Encyclopedia Brown was sitting in his garage one late afternoon when he heard a familiar chewing sound outside. The chomping got louder and louder until—sure enough—Betsy “Bubblegum” Barton appeared in the doorway. “Encyclopedia,” she said, between deafening chomps on her gum, “I’ve got a real doozy of a case for ya.”

Everyone in the fifth grade hated Betsy, and Encyclopedia was no exception. She was insufferable and loud, but Encyclopedia had become bored by the monotony of everyday life. Solving crimes was the only thing that made him feel anything close to real emotion. “I’ll take the case,” he said. He followed Betsy out of the garage and up the block towards her home.

“Encyclopedia, I’m tellin’ ya, this is a real toughie. I thought about going to your dad about it but decided I’d rather tell someone I trusted.” Encyclopedia offered a reassuring smile, though inside he was scoffing. Betsy had no reason to trust him. Encyclopedia’s face was familiar to her from their shared third-period gym class—any further relationship between them was an illusion.

Still, he was glad she had turned to him over his father’s good-for-nothing police force. Encyclopedia respected the Idaville Police Department less than the worms in his backyard—or even than Betsy, perhaps. This was not just a result of Encyclopedia’s general anarcho-syndicalist ideology, in which the police state was the epitome of all evil—the Idaville Police Department specifically was a collection of the most self-serving and dim-witted individuals that Encyclopedia could imagine. All this, of course, would go far over Betsy’s head, Encyclopedia thought to himself, so they continued the walk in silence, save for Betsy’s unbearable gum-chewing. 

“Hey, Encyclopedia!” yelled an old woman filling out a crossword on a bench as he and Betsy passed. “What’s a twelve-letter word for the only fifth-grader I’m looking to keep me warm tonight?”

Encyclopedia had grown used to Idaville’s predatory elderly population and their collective sexual obsession with him. “Ignore her,” he grunted at Betsy, and she kept chomping away at her gum, too moronic to notice anything past her nose. In some ways, Encyclopedia envied her complete ignorance—surely it was preferable to the burden of knowledge.

The pair finally arrived at Betsy’s home, and when she opened the front door for Encyclopedia to enter the situation became immediately apparent. Betsy’s mother, whom Encyclopedia recognized from the annual Scholastic Book Fair, was sitting at the dinner table, face planted in a full plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Two long kitchen knives sprouted like orchids from her back.

This was the moment. If Encyclopedia were to feel anything meaningful in his life, it would have to be now. But he experienced little more than a slight flutter in his heart, and after a few moments that too had disappeared. Encyclopedia was disappointed, but he knew his own nature. This was the curse of having an encyclopedia for a brain—all the cognitive wonders of the world just lay there, alphabetically arranged, awaiting perusal. The fact of their total accessibility removed from them any true value. Encyclopedia had thousands of books, porn catalogs, and accounts of the most gruesome murders and sex crimes imaginable all ordered neatly in his brain from eleven years of living, learning, reading, and effortlessly memorizing. All that knowledge—and none of it made him feel a thing. 

Encyclopedia wondered at the pain an omniscient God must feel, and at his relationship to such a being, but this thought was fleeting too. He noticed Betsy eyeing him for a reaction at the grisly sight that lay before them. She had, for once, stopped chewing.

“It’s terrible, to be sure,” he said to her, and then, feeling this wasn’t enough, made a little sad face. She, he noticed, exhibited surprisingly low levels of emotion given the scenario. “Likely psychological shock,” he thought.

Encyclopedia approached the body to get a better look at the scene. He examined the tomato sauce that had overflowed off the plate and onto the table, and the two knives stuck deep in the dead woman’s back. He looked up at Betsy and quipped, “Suicide, do you reckon?”

Betsy did not laugh, and Encyclopedia immediately regretted the joke. He turned his gaze back to the knives, noting a lack of fingerprints on either. He spotted a handkerchief beside the body and, looking closer, noticed some cigarette ash crinkled in. He took a short whiff—Marlboros.

“Say, Betsy,” Encyclopedia said, turning his gaze back to the fifth-grade dame, “does anyone in your family happen to smoke cigarettes?”

“Why, sure,” Betsy answered, chewing with dull excitement. “My dad does! Only Marlboros though. He’s napping upstairs right now.”

“Well, Betsy,” Encyclopedia responded with a tinge of irritation. “It might take a little time to confirm, but I think we found our killer.”




Encyclopedia carefully removed the knives from Mrs. Barton’s back and took them, along with the handkerchief, back home to his garage. He used the three-million-dollar forensic analysis equipment he had stolen from his father’s lab (that Idaville Police Department really is a gang of nincompoops) and found that Betsy had slain her own mother. Betsy! Can you believe it? Encyclopedia couldn’t. He’d been sure it was her dad! Gosh. Betsy! That slimy, conniving, bubblegum bitch.

—M. Bamberger