Croonford Detective Case 29: Drama Crisis



"No higher! The shelf must be higher!" Jenn called. She was preparing the school's drama room stage for her original play, titled The New Lady In Town which she hope to show case to the whole school. The other teen detectives were there except for Richard who was stuck in his school. Reinhard temporarily held Lin's hands now thankful for her helping him get cured from his high blood sugar levels. Temporarily, less he got caught by the drama teacher.  Chelle and Mark arrived later the former previously spending much time the last month with Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Robertson and Detective Sergeant (DS) Rainsbury to clear up issues regarding her Scottish adventure recently. The jealous twin, Edine, is being charged though it is likely she might end up in a mental institution. Elspeth had awarded Chelle with an Amazon voucher and free annual tickets to the Castle anytime this year.


"Lift her a little higher," Jenn ordered. Her referred Natalie Sang, the American exchange student who had extended her stay with the  school. Jenn found her a really talented actress and vocalist so she was placed as one of the lead characters in the drama. Nat was held up in almost hundred metres high on ropes and a leather harness ready to be lowered and lifted during the drama.


"Alright, Let's start! Act One," Jenn ordered. Everything went smoothly with Nat and the other characters conversing then the former began singing  a melodic tune.  As she reached the chorus, the ropes lifted her up then down a repetitive pattern, Just as Nat was raised again, one of the ropes snapped and she tumbled down on the wooden stage floor.


The drama team and Mark darted forward as Nat cried out loud. "I'm ok," she remarked just as she was helped up.


"Natalie, go see the school nurse." the drama teacher Mr Jason Hughes ordered. Nat initially refused but finally went. "Jennifer, Bethan and those involved in the props I want to see you all now."


Nearly an hour later, Jenn emerged from the drama room and the other teen detectives could see the pain in her  face. "The ropes easily snapped despite them being new and tested with weights that matched Nat's weight. Hughes quick examination showed that either someone intentionally cut or the ropes just couldn't hold Nat's weight. He's calling the drama senior leadership for more meetings to discover if it was accidental or deliberately done."


"I'm sure we also can investigate," Chelle turned back to the  drama room.


"Uh-nuh, Hughes says the drama room is now off-limits except to himself and the drama leadership group. We can still look into it ourselves of course." The five of them decided it would better to congregate in their headquarters later. As they dispersed, Reinhard caught up with his girlfriend. He took a short breath before asking a question he had rehearsed.


"Would you like to come to my place for dinner? Say Thursday at 7:30pm?"


Lin's reply was instant. "Sure, something special?"


"Mostly to thank you for helping me get rid of diabetes." He told her he  hadn't decided on the menu yet though it would be special. "Think we had enough meals out and at your place," he added and gave her his address.


"I'll be there!"




The teen detectives including Richard met up late that afternoon and Jenn immediately detailed the setting of the drama props. "The main head of props is George Allison. He either creates props from existing ones or acquire new ones. We've used a harness before though only for shifting smaller-sized actors and shifting objects. This harness was purchased from a shop specialising in drama props." She showed the others the address of the shop.


"We'll definitely check out," Chelle remarked.


"The shop only opens on even days  a week," Jenn further added.


"Um, we can't make it on Thursday, " Lin quickly said.


"You two celebrating your dating anniversary?" Chelle asked though didn't go further as she would sound like a hypocrite. "Fine, the rest of us will look into the store."


"What about George? Do you suspect him Jenn?" Mark wondered.


"He's good props guy. One year above us. Did try to run for drama president but withdrew."


"Any conflicts at school? Family?" This came from Richard.


"That I've no idea. He does want it to be done at club meetings and acts."


The detectives broke up with Chelle, Mark and Richard aiming to check the props store. Lin and Reinhard were tasked with looking into George Alliso. Both were anxiously looking forward to Thursday's dinner. For Reinhard, he was still unsure what to cook. A Caribbean and German meal was definitive since that his heritage. There were far too many dishes from both cuisines to choose from. He was so engrossed looking at the range of dishes and recipes online. Lin on the other hand was also wondering what he would cook as she was yearning for something German or from the Caribbean. Another issue was what she should wear. Scanning her closet, she quickly eliminated the too short and too skimpy. She finally decided on the dress he bought her.


"No, all props sold here a high-quality, tested regularly. We've sold not just to school clubs, private musical societies and even West End productions. This is the first incident for my store," the owner Mr. Ernest Harrison remarked.


"So what caused it to break?" Chelle asked.


" I already told the school teacher the answer; I haven't the faintest idea. I ve already asked the original manufacturer and they don't have any thing to add. Could be the clothing the actress wore adding to weight. You want to buy anything?"


"You really can't think of why its snapped?" Mark kept on topic.


"I've said what I know. If you want, get the police involved. I'm innocent."


The trio left and Chelle and her boyfriend looked at Richard. "I was silently listening and taking a mental picture of the shop's interior. You remember? I've got Photographic Memory."


"Anything odd there? The owner?" Chelle asked.


"It doesn't happen that fast.  Nothing wrong there although something in my mind is telling me there might be."


"Should we call to police?" Mark wondered.


"Involve them? Nah. Besides, Nikki might think this isn't a police issue," Chelle replied referring to their long-term police ally, DCI Nikki Heath.


Jenn and the drama leadership team sat in a semi circle. Mr Hughes immediately dismissed every other member and started first with Jenn. She naturally said she as head drama club fell on her though she delegated roles to the others in the leadership team and trusted all of her team. With regards to the props, she examined them often, check their quality way before they were used in any production along with George, the head of props. All props were locked in the props room and she and George ensured it was locked after use and she ensured the main doors to the drama room were locked after use. Bethan the deputy head provided a similar story, stating she worked with George to fit the harness on Natalie and they tested lifting her with success. One by one, the drama club members gave similar accounts: the room was always locked, props were always tested and high-quality ones were purchases and no one did not forget their responsibilities.


"So, it's still an open issue," Hughes informed them as they gathered together. "I'll still like another round of questions, " he immediately saw their faces and heard moans though continued, "looking at your activities the weeks before the preview."


Lin and Reinhard actually did minimal research on the props head George. Right on time, he heard his flat doorbell ring. Taking two deep breaths, he rushed and pressed the 'Enter' button on the intercom. Within seconds, his flat's old door creak open and he saw his girlfriend. Lin was in a black summer coat with the dress he got her and two-inch matching heels.


"Welcome to my small home," he greeted after kissing her on her lips, something he no longer was scared about. As he guided Lin inside, he apologised for the hordes of beer cans and bottles strewn all over the place. "My dad always brings his drinking buddies here any never cleans up. Don't worry, my bedroom is always cleaned up." She smiled another thing we have in common, she thought. Lin found herself in a cosy enclave which he said was the dining area cum kitchen. "I have for starters, rice and peas, the main is  Frankfurter W rstchen or simply Frankfurter along with white bread, mustard and horseradish. Finally, " he opened the small fridge, "Schwarzw lder Kirschtorte, Black Forest g teau!"


"Yummy!!!" she exclaimed. " Did you make them all yourself?"


Reinhard gave an embarrassed grin. "The Frankfurter W rstchen was a little difficult to cook and I admit the Black Forest cake was shop-bought; any recipe I found was too hard to bake."


'Don't worry; it's the thought that counts. Can we begin?"


The two science whizzes and lovers heartily finished the rice and peas.  As they turned to the Frankfurter W rstchen, they chatted what gadgets they could create for the detective gang, how they would improve the school science club they both lead and their school studies. As Lin reached for more mustard, Reinhard's hand also shot out and they held each out. This stayed for a few minutes until they both heard the door bang open, an exclamation and...


"Hi... dad, " Reinhard released his hold in Lin's hand. He was shocked to see his father who usually came home late on Thursdays.


"I saw some female high heels at the shoe rack and this smells good," Mr. Tomas boomed. "And who the hell are you?"


"Uh, hi day," Reinhard answered. "This is Lin Ling my schoolmate. I thought you were at work."


Lin rose and reached out her hand to shake Reinhard's father but he did not shake it.

"Who are you?" He stared particularly at her dress and notice the light makeup.


"Dad, she's a school mate and a co -president at the school science club," Reinhard quickly answered. Shit, this wasn't the plan.


His father stared at them again and the next second he repeated his question, shouting it.


"Dad, she' girlfriend."


"I want you out of my house!" Reinhard's dad shout.


"Mr. Tomas, I can..."this came from Lin but the parent demand was certain. Mr. Tomas allowed her to get a Tupperware full of the remaining meal and dessert before Lin got out.


On Friday afternoon,  the teen detectives met up to hear her meeting with Mr. Hughes. "It was just  so straight: I had no other activities on except some debate prep, finishing school work and some formal and informal drama meetings. No detective adventures right?" The rest nodded. "Hughes doesn't know that. Anyway, I told him truthfully what I did and so did the other members. Either one of them is lying or that it. None of us dared cut that harness."


"Any of you suspect? That George?" Chelle asked.


"No, none of use would dare harm any actor like that or spoil a play. George, I still don't think he's nasty."


"That could mean an outsider," Mark remarked.


"Well with all the care taken to secure the room and the pops of high quality, who do we suspect?"


"Well, to narrow the search, we could look at the CCTV,"  Lin stated and all eyes turned towards her.


"The school's CCTV?! Lin, you know only school staff are allowed to view that," Chelle stated.


"We have crossed the line before? The only answer they can give is 'no'."


The detectives headed to school. While they did so, Lin dropped backed and handed her boyfriend the Tupperware s from the failed dinner.


"I'm sorry my dad ruined our dinner, "Reinhard said. "You're not angry at me are you?"


"Not at all. What happened after I left?"


"He scolded me for inviting a girl into the flat; dad has hated woman after he left my mother. Scolded me for not telling me I have a girlfriend."


"He didn't ask you to break off our relationship did he?"


"No, thankfully."


"Why don't you come over to meet my folks. I'm sure with my parents it'll be a nicer time."


The school staff in charge  of CCTVs was the school caretaker Ted Wiggins. Initially, he rejected their request, until he noticed Jenn, who 'saved' the school during the hostage crisis. "I would lose my job if I let you view the screens. OK, only three of you lot." That rested on Jenn, Chelle and Richard who volunteered to watch. Jenn immediately asked for videos near the drama room area for the last two weeks. The three teen detectives scans the various screens but nothing unusual appeared.

"Can you extended to two more weeks?"


Wiggins complied though he said there were not many files. As he flipped through several videos, there was one showing a figure with face not shown in the screen. The person wear an all black top with bare arms. The figure was nearly a hundred metres away from the drama room door until the next second it turned and appeared to disappear from sight.


"That's it. Can we have a copy?" The answer was flat no though Wiggins allowed them to watch a still frame for a minute before asking them to leave less they and him be caught.


Out in the sunshine, they caught up with the others and all attention was on Richard. "I saw something on that person's shoulder before. It was a short drawing, could be a tattoo. Seen it at the  props shop."


All eyes widened.


"It was a cat symbol." Chelle, Lin Jenn murmured.


"It s the Cat!" Chelle exclaimed. "The fiend has returned."


"Who's the cat?" Reinhard and Richard asked simultaneously asked however, the girls kept chatting loudly until they settled down.


"The cat, or as call this figure, arose when Lin and myself went out one Halloween when we were twelve or so. She any her accomplice locked us in some coffin and luckily we found a hidden door leading to a house allowing us to escape."


"Yeah evil. Then after we stopped those school bullies, we three - me, Chelle and Jenn - received a text message from the Cat congratulating us on find lost girls. Next, we solved why students fell asleep in the examination hall, we three girls received a picture from the Cat photoshopping us and later...


"Oh don't remind me!" Chelle almost wailed. "She stripped me to my undies and restrained me to some rotten beam. Luckily, I was freed in time to catch Mark's rugby game."


"She and her accomplices bound and gagged me and Lin while Chelle grounded, " Jenn added. "Me also down to my underwear and my period started. It was so humiliating!" Jenn moved away and continued sobbing. Richard caught her and she composed herself fast.


"Ok, what's our game plan? We return to the store again right? Where exactly was the cat design?"


Richard was going to answer when Jenn received a text message. "I've got something else on; can we discuss this later?"


As the detectives split up, Reinhard caught up with Lin and asked about the Cat's messages and the box the person left.


"Oh, the messages I got DCI Heath's team to track and left the box with her. Now that you mentioned it, you want to join me to check what the police discovered?"


He nodded then slipped back to talk to Mark. "She's inviting me to meet her parents at her home!"


"Hey mate ,that great progress with your relationship. I've not yet met Chelle's folks."


"Really? But what do I? What should I bring?"


"Don't overdo it friend. Don't get extravagant gifts. Be yourself, be confident."


"No, we haven't found any evidence, Lin, " DCI Heath remarked. "Actually, our forensics team is filled with much evidence from many cases now. Would you two like take it and examine yourselves?"


Lin and Reinhard nodded and signed forms to retrieve the box left by the Cat. She check her phone and told him to come over on Saturday,


"That so close!"


"Well, my ma and pa are free then and Saturdays are usually nice meal. Is that fine? See you." Yikes, he thought.


Richard, Jenn and Chelle returned to the shop and pretended to shop. Richard spotted the cat design and within half a second he asked Mr Harrison what meant ask he looked at a fake flower pot.


"Oh that young man? That's a good luck sign. My young daughter loves cats. Right Emily?" A young girl replied, carrying a small cat waved.


Richard returned the wave and eventually the trio left.


"No, I don't think the owner is lying.," Richard remarked as Chelle updated the others. "Yes, the signs are there though that's not enough to accus them."


Jenn nodded then said she knows who to talk to.


On Saturday afternoon, after a long gym workout, Reinhard chose his best suit and donned ample deodorant then took a taxi to Lin's house.


"Good evening Mrs. Chan," he greeted the woman at the door. "I'm.."


"Reinhard. oh, that's so lovely!" She took the flowers and box of chocolates. "Please, call me Pearlyn."


Reinhard nodded as she led the way inside although, having visited Lin's home before, he still followed.


"I hope you're fine with steamed fish. My husband loves it now." Reinhard agreed and accepted chopsticks as he was practising with them himself. Lin was in a casual wear, a T-shirt with a jeans skirt. After the usual 'how are you', Pearlyn asked him his background then asked how they came to date. Lin added to the account though they left out much how they got trapped in a chamber and nearly drowned. Pearlyn accepted their account with only small queries and smiles.


Just then, the door rattled and emerged Lin's father entered, with a walking stick. Reinhard quickly got up, and with a loud voice, greeted. "Good evening Mr. Chan."


Lin's father looked at him for a second, replied then Reinhard offered to help him to his seat.  As Pearlyn moved to the kitchen to get the food, Reinhard's dad turned and asked who he was. The questions came from Chan Yong Hong, first simple ones then rapid detailed ones.


"Boyfriend?" Mr. Chan rather in a disagree tone. He turned to his daughter. "What's wrong with Yao Ming?"


"Yao Ming?" Lin quickly explained he was an old friend. "Pa, we hardly know each other, nothing in common with him."


"He's rich, he's tall he matches.."


"Pa, I haven't any contact with him for years. Last I hard, his  family is moving to Indonesia."


"My darling, I think..." Chan Yong Hong picked out a fish bone during a tooth pick and started coughing rapidly. "Reconsider."


"Darling you should rest," his wife suggested and helped him up.


"I didn't get your father's approval did I?"


"My husband does speak his mind," Pearlyn answered, returning. "Coffee? Or are you fine with Chinese tea?"


Reinhard answered the latter. There was some more light chit-chat and he privately liked Lin's mother. "I better make a move. Thank you very much for their dinner. Please thank your husband for me."


"It's raining. I'll give you a lift back. Don't be silly Reinhard, you catch a cold," Pearlyn said.


Jenn presented herself at the local Young Offers Institute, convincing the staff to let her visit 'an old friend'. After a  brief check through the metal detector, she was told to pick up the phone next to a transparent window.


"Jenn! It's so good of you to visit me!" Molly Peacock, who once joined up with the Cat greeting across the window. Molly started whining how terrible life in the  Institute was and how difficult it was to study English Literature in a poorly equipped library.


"Jenn, I'm so sorry I humiliated you..."


"Molly..."Jen pressed her hands against the glass then updated her, telling her she suspected the Cat figure had returned.


"Oh Jenn, that terrible! No, I had no contact since I've been here. Oh, I would love to see your play. Oh.." Molly started clutching her stomach and moaned.


"Guard! Guard!" Jenn called and it took the staff a few minutes to respond, guiding Molly out. Jenn later heard it was  food poisoning. "It's nothing wrong lass. Now leave," the official said.


Could it be a deliberate act? Jenn wondered. Before she could think further, she felt a light sting and collapsed on the  ground.


Jenn soon saw light shine on her and that was it she could move or feel anything.


"Welcome back, little Jenn," she heard a mechanical voice. I can see, hear can't move.


"Looks like this dart worked well. Oh no, it made you wet your jeans. Shouldn't have set the intensity so high. Don't worry, it's not like your period."


"You caused me to wet...


"My message is simple. The Cat was not responsible for damaging that harness or trying to give your friend a stomach ache. The Cat will still haunt you and your childish detective group, hahaha. Now, sleep well little one."


Jenn suddenly regained consciousness, finding a light cleave gag between her lips and her wrists and ankles bound with material  she could not identify. Then a blackness surrounded her. Jenn woke up again, finding her arms and ankles free and the gag gone. Her senses had returned and slowly she managed to get up.


"Jenn? Is that you? Why you on the ground?" She heard her mother call and saw her.


"Uh, nothing really mum."


Jenn couldn't inform the others as she received a message from Hughes to meet up. He ad gathered the drama leadership team again. "Ok, I have  heard your accounts  and also check recent CCTV footage, "Jenn's heart leapt wondering if he spotted that figure. "Yet I not found any mischievous acts or any person trying to damage that harness. I've sent it for repairs and Jenn, your drama can proceed."


Jenn thus was really busy. On drama night, the whole place was packed full and she was ready for mishap the Cat would create. Far from that, the whole drama went ahead without any problems and as the whole cast and crew gathered on stage, they received a  loud ovation.


"Really good after all," Chelle commented and Mark nodded.


"Hey, have you seen Jenn? I can't find her after we left the stage," Bethan came up to them. "We're suppose to take a group photo."


The answers from detectives were negative though Richard volunteered to find her.


A quick scan of the area didn't show her. He quickly shifted and found himself entering the props room without any clear thought. It was like his school's own drama prop room - he had volunteered there - and there were a range of props of various kinds yet the room was pretty clean, though a little hard to navigate through. He slowly moved through it calling out her name.


It was on his  fifth call that the laundry hamper in the centre of the room shifted and a low groan emitted from it.  He threw open the top of the basket and looked down on sheets, piles and piles of sheets. Yanking the top few layers away, he found Jenn underneath.


She looked like an Egyptian mummy although she was completely shrouded in black sheets from her shoulders to her ankles. The sheets were wrapped tightly about her body especially here eyes and held in place with a length of coarse rope around her shoulders, waist and legs. More sheets were wrapped around her mouth as a gag almost completely covering the lower half of her face which was puffy. A


"Ard! Get m e out f ere!"


"You do look like a mummy, except the colour," he remarked.




Composing himself, reached down and pulled the sheet from Jenn's mouth. She spat out a soggy pair of socks, most definitely her own, and soon lifted her out and undid the rest of her bonds and blindfold.


"So what really happened?"


Jenn recounted how she left the stage and was head back until a masked figure or two grabbed her and she felt a sting on her neck. The next moment, she found herself lowered into the basket. It was at the last moment the figure who did so was wearing a distinct mask of a cat.


"The Cat! Is really back!"

Michelle, Lin Ling, Jennifer, Mark, Reinhard and Richard will return soon








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