Wolves and Badgers and Thrilling Boy Detective Stories
Max the Wolf was a wolf in exactly the same way that foothills are made up of real feet and a tiger shark is part tiger, which is to say, not at all. Max was in fact a boy, between twelve and thirteen years old, and entirely human. He was dressed in a Boy Scout uniform. His loose cotton shirt and shorts were a light greenish tan in color, as were the knee-high stockings that rose out of the weathered brown leather hiking boots he wore. Many brightly colored cloth badges, of every odd shape and size, were sewn onto the front of his shirt. More badges were sewn onto the breasts and back of the dusty red jacket he wore zippered halfway up over his shirt. A blue and white triangle of cloth was draped around his neck, its tightly rolled end points connected in front by a neckerchief slide, deftly hand-carved into the shape of a gray wolf's head, its fierce jaws open to reveal white fangs.
Max had blue eyes and fair skin, lightly dusted with freckles. He had a wild mop of brown hair that he frequently had to brush out of his eyes. Usually his hair was restrained by his cap, but he seemed to have lost his cap recently, though he couldn't exactly recall where.
Now that Max thought about it, not only could he not remember how he'd lost his cap, he couldn't recall where he was or how he'd arrived there. This was troubling for many reasons. In all the years he'd been a member of Troop 496, Chief Seattle Council, in the countless hikes and camping trips he'd enjoyed, and the many adventures he'd had, Max the Wolf had never once been lost. He was a wizard with map and compass and had earned his Orienteering merit badge while still a Tenderfoot Scout. And he'd never suffered a loss of memory, nor even the briefest moment of blackout.
And yet here he found himself walking down the slope of a hill, in the midst of a great forest of mixed broadleaf and evergreen, or so at least it appeared from his limited vantage place. As he walked he passed in and out of the shade of the leafy canopy high overhead. To any observer, and there was at least one, the infrequent pockets of undiluted golden sunlight made Max seem to suddenly shine brightly, like a character in a painting, before he stepped once more into the subdued, heavily filtered light of deep green shadow. The enclosed world was alive with the usual sounds of a forest. Birds sang and bugs chattered to each other from their many hidden enclaves. Many foresty scents drifted on the cool, soft breeze.
"Well, Max, it seems you've landed yourself in another adventure," the boy said out loud, even though there didn't appear to be anyone on hand to talk to.
"At the beginning of the mystery," he continued, "the best way to isolate what you don't know is to first take stock of everything you do know."
This was one of Max's five most important rules of detection. Reciting it helped him to order his thoughts and prepare his mind for the coming investigation.
"First, I am in the middle of a forest I don't recognize, though it is so much like the familiar forests of the Pacific Northwest, I'll assume I'm still in that general area, until evidence suggests otherwise. Second, I don't know how I got here." He ticked each point off on his fingers as he mentioned it.
"Judging by what I can see of the sky," he said, counting a third finger, "it's about midday and not likely to rain any time soon, so I'm in no immediate danger of exposure. I can't hear traffic sounds, so I must be at least a few miles from any well-traveled road."
Now that he was back in a detecting frame of mind, the uneasiness brought about by his initial confusion began to fade. Max was seldom if ever fearful, not even during the Mystery of the Gruesome Grizzly, but he'd never suffered a loss of his mental faculties before. No matter what, he'd always been able to trust his ability to reason, until now.