The Whole Girl Detective Thing

Cathy Ulrich

from BWR 45.1

On the eve of her fifteenth birthday, the girl detective is kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a long car. The girl detective bucks her hips, scrabbles with her fingertips at the trunk lid after it is slammed down on her. A lock of her hair dangles out the back.

To Thomas from chemistry class, the strand of hair looks like a banner. Standing on the sidewalk, he watches it wave as the car pulls away.


Thomas from chemistry class isn’t as observant as the girl detective. When interviewed by the police, he only remembers that the car was dark-colored.

Black, he says. Definitely black.

Or it was blue, he says. Or, yeah, black.

Did you at least get the license plate?

Thomas from chemistry shakes his head. Before the girl detective was snatched from beside him, he had been thinking about the smell of her shampoo, the way her left foot twisted every time she took a step, too delicate for a limp. Almost like she was dancing.


For her fifteenth birthday, the girl detective asked her parents for a fingerprinting kit.

A real one, she said. Like the police use.

Her mother smiled and her father smiled. They had thought the girl detective would have outgrown the whole girl detective thing by now, had indulged her for so very long.

What about boys? said her mother gently.

The girl detective tipped her head to one side. It was a habit of hers when she was puzzled. She said: What about them?


The girl detective’s parents sit alone in their dining room, presents for their daughter stacked on one end of their long table. They had gotten her a diamond necklace and matching earrings.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, says her mother, turning the box over and over in her hands. She thinks one of the earrings has come loose of its back, hears the rattling from within.


A week after the girl detective’s birthday, her parents receive an ear in the mail.

The girl detective’s parents are rich. The kind of rich that doesn’t have to go in to work every day. The kind of rich that never does their own cooking or cleaning, hires a nanny for the raising of the children. Though the girl detective was the only one.

Her parents have been waiting for a ransom demand, federal agents sitting in nondescript cars outside their home.

It’s about money, the girl detective’s father tells his wife. Sometimes he smokes cigars in the dining room, sitting in the dark, opposite the stack of presents. He taps the ashes onto the hardwood floor.

It’s always about money, he says.


The ear comes in a brown paper-covered package, secured by twine.

It’s often done like this, says the gloved federal agent when he hands the package to the girl detective’s parents. Brown wrapping, twine.

The girl detective’s parents nod, unwrap the package. The ear tumbles onto the long dining room table. For a moment, the ear is lost amongst the unopened birthday packages, and the girl detective’s mother gives her husband the look. The federal agent glances away, whistling tunelessly.

What, says the girl detective’s father.

Nothing, says his wife. Nothing at all.


The girl detective solved her first case when she was seven years old. The girl detective solved robberies, solved homicides, solved murders.

There’s a difference between homicide and murder, she was constantly telling her parents.

The girl detective had an honorary badge from the sheriff’s office, 20,000 followers on Instagram. Reporters sat down across from her and asked questions for puff pieces with titles like The Girl Detective Tells All, The Girl Detective Opens Up, My Interview with the Girl Detective.

What was your favorite case? they would always ask.

The girl detective would tip her head to one side. Favorite?

The reporters would shrug.

The Grand Ice Cream Caper, I guess, the girl detective would say. All of her cases had names: The Horrific Murder of Mrs. Snelchley, the Mutilation of Orson the Dog.

Why that case? said the reporters. Why that one in particular?

The girl detective tipped her head to the other side.

Well, she said. There was ice cream.


A week after her birthday, the ice cream for the girl detective’s party is tucked away in the freezer. Her parents won’t find it for months, when the housekeeper goes to throw it out.

No, the girl detective’s mother will say. Save it.

A week after her birthday, the girl detective’s parents find her ear amongst the unopened packages. There is a freckle on the back of it, a delicate, unpierced lobe.

Is this your daughter’s ear? says the federal agent who brought in the package. He snaps his gloves on his wrists.

I thought her ears were pierced, says the girl detective’s mother, turning to her husband. Weren’t her ears pierced?

The girl detective’s parents study the ear, compare it to the girl detective’s school photos. She is smiling in each one, carefully posed smiles showing just the right amount of teeth.

Our daughter was the observant one, says her father finally. He has held the ear in his hands, laid it down beside the school photos. His daughter was always tucking her hair behind her ear, he thinks.

It’s her ear, says the girl detective’s mother. She hasn’t touched the ear herself, held her manicured fingers just above it, hands trembling. I think it is.

The ear sits on the table before them.

Is this your daughter’s ear? says the federal agent, snapping his gloves as he asks. He is standing in a pile of cigar ash; the housekeeper isn’t due until Tuesday.

Is this your daughter’s ear?

He says it again and again.

When she was younger, Cathy Ulrich wanted to be a girl detective, like Nancy Drew or Miss Marple. Her work has been published in various journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, and Monkeybicycle. She is a finalist and semifinalist for Best Small Fictions 2018.

For more from BWR 45.1, pick up a copy from our online store.