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The Junior Detective
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Nicholas Phelps was quite an unusual ten year old.
His school friends all called him Nick or Nicky or Nickerbocker and sometimes 'snooper' since he was always snooping around and generally poking his nose into everything and everyone.
Nick was constantly filled with curiosity, he had a permanent thirst for knowledge and information.
'Why did this happen, why did that happen?'
'Who said this, who said that?'
'Did anyone see anything, did anyone hear anything?' and so on and so on.
He was pretty tall and gangly for his age.
His spindly legs sprouted down from his short trousers like matchsticks and his knobbly knees were like two King Edward potatoes.
His nose was sharp pointed and quite long, which was convenient as it permitted his thick lensed wide framed spectacles to balance and perch very nicely on the end of it.
He seemed to have an extraordinary appetite to make sense of everything, even though it sometimes didn't need to be made sense of at all.
He had been like that as a growing child and as long as his mother, Martha Phelps, part time school dinner lady and housewife, and his father Rodney Phelps, who was a plumber, could remember.
Perhaps the most important and determined quality of all, which the young Nicholas displayed, was the desperate temptation to solve things.
If anything went wrong or missing he took it upon himself to fix it or find it.
On this particular Friday morning, at the State run Netherby Local Preparatory
School for Junior Boys, just seven days away from breaking up for the school
summer holidays, the whole school was stood to attention in the grand hall.
From the platform, with the full complement of teaching staff sat directly behind
him, the headmaster, Silas Nutcrab solemnly made an important announcement.
'Boys of Netherby school, I am very saddened to have to tell you, that over the
past few weeks, a boy or boys in this school, has or have been, responsible
for stealing money and personal valuables from the form lockers. Until this
boy or boys, volunteers who he is, or who they are...'
Here the Head paused for dramatic effect and glared at the boys, assembled directly before him, especially those in the front row.
'... or are apprehended, then there will be NO school Summer Holiday this year and ALL boys will be expected to attend school every day, throughout the holiday season.'
Amidst the moaning and groaning, hooting and cat calls of contempt from the heart of the crowd, which greeted this extremely unpopular declaration, one young boy was stunned into motionless silence, yet filled with heightened excitement.
Nick Phelps realised in a flash that here was his chance to not only trap the culprits but also become an instant school hero at one and the same time.
More importantly he only had seven days to pull it off.
It was on the dot of 4pm that the school bell clanged its regular 'going home time'.
As the trail of young men, aged from 7 to 11 made their way to the school gates, all jibbering and jabbering at ten to the dozen, complaining bitterly about the news that had just been relayed to them, one young man couldn't wait to get home to begin devising his plan to catch the thieves.
Saturday morning found Nicholas in his bedroom. he had been up since 6.30am.
His mother had called him down to breakfast at 9am but the young man just yelled back, informing her that he wasn't hungry and didn't want to be disturbed either. Since his parents were quite used to their son locking himself away in his room for hours on end, they found nothing unusual in this behaviour.
"Probably up to one of his 'plan of attacks' again, I shouldn't wonder" spouted
"Probably" replied her knowing husband as he thumbed through the morning paper.
Since 6.30am Nick had sketched a massive chart which now took pride of place on his bedroom wall.
On the chart were seven days split equally and on the top of each day was the name of seven boys who he thought might be one of the offenders or more likely two or three of them.
He then went into a kind of daydream and started to think about a ruse to entice whoever had stolen the money, to be tempted by something so tantalizing that even though the Head had made such a threat, the thief would still not be able resist one more theft.
He made a mound of notes on his wall chart and also copied some of the notes into his small pocket notebook, which he kept in his school jacket.
The three names he most suspected from the seven chosen were.
First, Tom Mabbot, form bully and thicko.
Tom would bully anyone within his sight, but if challenged as to why, he would clam up and run off.
Problem was, he was so weak personality wise, that he could be persuaded to get
involved into almost anything, and to be a part of a grand band of thieves was right up his Alley.
Second, Willy Small, school gossip.
If there was anything you wanted broadcast around Netherby School, just tell Willy Small and you could guarantee the information would be around the whole school, including the staff, in a day or two.
The more secret or confidential the information the more likely that Willy Small would spread the gossip like wildfire.
Willy was a most disagreeable boy.
Finally, Elias Davenport, the school Toff.
Known as the crafty creeper.
Elias was out of place in a way.
His parents were extremely well to do, but insisted that their son should know and understand the 'normalities' of life and therefore insisted on sending him to public rather than private education.
The effect this had on the young and bored Elias was to turn him into a complete rebel as he sought his pleasure by creating as much mischief around the school as he possibly could.
In the corner of Nick's bedroom there was a small walk in cupboard with shelves which was used by Mrs Phelps as a storage place for towels, shirts, underwear, T-Shirts and pullovers, but the young Nicholas had cleared all those out long go and it was now his secret den which held many of his special 'props' as he called them.
He opened the door and studied his possessions.
He knew what he needed and after a few moments his eyes settled on just the thing.
It was a smallish brown box with a bright red leather top and most important of all, it had a strong padlock, and a gold key!
He then sat at his desk and wrote a long letter, the letter read;
This is your Aunt Jane.
As I am growing older, I have been thinking for some time, that I ought to give my diamond necklace to you since you have shown me that you are a very good boy who lives his life in the very best of ways. You have ceaselessly furnished me with the utmost respect and from all my nieces and nephews you have constantly stood out. Although it is a family heirloom, please feel free do what you will with the necklace.
Keep it or sell it, for once it is in your possession, then it is yours to do with as you wish.
It was originally given to me, in this leather strong box, by your dear Uncle Henry when we were first married 40 years ago and I believe at that time, it cost him £1000.
Heaven only knows what it must be worth now.
I strongly suggest that while the necklace is in your possession that you have it valued, then insured and also keep it safely locked up in the box.
With lasting love to you dear boy, may you always keep your life on the straight and narrow.
Monday morning arrived and the young Nicholas arrived at school an hour earlier than the rest of the pupils.
He went straight to the Headmaster's study, since he knew that Mr Nutcrab was always in his study from 8am to prepare for the day.
He gently knocked on the door.
"Enter!'' resounded a mildly curious voice.
Nick entered the study and gently closed the door behind him.
In his right hand he clutched a red leather box, and under his left arm was lodged a rolled up wall chart scroll.
"Young Phelps, what can I do for you at this hour?" asked the surprised Headmaster, staring with keen interest at the items about the person of his young student.
Nick then opened the leather box and removed his mother's paste necklace, which although not worth very much money, she wore on special occasions.
At a quick glance it certainly had a genuine look about it.
He replaced the necklace in the box then carefully outlined his plan to the Head who sat listening, licking a smile of admiration on his lips.
Some ten minutes later, both young man and tutor left the study bound for the Science laboratory.
Once they attended to their mission, then the boy headed for his classroom.
As the bell rang for the school day to start Nick was already seated in his desk, two from the back of the classroom.
Within a few minutes the room filled with the rest of the boys. Jamie Ambler, his best friend and with whom he shared a desk, dashed in, yelling,
"Wow, what a weekend I had Nicky my lad, football on Saturday, up at the common, Rugby on Sunday at sis Vanessa's boyfriend's gasworks ground, absolutely wizard. How about you, you old snooper?"
Nick contemplated that he couldn't imagine anything less enjoyable.
But he did like Jamie, he was always happy and smiling and full of fun.
Then Elias and Tom Mabbot both arrived at one and the same time.
"So how was your weekend Crafty?" asked Tom in an almost vacant voice.
"Oh full of the usual boring stuff Mabbo, loads of Daddy's friends scrounging off him
over the whole weekend. Shooting his birds and eating his food and talking muck"
With this reply, Tom Mabbot lost interest.
Finally almost unnoticed, Willy Small sidled into the classroom and slid into his seat just behind Nick and Jamie.
Because of his gossip habit, bar his association with the less desirable elements of the school, he had become a very unpopular boy and no one trusted him enough to talk to him about anything.
Nick was very relieved to see him however, as Willy Small was crucial to his plan to catch the thief.
On a Monday, it was usually about five minutes before their form teacher, Mr. Spry arrived, which allowed the boys time to let off steam and chat full tilt about their weekend activities.
Jamie once again urged Nick and innocently repeated, "So how was your weekend then Nick old lad?"
This time Nick huddled closer to Jamie and began whispering, but keeping his voice at a level which could not be overheard by an unwanted listener.
This not only made Willy Small curious but it also filled him with sheer desperation that he might be missing some very valuable 'gossip' information.
Nick told Jamie that he had unexpectedly received a letter from an old aunt and after some more stage whispering, produced it from his pocket and handed it to his pal. Jamie read the letter and couldn't resist letting out a whoop of delight.
"Crickey Nicky boy, you're gonna be rich!" he stifled a yell.
'Keep your voice down Jamie!' replied serious play acting Nick Phelps.
A few of the boys turned their heads but the largest reaction came from Willy Small, who by now had thrown caution to the wind and was almost sitting in the two boys laps, so far forward was his head, trying to overhear them.
At last Mr. Spry entered the room and the class springing to their feet stood as one and greeted him with a chorus of, "Good morning Mr. Spry.'"
Nick simultaneously stood and clumsily shoved the letter in his desk making quite
certain that Willy Small would see him put it there.
Mr. Spry, who unfortunately possessed a slightly nervous twitch, was also their
Maths teacher and he proceeded to stutter his way through the first lesson of
After Maths, and while they waited for Mrs. Talbot, the English teacher, to arrive,
Jamie commenced asking Nick about the necklace and what it was like and how many jewels it had and what it was worth and naturally Willy Small was bursting with blood pressure to hear every word, to the point that his face was a bright purple colour and he was obviously flushed with over excitement.
This time Nick explained that for protection and security, since his parents didn't have a safe at home, he had brought the necklace to school and given it to Mr. Nutcrab to look after until he decided what to do with it.
He also carefully explained that the necklace was in a red leather box which was padlocked, with a gold key, which was safely tucked away in a drawer in Mr. Nutcrab's desk.
Mrs. Talbot arrived and the English lesson began.
One boy however, did not hear one word of the English lesson.
His mind was so full of necklaces, leather boxes and gold keys, that Willy Small was totally consumed with the secret information which he had overheard.
He was also champing at the bit to relay that information to as many people as he could, as soon as he possibly could.
As the bell rang for break, Nicholas jumped up and ran out of the class muttering to Jamie, that his mother was coming to the school gates for a quick chat with him and she only had a few minutes to spare.
As he left the class room he stopped and glanced back.
He saw Jamie walk over to speak to Mrs. Talbot, who was stuffing books into her bag. He also saw Willy Small quietly and furtively open his desk and read a certain letter from his Aunt Jane.
It appeared his plan was beginning to play out nicely.
Willy Small slammed the desk shut and yelled,
"Mabbo, Crafty come with me, I've got some news for both of you."
Later that day, at the end of the school day, Silas Nutcrab entered his study.
He strode across his slightly worn carpet to his desk, slid open the top right hand
drawer, withdrew a gold key and silently approached the red leather box which he had placed on top of his bureau in the corner of the room.
He deftly placed the key in the padlock and turned it once to the left.
He opened the box and there before him was a white envelope, laying on its side.
On the top of the envelope in a shaded colourless ink, hardly noticeable to the naked eye, unless you actually knew it was there, was the letter 'N'.
To the left of the envelope was the letter 'E'.
To the right of the envelope the letter 'W' and finally at the bottom of the envelope the letter 'S'.
Across the centre of the envelope in bold sharp black ink were the words, 'Aunt Jane's Necklace'
He closed the box, locked it and replaced the key in the right top hand drawer of his desk. He then left his study and went to his living quarters for his tea.
Mr. Nutcrab performed this ritual every night after school and every night the letter was still there untouched.
On the Thursday night however as he fulfilled this ritual, his eyes widened in amazement.
For although the envelope was in the box, the letter 'N' was now upside down at the bottom and the other letters followed suit.
The box had been opened.
They had caught their thief, now all they had to do, was to identify him.
The school assembled on the Friday morning, the morning which was meant to be the last day of term.
Every seat in the hall was occupied.
A babble of unhappy voices ballooned around the grand hall.
Were they about to have a summer holiday or were they not?
Had anyone found the thief or thieves who had stolen the money from the from lockers?
Shouldn't the person responsible do the right thing and own up?
On and on the speculation droned around the hall.
One boy however, sat stock still and said nothing.
Although his friend Jamie was nattering nonstop, Nicholas Phelps Esq. heard nothing. He only wondered if his moment of triumph had arrived.
He hoped that it had.
He had no idea however, what his Headmaster was about to proclaim.
To the sound of loud hard hand claps which were echoing from the hands of Silas Nutcrab, the chaos in the hall came to an abrupt end and the silence was so deafening you could actually hear a piece of cotton wool drop.
"Boys of Netherby School.
As you know I issued an ultimatum seven days ago, an ultimatum which required the thief or thieves who stole monies to step forward and be accounted for."
The silence in the hall appeared to get even more ghostly.
"I woud like Nicholas Phelps to join me here on the podium."
With this demand the hall erupted into yet another volume of 'oohs and aahs' and 'blimey who'd have thought old Nick was the robber? and 'I always thought there was something odd about him' and from his closest friend, Jamie Ambler, no words at all but the largest eyes open and mouth agape you could ever have imagined..
Nick himself, was to say the least, very shocked and very surprised.
He had of course been speaking with the Headmaster on a daily basis, and after the
Head's discovery on the Thursday night they had devised a method to flush out the criminal at this final assembly.
However the Head had not told him precisely how he intended exposing the lawbreaker.
Silas Nutcrab decided to keep that piece of information back, as a surprise for the young student of detection.
As Nick made his way up the rostrum steps and then across the stage toward the lectern he felt a strange knot in the pit of his stomach.
He realised in a flash that this would be the first time he had ever seen an audience from the point of view of a stage.
He also wondered what little prank Mr. Nutcrab had in store for him.
As he reached the Principal, the older man stooped down and gently whispered something in his ear, then rising, he said.
"Netherby School, I give you Nicholas Phelps the boy who has single handedly discovered the Netherby School Thief."
Now the school went into pandemonium.
"Well done Nick I knew you weren't the thief" shouted a relieved Jamie.
"Our school class mate. We always trusted you" shouted the insincere Elias
With urging sounds of "Yeah Yeah Rah Rah" from Tom Mabbot, who secretly idolised Elias and was totally envious of Nick.
The Head raised his hand and the school went quiet again.
Nicholas now stood at the podium and despite him being tall for his age he still felt as if he were peering over it. He could also feel his two knobbly knees knocking.
The head gestured to Nicholas to speak.
"Please would you all stand and hold your hands out in front of you" squeezed out a shaky soft voice, so much so, that those at the back of the hall shouted, "Speak up we can't hear you"
This time he took a deep breath and filling his lungs, in a strong tone he shouted, "Please would you all stand and hold your hands out in front of you!"
The sounds of chair legs scraping and sliding back on the wooden floor was deafening as one by one the 163 pupils of Netherby Preparatory School for Boys, clambered to their feet and duly held out their hands as their school colleague had requested.
Silas Nutcrab gave Nicholas a signal and the young boy retraced his path back down the rostrum steps.
He then, slowly but carefully, made his way along the rows of boys, zig zagging from the front row to the second row to the third row etc., closely studying the hands of each pupil.
By the time he had inspected two thirds of the boys outstretched hands, he was beginning to get a little nervous.
He had already passed Tom Mabbot, Elias Davenport, Willy Small, and another one of their cronies Jason Young, and so far they were all as clean as a whistle.
On the Monday morning previous, when Nick had met with Silas Nutcrab and outlined his plan, they had both left for the Science laboratory.
Once there the Head teacher had located a tin of Sodium Nitrate Powder.
This powder when in touch with human skin caused an irritating sensation plus a bright silver stain which was impossible to remove and stayed on the skin for some time.
They had coated the envelope in the red leather box with the sodium nitrate and it was then a simple matter of investigating all the boys' hands once the envelope had been moved or even removed.
Master Willy Small had done his job well and his gossiping had obviously reached the ears of the thief and alerted him to the hidden necklace.
But where was this boy, wondered Nick as he rounded the final row of boys and made his way along the last line looking very carefully at the outstretched hands.
As he stared at the hands of the last boy, Oliver Brown, which was silver stain free, he walked slowly back along the rows of boys, his heart pumping and his head pounding, amidst a hubbub of noise, with the faint sounds of conversations hitting his ear drums and all to do with summer holidays.
As he arrived at the front again, with all the eyes of the school on him, he didn't know what made him do it but his intuition made him suddenly stare along the row of teaching staff on the stage.
His eyes scanned to the overweight geography teacher Mr Mortimer, who was puffing and blowing about his old 1944 Morgan race car to his companion sat to his left, Kate Ryder, classic history teacher, and the fact that he was growing too large to even get in the car.
She was looking dreadfully bored with the conversation.
Along the line went the beady eyes of Nicholas Phelps and then it all happened in a flash.
His eyes rested on the hands of Miss Valerie Dalrympole the school music teacher. Miss Dalrympole, a spinster, was one of the oldest teachers in the school and by far the longest serving.
She was about to retire after this term, this was indeed her swan song moment in the school.
In fact, unbeknown to her, Silas Nutcrab was about to present her with a beautiful memento, a miniature silver piano, as a token of goodwill for all her years at the school.
He had bought the gift with school funds from the Jewellers in the high street and with the full agreement of the School Parents Committee.
Undeterred however, Nick, like a tiger stalking its pray, his gut instinct pounding in his heart, once again made his way up the rostrum steps.
Silas Nutcrab observed his young charge approaching and good naturedly asked,
"Do we have our thief young Phelps?"
"I'm afraid we may well do sir." came back the reply as Nick aimed his step toward Miss Dalrympole.
The school had once again gone quiet.
It was as if they were all watching a melodrama being solved and played out before their eyes.
As Nicholas approached Miss Dalrympole, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him coming and turned slightly away to commence a conversation with Julia Florence the new young PT Mistress.
"Where do you think you are going Phelps?" barked Mr. Nutcrab.
Nothing could now keep Nicholas from his objective, he was on a mission.
He ignored the Head.
As he arrived directly in front of Miss Dalrympole he said in a very loud voice,
"'Miss Dalrympole would you mind removing your white gloves for a moment please"
"Remove my gloves" she shrieked, "whatever for?"
"This is going a bit far don't you think young Phelps" barked the Head.
"Well Sir, if Miss Dalrympole has nothing to hide then I assume she'll be prepared to remove her gloves for us"' he doggedly replied questioningly.
There were low whistlings and heavy breathing sounds coming from the students in the hall. They all knew that Nick was taking his life in his hands, accusing a teacher of theft was a serious offence.
If he proved to be wrong he might well get expelled.
In fact his day of triumph may well turn into his day of doomed failure and disaster.
Things were reaching a stalemate.
Miss Dalrympole insisted on absolutely not removing her gloves.
It just so happened that Nicholas had perfected the trick of whipping a tablecloth from under a loaded table of crockery.
His Uncle Pongo was a bit of an amateur magician and had taught Nick the trick when he was about seven years old.
Little did he know it would come to such use to him at a time like this.
After a few more polite requests, with the teaching staff all coming to Miss. Dalrympole's defence, and to which she flatly refused to remove her gloves.
Nicholas took the law into his own hands and stepped forward.
With the fleetest of actions he grabbed her right hand and ripped her glove off in a
moment, with such speed and such accuracy that no-one in the hall had any idea how he had managed to do it .
The action revealed a bright silver hand, gleaming and reflecting under the stage spotlights.
The proof was there for all to see, Nicholas had trapped his thief.
A massive thunder of 'ooohs and aaaahhs' resonated around the grand hall.
The thief had been well and truly caught.
Miss Dalrympole feinted on the spot and pandemonium broke out.
Whereupon, the fake paste Necklace which Nicholas had hidden in the red leather box, tumbled out of the pocket of the swooning Miss Dalrympole, on to the floor of the stage.
Being a small village, anything which occurred in Netherby didn't take very long for the word to spread around.
The following day Nicholas Phelps was chaired, shoulder high, through the village by ten of his school chums.
The roadside was packed with villager traders and residents, who had heard about young Nick's exploits and had turned out to cheer him.
Mr. and Mrs. Phelps were there, with a few of their close relations, both mother and father wore beaming smiles on their faces which shone like beacons in the night, to watch their son
Even watching him being tossed into the local horse trough on the village green.
The highest accolade ritual, only reserved for heroes, only seemed to fuel their pride in their special son.
Yes, it appeared that Nicholas Phelps was an absolute school hero.
Not only had Silas Nutcrab agreed to allow the boys take their customary summer
holiday but he also threw in an extra week for good measure.
It transpired that Miss Dalrympole had an aged mother who was very ill and knowing that her income would decrease, because of her retirement, she had suffered a mild nervous breakdown.
Thinking that no-one would suspect a poor old music teacher she had turned to stealing in an attempt to build up her cash reserves in case of any emergencies.
Not only had she stolen from the school lockers but she also later admitted, in private, to Silas Nutcrab, that she had stolen from local shops and stores.
The poor old lady of music had broken down in front of her Headmaster and confessed all.
In fact, after she had, she told him it had made her feel better and she was glad to have finally got it off her chest.
Instead of informing the authorities, Mr. Silas Nutcrab decided to deal with the problem internally and on his own doorstep.
He called in medical aid, in the shape of Doctor Worthington.
The good doctor immediately prescribed a calming medicine which he thought would control her state of mind and relax her more.
Silas Nutcrab privately approached all those from whom she had stolen and made sure they were repaid in full.
It seemed that he was a gentle man after all.
He also initiated a school collection, to help her in her time of need.
The last I heard, Nick Phelps received an unscheduled Sunday visit during the
summer holidays from Roger Stevens, better known around the village of Netherby as P.C. Rog, concerning some thefts by young rascals at the local Eatwell Supermarket.
The police officer had come to ask Nick if he could spare any time to offer his sleuthing services and talents in a bid to trap the culprits, since they were such a juvenile bunch.
Of course, Nick enthusiastically accepted the challenging invitation without any question.
On the first day of term, after the summer holidays, Nick arrived at his classroom.
He entered to find a huge white cotton notice, tied with taught string, and hanging from corner to corner across the ceiling of the room, on it the words;
'Welcome back to our favourite Junior Detective'
'HERO OF FORM 4'
With all his class mates cheering and slapping him on the back, Nicholas Phelps was a very happy Junior Detective indeed.
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