The Commercial Break Break-In

An inch of snow fell that evening, turning to a crusty sleet that hardened and made everything beautiful and treacherous. When the skies cleared, Sherman went for a stroll.

“What ho, Trent! A quiet night, eh?” Sherman waved to the uniformed guard hired to patrol the neighborhood.

“A little too quiet.” Tom Trent was naturally suspicious and pessimistic, good traits for a neighborhood security guard. At the moment, he was scanning his flashlight beam across the suburban landscape. “Uh-oh.” His light stopped on the side of the Warner family’s home.

Sherman saw what he meant. The ladder that Bill Warner had used last fall to paint the house was now propped up against it, leading up to a second-story window. The flashlight beam scanned the rest of the house. Lights were on downstairs but not upstairs. The family had undoubtedly come home before the snowfall, since there were no footprints going up the walkway. But there were other footprints, a single set leading to the dry space under the eaves where the ladder was usually stored. The same prints led to where the ladder now stood, then retreated back to the sidewalk.

Trent checked out the ladder, stepping on the first rung and causing the wooden feet to crunch into the hardened snow. Without a word, the guard crossed to the front door, drew his revolver, and knocked. Sherman followed.

Amelia Warner answered the door. “Tom. Sherman. What’s wrong?”

“Possible break-in,” Trent replied, then asked a few questions. Amelia, Bill, and Frank, a visiting friend, had been home for about three hours. For the past hour, no one had gone upstairs. And no one had propped the ladder up against the house.

“Stay here,” Trent ordered everyone. Then he tiptoed up the stairs and vanished around a corner. Two minutes later, he called out. “It’s all clear. Come on up.”

When Sherman, the Warners, and their houseguest entered the master bedroom, they found the remains of a robbery. Drawers lay open; closets were in shambles. Bill and Amelia raced to check their valuables. Bill’s wallet was gone. So were the rings and earrings from Amelia’s jewelry box.

No one, it seems, had heard anything. “We were watching TV” Bill Warner said. “I went down to the basement during a commercial. I was looking for an old school yearbook to show Frank. I couldn’t find it.”

“I went to the kitchen for snacks and drinks,” Amelia reported. “I think I went twice, during two commercial breaks.”

“And I used the bathroom,” said Frank. “Someone must have noticed the lights off upstairs and seen the ladder and just taken the opportunity. It wouldn’t take long to grab the valuables. People always neglect to lock upstairs windows.”

Amelia turned to Sherman. “You’re always bragging about your great-great-grandfather. Why don’t you put that genetic brilliance to a little use?”

WHO BURGLED THE BEDROOM?

HOW DID SHERMAN SOLVE THE CASE?

“You don’t have to get snippy,” Sherman said. His feelings were hurt, but not enough to keep him from showing off. “First off, this was an inside job. When Trent stepped on the ladder, it crunched through the snow, proving that it had never supported any weight.”

Amelia Warner gasped. “You’re saying it was one of us? Let me tell you, Mr. Sherman Holmes…”

Sherman scurried behind Trent, as if looking for protection. And then, in a split second, he pulled the revolver from the guard’s holster.

Sherman trained the gun on the startled guard. “It couldn’t have been someone from inside the house because there were no snowy footprints leading to the door. So whoever put up the ladder didn’t come out of the house or go back into it. If you’ll check Mr. Trent’s coat pockets, I believe you’ll find the jewelry and cash.”

“Me?” Trent bristled. “I’m the one who discovered the ladder.”

“After you planted it there. While we thought you were so bravely searching the upstairs rooms, you were actually robbing them.”