Copyright © 2013 Jerry Dunne
Part of the Cop Girl mystery/detective series.
Recommended reading age 10 – 12 years
If you think a copper’s life is sometimes hard, how about a cop girl’s!
Thirteen-year-old trainee cop girl Samantha Brown unexpectedly finds herself on a tough assignment. She has a suspected pickpocket under surveillance and struggles to find sufficient evidence to link him to the crime. But the more she finds out about him the more she believes he is ‘up to something’.
When he moves he moves fast, and if he is going to commit another crime, the last thing she wants is to lose him. Using her sharp detective skills, Sam has to think on her feet, making important, split-second decisions just to keep him in her sights.
However, she has no idea yet of the difficult, wild and dangerous chase this man is going to lead her on.
Here is the opening chapter of the novel.
I was hidden behind a bush and kneeling on my paper-round sack at the back of Mrs. Gresham’s garden. My legs had grown full of pins and needles, so now I turned slowly sideways, stretching out both legs, feeling relief as the cramp started to go. But I never took my eyes off the garden. I had my phone on vibrate. The thief would hear it on ringtone if someone rang.
I delivered to Mrs. Gresham on my paper round. When she’d told me someone had been stealing her garden ornaments, I knew it was something that I could help her with. Though I hadn’t told her that I’d hide in her garden waiting for the thief, here was a great opportunity to practise my stake-out techniques, because I fully intended joining the police one day and meanwhile wanted all the policing practice I could get. I was always looking out for trouble on my paper round which doubled up as my police-training beat. This was not the first thing I’d come across trouble on my beat, and like on the other occasions this little crime mystery was begging to be solved.
The thief had struck each Wednesday over the last three weeks. Stealing garden ornaments on three separate occasions, and taking only a few each time, showed mischief more than greed. And why had bigger and heavier garden ornaments been left alone? Was it a neighbour? Did he have a grudge against Mrs. Gresham?
Over on the left was a small fishpond. Two weeks ago a small ornamental shipwreck had vanished from its bottom. A small meerkat fishing on its edge had vanished last week. The goldfish were still there and two real lilies floating on top. A metallic-green, motion-detector frog sat on a lily. Walk close to it and it croaked at you. Why hadn’t the thief grabbed it? Ceramic robins, rabbits, lizards and snails had also vanished over the last few Wednesdays.
On the back patio, stretched out and soaking up the morning sunshine, was a big, white, furry dog. A huge, floppy ear was lying over his nose. Every time breath escaped his nostrils, the ear jumped up, hovering on a cushion of air made by Harvey’s snoring. When his chest fell, the snoring stopped and his ear dropped back on his nose. How come the thief was able to wander about the garden without Harvey chasing him off? More reason to think he lived locally and knew the dog.
The neighbouring garden’s tree had several branches sticking over the fence. One of the branches shook and two small birds flew out of the foliage, twittering loudly. Had a cat disturbed them? I spotted a shadowy, sneaky flicker of movement amongst the thick leaves. A squirrel? The animal appeared from out of the foliage and moved cautiously to the end of the branch, a long, bushy tail curved up high over its back. My jaw dropped. Right on the end of the branch it squatted down, glancing about.
It spotted Harvey, lying stretched out and snoring in the sunlight. It gazed across at a cast-iron garden table in front of the patio. It turned to stare at the fishpond. Then its eyes lingered on the bush behind which I was hiding. My heart bounced about in my chest as I touched my lucky Celtic cross pendant hanging about my neck. Had it spotted me? It looked away, rubbing its face with its paws, and my heart settled back down.
What was this creature doing here in Beeston? People often reported sighting foxes, but this…
I rubbed my eyes. When I looked again, the monkey was standing up straight on the garden grass. Harvey continued snoring. I held my breath. It stood about eighteen inches tall, was various shades of brown in colour, with black around its head and neck. Its face was dark-grey, its eyes bright and its nose flat and tiny. Its tail looked longer than its body, waving about behind its back. It had a canvas bag clutched in its left paw.
Glancing from left to right, the monkey tiptoed across the garden to the fishpond. On the lily, the motion-detector frog went, “Crooak!” and the monkey leapt back behind some plants. Harvey opened one eye, glancing over at the pond, still snoring. The monkey was hidden from view behind the plants. Harvey’s heavy eyelid dropped shut.
The monkey slipped out from its hiding spot. I took out my phone. Gotcha! Mrs. Gresham wasn’t going to believe this. The monkey reached out to grab the frog, when it cried, “Crooak!” The monkey leapt back behind the plants once more. I glanced at Harvey. His eyelids were shut tight.
That’s why the frog hadn’t been stolen.
The monkey ran across the garden, getting right down to business. He grabbed a small ceramic robin painted red-orange, grey, brown and white like a real robin and stuck it in his little sack. He grabbed up a cast-iron rabbit but quickly dropped it, and it landed on its side in the grass. It must have been too heavy. Things made sense now regarding what was taken and what was not. He picked up a small ceramic lizard covered with multi-coloured mosaics. He turned it over in his paw, gazing at the gleaming colours on it then slipped it in the sack.
Gotcha! Gotcha! The photographic evidence was building.
The monkey ran to the corner of the house and jumped onto the ivy that crawled over the brickwork, and in a moment was hanging upside down right over Harvey’s head. He leaned down and stuck his nose an inch from Harvey’s nose while his paw sneaked into Harvey’s bowl, picking out one of his biscuit treats. The monkey scoffed the treat right in front of the dog’s face. He helped himself to another and then another and this time he scoffed it an inch from Harvey’s nose. The dog slept on, eyes tight shut, and snoring away peacefully. I took more photos.
The little thief dropped onto the patio floor in front of Harvey, and walking upright, danced and swaggered his way across the grass to his bag of loot. His chin rose high as he stuffed one last treat into his mouth. His tail waved slowly back and forth above his head as though it were an arm waving a lazy goodbye to Harvey. He didn’t even glance back to see if the dog would wake and chase him.
He grabbed his sack, nimbly climbed the garden fence, and leapt for the branch with his long, brown tail. Then he disappeared back into the foliage.
I scrambled out from my hiding place and ran to the garden fence just in time to see him slipping down the far side of the tree with his bag of loot over his shoulder. He ran across the neighbour’s garden and round the side of the conservatory.
Harvey continued sleeping as I slipped down the side of Mrs. Gresham’s house. I dashed onto the street to catch sight of a brown, bushy tail disappearing under a parked car. I dropped onto my knees. The monkey slipped out the other side of the car and stood up in the road. I poked my head round the side of the car to see him glancing from right to left then right again. The road empty, he dashed over, the bag of loot bouncing about on his back. I ran over, ducking behind a parked car. I saw him flip the handle of a garden gate, slip inside and close it behind him. When I reached the gate, there was no sign of him.
I went in, and sneaked round the side of the house. The monkey was at the bottom of the garden, crouching over a wooden box into which he was emptying his stolen goods. I hid behind a large bin, and whipped out my phone. Gotcha! Soon he threw the empty sack in the box, dropped the lid and ran up the garden to the kitchen door. Jumping up on a flowerpot, he pulled the door handle down and pushed inward, opening the door. Once inside, he closed it behind him.
I moved out into the garden and crouched down behind a plastic chair. Through the lower glass pane of the kitchen door, I saw the monkey drag a stool across the floor up to the door. He leapt onto the stool with a key in his hand, and stuck it in the lock. I heard the key turning. Gotcha! He pulled out the key, leapt down off the stool, and disappeared. After a moment, he reappeared and dragged the stool right away from the door. Then I saw no more of him.
I scratched the side of my head. What was I to make of this little thief? Apart from his acrobatics, everything about his behaviour seemed so cunning and sly like a human thief. How had he learnt these things? None of my experience with crime detection had prepared me for this.
Round the front of the house, I stood outside the garden gate, wondering what to do next.
A boy was coming along. I thought he was going to walk past the house but he came straight at me. I moved aside and watched him go through the gate.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes.”
“You’ve got a monkey here, haven’t you?”
This boy had black eyebrows and long eyelashes and both shot up at my question. He gazed at me cautiously through large, brown eyes before nodding. His face was thin and milk-white in colour. He was smaller than me with narrow shoulders and thin arms.
“Charlie,” he said. “He’s called Charlie. But how do you know?”
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Mark,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a boy’s name,” he insisted.
“It’s my name, too,” I said, “and I’m a girl. I’ve got something to show you, Mark.”
Starting with the first photo I’d caught of the monkey, I went through them all slowly, showing him Charlie’s cunning and thieving ways in Mrs. Gresham’s garden. The boy’s mouth opened that bit wider with every picture and by the end of it all his milk-white cheeks had turned pink.
He threw his hands over his face and shook his head slowly. “Oh Charlie! Charlie!” he whispered. “What are we going to do with you?” When he took his hands away, he asked with a deep sigh, “Which garden did he steal these things from?”
“Mrs. Gresham’s. Do you know her?”
He threw his hands back over his face and nodded quickly. “I know her. Oh, Charlie! Charlie!” Suddenly, he dropped his hands and gazed sharply at me. “Would you believe me if I told you Charlie doesn’t mean to do these things?”
I took a step back. “You know he steals?”
Mark lowered his eyes. “We were warned,” he whispered.
“My dad worked with problem animals a lot. Not their fault. It’s what humans have done to them. That’s the only reason they let him have Charlie; because of his experience in dealing with problem animals, animals with a bad past. Charlie has a bad past. Charlie was trained by his owner, a thief, to steal for him. When the owner was caught and jailed, Charlie was kept in a small zoo. But Charlie hated being locked in a cage.” Mark turned his hands into fists. “It wasn’t fair. Charlie didn’t know right from wrong. Why should he be punished for what his owner made him do? He punished him if he didn’t steal enough.”
“Punished? How?” I asked.
Mark’s eyes grew a bit moist as he explained, “He beat him. Charlie was unhappy in a cage and lost weight and might have died. Charlie likes company, see, he likes us. But my dad was warned Charlie might return to his old ways. Not because he wants to, but because he thinks he’ll be beaten otherwise. Charlie’s confused now. It’s going to take some time to change him.”
“How long have you had him?” I asked.
“Four months. We’re trying to help him see the difference between right and wrong.”
“Did you know Mrs. Gresham had things stolen from her garden?”
“No,” he said, “but I…”
“Some of our neighbours said they had garden ornaments go missing. I thought of Charlie, but see, he’s never brought anything back into the house.”
“Why would Charlie go to Mrs. Gresham’s every Wednesday?”
“Usually I’m at school,” he said.
“Me, too,” I said. “Did you get a day off school today?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s that teachers’ strike. Same with you?”
I nodded. “All the high schools.”
“Mam and Dad are out working,” Mark said. “Nan comes round and keeps an eye on Charlie every day except Wednesday morning. She visits her sick friend that day. She’s very fond of him. I’m going to be with him today, but I had to go out for a bit.”
“So Charlie’s only on his own Wednesday mornings?”
“I’m around in the holidays,” he said.
“Well, that explains things,” I said with a sigh. “Mrs. Gresham thought her garden ornaments had gone missing on Wednesdays for the last three weeks. And Charlie’s on his own then.”
Mark shook his head. “But Charlie is locked in the house.”
“You’ve just seen the last few photographs I took.”
We walked round the side of the house and down to the bottom of the garden.
“This box is where we dump the mown grass, though we haven’t cut it in months,” Mark explained.
He pulled the lid off the box and let out a gasp. It was quite a big box and was nearly full of small garden ornaments, most of them brightly coloured and shiny.
Mark picked up a silver frog and turned it over in his hand. “Oh, Charlie!”
“This must be the stuff your neighbours are missing.”
Mark turned round and faced the house. Charlie was standing at the kitchen door, gazing out at us through the bottom pane of glass. When we walked to the door, his shoulders fell and his long tail curled in between his legs.
Mark unlocked the door and picked Charlie up in his arms. He patted his head and stroked his chin. “Oh, Charlie! Charlie!”
Charlie’s eyes were light grey with a touch of blue green. Mark rocked him back and forth in his arms, petting him like a mother a baby. It was a bit weird to watch.
“He knows he’s done wrong,” Mark sighed. “What are we going to do with you, Charlie?” He asked me cautiously, “What are you going to do?”
“How d’you mean?”
“Are you going to tell the police?”
I had planned on showing Mrs. Gresham pictures of the thief and if I had found out where he lived so much the better. But now? I had no reason to believe Mark wasn’t telling the truth about Charlie. It was obvious this clever and skilful monkey had been going on his thieving trips without Mark knowing it. His old and cruel master had trained him really well.
I took in a deep breath. “It wouldn’t be fair to turn him in. But he needs to stop stealing from his neighbours, Mark. Can you promise this won’t happen again?”
“I’ll hide all the keys so he can’t find them. I had no idea he was getting in and out this way. He’s just so clever.”
I nodded and looked back at the box. “I’ll have to sort out Mrs. Gresham’s stuff and bring it back to her.”
We returned to the box and removed all the ornaments, placing them on the grass. I sorted through them, putting what I thought belonged to Mrs. Gresham in my paper-round sack.
“You’ll have to try and get the rest of the stuff back to its rightful owners,” I said.
“I’ll do my best. Will you tell Mrs. Gresham about Charlie?”
“I’ll say nothing to her about him.”
“I’ll make sure he never steals again. Charlie and I are actually training to be magicians. Charlie’s special skills can be put to better use that way. Charlie, show Sam your paws!”
Charlie stood up in Mark’s arms and held up his paws.
“Now remove the nut from her pocket, Charlie!”
I watched Charlie’s right paw go empty into my right pocket and come out with a hazelnut in it.
“Oh, that’s very good, Charlie,” I said. “How did he manage that?”
“It’s a magician’s secret.”
“Give me your number,” I said, “just in case we have a problem some time.”
“Oh, no! There won’t be.”
“Just in case,” I insisted.
“All right,” he said.
He gave it to me and I entered it on my phone.
“Thanks for not going to the police,” he said. “I owe you one.”
If I hadn’t got his number, the day might have turned out very differently.
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