Who Took the Tip?

By Hy Conrad

It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and Jonah was on his skateboard, negotiating the curvy sidewalk along River Road. That’s when he almost hit the lemonade stand. He saw it just in time, swerving, then tumbling onto a brand-new lawn in front of a brand-new house.

“Are you okay?” asked Denny. Denny was Sally Smith’s eight-year-old brother. He was the one who’d set up his business right in the middle of the sidewalk.

Jonah brushed himself off. “You need to find a better spot to sell lemonade.”

“No way,” said Denny, not quite understanding what Jonah meant. “This is the best. See those guys moving furniture?” He pointed to two workmen who were pushing a final sofa up a ramp and into the house. “They bought nineteen glasses.”

“Wow.” Jonah was impressed and his irritation dissolved.

“Yeah, it’s great,” said Denny, but his smile dipped at the corners. “There’s just one problem.”

Then, as if on cue, the problem came riding up on his bike. It was Frankie Rooter. Frankie was a year older than Jonah, big for his age, and fast becoming a real bully.

“Give me another one,” Frankie growled at Denny.

“Hey.” Jonah stepped forward. “You want lemonade, Frankie? Pay for it.”

“No, that’s all right,” Denny said. He had already poured a glass and was handing it over. That’s when they heard the shouts coming from just inside the new house.

Through the open door, the boys could hear two men arguing at full volume. A second later, one of the men came to the door and saw them on the sidewalk. “You kids. Come in here now.” He spoke with such authority that not even Frankie hesitated.

Inside the front door was a spacious entryway, with three corridors branching off in different directions and a grand staircase going up. The man who had ordered them inside was the moving van driver. The other man was smaller, almost timid-looking. But right now he was angry. They were both angry.

The smaller man introduced himself. He’d just had the house built and was new to the neighborhood. “Were any of you boys in this house today?” he demanded. “Tell me the truth.”

All three boys denied it. “I came up to the door once,” Denny admitted. “To see if anyone wanted more lemonade. But I didn’t go inside.”

“I’m telling you,” the moving-van driver said, “some kid was in here. I heard him sneaking around. And then I caught a glimpse of him running out the patio door.”

“But you don’t know which kid it was…?”

The mover looked over all three and shook his head. “No. I didn’t really see him. But it was a kid. He’s the one who stole the money.”

“Stole money?” Jonah gasped. It was a terrible thing to happen to a new neighbor—and an even worse thing to be accused of.

“I left it on the kitchen counter,” the homeowner explained. “In an envelope. It was tip money for the driver and his men.”

“Well, I never saw it,” the driver said. “Either some kid took it, or you never left it in the first place.”

“Go ask your moving guys,” said Frankie. He was starting to squirm a little and make faces. “I’ll bet one of them took it.”

“No way,” said the driver. He was about to say something more, but Frankie’s squirming distracted him. “Why are you twitching, kid? What’s wrong?”

“I have to pee,” Frankie moaned. “Too much lemonade.”

Both men chuckled, then resumed their discussion. They continued to argue, with the owner refusing to leave another tip and the driver accusing him of trying to cheat them. And while all this happened, Frankie fidgeted.

“Sorry!” Frankie finally shouted and raced down one of the hallways. He opened the first door on the right and ducked into the downstairs bathroom.

As soon as Frankie was gone, Jonah got up enough courage to speak. “Excuse me,” he said to the owner, pulling his sleeve and taking him aside. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “You don’t know me, sir. But I’m a pretty good detective. And I know what happened to your money.”



The homeowner looked quizzically at the twelve-year-old. “What do you mean you’re a detective?*

“I mean my mom’s a police detective. You can ask anyone at the Fifth Precinct. I’m good at noticing things.”

The man grinned, not sure whether to believe him or not. “And what did you notice, young man?”

“I noticed that Frankie knew where your bathroom was.”

The homeowner’s grin faded into a frown. “You’re right.” There are three hallways and maybe a dozen doors,” Jonah said, pointing out all the possible options. “But he knew exactly where it was.”

“Which means he’s been in this house before.”

A few seconds later, Frankie emerged from the bathroom, looking calm and greatly relieved—until he saw the expression on Jonah’s face.