The Last Case of Detective Drake

by McPoodle

Note: Scroll to the bottom for the credit disclaimers.


Forward

I bet you never thought I'd finish this, Roger, but here it is. It goes without saying that it is for your eyes only. Not that anybody outside of the city would know who most of these people are; but I think I would have been more circumspect if I wanted anyone else to read this. Please forgive the format: I had intended to write just the facts, but the story sort of ran away with me, so you can expect an invented speech or two.

Also, I've attached a photo of the primary piece of evidence in this case. Let me know if you don't get it.


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Chapter 1

It was a cold, dark morning, late in the winter. The tan Plymouth crept slowly around the curves of the parking garage before sliding into its accustomed spot, a trail of white exhaust creeping behind it. After the engine was turned off, the whole car shook, twice, as it lost the fight against the encroaching chill in the air.

The occupants of the car sat there for a few moments, the driver nervously, the two passengers with a growing sense of satisfaction.

"Well," the driver said slowly, "we're here." The first thing you noticed about her (in most cases, the only thing) was the uniform of a police officer. She was a brunette, fast approaching middle age. Her attention was on the man to her right.

"It hasn't changed," the man said, looking straight ahead. His brown hair was somewhat streaked with gray and he wore a tan business suit under his winter coat that had been out of business fashion for at least a decade, with a matching fedora in his lap. He leaned forward to take in more of the city through the windshield of the car. "I can't believe it hasn't changed."

The other passenger, sitting behind the man, merely barked, which was to be expected, as he was an English bulldog, sitting up proudly despite (or perhaps because of) the hand-me-down blue pullover sweater he was wearing.

"Plato's right," the man laughed. "We need to get on with this."

"Right, Uncle," the woman replied, jumping out of the car and racing around to open the door for the older man before he had the chance to let himself out. They both helped the dog Plato out and onto a leash. The dog stood on the frozen concrete for a few seconds, its legs shaking slightly as it nerved itself to the cold. The man underwent a similar process, but he hid the transition by carefully placing the fedora on his head just so.

In the meantime, the woman had gotten a backpack out the trunk of the car and put it on. "I can walk you to the station, Uncle Don..." she began.

"Don't even think of it. Go out there and get your exercise. A dispatcher has to get some at every opportunity. We'll be fine."

The woman didn't need much encouraging. "I'll see you at the station," she said. The man and dog followed her out of the parking structure and across the nearby intersection, then watched her jog into the park before following at a more leisurely pace.


Fifteen minutes later, they were both exhausted. It was a big park.

They stopped at a clearing near a huge oak tree. The man swept the snow from a park bench before sitting down. He tied the dog's leash to a railing before removing his hat, grabbing his handkerchief and mopping his brow. The breaths of both man and dog came out looking like billows of steam.

"Well, Plato," the man said wryly, "I guess this proves that playing 'armchair detective' for your retirement isn't good for you. We'll rest for a bit, and then we'll be there before you know it. I'm going to make sure I get a replacement badge for you--I still want to know how you managed to lose it so fast after I pinned it on you. Oh, well. I expect we'll have to wait for Chenture (he was always late in the winter), so that will give us a chance to...you're not listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"

Sure enough, Plato was at the end of his leash, sniffing intently at a nearby bush.

The man shook his head. "You have managed to figure out we're back in the city, right?"

The dog looked back at him with what could be interpreted as a hurt expression.

"I'm sorry, Plato. It's just...we're both getting old, you know, and I think I might be losing it. And if I am, maybe you are too. I wonder what the new detective wants us for?"

Plato turned away from the bush and put his big head in the man's lap. The man sighed and petted his head. "I'm getting worked up over nothing, I know, Plato," he said. "He probably missed something obvious on one of his cases and he doesn't want anyone at the precinct to know--that's all. Or maybe it's a surprise party...do you think that's it?"

The dog lifted its head and looked up at him expectantly, which is when the man noticed that Plato had accidentally crushed the fedora in his lap. With a shrug, he restored the light brown lump to something resembling its original shape and planted it on his head before getting up and untying the leash. After a brief glance back at the oak tree, the dog walked alongside the man the rest of the way to the police station.


Chapter 2

A young policeman sat at the front of the station, filing forms on the computer. It had been fairly quiet so far in his shift, if you discounted the usual late-night vagrants. It was therefore with a fair degree of interest that he addressed the aging, obviously law-abiding man who had just walked in with the leash to his dog and a crumpled hat in each hand. "How may I help you this morning?"

The older man looked up at him with a slight amount of bewilderment--perhaps he was expecting someone else. "Er, yes. I have an appointment with Detective Chenture. My name's Don Drake."

The man at the desk looked through his online appointment book for a moment before catching the name of the man before him. "You're Detective Drake? Wow, I...I should have known--you look just like your description. It is such an honor to finally meet the legend in the flesh!" The man tried to rush over to his hero's side, but managed to trip twice on the way. The retired detective tried his best to keep a straight face, remembering a time long past when he had been the tongue-tied admirer.

Finally, the young man ("Sean", as he managed to introduce himself at least four times) finished pumping Drake's hand up and down (the hat had been transferred to the dog's head) and telling him about his greatest cases, and turned his attention to the dog. "And this must be the equally-famous Plato! Do you still do the 'crime bite', big fella?" The overdressed dog looked like it was considering an impromptu demonstration before the star-struck fan turned back to its owner. "I've always wondered, Detective, how he came by a name like that--it's kinda unusual."

Drake had established eye contact with his niece further back in the stationhouse, so he felt he had the time for a yarn. Removing the hat, he answered. "Well, Sean, I met Plato here when I was helping the fire department investigate a series of suspicious fires in the warehouse district. One fire claimed a warehouse watchdog and his family, but one whelp survived, only a few weeks old--this dog here--and he got a good look at the arsonist. Without him I never would have closed the case. We worked well together right from the start, so there was no question that I'd adopt him if no one turned up to claim him, and no one did.

"He didn't have a name. My fiancÚ at the time had a cat named Socks because he was black with white feet. He looked like a little philosopher, so Liz decided that 'Socks' was short for 'Socrates'. My dog always followed Socks around, so she named him 'Plato'. That was twenty years ago." His eyes lost focus for a moment as his mind summoned forth the face of his long-lost love.


"That's not the way we heard it," announced a pinched voice at the front door of the station.

"The way we heard it," continued a deep voice next to him, "your niece was the one who named him 'Play-dough', 'cause his face was so squishy, and you changed it to save the poor dog's dignity."

Drake spun around, a broad grin on his face. "Muldoon and Kirby! How are my favorite beat cops?"

"Still working the beat," answered the tall and thin Muldoon in a depressed tone.

"Wouldn't have it any other way," added the broad and nearly-as-tall Kirby, as if his comment was the natural follow-up to his partner's.

"It's great to see you guys," exclaimed Drake, crossing the waiting area to join them. Sean managed to find his way back to his desk, largely unnoticed. "Say, have you seen Detective Chenture yet? He wants to meet with me very urgently, but he refused to tell me what he wanted."

Muldoon and Kirby shared a significant look in silence.

"I'm sure he's not in yet," Muldoon stated rather rapidly. "We were just getting off the graveyard shift, so why don't you join us for breakfast?"

Drake's eyes swept suspiciously across the faces of the pair. "So you know what Chenture's up to?"

"We have our suspicions," rumbled Kirby.


Chapter 3

Ma's Diner was like every other establishment with the same name. The wallpaper was peeling off of the walls even as the orange naugahyde refused to peel off of the undersides of the patrons. But despite these unpleasantries, Ma's food made her diner home for dozens of single men three times a day, as well as feeding the police of the Fifth Precinct.

It was easy to tell which one was Ma, as she did the work of at least three ordinary people. And what she didn't have time to do she supervised, with a voice that was at least three time's louder than your mother's.

Detective Drake remembered Ma's for the coffee and donuts, and certainly never remembered it bustling like this, especially so early in the day. After finding a place for his fedora, he took a moment to look over the menu; when Ma approached, he supposed that he would have the...

"The usual for us," decided Kirby, "and the cheese chowder for our friend Detective Drake." He looked somewhat mesmerized when naming the specialty of the house.

"Hey, I remember you!" exclaimed Ma. "You retired before I started making the cheese chowder! Boy, are you in for a treat!" Just like Muldoon, she got a weird look in her eye when pronouncing the magic words.

Drake waited for Ma to leave before turning to the two officers. "Am I missing something? Nobody has chee...I'm sorry, 'cheese chowder' for breakfast!"

"You won't regret it," chirped Muldoon. "No body ever does." He looked a little glazed himself.

Drake thought for a moment. "And are you two having cheese chowder as well?" He wondered for a moment if he was caught in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not the good one, but that one awful remake.

"Naw, we don't eat it anymore," explained Kirby. "It starts to get old after the first hundred bowls or so." He tossed this off like a mechanic discussing 10-30 motor oil.

Muldoon was momentarily confused. "Hundred? We had to have had two, maybe three..."

"We've sure had some interesting cases since you've retired, Detective," quickly interrupted Kirby.

Drake was about to bring them back to the current subject, when Ma arrived with their meals. He looked down with distaste at the bowl of lumpy orange chowder before him. He stirred it a bit with his spoon, then raised the spoon to his lips, when he noticed that everyone in the diner was looking at him. He put the spoon down, in a mixture of disgust and paranoia.

"...and when I got back, not only were the crooks behind bars, but my diner was spotless, and I found the recipe pinned to the back wall. I went to their parole meeting a few years later and helped to get them out early, on account of all the business that chowder recipe had done for the diner. I offered to give them jobs here, but for some reason they weren't interested." Ma was apparently rattling off the story of where the cheese chowder had come from, but Drake had been too pre-occupied to hear most of it.

"That's nice, Ma," Drake said.

"Well? Aren't you going to eat it?"

"Maybe later," replied Drake with a smile that clearly signaled to Ma that he wanted some privacy.


"Alright, now that we've got that under our belts, do you mind filling me in on what makes you two so twitchy every time I say Detective Chenture's name?"

"Well..." stalled Officer Kirby, "Detective Chenture is very good..."

"Yeah, " chimed in Officer Muldoon, "I don't remember a single case he didn't solve in the year or so since you retired. He's always asking us about our beats, and about anything weird that we might have seen..."

Drake waited for one of them to fill in the blanks. "And he's getting on your nerves?" he suggested.

"No, but his questions are kind of creepy," said Kirby.

"What kind of cases is he asking about?" asked Drake.

"You know those kind of weird cases that just sort of fall in your lap?" suggested Muldoon, in a conspiratorial tone.

"Like the Tillamook case?"

"Exactly!" cried Kirby. "He asked a whole lot about that one. I'm surprised you even know about it."

"Hey, I haven't exactly fallen off of the face of the earth, you know." Drake pondered a bit. "So Chenture's calling me in to help figure out what's going on, then?"

"No, that's not it at all," said a worried Muldoon. "I think the detective's got it all figured out, and he's just calling you to back him up."

Something here didn't add up to Detective Drake. Then it came to him. "You know his theory, don't you? And maybe this is one mystery you don't want solved, is that it?"

"Nah, we don't know what Detective Chenture is thinking," answered Kirby. "But he thinks too much. We've seen some really weird stuff, but so has every other beat cop."

"The detective thinks he can figure anything out," added Muldoon, "but some stuff won't ever make sense. We're in no position to tell you what to do, Detective Drake. We just want you to know that Detective Chenture's been working himself day and night lately. He's obsessed, and maybe this time, he's gone too far."

Ma came by to clean up the plates, including Drake's uneaten chowder. As he absentmindedly wiped his chin with the napkin, Drake accidentally got a taste of cheese chowder. It was, quite simply, the most perfect foodstuff on Earth. He walked out of the diner in a daze.

A minute later he ran back in to get his hat.


Chapter 4

Drake stepped out of Muldoon and Kirby's patrol car a few minutes later in front of the station. He heard the car drive off somewhat reluctantly behind him for a day of mostly-boring patrol work as he ascended the steps for the second time that day.

Once inside, he saw the inhabitants of the station, their heads bowed as they were conducting a search.

"What's going on?" he asked Sean.

"Plato's disappeared. I was keeping an eye on him, but then the phone rang and..."

"Don't worry about it." He turned to address the searchers. "You don't have to worry about Plato, folks. He's probably out exploring. I'm sure he'll be back before the day's out." Drake then turned back to Sean. "So, has Detective Chenture come in yet?"

"Actually, that's what the phone call was about. He's at the courthouse picking up a warrant. He said he'd like to pick you up as soon as he finishes there."

"Sure thing. Let me know when he comes in--I'll be in the chief's office."


Drake debated with himself over whether to hang his hat and coat up, but he distrusted his memory, so he draped the coat over the arm holding the fedora. He was walking past Sergeant Spinelli's desk on the way to the office when he had to stop and stare. Three of the edges of the desk were covered in loaded mousetraps, the old-fashioned kind with actual cheese. The traps doubled as retaining walls to keep the mountains of paperwork from spilling off the sides. Sitting behind the desk, filling out a crossword puzzle, sat the sergeant. He was dividing his attention between the paper, the traps, and the candy bar he was eating--Sgt. Spinelli was always eating, as his amble figure testified.

"Mouse problem?" quipped the ex-detective.

"You don't know the half of it, Drake..." Spinelli began, before he caught himself. "Drake! Good to see you back! How have the jigsaws and detective novels been treating you?"

Drake sighed. "I suppose there's some table space at the lodge not covered with one or the other. Look, I'd love to chat about old times, but I'm afraid I haven't got much time, and I'd like to see the chief before I go."

Spinelli shrugged. "Sure, you can go in--he's not seeing anybody."

As Drake walked away, Spinelli resumed his vigil of the mousetraps.


Drake knocked at the door, then peeked his head in. "Hey, Chief, this is Drake, do you mind if..."

A tall man in an ironed suit looked up from the mahogany desk. He spoke as if he was being charged by the minute, so fast did the words tumble out of his lips. "Don! Come right in. I hoped we'd get a chance to talk. How's retirement?"

The chief took Drake's coat and hat and placed them on a chair so he could shake his hand. Drake walked in and closed the door behind him, rubbing the back of his neck with his freed hand. "It's boring, just like I told you it would be at the retirement party. I hear the caseload has picked up since I left."

The chief wrinkled his nose. "Nah, Hendersen retired, and the paper sent a young pup over to cover the police beat. He's got a real knack for making small stuff sound like the big leagues. I guess that means you've been reading the city paper."

"Never dropped the subscription. If I had nothing but the Silver Springs Gazette to read, I'd have no idea what was going on in the world."

"That's funny, I thought not knowing what was going on in the world was what retirement was all about," the chief replied with a straight face. "Anyway, I wanted to warn you about Detective Chenture."

"You too?" Drake asked with a smile.

"The guy's like a racecar with no oil. He's headed for a crackup, Don, and I'd hate to see you standing too close when that happens."

The smile left Drake's face. "Why haven't you done something?"

"I've done everything the regulations will let me do. He won't see the shrink, and he's got twice as many vacation days built up as you ever had. All I've got is a hunch, and regulations won't let me do anything on that. So if he does anything funny around you, let me know."

"Well, alright, Chief, I let you know if I see anything. Anything else?"

"You could stop calling me 'Chief' and start remembering you're retired, before it's too late. Chenture's been hopping at the window for the last minute or so, so I'd better let you go. Oh, and don't forget these."

Drake retrieved his coat and hat. "How could I forget?" he quipped, dryly.


Chapter 5

The moment Donald Drake left the office he was grabbed by the arm and hustled out of the station by Detective Chenture. Before he knew it, he was in the passenger seat of the detective's police car as it raced through the streets, siren wailing.

"Take a look at those folders at your feet," said Chenture, right before making a dangerously fast right turn. "Start with the top one." The detective rather resembled a pug dog, with a stubby nose and wrinkled brown overcoat and slacks ending in thoroughly-scuffed shoes. Add in the hair loss, and he looked like somebody who had been exposed to an aging ray.

Drake did as he was instructed, placing the folders atop the ever-more disheveled coat and hat in his lap. He tried his best to read the detective's scrawl unaided before reluctantly putting on his reading glasses. The top folder was labeled "The Case of the Stolen Antiques", with the subtitle "Splintered Love" hand-written beneath that. The notes within detailed a series of thefts of ancient furniture from homes and businesses, culminating only a few hours ago in a daring museum robbery of a rosewood chair worth $3.5 million. The security systems in most of these robberies were extremely difficult to bypass quickly, yet speed appeared to be the criminal's M.O. The items taken (or almost taken, as it appeared that the thieves had become careless on the two attempted robberies just before the museum heist) varied from clocks to cabinets to canopies. The gang appeared to be very specific in their targets: items that were easier to steal and more valuable on the black market were frequently left untouched while obscure ancient knick-knacks in the same house were taken instead. Chenture had evidently studied up on the subject of old furniture, as the margins were filled with names of French kings, English craftsmen, and date ranges associated with the items, but nothing seemed to match.

Chenture glanced at his passenger as the car raced through an intersection. "Well," he asked, "do you see the pattern?"

Drake shrugged and gestured at the notes. "It looks like you covered all of the possible connections."

"No, I didn't write it down, because I didn't have any proof before this morning. But surely you see it? It's so obvious!"

Drake sighed. "No, I haven't a clue."

The detective gaped at his mentor before turning his head to watch the road while he took the car through another sharp turn. As he brought it back to its accustomed breakneck pace he sighed under his breath. "What's happened to you?"

Drake asked himself the same question. A detective, even more than a beat cop, lived or died on his wits, and a year of retirement seemed to have sapped his supply dry. He felt that he could be little more than an observer on this case.

From the look on his face, Chenture appeared to have come to the same conclusion. "They're all made of wood," he announced in disgust.

"That goes without saying," replied a confused Drake. "They're antiques. So were the items that were passed over."

"The stolen items were all rare woods: teak, mahogany, satinwood, and now rosewood. The pieces left behind may have been well made or from the hands of master craftsmen, but they were all constructed of common woods like walnut or oak."

Drake took another look at the notes, and saw that this was exactly the case.

At that moment the car came to a sudden stop. Drake threw up his arms in panic and tossed the notes into the air. Chenture's eyes bulged out as he saw his sorting system in jeopardy, then sighed in relief as his predecessor managed to catch the file without dropping it. "Now then," said Chenture, "where's the best place to hide a ton of wood?"

Drake looked up to see the building they had stopped at. "A sawmill?"

The two men got out of the car as the detective explained. "Last night a resident complained about the noise of a buzz saw in an abandoned sawmill. What he told me about suspicious activities, timed within hours of each of the thefts, gave me grounds enough for a warrant." He waited while Drake got into his coat and hat.

As the two men rounded a corner of the building, Drake raced ahead and pointed out a pair of tire tracks. "Truck, pretty heavy I'd say." He reached down and rubbed one of the tracks with his hand, then sniffed his fingers. "Eight, maybe nine hours old." He was gratified to see the detective agree with his assessment. Perhaps I haven't lost it after all, thought Drake.

Chenture quickly climbed up a crate and took a look through a window into the warehouse, to verify that the place had indeed been cleaned out of all the boxes he remembered seeing the night before. He then rounded up a teenage boy who was loitering nearby. The kid wasn't in the neighborhood the night before, but a few nights earlier he remembered seeing a truck departing--the logo on the side proclaimed that it had been rented from the airport.

The two men thanked the witness, then got back into the police car and were soon heading down the road even faster than before, although both had a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs. While Chenture was driving, Drake used the car's cell phone to call the rental office for the truck. He learned that a truck had been sent with a company driver and assistant to pick up boxes from the warehouse at odd times several nights in succession. Each time the cargo had been sent on flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The latest such flight had left seven hours ago. Rather unusually, this last shipment included a single small box (too small to hold any of the stolen furniture) that was loaded on a separate flight bound for Orlando, Florida. Two more calls verified that both flights had long since arrived at their destinations. The police car dropped back down under the speed limit when this information was relayed to Chenture.


Chapter 6

Upon arriving at the airport, the two men headed for the rental office to interview one of the drivers of the trucks (the last driver was currently in transit, so this was probably the driver the witness had seen). She told them that she hadn't seen anyone at the warehouse--a single large box was found waiting on the loading platform with the Canadian shipping label already attached. She remembered that something inside the box had clunked while the assistant was transferring it to the truck, and guessed that the item may have been wooden. She had asked the other drivers about their experiences, and none of them remembered seeing anyone during any of the warehouse pickups. The labels had all been addressed to a warehouse in Halifax. On hearing this, Drake speculated that the Canadian warehouse was probably also abandoned. The driver for the last shipment turned up at this point and confirmed that no one was seen that time, either, which meant that the thieves had probably left town immediately after the museum theft and hours before the box had been picked up.

"So now what?" asked Drake. "There's no reason to go to the terminal. Do we head back to the warehouse?"

Chenture rolled his eyes. "I have an excellent reason to visit the terminal: if this case is like the others, it's about to bust right open. And besides, I haven't had breakfast yet."

Drake shrugged. He could do with another coffee. The security office was on the way, so....


"How could I not know about Flight 212 to Nova Scotia?" the harried chief of security replied to Chenture's question. "I have been getting faxes every hour since six a.m. from some high Canadian muckety-muck demanding we hand over a box of family heirlooms."

"A box, did you say?" asked the detective, trying to maintain a straight face as he was taking notes. Drake couldn't believe the luck, but Chenture acted like this was exactly what he was expecting.

"Yes, a box. Look, did this guy call the cops? It's hardly a criminal matter. The shipping label must have fallen off of the box, so our boys didn't know what plane to load it on. He should be lucky we didn't send it to Timbuktu. All I need is some kind of identification from the guy and an inventory of contents so we can prove it belongs to him."

"Actually, I can tell you for a fact that the contents of the box do not belong to the gentleman in question. In addition, I am confident that the contents of that box are property of the Museum of Art."

Upon hearing this, the security chief picked up the newspaper on his desk and showed the two men the front-page story. "You don't mean the rosewood chair?"

"That's exactly what I mean, sir. Would you mind taking us to examine this box ourselves?"

The man rose without a word and escorted his guests through the back door of his office into the "lost luggage" department of the airport. Taking up most of the small room was a large wooden box. Chenture walked around the box slowly, looking it up and down, before stopping at a crack where the box had not been adequately nailed shut. Taking out his flashlight, he peered into the crack for a few moments.

"Yes," he concluded. "That's it. Anyone want to take a peak at a $3.5 million chair?"


Once the examination was complete, the three men returned to the office and the complaint faxes were passed around.

"Well," said the detective afterwards, trying to sound nonchalant, "while we were here, I was wondering if you've got anything you need our help with. For example, were there any unusual activities reported last night?"

The security chief laughed. "This is an airport. There's no such thing as normal here." He picked up a clipboard stuffed with papers and started flipping through it. "Last night a dog busted out of its carrier and it took two of my men twenty minutes to catch it, causing the owner to miss his flight. Of course, he blames us instead of the dog. A kid's remote-controlled skateboard crashed into the luggage carousel, completely jamming it. There was an overstuffed suitcase that exploded, nearly disabling a luggage cart. And somebody supplied Flight 47 with macaroni and cheese dinners, and forgot to include the cheese!"

To Drake's growing confusion, Chenture was taking careful notes of all of this.

"This remote-controlled skateboard--did anyone claim it?"

The officer scratched his head. "Uh, no. That never did turn up. I suppose the kid must have grabbed it when no one was looking."

Chenture suddenly closed his notebook. "OK, I guess that's all, then. Thank you for your cooperation. I'll send a man around this afternoon to pick up the box. Until then, I'd appreciate it if you didn't let word of it out."

"Sure thing. What about the faxes?"

"Make up some more excuses. We'll get in contact with the local authorities to follow things up on that end."


After a stop at the terminal's coffee house, Drake and Chenture got back in the car and headed back to the warehouse. As they were leaving, Chenture pointed at a corner of the terminal and asked, "Isn't that your dog?"

Drake looked in the direction indicated. "I don't see anything."

"Must have ducked around a corner. I think he didn't want you to see him."

Drake decided to change the subject. "So what do you think happened at the terminal?"

"Let me put it to you this way: suppose you were at that airport last night and you see the boxes coming through. You know what's in those boxes and you want to help the police recover them, but you don't want anyone to learn of your involvement. What's the simplest way to accomplish this?"

"You remove the shipping label, perhaps with the help of a remote-controlled skateboard?" Drake thought this over. "So who did it? Perhaps one of the thieves double-crossed the others?"

"You haven't read the rest of those files yet, have you? They form a pattern, every one of them. Baffling crime sprees that all just appear to fall apart. But they don't just fall apart; they are taken down, every one of them. Just think about that for awhile."

Drake said nothing, instead picking up the other files and paging through them.


Chapter 7

At the warehouse, Chenture discovered an antique chair (see Attachment #1) that had been left behind in a corner.

"This, Drake, is the thieves' fatal mistake. They're certain to have left at least one clean fingerprint on that. I'm going to call the crime lab to get a tech and a truck out here."

Drake removed his fedora and scratched his head. "Hold on a second, Detective. Why'd they leave this chair behind? Do you think it was a fake?"

The detective consulted his notes. "No, this is one of the stolen chairs, built by Thomas Chippendale for Sir Knatchbull in 1776. It's definitely authentic, and insanely valuable."

He spent a few minutes walking around the chair, being careful not to touch it. "It appears to be made of cherry wood, which is notoriously hard to work with and therefore considered 'rare' in the world of furniture-making. In fact, however, the cherry is only a veneer; it's mostly maple wood, and therefore too common for the thieves."

While Chenture went to the squad car to call in a finger print expert, Drake gave the rest of the warehouse a once-over. The detective on his return found his predecessor at the buzz saw, examining some of the logs that had been cut last night. Drake picked up some light rope that was on the ground near the logs and tried to show it to Chenture.

"That doesn't mean anything," interjected the detective.

"But what about the logs?" asked Drake.

"They were probably using the buzz saw to cover up the sound of the boxes they were constructing."

"But this was the only night that anyone heard the saw running. What about the other shipments?"

"The thieves were probably nervous because of the extreme value of the rosewood chair. Maybe they left it on to cover their departure."

"Seems to me a buzz saw would attract attention to their departure," suggested Drake.

Chenture shrugged this off, and the two walked outside to wait for the lab technician to arrive. Once she had collected her prints, they followed her and the chair back to the station.


Chapter 8

The technician had only been able to find one set of prints, and they belonged to the rightful owner of the chair.

Detective Chenture spent the next hour filling out paperwork and trying to explain the particulars of the case to his counterpart in Halifax. Drake spent the time at Ma's Diner, reviewing the files Chenture had given him. He stepped onto the sidewalk with a cheese chowder-induced glaze in his eyes. As he put his hand on the outside door to the station, he realized he left his fedora at the restaurant, so he went back to get it.

That action probably saved his life. Drake felt the ground suddenly heave beneath him as he tried to re-enter Ma's Diner. The pavement in front of the station buckled upward for a second before bursting open to reveal a shiny black mass that lifted itself to a height of seven feet on eight spindly legs. A high-pitched, if somewhat muffled, maniacal laugh could be heard from a transparent dome that sat on top.

Drake scrambled back to join the crowd that had gathered to watch. It was from this vantage point that he could see that the invader was a giant mechanical spider, piloted by a diminutive man with a huge balding head and wearing a lab coat. The machine appeared to be an accurate representation of black widow, with the addition of a large laser cannon in front and the dome over the thorax that covered the man and his one-button control panel. Drake recognized the man as Norton Nimnul, the most frequent character in Detective Chenture's files. Nimnul was a mad scientist who had begun his criminal career by generating an artificial earthquake under the Global Gold Depository--it was Drake's last case before he retired. Since then, "Professor" Nimnul had engaged in numerous attempts at getting rich and/or destroying the metropolis with his mechanical inventions, most of them inspired by animal models. He had been in and out of the precinct's jail more than a dozen times over the last two years, but his constant humiliations at the hands of the law only drove him further past the brink of insanity.

The crowd waited expectantly as the giant spider just stood there. Some kind of sound could be heard from the dome on top, but the thickness of the glass muffled it beyond recognition.

A representative of the crowd stepped forward. "I am dreadfully sorry," he announced loudly in a British accent, "but we cannot understand a word you are saying. How can we cower properly if we cannot hear your insane rants?" This was Mr. Clutchcoin, the richest man in town. He resembled the man on the Monopoly box, only with hair. Beside him was his wife, Mrs. Clutchcoin, who was indescribable.

Nimnul had a momentary fit as he realized he forgot to put an audio system on his latest engine of destruction. He pressed the lone glowing orange button on the control panel in front of him, which caused the legs of the mechanical arachnid to bend and lower its body to street level. While this was happening, Drake saw a squad car pull up, out of which emerged Muldoon and Kirby, their weapons drawn.

"HOW ABOUT NOW?" Nimnul asked, or rather, shouted. Despite this, the volume of his voice that could be heard by the crowd was still rather faint.

"Better," agreed Clutchcoin.

Satisfied, the mad scientist pulled a pile of notes out of his coat pocket. "CITIZENS OF WHATEVER CITY THIS IS!" he announced at the top of his lungs. "I, PROFESSOR NORTON NIMNUL, HAVE COME HERE ON THIS FINE WINTER'S DAY TO SETTLE MY DIFFERENCES WITH THE LOCAL CONSTABULARY BY BLASTING THIS STATION INTO ITS CONSTITUENT ATOMS.

"BUT FIRST, BECAUSE I AM A GENEROUS MAN, YOU ARE ALL FREE TO STAND AROUND AND LISTEN AS I EXPLAIN IN EXHAUSTIVE DETAIL WHY I AM THE MOST BRILLIANT SCIENTIST ON THIS OR ANY OTHER PLANET." By this time, Nimnul had shouted himself hoarse. He glanced down at the fifty eight pages of single-spaced proclamations he was holding and sighed. He then looked around the dome for a water bottle or at the very least a tin of lozenges among the power bar wrappers and other refuse that littered the floor of the dome, but he had left both of those on top of the stereo in his laboratory (which, coincidentally, looked an awful lot like the spider robot looked right now). This realization caused him to launch into another fit at his own expense. The crowd waited patiently, hoping for a repeat of the previous summer's orgy of destruction.

When he had calmed down again, Nimnul pushed the one button (now green) on his control panel, which caused the dome to roll back partway and allowed him to stick his head out. "Do you think you can still be suitably cowed without the dome?"

"Oh yes, certainly," said Mr. Clutchcoin. The crowd nodded in unison behind him.

Just then a bullet ricocheted off of the thorax of the giant spider right next to Nimnul. The scientist responded by jerking his head back in and slamming his hand down on the button, which caused the dome to slam back down.

Officer Kirby followed up with a second shot, which just bounced off of the bullet-proof glass.

"HEY!" shouted Nimnul faintly. Looking around, he was gratified to discover that he had remembered to bring a bullhorn with him. "I repeat, 'Hey!'" he announced with the help of the device. The crowd applauded at the successful solution to the audio problem. "What are you shooting at me for? I haven't destroyed anything yet!"

Officer Muldoon gestured at the remains of the street around them.

"Oh yeah, I forgot about that," Nimnul replied. "Well, you can't get me, so bleh!" he taunted, sticking out his tongue. He pressed the button on the control panel (now colored purple), which caused the spider to rise to its full height. "This dome is not only soundproof, but also bulletproof, Slim Whitman-proof, and, most importantly, completely rodent-proof!" he announced proudly. "Now, where was I?"


Chapter 9

While all of this had been going on, Drake had worked his way through the crowd to the station. Through the window of the barricaded front door, he saw personnel dashing back and forth. It appeared that someone had remembered the military ordinance kept in the basement for extreme situations like this.

Locked out of the station, Drake next surveyed the street to see what kind of backup had arrived. He saw two other squad cars parked beyond the crowd, the officers conferring with Muldoon and Kirby. The SWAT team had not arrived yet. There were a couple of news helicopters (and a remote-controlled toy plane) in the sky, but not the police copter that would have given the besieged station a much needed extra pair of eyes.

"Ah-ha!"

Drake craned his neck to scan the roof of the station, where the exclamation had come from, and briefly saw Detective Chenture leaning over and pointing across the street. A few seconds later, he heard the station door rattling. Looking through the window, he saw Spinelli and the chief arguing with Chenture (equipped with an array of surveillance equipment), who evidently was very eager to go outside. On being refused, he dashed up the stairs to the roof, then took the fire escape down the back side of the building. Drake heard the sounds of rapidly approaching footsteps, and turned to see Chenture.

"Did you see it? Did you see it?" demanded the detective.

Hmm...let's see. What was the most-insignificant thing I've seen in the last minute or so? thought Drake. Oh, I know...

"You mean the toy plane?"

"Yes, exactly! Watson, the game is afoot!"

Nimnul was only about four pages into his diatribe by this point, and the SWAT team was still nowhere to be seen, so Drake decided he had nothing better to do than follow the detective into an alley across the street from the station and watch him throw trash cans around.

About a minute into this, Drake spotted the toy plane in exactly the place you'd expect a kid to crash a toy plane, on the fire escape. However, he was still somewhat mad at being called Watson to Chenture's Sherlock Holmes, so he kept quiet. Chenture never lifted his head.

The search might have continued indefinitely, but it was abruptly terminated by a loud crash on the street, followed by a high-pitched wail. The two men rushed out to see the spider robot on its side, it's legs together. Drake figured one of the police officers had come up with the bright idea of pushing the spider legs together to wreck the machine's stability. As they got closer, they saw that the wail was coming from Norton Nimnul, who had gotten himself caught under the edge of the dome with his rear end sticking out. Attached to this rear end was none other than Plato, demonstrating his "crime bite" for the applauding crowd.


Chapter 10

Ex-detective Donald Drake and current detective Arnold Chenture entered the station to join the bedlam of voices that filled it. I will therefore merely report a sample of the sounds to be observed by the proverbial "fly on the wall":


"Alright then, I think you've seen enough. I need you to tell the chief you support my theory. That way I can get the funding I need. I was thinking of setting up cameras in a few choice locations. Kirby and Muldoon's squad car in particular. The vigilantes seem to have a liking for those two." This was Chenture. He and Drake were standing at the front desk, while Sean watched them from behind it.

"I never told you that I was convinced, and I'm still not convinced," insisted a weary Drake.

Chenture sighed theatrically. "Very well, we'll go over it all again." He grabbed the pile of cases from Drake, fished one out, and opened it. "The 'Lucy In the Sky' case: precious jewels snatched from a courier helicopter in mid-air, and then later found, by Kirby and Muldoon, in an alley next to an abandoned factory. Or this case..."


"Nevertheless, I demand that you hand over our chair immediately!" This was Mrs. Clutchcoin. She and her husband were confronting Drake's niece at the evidence counter at the back of the station.

"You just need to fill out these forms," answered the dispatch officer. This was clearly not the first time she had uttered this sentence in the conversation.

"There's no time for that," proclaimed Mr. Clutchcoin. "Just look at..."


"...'The Last Train to Cashville' case, where..."

"Sorry to interrupt, but where do you get these case names from?"


"...that dangerous felon right over there!" proclaimed Mr. Clutchcoin. "He could be an insane pyromaniac for all we know!"


"Be sure you get my good side this time." This was the quiet voice of Pr. Nimnul, sitting in a chair with his wrists handcuffed.


"...The 'Weather or Not' case, starring the professor over there and a machine to manipulate weather. It ended when he managed to turn his weather machine on himself and thereby transformed himself into an ice cube."

"Sounds open and shut to me. Nimnul's not exactly known for his mental competence."

"But he was competent enough to put a failsafe on that device of his. It was physically impossible for him to freeze himself. So who do you suppose froze him?"

"But there were witnesses in that bank, Chenture, lots of witnesses, and none of them saw anyone operating that device but Nimnul. So the question you should be asking yourself is not 'who', but 'when'?"


"It's not time for that part yet, Nimnul. You should know the routine by now." This was Sgt. Spinnelli, who was stuck filling out the forms booking the prisoner. That should have been the job of Muldoon or Kirby. "How'd you build that gadget of yours, anyway?"

"Please don't call my mechanical monstrosities 'gadgets'--they're 'nimnuls'. The idea of this device came to me on a dark and stormy night..."

"Um-hum," murmured Spinelli, writing down his captive's words. At the same time, he was trying his best not to plant his elbow in the slice of muenster cheesecake that was on his desk.


"Your defeat of Pr. Nimnul was brilliant work, boys! Absolutely brilliant! However did you think of such a ploy?" The chief, standing outside the door of his office, was pumping the hands of the two beat cops so fast they looked like twin blurs. He kept looking around for someone to arrive.

"It wasn't my idea," admitted Kirby.


"...and the 'Dirty Rotten Diapers' case was?"

Now it was Drake's turn to sigh. He looked down to see which case this was. "Dumb crooks. You wrote down their explanation of how they were caught, and I quote..."


"It all happened so fast," added Muldoon. "You might as well give credit to the dog than to us."

"Yes," agreed the chief. "Where is Plato?"


"Oh, man! I call in sick and everything happens at once! No, better not shake my hand, Sean, you might catch something." This was the police reporter, who had just walked in through the front door of the station. The photographer beside him was taking pictures at a dizzying rate with a very bright flash. He seemed to be as interested in photographing the paneling as the suspect and the one photo everyone wanted him to take, of the chief congratulating the men of the hour. Mr. Clutchcoin instinctively shielded his wife from the photographic onslaught.

"Hey, aren't you Detective Drake?"

*flash* *flash* *flash* *flash*

The poor man put his fedora over his face to give his eyes a chance to heal. "I don't really have a part in this case," he declared from behind his fabric shield. "If you'd like, we can talk later."

"Sure thing." He turned to the chief. "Wasn't there a dog involved in this? We'd like his picture. Or maybe you have something on file?"


"A dog?" asked Mrs. Clutchcoin, peeking out from around her much smaller husband. "Did they say there was a dog in this station? We don't get along, animals and I."


The precinct doors burst open as a dozen S.W.A.T. officers poured in. Their sergeant stepped forward. "Sorry we missed all the fun, but they won't let us roll over midday traffic anymore." He glared at Spinelli, the man responsible for that particular rule.

Spinelli jumped up from his chair and crossed the room to confront his accuser. "You guys better get out of here right now," he warned. "Something always gets shot whenever you visit."

"Aw, we'll leave," promised the sergeant, "just as soon as we see the dog."


"Dog, dog, dog!" complained the chief. "Why do you all want to see a dog? No offence, Drake."

"None taken."

"The heroes of the hour are clearly Officers..., Officers..."

"Muldoon and Kirby," the latter officer supplied laconically.

"Officers Muldoon and Kirby."

"Anybody want to take a picture of me?" asked Nimnul. "This is my good side."


At that moment there was a sound like a toy machine gun going off. Spinelli turned and dashed back to his desk. "My cheesecake!" he cried.

Sure enough, the traps around his desk had all gone off. Twenty-seven slices of cheese and one big wedge of muenster cheesecake were gone, replaced by a rather hefty brown mouse.

Nimnul leapt into his chair. "Vermin!" He looked to the S.W.A.T. team, then pointed at the mouse. "Fire!" he commanded.

The S.W.A.T. team, which was not known for its reticence to use firepower to solve any problem, nevertheless remained as they were. "Trick us once, shame on you. Trick us twice, shame on us." Taunted the sergeant.

Spinelli dived for the mouse. It eluded his grasp and landed on the floor. "Get that mouse!" he ordered.

The S.W.A.T. team raised their weapons.

"Without shooting it!" Spinelli ordered.

The mouse ran past Mrs. Clutchcoin, who fainted and fell on her husband. It then turned and headed right for Drake. Before he had a chance to react, the mouse had raced between his legs. Drake tried to follow it with his eyes, spinning around and losing his balance. Luckily, his niece had raced around the desk and to his side in time to catch him. There was a rapid stomping of boots as the mouse made its way past the S.W.A.T. team.

"He's trapped now," declared Spinelli. "Just so long as nobody opens that door."


At that moment the door was nudged open by a dog's snout. The mouse dashed out just as Plato walked in.

Everyone groaned in unison.


Chapter 11

"Are you all right?" the dispatch officer asked her uncle.

Drake nodded, although his heart was still racing. While his niece returned to the evidence desk, he turned and picked up the 'Splintered Love' case file. "Chenture," he declared, "It's impossible to know exactly what happened in every one of these cases."

"But I do. The only possible explanation is a group of vigilant vigilantes, mysterious marauders, sneaky saboteurs, ..."

"I don't care what you call them, because they don't exist! Look, if I can come up with an alternate explanation, then will you drop this obsession of yours?"

"Alright, what's your theory?"

"I have no one theory. Every one of these cases is a self-contained story, of greed, or foiled love, or perhaps pure insanity. But this one," he said, holding up the case file, "this one I know, because I've seen it before. Have you considered the nature of the thefts? All locked-door mysteries, not with the prints wiped from the doorknobs and other obvious points of entry, but no prints at all. Have you ever heard of the Devil's Eye?"

"The Devil's Eye? The Devil's Eye. The Devil's Eye. The Devil's Eye? No, never heard of it."

"It was the most valuable part of the treasure of the Pirate Lefite. A diamond, the size of a man's eye, wedged into a skull and dropped into a tight underwater cave. The tides ensured that the cave was only accessible for a few minutes for a few days a month. And no adult could reach in there.

"A con artist by the name of Madame Medusa discovered the location of this treasure, and the reason no one had lived to recover it. So she came to New York and snatched a very young orphan girl by the name of Penny to go get it. You can imagine what the poor girl was told would happen to her should she fail. Penny recovered the diamond, but then she outsmarted her captor, leading to her arrest.

"That's what happened here. The thieves had a child, a girl as will become clear, and she was the one that climbed into the homes and businesses, through holes too small for an adult to navigate. But starting with the cabinet robbery, she started sabotaging the robberies, because she knew that with the impending museum robbery, the spree would be over, and when that happened she would no longer be safe from the thieves. Look at these pictures of the museum job: at least one of the thieves used the ductwork to enter. And here, broken fragments of a small mirror, obviously used to defeat the laser beam guarding the rosewood chair. The lab report, here, shows traces of a woman's face powder, perhaps used to make the beam visible. From the curvature at the edge of that piece, I'd say that mirror was no more than an inch wide. Only a child, a little girl, would be expected to have a mirror like that in her possession. She's the one who loosened the shipping label, in the hope that the trip in the back of the truck would dislodge it."

Chenture was stunned. "But...but...what about the exploded suitcases at the airport? What about the remote-controlled skateboard?"

"What about the missing macaroni and cheese? Life isn't tidy, Chenture. You just have to let the loose ends go. The sad part is that we'll never know what happened to the girl."

Chenture sat down hard in a nearby chair. "All those months, all those stakeouts, wasted." He stared at his feet for a few moments. "I need a vacation," he concluded.

"Attaboy, Chenture! I'm glad I could be of help."

"Oh, Drake, I'm sorry I dragged you out here like this."

"Think nothing of it. This trip managed to correct some of my own false theories about life." He turned to his waiting dog, who was holding a new honorary badge gently between his jaws.

"Well, Plato, we've got a retirement to enjoy. Let's go home."


Disclaimers

Detective Donald Drake, his dog Plato, Officers Muldoon and Kirby, Sergeant Spinelli, the unnamed Chief, the S.W.A.T. team and their sergeant, Ma and her diner, Pr. Nimnul, the Clutchcoins, and a scene-stealing cheese-hungry mouse are the creative property of the Walt Disney Corporation. I hear they made their first appearance on a program called Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. I don't suppose you're familiar with it?

Drake's niece is based on an unnamed policewoman who occasionally appeared in the show. Detective Chenture is based on Officer Ross from "Out of Scale", combined with a few unnamed officers that appeared in other episodes.

The plot of this story is obviously a mirror image of the episode "Love Is a Many Splintered Thing." I've got a fascination for secrets people keep in fantastic children's shows, and how outsiders can be so clueless when confronted with evidence of its existence. I threw in as many references to other episodes as I could. I hope the story is enjoyable even for those who never heard of the series.

The image of the Chippendale chair at the start of the story comes from mountvernon.org.


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