Bursnell Teague and the Particulars


Bursnell Teague

and the


A Logic Mystery

Tom Slakey

Bursnell Teague and the Particulars


A Logic Mystery


By Tom Slakey


Copyright 2013 Tom Slakey


Shakespir Edition


For information, contact: Tom Slakey Press, [email protected], www.tomslakey.com.


For a printable version of the logic puzzle in this book, see www.tomslakey.com.


First printing,

October 2013


Cover painting of the Jemez Mountains seen from St. John’s College by Michael Slakey.

Cover design by Tom Slakey.


ISBN 978-0-9891991-1-7 (Digital)


This book is available in print at most online retailers.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Table of Contents

10:02 a.m.–The Principal 4

9:35 a.m.–Bullies and Lunatics 6

10:06 a.m.–The Painting 9

10:36 a.m.–The Particulars 11

10:51 a.m.–Yearbook 13

11:00 a.m.–Baldron 14

11:10 a.m.–Clues 15

11:24 a.m.–Rooms 17

11:33 a.m.–Fridges 18

11:40 a.m.–Chesley 19

11:49 a.m.–Coffees 20

12:19 p.m.–Godfrey 23

12:32 p.m.–Abelard 24

12:39 p.m.–The Greenhouse 25

12:52 p.m.–Plants in Literature 27

1:13 p.m.–Hyperion 29

1:22 p.m.–Bursnell 30

1:34 p.m.–Cheeses 31

1:49 p.m.–Logic Puzzles Explained 33

2:14 p.m.–Logic Puzzle 37

2:26 p.m.–Phone call to airport 39

2:32 p.m.–The Solution 40

3:15 p.m.–Conclusion 42


10:02 a.m.–The Principal

As Bursnell Teague took a shortcut through the Administration building, deserted because this was spring break, the door to the principal’s office burst open, and she came out. “Hey, kid.”

Bursnell was surprised. Usually people just ignored him. “Who, me?”

The principal put her hands on her hips. “Yes, you, come here.”

Bursnell waddled his short fat bulk hesitantly over to her. He felt that he would give almost anything to be thin and tall. “Uh huh?”

“Come into my office,” she ordered.

“What for?”

“Who do you think you are? You’re a student at Santa Fe Boarding School, right?”


“Yep is rude. Say yes.”


“So come in here.”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“No, I’m not calling you in here to punish you, just to ask you a few questions.”

“I’ll pass.”

“I don’t like your attitude. You’re being very rude for a 14 year old boy.”

“I’m 15!” said Bursnell angrily. It burned him up that he had always been the short, overweight, smart, weird kid, always looking much younger than everyone else in his grade.

“I’m your principal, I can have you suspended.”

“You don’t even know my name.”

“I can find it out.”

“Well, I know my rights, and you don’t have grounds to suspend me, and I don’t like to be threatened. That may work with your other flunkies, but I’m not into it.”

“All right, that does it; I’ll suspend you as soon as I can find out who you are.”

Bursnell took a long deep breath of the high desert air, and realized that whatever the principal was ticked off about, it wasn’t worth getting suspended over. “Look, I’m sorry, I was rude. I apologize.”

“That sounds a bit better. Forget the suspension. You coming into my office?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Young man, do me a favor and at least try to act polite. It’s part of what we’re trying to instill here at boarding school.”

“Okay—er…that is…all right, Principal Garcia, I will try.” He came in the door.

She shut the door behind him. “Take a seat.”

Bursnell sat in one of two wooden chairs in front of her desk.

She came around behind her desk and sat down. “Now, first of all, what’s your name?”


“Is that first or last?”

Bursnell had read in detective novels that you answer only what was asked. “First.”

“So what’s your last name?”


“Well, Bursnell Teague, I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot, let’s try to do better.” She put out her hand.

Bursnell shook it. Her hand was cool and slender in his fat, sweaty one, her grip firm. He was reminded of what a classy lady this was, even if bossy. “Yes, Principal Garcia.”

She leaned across her desk and looked him directly in the eyes. “I want to tell you about something serious. I’ve seen you around, you don’t seem to have any friends so you probably wouldn’t have anyone to tell, but if you ever breathe a word of what I’m about to say, I’ll expel you so fast it’ll make your head spin.”


9:35 a.m.–Bullies and Lunatics

Bursnell had looked out his second floor dorm room window that morning at the patches of melting snow on the ground below on a sunny but cold spring morning in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the first day of spring break. All the other students at the Santa Fe Boarding School had either gone home to spend spring break with their families, or in the case of some of the wealthier students, had gone with friends to Cancun or some other tropical location for a week of partying. Bursnell was envious of both groups.

His Mom had died a few years back. His Dad then plunged himself fully into a diplomatic career, which at first allowed Bursnell to live in several exotic countries, which Bursnell found fascinating. He learned a lot about different cultures and picked up some interesting languages, but now the traveling was so frequent that Bursnell had to be in boarding school. He understood the need for that, but it was a drag to be away from his Dad for most of the year. Because of his Dad’s traveling, he changed schools so often that he never really had enough time to make friends at any of his schools.

So, what should he do with his first day of Spring Break? He decided to take a walk. He locked his door, went down the dorm stairs, and set out down the sidewalk.

As Bursnell walked, he thought to himself that the only thing wrong with Beta dorm was that it was next to Alpha dorm. He hated to walk past Alpha dorm, because the five seniors on the second floor were a bunch of bullies and lunatics. He had mostly been able to stay out of their way, but since this was the beginning of spring break and most students were gone already, he hadn’t worried about it today.

As he stepped on to the sidewalk by the circle, a car came roaring around the corner of the building and almost ran him over, tipping up on two wheels and barely managing to avoid driving up onto the sidewalk. Bursnell stumbled backward, and barely managed to avoid getting stuck by the spiny green paddles of a nopal cactus. The driver came to a screeching halt in a parking spot and jumped out. Bursnell knew, or at least knew of, this driver: it was Hyperion King, one of the seniors from Alpha dorm. As usual, Hyperion looked disheveled and messy, hair every which way, clothes baggy and wrinkled.

Hyperion yelled, “Hey fatty, watch where you’re walking!”

Bursnell gaped at him openmouthed. He was dumbfounded that Hyperion not only failed to accept any fault for his reckless driving, but actually put the blame on him. Bursnell could think of nothing to say.

Hyperion turned and rushed into Alpha dorm.

Before the door could swing shut, another student came out. Bursnell recognized the tall, handsome figure of Chesley Jones. As usual, Chesley was looking casually stylish in a sport jacket, jeans, and a white cowboy hat. Chesley came along the sidewalk toward Bursnell. As Chesley approached, he continued to walk in the center of the sidewalk, his broad shoulders taking up most of the walk. Bursnell suddenly realized that Chesley was not going to notice him and move to the side, so that if Bursnell didn’t want a collision, he was going to have to back up and flatten himself against the wall as Chesley went by. Bursnell made himself as skinny as he could, but Chesley still grazed him.

Now another of the seniors had come out of Alpha dorm and was approaching Bursnell. This was Baldron Blumenfeld, in skinny black pants, chains, a leather jacket, blue hair, and spiky wrist bracelets.

Baldron stared at Bursnell. “Are you looking at me?”


“Yes you were; you were staring at me strangely.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Then why are you standing here talking to me, when I don’t even know you?”

“No, you asked me questions and I answered.”

“You’re following me and spying on me, aren’t you?”

Bursnell decided that the best bet was to just stop talking to this maniac. He went around Baldron and kept on going, hoping that he wouldn’t be attacked from behind. He could feel Baldron’s eyes on his back, but the goth kid didn’t say anything else.

And now along came another senior from Alpha dorm: Abelard Dumont, in long hair, a Hawaiian shirt, and faded jeans with frayed cuffs, a look that Bursnell found to be deliberately casual, a studied hippie vibe. Abelard gave every appearance of keeping to his own side of the sidewalk, but at the last minute he stepped across the walk and bumped into Bursnell, hard. Abelard said with just a trace of a French accent, “What’s wrong with you? Here I am, walking along, minding my own business, and you deliberately bump into me.”

Bursnell said, “It was you who bumped into me!”

Abelard said, “Oh, calling me a liar now?”

“No, just let me by.”

“You’re fat, stupid, and ugly. Why should I let you by?”

“So I can get where I’m going.”

“You want to fight?”

Bursnell said, “No, thanks.”

Abelard said, “You’re a coward.”

Bursnell said, “Fine, just let me by.” He brushed by Abelard and continued on.

And now, thankfully, Bursnell had passed the door to Alpha dorm, so he would be all right.

But then a voice came from the Alpha dorm door behind him. It was the voice of the last of the Alpha dorm seniors, Godfrey Higginbotham. “Hey kid, come here.”

Bursnell ignored this and kept walking. Maybe if he ignored Godfrey he could just walk on.

“Hey punk, I’m talking to you, and I know you hear me. If you don’t come over here I will chase you down and beat you up.”

Bursnell sighed, came to a stop, and turned around to face Godfrey.

Godfrey motioned him over.

Bursnell came over and stood in front of Godfrey.

“Okay, now follow me upstairs.”

Bursnell wasn’t happy. What new torture was this? But he seemed to have no choice, so he followed Godfrey up the stairs to his room.

“Now pick up that suitcase and carry it downstairs for me.”

Bursnell protested. “You seem like a big strong guy, much taller than me. I’m sure you can do a better job carrying that suitcase down the stairs than I can.”

“I don’t carry suitcases,” said Godfrey.

“Why not?”

“It’s beneath me. Carrying suitcases is a job for the lower orders of people.”

“So you’re saying you’re better than I am?”

“Of course, now get on with it.”

“What if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll beat you up.”

Bursnell sighed and tried lifting the suitcase. It was amazingly heavy. “How about we both carry it down?”

“No way, it’s all you.”

Bursnell sighed again and began carrying the suitcase along the hall, pausing and setting it down every few steps. When he got to the stairs, he began resting at each step. Finally he got it down the stairs and out to the curb.

“Okay, you can just leave it there.”

Bursnell looked at Godfrey.

“What are you looking at?”

“Well, how about a tip?”

“No, the honor of serving me is tip enough.”

“Aren’t you even going to say thanks?”

“No need.”

Bursnell shook his head in amazement. He decided that Godfrey’s name fit him, because the guy thought he was God.

Bursnell continued on his walk. At last he could walk in peace. He swore to himself that he would never go near Alpha dorm again if he could help it.

Now a decision—should he cut through the administration building or go around it? Shorter to cut through it, and besides, he was curious whether anyone was around and working. He went almost all the way down the hall without seeing any evidence of anyone around, but just as he passed by the closed door to the principal’s office, he heard a sound. It was not a sound he expected to hear. It sounded like muffled cursing.

He stopped dead. Was Principal Garcia in there? Bursnell had always thought of the principal as a very attractive lady. She had gorgeous thick straight black hair down to her shoulders, high cheekbones, a pretty face and smile, and always wore a good-looking businesslike suit with a skirt. Yet the principal had always seemed strong as steel, and he’d always been a bit afraid of her.

He had turned to go, when suddenly the door had burst open and the principal had come out.


10:06 a.m.–The Painting

Principal Garcia leaned across her mesquite wood desk and looked him directly in the eyes. “I want to tell you about something serious. I’ve seen you around, you don’t seem to have any friends so you probably wouldn’t have anyone to tell, but if you ever breathe a word of what I’m about to say, I’ll expel you so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

Bursnell didn’t like it. “That means if this story ever comes out, even if I never said a word, you’ll blame me and expel me. So no, I don’t want to listen, I’m out of here.”

“Sorry, you don’t have a choice, you’ll sit and listen.”

“You can’t make me.”

“Actually, I can, unless you want to be expelled right now. I can make you do whatever I want.”

Bursnell thought about it. His Dad was always so busy that he would be very annoyed if Bursnell put him through the mess of changing schools in the middle of term. And despite having to deal with a few jerks, Bursnell was beginning to really love it here. The Santa Fe Boarding School was nestled in the last southern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Unlike the long gray dirty winters of places he and his dad had lived in the northeast and Europe, here you had bright blue sky, sunshine, and fast-evaporating snow. The place had really gotten under his skin since he had arrived here during winter break.

He was backed into a corner. There was nothing else to do. “Okay, I’ll listen.”

“And you promise never to breathe a word of this to anyone?”

He had no choice. He took a deep breath, sighed. “Yes. I promise.”

She sat back in her chair. “Okay, then. Remember, I’m only telling you because I have a couple of questions for you, you’re the only one around, and you seem like a loner who won’t tell anyone.”

Bursnell didn’t like that, but said nothing.

The principal continued. “It’s like this. Yesterday a very valuable painting was donated to the school. It was to hang in the entrance lobby of this building, right across from the front door and above the security guard’s desk, but now it’s…” she paused. “It’s been stolen.”

Bursnell gasped. “Sorry, keep going.”

“Well,” the principal said, “it’s worse than that, because it’s not insured yet. I was going to make arrangements today to have it locked up securely and insured. I figured it would be fine for one night. I was wrong.”

Bursnell said, “Where was it stolen from?”

“I was getting to that. You’re not being a good listener.”

“Sorry, please go ahead.”

“All right, then. I won’t say which painting it was, just that it is very famous and,” her tone dripped scorn, “even you might recognize the name. The painting was donated at the end of the day, delivered in person by a wealthy donor. He brought it into my office and said that he would donate it on condition that it be displayed, well safeguarded in a protective thick bulletproof glass case of course, above the guard’s desk in the front lobby. The donor showed me the painting, which is beautiful, so of course I agreed, and thanked him very much indeed. He asked if I had appropriate security measures to keep it safe until it could be secured appropriately, I said yes, and he left.”

“It was actually after 5 o’clock at that point, so I figured it was too late to arrange insurance that day, but I had a good plan for safekeeping. As you may know, the upper floor of Alpha dorm houses the five wealthiest students at the school. There’s an empty room at the back end of the upstairs hall, past all the students’ rooms. I figured I could lock the painting in that room, and no one could get to it without first getting through the front door of Alpha dorm. Only its residents and the security guard have keys to that door. A thief would have to pass the doors of those 5 students, and a storage room. Then they would have to open the locked door to the last room. I even took the security guard’s key without telling him I had done so, so even he didn’t know about this and now I had the only keys to that room. So I figured that was secure enough.”

“The painting was only in there one night, last night. Then this morning all the students left for spring break. After they had gone I went to that room to look at the painting, and it was…gone. The frame was there, but the painting had been removed from it.”

“Now here’s the trouble. It really seems like it somehow has to be one of those 5 students who took the painting, because only they had access to their dorm. But those 5 students are the wealthiest in the school, so I can’t just go to their families and accuse them, at least not without knowing who did it. In fact, I don’t want it known that the painting was stolen. I don’t feel I can go to the police. When the board finds out that this happened, I’ll probably lose my job. So now do you see why I’m feeling upset?”

Bursnell said, “Yes, I see that.”

The Principal said, “I have a question for you. You’re the only student remaining on campus. Have you seen anything suspicious that might have bearing on this case?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Please take a moment and think carefully. Nothing at all that seems the slightest bit unusual?”

Bursnell paused for a moment and thought. “Nothing at all. But let me ask you this, please. Are any of those five students from Santa Fe? Because if so, maybe you should start phoning art galleries. I hear there are about 200 art galleries in Santa Fe, more than Manhattan, and no doubt some of them are crooked.”

The principal said, “Those five students are not from Santa Fe. From my window I saw all five of them get in different taxis a few minutes ago, about 9:45 a.m. this morning, headed for the Albuquerque airport, heading from there to various places around the country.”

Bursnell glanced at his watch. 10:27 a.m. “Okay, so we have a few hours. Just to let you know, I’m a detective with a string of successes under my belt.”

The principal said, “You? No way! You’re what, a 14-year-old kid.”

Bursnell said, “15, as I already told you, but be that as it may, I am very good at this, and while I can’t absolutely promise success, I really think you should let me look into this.”

“You? I should trust this huge problem that could end my career to a 15-year-old?”

“Yes. You see, if we move fast, we may be able to figure out in the next couple of hours which of the five students did this, and catch them coming off the plane with the painting in their luggage. Where are they flying to?”

The principal said, “Two are headed for the New York area, two for the Chicago area, and one for Seattle.”

“Mind if I borrow your computer for a minute?”

“Well, okay, but…”

Bursnell had already come around beside her and was typing away on the keyboard. “Let’s see, the shortest flight would be Chicago. Yes, it looks like flights leave Albuquerque airport at about noon and arrive at Chicago’s O’Hare about 4, which is 3 pm Santa Fe time. Well, really we should have a solution by 2:30, in order to be able to call and have the police meet the student coming off the plane. It’s now,” he checked his watch again, “about 10:30, so we have about four hours.”

The Principal said, “Now look here, Bursnell. No way can this be figured out in just a couple of hours. You were just supposed to listen and answer my questions, nothing more. You can just forget the whole thing. You know what will happen if you tell anyone. I don’t believe you can help me, so just get out of my office.” She made a shooing motion with her hand. “Goodbye.”


10:36 a.m.–The Particulars

Bursnell was dismayed. He looked down at the Navajo rug with its thunderbird pattern. Now that he had begun to hear about this problem, he was very interested, and wanted to have a chance at solving it. Should he give up? Definitely not! He decided to see if he could persuade the principal to tell him some more, at least. He’d heard that people love to gossip and talk about others. Maybe if he could just get her interested in talking about the students, she would tell him more. “So the 5 students in this dorm are probably just completely boring nonentities, is that right?”

“Hah! If you only knew.”

“So tell me.”

“Have you heard of The Particulars?”

Bursnell said, “Um, I’ve heard some of the particulars of this case, and—”

“No, no, the Particulars is the faculty’s nickname for this group of five students. When they applied to the school, they were known in the schools they came from as, well, unusual boys. Someone nicknamed these five students the Particulars, because they’re so particular. They’re particular in two ways. The first is that they’re very unusual, and the second is that they’re very picky.”

Bursnell was delighted that she seemed to have forgotten about kicking him out of the office. “Oh, right, the five seniors from Alpha dorm. They tend to be the loudest students in the dining hall.”

“Yes, that’s the ones. They are, hmm. It’s not quite right for me to say this, but I have to be able to talk about it, so here goes. They are what might be called nerds.”

Bursnell said, “Well, people have called me a nerd.”

“Don’t be offended. You seem to have more social skills than these boys have. Plus the way they dive into their enthusiasms…the competitive nature, the extremely precise preferences…they’re really quite unusual. During the admissions process, we heard that these particular students had difficulty relating to their peers, and even though different from each other, they all seemed to have difficulty relating to their peers in the same ways. So we put them all in the same dormitory wing, the upper floor of Alpha dorm.”

She continued. “The upper floor of Alpha dorm has a bathroom and seven dorm rooms. The stairway is at one end of the hall, with a door out onto a balcony, then the bathroom, then the five occupied dorm rooms, and then at the far end of the hall we use the sixth and seventh dorm rooms as storage rooms. You have to pass the five dorm rooms to get to the storage rooms.”

“So we put these five students in the same dorm, and then the competitions began. It started with the cheeses. You could call it the Cheese Wars. Not food fights, more like competition over brands. One of the students, I forget who, got a small refrigerator for his room. Well, with these five students, if one does something, then all the others have to. They’re so bloody competitive. One got a refrigerator, so they all had to have refrigerators. One of them liked to keep cheese for a late night snack. Couldn’t just be any cheese, it had to be a specific kind, and that student would only eat that specific kind of cheese. So then each of the others chose a special kind of cheese. It had to be different from all the others, and that student would only eat that particular kind of cheese, the more obscure and hard to find, the better. It’s just the way these students are, really picky and competitive, quite unusual. I think it’s a psychological condition, maybe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, something like that. So when you said these students were boring nonentities, well, they’re really quite the opposite.”

Bursnell said, “Okay, I’m tracking with you. So the first thing that I want to see is the scene of the crime, that is, the room the painting was stolen from.”

The principal looked startled, as though she’d suddenly remembered whom she was talking to. “This is ridiculous. I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to show you the…,” her voice dripped with scorn, “scene of the crime. Let’s forget the whole thing. Remember what will happen if you tell any of this. Now just get out and leave me be.”


10:51 a.m.–Yearbook

Bursnell felt frustrated. He looked out the window at the distant Jemez mountains, sharply clear even though 40 miles away across the undulating sand ridges of the valley. It was only when he was solving a mystery that he felt really good about himself, and now he was being deprived of that. Most of the time he felt like a fish out of water. He was always the small, chubby, brainy, odd kid, shy around girls his own age. It wasn’t fair. Why did he have to be born this way? Why couldn’t he have been born one of the handsome jocks, who got all the girls? He would have traded all of his good grades for that. He was sure he could help the principal, but she was refusing his help and kicking him out of her office. Should he keep trying to help?

He decided to promise to solve the mystery. “You see, principal, I feel quite sure I can solve this mystery and find out who stole the painting.”

The principal said, “Ridiculous! No way can you solve this.”

Bursnell said, “I say I can solve it. Why don’t you prove that I can’t? Why don’t you let me see the room the painting was taken from, and when I don’t find anything, that will prove that I can’t solve it?”

The principal thought for a minute. “Well…okay. So if you don’t find any clues in the room, you’ll admit that you’re stuck and give up and leave me in peace?”

Bursnell hated to make this bargain, but reluctantly agreed. “Yes, okay. And one more thing: do you have a recent yearbook? We may need to ask questions and identify students.”

“Here’s last year’s yearbook. Is that good enough for you?” Her tone dripped sarcasm.

“That’s great, thanks.”

They stepped out of the office, the principal locked her door and they set off for Alpha dorm. As the principal started off down the hall, Bursnell turned to her and said, “We have to stop by my room and pick up my detection kit. It’s in Beta dorm, just beyond Alpha dorm, not too far out of the way.”

She rolled her eyes and said scornfully, “Oh, the big detective has to get his detection kit.”

Bursnell was tempted to say something like “Look, lady, do you want your problem solved or not?” Unfortunately, he really wanted to work on this mystery, so he had to put up with the rude comments. He said, “Yes, I do.”

“Okay, then. Did you say you’re in Beta dorm?”

“Yes, that’s right.” Bursnell motioned to her to go ahead of him. “After you.”

“No, you may as well lead the way.”


11:00 a.m.–Baldron

Bursnell glanced at his watch. Half an hour gone, three and a half hours to go. He set out for Beta dorm. “While we’re walking, does the school know, or can you tell me anything, about the character of each of the five Particulars?”

The principal said, “I have to respect confidentiality, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you some things. Which student would you like to start with?”

Bursnell said, “Well, how about Baldron Blumenfeld?”

The principal said, “Yes, what’s with the clothes? Bursnell, maybe you can tell me. Why do kids dress as goth? Are they just doing that to get attention or are they doing it because they truly do feel like they’re different from normal people?”

Bursnell said, “I’d say there are many reasons. Some want to be different, to question authority and social norms, and some do it to get attention. Some are attracted to the dark aesthetic, and some want to break the goth stereotypes. Some want to make others leave them alone. Some have a rough home life, and need an outlet to convey that emotion. How’s that?”

“Wow, that’s quite a list. How about Baldron? What do you think might be his particular reason or reasons for dressing goth?”

“One word: paranoia. I was passing him on the sidewalk this morning and he accused me of spying on him. Of course, it would be good to ask Baldron to find out his reasons for dressing goth, but I think he’s one of the ones who want to make others leave him alone.”

The principal looked thoughtful. “So would that give Baldron a reason to steal a painting? Does he sound like our criminal? Could fear of poverty be his motive?”

Bursnell rubbed his chin. “If Baldron were afraid of poverty, he would be a miser, instead of spending money on goth clothing down at the Hot Topic store. I’d say he’s not afraid of poverty so much as of people.”

“Well, could he be trying to amass a fortune to be able to get away from people?”

“It really sounds like a stretch. I suppose it’s possible, and we can’t rule him out as a suspect, but I think we lack a solid motive for him. So does he sound like our criminal? No more or less than anyone else, I would say. How about you, Principal Garcia, what can you tell me about Baldron?”

“Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about him, and can add nothing to what you’ve said.”


11:10 a.m.–Clues

Bursnell took a deep breath. The mountain air smelled slightly of sagebrush and pine. He had harbored hopes that the principal would know some clear detail that, if not conclusive, might at least give a possible lead worthy of investigation. Momentarily he wondered which way to turn, then it was clear: just keep moving forward.

They had reached Beta dorm. Bursnell liked that the dorms were like little two-story houses, with several rooms on each floor. He let the principal in through the front door, then they walked down the hall to his room, and he opened the door. “I’ll just be a second.”

She waited in the doorway. “You keep your room nice and neat.”

He grabbed his detection kit, which contained not only a magnifying glass, but also fingerprint powder, some small Ziploc plastic bags, tweezers, and a few other odds and ends. “Yes, I’ve been called a neat freak.”

She said, “That can be good, if it’s not too excessive.”

Bursnell locked his door and they set off down the hall. “What, like using a paper towel on doorknobs?”

The principal looked startled. “Actually, every one of these 5 students in Alpha dorm is a doorknob wiper.”

Bursnell said, “Hah, hah, that’s so silly.” He wasn’t going to let this walking germ factory know that he did the same. “So they’re doorknob wipers. Too bad. That may mean that there won’t be any usable fingerprints to work with.”

They continued walking, Bursnell matching the principal stride for stride. For a woman in high heels, she was a fast walker. They arrived at Alpha dorm. The principal opened the outer door, and motioned Bursnell in onto the landing, from which stairs led down to the lower floor and up to the upper floor.

He asked, “Anyone on the lower floor?”

She started up the stairs to the upper floor. “No, enrollment was down a bit, so we left that floor of Alpha dorm empty this year.”

He followed her down toward the end of the hall.

As they approached Room 7, Bursnell cut in front and held out his hand to stop the principal from opening the door. He opened his kit, took out his magnifying glass, and began examining the keyhole. “This lock has been tampered with, and presumably picked. See these scratches?” He dusted the doorknob with fingerprint powder. “No fingerprints. You may open the door now, please.”

The principal opened the door and pointed to the middle of the room, where an ornate gold frame leaned against some chairs. “The painting was here in this frame. The thief pried the back of the frame off to take the painting out, probably rolled the canvas up, and took it. I assume it was in one of these boys’ luggage this morning when they left on break.”

Bursnell got down on his knees with his magnifying glass and looked carefully at the area of the floor around the empty frame. He noticed a brown stain, bent low, and sniffed it.

“What does it smell like?”

“Smells like expensive coffee. I’ll be confirming this, but my first guess is that it smells like Esmeralda Special from Panama, which retails for about $115 per pound.”


“It smells like Esmeralda Special from”—

“Yes, yes, but did you say $115 a pound?”

“That’s right.”

“Must be the most expensive coffee in the world, which may narrow things down for us.”

“No, there are several more expensive ones.”

“Well,” the principal said, “come to think of it, after the Cheese Wars I told you about there were also the Coffee Wars, with each of these students trying to one-up the others by drinking a better or more expensive coffee.”

“I see. Each student had their own particular expensive coffee? That could be very helpful. Pardon me while I look more closely.”

He got a razor blade out of his kit, scraped the dried coffee stain into a Ziploc bag, then continued examining the floor.

What was this? A bit of dried leaf? He picked it up with his tweezers and put it in a Ziploc bag. He then went very carefully over the floor in that area. Nothing. No footprints, no fingerprints. The criminal had been careful. He also went over the floor of the whole room, then over to the doorway and out into the hall, up to the door of the sixth room. Nothing. He only had the two clues: a spot of (probably) Esmeralda, and a bit of dried leaf. A disaster. Not much to go on at all.


11:24 a.m.–Rooms

Bursnell’s heart sank. He had only two tiny clues. His knees hurt from kneeling on the hard red southwestern tile floor of the dorm. The likelihood of solving the mystery seemed small. Should he give up now, or keep trying? He decided to press on. And to that end, it would be good to see the students’ rooms. “Can I see the students’ rooms, please?”

“Now wait a minute, you said that when we saw this room it might show that the crime can’t be solved. You’ve only found two small clues. Aren’t you ready to give up?”

“No, the opposite, I feel pretty optimistic,” he lied. “So can we see the students’ rooms?”

“If you feel optimistic now, wait till you see the rooms. That should change your mind.” She locked the door of the seventh room, and opened the door to the fifth room.

Bursnell peeked inside. The room was absolutely bare of furniture, the walls and floor still damp from being recently washed. He was stunned. “There’s no use looking for clues in this room. What, did the student move out?”

“No, we’re having these students’ rooms cleaned and painted over the break, so we had the students move all their things out by 7:30 this morning, then thoroughly cleaned and washed the floors and walls, so that we could give them a few hours to dry prior to painting and polishing.”

Bursnell was dismayed. “Well, then there won’t be any clues in the students’ rooms.”

“So now do you give up?”

“No, I don’t give up, in fact I’ve hardly started. So the students’ things were moved out of their rooms. Where were they stored?”

“They were stored in the sixth room, next door to this one.”

“Can I see that room, please?”

The principal locked the fifth room, then opened the door of the sixth room with a key and pushed it open. “We had the students move everything into this room. It’s just a hodgepodge, but each student knows which things are theirs. I assume you won’t want to look through this room, right?”

Bursnell stared at the mess, feeling dismay, but trying not to let the principal see it. “Right, no thanks. Maybe later, but I don’t need to look through all that at the moment,” Bursnell said.

She closed and locked the door. “Now do you admit defeat?”


11:33 a.m.–Fridges

Bursnell was beginning to feel disheartened. The smell of floor polish from the emptied students’ rooms had almost choked him. He could still feel it in his nostrils. It was as though fate were blocking him at every turn. He was feeling unsure of a good outcome, but no matter what, he wanted to see the problem through. “No, of course I don’t admit defeat, we’re just getting started.”

Garcia looked dubious. “Really. I would say we’ve exhausted everything and you have to give up. I’ll bet you don’t have anything else to suggest, right?”

Uh-oh. He felt put on the spot. His mind was a blank. What was left to look at? Then it occurred to him. “How about the mini-fridges? Can I see those?”

“Oh, alright, this way.”

They walked back down the hall, past the entrance stairway and to a locked door, which Garcia unlocked. “Here you go.”

Bursnell was surprised. “Oh, they’re outside?” He stepped past her and out onto the balcony.

“Yes, they’ve all been thoroughly washed and are out here drying in the sun.”

Bursnell’s heart sank. He got down on his knees and sniffed the nearest refrigerator. There was no smell except a faint trace of chlorine bleach. He tried each fridge in succession, with the same result. No usable clues. This was a disaster.


11:40 a.m.–Chesley

Unbelievable. This was terrible. He glanced at his watch. More than an hour used up already, less than three hours left to find the criminal, and he was getting nowhere.

Garcia said, “So how do you like those empty fridges?”

Bursnell looked out from the balcony at the pine-covered slopes nearby. “Just fine,” he lied. “We’re narrowing things down fast.” Yeah, right. Okay, stay the course, he thought to himself. “Well, the students must have stored their cheeses somewhere. Where would that be?”

Garcia said, “I think they borrowed space in the refrigerators in the kitchen of the dining hall.”

“Okay, can we go there and ask, please?”

“Oh, all right. Remember not to say anything to anyone about a painting.” They stepped back in the balcony door, Garcia locked it behind her, and they set out for the dining hall.

Bursnell said, “While we walk, can you tell me anything about Chesley Jones?”

The principal said, “Chesley? I don’t really know much about him. His parents always pay his tuition promptly, but then so do most. He seems to dress well in a casual way. I really know nothing else about him. Maybe as his fellow student, you would know more?”

Bursnell said, “I really don’t. All I know is that he’s a sidewalk hog. When he passed me on the sidewalk this morning, I had to get up against the wall or he would have run right into me. It was as though I didn’t exist. I can’t really make any certain deductions from that, but it makes it seem like he thinks overly highly of himself and doesn’t have much concern for others. Now criminals are often people who think themselves above the law, and are lacking in morality, but really the sidewalk hog thing seems inconclusive. Unfortunately I’d say Chesley is neither more nor less likely to be the criminal than any of the other four. Principal Garcia, I know you said you know nothing about him except that he dresses well in a casual way, but has anything else occurred to you?”

“Nothing at all.”


11:49 a.m.–Coffees

Well, great. The principal’s information on the Particulars, which Bursnell had been banking on pretty heavily, was so far looking completely useless. Still, he would keep asking. A whiff of furniture polish from the mesquite wood benches in the large and empty hallway brought his attention back to his surroundings, and he realized that they had arrived at the dining hall.

Principal Garcia pushed open a side door to the kitchen that Bursnell had never noticed before, and they stepped inside. There was only one person in the kitchen, a tall woman with a clipboard. To Bursnell’s eye, she looked more like a manager than a cook. He said to the woman, “Excuse me, ma’am, where is the head cook?”

The woman said, “I’m Ms. Archuleta, the head cook.”

“Oh, sorry, you didn’t look like a cook to me—er—no chef’s hat or anything.”

“That’s because I’m not cooking today, just taking inventory.”

“I see. Would you mind if I asked a couple of questions, please?”

The cook looked at the principal, who rolled her eyes upward briefly and then nodded.

The cook said, “Okay.”

“Well, I wonder if any students stored anything in your fridges over break.”

“Yes, that would be the five Particulars, as they’re called.”

“Ah, very good. So if they stored things with you, then maybe you know which student drinks which coffee, is that right?”

“I know a couple of them.”

“So who drinks what?”

The cook said, “Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe.”

Bursnell said, “Ah yes, from Ethiopia, very good stuff. A complicated sweet and flowery flavor, silky mouthfeel. It tastes like cocoa, lavender, and honey, and has scents of mint and fir tree. Strong, full, smooth finish. This stuff is $33 a pound, but if you ask me, it’s worth a lot more and will be—”

The principal held up her hands in a “T” shape, and pointed to her watch. “Bursnell, we’re wasting time, it’s almost noon, and we only have until 2:30 p.m.”

Bursnell said, “Yes, ma’am.” And turning again to the cook, “Do you know any more about the students and their coffees?”

The cook said, “Hyperion’s coffee is Fazenda Santa Inez.”

“Ah, a very sprightly—never mind. Anything else?”

“Well, one of the coffees is St. Helena.”

“Right, from the remote South Atlantic island to which Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in—er—who drinks that one?”

“That would be Chesley.”

“Okay, are you absolutely sure about these facts: Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe, Hyperion drinks Fazenda Santa Inez, and Chesley drinks St. Helena?”

“Absolutely. But the other two, Abelard and Godfrey, just put their coffee bags in the fridge when I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whose is which.”

“I’m guessing one of those coffees is Esmeralda, am I right?”

“Well, let’s see.” The cook opened the fridge. “Yes, how did you know?”

“I smelled some that had been spilled somewhere. And what’s the other coffee—let me guess—El Injerto?”

The cook gaped in amazement, opening the fridge door wide to show bags of El Injerto, along with the other 4 coffees, on the shelves. “Well, you’re a regular Sherlock Holmes. How did you know that?”

Bursnell answered, “I didn’t. It was a bit of a guess, except that those five coffees you see on the shelves are the third through seventh most expensive coffees in the world. Esmeralda is third, at about $117 per pound.”

The principal cut in, “So the two most expensive coffees in the world are not here?”

“That’s right.”

“Not here because they’re too expensive, I presume. How much do they cost?”

“Well, money is no object for many of the students at this school, so I don’t think that’s the reason they’re not here. The most expensive coffee in the world is Black Ivory coffee from Thailand, which can be five hundred dollars a pound, and the second-most expensive is Kopi Luwak from Indonesia, which can be two hundred dollars a pound.”

“So why doesn’t one of these students drink this Black Ivory, to one-up their peers?”

“Because of the way it’s made. An elephant eats the coffee bushes, then poops them out, and the coffee beans are picked out of its poop. This digestion by the elephant makes the coffee very mild and delicious. As a matter of fact, it’s my favorite coffee, but most people are too freaked out by the poop thing to drink it. Kopi Luwak is similar, made from the poop of the civet cat.”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Not to me,” said Bursnell, “I love both of these coffees. They’re very smooth, with no bitterness.”

“So Bursnell Teague is actually one up on the Particulars in the Coffee Wars.”

“Well,” said Bursnell, “I hadn’t heard about the Coffee Wars until today, but yes, I’m the winner!”

The principal rolled her eyes. “For the sake of moving on, fine. But I’m curious: why is the elephant coffee so much more expensive than the civet cat coffee?”

Bursnell said, “I think it’s partly popularity, and partly because of the labor of picking the beans out. See, the elephant eats the whole bush, and poops out these fibrous bowling balls that have to be picked through, whereas the civet cat eats just the berries, and poops out nice convenient turds like candy bars, with the coffee beans studded on the outside.”

The principal’s facial expression was priceless, a slowly growing combination of disgust and horror. “That is way more information than I wanted to hear.”

“Sorry, you asked and I answered.”

“Right…anyway, so where were we?”

“Well,” Bursnell looked at the cook, “I have a couple more questions.”

“Fire away.”

“Do the Particulars ever share coffee with each other?”

The cook looked uncertain, but the principal cut in, “Definitely not! These students feel about coffee the way they feel about everything else: extremist, competitive, protectionist, unyielding, and I could go on. They choose one thing for themselves. That becomes their thing, and they insist on that and refuse to consume anything else. I remember that one student ran out of coffee and refused to drink a different kind until his shipment came in. All five of these students are like that.”

Bursnell said, “I understand, as I’m sometimes a little like that myself.” And to the cook: “Ma’am, could I please have a sample of each of these five coffees? Say, a teaspoon of each. Here are bags,”—he produced five of the small Ziploc bags from his kit—“and here’s a Sharpie to mark which is which, although I could probably tell without that. Thanks very much.”

The cook did as he asked.

As she did so, Bursnell sniffed each bag, then sniffed the small sample he’d scraped off of the floor in the room where the painting was stolen. “The coffee we found on the floor is definitely Esmeralda,” he said. “Have you told us everything you know about the five Particulars and their coffees?”


“Okay, thank you very much, I guess we’re done here for the moment.”

The principal led the way out of the room and into the hallway. “Can we just call up the Particulars and ask them which one drinks Esmeralda?”

Bursnell said, “First, if we happen to ask the thief, he may get suspicious and run, or destroy the painting. Second, if we ask questions of a non-thief, they may get suspicious that we’re trying to pin something on one of their fellows, and clam up. Third, we need a quick result, in order to catch them coming off the plane with the painting in their luggage. Hold on a minute, please, while I write down what we know.” He took out his notebook, and wrote:



- Piece of leaf was found on floor, probably from thief’s plant.


- Coffees are: Esmeralda, Yirgacheffe, Fazenda Santa Inez, St. Helena, and El Injerto.

- Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe.

- Hyperion drinks Fazenda Santa Inez.

- Chesley drinks St. Helena.

- Thief drinks Esmeralda.

- So thief who spilled coffee is neither Baldron nor Hyperion nor Chesley.

- So thief who spilled coffee must be Abelard or Godfrey.


The Principal was looking over his shoulder. “This is fantastic, you’ve got the thief narrowed down to two students?”

“Well, yes, but there might be more than one thief working together. Even though that sounds unlikely from what we know of these students, we have to hold that possibility open.”

The principal looked a bit disappointed. “Oh.”

Bursnell finished writing. “Still, we’re making excellent progress. Now can we go see the gardener, please?”

The principal said, “He’s on vacation for the week.”


12:19 p.m.–Godfrey

Wouldn’t you know it, blocked at every turn, Bursnell thought to himself. He looked out the kitchen window at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, their snow-covered tops sharply clear against the bright blue sky. “Well, can we call the gardener and have him come in to work and meet us at the greenhouse?”

She looked doubtful. “We can try.” She fished out a cell phone and called. “Hello Mr. Gonzalez, this is Principal Garcia. Would it be possible for you to come up to campus and meet me at the greenhouse? Oh really? Okay, very good.” She put away her phone. “He’s already there. I guess he’s on campus today after all.” She started down the hall.

Bursnell said, “Wouldn’t this way be quicker?” He pointed down the hall in the other direction.

“I think I know my own campus.”

“Fine, I’ll follow you.” Privately he knew his way was quicker, but you had to choose your battles. “Ma’am, as we walk, please tell me about another of the Particulars, say, Godfrey Higginbotham.”

The principal said, “Godfrey comes from old money in New York. You could say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

Bursnell said, “Have you heard what Ann Richards said of George W. Bush? ‘He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’ Heh, heh. Good one, isn’t it?”

Principal Garcia said, “Bursnell.”


“Here’s a piece of advice. Don’t make assumptions about the political affiliation of people you’re talking to. Even more importantly, don’t interrupt me with quotations.”

“Okay, sorry.”

“Now as I was saying before I was interrupted, Godfrey is old money. He’s always had everything he could want or ask for. My belief is that he’s a spoiled brat with a sense of entitlement. He thinks he deserves things. Doesn’t think he has to work for them. Thinks things should just be given to him. He’s fairly smart and usually doesn’t have to study much. There was a little conflict with the school over that. He was going to fail a class, and his parents were called in. Both the parents and Godfrey felt that with the amount they donated to the school, he should be an automatic pass. I backed up the teacher, and we came to a kind of compromise. I think this may have been the first time in his life where Godfrey actually realized he had to do at least a minimal amount of hard, unpleasant, boring work. It seems that Godfrey is used to getting his own way, and when he’s crossed, he sometimes throws a kind of tantrum. So what do you think of that?”

Bursnell said, “Well, I think he could be our thief. He may think he’s above the law, a common characteristic of criminals. Of course, it’s not definitive at all yet, but it is interesting. Good information, thank you. So how about Abelard Dumont, what can you tell me about him?”


12:32 p.m.–Abelard

The principal said, “Abelard’s family is from France. His father got a job with the Chicago commodities exchange many years ago, and made a fortune on the trading floor. Abelard has never really lacked for anything, except maybe for his father’s time and attention. It seems to me he lacks motive, because he has no financial need.”

Bursnell said, “Well, but he could be acting out to get his father’s attention. Maybe not likely, but it does seem possible. People often have hidden motivations, in addition to the obvious ones that we usually think of as motives for crimes. Still, on the surface, you are right that he has no obvious motive. It’s just that we can’t rule him out at this point as a suspect.”

The principal was looking thoughtful. “Oh, I just remembered something. It just so happens that Abelard’s parents are late with his tuition payment, for the first time. Maybe they’re having some financial problem, and Abelard saw a chance to correct it.”

“Okay, that’s possible; we’ll keep that in mind. Two possible motives for Abelard: get his father’s attention, and bail his parents out of financial difficulty.”


12:39 p.m.–The Greenhouse

On balance, Bursnell felt pretty good about knowing a couple of possible motives for Abelard, and having some insight into the character of Godfrey. Maybe the principal’s information was going to be of some use after all.

Arrived at the greenhouse, the principal knocked, stepped inside, let Bursnell in, and then closed the door to keep in the heat.

Bursnell inhaled deeply, enjoying the moist air redolent of plants.

The principal cleared her throat.

The gardener looked up from a plant he was watering. “Yes, ma’am, what did you want to see me about?”

“This is Bursnell Teague. He has a couple of questions for you, please.”

“That’s fine, fire away.”

“Well,” Bursnell said, “did any students ask you to care for their plants over the break?”

“Yes, several students did.”

“Have you heard of the Particulars?”

“Definitely, they’re the talk of the campus.”

“How about them, did they bring you plants?”

“Yes, they did, but I don’t know the students by name. I’m not good with faces and names.”

“That’s okay, just tell us what you can about the Particulars’ plants.”

“Okay, I’ll try. Yesterday those five students came by one by one on their way to the cafeteria. First was the one with the monstera plant. He printed directions on how to care for it, and gave me some cheese as a gift. I put the monstera and the directions on a table, and later I took the cheese home.”

“What kind of cheese was that?”


“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes, I am. I’m bad with names and faces, but I love to eat, and biological things like smelly cheeses fascinate me. That was Rochefort.”

“Excellent. Please continue.”

“So then the orchid owner comes by, again with printed directions, and leaves me a piece of Gorgonzola.”

“You’re sure it was Gorgonzola?”

“Yup. See, these guys told me these were unusual and expensive cheeses, some of the smelliest in the world. They suggested I google them, so I did.”

Bursnell was frantically writing notes. “And you’re sure the Rochefort was from the monstera guy, and the Gorgonzola was from the orchid guy?

“Yes, totally sure.”

“Dude, you da man. Oh, was that rude? Buddy, you rock. Still rude? Sir, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Please continue.”

“So then a guy comes by with a bromeliad and directions. He asks if I like coffee, and gives me what’s left of a package of El Injerto. One of the best coffees in the world, he says.”

“That it is. Go ahead.”

“A kid drops off a bonsai tree and directions. He didn’t give me anything, though. He says to give it a thimbleful of water twice a day. Then he says, ‘That will be close enough, and then I’ll recover it from the damage you do when I get back.’ What a brat.”

“Sorry about that. Any others?”

“And then a guy comes with a venus flytrap. He gives me a little round wooden box with cheese in it. Says I can leave it near the flytrap, because it’s so smelly it attracts the flies. I’ve gotta tell you, though, that cheese was so stinky I couldn’t stand it. I threw it away.”


12:52 p.m.–Plants in Literature

Bursnell’s heart sank. “You threw it away? Do you know what kind of cheese it was?”

“No, just that it was the stinkiest cheese I ever smelled. After a day outside the fridge it burned my nose, kind of like ammonia cleaner. Couldn’t keep it around.”

“Was the cheese in a container?”

“Yup, little round wooden box.”

“I don’t suppose you kept that?”

“Nope, I zipped it up in a Ziploc bag and threw it in the trash. That was yesterday afternoon.”

“Any chance it’s still there?”

“Well, we can take a look.” He led them through a side door and outside, then lifted up the lid of a trash bin. He reached in and fished out a Ziploc bag. “Here it is.”

In the bag was a small round wooden box reading: Epoisses, Appelation d’origine protégée, Berthaut, fromage au lait affiné au marc de Bourgogne.

Bursnell was delighted. He began to reach for the Ziploc bag to open it, then thought better of it, taking out his notebook instead. “Can you do me a favor and check these notes, please?” He showed the gardener the pad, on which he had written:


- monstera = Rochefort

- orchid = Gorgonzola

- bromeliad = El Injerto

- venus flytrap = Epoisses de Bourgogne


The gardener looked at the paper. “If the equals sign means goes with, then yes, this is correct.”

Bursnell took the yearbook from under his arm, and opened it to a page titled “The Particulars”, with photos of each of the five engaged in various activities. “Can you match any of these with their plant?”

“No, I guess those are the guys, but I can’t match them with their plants. It’s not the way my mind works, sorry about that.”

Bursnell shook the gardener’s hand. “No problem, what you gave us is really good information, thanks very much. Oh, and one last thing.” He took out the small Ziploc bag with the piece of leaf from his pocket. “Can you tell me what plant this leaf is from?”

The gardener took the Ziploc bag, gave it a cursory glance, and handed it back. “Son, that’s too difficult. Maybe if I had a PhD in botany.”

Bursnell held the bag out to him again. “What if I said that this leaf is from one of the plants of the five Particulars?”

“Oh, that’s another story. Let’s see.” He took the bag, held it close to his eyes. “Well, you put it like that, it jumps right out at me. Looks like a piece of a very small leaf. So to me, that says bonsai. We’ll check it against the others first.” He walked over to a row of plants at one end of a table. “See, definitely not the monstera, which has large leaves like hands reaching out to clutch. This orchid’s leaves are also too large to be our mystery specimen. Same for the bromeliad, too large. And obviously not the venus flytrap either. But check out the bonsai.”

He paused. “Say, what an unusual group of five plants that is. Any idea how the students chose those particular, ah, plants?”

The principal said, “These students are very competitive, and probably chose the rarest or most expensive plants possible, trying to one-up each other.”

Bursnell said, “Yes, and then there’s the literature angle.”

The gardener nodded his head. “Exactly.”

The principal looked surprised. “Come again?”

“Well,” Bursnell said, “monstera sounds like monster, and the leaves look like giant hands. The orchid is the favorite plant of the awesome fictional detective Nero Wolfe. Venus flytrap, I’m thinking Little Shop of Horrors. And bromeliad, well, there’s a terrific trilogy of young adult books called The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett, one of my all-time favorite authors.”

The gardener reached behind a plant, and drew out the book Wings. “You mean like this?”

Bursnell gave him a high five. “Let me know when you’re done and we’ll talk about it.”

“Will do.”

The principal sniffed. “Let’s not get distracted.” She glanced at her watch. “1 p.m., only an hour and a half to go. You were looking at the leaf?”

“Right.” The gardener picked up the bit of leaf, and held it next to the bonsai tree. “See how the leaf is the same? Unmistakable, I’d say, once you know what to look for.”

Bursnell wrote in his notebook.


- leaf at scene of crime = bonsai.

Main questions are really:

- Who drinks Esmeralda?

- Who owns the bonsai?


He shook hands with the gardener. “Man, I really enjoyed talking with you. I’ll drop by some time and chat, if it’s okay.”

The gardener said, “Please do. See you soon.”

Bursnell held the door open for the principal. “Now I’d like to go back to the dining hall and ask about the cheeses.”

The principal nodded. “Okay, we can do that.” As they walked back toward the dining hall, the principal said, “So what about you, Bursnell, do you have a favorite plant growing in your room?”

“Yes, datura.”

“So what’s special about datura?”

“Well, I like its many names: Devil’s Weed, Devil’s Trumpet, Hell’s Bells, Devil’s Cucumber, Angel’s Trumpet, Moonflower. It’s in the group of plants known as Witch’s Weeds, and is a well-known ingredient in various potions. It’s highly poisonous, and they call it ‘loco weed’ for its effect on cattle. It has spectacular tubular flowers up to 6 inches long. Best of all is the way it’s used in witchcraft in Carlos Castaneda’s book The Teachings of Don Juan, where—”

The principal held up a hand. “Okay, okay, sorry I asked. I have to admit I’m mystified. All we have is a plant and some coffee, and now you want to find out about cheeses. What do cheeses have to do with plants and coffees?”

Bursnell said, “Well, it’s like this. I’m getting a feeling about all this. All the information seems to be falling into a certain pattern, a pattern called a logic puzzle, and in this case that pattern includes cheeses. You’ll see.”

Bursnell was finding the long walk to the dining hall tiring. In order to slow the principal down, he said, “Can you tell me about another Particular? How about Hyperion King?”


1:13 p.m.–Hyperion

The principal said, “Hyperion doesn’t seem to have any psychological disorders that we know of. There is one thing about him, though. I hear that that several nights a week he disappears from the campus, drives off in his car and no one sees him until sometime the next morning.”

Bursnell said, “Ah, yes, as I was walking across campus this morning about 9:15 a.m., Hyperion came roaring up in his car and almost ran me over.”

The principal said, “That’s strange. Maybe he had to get something in town early this morning, but it seems more likely that he was out all night.”

Bursnell said, “I agree that seems likely. Any idea why he would be out all night?”

The principal said, “Maybe alcohol, drugs, gambling problem, girlfriend, or something else?”

Bursnell said, “It’s nice to know I can rely on you for speculation. We’ll wait until we have more evidence.”



“I didn’t care for the sarcastic tone of that.”

“Of what? I just said you’re good at generating ideas.”

“Well, be careful what you say, and don’t be rude.”


“Let me check something.” The principal took out her cell phone and punched in a number. “Is this Ms. Sena? This is Principal Garcia. I have a question about a student. Do you know who Hyperion King is?” She listened. “Well, I know you’re a recreational gambler, and I wanted to ask you, have you ever seen Hyperion at the casinos?” She listened. “Ah, I see. Thanks very much. That will be all. Have a good day.”

She hung up the phone and looked at Bursnell. “It seems Hyperion is quite a regular at the casinos. Maybe he has a gambling problem, which would give him a motive for theft.”

Bursnell said, “Good work, Principal Garcia. At least as far as motive is concerned, I’d say Hyperion has shot to number one on our list of suspects.”

He scratched his chin. “By the way, Principal, your analyses of the Particulars make me wonder what you would say about me. Do you have a file on me?”


1:22 p.m.–Bursnell

The principal said, “Yes, we have a file on you, and it says this. There’s nothing really wrong with you. You’re just shy and lonely, with an adolescent’s anxieties. I know it won’t do any good to tell you this, you’ll have to find it out for yourself, but here goes: You’re short and chubby now—“

Bursnell said, “Hey! Thanks a lot!”

She continued, “No, listen: You’re short and chubby now, but I’ve seen it a hundred times: kids who are this way early in high school end up being tall and slim. That extra weight has to be there, because when they start growing, it goes into height. So try not to worry about your appearance too much, it’s not done yet, it will be changing a lot. Let me ask you this: what month were you born?”

Bursnell said, “August.”

“Well there you go. Not physically mature, not athletic? Of course not, because you’re young for your grade. You were born in August, so most of the kids in your grade all the way along have been one to eleven months older than you. No wonder you’re a bit behind physically! Don’t be too fast to conclude you’re not athletic. If you were playing sports against kids in the grade one below you, you might do fine.”

Bursnell said, “But what about facial hair?”

The principal said, “Facial hair, phooey! First of all, you’ll have less than the guys in your class because you’re younger. But then ethnic background has a lot to do with it. Some folks are just hairier than others. Some men can grow full beards at 16, but some can’t ever do it as long as they live. Some cultures value facial hair, for example in some Arab countries, a big mustache is a status symbol. Other cultures don’t like hairiness, for example a hairy friend of mine living in Japan was banned from going in his neighborhood bathhouse. So just be patient and wait for the changes to slow down, and then know that whoever you are, there will be some people out there who will like you. And I don’t mean just physically. Some people will like your personality, and others won’t.”

“There’s one thing, though, that’s more important than all the rest of that, which is: having a good mind. And Bursnell, it’s clear from our conversations, not to flatter you, but you have a very, very good mind.”

She sighed. “The trouble is that I can tell you all this advice, but you won’t believe it. No one ever does. You have to experience it for yourself. I knew a kid who devoured tons of literature, trying to learn the ways of the world, but even she made the same mistakes as everyone else. So I don’t know why I bother. I guess I just hope against hope that you might be that one kid in a million who is smart and mature enough to hear advice like this and really take it in and believe it, without having to live the mistakes and learn from them that way. But it’s very unlikely!”

Bursnell said, “Well, I’ll try to take all that in and really believe it, but it doesn’t do much good to say so. Actions speak louder than words, so we’ll see.”

The principal said, “If you had assured me you’d take my advice, then I wouldn’t have believed you, but as it is…Let’s just say that I like your response.”

They had arrived at the dining hall. Bursnell opened the door of the kitchen for the principal, then followed her in.

The head cook was leaning on her elbows over the large butcher block in the center of the room, looking at some papers. She looked up.

“Ah, you’re back. Do you have more questions?”

Bursnell said, “Yes, please. Can you tell me about the cheeses.”

The cook said, “I know nothing about any cheeses.”


1:34 p.m.–Cheeses

Bursnell sighed, and looked at his watch. Less than an hour to go. “We think the Particulars may have stored their cheeses in your fridges. Is there someone who might know about that?”

“Well, maybe the assistant cook, Jonathan. I’ll call him.” She pushed open a swinging door. “Oh Jonathan, can you come here please?”

A large man came out of the door drying his hands. “Yes, Ms. Archuleta?”

“Jonathan, this young man has some questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, what would you like to know?”

“I wanted to know if any students asked you to store cheeses in the fridges over break, please.”

“Yes, they did. It was those crazy students they call the Particulars.”

“Ah. Do you know which cheese belonged to which student?”

“I remember two things. The Gorgonzola belonged to Chesley, and the Munster Fermier was Abelard’s.”

Bursnell made notes on his pad.


- Chesley’s cheese is Gorgonzola.

- Abelard’s cheese is Munster Fermier.


“Do you remember anything else?”

“No, that’s everything.”

Bursnell was disappointed. “Well, I was hoping for a bit more. If I just had a little more information, I think this would be solvable. But as it is, I can’t quite get there. Are you sure you can’t remember any more about which cheese belongs to which of the Particulars?”

Jonathan said, “I know nothing else, I’m absolutely sure.”

Bursnell felt frustrated. It really seemed as though he’d come to the end and fallen just short. He was out of ideas.

The principal coughed. “Actually, come to think of it, I know a couple more things about the cheeses.”

Bursnell turned to her. “Oh, really? Please enlighten us.” Then he wished he hadn’t said it that way, as it sounded snarky.

The principal didn’t seem to notice. “I remember there was one time that Baldron and Hyperion came into my office complaining that one of their hall mates was eating Epoisses de Bourgogne and stinking up the whole dorm. I looked it up on the internet, and found out that Epoisses de Bourgogne is so smelly that it is banned on public transportation in France! I told them to work it out among themselves. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who has the Epoisses de Bourgogne. All I can tell you is that Baldron and Hyperion don’t like that cheese. Actually, I remember Hyperion’s saying that he doesn’t like Limburger either, but at least it only stinks up a room, not the whole neighborhood. So Baldron and Hyperion don’t like Epoisses de Bourgogne, and Hyperion doesn’t like Limburger either.”

Bursnell was delighted. “Let me jot these down.”


- Baldron’s cheese is not Epoisses de Bourgogne.

- Hyperion’s cheese is not Epoisses de Bourgogne.

- Hyperion’s cheese is not Limburger.


“Let’s go back to your office and look at what we have.”

As they walked, the principal looked over at him. “Say, Bursnell, do you keep a favorite cheese in your room refrigerator?”

“Yes, I do: Vieux Boulogne. You see, I think that rather than choosing the most expensive cheeses in the world, the Particulars are competing in stinkiness. Their cheeses are, according to some people anyway, the second through sixth smelliest cheeses in the world. The second smelliest is Epoisses de Bourgogne, but scientific experiments confirm that my cheese, Vieux Boulogne, is even smellier than Epoisses.”

The principal shook her head in amazement. She opened the door to her office and gestured to him to sit down. “I might have known you would win the Cheese Wars also.”

Bursnell said, “Thanks. In any case, I really think that with the information we have right now, it is possible to solve this entire puzzle. It’s just a feeling I get, but I’ve done enough logic puzzles to think that we are there. So I’ll write a prediction on my pad.” He wrote on the page in large letters:


The puzzle is solvable from this point!

- It can be solved just by reasoning.

- Or it can be solved as a logic puzzle.


Bursnell said, “I’ll explain how to do this as a logic puzzle.”


1:49 p.m.–Logic Puzzles Explained

The principal cut in, “Sure, logic. For example, maybe we can figure that since the painting is French, and Abelard is French, maybe Abelard is the thief.”

Bursnell almost laughed, but tried not to show it. “That’s not quite logical reasoning. Let me demonstrate. First of all, let’s write down all the clues, especially all the things having to do with the Particulars.” He opened to a fresh page of his notebook and wrote:



- Bonsai: bonsai leaf on floor, probably from thief.

- Esmeralda: Esmeralda coffee on floor, probably from thief.

- Students: Abelard, Baldron, Chesley, Godfrey, Hyperion.

- Coffees: Esmeralda, Yirgacheffe, Fazenda, St. Helena, El Injerto.

- Plants: bonsai, bromeliad, orchid, monstera, venus flytrap.

- Cheeses: Gorgonzola, Rochefort, Limburger, Munster Fermier, and Epoisses de Bourgogne.

1. Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe.

2. Hyperion drinks Fazenda Santa Inez.

3. Chesley drinks St. Helena.

4. The Rochefort lover has a monstera.

5. The orchid owner likes Gorgonzola.

6. The bromeliad owner drinks El Injerto.

7. The venus flytrap owner loves Epoisses.

8. Chesley’s cheese is Gorgonzola.

9. Abelard’s cheese is Munster Fermier.

10. Baldron’s cheese is not Epoisses.

11. Hyperion’s cheese is not Epoisses.

12. Hyperion’s cheese is not Limburger.


- Who owns the bonsai?

- Who drinks Esmeralda?


“What you see on that paper looks just like a thing called a logic puzzle. I love logic puzzles. They are a close cousin to Sudoku, which I also love. Sudoku are handy to carry in your wallet and work on if you’re ever stuck in a line, so that you never need to be bored. I have a special fondness for logic puzzles, which add a sort of colorful human element to the black and white numbers of Sudoku. Both logic puzzles and Sudoku are clean and clear, like science and the high desert air, not foggy and unclear, like politics and the muggy, polluted air of the lowlands.”

“Bursnell, can you get back to the point, please?”

“Sure, will do. Now, as I said, it would be possible to just run through that list of clues over and over to see what conclusions fall out on each run-through. I prefer to lay it out in two tables, which I may as well call a chart and a grid, like this.” He turned the page and started on a new piece of paper. He fished a ruler out of his detection kit and drew a chart on the notebook page.

“I see that of our twelve clues, eight are people clues, eight are cheese clues, five are coffee clues, and three are plant clues. So I may as well use people as the header row across the top. That gives me this chart.”



“Now in a typical logic puzzle, I figure out what everyone has, and fill in every square. Actually, that’s true of every logic puzzle I’ve ever seen. In our case, we *-really just need the answers to the two questions, who drinks Esmeralda, and who owns the bonsai. We’ll see how much of our chart gets filled in as we answer those.”

“The second thing I do is to make a grid.” He made lines rapidly with the ruler. “When I first started making these grids, I put all the items along the top and down the left side, but that made for a lot of extra writing. From experience, I’ve learned that this is the most efficient way. Notice that the dark gray squares at bottom right,” he shaded them in with the pencil, “are never used.”



“Now let’s look at the clues. The clues are either positive or negative. Take the last clue, Hyperion doesn’t like Limburger. That’s a negative clue. For a negative clue, I fill in a zero, or letter O, at the intersection of Hyperion and Limburger, like this.” He wrote an O on the paper.



“With a positive clue I can fill in more squares. For example, the first clue says that Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe, so I put an X at the intersection of Baldron and Yirgacheffe. Now I know that Baldron doesn’t drink anything else, so I fill in an O for the other Baldron coffee squares, and I know that Yirgacheffe isn’t drunk by anyone else, so I fill in an O for all the other Yirgacheffe people squares, like this.”



“A positive clue also lets me fill in my chart, like this.” He wrote ‘Yirgacheffe’ in the chart at the intersection of Baldron and coffee.



2:14 p.m.–Logic Puzzle

Bursnell said, “Now it’s a question of going through the list of clues over and over and filling out the grid and the chart as you go, and occasionally drawing conclusions and making brilliant deductions. The grid and chart make it easier. Mind if I use your copy machine?” He quickly made a copy of his notebook pages, which had clues, questions, chart, and grid on them, and handed them to the Principal.



- Bonsai: bonsai leaf on floor, probably from thief.

- Esmeralda: Esmeralda coffee on floor, probably from thief.

- Students: Abelard, Baldron, Chesley, Godfrey, Hyperion.

- Coffees: Esmeralda, Yirgacheffe, Fazenda, St. Helena, El Injerto.

- Plants: bonsai, bromeliad, orchid, monstera, venus flytrap.

- Cheeses: Gorgonzola, Rochefort, Limburger, Munster Fermier, and Epoisses de Bourgogne.

1. Baldron drinks Yirgacheffe.

2. Hyperion drinks Fazenda Santa Inez.

3. Chesley drinks St. Helena.

4. The Rochefort lover has a monstera.

5. The orchid owner likes Gorgonzola.

6. The bromeliad owner drinks El Injerto.

7. The venus flytrap owner loves Epoisses.

8. Chesley’s cheese is Gorgonzola.

9. Abelard’s cheese is Munster Fermier.

10. Baldron’s cheese is not Epoisses.

11. Hyperion’s cheese is not Epoisses.

12. Hyperion’s cheese is not Limburger.


- Who owns the bonsai?

- Who drinks Esmeralda?




“Would you care to try?”

“Look, Bursnell, you have to realize that life is not a game.”

“Principal, with all due respect, the way I see it, life is a game. You can play it to lose, you can play it to win, or you can play it to have fun. I play it to have fun, and I end up winning.”

“Well, we still need a solution as fast as possible.”

“Yes, I agree, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder as I solve this, so you may as well try.”

The principal said, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” She took the paper, sat down, and began staring at it intently.

Bursnell took his notebook, sat opposite, and wrote a prediction in large letters.


The logic puzzle is solvable from this point.


2:26 p.m.–Phone call to airport

Bursnell looked up from his paper. He’d been so absorbed, it seemed as though time had stood still, but he saw from the clock on the wall that about fifteen minutes had passed since he sat down to work on the puzzle. “Principal Garcia, how’s it going?”

“Pretty well, I guess. It’s sort of fun.” She held up her page. The grid was about half filled in.

“Say, that’s pretty good. You’ll be even better with practice. I’m finished; here’s your answer. There were two students involved in stealing the painting.” He gave their names. “What airports are they flying to?”

The principal raised her eyebrows. “Those two students are both from the Chicago area, both flying to O’Hare airport.”

Bursnell came around to her side of the desk. “Mind if I borrow your computer for a moment?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Bursnell googled ‘flights from Albuquerque to O’Hare.’ “I see there are several midday flights, getting in to Chicago after 4 p.m., which is 3 p.m. here. I suggest you call airport security and have them meet those flights and search the bags of those two students.” He typed some more. “Here’s the number for O’Hare airport security.” He gave her the number.

The principal dialed, spoke at length with the airport, then hung up. “Well, we have a little time until we hear from the airport. Can you show me your solution?”


2:32 p.m.–The Solution

Bursnell said, “Okay. Shall we look at your version first?”

She slid her paper over. “Sure. I just filled in the twelve clues, but didn’t know how to continue.”



Bursnell quickly compared her grid with the clues. “Right, well done, this looks correct. So now take a look at the top middle square, the intersection of people and cheeses. We can see that the only possible cheese for Hyperion is Rochefort, so we put an X there, and an O in the two empty squares below that. Then reading down in the Epoisses de Bourgogne column, we see that the only possible person is Godfrey.”

The principal said, “Oh, I see, and that leaves Baldron for Limburger.”

“Exactly, well done, Principal Garcia. So we fill in those exxes and ohs. Now see how Chesley has an X at St. Helena, and straight across from that, an X at Gorgonzola. That tells us that St. Helena is with Gorgonzola, so in the bottom square, at the intersection of St. Helena and Gorgonzola, we can put an X. Makes sense, because both Gorgonzola and St. Helena belong to Chesley.”

The principal’s face lit up. “Okay, so then in the Epoisses de Bourgogne column, I see that the X for Godfrey lines up with the X for venus flytrap, so over in the top right square, we can put an X at the intersection of Godfrey and venus flytrap.”

“Hey, you’re catching on fast, very good. Let’s also fill in the chart up to now.” He wrote rapidly.



Bursnell finished filling in venus flytrap under Godfrey. “At this point I suggest reading through the list of clues again and seeing what jumps out at us. See, clue #4 says the Rochefort lover has a monstera plant, so that means that Hyperion has the monstera plant.”

He filled it in on both chart and grid. “And clue #5 said Gorgonzola was with the orchid, so Chesley is orchid. Oh, look at this: bromeliad and El Injerto go together, from clue #6. Picture a puzzle piece with two slots, El Injerto above bromeliad. That piece can only fit under Abelard, because everyone else has either a coffee or plant filled in. I consider that a clever conclusion. That means Godfrey must be Esmeralda. And Baldron must own the bonsai. So that’s how I got the two names I gave you, Baldron and Godfrey, the two Chicago students.”

“Bursnell, that was very impressive. Thank you very much for your help.”

“You’re welcome, but we’re not quite out of the woods. If the painting isn’t in their luggage, and they passed it to someone else, we’ll have to confront these two, and maybe check the luggage of the other Particulars, in case the painting was handed off to them. We have to just wait and see. We have a little time to kill. I see you have a coffee maker. Care for a cup of some really good coffee?”


3:15 p.m.–Conclusion

The phone rang. The principal picked it up. “Hello?”

She listened for a bit, relief flooding her face, and gave Bursnell a thumbs up. “Can you hold for a moment, please?”

She clicked the Hold button on the phone and looked up at Bursnell with eyes that seemed full of emotion. “Airport security stopped them coming off of United Flight 3468, escorted them to baggage claim, and found the painting in Godfrey’s checked luggage.”

Bursnell said, “Okay, so Godfrey with the God complex is our criminal, and his motive is not that he needs money, but just that he thinks he’s above the law and likes to do bad things. And it’s no good doing something like this if you can’t tell anyone about it, so he picked the fearful and easily-intimidated Baldron as his accomplice. The police will question them, of course, but that seems like a pretty good guess.”

The principal stood up, came around her desk, and surprised Bursnell by giving him a big warm hug. “Bursnell, I owe you some huge favors. Anything you can think of to make your years at Santa Fe Boarding School more pleasant, just ask me.”

Bursnell said, “I’ll think about it.”





Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer?




Tom Slakey


About the author:


Tom Slakey alternates between technical writing in Silicon Valley and traveling the world with his lovely wife Susan. He has lived an adventurous life. He served in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, where Timbuktu is, taught English in Tokyo, lived in Mexico for a year, learned five languages, trekked to 18,700 feet (5700 meters) on Mount Everest, and traveled in 53 countries.


Discover other titles by Tom Slakey:


Bursnell Teague and the Einstein Puzzle (2017)


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Bursnell Teague and the Particulars

Young Adult/Mystery. Boarding school sophomore Bursnell Teague stumbles across a mystery: a valuable painting has been stolen from his school. He has a hunch: the whole situation is feeling a lot like a logic puzzle. But will he be allowed to solve it, and will he be in time to prevent a catastrophic loss? An entirely new type of mystery, a must-read addition for any mystery collector. This book does for logic puzzles what Parnell Hall’s Puzzle Lady series does for crosswords. “Logic puzzle as mystery novel! Highly recommended. The perfect book for introducing teenagers to the fun of logical thinking. Fans of logic puzzles, Sudoku, and mysteries will all love this book.” Gwen Bindon, Retired School Principal “Loved the book! So much fun! Can't wait for my sons to read it! Would be fun for my students to read and figure out, especially my math and engineering ESL students!” Laura Casellas, College ESL Professor BURSNELL TEAGUE AND THE PARTICULARS A Logic Mystery Tom Slakey

  • Author: Tom Slakey
  • Published: 2016-06-20 03:50:11
  • Words: 14484
Bursnell Teague and the Particulars Bursnell Teague and the Particulars