Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
“That was it. It was really very simple. A few days later, the guy called again. The first time it was for the ferrets, then the condors, and then the toads. I didn’t even plan on taking the poison frogs, either. The ones that caused this,” he said, holding his hands up. “They were just so ... so beautiful. I wanted them for myself, and I wasn’t thinking. I figured I could take good care of them ... but I was wrong, obviously. I took the wrong food for the ferrets, for example.”
“And the voice on the phone never sounded familiar to you?” Jessie asked.
“But it’s easy to disguise your voice over the phone, anyway” Henry pointed out, and everyone agreed.
Brian put his hands on his knees and let out a long sigh. “That’s the whole story. I guess I’m in deep trouble, huh? Well, it’s better than living with the guilt. I never even spent the money I got. It’s still sitting on my dresser in the same envelopes!”
Lindsey shook her head. “You have no idea at all who the person was or what he might have done with the animals?”
“Not a clue. I guess he sold them. They were worth a lot of money, I’m sure.”
Lindsey nodded sadly. “Yes, they were. Brian, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with you now. You’ve committed some very serious crimes.”
“I know that, and I wouldn’t blame you for turning me in. I’d do anything to get those animals back, but I’ve already told you everything I know. You might as well call the police and have them come get me. I deserve it.”
“Are you sure about that?” Lindsey asked. “Because I know that’s what Jordan and Mr. Colby will want to do when I tell them you’re here.”
Brian paused, then nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. I won’t feel better about myself until I start paying my debt.”
Lindsey reach for the phone. “Okay...”
For the second time that morning, she began dialing the number of the local police department, then got interrupted before she had a chance to finish.
“Wait!” Henry said, putting his hand up. “I just thought of something!”
Lindsey hung up the phone. “What?”
Henry smiled. “Maybe Brian
Henry turned to him. “You’re still supposed to drop off these tadpoles, right?”
“Well ... yeah, sure. I’m
to, but I’m not going to.”
“Sure you are,” Henry said.
Brian looked over at Lindsey, then back at Henry. “I am?”
“Uh-huh. And after you leave, we’re going to catch us a criminal!” Henry said delightedly. “When the guy shows up, he’s going to find a lot more than a bag of toad tadpoles waiting for him. Everyone get the idea?”
Lindsey smiled. “Yeah, I do.”
“But we’d better not tell Jordan or Mr. Colby about this,” Henry warned. “They might not go for it.”
“We’ll try it first,” Lindsey agreed.
Henry rubbed his hands together. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do ...”
When Grandfather Alden heard of the plan to catch the mysterious caller, he insisted on being part of it, just to be safe.
Shortly after dark, he and the children, plus Lindsey, took their places. They hid in a little cluster of trees about fifty feet from the fir tree with the large rock at the base. They were far enough away to see what was going on without running the risk of being noticed.
At precisely eight o’clock, Brian came walking down the main path, as planned, but with a plastic bag filled with nothing but water.
Brian set the bag down behind the rock, picked up the envelope of money, then returned the way he came, careful not to look back. Having done that, his part in the plan was over. He and the others had agreed that he shouldn’t hang around, just in case the mystery man was watching him. He was also careful not to give any hints as to where Lindsey and the Aldens were hiding. He was to act like this was an ordinary “drop,” just like the last two. It was important for the mystery man to believe everything was going normally.
After Brian disappeared, the park fell silent. A few crickets chirped in the tall grass bordering Gallagher’s Pond, and some peepers trilled in the low bushes. The moon burned bright in the cloudless sky, casting everything in a soothing white glow. The air was cool and still.
After the first hour passed, everyone began to get a little worried.
“I wonder if we scared him off,” Jessie whispered. “I wonder if he knew somehow.”
“Anything’s possible,” Grandfather answered. “Whoever this man is, he’s been pretty clever so far.”
“I say we wait another hour, at the most,” Lindsey told them.
“I agree,” Grandfather replied.
As it turned out, the guest of honor showed up about fifteen minutes later.
He left a smaller trail and walked out onto the main path. He was a large person, dressed in a dark overcoat and a dark hat. He kept his collar turned up and his head low, making it impossible to see his face. He looked around cautiously, which wasn’t surprising. The Aldens also wore dark clothes, and they’d made a wise decision—the mystery man looked directly at them but didn’t see them. Once he seemed sure he was alone, he headed for the big rock under the fir tree.
“Okay, let’s go,” Grandfather Alden said in a whisper. “And remember—
The Alden party filed out of the woods with their grandfather a good ten steps in the lead. The mystery man was already at the big rock, reaching behind it to claim his latest prize. By the time he brought the bag out and realized it contained nothing but water, Grandfather Alden was already behind him.
“What in the world—?”
“Hold it right there, my friend,” Grandfather said firmly. The rest of his team gathered around. “Sorry, but I’m afraid this little game of yours is over.”
The man remained frozen for a moment. Then his shoulders sagged and his head drooped. He turned to face the people who had captured him. As he did, his identity was finally revealed.
Violet gasped. Benny’s eyes grew enormous. Jessie’s hands went to her mouth.
And Lindsey said in a truly disappointed voice, “Oh, Mr. Colby, how could you?”
Back at the Alden home the following evening, Grandfather held a huge celebration dinner. Jordan and Lindsey came, and so did Brian, who wanted to apologize to Jordan in person.
After dinner, Jordan took Brian home, and Danny Fischer, a reporter from the local newspaper, arrived. A short, strongly built, enthusiastic young man, Danny wanted to cover the story of the zoo thefts for the local paper. As soon as he walked into the living room, Benny jumped up. Benny remembered him from the food court a few days ago. Now that the mystery was over, the young reporter was eager to gather the exciting details of this intriguing chapter in town history.
“I know you,” Benny said. “You’re the man with the bright shirts! You were taking notes at the zoo!”
“Right you are,” said Danny with a laugh, and he introduced himself to the Aldens.
He sat on the living room couch with his notepad. Lindsey was next to him, the children spread out on the floor. Watch, as always, snoozed peacefully nearby. Grandfather sat in his easy chair with his eyes closed, feet up, and his hands folded across his chest.
“So Darren Colby was going to do what with the animals?” Danny asked, his pen at the ready.
“He was going to have them returned to the wild,” Jessie said. “Which, according to Lindsey, isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to them.”
Lindsey nodded. “We all thought he was going to sell them. That would have been truly terrible.”
“He said he didn’t want to hurt them,” Benny pointed out.
The reporter shook his head. “It doesn’t sound like he did.”
Lindsey said, “No, Mr. Colby did some bad things, but he didn’t try to hurt any of the animals. Thank goodness he wasn’t that kind of a person.”
“And why exactly did he do this in the first place?” Danny asked.
“Money,” Lindsey answered quickly. “It’s always been about money with him.”
“I ... I don’t understand,” Danny said. “If he wasn’t planning on selling the animals, then why would he have done all this for the money?”
“He wanted to spend the money that they put toward the animals on building a small amusement park at the zoo instead,” Henry told him. “Rides, games, a candy shop, stuff like that.”
Lindsey nodded. “His way of thinking was this: Spending a lot of money on endangered species would bring in a few more visitors. But putting together an amusement park would bring in a
more visitors, and more visitors meant more money. He and Jordan had argued about this quite a bit. Mr. Colby was only thinking of ways to make more money. And he planned to use the insurance money from the stolen animals to help pay for the building of the amusement park. Jordan wanted instead to make a little less money, but do more for the animals. That’s how it always was with those two—Mr. Colby only thought about money, Jordan only thought about animals.”
Danny said, “So ... Colby wanted to make it look like the animals were being stolen because ...”
“He needed a real excuse to shut down the breeding program,” Jessie finished. “Then he could say to Jordan, ‘You see what a bad idea that was?’ Then Jordan wouldn’t have any way to argue against his amusement park idea anymore.”
“And his plan almost worked, too,” Lindsey said. “After he shut down the program, we thought that was it for sure. We figured the rest of the endangered species would be returned to the zoos where we first got them, and they’d start building the park right away.”
Danny scribbled all this down on his pad. “But you kids came along and figured everything out, right?”
Henry nodded. “I guess so.”
“Don’t be so modest, Henry,” Grandfather said, eyes still closed. “My grandchildren are the finest detectives around. I pity anyone who tries to commit a crime around here. They don’t stand a chance.”
Everyone laughed. “It makes for a great story, I’ll tell you that,” Danny assured them. “And I’m going to put it all in, too.”
“Well, you don’t have to do that,” Jessie said. “We were just glad to help.”
Hearing this warmed her grandfather’s heart.
“So what happened to all the other animals that were first taken?” Danny continued. “The ferrets and the condors?”
Violet giggled. “They were in Mr. Colby’s house. They made a mess.”
“A mess?” Danny asked.
Lindsey smiled. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around ferrets, Danny, but they’re very mischievous animals. They love to hide things, chew things, tear things. Mr. Colby tried to keep them in their cages, but every now and then he had to take them out so he could do a cleaning. Of course, having no experience with animals or animal care, his attempts were always disastrous. The ferrets would scurry off and hide, and then Mr. Colby would find holes in his clothes or little things would be missing. They are very naughty creatures.”
“The ferrets were pretty hungry because they had the wrong kind of food,” Benny said. “I felt really sorry for them.”
“And what about the condors?”
“He kept them in his cellar. They were very loud and very mean sometimes. They’re actually kind of dangerous and should be handled only by experts. He got a nasty scratch on his arm from one of them.”
“But the animals are okay now?” Danny asked.
“Yes,” Benny piped in. “I checked them myself.”
Lindsey smiled. “Benny was my assistant when I gave them a checkup after we got them back. All the animals were in good health and happy to be home again.”
“That’s wonderful,” Danny said, writing it all down. “So what happens to Mr. Colby now?”
“He’s not a partner at the zoo anymore,” Henry said.
“And that’s probably best,” Grandfather added. “I don’t think he’s cut out for zoo work.”
Lindsey offered some further details: “He’s agreed to sell his part of the zoo, and in return no charges will be pressed against him.”
“But won’t the next partner be the same way?” Danny asked. “Won’t he be a businessman, too?”
Jessie smiled and shook her head. “I doubt it. Jordan’s the new partner.”
Danny looked surprised. “You’re kidding!”
Lindsey said, “Nope. Jordan has decided to run the zoo entirely by himself from now on. He had to take out a big bank loan to buy out Mr. Colby’s share, but I think in the long run he’ll be a lot happier. He said he learned a lot from Mr. Colby about how to run a business, and he thinks he can do it on his own. We’ll all help him, of course. It’ll be tight for a while, but we’ll manage.”
“And we’ll help, too!” Benny pointed out.
“That’s right,” Lindsey said, looking at the little boy. “Benny and his family have agreed to come by every now and then and help out with some of the little tasks. That’ll certainly save us some money.”
“Well, that’s really terrific,” Danny said, still scribbling. “This is going to make one fabulous story. Finally, what about the kid who actually took the animals? Will he be charged by the police?”
Lindsey said, “No. Jordan came up with a better idea ...”
The Aldens fixed their attention on her. Even Grandfather opened his eyes. Lindsey had announced right before the reporter came that Jordan had something special in mind for Brian, but she wanted to wait until just the right moment to reveal it.
“He’s going to rehire Brian as an apprentice keeper,” she said.
Violet smiled. “That’s wonderful!”
“Good for him,” Grandfather said.
“He didn’t really seem like he had his heart in being a thief anyway,” Henry joked.
“No, he didn’t,” Lindsey said. “He wants to take care of animals. He’s a keeper by nature, he just has to learn to be more responsible. So we’re going to give him some training and we’ll see how he does.”
“What did he do with the money he got from Mr. Colby for taking the animals?” Danny asked.
“The money goes back to the zoo,” Jessie answered.
Danny wrote a few more lines, then closed the cover of his notepad.
“Well, this has been one incredible story, I must say,” Danny told them. “The best one I’ve ever covered. I don’t know how I’m going to top it.”
“Oh, just keep an eye on my grandchildren,” Grandfather Alden advised, “and I’m sure you’ll have lots to write about. They’ll make you famous!”