As anybody might know, it's quite hard to even think about getting anything else done when there are cute little animals to pay attention to. While the matter of the missing puppy was rather distressing, there were still four left behind who needed looking after. Alice offered the service of herself and her siblings to help get them cleaned up.
Uncle Benny went back to his shop. He sent Shirley and Troy along to the pet store. They were able to wash the puppies up in a space much like the kitchen in Uncle Benny's shop. The puppies were a bit scruffy after their short adventure in the alley. Not even Troy was immune to the cuteness of four damp puppies. He was soon smiling and laughing at their antics.
Alice had to join them after a few minutes. She had to tell the police what very little she had seen of the puppy kidnapper. She was looking glum as she plucked one of the freshly toweled puppies from the floor. It had been standing on its hind legs, begging to be cuddled.
"I wish I could be more help. I should have been paying closer attention to that man earlier." She was pouting.
"Don't be silly." It was Shirley, speaking in the sensible tones she reserved for the most serious of situations. "If you hadn't seen what you did of him, they wouldn't have anything to go on."
Alice didn't seem to cheer up very much, even with both her twin and an affectionate little dog both doing their best to lift her spirits. She did agree that it was good she was able to help at all. Oscar pointed out that it was better than any of the rest of them could do seeing as they'd all been inside before anything had happened.
They each took a puppy in hand and took them back to the front window of the store. Mr. Morris thanked them. They went two doors over to say goodbye to their Uncle Benny and collect their paper sack of candy. Their Uncle promised he would close up early so he could go out and try and find a new bowl to replace the one that had broken.
"It's odd, isn't it, that the man Alice saw only made off with one of the puppies and just left the others to wander out into the alley." It was the first comment Troy had really made about the situation. He wasn't a very talkative sort of boy most of the time.
Oscar was the one to reply. "Mr. Morris said he found the front door locked like it should be. That's where Alice saw the man going in. It seems like he was being pretty careful to begin with, but then he left out the back and left the door open. This is just a guess, but I'd say he heard Mr. Morris coming in to open his store for the day and he got spooked. He probably meant to take the whole litter but couldn't be bothered. Someone dashing out of an alley with five puppies would have been noticed by someone."
"Even having just the one without a leash or a collar probably looked a bit funny if anyone spotted him," said Shirley. "I bet they'll be able to ask around now, using Alice's description of the man as a sort of starting point to go from."
Alice looked a little more upbeat about the prospects of finding whoever had broken in to Mr. Morris' store.
"I hope so," she said, as if she would be the one to make sure he was found.
You couldn't put a mystery in front of an Alden that they wouldn't try their best to solve.
It was obvious their mother was home even before they came all the way up the walk to the front door. One of the windows on the side of the house was open. They could hear Claudette Alden tinkering with the keys of the piano in the downstairs sitting room.
That was how they had often found their mother when they came home from school in the weeks before summer vacation started. She was trying to compose an original song for the first time as opposed to just playing other things. It would be her anniversary gift to their father.
They came in quietly, intending not to interrupt her. The music stopped within moments. They heard the scrape of the piano bench against the floor and she came to greet them.
Claudette Alden was usually a cheerful woman, and that day was no exception. She welcomed each of them home with a hug. They told her about what had happened while they were out. They of course left out the part about making an anniversary gift for her and their father. It was mostly Alice who told her about what happened after that. Shirley interjected here and there if she thought Alice was exaggerating so much as to stray from the truth.
"That's quite a bit of excitement for one day!" Mrs. Alden exclaimed once the story had been told in full. "You'll have to tell your father all about it when he gets home. He called earlier and said he was going to be a little late."
The four of them started up the stairs.
"Don't take too long before you start washing up for dinner," their Mother called after them. "Alice, it's your turn to set the table."
Alice came back down the stairs a few minutes later. She looked so sullen and distracted as she set the table that her Mother couldn't help but ask her what was the matter.
"Oh, it's nothing." She tried for a smile but it held no comparison to her usual grin when it finally came. "It's just the puppy that was stolen. It's silly, but I was going to ask you if we could get it as a pet. Now it's gone."
"Your father loves dogs, I'm sure he wouldn't have a problem with you kids getting one of your own." Mrs. Alden gave her most winning smile to try and cheer her daughter up.
Alice shrugged. "It wouldn't be quite the same now."
Mrs. Alden tossed a salad and watched her daughter out of the corner of her eye. Alice was paying overly particular attention to the placement of each thing on the table. The plates, the napkins, the silverware, everything was as near to perfection as a little girl could make it. Perhaps Alice just wanted something to focus her attention on, something to give her time by herself away from her siblings. It was a rare occasion when Alice needed to think about things alone.
By the time Henry Alden had returned home and the family sat down to dinner as they tended to do, Alice seemed to have worked out whatever she needed to. She was her usual jovial self and actively participated in telling the story of their day to Mr. Alden. Henry Alden's first reaction was to point a shrewd look at his oldest daughter.
"Alice, I think I know that look in your eye. Whatever those little wheels spinning around in your head have you planning, I think it's best to forget about it. Not that I think telling you will do any good. You are my daughter, after all." He grinned. For a moment it was almost like he was a kid again, or at least a bit more like Uncle Benny than he usually seemed.
Alice quirked a brow at him in confusion. Nneither her sister or her brothers seemed to quite know what their father was on about. Mr. Alden took a sip from his water glass and grew a little more serious.
"I'll settle for the fatherly advice of 'Be careful, and don't do anything I wouldn't do,'" he made eye contact with each of them for a moment. Though he no longer had his beaming grin of moments earlier there was a certain mischievous sparkle in his eyes.
After dinner, it was Troy's turn to do the dishes but Alice offered her help. Troy was only a few months older than Alice, then she was the second oldest in the family. She sometimes turned to him for the strength only a big brother can provide. Though he wasn't exactly full of sage advice and wise proverbs, even working with him in companionable silence was comforting for his sister.
Whilst Alice and Troy were busy in the kitchen, Oscar and Shirley were in the living room. They were both paying equal amounts of attention to a movie, which was to say they weren't paying attention to the movie at all because they were waiting for their Uncle Benny to drop by. After a few minutes, Alice and Troy joined them. With the four of them so near to the front door, one of them was bound to be the first to get to it when Uncle Benny got there. It was assumed he would pass off the dish as quickly as possible and then make up some other reason for his visit.
They had just about started to give up on Uncle Benny when there was a knock at the door. Alice was already turning the knob by the time Mr. Alden appeared in the door of his office.
As soon as Alice opened the door, Uncle Benny needed only a second to press a shopping bag into her arms. She glanced at it for a moment and then hugged it tightly against her body. She was about to race up the stairs with the bag but her mother was descending them. With her mother on the stairs and her father likely just about to come around the corner to greet Uncle Benny, she ducked into the closet under the stairs.
She waited with her ear pressed up against the closet door until the voices of her Uncle and her parents grew quiet. Uncle Benny had helped her out by leading her parents into the other room. She emerged from the closet and dashed up the stairs as silently as she could to hide the bag away in her room. She didn't so much as open the bag to take a peek at what was inside. Her parents would be wondering why she wasn't downstairs with everyone else. She trusted her Uncle to have brought them something that was more than acceptable. She placed the bag on her shelf next to an identical bag with entirely different cargo, the bag of candies she and her siblings had brought home and hidden that afternoon.
When Alice went back downstairs, she gave a little nod as she entered the room. A couple minutes later, Shirley went up to thoroughly examine the new bag and its contents. Something seemed to rattle a bit when she took the bag out of Alice's closet and she grimaced. Her sister was a bit careless at times, but surely this new bowl hadn't broken already.
She unfolded the top of the bag and dug into it. Uncle Benny had stuffed wads of rolled up paper around it to make it safer to move around.
Once the paper was out of the way, she removed the new bowl and placed it gingerly on Alice's bed. Instead of going to inspect it right away, she turned the bag it had been occupying upside down, likely expecting to see shards of broken crystal. When only more balls of paper came out, she turned her eyes to the new bowl.
It was a bit prettier than the previous one. It even had a lid, which was a feature the broken dish had not featured. She plucked it off the top of the dish delicately and glanced inside. This was when she found the source of the rattling noise.
Nestled in the bottom of a dish was a regular sort of key, like anyone might use to unlock a door or an old car that didn't have a fancy sort of electronic system. It was fastened to a nondescript metal ring. Shirley slid the key into her pocket without giving it much of a look. It was nothing to do with her. She would give it to Uncle Benny as he was leaving.
When Shirley returned to the main floor, her signal to her siblings was a smile. Both they and Uncle Benny would know the new dish met her rather high standards. They couldn't give just any old dish full of any old candy to their parents as a gift, after all. It had to be a nice one, filled to the brim with handmade sweets.
No one questioned her absence. Upon her return Uncle Benny said he simply had to be going. As he was getting up to go to the door. Shirley pulled the key from her pocket and held it out to her Uncle.
"Uncle Benny, I found this key and I think it belongs to you, it's only just that I put it in my pocket earlier and then completely forgot about it. It must have been mixed in with our things by mistake." She dropped it into her Uncle's hand. He looked down at it, then at his niece.
"What things would those be?" Her father questioned lightly.
Shirley tried for a nonchalant shrug, "Oh, you know, Daddy. Candy and things."
Henry Alden let out a small bark of laughter and it made Shirley jump a little.
He apparently did not notice her nervousness, simply giving her a light pat on the head. "With a brother who runs a candy store, it's a wonder my children aren't constantly ruining their dinners."
Uncle Benny pretended to look hurt. "Dear brother, I thought you gave a little more credit to my responsible nature."
The father of the Alden clan clapped his brother lightly on the shoulder and smiled. "You're just lucky Violet and Jessie don't live as close to you as we do, otherwise your family would eat all your inventory and you'd not have a single thing left if any real costumers came to sate their sweet tooth."
Perhaps because it had happened just a few moments before Uncle Benny had left and his exit was a bit of a distraction, neither her Father or her Mother thought to question Shirley's story. If they had analyzed it for any small length of time, they would have found quite a big flaw. Shirley Alden had never been known to be forgetful in all her years.
The four siblings went into Alice's room for a moment after their Uncle left and the others got a look at the bowl. Alice did know enough to question what had happened just minutes earlier. Shirley simply told them she had found the key in the bowl. She had just been trying overly hard not to let any hints of their surprise slip out while returning the key to Uncle Benny. It might have been important to him, after all, so she hadn't wanted to wait until the next day when they could have gone to see him.
Oscar got the bag of candy out of Alice's closet and they dumped it into the dish. Shirley arranged the candies a little to make it look perfect, even though none of the others could tell she had done anything.
With its lid firmly back in place, the bowl was placed back in Alice's closet without a bag and behind a couple of old hats for a small measure of disguise. It would only have to be there for a couple more days before it was time for their parents' anniversary party. Due to the fact the second bowl had already outlived the first, they were hoping it would stay in one piece until then.
Even though the closet shelf was perfectly stable and secure, Alice was sure to be very careful as she closed the door. Troy rolled his eyes and then left the room, shortly followed by Oscar. Shirley was the last to leave the room after hugging her sister goodnight.