I know what you’re thinking: What, exactly, is a boxcar, and why are children living in it? Has anyone called Child Protective Services? First off, apparently the whole boxcar situation is all good with their grandfather, who has a lot of money and is very kind. But let me back up. This all started when I lost one of my slippers and went onto Craigslist to find a private investigator. Yeah, again, I know what you’re thinking: Is Craigslist really the best place to find a private investigator? Maybe not, but I couldn’t afford one of the more expensive websites.

I was scrolling through the ads when I saw one that looked promising, if not necessarily grammatically correct:

Hi! We are Henry (14), Jessie (12), Violet (10), and Benny (5-7). We solve mysteries that won’t give us nightmares. Please no murders, arsons, kidnappings, bludgeonings, torturing, etc. About us: We have a dog named Watch. Jessie really likes to clean up after us. Violet likes the violin and the color violet, because of her name. We will solve your mystery free of charge though it would be nice if you fed us.

So I decided to pay them a visit, because you can’t beat free — though I was slightly concerned about the legality of hiring children.

When I arrived, I had to hop the fence to get to the boxcar in the backyard. I knocked on the door and the oldest one, Henry, opened it and invited me inside. Their dog, which didn’t seem to care about me hopping the fence, started barking like crazy. They asked if I wanted anything to drink, and I said water would be great.

“Jessie, get this nice young man some water,” Henry said.

“Use my cup!” This was the youngest one, Benny. He took a cracked pink cup off the shelf and gave it to Jessie, who filled it up with the hose from the backyard and handed it to me. “I found it in the dump!” Benny said proudly. I did my best to choke down the hose water in the dump cup.

“How old are you?” I asked Benny. He answered he was five. Henry corrected him and said that he’s seven. Jessie agreed with Henry. Violet was quiet. I was confused.

When I told them about my missing slipper, which I’d looked all over for and couldn’t find, they seemed very excited and wanted to start their investigation right away. So we left for my apartment, Jessie carrying a magnifying glass and Benny carrying his dump cup.

As soon as we arrived, they began arguing about what to do first — all except Violet, who didn’t say anything, other than asking if I had any animals. I told her I did not.

“Jessie, clean up this man’s kitchen,” said Henry. I told them that it was okay, I didn’t need my kitchen cleaned. Henry asked if I had kids. He said some of their friends had a babysitting club and were always looking for more work. I told him I was childless. Jessie asked if I liked time travel, because they had some other friends with a treehouse that could take you back in time. I told them I was afraid of heights. Violet asked if I had another mystery that needed solving, because they had a group of friends in the same line of work with a psychedelic van and a big dog.

“One of them is a stoner!” Benny exclaimed. I looked at his older siblings in alarm. How did this five-to-seven-year-old know what a stoner was?

“Silly Benny!” Laughed Jessie. “He means ‘loner.’”

I started to get the impression that these kids were only in my apartment to drum up business for their friends. I told them to focus on my slipper. Benny asked if maybe a ghost could have taken it. Jessie suggested we interview my neighbors. Henry said he was getting pretty hungry and maybe Jessie could whip something up in my kitchen. Violet asked if I had a violin. I told her I did not.

Jessie’s suggestion of interviewing the neighbors seemed the most promising, although I realized my neighbors might find it weird if four children knocked on their doors to ask if they had seen my slipper. I thought about how I was going to get these kids out of my apartment. Meanwhile, Henry was using his magnifying glass to look for dust. Apparently he found some, because he pointed at the vacuum and told Jessie to make herself useful.

It was then that I began googling for their grandfather’s contact info.

Eventually I found a cell number and shortly thereafter he arrived, but not before Benny and Henry had eaten most of the food in my apartment. The grandfather was very kind and handed each of them a one hundred dollar bill. I was surprised they got rewarded for doing so little, but in all fairness, they actually did solve the mystery. Jessie found my slipper under the couch when she was vacuuming.

I liked having a clean apartment so much that I took their recommendation for a housekeeper, “Amelia something.” We’ve already connected via email. I told her that I might occasionally want her to whip up something for dinner, and she wrote back that she would bring a whip. At least she has a sense of humor! What could go wrong?