The secret word is: "Horse"

It's that time of year . . . the eggnog's nogging, the yule logs are logging and the mall shoppers are mauling . . . each other, that is. It's Christmastime in Northeast Southweston, and as usual the city is busy making preparations for its annual Santa Celebration and Soirée, a festive and frolicking fete which culminates in the pomp and pageantry of a parade featuring the protuberant pixie himself, Santa Claus! Of course, Santa is actually our very own Sgt. Vinton. But don't tell Doomsday. He still thinks it's the real Santa.

It was two days before the big celebration at approximately 9:33 in morning when I entered the C.A.P.E.R. room to find Bugs and Doc already there. Doc was busy on his computer and Bugs was studying the bottle on our combination fish tank / water cooler.

"Hey, guys," I greeted them. "What's up?"

"Not the water level in the cooler, P.T.," Bugs answered. "It's definitely down."

I walked over and leaned in to look at the fish, which were swimming in only a few inches of water. "I could have sworn the bottle was three quarters full when we left last night," I noted.

"You don't suppose they've been drinking it?" Bugs asked, motioning to the fish.

"If they are, we'd better enroll them in Aquaholics Anonymous," I sighed. "We can't have fish with drinking problems."

"They don't look like they have a problem drinking to me," Bugs insisted. "In fact, I'd say they drink like fish!"

"Well, bless my sole," I said. "Why would they suddenly take up drinking, do you suppose?"

"Just for the halibut," Doc chimed in.

"Holy mackerel!" Bugs cried in pain.

"Seymour smelt that pun coming a mile away!" I added.

"I think I'm going to be eel," Bugs sighed.

"Saury," Doc offered. "But it isn't worth carping about."

"Don't be koi," I insisted. "Your pun was a real grunter."

"I thought it was pretty hoki myself," Doc commented.

"Enough!" Bugs cried, clutching his head in pain. "I'm getting a haddock!"

"Well, before you tank completely, you'd better call Dunga Gin and have her bring over another bottle," I suggested.

"Already done," Bugs assured me. "She said she'd be over right away."

Suddenly we heard the sound of jingle bells from somewhere nearby. We looked around but it stopped as quickly as it had started.

"Now I've got a ringing in my ears," Bugs complained, hitting the side of his head.

Sgt. Vinton entered the room, carrying his well-worn Santa suit over his arm. He sighed sadly, setting the suit down on the desk and folding the jacket. "Bad news, boys. Looks like this year's Christmas parade is going to be canceled."

"Canceled?" we cried in horror.

"But why?" I asked.

"Because some dastardly grinch of a thief has stolen Bob," Sgt. Vinton explained.

"No!" I gasped.

"It can't be!" Doc gasped.

"Not Bob!" Bugs gasped, then he looked confused. "Who's Bob?"

"He's talking about Bobbing for Apples," I explained.

"Oh no!" Bugs cried, then he looked confused again. "But wait . . . isn't that for Halloween?"

"Bobbing for Apples," I repeated. "The retired champion racehorse? The chestnut mare who pulls Santa's sleigh in the parade every year? The equine pride of Northeast Southweston?"

"Oh, Bob!" Bugs finally realized, then he looked shocked. "Someone stole Bob?"

Sgt. Vinton nodded sadly.

"But that's terrible!" Bugs cried.

"I know," Sgt. Vinton sighed, setting the jacket down and folding the pants.

"How could someone steal a horse without anyone noticing?" Doc asked.

"I don't know," Sgt. Vinton shrugged. "Mr. Pelham brought her down for her harness fitting last night and the next thing he knew she was gone."

"Despicable!" Bugs said angrily.

"Implausible," Doc pondered.

"Impractical," I pointed out. "It's going to be difficult for someone to hide a horse!"

"Mr. Pelham is furious," Sgt. Vinton moaned. "He says that not only is he out an expensive racehorse but he's out the money we were going to pay him for renting her this year. He was hoping to get the money up front, in fact."

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "That nice old Mr. Pelham was charging the city for using Bob in the parade this year?"

"I can't believe that," Doc said. "He's always been so proud to have Bob in the parade. I thought he was happy to donate her services each year!"

"Oh, I'm not talking about Ol' Tack Pelham," Sgt. Vinton explained. "This is his son, Snaff Pelham. Apparently he's taken over the family stables."

"But Sgt. Vinton . . . why don't you just try to find Bob instead of cancelling the parade?" I asked.

"How could I find Bob?" Sgt. Vinton sighed.

"Well . . . you are the police," I reminded him.

"That's right!" Sgt. Vinton realized.

We heard the sound of jingle bells again.

"There, you see?" Bugs asked. "Every time a bell rings, a policeman gets his man!"

"Or horse," I corrected as Seymour, my nose, twitched slightly. "And something tells me Bob isn't too far away."

"Boys, I'll leave you in charge of finding Bob before the big parade," Sgt. Vinton ordered.

"Yes, sir!" Bugs saluted. "You know, I'll bet Doomsday will be able to find Bob!"

"That's right," Doc sighed worriedly. "Doomsday's going to be very upset when he hears about this."

As if on cue, Doomsday entered the C.A.P.E.R. room carrying a large brown paper bag. "Upset about what?" he asked. "Is the candy machine upstairs empty again?"

"No, but you'd better brace yourself for some bad news," Doc began.

Doomsday grabbed hold of the doorway in anticipation.

"Bob has been stolen," I said.

Doomsday's mouth opened in an over-exaggerated way. "Oh no!" he gasped, then his eyes shifted around the room slightly. "But who would have stolen Bob?"

"That's a very good question," I said, sitting on the edge of the desk and eyeing Doomsday closely. "We're hoping you can help us find her."

"Oh sure," Doomsday nodded. "I'll be more than happy to help find Bob!"

"Glad to hear it," Sgt. Vinton nodded as he picked up the Santa suit. "I'll leave it in your capable hands."

As Sgt. Vinton turned to leave, Doomsday eyed the Santa suit with confusion. "Sgt. Vinton, why do you have Santa's suit?"

"Huh?" Sgt. Vinton asked with confusion. "Oh . . . well, uh . . . maybe it's about time you knew the truth, Doomsday."

Bugs, Doc and I motioned frantically to Sgt. Vinton, desperately waving our arms to stop him.

"You see . . . um . . . Santa is so busy before the holidays that . . . uh . . . he asked me if I could take his suit to the dry cleaners for him," Sgt. Vinton offered.

Bugs, Doc and I all sighed with relief.

"Gee, that's awfully nice of you!" Doomsday smiled.

"Yeah, I'm a real saint," Sgt. Vinton smirked, and he left the room.

"We'd better set about finding Bob right away," Doc suggested, giving me a knowing look.

"Yes, but more importantly!" Bugs said, stepping over to Doomsday and eyeing the paper bag in his hand. "What goodies did you bring us?"

"Oh, uh . . . these are just some . . . snacks," Doomsday said, trying to hide the bag behind his back.

Bugs managed to snatch the bag from Doomsday's hands and opened it eagerly. He looked confused as he pulled out an apple. "Apples?" Bugs asked with disappointment. "You usually have candy or cakes or something good."

"Well, I just thought I should try eating something a little more healthy for a change," Doomsday explained. "You know what they say . . . an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

"Then why are there three boxes of sugar cubes in here as well?" Bugs asked, pulling out one of the boxes and rattling the cubes.

"I guess he figures there's no sense in putting the dentists out of work, too," Doc offered flippantly.

"Doomsday . . . is there something you'd like to tell us?" I asked.

Doomsday gave a quick glance toward the window then thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so," he said.

"Doomsday . . . " I began patiently, but just then the door opened.

"Hey, guys!" Dunga Gin said as she entered, carrying a five gallon glass bottle of water on her shoulder. You see, she's known as Dunga Gin because she always wears dungarees and her name is Ginny. Today she looked especially festive in red dungarees with a long-sleeved green shirt underneath. As she walked in the door we heard jingle bells again.

"Hey, Ginny!" Bugs said happily, running over to help her, although it was obvious she didn't need any help. He looked around at the sound of the bells and asked, "How did you do that?"

"How did I do what?" Ginny asked just as the bells stopped ringing. She looked at the almost empty water bottle on the cooler and shook her head. "Boy, you guys must be drinking a lot of water!" She wagged her finger at the fish and said, "Don't worry, little fellas. I'll have you back in the swim again in no time!"

As Ginny prepared to switch the bottles, she asked, "So, are you guys ready to let me join?" You see, Ginny's job is delivering bottled water but she really wants to be a member of C.A.P.E.R.

"Yes!" Bugs said immediately.

"No!" Doc, Doomsday and I said immediately.

"Sorry, the votes are still against you, Ginny," I pointed out.

"Why can't Ginny join?" Bugs demanded to know.

"Don't worry about it," Ginny assured Bugs. "One day they'll realize they really need me, and then they'll let me join."

"I think we need you right now," Bugs said. "You could help us find Bob!"

"Bob?" Ginny asked.

"It's nothing for you to worry about," I assured her.

"Do you mean Bob the horse?" Ginny asked.

"He was stolen last night!" Bugs said.

"That's terrible!" Ginny cried. "Do you have any idea who stole her?"

Doc and I looked at each other worriedly. "We have a few ideas," I hesitated.

"What I would do is thoroughly investigate the scene of the crime!" Ginny said after she finished placing the new bottle on the cooler. "Scour the area for footprints! Dust every surface for fingerprints!"

"Thank you, Ginny," I said, pushing her toward the door.

"Question everyone who's acting suspicious!" Ginny continued. "Call in the usual suspects!"

"I think we have the situation well under control! Thank you for bringing the water!" I said, pushing Ginny out the door and closing it behind her.

No sooner had I turned away when Ginny popped her head back in. "Check with the local stores . . . see if anyone's been buying up apples and sugar cubes!"

"Thank you!" I said, pushing her back out the door and then leaning against it with a deep sigh.

"Hey, what did you do that for?" Bugs asked. "She had some pretty good ideas!"

"A little too good," I sighed, glancing at Doomsday who was now leaning against the window with his arm sticking out through the bars.

"I think we'd better clear up the mystery of the missing horse, and soon," Doc suggested, watching Doomsday as he turned away from the window.

"Yes, now Doomsday," I began, "do you have any idea where Bob might be?"

"How would I know where Bob is?" Doomsday asked nervously.

"Doomsday . . . " I patiently sighed, but then the door opened again.

" . . . and here are the young men who are going to find your horse," Sgt. Vinton announced, pointing us out to a man in his early thirties. He wore a suit which was meant to look expensive but it was obvious to the trained eye that it was just a cheap imitation of a designer suit. "Boys, this is Snaff Pelham."

Doc and I exchanged a worried look.

"You'd better locate Bobbing for Apples soon or I'll hold the city responsible for the loss!" Snaff warned us with a cool but unmistakable anger.

"Gee, nice to meet you, too," Bugs said sarcastically.

"Oh don't worry," Sgt. Vinton said. "They'll find Bob!"

"I can assure you of that," I offered, trying my best to avoid looking at the window.

"I don't know if I feel comfortable with this case being left in the hands of . . . kids," Snaff sneered.

"These boys are the best and the brightest," Sgt. Vinton assured the junior Pelham.

"And the brainiest!" Bugs added, motioning to Doc.

"And the brawniest," Doc said, motioning to Bugs.

"And the brilliantest," Doomsday nodded, motioning to me.

"And the belovedest," I nodded, motioning to Doomsday. "And we'll find Bob or our name isn't C.A.P.E.R."

We all stood at attention and recited, "The Civilian Authority for the Protection of Everybody, Regardless!"

"Tadaa!" sang Doc.

"Tadaa!" sang Doomsday.

"Tadaa!" sang Bugs.

"Tadaa!" I finished, adding a few jazzy "fa la la la la's" to the end.

Snaff gave us a kind of arrogant "Hmph!" before turning to leave. Just then the bells started ringing again. Snaff stopped and turned around, looking suspicious. "What was that?" he asked.

"What was what?" I asked.

"It sounded like sleigh bells," Snaff said, his eyes squinting as he looked toward the window. "And it was coming from outside that window."

"No it wasn't!" I said quickly. "No . . . no, that was . . . that was Bugs, you see."

"It wasn't me!" Bugs insisted.

"Oh yes, it was you, Bugs," I said, stepping behind him. "Watch!"

Fortunately Doc realized what I was doing and while no one was looking he snatched an apple from the paper bag and tossed it over his shoulder and through the bars of the window. I grabbed Bugs by the shoulders and started shaking him vigorously as the bells began to ring.

"See? He's got jingle bells for brains," I explained.

"So it was me!" Bugs exclaimed with surprised. "I knew I had a ringing in my ears!"

Both Sgt. Vinton and Snaff Pelham eyed us with confusion. "Just find my horse," Snaff insisted, and the two men turned and left the room.

"That was close," I sighed with relief.

"Bob was right," Doomsday sighed quietly. "He's not a nice man at all."

"Which reminds me," I said, stepping over to Doomsday. "Doomsday . . . where's Bob?"

"Bob?" Doomsday asked nervously. "Bob who?"

"The horse," I clarified.

"The horse?" Doomsday asked innocently. "What horse?"

There are many things Doomsday is very good at but lying is definitely not one of them. I walked over to the paper bag and reached in, pulling out an apple. I then knelt on the bench and held the apple out through the bars. There was an immediate sound of sleigh bells and a moment later Bob's head appeared as she chomped at the fruit.

"This horse," I said.

"Oh wow, look!" Doomsday exclaimed. "P.T. found Bob!"

I sighed as Bob finished her apple and I patted her on the nose. I climbed off the bench and walked back over to Doomsday. "Come on, Doomsday. We knew all along you took Bob."

"How did you know?" Doomsday asked.

"Seymour smelled the horse as soon as you left her outside the window," I explained. "Then you came in only moments later smelling like oats and carrots. You obviously took water for Bob from the water cooler. And then there were the apples and sugar cubes . . . "

"Combined with the fact you left the sleigh bell harness on Bob and that you were trying to be inconspicuous while feeding her through the window but failing miserably . . . it was a pretty elementary deduction," Doc finished.

"Well, he had me fooled!" Bugs sighed with frustration.

"But what we don't understand is why you took Bob," I said.

"Fellas, I had to!" Doomsday said, his eyes tearing up. "Last night when I saw she was getting her harness fitting I stopped in to say hello and she told me she's miserable. Snaff Pelham took over the stables this year from his father and he's not nice to the horses at all. He doesn't even care about them. He just wants to get as much money from the business as he can without spending any more than he needs to. So he's not feeding them enough and he fired the workers so their stalls aren't being kept clean and there's no one to groom or exercise them. And he yells at them and gets mad at them all the time."

"That's horrible!" Bugs exclaimed.

I sighed sympathetically. "I understand that you were just trying to protect Bob but, Doomsday . . . you broke the law. You can't take things that don't belong to you. You could get into serious trouble!"

"I don't care," Doomsday said, looking down at the floor, "I couldn't let him take her back."

Doc looked at me and asked, "What are we going to do?"

"Doomsday certainly didn't mean any harm," I pointed out. "But we're going to have to return Bob to Snaff Pelham."

"No, you can't!" Doomsday cried.

"Doomsday, we'll investigate the stables and do everything we can to help the horses," I assured him. "But if Mr. Pelham finds out that you're the one who took Bob he could press charges against you!"

"And Bobbing for Apples is an expensive racehorse," Doc added. "You could be facing a grand theft charge and possible jail time."

"That's crazy!" Bugs complained. "Doomsday is just trying to protect the horse! They can't arrest him for that!"

"Technically they can," I sighed. "But if we say we found Bob and give her back, Mr. Pelham never needs to know Doomsday took her."

"No!" Doomsday cried. "You're all talking about Bob like she's a thing! She's got feelings! And she's my friend! I can't just stand by and let that man mistreat her!"

I could understand how Doomsday felt. I didn't want to have to send Bob back to the stables where she was miserable. But I also didn't want to see Doomsday jeopardize his future without realizing what he was doing.

"We'll figure out something," I finally sighed, patting Doomsday's shoulder. "As long as we can keep Bob hidden and they don't know you took her, then . . . "

The door of the C.A.P.E.R. room opened again and Sgt. Vinton entered with Snaff Pelham. They were followed by reporter Kurt Klinsinger and Klinsinger's film crew.

"Hasn't anyone ever heard of knocking?" Doc asked with frustration.

"Set up over there, boys," Klinsinger directed the camera crew, who set up their camera equipment in the doorway, blocking anyone's entrance or exit into or out of the room.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm covering the story of the ransomed racehorse!" Klinsinger explained.

"Ransomed?" I asked with surprise. "No one has demanded money for her, have they?"

"No, but why else would someone steal an expensive retired racehorse?" Klinsinger asked.

"Look, this really isn't a good time," I said. "We have work to do here!"

"Publicity can only help this case!" Klinsinger insisted.

"Oh, I seriously doubt that," Doc sighed worriedly.

"Why don't you stand over there?" Klinsinger directed Sgt. Vinton and Snaff Pelham, who stood with their backs to the window.

"Uh, do you mind if we leave before you get started?" I asked. "We have something very important to . . . "

"Kurt Klinsinger, reporting from the 927th precinct police station, here with Snaff Pelham, owner of our beloved Christmas icon, Bobbing for Apples, who has been horsenapped!" Klinsinger began his report. "Mr. Pelham, when did you first realize Bob was missing?"

"Bob was taken last night at approximately 8:30 when she was in town having her harness fitting for the annual Christmas parade," Snaff explained.

"What a dastardly deed," Klinsinger interjected. "Sgt. Vinton, what are the police doing to help rescue Bob?"

"We are putting our best detectives on the case," Sgt. Vinton explained, "and we are confident that we will find Bob and have her returned safely to the love and warmth of her stable by the end of the day."

"Yes, all we want is for Bob to be brought back safely," Snaff insisted, working up what were obviously false tears. "I won't even press charges if only our beloved Bob is allowed to come home. The safety of that horse means more to me than anything in the world!"

Bugs and Doomsday were shaking their heads at everything Snaff was saying as the bells outside the window began to ring again.

"Bugs, would you stop shaking you head?" Sgt. Vinton scolded. "You're ruining the shot!"

"Oh, sorry." Bugs stopped shaking his head but the bells continued ringing.

"That isn't Bugs," Sgt. Vinton realized.

"I'm telling you, it sounds like it's coming from outside!" Snaff insisted, starting for the window.

I cut Snaff off, hopping on the bench and throwing my back against the window, laughing, "Don't be silly! What could possibly be outside that would be ringing?"

Just then Bob stuck her nose in between the bars and snuffled at my shoulder, looking for another apple.

"It's Bob!" Sgt. Vinton exclaimed.

"Make sure to keep rolling!" Klinsinger told his camera crew.

Snaff Pelham pushed me aside and snatched at Bob's reins through the bars. "Get over here!" he snarled angrily.

Bob reared away from Snaff with a loud grunt of protest but Snaff had caught the reins and pulled her in toward the bars roughly, holding her tight even though she continued to try to pull away.

Seeing this, Doomsday ran for the door but found he couldn't get past the camera crew. Sgt. Vinton had stepped back and was blocking the door to the storage area, so Doomsday couldn't go out that way, either. He looked around desperately, then looked up and started snapping his fingers. But nothing was happening.

"How did Bob get behind the police station?" Sgt. Vinton asked.

Snaff looked out through the bars and noted, "There are apple cores out here! And a water bucket! Someone's been keeping her here!"

Bugs noticed that Doomsday was jumping up and down frantically, snapping his fingers. He walked over and asked, "Are you trying to do this?" Bugs snapped his fingers and a trap door in the floor above opened as Bugs' rope ladder dropped down from the ceiling above the upper floors.

"Yeah! Thanks, Bugs!" Doomsday smiled, and he scrambled up the rope ladder.

Doc and I saw Doomsday climbing the rope ladder and frantically motioned for him to stop, but he was already through the trap door and climbing past the second floor.

A woman sitting at a desk on the second floor stopped her paperwork and waved at Doomsday as he climbed past her. "Hey, Doomsday," she smiled.

"Hi, Madge!" Doomsday smiled as he continued to the roof.

"Well, the important thing is you have Bob back," Sgt. Vinton smiled.

"The heck it is!" Snaff Pelham growled. "I want the person who took her to be arrested!"

"Whatever happened to 'I won't even press charges if only our beloved Bob is allowed to come home?'" Bugs asked in a mocking fashion.

"Are you kidding?" Snaff said angrily. "Whoever took my horse is going to pay!"

"Well, but there's really no way of deducing who the culprit is now," Doc pointed out.

"Yes," I agreed. "I'm sure whoever left her here wanted us to find her. The thief is probably long gone by now!"

Doomsday had reached the roof and climbed down the fire escape ladder on the side of the building. Jumping down the final feet to the ground, he worked quickly to remove Bob's bridle.

"It's the duty of the police to find the guilty party!" Snaff insisted, then he lost his balance and almost fell off the bench. "What the . . . ?" Snaff gasped when he realized the reins and bridle in his hand were now empty. He lunged at the window and pressed his face to the bars as Doomsday jumped onto Bob and rode away, the sound of the sleigh bells fading away quickly.

"That kid! That kid just took my horse!" Snaff yelled angrily.

"What a story!" Klinsinger shouted excitedly, running for the door and directing his camera crew to follow.

"Do something!" Snaff yelled at Sgt. Vinton.

"You don't have to worry," Sgt. Vinton assured him. "I'm sure Doomsday had a good reason for riding away on Bob. He's really a good kid . . . "

"Oh, get out of my way, you useless public official," Snaff growled, and he pushed past Sgt. Vinton and ran out the door.

"Don't worry!" Sgt. Vinton called as he followed Snaff from the room. "I'll put out an APB! We'll stop him!"

"Now what do we do?" Doc asked, throwing his hands up in frustration.

"We'd better go after them," I suggested, and we hurried out the door.

As we ran through the outer office we saw Sgt. Vinton on the police scanner microphone. "Calling all cars. Calling all cars. Be on the lookout for a young man riding a horse through town. Suspect is blonde, blue eyes, 18 years old, approximately five foot, eight inches tall . . . oh for goodness sake, it's Doomsday! Watch for Doomsday riding through town on Bobbing for Apples and stop him!"

As we ran down the front steps of the police station we saw Kurt Klinsinger riding away on his motorbike with the camera crew following in their news van. Snaff Pelham had jumped into the cab of his truck which was pulling a single horse trailer. The man was looking decidedly aggravated as he tossed the reins down on the passenger seat and drove off after Klinsinger. Sgt. Vinton ran out of the station and hurried to his patrol car.

"Our boys have spotted Doomsday and Bob passing the Krelvin Building," Sgt. Vinton informed us as he jumped into the car. "They're in pursuit!"

"Let's go!" I said, and we jumped into the Big Bologna and joined the chase.

"Does Doomsday have his C.A.P.E.R. band radio?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," Doc said as he drove. "You can try it and see."

I pulled out the antenna on my C.A.P.E.R. band radio and pressed the button. "P.T. calling Doomsday! Come in Doomsday! If you can hear me, pick up! Please!"

Doomsday looked down at his C.A.P.E.R. band radio as he heard my voice calling frantically, but he just shook his head. "Don't worry, Bob," he said, "I won't let them take you back!"

The thoroughbred's hooves clicked rhythmically on the pavement as Doomsday clutched the harness around her neck; the sleigh bells ringing loudly. As he held on he could feel her strength and speed and wondered how anyone could ever mistreat such a beautiful animal.

As they turned the corner past the Dingleman Mall people on the sidewalk stopped and stared, pointing in amazement at the sight of the horse and rider speeding by, following by two patrol cars which had their lights flashing and sirens blaring. The procession was soon followed by a motorbike, a news van, a truck pulling a single horse trailer, another patrol car and the Big Bologna.

I turned on the police scanner to hear what was happening. Sgt. Vinton's voice came over the radio, instructing, "We don't want Doomsday or Bob hurt. Just try to cut them off somehow!"

As Bob turned another corner near some tall office buildings Doomsday saw two more patrol cars turning onto the street ahead of them. He directed Bob to turn right into an alley between two buildings. But the minute they turned in he realized it was a mistake. A tall chain link fence turned the alley into a dead end.

Bob stopped and spun around just as the patrol cars screeched to a stop, blocking the opening of the alley. Doomsday jumped off Bob and stood in front of her, ready to protect her no matter what happened.

"We've got them cornered," an officer reported over the scanner.

"Okay, just hold them there," Sgt. Vinton directed. "Don't do anything until I'm on the scene!"

The policemen climbed out of their patrol cars and stood at the mouth of the alley, looking at Doomsday with confusion. Kurt Klinsinger and his news crew had pulled up and were already setting up to film the situation. Snaff Pelham stopped his truck so suddenly the trailer behind him almost jack knifed. He grabbed up the reins and bridle angrily and climbed out of his truck just as Sgt. Vinton's patrol car stopped in front of him.

Seeing Snaff storming toward the alley, Sgt. Vinton stepped in front of him and held his arms out. "This is a police matter now!" he insisted. "Let us handle it!"

"Oh yes, you've handled everything just wonderfully so far!" Snaff growled as Doc, Bugs and I jumped out of the Big Bologna and approached. "I want my horse NOW!"

"In the name of the law, I'm ordering you to wait here!" Sgt. Vinton yelled sternly, causing Snaff to take a step back with surprise.

We watched as Sgt. Vinton walked to the alley and paused, eyeing Doomsday and Bob with concern. "Come on out now, Doomsday," he called gently.

"No!" Doomsday shouted. "I won't!"

I walked over to Sgt. Vinton, who looked at me with confusion. "Why is he doing this?"

"He says Snaff Pelham is neglecting the horses at his stables," I explained.

"Is there any proof of that?" Sgt. Vinton asked.

"Bob told him it was the case," I sighed. "But that's all."

"Although it's straight from the horse's mouth, I can't accuse Snaff Pelham on just Bob's word through Doomsday. That would never hold up in court," Sgt. Vinton pointed out.

"I told Doomsday we could investigate the claims and do things by the book," I explained. "But he's just so passionate about protecting Bob, he doesn't care about the consequences."

"Are you going to arrest him or what?" Snaff yelled from the opening of the alley.

Sgt. Vinton and I walked back over to Snaff. "Look, I'm sure we can come to some kind of understanding," Sgt. Vinton said calmly. "Your father knows Doomsday is a good kid. Maybe if we talked to him, he could . . . "

"My father signed the stables over to me!" Snaff snapped. "He's in a convalescent home now and has nothing to do with this! I am the sole owner of Bobbing for Apples! And I want my property returned to me and I want that kid arrested for theft . . . now!"

A look of helplessness came over Sgt. Vinton's face. I knew he didn't want to do what he was going to have to do.

"I'm sure the citizens would be very interested to see how the police department doesn't do their job!" Snaff sneered, motioning to the television cameras which were busy filming.

"Tense standoff here in the business district of Northeast Southweston," Kurt Klinsinger was reporting anxiously in a hushed voice. "We expect the apprehension of the horse thief any minute now . . . "

Sgt. Vinton looked at me sadly. "I'm afraid I have no choice, P.T."

I nodded, understanding his position. "Let me talk to him," I said.

"Go ahead," Sgt. Vinton agreed.

Before I turned to leave, Snaff Pelham held out the reins and bridle to me, which I took reluctantly.

I slowly walked down the alley towards Doomsday, who watched me apprehensively. When I got closer he eyed the bridle in my hand with a look of despair.

"No, P.T.," Doomsday begged. "Please . . . "

I sighed, my heart breaking. "Doomsday . . . I wish there were something I could do. But everyone saw you take the horse. Sgt. Vinton is going to have to arrest you."

"I don't care about me," Doomsday sobbed. "I don't care if I go to jail. But please . . . please don't give Bob to that man. She just knows something bad is going to happen."

"Doomsday, I promise you . . . we will do everything we can to prove Snaff Pelham is neglecting his animals. It will be our very top priority. But right now . . . I have no choice. The law is the law," I explained.

"But P.T. . . . there must be something you can do," Doomsday begged. Doomsday pulled Bob's nose closer and pressed his cheek against it as he tried to fight back tears.

"If there were any other way . . . " I sighed helplessly.

After a long moment, Doomsday slowly nodded. "I understand," he sniffed, reaching out to take the reins from me. As he slipped the bridle over Bob's head he spoke softly to her. "I told her not to worry," Doomsday explained to me as he tightened the straps, "That it's going to be okay and we're going to help her, but that she has to go home for now."

Bob whinnied slightly and nudged Doomsday's shoulder. Doomsday spoke to her, hugging her neck.

"What did she say?" I asked.

"She wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get in trouble," Doomsday answered. "I told her not to worry about me." Reluctantly Doomsday handed Bob's reins to me.

I patted Doomsday on the back gently and assured him, "It's gonna be okay. We're going to help Bob and we're going to clear your name. I won't let anything bad happen to the horses. I promise."

Leading Bob, I walked out of the alley with Doomsday following close behind and stroking Bob's flank. Sgt. Vinton met us about halfway down the alley and Doomsday stopped.

"I'm really sorry about this," Sgt. Vinton apologized.

"No, it's okay," Doomsday said quietly, keeping his eyes on Bob as we walked on. "I understand."

Sgt. Vinton motioned for Doomsday to turn around and Doomsday cooperated, putting his hands behind his back as the handcuffs were snapped in place. "You have the right to remain silent . . . "

I approached Snaff Pelham, who was looking ridiculously smug. He held his hand out, demanding Bob's reins. Just before I handed them over I pulled them away as I stepped in close to him, speaking low into his face. "If you harm one hair on this horse's mane, I swear I'll . . . " I gave him an angry glare which couldn't be misinterpreted.

Snaff seemed surprised, eyeing me suspiciously. When I handed him the reins Bob shied away from him slightly, protesting with a loud huff.

Doomsday called out something to Bob as he was being led to Sgt. Vinton's patrol car. Bob immediately calmed down and obediently followed Snaff to the trailer.

Sgt. Vinton opened the back door of the patrol car and Doomsday slid inside. Before closing the door, he leaned down slyly and unlocked the cuffs, removing them, then patted Doomsday on the shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile.

"And there you have it!" Kurt Klinsinger was exclaiming. "The standoff is now over and the horse thief has been arrested! Much to everyone's shock, the culprit was indeed none other than one of the police department's own youth interns, Doomsday! It is a shocking twist in this already shocking case! We will be bringing you more of this story later on today!" Klinsinger motioned for the camera crew to cut, saying, "Run this footage over to the station! We need to get this on the air as soon as possible!"

Doc and I stepped over to Sgt. Vinton, who was wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. "It will take a while to process him. But you should be able to post his bail in a couple of hours." He lowered his voice and asked, "Do you think you could manage a hundred dollars?"

I looked at Doc, who said, "Sure. No problem."

"Okay, good," Sgt. Vinton said, climbing into his patrol car.

I saw Doomsday through the back window of the police car as he sat looking up at me with an expression that cut me to the quick. It wasn't one of anger or hatred . . . it was a heartbreaking mixture of sadness and disappointment.

As the patrol car pulled away, Bugs approached us. Up until now he hadn't said anything but the look he was giving me was similar to the one I had just seen in Doomsday's eyes mixed with anger.

"How could you?" he cried. "How could you give Bob back to that man? And how could you let them arrest Doomsday? Just before Christmas???"

"Bugs, I . . . "

Before I could even try to explain, Bugs turned and stormed back to the Big Bologna.

I felt horrible, like I had let everyone down. It was then I felt Doc's hand on my shoulder.

"You did what you had to do," he assured me.

"Doc, we have to make this right," I said.

"And we will," Doc said confidently. "We'll bail Doomsday out and we'll get the goods on this Snaff Pelham. The truth will come out, you'll see."

As Doc and I walked to the Big Bologna we heard a cacophony of sleigh bells. Snaff Pelham had unfastened the belled harness Bob was wearing and unceremoniously dropped it on the ground. He then directed Bob to back up into the trailer, barely containing his anger, as Kurt Klinsinger approached.

"So perhaps later today we could come out to the Pelham Ranch and get some video of Bob in her stall?" Kurt suggested. "It would make a nice close to the story."

"Absolutely not!" Snaff shouted, slamming the gate of the trailer shut. "You set one foot on my property and I'm calling the police!" When Snaff noticed that Doc and I had stopped to hear this exchange, he added, "Bob needs rest now. She's had more than enough excitement for one day."

Kurt looked frustrated as Snaff jumped into the cab of his truck and drove away. "Strange man," he commented to us as he headed for his motorbike.

"A strange man with something to hide," I added. "We've got to prove that Doomsday was justified in trying to keep Bob away from him."

The interior of the Big Bologna was filled with a tense silence as Doc drove us back to the police station. Only the occasional sound of a confused Mr. Featherstone mumbling a vague inquiry as to what had happened was heard the entire trip.

We reached the precinct and Bugs exited the Big Bologna without saying anything. We followed him into the station. Inside one of the inner offices I saw Sgt. Vinton leading Doomsday to the processing area where he would be photographed and fingerprinted.

"Okay, we have a lot to do," I began as I entered the C.A.P.E.R. room. "First, Doc and I will . . . "

It was then I realized that Bugs was sitting in the middle of the floor with his legs and arms crossed.

"Bugs, this is no time for yoga," I said.

"I'm on strike," Bugs stated firmly.

"Oh come on, Bugs!" Doc moaned.

"Nope, I'm on strike and I'm staging a sit-in until Doomsday is released!" Bugs stated emphatically. "I won't lift one finger for this organization until Doomsday is set free!"

I checked my watch. "Well, that will be in another . . . ninety minutes or so," I said.

"Come on, Bugs," Doc sighed. "We could really use your help."

Bugs turned his head away and closed his eyes. I knew he wasn't going to budge. Whenever he makes up his mind about something like that he can be very stubborn.

"Okay, fine," Doc said, walking over to me. "I'll get the bail together for Doomsday."

"And I'm going to make some phone calls," I said. "It might be very interesting to have a talk with Ol' Tack Pelham."