It was late summer and the last hot sun of the season had the neighborhood bustling with activity.
Inspector Winston, a Dachshund with a talent for solving mysteries, was lying comfortably on a warm wooden bench near the garden wall. From here, he had a perfect view of both the house and the street so he could pick up a few exciting bits of conversation from the passers-by while making sure he didn’t miss any activity in the kitchen. His family was planning a barbecue for that night.
“The last barbecue of the season!” said his dad sadly. All Winston could think about was the chance that a piece of sausage might accidentally fall to the ground for him to clean up.
Winston’s parents were busy in the kitchen preparing salads and appetizers. Just as they were discussing various sauces, Winston heard a loud scream from his neighbor’s garden.
He gallantly hopped off the garden bench onto the soft lawn to see if he could help. He crept up to the hedge and heard his neighbor, Mrs. Robertson, saying, “I don’t believe it! How can anyone be so clumsy? My beautiful flowers!”
Winston couldn’t see much through this section of the hedge. But there was a spot a little farther back where the hedge trimmer must have slipped and where the leaves were not as dense. Winston peered through to the neighbor’s yard.
Mrs. Robertson was standing in the middle of the garden gesticulating wildly as she spoke to someone on her phone. At that moment, the school bus pulled up and several laughing children got off, keeping Winston from understanding exactly what she was saying to the person on the other end of the line.
A few seconds later, she hung up again and went inside the house through the patio door.
“What a commotion!” thought Winston. “This sounds like a new case for me to solve; and of all things, I missed the beginning!”
Completely lost in his thoughts, Inspector Winston pondered various theories, wondering who could have gotten his neighbor so upset. He didn’t even notice when guests started to gather in his family’s garden.
It wasn’t until someone leaned down to greet him by patting him on the head that he realized the barbecue had started. He resolved to pick the case back up the next day.
The next morning, Winston and his mom walked to the newsstand as they do every day. A group of children crowded around the ice cream counter while their parents talked about upcoming vacation plans.
That’s when Winston spotted Mrs. Robertson taking the daily paper off the shelf and heading for the checkout. He looked up at his mom, who was preparing to buy a magazine. A few seconds later, the two women struck up a conversation in front of the checkout counter.
Mrs. Robertson explained that the beautiful blooms on all her flowers had all been cut off in her garden. She suspected it had been the new gardener she had hired. She was getting too old to do it all herself.
All the buds on her wonderful perennial roses had been snapped off and the dahlias and cornflowers were bare.
“I put so much work into my garden and just like that, it’s all gone. Why would he do that? He’s a real flower thief!”
People walking by slowed down to hear more about this so-called flower thief. Some whispered to one another.
Inspector Winston knew what to do. “I’m going to look into this gardener,” he thought.
When they arrived back home, Winston made his way to the hedge that separated the two properties. There was a small hole he thought he might be able to squeeze through, but he’d never tried it before.
“Well, if Mrs. Robertson’s well-fed cat can get through that hole, surely I’ll be able to!” thought Winston mischievously. And indeed he did. He pushed his way through the hedge and was on the other side in no time.
The neighbor’s garden was laid out quite differently from his own. It was also much neater. The flowers and plants were arranged by size—it was a work of art!
But something was off. Suddenly, Winston could see how the rose bushes and beautifully grown perennial plants were all missing their flowers.
He really understood his neighbor’s frustration now.
“These plants have been robbed of their beauty!” he thought. “I’ll catch the flower thief in the act, I swear it!” Winston turned back to the hedge, slipped through the small hole, and waited for his opportunity the next day.
Early in the morning, he was woken up by a loud noise. Curious, he jumped onto the window sill and poked his nose against the kitchen window. From this angle, he could make out Mrs. Robertson’s gardener using electric shears to cut the green plants.
“Aha! Caught in the act. And apparently he doesn’t even think it necessary to steal the flowers inconspicuously,” Winston thought.
“I’ve got the thief, I’ve got the thief!” he yelled. Inspector Winston barked so loudly that his dad fumbled down the stairs in his robe to see what was going on.
“What is it, Winston?” he said. “First that deafening noise out there, and now you’re barking enough to wake the whole neighborhood.”
He went to the window as well and a few seconds later out the door. From there he could see the gardener, who was tending to the hedge.
But unlike Winston, he watched the gardener appreciatively. “Finally! Someone is taking care of this hedge. It’s nearly as tall as the house.”
Satisfied, Winston’s dad came back into the kitchen and told his wife, who was now standing at the kitchen window, about the new gardener.
“I think we should hire him for our yard too. He could take a look at the bushes in front of the house!” he said.
Winston was disappointed.
“It doesn’t seem to be the gardener after all. But then, who is the flower thief?” he wondered.
For the rest of the day, Inspector Winston listened carefully. He tried to catch details from conversations on the street and casually listen to Mrs. Robertson’s telephone calls. He also questioned some neighborhood animals.
While he would usually prefer not to engage a cat in conversation, in this case, it had to be done. Unfortunately, Mrs. Robertson’s cat claimed not to know anything about the missing flowers.
Winston talked to a budgie that was usually on the wooden walkway by the window across the street who didn’t have any answers. Next, he would talk to the squirrel who, for several days, had been jumping from one tree to the next in the neighborhood to collect food for the winter.
“Hey you!” shouted Winston towards the squirrel who was high up in the tree. “Did you happen to see who stole the blossoms from Mrs. Robertson’s flower bed?”
The squirrel shook his head and assured Winston that he had not seen a flower thief during the day. He wasn’t around at night though.
“I see!” said Winston. “So no thief was sighted during the day but it seems the garden is unattended at night.”
Winston had thought that cats were fond of roaming around in the dark, but Mrs. Robertson’s cat said she hadn’t seen anything. Winston wondered if she was telling the whole truth.
He decided to keep an eye on the garden himself that night so he took a nap in the afternoon. Unfortunately, he didn’t wake up until everyone else was asleep.
There was a rustling sound outside. He remembered the flower thief and snapped to attention.
He carefully opened the door and crept out of the house and over to the hedge. Someone was in Mrs. Robertson’s garden! It sounded like they were eating.
He carefully stuck his snout through the narrow hole in the hedge and couldn’t believe what he saw. It wasn’t a thief stealing the flowers from Mrs. Robertson after all. It was a deer foraging for dinner.
“What on earth are you doing?” said Winston, barking louder than he intended. This startled the deer so much that he trampled several more flowers flat in fright.
“Hey! Watch out!” Winston continued. “You’ve ruined the whole flower bed! My neighbor has been beside herself for days because her beloved garden has been destroyed!”
The deer looked sad. “I didn’t mean to ruin the flower bed! You startled me. I didn’t know anyone had gone to that much trouble with these flowers either…”
The deer lowered his eyes. Winston didn’t think he seemed like a thief at all.
“Where did you come from? I’ve never seen you here before,” said Winston.
The deer explained that he lived in the forest but that a few days ago a fence had gone up for a construction site. There were excavators and big, noisy vehicles working all the time. Frightened, he had run away and gotten lost in the city. He was having trouble finding food.
Just then, the squirrel came down from the tree and said, “I know the fence you mean. If you want, I can show you a way to get back to the forest safely. Then you can stop stealing people’s flowers. Plus, it’s too dangerous for a deer in the city!”
Winston agreed with the squirrel and the deer seemed relieved. Winston waved to the deer and watched him walk away with the squirrel.
He looked at his neighbor’s flowers and thought, “Good thing flowers grow back and thieves aren’t always thieves!”