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The Stratenhoufen Case
Author's note: This was my first detective story with my fictional detective, Jack Mason. But since then I've revised it, so hopefully it's better.
Jack was feeding his cat a can of cat food, having already fed his dog. It was raining heavily outside. He paused for a moment to watch his cat begin devouring its meal. The animal arched its back and purred slightly as Jack ran his hand along it.
Jack Mason was in his mid-late twenties, about six foot two, and well-built. He and lived in a small but pleasant apartment in an English city. He had been in detective work for several years.
He was just about to toss the empty can in the trash when the there was a knock at the door. He finished what he was doing, and answered it.
“Yes?” he said. The man at the door was a fellow in a gray trench coat, dripping from the rain. He looked to be around his late thirties, with a bushy, black mustache.
“Yeh, are you Jack Mason?” the man asked.
“Uh, yes. What can I do for you, sir?”
“I am Inspector John Burrow, of the local police,” replied the newcomer, showing his badge. “May I come in?”
Jack motioned to a chair.
“May I offer you some coffee, Inspector? Just made it a few minutes ago,” he said, closing the door.
“Uh, yes, thank you. Just a jot of cream and sugar.”
As Jack fixed a cup of coffee for his visitor, as well as one for himself, the inspector said in passing,
“Pouring loony outside.”
“Yes, quite,” said the other.
Jack took the two cups and saucers over to the coffee table and handed one to the inspector.
“Now, inspector. What can I do for you?”
“Well, you see, Mr. Mason-“
“’Jack,’ please,” Jack said.
“Right. Jack, I have read of some of your great feats in the area of detective work.” Jack looked at him, taking a sip from his cup.
“Ah. Well, thank you, inspector. I, um, I take it that you have a case then?”
“We, my colleagues and I, have been investigating a crime scene at a nearby violin shop, and we would appreciate your assistance.”
“Ah, I see you mean that someone has stolen a violin, or something?”
“Uh, you could say that, yes. But, in rather a different way than one might expect,” replied Inspector Burrow.
“Quite. You see, a man by the name of A. Stratenhoufen bought a rather pricy violin. It all seemed perfectly normal. But, that same night, the very money he had used to pay for it with was stolen. And Jack, if you could spare the time, it would be most appreciated if you came and took a look at the case.”
“Ah, well, yes, I’d be delighted! Thank you.”
So after finishing their coffee, they put on their trench coats, took the stairs down to the main floor, and stepped out the door. It was still raining hard. Jack breathed in deeply and smiled.
“Ah, I love the rain,” he said good-naturedly, once they’d gotten in the car. Burrow grunted.
When they arrived at the small violin shop, Jack read the sign:
Sir Borlamile's Violins
The rain had lightened only slightly by that time. As they approached the officer standing before the door, Inspector Burrow flashed his badge at him. The man stepped aside and saluted:
Upon arriving inside, Jack noticed a huge safe in the room, although it was more like a thick metal box, whose door was secured with a padlock, which had been severed. The door stood ajar and the safe was empty. Jack and the inspector also discovered a rather small man wringing his hands nervously, and pacing back and forth. Jack recognized the long, thin fingers of a musician.
“Uh... Sir Borlamile, I presume?” Jack began. The man seemed slightly startled, but stammered,
“Mr. Borlamile Hunter IV. Sir Borlamile Hunter was my great grandfather, the man who first opened this shop.”
“I see. Well, pleased to meet you, Mr. Hunter. My name is Jack Mason. Inspector Burrow has invited me to look into the case. (I work in such things.) Burrow informs me of a theft of a considerable sum of money, at your expense.”
“Correct, sir. The night before last it was. 300 pounds, Mr. Mason! 300! I needed that money to pay my rent. It's due in three days! I don’t know how-”
“Calm yourself, sir. Simply relay the facts to me in the highest possible detail, and I will endeavor to unveil the perpetrator as fast as possible, to the best of my abilities,” said the detective.
“Well, yesterday, a man who identified himself as “the respected Mr. A. Stratenhoufen,” staying in the Baker Street Hotel, came in and bought one of my best violins, costing precisely 300 pounds. I put this money in the safe.” He motioned to the massive object behind him. “Then this morning, when I came down from my apartment on the second floor, I opened the shop and checked my safe as I always do, and discovered what you can see now. Now I distinctly remember locking the safe after I put the money in, and, as you can see, the lock has not been picked, so I have no idea how it happened!” He started pacing the floor again.
Jack thought for a moment, then said, “Uh, may I have a look?” Jack inquired, gesturing toward the safe in the corner, behind the desk.
“Ah, of course.”
“Have you checked for fingerprints, inspector?”
“Yes. There were none but Mr. Hunter's. Whoever stole the money was apparently wearing gloves. Oh, and, uh, also the lock on the door outside the shop has been picked,” replied Inspector Burrow.
“Yes, I saw that. Mr. Hunter, are there perhaps any assistants of yours that may be able to offer any useful information?”
“Yes, I do have an assistant. He's in the back. John!” Mr. Hunter called, walking to the back. “Your assistance is required up front!”
“But sir, I thought we were closed today,” answered a voice from the back room.
“No, no. Just come,” replied the shopkeeper.
Thus returned Mr. Hunter with a young red-haired boy, his face covered in freckles. He seemed a timid young man. Jack estimated him to be around twelve years old.
“This is Mr. Mason, he’s a detective, and Inspector Burrow, with the local police. They're here about the stolen money, and want to know if you have any useful information you could give them.”
“Why would I know anything about the stolen money? Do they think I stole it?!” The boy said defiantly.
“All we want to know is if you can tell us anything about it. Nobody's accusing you of anything,” came the calm, quiet voice of Jack.
“No. No! I don't! So leave me alone!” The boy ran to the back room.
“Well that didn't do us much good,” said Inspector Burrow.
“Positive, inspector. Think positive,” Jack smiled, then turned to Mr. Hunter.
“May I see footage of your security cameras, of the purchase of the violin?” he said, motioning to the camera above the door, and the one pointing at the safe.
“As you wish,” replied the man, starting for the back, waving for Jack and the inspector to follow. Having seen the footage and having imprinted a picture of Mr. Stratenhoufen's face in his mind, Jack took a further look around. He then said,
“Well, that will be all for now. Good day, Mr. Hunter. Thank you for your help.” Jack and the inspector then exited the building and re-entered the police car waiting for them outside.
“Well, obviously the boy himself didn’t break the lock,” Burrow began. “He was too small.”
Jack nodded in agreement, looking out the window into the rain thoughtfully.
“But, perhaps he was involved, somehow, with the person who did…”
“I don’t know… maybe he’s just scared.” Jack finally spoke. “That Mr. Stratenhoufen, though, would certainly seem to have been the one behind it. Perhaps he wanted the violin and the money, so after purchasing the instrument he stole back the money…” He paused, thinking, then said, “Inspector, lets go to the Baker Street Hotel, and see if we can meet this Mr. Stratenhoufen.”
When the detective and inspector reached the hotel, it had almost stopped raining.
“Wait here,” the Burrow told the driver, and he and Jack went inside.
As they approached the desk, Inspector Burrow pulled out his badge and said.
“Police. Where is Mr. Stratenhoufen?”
“Uh... who, sir?” replied the lady at the desk.
“Mr. A, Stratenhoufen. Ain't he staying here?” He was a little agitated.
“Oh! Quite right.” The lady typed something in the computer and clicked a few times, and studied the screen. Then she said, “I'm sorry sir, but Mr. Stratenhoufen has moved to another hotel. He said ours was too drafty for his ‘valuable new instrument,’ whatever that meant.”
“Which hotel did he go to?”
“Well, he gave the address of the… the Northeast Hotel,” she replied.
“Well, what is it?” the inspector said snobbishly.
“Uh… what is what, sir?”
“Oh! Terribly sorry.” She printed off the information and handed it to him. He gave an un-enthusiastic “Thank you,” and stalked back towards the car outside.
Jack paused and said to the lady at the desk,
“Sorry about him,” smiling compassionately.
Jack followed after the inspector, consequently taking the blow of the door that he had dropped in his fury of being put at the inconvenience of having to go to a different hotel.
In the car, they both analyzed the piece of paper, which read:
Name: Mr. A. Stratenhoufen
Checked out: 8:00 A.M., Sept. 8, 2010
Transferred to: the Northeast Hotel, North East Street
Having read it, they deduced that it was a perfectly normal transfer note, and that nothing was significant about it; they furthermore left it at that and the inspector stuffed it in his pocket.
Upon arriving at the Northeast Hotel, they found the same thing. Only this time, the excuse the man had made for moving was the “excessive lack of convenience.” The new note said that Mr. Stratenhoufen had left at 8:45 A.M.
By now Inspector Burrow was outraged. Going by the note given them at this desk, they headed for another top-notch hotel in the city, this time the Sassafras Times Hotel.
But once again, a similar thing happened. The man at the desk said that Mr. A. Stratenhoufen had been unexpectedly called away, and left at 9:30 A.M. When they reached the car, Inspector Burrow exclaimed,
“The man is blimey dodging us! Now how are we going to find him?”
“I'm sure there's a way. He can't be far if he checked out at 9:30. That's only fifteen minutes ago,” replied Jack, looking at his watch.
“I suppose... But how?”
“Still working on it.”
Most of the next day, as Jack was at home in his apartment, he sat contemplating the previous day, and what was most prudent as to their next action. Several times throughout the day, his thoughts came to the footage of Mr. Stratenhoufen he had seen in Mr. Hunter's violin shop, and tried to think if he had seen the man anywhere the previous day. But he hadn't.
As it helped him think, he kept his coffee cup full, constantly sipping it, thinking. Often his thoughts were interrupted by the impatient meow-ing of his cat, wanting attention, so he would have no choice but to either pet her, or give her a treat, to quiet her. Most of the time he had his little dog on his lap, and he later realized that that probably had something to do with it.
That evening, at about 5:30, as Jack was just about to doze off, the phone rang. He answered it, revealing the voice of Inspector Burrow.
“Mason! Get down to the station! Better bring a gun. Hurry!” Then Burrow hung up. (Jack had received the address of the police station that the inspector was based out of, earlier on.) It took a few moments for Jack's tired brain to function properly, but he was finally able to slam the phone down on its hook and run into his room. He opened his small safe, loaded the Ruger LCR pistol inside it, and put it and a holster on his waist. He then pulled on his jacket and rushed out the door. On the street, he caught a cab and had the driver hurry to the police station. When he arrived, the inspector pulled him into his office and shut the door.
“What is it? Have you found him?” Jack said excitedly.
“Well, sort of. You see, we've heard reports of him, the same man, mind you, robbing another violin shop.”
“Another one? What does he have against violin shops?” Jack grinned.
“Who knows. But anyway, we have been able to trace him, and were wondering if you'd like to come along.”
Jack laughed and said, “Do you need an answer?”
The inspector smiled and said, “Excellent.” He pulled out a map and laid it on his desk. Jack saw at once that it was a map of the city. The inspector circled a certain area on it with a pen and said,
“Here is where we know he must be. He has been seen going in and out of it several times, and we think it must be his base. Of course, he is most likely armed, so we must be cautious.” Then, rolling up the map again and replacing it to its shelf, Burrow said, “A group of my men are waiting, so let’s go. You... did bring a gun, right?”
Jack pulled back his jacket to show the LCR.
Departing the police station, Jack, Burrow, and the small squadron of men headed for the building in question, arriving several later. They parked a safe distance away, then moved in, encircling it. After Inspector Burrow gave the signal, they broke in, weapons ready, and searched all the rooms. The results were very disappointing indeed: a note, addressed specifically to Jack. It read:
Mr. Jack Mason:
You're going to need a bit more wit than that.
Did you really think you would find me?
The following day, when Jack and Inspector Burrow were discussing the situation, one of the other officers walked in and handed the inspector a sheet of paper, a report. Just a few seconds later (it was a very short note), the inspector crumpled the portion of it that was in his hand and shouted,
“The man is mad! Mad, I tell you!” Jack gave a somewhat perplexed look, but reached up and removed the crumpled note from the man’s grip, then sat back down and smoothed it on his jeaned leg. It read,
It is my duty to inform you of another robbery, this time
at the Kingsley Violin Shop southeast of your
station. Intelligence informs me that over 250 pounds were stolen.
It also informs me that the crime was committed by
Mr. A. Stratenhoufen, a name of which I'm sure you are by now
Lieutenant J. Entonworthy
After reading it, Jack clenched his jaw and said quietly,
“I say, the man is absolutely loopy!” The inspector couldn't contain his rage. After a few moments, he punched out a number on his desk phone, put it to his ear, and soon was giving orders to the policemen under his charge.
Within half an hour, they had tracked Mr. Stratenhoufen, and were preparing to engage in hot pursuit.
As Jack was already wearing his Ruger LCR, he went with the inspector and the other four policemen in the search for the fugitive.
In an hour they were on Stratenhoufen's trail. They thought that he was in a certain building. They charged into it, but, after a thorough search, they hadn't found him. He wasn't in the building. When Inspector Burrow turned to say something to Jack, he wasn’t either.
“Mason! Where's Mason?” he whispered. No reply, excepting one of his men who shrugged and said,
“Haven't seen him since entering the building, inspector.” Burrow frowned and thought what to do.
Jack crept around the corner of a nearby building. He had seen a man silently dash to it. He didn't want to make any noise, so Jack, being at the rear of the group, had darted to the building, unintentionally unnoticed.
He heard a sound on the other side of the wall he was leaning against, so, with his weapon held in front of his chest, he peered around it. But when he did, a strong fist flew out at him, throwing his pistol far from reach. Nearly simultaneously another fist flew out, this time into Jack's jaw, sending him reeling back. He lost his balance and nearly fell. But he quickly caught himself, and looked at his attacker.
Suddenly his mind raced back to a few days prior. He was in Sir Borlamile's Violin Shop with Inspector Burrow, watching a security camera video. On it he was watching Mr. Stratenhoufen purchase the violin. At the same time, he was actually looking directly into the eyes of the man he had been searching for for the past few says. All at once, he came back to himself. (That had all taken place in a moment.)
He took on a defensive stance, just in time to realize that the man was pointing a 9mm pistol at him. Stratenhoufen's dark eyes were wild and appeared to contain fire. He had a sturdy frame, and broad shoulders. His face was deathly pale. He was breathing heavily from the chase.
They both stood there for nearly half a minute, staring at each other. But finally, the door behind the fugitive flew open, causing him to jerk his eyes in that direction. Seeing the opportunity, Jack doubled up his fists, brought them back, and slammed the man's grip on his weapon into the wall. Then he brought his fist up into the man's jaw in an uppercut, sending him to the ground.
What caused the door to fly open, Jack then discovered, was the inspector. He and his men had realized what was going on in the other building, and had gone over to help Jack, and to arrest Mr. Stratenhoufen, which they did directly. He was rather disoriented from the blow, to say the least.
Back at the station, Inspector Burrow thanked Jack for his action in taking out the fugitive. Jack then went home to his apartment, and rested with ease, his cat on his chest, and his little dog at his side.
Of course the entire story was in the paper the next day, so everyone in that city, and all other towns within a few mile radius, heard of the capture of Mr. A. Stratenhoufen.