The call came in around three-thirty in the afternoon. I had just come home from school and was tired after a long day of very tricky mathematical brain teasers. I snatched up the phone, quickly saying, “Crime Solver’s Detective Agency. This is Karrine. How may I solve a crime for you?”
“Thank goodness,” was the reply at the other end of the phone. “Someone stole my dog Rusty.”
“No problem,” I said, “I’m on the job.”
I wrote down the woman’s name and address and put down the phone. I grabbed my Crime Solver's cap, which really was just a baseball cap my father had imprinted for me with “Crime Solvers” across the bill. He owns a screen-printing shop and didn’t charge me anything for the cap.
I headed for the door, stopping to pet my cat, Misty, on the way out. She rose and gave me the butt, in clear anger. “Sorry, girl, no time for any more; I’ve got a crime to solve.” She paid no attention to me, just laid her fat, roly-poly body back down and closed her eyes.
Mother was in the kitchen baking cookies. I have to admit I was tempted for a moment to stop and sample, but I was on the job. I kissed her on the cheek and headed for the back door.
Seeing the cap on my head she said, “Another crime wave in the city?”
“Nothing this clever twelve-year-old can’t handle,” I said, winking.
“Just be home for dinner,” Mother said. Then she slid me a plastic baggie full of cookies. I smiled. “Could I have some for Mrs. Waverly, too?”
“I assume that’s your client,” Mother said as she slid more cookies into another baggie.
“Right you are,” I said. She handed me the cookies and I opened the door. Remembering my manners I turned and said, “Thanks, Mom.”
She pointed a stern finger at me. “I said be home for dinner, and don’t lose track of time.” I saluted her and hurried out the door.
I retrieved my bicycle from the garage and headed off toward Mrs. Waverly’s house.
I was excited to be on another big case. I started Crime Solver’s Detective Agency when Jimmie Holden’s lunch money turned up missing. I was instrumental in finding the lost money. Okay, it turned out it hadn’t been stolen but was instead only lost—due to a hole in Jimmie’s jeans that neither he nor his mother knew about, but still—I did find it and therefore deserve some credit for my intelligent brain.
Mrs. Waverly lived four blocks over from us, so I arrived in less than ten minutes. Mrs. Waverly was frantic when I braked in her driveway.
She waved her arms rapidly. “Thank goodness you’re here, Karrine,” she said.
“I say speedy service and I mean it,” I said, beaming a smile at her. “Don’t you worry, Mrs. Waverly. I’ll find Rusty in no time at all. When did you notice him missing?”
She tapped her lip, concentrating hard. Her lips pursed and her forehead wrinkled. “I’m pretty sure he was home for breakfast this morning.”
My mouth fell agape. “It’s four in the afternoon.”
“Oh, no, no,” she said, “It can’t be that late. I haven’t even had lunch yet.”
I held out my arm to her, the one with the wristwatch on it. “See,” I said.
She leaned forward and looked at my watch, where Mickey Mouse held his arms at an angle pointing to nearly four o’clock. “Oh, my,” she said. Then she clutched her stomach, as if she were in pain. “No wonder my stomach is growling.” She turned and began to walk up her driveway, forgetting I was standing there.
I set down my bike on her driveway and followed her into the house. I stood back and watched as she began pulling out things to make a sandwich.
“Mrs. Waverly,” I said.
She turned around. She gave a little jump and clutched her chest. “Oh, hello,” she said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Karrine…from Crime Solvers.”
She gasped. “Has there been a crime?”
“Yes,” I said. “Your dog, Rusty, was stolen. You called me to help solve the crime.”
“I did!” Then she looked around like she was confused or something. Her eyes rested on Rusty’s bed, which was lying in the corner—its owner missing. Her eyes filled with tears. “Someone took my Rusty.”
Awkwardly, I walked to her and laid my hand on her shoulder. “I’ll find him.”
She turned her misty eyes to me. She laid her hand on my arm as her eyes went soft with a grateful glow. I smiled and placed my hand on her arm. “You're welcome.”
Her mind suddenly turned clear. “You’ll need a picture, of course.”
She went to a bookcase and took out a photograph. She handed it to me. I didn’t need it to know what Rusty looked like. He barked at me every day when I rode past the house on my way to school. Twice he tried to bite my leg, when Mrs. Waverly forgot to close the gate and he got out of the yard. I took the photo anyway and stuffed it into my jean’s pocket.
I reached into my backpack and took out the cookies. “These are from my mom; it’s baking day.”
She took the cookies but looked flustered. “Oh, dear. I didn’t get her anything.”
She started looking around the room, like she was trying to find something worthy to give as a gift. I put my hand on her arm again and said, “It’s okay. I’ll just tell her you said thank you.”
She smiled and nodded. “You’ll find my Rusty?”
“He’ll be home for supper,” I said, adding in my head, he’d better be, or I’ll be late for my own supper.
I hopped onto my bike, kicking it in high gear and heading off. I suddenly stopped. I needed to think like a dognapper if I expected to find this dog. I thought I’d begin with the neighbors—to see if they noticed any suspicious activity going on.
I first tried the neighbor to the left. I didn’t know her by name, but I’d seen her talking to Mrs. Waverly on numerous occasions. I knocked loudly, seeing as they were elderly and likely hard of hearing.
“What are you pounding on my door for?” A cranky older woman asked as she flung open the door. “I’m old, but I ain’t deaf.”
I pulled back. “Uh…um…”
“Well! Out with it!”
I cleared my throat and tried again. “My uh…name is Karrine.” I took out a business card and handed it to her. “I’m from Crime Solvers, and I’m looking for Mrs. Waverly’s dog, Rusty. He’s been dog-napped.”
A smile broke out on her face and she whooped with joy. “Woo-hoo!”
I was shocked. Then she started dancing a jig, and I thought for sure she would pull me in to join her.
“He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone…” she sang while she danced. She looked so ridiculous in her floral housedress and knee-hi stockings that had fallen to her ankles. I thought the floor below us might fall in as it vibrated with each thump she made.
“Have you seen him!” I shouted over her singing.
She stopped and rapidly crossed to me, stopping only inches from my face. Her gray hair touched my cheek, and I could see the glistening pupils of her eyes. “Whatever she’s paying you, I’ll pay you double if you promise not to bring him home.”
I have to admit I was tempted. For a few brief moments my mind rushed through what I could buy with forty dollars. However, ethics won out. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t be ethical. Besides, think how scared that poor little dog must be without his mother.”
She waved a hand at me. Then she shook her finger in my face. “There ain’t nuthin’ poor about that dog. She spoils him rotten and he’s mean as a bobcat.” She looked down at my hands. “You brought gloves, didn’t you?”
I held up my hands for inspection, as if gloves might have appeared there in the last few minutes. “Gloves? Why would I need gloves?”
She laughed and stepped back inside the house, closing the door as she did. “I hope he don’t bite you,” she said. I could still hear her laughing through the closed door.
I turned around and walked to the end of the driveway. I stood looking across the street, trying to get up the nerve to try again. I sighed, took a deep breath, and walked slowly across the street.
Just as I was readying myself to knock, an old man with hunched shoulders and graying wisps of hair flying in every direction, yanked open the door. He held a phone in his hand and said into the receiver, “Yeah—she’s here right now.” To me he said, “I ain’t seen that stupid dog.” He slammed the door. I flinched and sighed.
I walked down his driveway and looked around. I saw a little girl playing a few doors down. I walked over to her. “Hi.”
She grinned up at me, revealing a huge gap between her two front teeth. “Hello,” she said.
I stooped down so we were the same size. “My name is Karrine.” She giggled, and I wondered what she found so funny about my name. “What’s your name?”
She grinned again. “Emily,” she said quickly and pulled up the hem of her dress to hide her face. I smiled and pulled the dress back down.
I took out the picture of Rusty and showed it to her. “Have you seen Rusty?”
The girl took one look at the picture and began screaming. A door was yanked open and a woman ran out screaming, “Hey, hey, hey!”
I held up my hands to show I didn’t mean any harm. “I’m just talking to her.”
The woman snatched the girl and pulled her tightly against her legs. “Didn’t your mother talk to you about talking to strangers?”
“I was just asking if she saw Rusty.” I thrust the picture toward her.
The little girl, seeing it again, started crying. The mother pushed her head against her leg. The woman hissed at me, “Get that vile thing away from my baby.” She bent over her child protectively.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with the neighbors, so I turned to walk back toward my bike.
I heard the little girl whisper something and turned back. “What did she say?”
“Some nonsense about a pink lady taking that wretched dog.” She yanked on the little girl’s hand. “Come on, Emily. I told you not to come outside unless I was with you.”
I stopped to wonder as I watched the two of them disappear inside. Could this be a clue? Had the dog indeed been dog-napped by a pink lady? Whether or not it was a valid clue, and I doubted the existence of a pink lady, it was more than I had a few minutes ago. I wondered where to go from here.
I got on my bicycle and started pedaling toward downtown. I felt a surge of excitement race through me as I pedaled aimlessly. I became so excited that I nearly missed stopping at the light. That’s when I saw her. A lady in a pink dress holding a squirmy black dog, fighting with all her might to get the poor thing into her pink truck. I couldn't believe it! She was kidnapping another dog…and right in broad daylight.
I willed the light to change. Should I go through it and risk my life by crossing against traffic? I certainly couldn’t let that horrible lady in pink kidnap another dog.
There must have been something wrong with that light because it was taking forever to change. Just as I was deciding to risk crossing against a light, a big delivery truck passed through the intersection, blocking my view of the pink truck.
When the truck moved, I saw that the light had changed, but also the pink truck had disappeared. I safely crossed the street and looked around for any sign of the truck. Much to my disappointment, it was nowhere in sight.
There was a park on the corner, so I pedaled into it. An old man and a young boy sat on a bench eating an ice cream cone—and boy did it look good, but I needed to stay focused, so I concentrated on the missing dog. Taking out the picture of Rusty, I wandered up to them. “Excuse me,” I said, “have either of you seen this dog?” I handed the picture to them, which they each gave a cursory glance and shook their heads. “He might be with a lady in a pink truck.” Again they shook their heads. I thanked them and wandered on.
I came to a young woman with a white poodle. I took out the picture and held it up for her to see. “Have you seen this dog?”
Her eyes grew wide with fright. “Egad! That’s Rusty.” She picked up her dog and rushed off.
“Hey wait!” I shouted. “Have you seen him?”
She made a fist with one hand, while she clutched her dog to her with the other. She stomped back toward me. Her nostrils flared, her eyes hardened, narrowing into slits. Her jaw clenched. “That mean ole’ dog bit my Mitzi.” As if remembering the incident, Mitzi began to whine.
I was beginning to see a pattern here, and I was also beginning to wonder if some kind of conspiracy was happening to get rid of the vicious dog. Other than the occasional chase he gave me, I had never met Rusty, but I was beginning to wonder if it had been wise taking on this case. I couldn’t go back on my word, though, so I plunged on.
“Have you at least seen a woman wearing all pink and driving a pink truck?”
The woman threw back her head, raising her nose in the air. “Pinky drives a pink truck.” Then she turned around and walked away.
I sighed. I had another clue at least. I recapped in my mind what I knew. Mrs. Waverly’s cocker spaniel, Rusty, was missing. Her neighbor across the street, Emily, saw a pink lady, which turned out to be just a woman wearing all pink and driving a pink truck. Everybody I interviewed seemed to either hate the dog or fear the dog. Whether or not this was relevant to the case I wasn’t quite sure, but it was beginning to look like whoever took Rusty was up to no good. I looked at my watch. Yikes! I was running out of time. I would miss dinner and be put on restriction if I didn’t solve this quickly. I definitely didn’t want that.
I started thinking about the type of people who might wear all pink and drive a pink truck. I certainly couldn’t go to the phone book and look up people named “Pinky” now, could I? I wasn’t likely to find an answer there. But I did know of a man who knew everything.
Mr. Scoops ran the ice cream shop. I don’t think his real name is Mr. Scoops, but he lets everyone call him that. It made sense he would know everyone because everyone ate ice cream. My parents had taken my brothers and me there the night before, to celebrate my A on my Math test.
When I opened the door to the shop, a little bell sounded. Mr. Scoops was bent over one of the freezers, cleaning it out. “Well, hello there, Karrine,” he said, chuckling. “What brings you back two days in a row?”
I plopped down on one of the stools in front of the long counter. He stood and walked to another freezer, where he took out a scoop of strawberry ice cream and placed it in front of me. “My treat,” he said. I looked at the ice cream, then at my watch, then back to Mr. Scoops. “It’s awfully close to dinner time.”
He chuckled again. “Something tells me you could handle both.”
I shrugged and dug into the ice cream. Who was I to say, “no” to free strawberry ice cream? With a mouthful of icy delight I said, “I’m looking for a lady dressed in pink and driving a pink truck.”
Mr. Scoops grinned at me. “You on another big case?”
I nodded. “Someone dog-napped Mrs. Waverly’s cocker spaniel.”
“Ah. And you think this lady in pink is the dognapper?”
“There’s a witness who saw her take him.”
“I see,” he said. “And you think I know who she is.”
“Uh, duh, Mr. Scoops; you know everyone.”
“Just about,” he said. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I think you might be looking for Pinky. She owns the dog grooming shop on Las Vegas Blvd.”
I brightened. “That sounds exactly like who I’m looking for.”
He gave me directions to the shop and I hurried out the door, thanking him for the ice cream as I left the shop.
I followed his directions, going past the florist shop with it’s bright, pretty blossoms proudly on display, past the dress shop with its stylish mannequins frozen in the window, and past the bank where I saw two older men standing in front of the automatic teller machine, laughing at something.
My tires skidded to a stop in front of the pink building with the pink truck sitting in front of it. I opened the door and breathed in the smell of flowery scents that I assumed were shampoos and perfumes. I could hear music coming from a back room. I closed the door with a loud thump. When after a few moments nobody came, I called, “Hello.”
A few seconds later a young woman with a long ponytail hanging down her back came bouncing out of the back room. “Oh, hey,” she said.
“Hi,” I said back.
She looked at the ground at my feet. “No dog?”
She frowned. “Well, you can’t be here for a pickup because I only have Rusty in the back and, you’re definitely not Mrs. Waverly.”
“Ah ha!” I said. “So, you admit it.”
“That you took Mrs. Waverly’s dog.”
She laughed, and I was beginning to feel a little foolish. “Of course I took him. I can’t very well bathe him in the street.”
“Bathe him?” I said. “Mrs. Waverly said he was stolen.” I showed her the contract Mrs. Waverly signed, where it clearly stated she would pay me twenty dollars if I returned Rusty to her, safe and sound.
Pinky looked at the contract. Then her eyes roamed up and down my four-foot-eleven body and she grinned. “You’re a detective? How cute!”
I stuffed the contract back into my backpack, trying to ignore the blush I felt in my cheeks. I didn’t want to be considered cute.
“I’ll need the dog, please.”
“Sorry, but I can’t let you have him.”
“But my contract.”
She pulled out her own contract and showed it to me. It plainly stated Pinky was to groom Rusty and return him in good health by the end of the day, or she wouldn’t be paid. I frowned. “I see we have a problem here,” I said. I crossed my arms over my chest and took on a look of defiance. I had just spent nearly my whole afternoon chasing down this dog, and I expected payment for my services.
Pinky frowned, and then suddenly brightened. “I’ve got an idea.”
She went into the back room and came back out with a yapping, snapping dog that, despite the fluffy look and floral scent, could only be the nasty Rusty. She held him at arm’s length and walked toward the front door. “Follow me.”
I did what she said and watched as she put Rusty in a cage in her pink truck. Then she picked up my bicycle and put it in the truck, too. “Get in.” I hesitated for only a moment before climbing into the passenger’s seat. I saw the familiar neighborhoods fall away as we drove down the streets that would take us to Mrs. Waverly’s house.
When we pulled up to the house, Pinky got out and took Rusty from the cage. She handed him to me. Instead of snapping at me, he leaped up to my face and started licking me all over. “Hey! He likes you,” she said. I giggled as I carried him to the front door.
Pinky knocked on the door. “What do you want?” A very cranky Mrs. Waverly said when she opened the door.
I held out Rusty in front of her. I held up my chin, thrust out my chest, and grinned. “I found him.”
Her smile made it all worth it. “Thank you,” she said and promptly closed the door in our faces. There went my twenty dollars.
Pinky shook her head. “Don’t worry. She does this every time.” She knocked on the door again.
When Mrs. Waverly opened it, we both held out a hand. Her smile indicated she wasn’t quite as clueless as she pretended. “Oh all right,” she said. She handed us each a twenty and started to close the door. Pinky stuck out a foot, stopping her. “My tip,” she said. Mrs. Waverly frowned and handed her another five. “And hers,” she said, pointing to me.
Mrs. Waverly reluctantly handed me a five, too. “Robbers, both of you,” she said and slammed the door.
I turned to Pinky. “Hey, thanks.”
“No problem,” she said. “We’ll probably see each other again the next time Rusty needs grooming.”
I waved as she drove away, and then pedaled home as fast as I could. I slid into my seat at the dinner table just as my mother slid a piece of meatloaf onto my plate.
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