The Adventures of
Noah Osgood, Boy Detective
Copyright © by Parker Sheaffer
Noah Osgood stepped carefully through the open door and shook his head as he surveyed the mess inside his younger brother's bedroom.
"Artie, do you know what the cowboy's favorite dog is?" he asked.
"A bulldog? A sheepdog? A cow dog? Uh..., I don't know."
"A Dachshund. Know why?"
"Well, every cowboy wants to get a long little doggie," Noah said and fell back on the rumpled bed laughing at his own joke.
"Noah, your jokes are getting worse and worse," his little brother said, but he couldn't hide his grin. Maybe it had been a little bit funny.
"Come on pardner," Noah said, "We got to git this here bunkhouse tidied up afore the boss woman comes up and lynches us."
Artie rolled his eyes and asked, "What's with all the cowboy talk?"
"The rodeo is coming back to town this weekend, pardner. If we're going to talk Mom into letting us go we have to get our rooms cleaned up and act nice for the next couple of days," Noah told him.
"The rodeo? Oh, no. I haven't recovered from the last one. I think I'll stay home and keep my room messy," Artie sighed.
"Ha, you're just embarrassed about chasing that greased pig last year. You almost had it until it pooped on you and got away. I'm sure everyone has forgotten about it by now," Noah said, smiling.
"No, they haven't," Artie said and shook his head ruefully.
It didn't take long for the two of them to straighten up the room and put away the toys and make the bed. Noah's stomach and the delicious aroma of tomato soup wafting up from the kitchen told him it was time for lunch.
"Let's mosey on down to the chuck wagon and strap on the ole feed bag," Noah said, affecting a terrible Texas drawl.
Artie said, "Yeah, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."
As they sat down to enjoy a nice bowl of soup and some grilled cheese sandwiches they heard the front door open and close.
Adam called out, "Anybody home?"
"In here," Noah said. "Mom..." he began to say.
"I see him," said his mom, smiling as she set down another bowl and another sandwich. "Won't you join us for lunch, Adam?" she asked.
"Thanks," said Adam, enthusiastically. "It looks great." Adam was Noah's best friend and they all treated him like one of the family.
As the four of them ate Adam said, "Did you see the posters for the rodeo? They're putting them up all over town."
"We can go, can't we Mom?" Noah asked.
All three boys looked at Mrs. Osgood and gave her their best puppy dog eyes.
She said, "I suppose so, if you behave between now and then."
That wouldn't be a problem, Noah and Artie seldom got into trouble.
Adam chuckled and said to Artie, "Maybe this year you'll catch that pig. If you're not too pooped, that is."
Noah winced and Artie said, "See Noah, I told you they haven't forgotten."
To change the subject Noah suggested that they go for a bike ride in the park.
It was a beautiful day and school was out for Spring break so the boys were in an especially good mood and chatted amiably as they pedaled across the grassy hills and by the lake.
They were excited about the upcoming festivities. The annual rodeo was always fun for different reasons. Nine year old Artie loved the small carnival with its cotton candy and dizzying rides that always came with the rodeo.
As a budding teenager, Noah's interests were more mature. He had a real fondness for horses and dreamed of someday getting to ride one. So far he had only been on a couple of ponies. Also, Noah liked seeing the handsome young cowboys who came to ride and watch the show.
Adam didn't care for the smells of the animals and the piles of poop that always seemed to accumulate everywhere, but he loved the excitement and action of the contests as the riders and ropers demonstrated their skills. He liked to imagine that he was back in the old west watching the ranch hands busting broncos. Plus, it was almost the only time of the year he could wear his cowboy hat without looking dorky.
From the top of the tallest hill they saw a line of semis proceeding along the road to the fairgrounds. Each truck was painted with pictures of cowboys on horseback and the words "Ryder's Rodeo" in big letters.
Joking around, Noah said, "Wow, I detect a rodeo heading for the fairgrounds to set up."
Adam and Artie gave him a disbelieving look and Adam quipped, "Holmes, you astound me."
Artie giggled as Noah laughed and said, "Shut up."
For the past year or so Noah had been earning a reputation as an amateur sleuth and he had actually solved a couple of interesting mysteries. Adam liked to tease him about it.
They rode down the hill and saw a man and two small boys hanging more posters on the light poles along the street so they stopped to look. The bright posters were large and colorful and listed some of the events they would see that weekend. Along with the usual things like bull riding and steer roping the poster said, "Featuring the antics of the greatest Rodeo clown, 'Happy Trails', and his sidekicks, 'Dusty Trails' and 'Lonesome Trails'."
Noah read it aloud and they all three laughed at the comical names. The man who was hanging the posters looked at them and smiled.
He said, "You boys like our names?"
Adam asked, "Are you Happy Trails?"
The man stuck out his hand and said, "Sure am, and these two varmints are my nephews, Dusty and Lonesome. I'm training them to follow in my footsteps; my big floppy footsteps." Happy was a tall, slender man with sparkling blue eyes and the sort of mouth that always seemed to be smiling. The boys carried a distinct family resemblance. They were smaller versions of their uncle.
Adam, Noah and Artie shook hands with the clowns and introduced themselves. They were surprised that Dusty and Lonesome were only nine and twelve years old.
Artie said, "You don't look like clowns. Where's your red noses and stuff?"
Everyone laughed and Dusty said, "We only wear those when we're working."
Noah asked, "Isn't rodeo clowning a dangerous job? I mean, you two seem awfully young to be in the arena with those big horses and bulls. Aren't you scared?"
Lonesome said, "It ain't too bad. We know how to stay clear of the really bad ones and Uncle Happy keeps us safe. What's it like to live around here?"
Adam replied, "It's kind of boring most of the time, but the people are nice."
Noah said, "Do you guys want to come to our house and hang out? It's just a couple of blocks from here. We have video games."
Artie brightened with excitement and said, "Yeah, and we've never met any clowns before."
The little clowns looked at their uncle and asked, "Can we?"
He smiled and said, "Well, maybe for a little while, if it's not too far. Help me finish hanging these last two posters and I'll drive you over and talk to their parents."
A few minutes later Happy and his nephews followed behind the boys' bikes and parked in front of Noah's house. Noah introduced them to his mother who was amused at meeting such small clowns. She and Happy had a cup of coffee in the kitchen while the boys all went upstairs to play. Artie and Dusty went to his room for a game of Super Mario while Noah and Adam entertained Lonesome with Zelda.
It seemed like no time at all before Happy was calling upstairs for the boys to go. All five of the boys pleaded with him to let his nephews stay a while longer.
Noah's mom said, "Unless you really need them why don't you let them stay and play. I'm cooking a pot roast and we would love to have you all eat with us. If you have things to do you can come back for dinner and pick up your boys then. I promise I will keep them safe."
"Well, ma'am, that does sound nice. We don't get home cookin' too often and I reckon I can spare them for one afternoon. You little demons behave now and don't cause this nice lady any trouble. I'll be back to get you later."
The boys all cheered and ran back upstairs. Dusty and Lonesome were funny little boys and they kept their hosts entertained with stories about the rodeo and their life on the road. When Happy joined them for dinner he brought even more outrageous tales that had them laughing all through the meal.
After they had all stuffed themselves with delicious roast beef and vegetables, Happy thanked Noah's mom and told his boys that it really was time to go.
He told them, "We have things to do before bedding down and we have to get up early to rehearse before the big show. We sure do thank you all for being so friendly with us and I'd like you to have these free passes for the show on Saturday. Come and talk to us after the show and tell us what you thought."
"Wow," said Noah, "Thanks a lot."
When Saturday morning rolled around Noah and Artie woke up early. They were eager to get the day started so they wolfed down their breakfast and urged their mother to hurry and get ready.
"I don't know what the big rush is," she said. "It doesn't open until nine and it's only eight now. There is plenty of time."
Noah said, "But we have to go by Adam's house to pick him up."
"Noah, that's only two blocks away. Calm down."
The four of them finally arrived at the fairgrounds a few minutes after nine and spent some time exploring the carnival rides and games. The rodeo competitions would not start for another hour so they had time for the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Scrambler and a couple of turns on the roller coaster. The three friends all sat in the same seat for the Ferris Wheel and got a good look at the animal pens and the arena below.
They tried to get their mom to ride something but she shook her head and said, "No thank you. I'll be just fine here with both feet on the ground. You go ahead and ride."
Artie wanted to try his luck on some of the carnival games but his mom reminded him that if he won something he would have to carry it around with him because she wasn't walking all the way back to the car just to lock up a stuffed toy. He decided to wait until later in the day before testing his throwing skill.
The place was getting crowded and soon it was time for the competitions to begin.
The announcer's voice boomed through the loudspeakers as he made a speech and talked about the rodeo's sponsors. Then he introduced several of the riders and finally he said, "We would like you all to give a big hand to an important new addition to our crew this year, our hard working rodeo clowns, Happy Trails, and his sidekicks, Dusty Trails and Lonesome Trails. Give 'em a big round of applause, ladies and gentlemen."
Happy trotted into the arena dressed in huge baggy trousers held up with red suspenders, a blue wig under an oversized cowboy hat and a polka-dot shirt. His face was painted up with white around his eyes and mouth and a red nose. He was twirling a lasso. Lonesome trotted out and stood beside him, dressed in a very similar way and painted up to match his uncle. Everyone laughed at how cute he was as he stood there, a miniature version of Happy. Then Dusty trotted out to stand beside his brother. He was an even smaller version of Lonesome and Happy and the crowd loved him. The trio waved at everyone and then Happy threw the loop of his rope over the boys and pulled it tight and dragged them both back out of the arena, amidst the laughter of the whole crowd.
The riding and roping contests were exciting to see and Noah wondered how they could stay on those wildly bucking horses for so long. They almost made it look easy, but he knew that he would be thrown all the way out of the ring if he tried it.
The clowns put on a couple of small shows for the audience. Dusty and Lonesome put on a comical bull costume and Happy replaced his Stetson with a Matador's hat. He waved a red cape in front of the bull and taunted it. At one point he turned to take a bow and the little bull charged him from behind and butted him in his baggy seat and chased him around in a circle. They goofed around some more until Lonesome removed the front part of the costume and lit a string of firecrackers which he dropped down the back of Happy's trousers, sending him running off the field in an exaggerated panic.
Another time Happy pretended to be a bank robber. He carried two canvas sacks with dollar signs drawn on them and wore a bandana over his mouth and nose. Lonesome and Dusty put on large Sheriff's stars and chased him all over the ring before lassoing and hog tying him like a couple of little experts.
It was scary to watch the boys when the big bulls were running amok, chasing everyone and trying to gore them. It was up to the clowns to distract the huge animals and give the riders time to get to safety. One time Happy jumped into a barrel and ducked down so that only his hat was sticking up. Noah gasped as the bull rammed the barrel with its head and sent it flying through the air but when it landed it was empty. Somehow Happy wasn't inside it. As if by magic he popped up from behind the fence to show everyone he was alright.
At intermission Noah, Adam and Artie went to see if they could talk to Dusty and Lonesome. They found them in an RV back amid the big rodeo semi trucks.
The clowns grinned as the boys heaped praise on them for their performance. While they were visiting they got to meet a couple of other people.
A cowboy knocked on the door and asked to borrow some aspirin. Happy introduced him as Lance, one of the best riders in the state. He was a tall man with short dark hair and a thin, wiry frame. He wasn't very friendly and left as soon as he got his aspirins.
A woman knocked on the door of the RV to tell them that the break was over in fifteen minutes. Happy introduced her as Miss Keener, the boss woman. She ran the operations, making sure everyone was taken care of. Miss Keener was much friendlier than Lance had been. She was a stout woman with long curly hair and she reminded Noah of a Gypsy. She even wore two big gold loops in each ear and a colorful Mexican style blouse and skirt.
"It's nice to meet you boys. I hope you're having a good time," she said. They assured her that they were.
Happy waved to another cowboy who walked past the open door. "Hey Butch," he called out. "Meet some friends of mine."
Butch was one of the animal handlers who took care of their feeding and their health. He continued walking and said, "Can't stop. Got stuff to do." His attitude was quite rude and Lonesome and Dusty both sniffed as if they were annoyed.
Dusty said, "Didn't want to talk to him anyway."
The boys barely had time to grab a couple of hot dogs and get back to their seats before the show started again. The second half was as much fun as the first.
One of the funniest things the clowns did was a parody on the Olympics. They all ran a foot race and little Dusty had a problem when his baggy pants fell down around his ankles and tripped him. He fell on his face and his hat fell off. He stood up and pulled up his pants, but when he picked up his hat and put it on his head he let go of his pants and they fell down again. He was wearing red long johns with a buttoned flap in the seat. It was cute the way he threw up his hands in mock surprise and bent over to pull them up again. When he did his hat fell off once again so he had to bend over and pick it up, which of course caused his trousers to fall. He repeated this a couple more times before finally trotting off with one hand clutching his trousers and the other clamping his hat firmly onto his head.
An idea had been running through Noah's mind and he asked his mother, "Mom, could we invite Dusty and Lonesome to spend the night with us? I'm sure they're getting tired of living in that RV. Dusty could sleep with Artie and my bed is plenty big enough for the three of us."
"The three of you?" his mom asked wryly.
"Sure, we have to invite Adam to stay too, don't we? I mean, he's sitting right here."
Adam said, "Yeah, please? Can we?"
Artie added his plea and she smiled indulgently and said, "Well, I suppose you can ask."
As soon as the show was over they took their mom back to Happy's RV and congratulated them.
"You guys were really funny," Noah said.
Mrs. Osgood said, "Mr. Trails, the boys wanted me to ask you if your nephews could come spend the night at our house. They would be perfectly safe and it might be a nice change for them."
Lonesome and Dusty were enthusiastic about the idea and pleaded with their uncle to let them.
"Are you sure about this, ma'am? Five boys? You know what Plato said, 'Of all the animals, the most unmanageable is the boy'. You might have a ruckus on your hands."
"Oh, mine are usually no trouble and I can't believe that these two ever give you anything but joy," their mom said as she rolled her eyes comically. "Really though, we would love to have them. Come to dinner again tonight and we will bring them back to you tomorrow afternoon."
"Well, I guess they do get tired of not having anybody to play with so I guess it'll be okay. What time should I bring them by?"
"Just whenever you're ready. Dinner will be ready by seven."
Mrs. Osgood said to her three boys, "Well, are you ready to go or do you want to ride some more rides? Artie, we've got time if you want to win a prize."
Noah and Adam decided to ride a couple more things but Artie declined.
"There's something else I want to do. I'll catch up to you in a while," he said as he wandered off by himself.
A half hour later he came limping back and Noah started laughing. Artie was filthy from head to toe, but he was grinning and dragging a big trophy behind him.
"I caught that darned pig this time," he said with a wide grin.
Noah and Adam had sleepovers with each other a few times in the past but not since Noah had started to develop romantic feelings for his best friend. A part of his plan for the evening was to have the three of them sleep together in his queen-sized bed with him in the center. That way he could snuggle up to Adam a bit and at least pretend they were boyfriends. That wasn't his entire motivation for inviting the clowns but it seemed like a nice extra.
There is an old saying that 'boys are naturally full of humor' and when you put together three boys and two clowns you really get some laughs. Dusty and Lonesome fit in with the boys just like they were old friends and everyone had a lot of fun. When Happy left he admonished his nephews to "make me proud of you".
After a couple of hours of games and television they all got sleepy. Artie loaned Dusty some pajamas and they went to bed.
Lonesome said, "I didn't bring any PJ's either. I usually sleep in my underwear."
Noah's heart quickened when he heard that and he magnanimously said, "Well, Adam and me will do the same, won't we Adam?"
Adam chuckled and said, "Alright Noah, no pajamas tonight."
Noah watched the other two surreptitiously as they all undressed and got under the covers. Although they were not touching each other he loved the warmth that he was feeling from both sides of the bed and his dreams were very sweet that night.
The next morning he woke up to find that Adam had snuggled up against him during the night and had draped his arm across Noah's chest. At first he thought he was having another one of his dreams, but then he realized that it was real. He didn't dare move because he didn't want to disturb the moment. Noah wanted to lie there forever, embraced by his true love. His morning stiffy was making a tent in the blanket that covered him and he became aware of something hard poking him in the hip. He wasn't the only one with morning wood. Adam moaned softly in his sleep and rubbed his groin against Noah's thigh. Noah could have died.
Suddenly Lonesome sat up and said, "Whoa, dude, I've got to pee."
He threw back the covers and trotted across the hall to the bathroom. A second later Noah could hear water splashing in water and Adam rolled back over and said, "It sounds like he really did have to go. I'm next."
Then the moment was over and it was time to get up.
After breakfast they all took showers except for Dusty and Lonesome who had showered the night before to get rid of the rodeo dust and sweat.
Mrs. Osgood said, "Noah, will you go and get the Sunday paper out of the yard? There's no telling where the boy might have thrown it this time."
"Sure thing, Mom," he said and went to look for it. Fortunately it was on the porch and he unfolded it as he carried it back into the house. Suddenly he stopped and shouted, "No way! Oh my God!"
"What is it?" his mom asked, alarmed by his outburst.
Everyone was staring at him as he held open the paper to show them the headlines which read, "RODEO ROBBED, CLOWN IN CUSTODY".
There was a large color photo of Happy, wearing his makeup.
Dusty started to cry and Lonesome put his arm around him and said, "It ain't true. I know. Uncle Happy wouldn't never do something like that again."
"Again?" Noah asked. "He's done it before?"
"Well, it was a long time ago when he wasn't full growed. Him and some other boys robbed a store and got caught. They were drinking. He went to jail for three years, but he changed his ways. Uncle Happy is good; I know he didn't do this. What does the paper say?"
"It says the picture was taken by the security camera in the manager's trailer when he covered it with a bandana. The rodeo's prize money was in the safe and it's all gone. He was arrested in his RV and taken to the county jail. Several witnesses reported seeing him hanging around the manager's trailer around eight o'clock last night. One witness said, 'It was him alright. There ain't no mistakin' those baggy britches and that blue wig. He's the only one that wears that get up."
"What are we going to do?" asked Lonesome. "We gotta get to the jail and talk to him."
"I'll take you," said Mrs. Osgood. "We'll go find out if he has a lawyer. Would you boys like to stay with us until we can get him bailed out?"
"Yes, thank you, ma'am. I would appreciate it," Lonesome said gratefully.
"Come on then, let's go see what's happening. Noah, you boys stay here and keep an eye on things. I don't want you exposed to the sort of people that are in that jail. I don't mean Happy, of course. Oh, and clean up the breakfast dishes."
Noah was disappointed. He was certain that if he could talk to the clown he could figure out what really happened. He was certain that things were not as they seemed to be and that Happy was an innocent clown.
He stared at the picture in the paper and wondered why it seemed odd. He ran up to the bedroom and grabbed his special notebook and a pencil so he could list out his thoughts. Returning to the breakfast table he sat down with Artie and Adam.
"Adam," Noah said, "What time did Happy bring Lonesome and Dusty yesterday?"
"It was about six."
"Right, and none of them were wearing their clown makeup, right?"
"No, they took it off right after the show was over," Adam agreed.
"Then why would he put it back on when he left here last night? He couldn't have been dumb enough to draw attention to himself if he was on his way to commit a robbery. He would have worn something dark. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, like how did he open the safe? Was it a combination lock or did it have a key? Who else had motive and opportunity? Who would want to frame Happy?"
"Those are good questions. How are you going to find out the answers?"
"I don't know yet," Noah admitted.
Mrs. Osgood brought Dusty and Lonesome back a few hours later. The boys were depressed and Noah could see that they had both been crying.
His mom said, "They haven't set bail for him yet because the judge is out of town for the weekend. It looks like Happy will have to stay there for another night or two. Poor Dusty and Lonesome, they're so sad. But at least Happy gave us permission to keep them until all of this gets straightened out and they find out who really stole the money."
Noah said, "Then you don't believe he did it either?"
"Of course not. I may not be a detective but I'm a good judge of character and that man loves his nephews too much to be a crook. He would never hurt them. Speaking of detectives, you had better get busy and figure this one out."
"I'm on it, Mom. The trouble is, I don't have any way to get information. I'm thirteen years old and there's no way the cops are going to tell me anything."
"Why don't you talk to Happy's lawyer? He has a court appointed defender. I have his name here somewhere. Let's see, yes, Michael Reed, attorney. He probably has things to do today so why don't you call him tomorrow?"
Dusty and Lonesome were quiet and subdued that afternoon and evening. Noah and Artie tried to cheer them up but the cloud that loomed over their heads was just too heavy and dark. They loved their Uncle Happy and he was the only relative they had since their parents had been killed in a traffic accident. Without him they would be tossed into some institution to be forgotten and neglected.
Noah sat beside Lonesome with his notebook open and asked, "Lonesome, did your uncle have any enemies at the rodeo? Is there anybody there who had a grudge against him and might have framed him?"
"Well, Lance and him had a fight last year because Lance thought Uncle Happy was after his girlfriend. She wound up leaving him, but it wasn't my uncle's fault. Butch and him got into it a couple of weeks ago because Uncle Happy reported him to the office for animal cruelty. He saw him beating some of the horses to make them mind. Butch almost got fired for it."
"Ah, so he did have enemies," Noah said, scribbling notes in his notebook.
Adam had gone home so Noah only had to share the bed with Lonesome that night. He was almost asleep when he felt the bed shaking softly and realized that Lonesome was crying. Noah eased over and hugged him until they both fell asleep.
The next day there was no school because spring break was still going on for another week. Noah's mom called Mr. Reed, the attorney, and asked if he could give them any information. He seemed amused when she asked him to speak to her teenaged son but he agreed to give Noah what information he could.
Mr. Reed said, "It's not looking too good. There were several people who saw him outside the manager's office that night."
"How did they know it was him," Noah asked.
"Well, duh. He was wearing his clown outfit and makeup."
"Think about it," Noah said, "They recognized him because they couldn't see his face. What I'm trying to say is that it could have been anybody dressed up with their face painted."
"I suppose you have a point but who would want to set him up like that?"
Noah told him about Lance and Butch and the lawyer said that he would look into it. He didn't hold out much hope though.
Noah said, "Ask Happy if he can even open a safe."
"I did, he admitted that he learned how when he was younger and running with a bad crowd."
"That's not good," sighed Noah.
That evening they had a quiet meal and sat around to watch some television. Noah couldn't stop worrying about Happy so he took his notebook and the Sunday paper to the dining room and sat down to think. He stared at the picture in the paper. 'Why,' he wondered, 'would Happy cover the camera with a bandana yet let the camera take his picture doing it? It didn't make sense.'
Then he saw something that made him gasp.
"I get it now. I think I have it," he said to himself.
He decided to not say anything to the others yet. First he needed to talk to Happy's lawyer one more time.
The next morning he called Mr. Reed who seemed a little annoyed at being bothered so early. Noah quickly explained his theory and urged the lawyer to get a copy of the original photo and see if he was right.
That afternoon the doorbell rang and Noah was delighted to find Happy standing on his porch. Dusty and Lonesome held onto him tightly and cried with relief when they saw him.
Lonesome asked him, "Are you out on bail? Do you have to go back?"
Happy said, "No, I'm a free man and I think I have our friend, Noah, to thank for it."
"Come on in and sit down," Noah said, pointing to the sofa so the boys could sit beside their uncle. "So my idea was right, wasn't it? It was Miss Keener that framed you."
"That's right. How did you figure it out?"
"Well, I knew you wouldn't be dumb enough to let the camera take your picture like that so whoever it was must have wanted to have their picture taken. That way everybody would think it was you. She copied your makeup perfectly because she had seen you do it so much. The only thing she forgot was that she has two holes in her earlobe and you don't. When I met her I noticed right away that she had two big loop earrings in each ear. It was sort of hard to tell from the photo in the newspaper so I asked your lawyer to look at the original picture and see if it was clearer. After she got your face on the camera she covered the lens because she knew she didn't look like you from the back and she probably didn't want the camera to see her open the safe easily because she knew the combination."
"Well, that did the trick. The lawyer convinced the police to go search her place and they found the money taped up under her car. She broke down and confessed to everything," said Happy.
"Why did she do it? Why pick on you?" Lonesome asked.
"She was having all sorts of money trouble. Seems she liked to gamble but she wasn't very good at it. She picked on me because I was easy to imitate. Plus, I made the mistake of telling her one day about my unfortunate past. She knew they would suspect me right away."
Dusty still sat on Happy's lap, not wanting to let go of him, and asked, "It's all done now though, isn't it? You're not going to leave us any more?"
Happy said, "They dropped all the charges and said I was free to go and they apologized for suspecting me. I'll never leave you boys again."
Noah said, "Well, I guess we're all happy now."