Funny how that little piece of evidence was scratching away at my mind like a three-ring flea circus. I showed her the barrette. “I found this at the crime scene. Looks like it could’ve come from your head, doesn’t it?”
Goldie’s voice suddenly turned sharp. “When did you become a fashion expert?”
I leaned in closer. “About the same time you became a furniture tester!”
I thought for sure she was going to rap a newspaper on my nose. “Goldie – give me the truth.”
A long moment passed before she smiled sadly. “You weren’t awarded ‘Best of Breed’ for nothing.” She sighed. “I woke up early this morning; decided to go for a walk before breakfast. I lost track of time. And the next thing I knew, I was out in The Woods.”
“Well, since the Bears and I are friends I figured I’d stop by to say hi, maybe take a load off my feet. But they weren’t home.”
“So you just walked in?”
“I know, I know, it was wrong. But I wasn’t thinking straight; I was tired and hungry… And Joe… there’s something I never told you…” She looked around, making sure no one was listening; her voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m a sucker for hot cereal.”
My jowls dropped.
Goldie leaned back. “It’s true. Every day, it’s the same thing, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Porridge, oatmeal, granola, cream of barley -- If it’s hot and nutritious, I’ve got to have it.” She grabbed me by the lapels. “Do you know what that makes me, Joe? Do you? Do you?”
I had to think fast. “A satisfied customer?”
She pulled us together, nose to snout. “Joe, look at me: I am a serial cereal eater!”
Now it was my turn to catch my breath. You think you know everything about a person.
Then something like this drops on your lap like a 50-pound bag of dry food – and you start to question your own animal instinct. “But Goldie,” I said, still looking for an answer, “if what you’re saying is true, why did you take only a spoonful of the parents’ breakfast?”
Mr. Bear’s porridge, she explained, was too hot, so that was out of the question.
Mrs. Bear’s, likewise, being too cold.
“But Baby Bear’s,” she said, dreamily, “Baby Bear’s was just right.”
Having caught a chill during her walk, she went into the living room, intending to rest a moment by the fire. Problem was, Mr. Bear’s chair could have used a little fluffing.
Mrs. Bear’s, on the other hand, had so much goosedown, it could fly south for the winter.
Baby’s was just right. Or so she thought.
When it collapsed under her weight, she should have known it was time to scram. But by that point, though, Goldie couldn’t tell up from down, a bagel from a beagle. She needed to lie down, pronto.
Mr. Bear’s mattress was as stiff as last week’s T-bone. And Mrs. Bear’s was like lying in a tub of soggy corn flakes.
You can guess the condition of Baby Bear’s.
“I didn’t steal anything, Joe, honest I didn’t!” Goldie cried between sneezes. “But when I heard them return – I couldn’t face them! Not after what I’d done!” She wiped away a tear.
I took a good look at her.
I’ve put the collar on more than a few mutts in my time. But Goldie didn’t deserve the pound. Not for a bowl of mush and a little shuteye. “Goldie… Look, since the Bears are your friends… I think if you tell them the truth, they’ll understand.”
She blinked. “You think so? I’ll be happy to pay for a new chair!”
“Sure. I mean, Baby might need a little while to come around, but the parents – well, they need you arrested like they need a fur coat!”
Goldie laughed. “You know what? I’m going to give them a call right now and explain the whole thing.” She stood up and started walking to her office.
I took her hand to stop her. “Goldie,” I said.
“Have a slice of pizza for lunch. With anchovies.”
Goldie smiled. She locked her eyes on mine and ran her soft, delicate hand over my head. “Good boy,” she whispered.
As I put away my notepad, I thought about the day’s events. It was only lunchtime and I already put one case to bed (and not Baby’s, either). The Bear family would know there wasn’t a hungry prowler on the loose. Goldie wouldn’t have to keep her little “crime” a secret anymore. And I had the satisfaction of bringing them all together. Why, you’d think it was a fairytale.
Just then the waiter came by with lunch. “Burger on pumpernickel.”
I took a bite.
I took a bite.
That was my third mistake.