Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Freeing Mayhew's Zombies

This morning, the Irregulars sent copies of Dr. Mayhew's diary to the New York Police Department and the New York Times, along with an anonymous account of the events we’ve personally witnessed.

Once that was done, Kiki and I visited Dr. Mayhew’s two new assistants. (Whose names I’ve decided to keep secret for now.) The first we found in Washington Square Park, just outside of the New York University Library. She was napping on a park bench, an empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts crushed beneath her. Her mouth was covered in donut glaze, and her clothes were smeared with crème filling. We delivered her to St. Vincent’s hospital with a note (written by DeeDee) pinned to her dress, which described in detail the drug she’d been given.

Thanks to Luz’s surveillance equipment, we captured the second of Mayhew’s new victims in the tunnels underneath Columbia. He had just returned from the library, and his pockets were crammed with old maps and damp pieces of string. We escorted him to the university’s student clinic, a similar note tucked into his pocket.

Now, while we wait for Dr. Mayhew’s arrest, we’re keeping him under close surveillance. My shift begins in ten minutes; so don’t expect an update until tomorrow morning.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Diary of a Madman

I’ve finished reading the computer files that Oona forwarded from Dr. Mayhew’s computer. Not only do they contain detailed notes on his experiments, but it seems Mayhew kept a personal diary as well. (Why criminals always feel the need to record their activities—and refuse to use spell-check—is anyone’s guess.)

Let’s just say that if Mayhew’s diary had been fiction rather than fact, I would have been highly entertained, despite all the typos. The professor has been a very busy man. I can’t claim to understand all of the scientific information in his files, but what I’ve managed to decipher with DeeDee’s help would make anyone’s hair stand on end.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

The box of old papers that DeeDee’s dad and Dr. Mayhew found in 1968 in the hidden passage under Columbia University had once belonged to Dr. Phineas Dunne of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. For years, Dr. Dunne, whose family originally hailed from Haiti, had been secretly experimenting on patients at the asylum. His goal was to develop a drug that could make troublesome inmates more “cooperative”. (Apparently, he hoped the drug would be given to children as well.) Of course, even 130 years ago, some people took a rather dim view of doctors who experimented on human beings, so Dr. Dunne had to be careful. He commissioned a secret tunnel to be built from his home to the main building of the asylum. Dozens of patients were ferried back and forth every week, and few at the asylum knew anything about it.

By the beginning of 1875, Dr. Dunne believed he was close to completing his work. The drug he had developed, using a number of ingredients native to Haiti, sent patients into a zombie-like state. (In other words, they did what they were told and never argued.) Unfortunately, in March of that year, the sister of one of his special patients became suspicious. Her once lively brother had begun staring at walls and drooling like a Basset hound. She convinced the institution’s authorities to investigate her brother’s treatment. As soon as the authorities began asking too many questions, Dr. Dunne hid his files in the tunnel he had built and decided to take a long vacation in France. Thanks to an undercooked pork chop, he never made it back to the United States.

When Mayhew found Dunne’s files in 1968, he knew he’d hit the jackpot. There were plenty of parties—pharmaceutical companies, foreign governments, bad parents—who’d pay millions for the drug Dunne had described. But for thirty-seven years, Mayhew was forced to keep Dr. Dunne’s work hidden away. He knew he could never experiment openly, and he didn’t have enough cash to build a private laboratory.

Then, just over a year ago, Mayhew had a stroke of inspiration. One day, while browsing at Herman’s Rare Books, Mayhew happened to set a book he’d checked out from Butler Library down on the counter. Mr. Herman took one look at the title and offered Mayhew three thousand dollars for it. That’s when Mayhew realized he could make a fortune off the rare books in the university’s library. And thanks to his days as a food smuggler, he knew how to get the stolen books out of the library and into the tunnels without setting off any sensors.

Last September, Mayhew rented an apartment in the building that had been built on the site of Dr. Dunne’s old house. Working in the middle of the night, he connected the forgotten tunnel to the building’s laundry room. Over the next six months, he was able to steal enough books, maps, and illustrations from the Columbia library to finance the building of a laboratory in his home.

In his new lab, work went quickly. But when Mayhew finally succeeded in cooking up a batch of Dr. Dunne’s drug, he encountered an unforeseen problem. The drug tasted terrible. In fact, it was so foul that even his lab rats wouldn’t touch it. And the noxious odor it produced was powerful enough to draw unwanted attention. Mayhew knew he had to find a way to disguise both the smell and taste of the potion. Then, one day as he was making pancakes, he stumbled upon the answer. He remembered a ski trip he had taken to Vermont one spring, and the wonderful smell that had lingered in the valleys. It had been sugaring season, when the sap from maple trees is boiled down to produce maple syrup. The odor from the process is powerful enough to be detected for miles.

When Mayhew began adding maple sap to his boiling mixture, the smell and the taste of his drug were markedly improved. Soon, he had transformed all the rats in his lab into miniature zombies, and was ready to try his drug on a human. That’s when he turned to his lab assistant, Dalton Noble. After weeks of experimenting, he discovered that a teacup of the potion could keep Dalton dazed for several days. While under the influence, Dalton was alert enough to do Mayhew’s bidding, stealing hundreds of books from the Columbia Library. But when Mayhew allowed him to wake from his stupor, Dalton appeared to remember nothing at all.

The drug had one unusual side effect. When the maple syrup was added to the potion, it created an overwhelming urge for sweets. Mayhew also discovered that the steam from the potion could be remarkably potent. At one point, it had seeped into one of his neighbors’ apartments through a broken fireplace. The poor woman had eaten herself into a coma.

Mayhew realized he’d made another mistake when Dalton Noble collapsed in the library. The boy had never mentioned he was a diabetic, and all of the cheesecake that Mayhew had plied him with had finally taken its toll.

According to his notes, Mayhew feels he’s ready to sell his discovery. In the meantime, he’s recruited two new “assistants” to take Dalton’s place—one from New York University, and one from Hunter College.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Truth About Zombies

If, like Luz, you refuse to believe that zombies exist outside of bad horror films, you’re not alone. But for centuries, millions of Haitians have been believers, and even doctors have been intrigued by some “zombie” cases, such as that of Clairvius Narcisse. Declared dead and buried in 1962, Narcisse returned to his family eighteen years later, claiming he had been turned into a zombie and enslaved by a voodoo sorcerer.

Whether or not you believe his story, keep an open mind and visit this website to learn how zombies are thought to be made.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mayhew's Secret Laboratory

This morning, from 7 to 10, Betty and Luz took a turn watching Dr. Mayhew’s building. Cleverly disguised as mustachioed mailmen, they were loitering outside when they saw Mayhew exit, struggling with a shopping bag loaded with books. As he walked to a nearby subway station, Betty and Luz followed behind him. After observing Mayhew board a downtown train, Betty phoned Kiki, who was having coffee with the rest of the Irregulars at a café near Columbia. With the coast clear at Mayhew’s apartment, we set off for Butler Library. Oona and Kiki flashed the fake security badges that Oona had crafted before our first expedition into the tunnels, and together the four of us headed to the basement.

Once we were inside the Columbia tunnels, it took less than ten minutes to reach the hidden passage that led to the laundry room in the basement of Dr. Mayhew’s building. We avoided the building’s elevator (too many nosey neighbors) and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor. While Kiki and I stood guard in the hallway, Oona picked all four locks on Mayhew’s door.

The Irregulars slipped into the apartment’s living room, which, thanks to weeks of surveillance, I knew almost as well as my own. I saw little out of the ordinary—only a small pile of purloined books stacked next to an old oak desk. But my nose immediately detected something unusual. The place stank of syrup. Trying to breathe through my mouth, I walked over to the window and peered down at the sidewalk below. Betty and Luz were there, watching the building’s entrance.

From what we could tell, the sweet-smelling odor seemed to issue, not from the kitchen, but from one of two doors at the end of a hallway. Behind the first door was a bedroom with a king-size bed and a massive pile of dirty clothing.

“We should have saved time and come in through the fire escape,” said Kiki, pointing out the bedroom window. "Let's hurry up and see what's behind door number two."

The second door was locked. Once Oona had worked her magic and pushed the door open, I heard DeeDee gasp. Mayhew had converted the larger of the apartment’s two bedrooms into a windowless laboratory. Microscopes, beakers, and bottles of brightly colored chemicals cluttered the stainless steel counters. Metal cages were filled with dozens of white rats, each one glassy-eyed and moving slowly, as if it were trapped in syrup. On an island in the middle of the lab sat a laptop computer, a long rack of test tubes filled with yellow liquid, and a bouquet of odd-looking flowers. A huge metal vat took up one corner of the lab. It was rigged up to an exhaust system that led to the room’s old fireplace and up through the chimney. When DeeDee opened the vat, the smell of syrup was overpowering.

“Do you think he’s actually been making maple syrup?” asked Kiki.

“I don't know. I'll have to see his computer files. But it looks like he’s using this vat to boil something down. This must be where the smell has been coming from.”

While Oona hacked into Mayhew’s laptop, I studied the yellow liquid in the test tubes. I was certain it was the same stuff I’d seen Dalton Noble drink. I took one of the tubes, made sure the cork was in tight, and slipped it into my bag.

“DeeDee,” Oona said. “I think I’ve found Mayhew’s notes. Want to take a look?”

DeeDee took Oona’s place at the computer and began to scroll through the file Oona had pulled up on the screen.

“I guess the professor’s not interested in syrup after all. He’s working on some sort of neurotoxin—a drug that impairs brain function. I recognize some of the chemicals he’s working with. They’re used in Haiti for making zombies.”

“Did you say zombies?” Oona asked.

Before DeeDee could answer, Kiki’s phone began to vibrate. Luz was calling. Dr. Mayhew was on his way upstairs. Oona pushed DeeDee’s chair away from the computer and began typing furiously, sending a copy of his files to her email account. By the time she had finished, it was almost too late to escape. As we sprinted out of the laboratory, we could hear the sound of Mayhew’s keys in the front locks. Kiki threw open the window in Mayhew’s bedroom, and we all ducked onto the building’s fire escape. As Kiki, Oona, and DeeDee slinked down the fire escape ladder, I stayed behind to close the window. Just as I prepared to follow the others, I saw Mayhew guide a young man into his laboratory and shut the door.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Our Next Mission

Tonight, at a meeting of the Irregulars, a unanimous decision was made. It’s time to see what’s cooking in Dr. Mayhew’s laboratory.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dr. Mayhew's Discovery

I’m just back from DeeDee’s house, where we made lunch for her father. (I’ve always found that it’s easier to get information from people when their stomachs are full.) Over tuna fish sandwiches, DeeDee casually brought up the subject of Dalton Noble. Unfortunately, Professor Morlock couldn’t tell us much about the graduate student, and he didn’t have any juicy theories about his disappearance. “Dalton always seemed like a nice kid,” was all he would say.

It was only after I gracefully shifted the topic of conversation to Professor Morlock’s colleague, Dr. Lyle Mayhew, that DeeDee and I began to get anywhere. I could tell from the start that Professor Morlock didn’t care much for Mayhew. He set down his sandwich the moment I mentioned his fellow chemistry professor, as if the sound of the man’s name made him nauseous. At first, I wondered if it was just a harmless rivalry between geniuses, but apparently the beef goes back almost forty years—to the days when they were both students at Columbia. It began in 1968 when Morlock and Mayhew had worked side by side, smuggling food to the student rebels who had taken over the campus.

One day, DeeDee’s dad told us, he and Mayhew were returning from a delivery to the rebels camped out in the Columbia president’s office. They were sneaking back to their dorm through the tunnels, when Morlock discovered the hidden passage that led off campus. Back then, it seems, the mysterious tunnel wasn’t entirely empty. The walls were lined with a dozen old file boxes. Dates on some of the papers suggested that the files inside were almost 100 years old. Morlock wanted to take the boxes and turn the papers over to his friends in the history department, but Mayhew convinced him to come back later. The next day, when Morlock returned to the tunnel, the files were gone. He confronted his colleague, but Mayhew denied knowing anything about the missing files. Morlock suspected that Mayhew had sold them, and after the fight, the two didn’t speak again until they both joined the Columbia faculty twenty years later.

“Mayhew was never very trustworthy, but he is a good chemist,” Professor Morlock told us. “In fact, I’ve heard he’s made some kind of breakthrough.”

What kind of breakthrough, we wanted to know.

“No one knows,” said Morlock. “But he’s been dropping hints about it for weeks. And Janice Watson from the English department saw men in dark suits visiting his apartment. That’s usually a sign there's a buyer. It must be something big.”

“Why doesn’t anyone in the chemistry department know about his discovery?” asked DeeDee. “Don’t you all have access to the same lab?”

“Yes, but Mayhew’s secretive. He thinks everyone’s out to steal his ideas, so does most of his work from home,” Professor Morlock told us.

“He has a lab in his apartment?” asked DeeDee, shooting me a look over her sandwich.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” said Professor Morlock. “But I don’t think anyone’s ever seen it.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Missing Graduate Student

Though he’s still unconscious and unable to answer questions, thanks to some clever sleuthing on Oona’s part, we now know the identity of the man who’s been living in Butler Library. He’s a twenty-two-year-old graduate student from Oklahoma named Dalton Noble. His parents reported him missing on February 27th.

Until he disappeared, Dalton had been the lab assistant of one Dr. Lyle Mayhew.

Brooklyn's Endangered Underground Railroad

Six old houses on Duffield Street in Brooklyn are in danger of being demolished by the City of New York--despite the fact that their residents have compelling evidence that the buildings may once have been stops on the Underground Railroad.

Hidden in the basements of all six houses are mysterious rooms that might have concealed run-away slaves in the 19th century. Long-forgotten tunnels linking the buildings have also been discovered.

The New York Times has an article about the endangered houses--and a picture of an intriguing hole in Lewis Greenstein's basement.

This Brooklyn Papers article focuses on the unusual features of Joy Chatel's basement and includes a picture of the entrance to one of the hidden rooms.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tornado in New York City

Right after I completed the last post, a tornado was spotted just south of New York City. Click here for some remarkable pictures.

DeeDee Tastes a Mystery

Yesterday, DeeDee and I set out for Butler Library, armed with a list of the evidence implicating Dr. Mayhew in the book thefts. Once the Irregulars had recovered the lost copy of Glimpses of Gotham, Kiki and I thought it was best to call an end to our investigations. In fact, DeeDee and I would have paid a visit to the Butler librarian several days earlier, but Columbia’s never-ending graduation ceremonies prevented us from getting too close to the campus.

When we finally arrived at the library, DeeDee insisted we take one last look around the stacks for clues before we finally turned the matter over to the authorities. With classes over, the library was deserted. We made it through seven floors of books without seeing a single person. Then, the moment we stepped onto the eighth floor, we heard someone scream. We rushed to the screamer’s aid and discovered a frantic young library employee standing over the motionless body of a filthy bearded man. The man’s dark trench coat had fallen open, revealing pockets crammed with old maps. DeeDee dropped to her knees and took the man’s pulse. “I don’t feel anything,” she murmured before forcing the man’s jaw open and clamping her mouth over his own.

The library employee and I rushed to call 911 as DeeDee performed CPR. By the time we returned, the bearded man was still unconscious—but breathing. DeeDee was sitting on the floor, her back leaning against one of the bookshelves and her legs spread out in front of her. I couldn’t tell if she was panting with relief or exhaustion.

Minutes later, the paramedics arrived. From what we could tell, they believed the man may have slipped into a diabetic coma—though they seemed surprised to see someone so young in such a state. One of the paramedics congratulated DeeDee on her CPR skills while his colleagues hauled the sick man out of the library.

Back on the ground floor, a crowd of library workers had gathered outside the entrance to the stacks, and I noticed the librarian we had come to see standing among them. As I started to walk in his direction, DeeDee grabbed my arm.

“Not yet,” she said in the voice of someone coming down from a massive adrenaline high. “We can’t stop the investigation.”

“Why not?” I asked her.

“When I was giving that guy CPR, I tasted something.”

“Yuck. What was it? Cheesecake?”

“No. It was maple syrup.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Herman's Rare Books

I apologize for leaving you hanging for so long. Faced with final exams and a forced evacuation from my Columbia dorm room, I haven’t had much time to write. Nor have I had the opportunity to do much in the way of detective work. Fortunately, my fellow Irregulars were able to pick up my slack. And now that I’m back downtown, spending summer vacation with my parents, I finally have a chance to update you on their progress.

Once DeeDee and I had identified Dr. Mayhew as the mastermind behind the thefts of books, prints, and maps from Butler Library, Kiki and Betty took over his surveillance. I was hoping they could uncover more information about his relationship with the bearded man who’s living in the library. (Kiki and I suspect that the two might be more than partners in crime.) But the Irregulars’ first—and most important—goal was to recover the stolen copy of Glimpses of Gotham.

On Friday the 12th, Kiki and Betty followed Dr. Mayhew for several hours as he went about his rather boring business. He bought a pastrami sandwich (with extra mustard and a dab of mayo) from a local deli and took a stroll through Riverside Park. Afterwards, he stopped at a newsstand and picked up several rather naughty magazines. Though it’s hard to believe, Betty claims he was in such a good mood that he appeared at times to be skipping. On Saturday morning, they observed Dr. Mayhew leave his apartment, carrying a large tote bag. They trailed him downtown to Herman’s Rare Books—a filthy little shop filled with tall towers of ancient books—and watched from outside as he did business with the man behind the counter.

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Mayhew emerged, tucking an envelope into his suit jacket. Betty followed him back to his apartment while Kiki took some time off to do a little shopping at the bookstore. The books and maps that Dr. Mayhew had delivered to the shop were still sitting on the counter. With Mr. Herman himself looking over her shoulder, Kiki casually rifled through them. There were at least a dozen items, but Kiki was particularly intrigued by three of them: The journal of a famous explorer who had disappeared in 1826 while searching for the lost cities of the Amazon, a two hundred-year-old biography of Marie Antoinette’s favorite poodle, and a map of the New York Subway system from 1915. All evidence of the items’ origins had been carefully removed. There wasn’t a Dewey Decimal label to be seen.

“How much,” she asked Mr. Herman, holding up the subway map.

“I like your taste,” said Mr. Herman, whom Kiki describes as a pleasant old man with sardine grease on his tie and breath that could peel paint. “But I haven’t put a price on that one yet. I just bought it from a gentleman who’s selling off his collection. I can show you a couple of remarkable things if you’re interested in New York history.”

“Do you have a copy of Glimpses of Gotham?” Kiki asked.

Mr. Herman looked shocked. “As a matter of fact, I do. You know your stuff, young lady. I’d never even heard about Glimpses of Gotham before it came in the other day. I still don’t know whether to label it fiction or non-fiction. But I’m afraid it may be a little out of your price range.”

“Try me,” said Kiki.

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” said Mr. Herman.

“I assume you take Amex,” said Kiki, holding out her credit card.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Man in the Bow Tie

Last night, after the man in the bow tie went to bed, I checked the footage from the cameras Luz had placed in the hidden tunnel under the man’s apartment building. Around 10:50, a glowing figure had entered the tunnel and opened the door to the building’s laundry room. At 11:15, the figure had returned, moving in the opposite direction. I should have been paying better attention. It was pure luck that I looked out the window when I did.

This morning, DeeDee and I visited the mastermind's building. Using the names written next to the apartment buzzers, we jotted down a list of the people who live in the five apartments on the fifth floor. Then, with the help of a Columbia faculty directory, we began the process of elimination. Two of the last names on our list belong to women. One belongs to DeeDee’s biology professor, whom she assures me would never be caught wearing a bow tie. The fourth person listed is in jail for reckless driving.

That leaves Dr. Lyle Mayhew, professor of organic chemistry at Columbia University.


It’s just past eleven o’clock, and I think I’ve made an unbelievable breakthrough. I was just studying for a history exam when I glanced out my window. There, in an apartment on the fifth floor of the building across the street, I spied two men talking. One of them seemed to be faintly glowing. At first I thought that my eyes might be malfunctioning. In the past four hours, I’ve consumed enough coffee to kill Juan Valdez and his mule. But now that I’ve turned off my light, I can see that the glowing man matches DeeDee and Kiki’s description of the man in the library. He’s eating a fudgesicle and listening to an older man who's wearing a bow tie.

The man in the bow tie just threw a sheet over a chair and the dirty, bearded man has taken a seat. The beard has handed a backpack to the bow tie. Bow tie has looked inside and seems pleased. He’s giving beard a glass of yellow liquid. Wine? Lemonade? Mountain Dew? Beard just dropped his fudgesicle on the carpet. Bow tie hasn’t noticed. He’s pulling books out of the backpack. Now he's unrolling some papers. I'm pretty sure they're maps!

Bow tie has stood up and is patting beard on the back. Bow tie just said something and beard is finishing his drink. Bow tie is walking beard to the door. Beard is gone and bow tie just noticed the fudgesicle. He’s wiping at the carpet with a wet paper towel. Oh my god, I just identified the mastermind behind the thefts!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Looting of Butler Library

This afternoon, I paid a visit to the Collection Management Librarian at Butler Library. I had three objectives when I knocked on the door of his office. The first was to apologize for the mess the Irregulars had made on the sixth floor of the library's stacks. The second was to alert the librarian to the presence of a thief. My third and final goal was to squeeze as much information out of him as possible.

I was hoping to make use of the element of surprise, but the fact that a thief is on the loose in Butler Library didn’t come as news to the librarian. While books are stolen from Butler all the time, he informed me, this semester the thefts have increased at a dizzying rate. What’s more, the thieves’ taste seems to be better than usual. While the subject matter of the stolen books has ranged from Teddy Roosevelt to the Battle of Troy, most of the volumes have had one thing in common—they’re extremely rare. The librarian was even kind enough to show me his handwritten list. I recognized a few of the titles, but one stood out from the rest. Glimpses of Gotham.

The librarian still hopes that the missing books will one day be recovered. It's the fate of the books that aren’t missing that concerns him the most. Sometime in February, he began to see evidence of terrible vandalism. Old books were regularly turning up with missing pages. A little research told him that nearly all of the pages that had been removed contained illustrations—usually maps or prints that were worth a fortune to collectors. He said it would be impossible to know just how many illustrations had been stolen without examining every single book at Butler, but he knew the thieves had made a fortune. One of the maps that had been ripped out of a book was worth ten thousand dollars alone.

As for the mess Kiki and DeeDee had left behind in the stacks, all was forgiven when I agreed to give a statement to the police. They are already looking into thefts, but they aren’t convinced that one person is behind them. And as one of the policemen pointed out, we hadn’t actually seen the filthy man steal anything. The cops were, however, quite intrigued by DeeDee’s glow-in-the-dark solution and asked if I could provide them with a sample. I tried to refuse as politely as possible.

By the time I left the library, my head was throbbing. The police warned me not to look for the man in the stacks. But now that a copy of Glimpses of Gotham is involved, there’s no way that the Irregulars can call an end to our investigation.

DeeDee and Kiki Corner a Thief

Just when I was getting bored with this investigation, the Irregulars have made a real discovery at last! Unfortunately, I had nothing to do with it. I’ll try to faithfully recount the story as I heard it, but I encourage Kiki and DeeDee to correct me if I take too much poetic license with the details.

Early this morning, around two o'clock, DeeDee and Kiki were patrolling the stacks in Butler Library. (One has to admire DeeDee’s perseverance. After countless nights of watching and waiting, most people would have thrown in the towel—particularly given the impact a nocturnal lifestyle can have on a girl’s looks, health, and GPA.) They had just begun to make a round of the sixth floor when they heard a chomping and slurping that made them wonder if a wild beast was prowling the campus, snacking on students. A cone of light rose from between two bookshelves and cast a pale yellow circle on the low ceiling.

After removing their shoes, DeeDee and Kiki tiptoed toward the light and ducked into an aisle next to the beast's. Peeking through a narrow gap, they saw a filthy, disheveled man sitting on the floor, surrounded by old books. A flashlight stood on one end, lighting an unusual picnic. The man was consuming a strawberry covered cheesecake without the benefit of a fork or anything resembling table manners. Once he had licked the box clean, the man-beast drew a pristine handkerchief from a pocket and delicately removed all traces of the dessert from his hands and fingernails. He didn’t bother to wipe his mouth, however, and his shaggy beard remained caked with crumbs.

With his hands finally as clean as a surgeon’s, the man stood up and removed a book from the top of a shelf. Apparently, he was quite tall, (though Kiki’s not always a good judge of such things), and not much older than your average Columbia student. While he sported the facial hair of a middle-aged mountain man, DeeDee was certain he couldn’t be more than twenty-three years old. And with a shave, a shower, and a haircut, he wouldn’t have been bad looking, she said,(though DeeDee’s not always a good judge of such things).

DeeDee must have been entranced by his “pretty eyes,” because she leaned in for a closer look. A book slid out on the other side of the bookcase and fell with a thump near the man’s bare feet. According to Kiki, he stood perfectly still for a moment, scanning his surroundings like a trapped animal. That’s when Kiki decided to take action. She pulled out a spray bottle filled with a phosphorescent substance that DeeDee had spent weeks extracting from a species of glow-in-the-dark jellyfish. She shoved an entire row of books to the floor, took careful aim, and coated the man in fine mist of the liquid. Roaring like a yeti, the man hurled himself at the metal bookcase that separated him from my friends. Fortunately, Kiki had foreseen this turn of events, and by the time hundreds of books crashed to the floor, she and DeeDee were tucked safely under a nearby study desk. From their hiding place, they saw the man sprint for the exit. In the darkness, he glowed like a vat of nuclear waste.

Once the man had vanished, Kiki and DeeDee sorted through the piles of books that had fallen from the shelves. There was no way to know which ones the man had been looking at. But next to a crushed cheesecake box, Kiki discovered our most important piece of evidence to date. A ball of string.

I don’t think any of us knew what to make of Kiki’s “evidence” when she first told us about it at this evening’s meeting. The other Irregulars were sitting in my living room downtown, enjoying the contents of my parents’ well-stocked refrigerator, when Kiki took out the ball of string and asked me for a book—one that I didn’t mind ruining. Using her teeth, Kiki snapped off a length of string, balled it up and placed it in her mouth. A few seconds later, she removed the string, now dripping with spit. She opened my copy of Little Women and placed the wet string between two pages of the book, positioning it as close to the binding as possible. She let the book sit for a minute before opening it again. Taking one of the pages between her fingers, she pulled softly and the paper silently tore away in her hand. The cut was clean and almost undetectable.

“Now we know what the man is the stacks has been up to,” Kiki told us all. “He’s been stealing pages from books.”