The following is a Whodunit by Hy Conrad featuring Jonah Bixby, a twelve-year-old crime solver and son of a police detective. Can you solve the crime?
(Image credit: Flickr user Michael Coghlan)
It was Saturday, and for Jonah that meant a visit to Crazy Kate. Every Saturday, his mother would put together a few bags of groceries and have Jonah and his friends deliver them to the old woman who lived in the shack across from the park. "At least once a week I know she gets some decent food," Carol Bixby said. "I feel sorry for the helpless old woman."
But Jonah and his friends knew Crazy Kate wasn't helpless. They knew you had to stop outside the gate to her overgrown yard and get her permission to enter. If you were dumb enough to open the gate without asking, Crazy Kate would hear you. Then a shotgun would appear at the window and a volley of birdseed would fly in your general direction.
"Hello!" called out Frankie. They had just parked their bikes outside the gate. "It's just us, Frankie, Bill, and Jonah. Can we come in?"
"All right," a voice called back. "Just the three of you, no one else."
A minute later and they were inside the shack, watching the old woman rummage through the bags. "Humph, the food was better last week," she complained. But that's exactly what she said every week. "You boys want to see something?" Before they could answer, Kate reached into a pile of newspapers and pulled out an old baseball. Bill examined the faded signature and let out a low whistle. "Babe Ruth! Wow!"
Kate smiled through her stained teeth. "My brother got it signed personally when he was a kid."
All the way home, the boys talked about the rare autographed ball. They talked about it again the next afternoon, when all three ran into each other at the skateboard ramp in the park. "Can you believe she's got something like that in the middle of all that junk?" Frankie said, pointing to the shack across the street. "What a waste."
Jonah followed his gaze to Crazy Kate's shack, then suddenly noticed something. "Look at the window," he said. "It's broken."
"I thought she always had a broken window," said Bill.
"No, it wasn't broken yesterday. I wonder if something's wrong."
Jonah and Bill argued about what to do. Should they just forget about it? Or should they check on Kate and make sure she was all right. Or should they... Jonah turned around to get Frankie's opinion, but he wasn't there.
"Hey, guys." Frankie was already at Kate's front door, peering inside. "I don't think she's home."
"No, I'm not," came the angry reply. The three boys spun in their tracks just in time to see Crazy Kate barreling up the walkway. "I know what you hooligans are up to," she spat. "You're trying to steal my baseball."
The disheveled woman rushed past them and into the shack. "No! It's gone," she gasped. She was already on her hands and knees, pawing through the old newspapers. The baseball wasn't anywhere in sight.
"Thieves! You lure me out of my house, and then you break in and steal my baseball."
"Lure you out?" Jonah said. "Who lured you out? What happened?"
Crazy Kate scowled as she told her story. Half an hour ago, she received a phone call. "It sounded like a woman, but it could've been a boy. The voice said I just inherited some money. I went out to meet that person at the diner, but no one came. That's when you stole my ball."
"No," Bill swore. "We saw the broken window, and we came to see if you were all right. We didn't steal anything."
"You're lying. No one else knew about that baseball, just you kids."
"I know what must've happened," said Frankie with a smile.
"So do I," thought Jonah. And he wasn't smiling.
WHO STOLE THE BASEFALL?
WHAT CLUE DID JONAH NOTICE?
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.