On a January night, one of the coldest of the new year, a foot patrolman was making his rounds of the downtown storefronts when a hissing cat ran past him into a nearby alley. Officer Greeley glanced after it, and the beam of a roaming flashlight caught his eye. It was coming from inside the alley window of Collins' Jewelry.
Greeley called for backup and a patrol car quickly arrived. With their guns drawn, the three officers covered the front and back exits. But it was already too late. The burglars were gone. A half-full display case made it obvious that the thieves had been alerted to the police presence.
"They must have had a lookout," Greeley said. Seconds later, his deduction was confirmed. A walkie-talkie lay on the jewelry store floor, right where the burglars had dropped it. "Quick," Greeley said. "I saw three guys loitering around. One of them has to be the lookout. If we hurry..."
The officers did hurry They spread out over a ten-block radius of the deserted downtown and brought in three loiterers. Greeley remembered each one.
"I was waiting for a bus," the man with the white cane and dark glasses told them. 'Tm blind. I work as an accountant next door to Collins' Jewelry. Tonight I stayed late working on taxes. I heard the usual street noise, but I obviously didn't see a thing."
The second was female. "My car broke down," she said, shivering in the frigid night air. "I got out to see where exactly I was. Then I called a garage on my cell phone. You can check my car. It still won't start."
The third was a homeless alcoholic. He clutched a half-empty bottle of bourbon, the contents beginning to crystallize from the sub-freezing temperature. "I was just minding my own business," he slurred. "Trying to find someplace warm to sleep."
"A drunk, a blind man, and a stranded motorist," Greeley whispered to his colleagues. "It's pretty clear who played lookout for the burglars."
The whodunit above was provided by American mystery fiction author Hy Conrad.
In addition to his work in mystery and crime puzzles, Hy was also one of the original writers for the groundbreaking TV series Monk.