Definite wacko," he said, keeping his voice low.

The Mona Lisa was put down so that it leaned against one side of the crate. "Well, my friend," Mr. Malkin addressed Number Four-Four-Zero as they walked away from the crate and toward stage left, "you have kept your end of the deal, so I will keep mine." He waved to his men, who brought the suitcases over to him and Number Four-Four-Zero. "100 billion dollars, I believe, was the rest of the payment I negotiated with your leader, Mr. Malkin recalled.

The men opened the suitcases and held them out for inspection. "Check the money," Number Four-Four-Zero ordered Number Seven-Five-Two and Number Seven-Zero-One. They started inspecting the money. Number Four-Four-Zero took out a cell phone and pressed a button. "I'm going to report to Mr. E on our successful business arrangement," he told Mr. Malkin. Number Four-Four-Zero was having vivid images of being promoted.

Mr. Malkin looked at Shirley, her friends, and Inspector Hewitt. "What will you do with them?" he asked Number Four-Four-Zero.

"Arrange a little 'accident' for them," the lead ENIGMA agent answered. He reached ENIGMA headquarters and proceeded to give his identification number and access code.

As the ENIGMA agents and their client were preoccupied, Shirley looked at Bo, Blake, and Inspector Hewitt. "Get ready to move," she whispered. The guards were not watching their prisoners; their attention was instead on their fellow ENIGMA agents.

"What?" Bo tried not to raise his voice. "What exactly are we going to do?"

"Do you have a plan, Shirley?" Inspector Hewitt asked.

Shirley reached into her pocket. "Just try not to breathe in too deeply."

"Huh?" Blake did not understand.

Shirley pulled out a test tube. "Cover your noses and mouths," she told the others. She uncorked it and quickly covered her nose and mouth with one hand. Bo, Blake, and Inspector Hewitt, although not understanding what was going on, followed suit. Shirley bent down and placed the open tube on the floor, then kicked it lightly. The tube rolled behind the stage curtain.

One of the guards noticed the foul smell from the tube. He sniffed the air, then started to gag. Soon, everyone noticed the strong smell. Still on his cell phone, Number Four-Four-Zero started to cough. Mr. Malkin covered his nose and mouth with his handkerchief. Mr. Malkin's men tried to hold up the suitcases, but dropped them to the floor, making a large mess of money. Number Seven-Five-Two and Number Seven-Zero-One covered their faces.

"Hey, did you spray yourself before you came in?" Number Seven-Zero-One asked Number Seven-Five-Two.

"Yes, I did!" Number Seven-five-Two replied while coughing. He looked at the two men guarding Shirley and the others. "You two idiots must've missed a spot!"

Before any of the guards could answer, Number Four-Four-Zero broke in. "What are you two waiting for? Start spraying!"

The two guards help up their spray guns. They were about to fire when Blake suddenly grabbed one of the guards by the wrist. He snatched the spray gun out of the guard's hand and sprayed him in the face strongly with a blue gas. The guard stumbled back and fell to the floor, blinded.

The second guard saw what had happened and went for Blake. Inspector Hewitt grabbed the guard and punched him hard in the face. The second guard fell to the floor, unconscious.

Number Four-Four-Zero realized what was happening. Thanks to the brief discharge of the spray gun, the smell had a minimal effect on everyone. He quickly hung up on ENIGMA headquarters. "Get them!" he shouted.

Number Seven-Five-Two pulled out his gun. Number Seven-Zero-One rushed the freed prisoners, but was knocked down by Blake, who delivered a kick to his stomach. Number Seven-Zero-One fell hard to the floor, moaning and clutching his stomach.

"Hmmm. Guess I've still got it," Blake remarked.

Seeing Number Seven-Five-Two with his gun, Bo bent down near the unconscious guard and grabbed his spray gun. Before Number Seven-Five-Two could fire, Bo aimed for him and pulled the trigger of the spray gun, hitting him in the face.

"Aaargh!" Number Seven-Five-Two was blinded. Before he could recover, Bo tackled him to the floor. In the process, the fake homeless man's gun dropped out of his hand. While the fallen criminal groaned, Bo picked up his gun.

Shirley snuck up to the crate while Mr. Malkin's men charged Inspector Hewitt and Blake. Blake ducked a punch by one of them and took him down with a quick sweep kick. Inspector Hewitt took another one out with a judo throw. The last one tried to sneak up on Inspector Hewitt, but Blake knocked him down with a kick to the back.

Inspector Hewitt looked at his son. "Nice moves, son."

Blake simply grinned.

Number Four-Four-Zero and Mr. Malkin saw that the odds were against them. "I think it's time we departed," Number Four-Four-Zero advised Mr. Malkin.

"Not without the Mona Lisa!" Mr. Malkin went for the stolen painting. Number Four-Four-Zero grudgingly followed him, not wanting to lose his promotion and experience the wrath of Mr. E.

Shirley saw Mr. Malkin and Number Four-Four-Zero go for the Mona Lisa. Blake also saw them and ran to the crate. "Hurry!" Shirley told him as she began to scoop out ball bearings and toss them in the villains' path. Blake helped out, and soon the floor in front of them was covered with ball bearings.

Unable to stop themselves quickly, Mr. Malkin and Number Four-Four-Zero ran onto the ball bearings. Immediately they slipped and lost their balance. Unfortunately for Number Four-Four-Zero, Mr. Malkin fell on him as they both crashed to the floor.

Bo gave the gun to Inspector Hewitt. Once he had it, he shouted, "Nobody move! You're all under arrest!"

Shirley looked around her. The three men in ski masks were out of action. Number Seven-Five-Two was not moving after Bo's tackle. Mr. Malkin's men were in no shape for another fight. Mr. Malkin was trying to get up, and Number Four-Four-Zero was struggling to get out from underneath the fat Mr. Malkin. They were not having any luck.

"I don't think you have to worry about that," Shirley told the inspector. She looked at Blake. "Nice moves."

"Thanks," Blake said, smiling at Shirley.

Bo rolled his eyes. "Now can we call the police?"

Shirley took out her cell phone and handed it to Inspector Hewitt. "Your arrest," she said. "Besides, I think they'll believe you."

"Move it," a police officer ordered the captured criminals, now handcuffed. They marched into the large police van, still nursing minor injuries. The Mona Lisa was being carried to another police car by two other officers.

Mr. Malkin got a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. As he stepped into the police van, he whined, "I was so close. So close..."

Mr. Malkin sat next to Number Four-Four-Zero, who still had his jackal mask on. Number Four-Four-Zero knew how bad the situation was. He was certain that he was not going to be promoted, much less allowed to live. He dwelled on this as the police van left the area, followed by the police car carrying the Mona Lisa.

Next to a police car in front of the theater, Inspector Hewitt was with Inspector Markie. Unlike with Shirley, the police took Inspector Hewitt seriously. Also present was a TV news van. One of the local TV news shows was doing an update on the police investigation into the mysterious smell when Inspector Hewitt called.

A male reporter with a cameraman was questioning both inspectors. "So this ENIGMA organization, which tried to kill you years ago, was behind the theft of the Mona Lisa?" he asked Inspector Hewitt.

"That's correct," Inspector Hewitt answered. "They were in the process of selling it when some concerned citizens and I stopped them."

"Who are these concerned citizens?" the reporter asked. Behind him, a newspaper photographer was taking pictures of the "dead" policeman.

"I really don't know," Inspector Hewitt answered. "They left before I could thank them."

From behind the side of the Redington Community Theater, the "concerned citizens" were watching everything. Shirley, Bo, and Blake watched as Inspector Hewitt explained his situation to the reporter.

"Looks like your dad's back from the grave," Bo said to Blake.

"And back on the job," Blake said with a smile.

"You know, Blake. Your dad's taking a big risk revealing himself to the world," Shirley pointed out.

"I don't think he's afraid anymore, Shirley," Blake said. "He's done what he's promised himself and Frederickson. He's exposed ENIGMA and stopped them."

Shirley watched as the reporter questioned Inspector Hewitt further. "So what proof do you have that ENIGMA exists?"

Inspector Hewitt gestured to Inspector Markie, who produced a plastic bag holding Number Four-Four-Zero's cell phone. "Notice the snake shaped like a question mark and has the name written on its body," Inspector Markie said, pointing to the back of the phone. "We've also found that same symbol on some red and blue gas canisters and other items we confiscated from the thieves."

"So what will you do now, Inspector?" the reporter asked Inspector Hewitt.

"I'll continue my work until Mr. E is caught," Inspector Hewitt announced with determination. "I won't rest until he stands trial for his crimes."

From her hiding place, Shirley smiled. "I believe it's time we left." She pushed her bike toward the back. Bo and Blake followed her lead, and soon all three were riding their bikes out of there.

The Case of the Mysterious Man : Chapter 7

On Monday, during lunch at Sussex Academy, Blake found Shirley and Bo eating lunch. Shirley noticed how happy he looked.

"Hi, Blake," Shirley greeted. "Why are you such in a good mood?"

"My dad's going to stay in Redington," Blake said. "Interpol's assigning him here to work with the police department." He looked at Shirley. "I've got my dad back, Shirley. He's moving in with us. My mom's so happy. We've got a lot of catching up to do." He sat down next to Shirley, who did not mind one bit.

"That's great news, Blake," Shirley said.

Bo looked up from his lunch. "So what happened to the ENIGMA agents? Did your dad make them spill their guts about ENIGMA?"

"Well, they did talk," Blake said. "They didn't have much choice concerning the evidence my dad got. They revealed how they managed to plant something that caused that foul odor in various places to keep the police distracted. They used something like putty that, when chewed, releases the gas after a while. They pretended that they were chewing gum in a place, then stuck the wad somewhere and quickly left. They also had a gas that eliminated the foul smell. That was what in those blue canisters those guards had."

"So how did they smuggle the Mona Lisa out of France?" Bo asked.

"My dad's still trying to make sense out of that," Blake replied. "It had to do with hi-tech gizmos, though. Something that cloaked the Mona Lisa from detection."

"Did your dad get anything else out of those ENIGMA agents?" Shirley asked.

"Unfortunately, they just confirmed what my dad was told. Nothing new," Blake said. "But Dad's still going to keep investigating them. He won't rest until Mr. E's in prison for good." He leaned closer to Shirley and whispered to her. "By the way, Dad said 'thanks' for your help. He was also wondering if you'd consider a job in Interpol when you're older."

"Tell him I'll think about his offer," Shirley answered. "After all, I live for mysteries."

"Speaking of mysteries..." Blake's manner changed and he became nervous. He looked down while he spoke. "Um, Shirley, I was wondering..."

"Wondering what, Blake?" Shirley asked.

Blake gathered his courage and looked at Shirley. "Well, um, there's this mystery movie that's being shown tonight and I was wondering if..."

"Blake, I'd like to go with you," Shirley said with a smile. She had a feeling that was what Blake was going to ask.

Blake was speechless, then regained his composure and spoke again. Bo simply turned away and ate his lunch. He shook his head and sighed, occasionally looking at Shirley and Blake, who began to make plans for tonight.

All over the world, newspapers proclaimed the good news: The Mona Lisa had been found. Law enforcement agencies around the globe were surprised and pleased that Inspector Chris Hewitt had survived and had successfully revealed the secret criminal organization ENIGMA as the party responsible for the theft of the beloved Mona Lisa. Art lovers in all countries rejoiced, and local law enforcement agencies followed Inspector Hewitt's lead and began to investigate the shadowy syndicate known as ENIGMA Worldwide, Inspector Hewitt was proclaimed a hero by many, especially the French, who invited the inspector to Paris for a free vacation. He refused politely, saying that he wanted to get reacquainted with his wife and son.

Only one place did not have this glowing opinion of Inspector Hewitt. At ENIGMA headquarters, the recovery of the Mona Lisa was not received joyfully.

Standing in the middle of his office, Mr. E held an enlarged copy of a photograph of Inspector Hewitt standing in front of the Redington Community Theater pasted to a piece of thin cardboard in his left hand. He had gotten it from the local newspaper. It was part of the top story, its headline proclaiming "'DEAD' HERO RECOVERS MONA LISA." He stared at the picture with hatred, his face in a grimace.

Nigel and Number One watched as Mr. E threw the picture upward. As it came down, both men watched as Mr. E, with the katana sword he was holding in his right hand, slashed the picture into pieces. The remains fell to the floor, joining more pieces of other copies of the picture which Mr. E had sliced and diced earlier.

"A pity it isn't the real thing," Mr. E remarked as he walked to a nearby chair with a pile of more pictures. He picked one up and returned to his spot. "What news of our men?" he asked Number One.

Number One gulped as Mr. E threw the picture up and slashed it to pieces as it fell toward the floor. "W-well, sir, I'm afraid they talked." Eyeing the katana in Mr. E's hands, he quickly added, "Not much about us, though. They just confessed on how they stole the Mona Lisa and confirmed what the traitor told Hewitt."

"I see," Mr. E said as he walked over to Nigel, who was holding a silver serving tray with a glass of iced lemonade. Mr. E took the glass and began to drink its contents.

"They had no choice, sir," Number One said as Mr. E drank his lemonade. "The equipment confiscated from them was their downfall. Once confronted with it, they talked."

Mr. E finished his drink and replaced the glass on the tray. "Will you be issuing an execution order for Number Four-Four-Zero and his group, sir?" Nigel inquired.

Mr. E walked back to the pile of photocopies on the chair. "Not a good idea, Nigel," he answered as he picked one up.

"What about Hewitt, sir?" Number One asked. "I confess that I'm rather tempted, but that's also not a good idea." Mr. E

walked back to the middle of the room. "Right now, gentlemen, we can't afford to attract attention." He threw the picture up and slashed it repeatedly with his katana. "Every blasted policeman around the world will on the lookout for us now, and quite frankly, a few mysterious deaths will make them look harder." He shrugged. "Besides, why kill good men? They talked only after being confronted with the truth." He looked at Number One. "How are our other jobs doing?"

"Well, sir," Number One began. "We managed to smuggle those stolen Mayan artifacts out of Mexico and that boating 'accident' we arranged for that Greek politician went rather well."

"How much did we make on those jobs altogether?" Mr. E asked as he got another picture of Inspector Hewitt.

"I believe about five million dollars," Number One reported.

"Mere chicken feed, Number One." Mr. E threw the picture up and quickly reduced it to pieces with the katana. "Compared with what we could've made if we had been successful with the Mona Lisa deal, that amount is chicken feed."

Mr. E paused for a moment and looked at Nigel and Number One. "It's time for a few changes, gentlemen. The puzzles will stay, but they'll be harder. The time between their delivery and the crime will be reduced dramatically. Our agents will improve their stealth skills. As for captured agents, they will not give any new information about us that could help the police and we'll activate the appropriate plan for that situation."

"As you wish, sir," Number One said. "What should I tell our agents?"

"Have them stay underground until further notice," Mr. E told Number One as he grabbed another picture. He looked at it closely. "This Hewitt fellow is rather lucky, isn't he, gentlemen?"

"Indeed, sir," Nigel said.

"Y-yes, sir," Number One said.

Mr. E continued to look at the picture. "My grandfather would have been furious if he were still alive," he commented. "The man he considered the most dangerous threat to ENIGMA is still alive thanks to dumb luck." He thought for a moment, then looked at Nigel. "I take it Number Two isn't taking the news of Hewitt's 'resurrection' well?"

"I believe he shot his television set when he saw Hewitt on the news," Nigel recalled.

Mr. E smiled and shook his head, then returned his focus to the picture. "A clever man, this Inspector Hewitt," he commented. "Hiding from us by using his dead friend's identity. I'm amazed we didn't notice while we were tracking Frederickson that he and Hewitt were the same."

Number One gulped, then gathered his courage. "Although I agree with you on not executing Number Four-Four-Zero and his group, I must strongly insist that we take care of Hewitt in the near future. His actions have threatened the security of ENIGMA."

"I must agree with Number One, sir," Nigel said. "Hewitt's actions have encouraged police investigations around the world. He must be eliminated soon."

Mr. E looked at his two henchmen, then at the picture and smiled mysteriously. "Hewitt's not our main concern, gentlemen. Disposing of him will give me great pleasure, but it will not solve our main problem. He's not the primary threat."

"He isn't?" Number One said, puzzled.

"Why do you say that, sir?" Nigel asked.

"According to Number Four-Four-Zero, 'Frederickson' kept searching clothing stores," Mr. E explained. "That means the third riddle baffled him. Apparently even the ever-clever Inspector Hewitt can be easily fooled." He looked up at Nigel and Number One. "No, gentlemen. Hewitt is not our main problem. It is these 'concerned citizens' that he mentioned that are my current bane in life."

"Why do you say that, sir?" Number One asked.

Mr. E could not believe Number One's inability to see the obvious. He controlled his frustration with him. "These 'concerned citizens' must have solved the final riddle and informed Inspector Hewitt, who managed to stop Number Four-Four-Zero." There was a tinge of anger in his voice. "It is these 'concerned citizens' who are our main problem. They ruined my perfect plan. They, or at least one of them, clearly have acute mental powers which may even equal my own. Quite frankly, I can't have that. These meddlers have dared to defy me, a most fatal error."

"I'm sorry to say this, but we don't know who they are, sir," Number One stated.

"A pity, Number One." Mr. E looked at the picture in his hand and spoke to it disdainfully. "You've won this round, Hewitt. I'll let you have your life and your family back, but at the price of your mysterious benefactors' lives!" He was about to throw the picture upward when he spotted something. He lifted his dark glasses for a moment and studied a part of the picture closely.

"Sir?" Nigel did not understand what was going on.

Still holding the picture, Mr. E walked over to his desk and leaned his katana against it. He grabbed a magnifying glass off it and studied what he saw closely with it. Nigel and Number One watched him silently with curiosity.

Finally, Mr. E handed the picture to Number One and pointed to Hewitt's right. "Number One, have the lab boys enlarge that section and enhance it," he ordered. Seeing Number One's confused expression, he said impatiently, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get moving!"

Startled, Number One mumbled a "Yes, sir," then left the room. "I want a positive ID, Number One!" Mr. E shouted after Number One.

"What did you see, sir?" Nigel asked.

Mr. E laid another picture on Nigel's tray next to the glass and handed him the magnifying glass. He pointed to a spot in the background on Hewitt's right. "I believe I've found one of my little pests," he declared knowingly. "The main one, I presume."

Holding the tray at the bottom in one hand, Nigel looked at the spot that Mr. E pointed at with the magnifying glass. It was the side of the theater, and peeking out from it was a girl with dark hair and a distinctive hat. "She looks rather young, sir," he commented.

"It doesn't matter, Nigel. She and her friends must pay for their interference," Mr. E said. He snatched the picture off the tray quickly and looked at the unknown girl with intense yet controlled rage. He smiled sickly at the picture. "No one messes with Mr. E and gets away with it."

Mr. E went back to his desk and grabbed his katana. In one swift movement, he threw the picture up and reduced it to pieces. "No one," he said coldly, looking down at the pieces.