Jessie Macgill: Kid Detective

by Denise


Don’t own the characters, don’t own the storyline, don’t own the TV show, etc.—all I can lay claim to are the thoughts in my head, which I present to you here…


“Jessica Beatrice Macgill!!”


The gangly girl stopped mid-step on her flight up the stairs, stopped dead in her tracks by the sound of her mother calling her by her full name.  Whenever that happened, Jessie knew she was in trouble.  She turned and descended the stairs, at a speed much slower than that which she employed in her ascent just a moment ago.  She racked her brain to figure out why she was in trouble, but could not even hazard a guess.


Her mother’s call was from the kitchen, and Jessie entered the sweet smelling room, still clutching her schoolbooks to her chest.  “Yes, Mom?” she answered her mother, as she looked down at the floor with embarrassment for which she didn’t yet know the reason.


“Young lady, are you ashamed to be a member of this family?”


Jessica looked up in utter confusion, and said the only thing that popped into her twelve year old mind, “Huh?”


“Huh, indeed.  Sit down and explain to me why your teacher called to tell me that you are signing your schoolwork as Jessica Drew.  It doesn’t take a detective to figure out that you are still pretending to be Nancy Drew.”


Jessie then understood why her mom was mad, but not why it so horrible that her mother was required to invoke her full Christian name. “Gee, Mom, I must have just forgotten.”  Her face flushed as she looked down at her saddle shoes, ashamed to look her mother in the eye, embarrassed even further by the answer that she knew was completely lame.


“Daydreaming is more like it, Jessie.” The girl was heartened by her mother’s use of her nickname, it signified that she wasn’t r-e-a-l-l-y mad at her, but listened as her mother continued.  “Don’t think I don’t remember what it is like to be a girl.  It’s just that when you’re at school, you have to pay attention to your schoolwork, not daydream about solving mysteries or pretending that you’re Nancy Drew.  You have your head in the clouds way too much.  I know things haven’t been easy for you lately; Lord, I’ve never seen a child sprout up like you have these past few months.” 


Jessica visibly winced at the reminder that she was now not only taller than three fourths of the boys in her class, but also her older by two years brother, Martin (a sore point that made it nearly impossible to deal with him at all these days, though she was hardly happy about this state of affairs either).  A lot of the kids were teasing her and calling her Giraffe or Stretch, and it seemed her only escape was to pretend she was Nancy Drew.  That teenage detective certainly had no problems with feeling as awkward as an aardvark, and the way Carolyn Keene described how Nancy Drew just sailed gracefully through her never ending adventures—surely nobody ever called her “Giraffe”.


Jessica’s attention was drawn back to the matter at hand by her mother’s voice. “Look, just promise me that you’ll focus yourself at school.  I know your grades are good; that isn’t the point.  Honey, I just don’t need any more on my plate right now.”


Jessica was brought up short by her mother’s words and realized what really had her upset: the fact that her father was so rarely home, what with his work as a military contractor working fourteen hour days because they were so busy due to the Lend Lease Act.  Now, with war declared in Europe last year, surely things were going to be busier for him now more than before.  Jessie reached over and gave her mom a quick hug.


“I’m proud to be a Macgill, with all that Daddy is doing for America, and having a great mom like you.  I’m sorry that putting Drew as my last name made you think I wasn’t.  I won’t do it again.”


Angela Macgill looked at her only daughter and smiled as she patted her cheek.  “Go on and put your books away, and do your chores.”


“Okay!” Jessie was out the door like a flash after having grabbed her books, and before her mom could think of anything else.  Once she got to her room, she dropped her books on her bed and went to her calendar, carefully “x”ing off another day.  She was counting the days until the release of the newest Nancy Drew movie—she was so eager to see it sometimes she felt like she would burst.  It had already opened in other parts of America, but it took forever for new movies to reach small towns such as Cabot Cove—by the time they did, ‘new’ was hardly the proper adjective with which to describe them, she thought wryly.


After quickly changing from her school clothes into a pair of her oldest brother’s old dungarees and a shirt, she went off to do her chores. As she exited her room, she turned and straightened out the sign on her bedroom door, the one she tacked up that said “Jessie Macgill: Assistant to Nancy Drew”.  A smile creased her face as she contemplated how nice that title sounded, and with a more cheerful heart she started her chores.  She saved the most hated one for last, cleaning out the wastebaskets.  She put the trash from her room into the larger wastebasket and then went into the room shared by Marshall and Martin.  Marshall, the eldest, was doing his homework.  As a junior in high school, it did seem like he had a ton of it, especially now that the school year was almost over.  Martin had no such scholastic ambitions; he was sprawled on his bed reading yet another of his stupid comic books.  She wondered again why her brothers seemed to be through with their chores long before she was, and again she could find no other reason but that she was given more of them. Fueled by the crabby mood that thought put her in, Jessica dumped the contents of their basket in the big wastecan and as she left she grabbed the comic book from Martin’s hands and put it in as well.


“Hey!  Gimme that!” he yelled and grabbed it back, making a visible production of dusting off the trash that had not clung to it.  “Lucky you didn’t ruin it.  How’d you like it if I did that to your stupid Nancy Drew books?”


Jessie was about to snap back with a smart retort, but before she could Marshall turned and snapped, “Silence, infants,” but winked at Jessica—he knew what a pain their brother could be and Jessica took the wink as yet another piece of evidence of her close bond with her eldest brother against their common foe, the very annoying Marty.  “You leave Jessie’s books alone, Marty, or I’ll trash your comics and they’ll stay trashed.”  Jessie chuckled under her breath as she saw the look on Marty’s face at hearing his brother’s admonition.  She was also heartened to hear Marshall take some interest in something besides his books and the news on the radio; he had been particularly preoccupied these past few months.


Jessie left the room while the getting was good, and as she went to the bathroom to gather that trash she looked in the basket and noticed torn up pieces of paper sprinkled amongst the trash, and from what she could see the wording on them was made by a typewriter.  An idea popped into her head and she ducked into her room with the basket, quickly picked out the pieces of the torn document, and hid them in a desk drawer, then ran out of the room to complete her task; she knew she would not have time to investigate that mystery and get her chores done in time to help her mother with dinner, then there was homework on top of it all: it seemed like it would be forever before she would be able to piece together the puzzle.  However, the time went by quicker because in her imagination, she pieced the torn document into a nice little story entitled Jessica Macgill and Nancy Drew—The Case of the Destroyed Document, soon to be the number one bestseller at her local bookstore.  She figured Nancy wouldn’t mind giving her top billing just this once.


Her perception of forever finally passed and she got to bring the pieces out of their hiding place and spread them out on the floor.  It took her a good fifteen minutes, because most of the pieces were quite small, and some were missing altogether, but she was surprised when she read the letter they formed.


The first surprise was, though she recognized the address as being that of his best friend, the letter was addressed to Marshall—why would he have a letter sent to him at any other address but their home?  She really thought that the torn up paper was Martin’s and felt a twinge of conscience when she discovered she was really snooping in Marshall’s business, but the twinge disappeared quickly as she read the body of the letter; it was only after she read the first sentence that she bothered to notice the letterhead.  The letter was from the United States Marine Corps.


Dear Mr. Macgill,


We received your correspondence indicating an interest in joining the Marine Corps.  However, we regret to advise that you must wait until you are at least seventeen years old in order to join (with your parent’s signed permission slip) or eighteen years old to join without parental permission.


Jessie didn’t even finish the rest of the letter, she felt sick to her stomach from the gnawing terror that filled her about her brother going into the military and maybe having to fight.  She didn’t want him to get hurt or killed, heck, she wouldn’t even wish that on Martin.  She quickly gathered up the pieces and threw them violently into her wastecan.  Not knowing what else to do, she went into her brothers’ room, only to find that Marshall wasn’t there.  In an uncharacteristic display, Marty told her that Marshall was out in the garage tinkering with the family car, and managed to convey the information without coloring it with a smart aleck brotherly comment.  That was fortunate because Jessie was in no mood for it.


She didn’t even realize that the presence of the family car in the garage meant that her father was home as well; she only noticed when she heard him call out to her.


“What, no kiss for your hardworking dad?  What has the world come to?”


Jessica turned at the sound of his voice but no smile of greeting crossed her face. “Hey, what’s the matter with my little girl?” Bruce Macgill enquired of his youngest child as she walked over to him.


“Nothing, Daddy,” she replied, placing a rather half hearted kiss on his cheek and turned to leave, then a question occurred to her. “Daddy, why did you fight in the Great War?”


“Well, Jessie, I didn’t have a choice; I was drafted.”


“Did you want to go?”


“No, can’t say as I did.  But America was at war and I had to do it.  I sure was hoping that I wouldn’t have to go, but my number came up and that was that.”


“But wasn’t it the ‘war to end all wars’?  That’s what they tell us in school!” Jessica replied, a note of fright in her voice.  “Why do people keep going to war?”


Bruce took his daughter in his arms, and pulled her onto his lap, “Jessie, I don’t know what to tell you.  It seems that man has an infinite capacity for killing each other.  I just hope that with the Lend Lease Act and the work so many of us are doing that we can squash this conflict while it’s still just over in Europe and Asia.”


“Jessie, don’t bother your father with your questions.  He needs to relax and have his dinner.” Angela placed a plate of food in front of her husband.  “Have you finished your homework?” she asked Jessie.


“Yes, Mom,” Jessica replied, and quickly went off in search of Marshall before her mother thought up something for her to do.  The screen door slammed behind her.  Bruce called after her, “If you see your brother, tell him not to take my car apart!”  Jessica had every intention of finding her brother, but that was not the topic she intended to discuss with him.


“Oh, that girl,” Angela rolled her eyes and her husband laughed; he knew what his wife was thinking.


But just in case he didn’t, Angela voiced her concern, “It’s as if we have three sons--why can’t she be a little more ladylike?”


“Aw, she’s got spunk, and she’s a great kid,” Bruce defended his girl.


“I know that, but why does she romp around this place like a herd of elephants?  You should hear her when she gets home from school, the way she bounces in the door and up those stairs.”


“You just leave her alone, Angie,” Bruce took his wife’s hand and squeezed it.  “Our Jessie is going to turn out just fine, and she’ll be the loveliest woman there ever was, except for her mom.  She’s like a colt right now, kicking up her heels, but I wouldn’t want her to be otherwise.


“You indulge her too much, that’s your problem,” Angie smiled at her husband and squeezed his hand back.  “Now you go and eat, and just relax.”


Under ordinary circumstances, Jessica’s ears might have been ringing from her parents’ discussion about her, but she was too preoccupied about the torn letter to even give her folks a second thought.  She slipped quietly into the garage, where she saw the bottom half of Marshall; his top half was hidden under the car.


Now that she was there, she didn’t know how to properly broach the subject.  It just occurred to her that maybe this wasn’t any of her business, but that did not dispel her overwhelming curiosity.  Debating what to do, she stood there silently until the issue was forced by Marshall when he rolled himself out from under the car.


“Hey, Jessie, what are you doing here?” Marshall smiled at his kid sister. “Something the matter, kiddo?  You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.”


“I—I had a question for you, Marshall,” Jessica stammered.


“Well?” he asked


“I saw, um…I read a…are you going to try to go into the Marines, Marsh?”


“What?” In the darkness, Jessie didn’t see her brother’s eyes narrow, and she missed the note of anger in his voice, as she continued, “Well, I was just reading a letter you got…”


Jessie didn’t get to finish before Marshall lost his temper.  She was shocked speechless at her brother’s reaction, because he had never before spoken to her in anger.


“What do you think you’re doing, going through my stuff and reading my mail?  You go and play Nancy Drew with someone else’s private things, and don’t you let me ever find you in my room again, ever!”  Marshall took out his anger on the first thing at hand, the wrench he was holding; he drew his arm back and threw it against the opposite wall of the garage.


“Now you get out of here, and keep out of my private stuff!  And keep your mouth shut about that letter!”  Jessica ran from the garage with tears spilling from her wide, blue eyes.  She ran towards the house, but then realized she would have a lot of explaining to do if her parents saw her; she then turned on her heel towards the only safe place she could think of at the spur of the moment—the treehouse.  She nimbly scaled the posts affixed to the tree which served as a ladder, and threw herself on the floor, sobbing inconsolably.  She was always putting her nose in where it didn’t belong and now she had really done it.  She was never, ever going to snoop around in things that weren’t her business ever again.  Her small hands shook as she swiped the tears from her cheeks.  She didn’t know how she would ever face Marshall again. “You’re just so stupid, Jessica,” she berated herself. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”


Marshall was feeling much the same way, after his flare-up of rage had subsided.  He recalled, too late, that he had torn up and thrown away the pieces of the letter, certainly never dreaming that anyone would painstakingly fit the pieces back together to read it.  He was still annoyed that she would piece the letter back together to read it, but he really should have destroyed it at his friend’s house and not brought it home at all, since he went through all the trouble of having the response sent to a different address to hide it in the first place.  At least he knew that Jessie had not purposely searched his things in her single-minded pursuit of being a kid detective.  All in all, he realized he overreacted, and went in search of his little sister.  As he entered the house in search of her, to apologize for his actions, he overheard his parents talking about her.  He listened in, unnoticed on the stairs.


“I think it’s natural for children to be curious about war, Angie.  After all, it’s got to be scary for Jessie to think about thousands of people getting shot and killed.”


“You know, it’s just as scary for me, honey.  I hate the thought of the boys going.  In a couple of years Marshall will be old enough to be drafted, and Martin is not too far behind.  I don’t know what I’ll do if they’re called up.  It’s the only time I’ve regretted having sons.  I’d really like to hide them somewhere until this stupidity overseas is over.”


His mother’s words made Marshall tense up.  How’s she going to feel when I ask them when I turn 17 next month to give me permission to join the Marines?  The thought made him feel queasy, not made any easier by his subsequent realization that his little sister must also be scared about the thought of him going into the military.  He continued up the stairs to find his sister.


Once he got to her door, he knocked even though it was ajar.  “Jessie?” he called softly into the darkness but saw she wasn’t in there.  It didn’t take much figuring to deduce where she would be.  He went back down the stairs and out the door.  Marshall quietly padded across the lawn to the treehouse, “Jessie?…Jessie, it’s no use not answering—I know you’re up there.”


There was no answer—Jessica pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.  “Jessie, I need to talk to you—I’m coming up.”  Jessie heard in her brother’s voice that he was no longer angry, but that made her tears come even harder.  She chewed on her lip and rubbed a fist against her eyes to stop them, but was only successful in slowing them down a bit.


“Yeah, I knew you’d be hiding out up here; you always do.” Marshall could see his sister’s outline in the dark.  He sat down at the edge of the platform, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. It was only after you ran out that I remembered that I threw that letter out, so I know you didn’t go snooping through my stuff.  But honestly, Jess, this detective stuff, sticking your nose into things that aren’t your business…well, that’s going to get you in a real mess one of these days.  I know you’re curious about everything, and I’ve never seen anyone who doesn’t miss anything that’s going on, but it’s not like in the movies.  Someday you’re going to look in the wrong place and really get yourself in a mess, maybe even something dangerous.  And you’re not going to have an author like Carolyn Keen to get you out of you scrapes, like Nancy Drew.”


“I promise I’ll try not to go looking for trouble like that,” Jessica replied in a small voice, her tears finally stopped.


“Now, I suppose you want to know about that letter.”


“No!   I don’t want to know anything about it,” she replied, unpersuasively trying to convince Marshall that she would never be curious about anything ever again.  “I just don’t want to you to go anywhere—I don’t want anything to change,” Jessie concluded morosely.


“Everything changes, little sis.  We grow up and move on; that’s how things gotta be.  I really don’t want to go into the Marines, but all I can think of is our family over in England and what they’re going through.  I want to do something to help them.  Either way, I’m going to end up in the military, because I really believe we’re going to get dragged into this—it’s just a matter of time.”


Marshall could see that Jessie was unconvinced by his words, and he continued, “You remember our cousin, Emma, the one who’s about your age.  Well, think how scared she is and she doesn’t even have a big brother to look out for her, so I feel like I should step in and help her out.  You guys look so much alike it’d be kind of like helping you, and I’d sure want someone to step in and do that for me if I couldn’t.”


Jessica mulled that over for awhile in silence, then turned and threw her arms around her brother, “Just be careful, Marshall, don’t forget you want to be a doctor someday.”


“I’m not forgetting; I’m hoping to train as a medic in the Marine Corps, and that’ll come in handy in med school.  Don’t worry, I’ll come back—I’ve done a lot of thinking about it lately.  All three of us Macgill kids have a lot to look forward to in our future.” 


Jessie looked at him sideways and he added with a smile, “Yeah, even Marty.”


The pair sat in silence, their feet hanging off the side of the treehouse, contemplating that thought, until their mother’s call cut through the dusky stillness, “Jessie!  Time for bed!”


First Jessie slid down the rope to get to the ground, and Marshall followed her.  He put his arm around her slender shoulders and they went into the house.  Jessie started up the stairs and, halfway up, turned around in surprise that her brother was not following her.


“You go on up, sis; I’ve got something to talk over with the folks.”


Jessie gave her brother a small smile to indicate her understanding, and then ascended the stairs to her room.




Several months later, the Macgill family gathered at the Portland train station in the freezing cold of January.  Marshall stood in the midst of the family, receiving their good wishes for success at boot camp.  He had finally talked his parents into letting him join the Marines at 17, after he had gone to summer school to accelerate his accumulation of credits to graduate from high school at the end of the fall term.  College and medical school would be on the back burner until his discharge from the military.  When he said goodbye to his little sister, he gave her a big hug, and asked her, “Jessie, while I’m gone I need you to do me a favor--write me some stories, about what’s going on around here, and what everyone is up to.  That way, it’ll be kind of like being home.”




“Yes, you, kiddo.  I know you can do it.”


Buoyed by her brother’s faith in her abilities, she promised she would.


He boarded the train, suitcase in hand, and waved goodbye from the platform on the last car of the train.  As it slowly pulled out from the station, Jessie broke free from her family and ran after the train, and managed to run alongside parallel to Marshall.  She wanted to say something, to put together words worthy of the writer he thought she could be, but words failed her as she struggled to keep up.  But Marshall understood what she was feeling, and their eyes joined in a look that said all that needed to be said between them.  “I’ll see you soon, Jessie!” he finally called as the train picked up speed and his sister fell behind.  She flung herself against the protective rail at the end of the platform, able to go no further as she watched the figure of her brother get smaller and smaller. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispered, as Marshall was now too far away to hear her no matter how loudly she could yell.  But she realized that her brother would always be near to her, as long as she had him in her heart.