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David, the 3-year-old detective

David, the 3-year-old detective, sat in his office under the kitchen table. His assistant, Sam the Cat, had just brought him the morning paper, which he had found wrapped around some old bones in the next-door neighbour's rubbish tin. (The bones had been carefully inspected for any remaining evidence, and then filed by Sam in his favourite spot between the plum tree and the fence.)

But David's mind was not really on the day's news. He doodled on the office floor with a felt pen as he thought about what Chief of Police Daddy had said to him the night before.

"David," said the Chief, "Did you you do that?" That, was a broken bedroom window. Shattered glass lay on the floor. And in the middle of it ... was a marble. A big one.

David was frightened when he saw it, because that afternoon he had done something he knew he should not. Big Stuart, the driver of the fastest getaway bike in the neighbourhood, had been given a bag of those marbles the week before, and he had passed the word around the neighbourhood: "No-one touches those marbles."

Now, Big Stuart had gone out on a secret mission, and while he was away David had taken the chance to check out Big Stuart's den, looking for any stray things that might just be lying around. David had come across the marbles, which Big Stuart had forgotten to lock away in his safe, and he could not resist playing with them. Sam the Cat had kept lookout, and he had passed the miaow to David when he heard Big Stuart coming back down the drive. David quickly scooped the marbles back into the bag, but when he counted them he found one was missing. In panic, he looked frantically around but could not find it, and he only had time to crawl out the window before Big Stuart came back.

Now, there was what looked horribly like the missing marble, surrounded by broken glass.

"David, did you do that?" asked Police Chief Daddy again.

"No, I didn't do it," replied David.

"Then, why are you crying?" asked the Chief.

"Because you are making me so upset."

"Tell me the truth, David."

David was trapped. He knew he needed help. If he said anything more, he would be in trouble with Big Stuart. There was only one thing he could do. Call his lawyer fast.

"I want Mummy," he said.

Lawyer Mummy was a smart operator. She knew every loophole in the book, and what was important, she knew how to get around the Police Chief when her client was in trouble.

A yoghurt-pot telephone call to the kitchen had the best legal brain in town down to the bedroom faster than you could say, "Get your muddy boots off my carpet."

"Hi Chief," she said, "What's up?"

Chief pointed to the mess on the carpet.

"You can't pin that on my boy," said Lawyer Mummy. "He's got a perfect alibi." She thought fast. "He was helping me do the dishes at the time, and I've got two witnesses to prove it."

"Two witnesses?" The Police Chief found this hard to believe.

"Yes. Two broken saucers. Don't worry, they were the old chipped ones," she added as she saw the Chief start to go red in the face.

The Chief was far from happy. But he knew he didn't have enough evidence to arrest David. No jury would convict on the facts so far, and Judge Grandpa would throw the case out on appeal anyway.

"Okay," he said. "He's free to go. But I'm holding on to his passport, so he doesn't try to skip the country." And he pocketed David's vaccination book with a flourish. "By the way, where's Sam the Cat?" The Chief's eyes narrowed. "I want a word with him. He was seen loitering around here a few minutes ago. Perhaps he might have seen something."

David smiled to himself. Sam was no tell-tale. The Chief would get nothing out of him.

But as David thought about these events in his office, he was far from happy. He might not have been arrested, but the suspicion still fell on him, and his lawyer had warned that not even her skill would help if it was discovered he really had broken the window.

David knew the police were not on his side this time. If his name was to be cleared, he had to find the real criminal, and fast, before the clues vanished up the vacuum cleaner. Big Stuart had gone to school, so now was the time to act.

Detective David put on his trench coat, and called for Sam to bring his trike round to the office door. He ignored the parking ticket stuck to the handlebars, and pedalled off furiously to the bedroom, Sam hanging on for dear life behind. He pulled up with a screech of rubber, left Sam to feed the parking meter, and went in.

He shuddered at what he saw. Big Stuart was not known for his tidy habits, and David realised this was not going to be an easy job. He went down on his hands and knees and started searching, when he heard a noise behind him. He spun around to find the door opening.

"What are you doing in here?" asked a woman's voice. The woman was carrying a vacuum cleaner and duster, and with a sigh of relief David realised it was the cleaning lady. He did some fast thinking.

"Have you come to do some cleaning?" he asked.

Mummy nodded, suspicious.

"I've come to check the telephone," David said. Then he had an idea. "Can I help you do the cleaning?" Perhaps he would find something while he helped.

Although still suspicious, the cleaning lady agreed. And David worked harder than she did even. But it was no good. At the end he had no better idea, and went off to morning tea still troubled.

Later, realising he had left his trike back at the bedroom, David returned to get it. As he got near, he stiffened. A noise was coming from inside. A noise that sounded like a cross between a scuffle, a scratching, and someone trying to tap out morse code with a blunt instrument.

Was it a fight? Was someone being kept prisoner in a secret cupboard and calling for help? David did not hesitate. Drawing his water pistol, he stepped quietly up to the door, and then kicked it open and dashed in.

There was no-one there. The noise had stopped. Then it started again. It was coming from behind a book shelf. David crept over and looked round.

With a disgusted, "Oh, is that all," David put his gun back in his pocket and turned to go out. Then the realisation of what he had just seen hit him, and he rushed to the door, heading for the nearest telephone.

"Come quick," he called as soon as his lawyer answered. Lawyer Mummy was round in no time at all. David was waiting by the kerb, and he hustled her inside and over to the shelves.

"There you are," he said. "That's how the window got broken."

The lawyer stared, and then burst out laughing. "Oh, David," she said, "to think we blamed you."

For there, plahing behind the shelves was Sam the Cat. A very frustrated Sam the Cat. Because in a small crack where the shelves met the wall was stuck a marble. And Sam was pulling and tapping at the marble to try and get it free. Obviously he had been playing cat and mouse with it when it got stuck there.

Suddenly, as the two watched, Sam got a claw tip behind the marble. With a zip, it shot out of the crack, straight across the room with the speed of a bullet. The two watchers ducked as it flew past their ears. There was a crash and a tinkle, and a second pile of broken glass lay on the bedroom floor.

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(c) Copyright John McNeil, all rights reserved. Apart from the purposes of fair review, this work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, physical or electronic, without the express permission in writing of the author. He may be contacted at jandhmcneil<a>paradise.net.nz