Fanny Solves One

By Hy Conrad

On a Sunday spring afternoon, for the first time in months, Amy and her mother sat out on their back patio, sipping iced tea and gazing into the garden, a hidden gem guarded on all sides by a few dozen similar brownstones.

It was one of the few communal gardens left in New York, carved out of the center of their block, with access available only through the houses.  On this particular afternoon, it was nearly empty, just them and two kids from the Grove Street side.  Tommy O’Malley awkwardly rode his skateboard along the meandering paths, crossing in front of them every few minutes.  Meanwhile, Megan Graeter played by herself, sometimes vanishing behind a rock, sometimes racing among the trees and bushes.

“She’s playing hide-and-seek with her imaginary friend,” Amy explained.  She had played the same game in the same garden over twenty years before.  “It’s more challenging than it looks.”

Fanny was just refilling their iced teas when Mrs. Pelegrino came marching around the fountain and straight up to their cast-iron table.  “Did you see anyone go into my kitchen?  One of the children?”

Mrs. Pelegrino’s brownstone stood directly opposite but was hidden from view by a low-hanging pine.  “One of those brats stole my gold earrings.”  And without a word of invitation, she sat down.  “When I got home from church, I left them on a handkerchief on the counter.  When I came back from the powder room, they were gone.  My back door was open.  This used to be such a safe garden.”

“You think it was one of the children?” asked Amy.

That was the logical conclusion.  The only people who had access to the earrings were Tommy and Megan.  True, Amy and Fanny also had access, but they were trusted neighbors – and not very fond of Mrs. Pelegrino’s taste.

“Tommy O’Malley,” Fanny shouted.  “Megan Graeter.  This is Mrs. Abel.  I want the two of you over here.  This instant.”

It took perhaps two minutes.  Then they sauntered into view: Tommy with his skateboard; Megan walking hand in hand with thin air.  “Megan,” Fanny said, “leave your friend.  This is just you and Tommy.”

Mrs. Pelegrino smiled.  “Thank you, dear.  I know your daughter is very clever about crime.  I’ve seen her name in the paper.”

Amy heard this and felt a twinge of jealousy.  Not her own.  She felt it coming from her mother; it was that strong.  “We’ll see who’s clever,” Fanny said then stood to formally greet the suspects.

Tommy had put on his best manners, stepping up and shaking Fanny’s hand.  “Ma’am,” he said.  “What can I do for you?”

Megan wasn’t as polite.  She stood a little distant, glancing back at her invisible friend standing – or sitting perhaps – by the base of the pine tree.  “What’s the matter?”

“The matter,” said Fanny, “is that one of you took something from Mrs. Pelegrino.”  Fanny went on to explain that stealing was wrong.  But if the culprit gave the earrings back, then parents would not be notified.

The children denied the accusation.  Megan even volunteered to be searched and Mrs. Pelegrino took her up on it.  The elderly woman frisked them both with the expertise of a cop but came up with nothing.

“Not surprising,” Amy said.  “When you called them, there was that tone in your voice…”

“What tone?” Fanny asked, using that tone.

“The ‘you’re in trouble’ tone.  Whoever took the earrings must have stashed them.  There are dozens of places.  I remember being their age…”  She paused.  Then her mouth curled up at the corners.

It didn’t take Amy long.  She went straight for the pine, disappeared around the trunk and emerged a few seconds later, holding a lace handkerchief.  “There’s a hole in the trunk,” she said, “the perfect height for a kid.  It was stuffed down inside.”

The handkerchief was sticky with spring sap.  But Amy placed it on the table and gently opened it.  There they were, a pair of round gold earrings.  Tommy and Megan turned to each other, eyes locked, ready and willing to deny everything.

“Don’t even start,” Fanny told them.  “I know who it was.”

“You do?”  Mrs. Pelegrino was impressed.  “I guess this is where Amy got her detective skills.”

“You do?” Amy chimed in.  “Really?”

“Really,” Fanny said.  Amy could see she was serious.

And that presented a puzzle.  Her mother wasn’t any smarter than she.  She wasn’t more clear-headed or perceptive.  Yet, somehow, she knew something Amy didn’t.  She knew which child had sneaked into Mrs. Pelegrino’s kitchen, stolen the earrings and stuffed them inside the tree.

“Oh, wait,” Amy said, hitting her head with her palm.  “Duh!  I know, too.”

“You’re just saying that,” Fanny shot back.  “You couldn’t possibly.”

But Amy did.  And she proceeded to sit down and explain.




“So…”  Fanny’s voice was light and casual, a sure danger sign.  “Who took the earrings, dear?”

“That’s not the question,” Amy countered.  “The question is…  What extra piece of evidence do you have that I don’t?”

“Maybe there’s no extra evidence.  Maybe I’m just smarter.”

“Not possible,” Amy said flatly.  “And then I remembered.  The only thing you did that I didn’t do was shake hands with Tommy.”  She turned to the eight-year-old.  “Tommy, let me see your hands.”

Tommy reluctantly stepped forward and held them out.  Even without touching them, Amy could see the residue of pine sap on his palms and fingertips.  “You’re not going to tell my Mom, are you?  You promised.”

“We promised as part of a plea bargain offer,” Fanny said, channeling one of a hundred TV lawyers.  “In exchange for a confession.  But you didn’t give us a confession, did you?”

“Ah, come on.”

“You come on, young man.  We’re going straight to your mother.”