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For the first six days of my life, I didn’t have a name. I was the fifth and last kid born in my family. After Billy, Hillary, Nick, and Daniel, my parents couldn’t decide on a name for little old me. For six days, I was known as “the baby.”
I say this because my mom found a box of old baby pictures today while I was doing a jigsaw puzzle. She got all misty-eyed and blubbery, saying things like, “Goo-goo, ga-ga,” and calling me baby names. That is, after she finished yelling at my dog, Rags.
Mom says Rags is a shoe thief. But Ragsy just lies there, sprawled on the carpet. He can’t figure out what the fuss is about. I think it’s kind of funny. But Mom is missing three different shoes and she doesn’t think it’s funny at all.
So anyway, for six days my parents called me “the baby.” They figured the right name would pop into their heads. By day four, the names that had popped into my dad’s head were Carlos, Lars, Ferdinand, and Slippy.
(I think he was.)
Mom said, “No, No, NO!” and “Slippy?! Are you trying to make me crazy?!”
On day six, she said that I was as cute as a teddy bear.
“Sure,” my dad agreed. “A bald, pink, wrinkled teddy bear.”
So they named me Teddy, even though my official name is Theodore Andrew Jones. No one ever called me Teddy, though. And that’s a good thing—since Teddy isn’t a great name for a detective. A boy detective should be named Nick or Sam or Derek or Roscoe. You know, a cool, tough-sounding name.
Anyway, now I’m in second grade. And these days everybody calls me Jigsaw, except for my brothers, who usually call me Worm and Shorty.
I got the nickname because I love jigsaw puzzles. But the one thing I like more than doing jigsaw puzzles is solving mysteries. See, I’m a detective. And I’ve got the decoder ring to prove it.
I have a partner, too. Her name is Mila (sounds like “my-la”). We’ve found missing hamsters, stolen bicycles, and disappearing dinosaurs. We’ve had cases with spooky ghosts, marshmallow monsters, and walking scarecrows.
It’s how we earn our living.
“For a dollar a day, we make problems go away.”
It beats selling Kool-Aid for a living.
“You really did look like a teddy bear,” Mom gushed. She held up my baby photo. “Don’t you agree?”
Thanks to Rags, I didn’t have to answer. Rags is like a walking doorbell with fur and a wet tongue.
I figured Mila was at the door. There was a big case brewing and we needed to talk. Bobby Solofsky had called that afternoon. He said he wanted to hire us and he was coming over to explain.
It would take a lot of explaining.
Bobby Solofsky has been a stone in my shoe since kindergarten. He’s always bragging about how he’s a better detective than I am. So why, I wondered, would he want to hire us?
There was definitely something fishy here—and it wasn’t my tuna sandwich.
Grand Prize Gone!
I can always tell when Mila’s coming. Her singing enters the room two minutes before she does. Today she was singing “Where, Oh, Where Has My Little Dog Gone,” only she changed the words around.
“Why, oh, why did Solofsky call?
What, oh, what could he want?”
I was glad to see her. This Solofsky thing was bugging me. We needed to talk before he showed up.
Before Mila could say anything, I put my finger to my nose. That was our secret signal. Billy (my favorite brother) was sprawled on a living room chair, talking to his new girlfriend. Get this—her name is Rain. Not Snow, not Sleet, but Rain. She sounded like a drip to me.
We went to my tree house for privacy.
“Spill it,” Mila said. “Why does Solofsky want to hire us?”
“No idea,” I answered. “But I do know this. Bobby Solofsky can’t be trusted. I don’t want anything to do with this case.”
Mila frowned, pulling on her long black hair. “This is business,” she said. “It’s not personal. We should hear what he’s got to say.”
I guessed she was right.
Suddenly, Rags started barking. Solofsky was here. I downed a glass of grape juice and wiped my mouth.
Bobby Solofsky climbed the tree house ladder. His face was a scowl. I waited for him to speak. But he just sat there. The minutes crawled by like lazy cockroaches.
“So?” I said.
“So?” he replied.
Mila started to hum. She couldn’t help herself. “A needle pulling thread,” she sang.
I ignored her.
“Time is money, Solofsky,” I said. “What’s up?”
He grunted and shrugged. Then he ran his tongue across the front of his teeth and made a gross sucking sound. I’ve known camels with better manners.
“First off,” Solofsky began, “I’d solve this case myself, but I’m not allowed at the scene of the crime.”
I scratched the back of my neck and listened.
“Start from the beginning,” Mila urged. “Tell us everything you remember.”
I opened my detective journal.
“I have to clear my good name,” Solofsky said angrily. “That guy in the store blamed me for no reason. I put the medal back exactly where I found it!”
“Slow down,” I told Solofsky. “What guy? What store? What medal?”
I poured him a glass of grape juice. That seemed to calm him down. “Here’s the deal,” Solofsky said. “One, I was in that new pet store last Saturday. Two, the grand prize for their animal talent show was on the counter. I picked it up. Then I put it right back down. Now the owner says I stole it.”
“What did he say, exactly?” I prodded.
Solofsky groaned. “He said, ‘You should return the medal before your aura turns black.’”
“Your aura?” I repeated.
“The guy is a little weird,” Bobby answered. He wagged a finger in a circular motion beside his ear. “He’s bonkers. He’s a Froot Loop, I tell ya. And I’ve been framed!”
I frowned at Bobby’s description. His words left a bad taste in my mouth.
“Tell us more about this pet shop,” Mila said.
“It’s crazy,” Solofsky scoffed. “There’s this really loud-talking parrot. And animals run around free. Like, um, there’s a cat and a ferret.”
I glanced down at my notes. “Let me get this straight, Solofsky. You’re not allowed in the store because the owner thinks you stole some kind of medal. Is that right?”
“And you want to hire us to help clear your name?”
“That’s right,” Solofsky said.
“When is the contest?” Mila asked. “And is this medal the grand prize?”
“I was getting to that,” Solofsky snorted. “It’s an animal talent show. The contest is this Saturday. The winner gets this cool gold medal. I figure it’s worth a few bucks, for sure,” he added.
I looked Solofsky in the eye. “I’ve got to ask,” I said. “Did you take it?”
“No way,” he blurted.
“One more thing,” I said. “Why do you care if you’re not allowed in the store? You don’t even have a pet.”
Bobby tapped his foot. His eyes narrowed. “There is this little white puppy,” he confessed. “She’s kind of cute and I like to visit her. You know, play with her and stuff.”
I’ll admit it. That surprised me. I never figured Solofsky for the cute puppy type.
A scream came from my house. It was my mom again. “Rags!” she hollered.
Another shoe was missing.
I locked eyes with Mila. Then I pushed a glass jar toward Solofsky. “We’ll look into it for you,” I promised. “Three dollars ought to be enough to get us started.”
“Three dollars?!” Solofsky protested.
I shrugged. “That’s the price, pal. Hire us, or don’t hire us. It makes no difference to me.”
Solofsky grumbled, muttered, and moaned. Then he shoved three crumpled dollars in the jar.
Copyright © 2003 by James Preller