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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Mystery · #2293483
It takes skill, patience and hard work to solve a deep mystery. 2nd Place, Journey Genres
All Words: 1632

*Delight* Merit Badge in Journey Through Genres
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Congratulations on winning 2nd Place in the April 2023 round of  [Link To Item #journey] ! *Bigsmile*

Do not worry, do not howl
The Detectives are on the prowl!
Any mystery, any doubt
Call on us - we'll find it out!
We'll follow up on all the clues
Clues, you know, are our muse.
And any case is quickly solved
When the Detectives are involved!

Jim, Maryann, Nixie, Lornda and Robert were through their fourth rendition of this song (all of them now had the words right and everyone except Robert had even mastered the tune) when there was a loud knock at the playroom door.

"Shhhhh ..." warned Lornda.

"Who can it be?" whispered Maryann.

"They must've seen the sign, whoever they are," Jim stated, not bothering to whisper. Being the oldest of the lot, at 14, he considered himself above the fears of the pre-teens he had teamed up with. Life was tough. He hadn't wanted to include the kids in his detective agency, but all his friends had gone away for the holidays so he was stuck with his little sister Maryann's buddies to boss. A Chief Detective had to have someone to boss.

"Are you going to open up?" came a booming male voice.

"Daddy!" shrieked Maryann, running to the door. She flung it open to find her father there, carrying a tray of cookies and a jug of apple juice.

"I saw the sign. Detectives, eh? I want to hire you. This is payment in advance." He set the snack and drink down and the sleuths, who had no mystery about appetite and thirst, fell on them like a pack of puppies.

When they were fed and hydrated, Dad said, "There's a very important mystery I want you to solve for me."

"What's that?"

"I want to know what my wife would like as a birthday present. I've been married to her for sixteen years now but somehow feel I've never gotten this one right."

Jim's face fell. He had hoped for a thriller, with some climbing on roofs or flying from tree to tree involved. This, he thought, was boring. Just asking Mom what Dad should give her ...

"And DON'T try simply asking her," Dad was saying. "Women don't answer questions like that straight out. You'll have to use all your wiles to get the answer out of her without her realising ..."

Use their wiles. Jim's face brightened a bit. This case would be challenging after all. The Mystery of the Perfect Birthday Gift.

"We accept your case," he said solemnly, bowing to his father.

"Aye aye," said each of the others in turn, shaking hands with their new client. (He was discreet about wiping cookie crumbs off his fingers on a tissue later.)

As soon as Dad had exited the playroom with the empty tray and jug, the Detectives had their first business meeting.

"Since we can't ask her, can we write a note?" Robert asked.

"She would recognise our writing," Jim replied.

"Let's call, pretending to be doing a survey," said Nixie. "We could ask what she thought the perfect birthday gift is."

"We'd sound like kids," retorted Jim. He hadn't got any ideas himself yet and didn't want the others to beat him to it. So he was going to turn down every idea till he got one. It was fun, after all, bossing the little ones.

"Let's make fortune cookies," Maryann said. "We'll put PERFECT BIRTHDAY GIFT in Mom's cookie, and then ask her what her perfect gift would be."

Even Jim could find no reason to turn this one down. It really was a brilliant idea and gave them the fun of making cookies (aka a mess) as a bonus.

So that Mom wouldn't suspect anything, they went to Lornda's house to make the cookies. Lornda's grandma helped. She helped with creating and clean up. The fortune cookies all had 'Perfect Birthday Gift' inside, to avoid confusion.

After dinner that evening, Maryann and Jim ceremoniously carried a plate of fortune cookies to the dining table. With a 'ta-da', they placed it in front of their mother.

"You get to pick first," Jim said.

"Well, you know my policy with fortune cookies," Mom replied.

The kids raised their eyebrows at each other, and then at Dad. They did not know Mom's policy about fortune cookies. They weren't even aware she had such a policy. Dad grimaced back.

"I pick three. I see the fortunes inside and choose the one I like best," Mom went on.

"Er - but -" was all that Maryann could utter before her Mom had carefully extracted one, two, three ... fortunes out of their respective cookies.

Having read all three, Mom sat back in her chair and hooted with laughter. Wiping the tears of mirth from her cheeks, she turned to her husband and gasped, "Dear, did you put them up to this? My birthday is closest, and you're trying to figure out what to give me ..."

The Detectives blushed. They had failed in their very first task. What would they tell their colleagues at the next meeting? They hadn't done their research about fortune cookies, and now Mom knew the whole secret.

Mom, in the meantime, was wolfing down her three cookies. "Lornda's granny, I bet," she said, with her mouth full. "Only she gets them this good."

Yes, the cookies did taste very good. Once the plate was empty and four happy people with a sugar overdose were sitting around the table, Dad ventured to ask, "So what would you like ..." but Mom waved a hand.

"Try other ways of making me tell."

Maryann smiled. Jim's eyes lit up. The case was still on!

At the next meeting, Nixie suggested putting a bugging device under Mom's pillow in case she talked in her sleep and gave out what she wanted. Jim said Dad would hear then anyway, his pillow was next to Mom's. It was Robert who surprised them with the simplest suggestion. "Ask your Aunt Edna," he said. "Doesn't your Mom tell her everything?"

But Mom was a step ahead of them. A phone call to Aunt Edna brought forth the reply that she had been kept in the dark this year too, in case she ratted.

"If I were a Mom, what would I want for a gift?" Lornda asked aloud.

"A toad," Robert replied, having always hankered for one himself.

"A Mom, not a Robert," Lornda clarified. "I said, if I were a Mom."

"You'd want breakfast in bed," Nixie said. Her Mom had asked for that on Mother's Day.

The next day at breakfast, Jim brought the subject round to breakfast in bed, but Mom said she hated crumbs in her sheets and wouldn't like it at all.

Shoes. Handbags. Movie tickets. Dinner. A puppy. All were tested and ruled out.

The Detectives were now totally in sympathy with Dad. He had been trying to figure out the perfect gift for her for sixteen years! And here he was, still trying. Even when it was obvious how much Mom enjoyed it each time the Detectives thought up a new scheme and she caught it out before she revealed her response.

Dad was attending every meeting with them now. He helped them make (and clean up after) snacks and drinks. He took breaks with them, playing baseball or flying kites. One day, to find out if Mom would like a home-made gift, Dad and the Detectives made a wooden mobile-phone stand for her. It had all the features she said a mobile stand should have. She got home from work early that day and saw it before they could hide it away. While she appreciated it very much and took it as an early present, she said it wasn't the 'perfect' one.

"I'm happy with it, you don't need to try any more, it's lovely," she told them. "I'll use it now, return it to you on the day before my birthday, and you can wrap it and give it to me again."

But now, Dad and the Detectives were determined. They HAD to find out what her perfect gift was. Every moment they weren't at swimming class or work, they were together, plotting or putting the newest plan in action.

Nothing worked.

It was a dejected bunch that went to sleep the night before Mom's birthday.

At the party at Aunt Edna's house, among all the beaming faces, the faces of Dad and the Detectives stood out for their gloominess. They stuck together in a bunch, trying to be as polite as possible and not succeeding. Everyone soon knew what the matter was, and, to add insult to injury, everyone was amused.

It was time for the CAKE.

Everyone gathered around the table. Aunt Edna invited Mom to speak.

Mom thanked everyone, one by one, and finally said:

"And to my dear husband, and to Jim, Maryann, Robert, Nixie and Lornda ... a very special THANK YOU for giving me the perfect birthday gift."

"But we didn't," Dad muttered. "You've made us the laughing stock of this party because we couldn't figure out what the perfect gift was."

"But you have," Mom insisted. "You've given me the best gift I could ever have."

Dad and the Detectives gazed at Mom. The guests looked at her expectantly.

"Ever since Jim was three years old," Mom said, "I wished you'd spend more time with him. And then with Maryann, and then with their friends. I really wanted you to spend time with them. And you've spent every spare moment with them these last few weeks. I've been so happy!"

"So that's why you always looked smug these days!" Jim cried out.

"Yes, dear, not because you were failing, but for how well you were succeeding!"

There was a chorus of 'Happy Birthday', a burst of confetti and a lot of cake. A well-solved mystery deserves a celebration.

"Journey Through Genres - April 2023 Winners
Second Place - "Detectives"
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