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!
After a dog gets snatched for ransom on crimebuster Samantha Brown’s patch, she is soon hot on the petnappers’ trail.
But it was never going to be easy to track down these cunning criminals. In her determination to get at them – more so when she sees first-hand the suffering the gang put pet owners through – Sam’s detective skills are tested to their very limits.
She must also watch her every step, for if she makes a wrong move, things could easily end in disaster for both pet and pet owner, the very ones she’s trying to help.
Here is the opening chapter of the novel.
A dog goes missing
We’d just had a week of rain and high winds, so the sudden change was great. Though my paper round sack was heavy on my shoulder, the sun soaking into my face brought out a smile on my lips. I stopped walking, dropping the sack and staring up at the blue sky. I closed my eyes against the sun’s glare and saw my eyelids glowing pink.
I picked up my sack and walked on, eyes open again. Eyes wide open. Wide open because my paper round was not just my paper round, but also my beat. I was in training, see, for my future career in the police. Any mischief on my beat here in Beeston, South Leeds, and I’d be contacting the police in the twinkling of an eye.
As I looked round me this afternoon, everything seemed quiet. A mother was holding her child’s hand as they stood at the corner, having a good look up and down the road before taking a step off the kerb. A dog was doing its business right under a hedge, out of the way of passing footsteps. The dog’s owner, a middle-aged woman, was already bending over, ready to scoop up the poop in a small plastic bag. I nodded with approval. Cars were driving along slowly. A workman with bulging muscles and tattoos on his arms was hard at work building a low garden wall on a corner house.
Everything looked peaceful enough, but you never knew when trouble might come calling and in what shape it might come calling. So I always had to be ready. I took in a deep breath of fresh sunshine and let it out slowly.
Oh, I couldn’t wait till I was old enough to join the force.
“It’ll come soon enough,” Dad had once said. “You’re young a very short time and old a very long time.”
As far as I was concerned, it couldn’t come soon enough.
Right at that moment, I imagined myself in police uniform. I’d have my cap pulled down to just above my eyes giving me a sharp and slightly mysterious look. And on my hip I’d have my baton hanging dangerously, a bit like a gunslinger in one of those old Westerns, ready to whip it out at any sign of trouble. Of course, on my feet I’d wear sensible shoes to help me run down the crim…
“MAX?” a voice screamed out.
I swung round to see an old woman glancing about her on the other side of the road.
She paused at the corner, leaning on a walking stick, quite breathless.
I marched over. “What’s happened?” I asked. “Can I help?”
Her face, white as her snow-white hair, was set deep with wrinkles. “It’s my Max,” she said, swallowing hard. “I’ve lost him.”
“Your dog?” She nodded, still glancing about. “What does he look like?”
“He’s a little sausage dog.” Now she focussed on me. “I’ve seen you about. You’re a paper round girl.”
I held up my sack. “That’s right.”
“You might have seen him?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t. But I’ll help you look for him. When did you lose him?”
“A while ago.”
“How long exactly?”
She bit her lip and said, “I rang everywhere: police station, dog pound, RSPCA, PDSA, four vets and several pet shops. He’s got an electronic chip and a PDSA tag on his collar so the authorities know my name and address. No one has seen anything of him.”
“But how long since you last saw him?” I asked again.
“He’d gone before eleven this morning. I couldn’t find him at that time. He’s never just gone off before.”
“Someone must have left your gate open,” I suggested.
“The gate was closed.”
“Have you been searching all day?”
“I’ve been in and out. I get fidgety just sitting at home doing nothing.”
It was hours since he’d gone. I couldn’t see how she’d find him out here on the street now. More than likely the dog had escaped her garden somehow, gone off for an exciting adventure and would return home when it suited him.
“Where do you live?” I asked her.
“He might be at home waiting on you.” She shrugged at this. “I’ll come back with you, if you like,” I said, “and see if he’s there.”
Her shoulders dropped. “I am getting tired.”
We walked slowly in the direction of her home. By the time we got there, I’d found out her name was Mrs. Godfrey and her little sausage dog Max was the love of her life.
A notice on the gate read: PLEASE KEEP THE GATE SHUT. But this didn’t mean someone would. Anyone might have left it open and let the dog escape.
We stood in her front garden. No sign of the dog.
“Maybe he’s gone into a neighbour’s garden,” I said.
“I’ve knocked on doors. No one’s seen him.”
Her front garden was walled round with a fence on top. Its height was about four feet in all. “Do you have a fence all round your back garden?” I asked.
The side garden fence looked four feet high. I assumed it ran all round the back garden at this height. It wouldn’t have stopped some small dogs from leaping over, but a sausage dog couldn’t have done it.
I dropped my sack on the stone path and put my thinking cap on.
“Did you get post today?” I asked.
“Max was in the kitchen at that time with the back door closed.”
“Did you notice the gate at all after the postman left?”
“I heard him close the gate as I picked up the post.”
“Did you get any leaflets through your letterbox today?”
“Anyone deliver a parcel or a newspaper?”
“Anyone come through the gate for any other reason?”
“You’re the only one since the postman.”
So no one had left the gate open and Max couldn’t jump the fence. And no one from the police to the neighbours had seen a sign of him anywhere.
She said again, “He’s never gone off on his own before. He’d not do it. He’s not a bad boy. What’s happened to him?”
After school the following afternoon, I rushed round to Mrs. Godfrey’s before delivering a single paper. When she opened the door, I noticed her pale skin had puffed up round her eyes and gone droopy round her jaw. She was leaning very heavily on her walking stick.
She shook her head as though I’d asked her a question and said in a wafer-thin voice, “I rang round everywhere again. No one handed Max in. Nobody knows anything.”
Yesterday, I’d suggested she put up posters, so now I asked her, “Did you think about the posters?”
“Others were saying to put up posters. But I don’t know how to do it.”
“I said I’d do it,” I reminded her.
She let out a soft sigh, “I owe it to Max to try.”
“Mrs. Godfrey, I can easily do a poster on my computer and stick them up on trees and lampposts and in some shops.”
“And you’d do all that for a stranger like me?”
“You and Max both,” I told her.
She gave me a long, tired look before saying, “That’s very kind of you.”
“Have you got a photo of Max?”
She straightened herself now and a spark of bright light flashed in her eyes. “I’ve lots. I should offer a reward.”
“That would really help. You can’t rely on everyone doing things out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“I’ll offer three hundred pounds reward. D’you think that’s enough?”
“Sounds like enough to me. Soon as I finish my round I’ll get to work on the poster.”
“You’re a good girl,” she said.
“I’ll make fifty copies. No. One hundred. I’ll go round all the shops and see if they’ll let me put one up in their window. First though, I’ll need the best photo you got of Max.”
That evening, I put up loads of posters, with one in the newsagent’s window and two in the Co-op window. I stuck one of my last ones on one more lamppost.
REWARD OFFERED FOR LOST DOG
LITTLE BLACK DACHSHUND (SAUSAGE DOG)
WITH BROWN SNOUT AND CHEST AND BIG FLAPPY EARS
ANSWERS TO MAX
(The photo was here)
LOST NEAR TOWN STREET, BEESTON
TEL: (Mrs. Godfrey’s)
As I stepped back from the poster, I heard someone’s steps behind me.
“What are you up to, Sam?”
I spun round. Special Constable Higgins stood there. Very short for a grown-up, she was as wide as she was high, and looked tough as a tree stump. She had small sharp eyes that reminded me of a cat’s.
“I’m helping a woman whose dog’s gone missing.” She stepped up and read the poster. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen him around anywhere?”
She shook her head. “He’s a cute little thing. But I haven’t seen him on the street. A dog going missing is very common. Good luck in finding him, Sam. And let me know if you do. You’ve got my number. But I’ll keep an eye out meanwhile.”
“Okay. Thanks.” She was turning away when I added, “Anything in particular I should be looking out for?”
She paused. “We had some car break-ins yesterday over near the park. If you see anything suspicious, ring me or the station.” I nodded. “Don’t get involved for any reason. Hear me?”
“Course,” I said.
She glanced suspiciously at me. “We want members of the public to report crime to us, not try and solve it themselves. You’ll have time enough to get into uniform and tackle the criminals.”
She sounded like my dad.
Next day, Saturday, after delivering the last paper on my round a little after nine, I ran round to Mrs. Godfrey’s. When she opened the door, I noticed her cheeks all bright with colour while she stood up straight without her walking stick.
“Max is coming home,” she cried. “He’s bringing him back.” She glanced over my shoulder as though expecting to see someone coming through the gate. “Any minute he’ll be here,” she added.
“He found Max in the street and took him home. He saw the poster this morning and rang straightaway. It is Max. He even described his white collar which isn’t in the photograph.”
Mrs. Godfrey let out a cry, throwing her arms in the air. I turned to follow her gaze and spotted a teenage boy crossing the road, bringing a little sausage dog over on a lead.
“Maxie. Come here, Maxie!”
She rushed to the gate faster than I’d have thought possible.
With a big grin, the boy opened the gate and unclipped the lead from Max’s collar. Mrs. Godfrey swept the dog up in her arms, kissing him a hundred times. While she was doing this and mumbling sweet nothings in his ear, I sneaked a good look at the boy.
He wore a baseball cap, had a thin face and narrow shoulders. He wore a black jacket and dark blue jeans and black trainers. He looked between fourteen and sixteen. Every individual thing about him seemed ordinary, but altogether something about him struck me as odd. I just couldn’t put my finger on what, though. He caught me looking at him and his grin broadened.
I smiled and looked away.
I joined in the fussing over Max. He really was a little thing, with his black sausage body wriggling this way and that in my arms, his surprisingly-long tail wagging away furiously, and his tongue licking at my face like it was ice-cream. After a ton of fussing from us both, Mrs. Godfrey said to the boy, “You’ll want your reward. Wait here a moment!”
She grabbed Max off me and disappeared into the house. I wondered if she’d ever let him out of her sight again.
The boy stood with his hands in his pockets, rocking back and forward on his heels. Whenever I glanced at him, he gave me a wide grin. I scratched the side of my head, unable to figure out what was odd about him – apart from that stupid grin.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Jim,” he said.
With another big grin, he replied, “Jim James.”
“Where’d you find Max?”
“Just off Town Street, up near the Co-op, wandering about on his own. I took him in. I didn’t know what to do with him. I only saw the poster this morning.”
“Where’d you see it?”
“Near Town Street.”
Mrs. Godfrey came out, holding Max in one arm. She handed the boy the money. “Thank you very much for taking him in and caring for him,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said, grinning and shoving the money into his pocket without counting it.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Mrs. Godfrey asked.
“No, thank you,” he said. “I’ve got to be getting on.”
“Bye, Max.” He waved at the dog, spun on his heel and went out the gate, closing it quietly behind him.
And that was that. Easiest three hundred pounds I’ve ever seen anyone make.
“Thank you very much, Sam,” she said, “for putting up those posters.” She took my hand and a twenty pound note appeared in it.
“No,” I said, “I don’t need it. I’m just glad Max is back.”
“Others mentioned the posters, but only you offered to help.” She tightened my hand over the money while giving me a look that showed she’d be insulted if I didn’t take it. “Max would not be home without your help.”
She squeezed Max so hard that I thought she might crush him to death. I pulled a treat out of my pocket – I kept them for dogs on my round – and offered it to him. It disappeared in a second.
“You greedy little thing,” I laughed.
I left the two of them, happy that everything had turned out fine. In fact, things couldn’t have turned out better. Max had come home the very next morning.
I just realized I’d have to go round taking all those posters down.
I rang Special Constable Higgins to let her know the good news.
I sat in the tiny park opposite the Whistlestop Pub waiting on my friend Gavin to appear. He was just finishing his paper round in the area next to mine. Already six feet tall but only thirteen, same age as me, he soon came striding along on those lanky legs of his, smiling.
“What you looking so pleased about?” I asked.
His sharp blue eyes twinkled. “I found a karate suit in my size on the Internet in a half-price sale.”
“Didn’t your mam buy you a new one not so long ago after shrinking your old one in the wash?”
“Yeah, but I want a second one just in case she ruins that one, too. And this one’s tougher, better quality. It goes well with my new black belt. If I wasn’t going to grow again, I’d buy two for the price of one.”
“Well, I’m so happy for you,” I said.
He sat down beside me. “You don’t sound very happy.”
He already knew about Max’s disappearance. Now I told him the good news.
“But something’s on your mind, Sam?”
“Maybe I’m too suspicious, always looking for signs of trouble where there might be none.”
“So what’s the big deal?”
“I can’t put my finger on it. Something about Max’s disappearance. Something about that boy. Something about the way he came so quickly to claim the reward.”
“It’s hardly unusual for pets to go missing. Once I saw a poster offering a hundred pound reward for the return of a lost rabbit. And if someone claims a reward once the posters are up – isn’t that the point? Or would you feel better if no one claimed the reward and the dog stayed lost?”
“I suppose when you put it like that. But there’s no explanation how he escaped from the garden. And that boy lied about his name. He said it was Jim James.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“James shortens to Jim. He made it up on the spot.”
“It might still be his name.”
“He didn’t have a Yorkshire accent.”
“Does that make him a criminal?”
“Why didn’t he phone the police when he first found Max?” I wondered.
“Why didn’t you ask him?”
“Not enough time. I just can’t work out how Max escaped the garden.”
“How high is the garden fence?”
“Then it’s no mystery how the dog escaped. So you’ve got that one solved. A terrier can leap really high for its size. I once saw a small one leap a four-foot gate. It really surprised me.”
“I know all about terriers and their jumping abilities, but this Max isn’t a terrier. Didn’t I tell you he’s a small sausage dog with really short legs?”
“I thought you told me he’s a terrier.”
“I’m sure I told you he’s a sausage dog.”
Later, Gavin rang me.
“Just thought you might like to know,” he said.
“Another dog had gone missing – a terrier. That was the dog on my mind.”
“Oh! Did the owner put up a poster?”
“No, she’s an old woman, too. She knows nothing about computers. I actually know her. I do odd jobs for her a lot. The dog’s gone three days.”
“It’s so sad the way dogs go missing,” I sighed.
“Yeah,” Gavin agreed. “But turns out this one didn’t go missing.”
“How d’you mean?”
“Mrs. Peters got a note through her letterbox this morning about the dog.”
Gavin cleared his throat and said, “Yeah. A ransom note.”
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