L.J. Tabby and the Case of the Missing Hippopotamus
Written for dewgoddess as part of NFA's 2011 White Elephant Fanfiction Exchange
Disclaimer: No names and trademarks recognised as "NCIS" are mine; I've just borrowed the characters in the name of creativity.
Characters: Timmy, Tony, Abby, Ziva, Miss Jenny, Dr Ducky, Leroy, Bert
Genres: Humour, AU, Crack, Mystery
Summary: A new girl, a mystery, a spotted frog . . . it's just your average day at daycare. Crack!AU
A/N This is set #21 and I've gone with prompt three: Crack!AU!fic. NCIS Babies. Just like the Muppet version; here, everyone in the NCIS universe are babies/toddlers but can talk and still have their recognizable traits.
It was too quiet.
The plastic letters sat neatly in rows across the wooden table. A dollhouse in the corner had five dolls, with heads, tucked up in their beds. And the clothes in dress-up area hung tidily on the miniature clothes rack . . . except for a shiny red scarf that trailed across the linoleum floor. Suddenly there was a noise.
Timmy McGee dropped his crayon and looked up from his writing. He was lying on his stomach in the reading nook with pages of scribbles stacked up next to him in chronological order, of course. To the overworked and underpaid daycare workers, Timmy was a compulsive artist and the red and green and blue marks across the page were a cat, or a house, or little Timmy's family. But adults were dumb and couldn't see that Timmy was actually writing his next great novel . . . about L.J. Tabby, a crime fighting cat, and the great ice-cream mystery.
Timmy shook his head and carefully selected a purple crayon this time. The others were around somewhere, probably with their rough and tumble games, but Timmy was content with his paper and his purple crayon. Besides, L.J. Tabby was just about to go do some super sleuthing and . . .
Timmy nearly snapped his purple crayon in half as Tony jumped out from behind the clothes rack. He ran full pelt towards Timmy and snatched Timmy's manuscript off the floor. Tony stared at it and squinted, screwing up his nose.
"Whatcha doing, McGoo?" Tony asked, waving Timmy's paper under his nose as he did a little dance-jig hop on the spot.
"Whiting," Timmy replied guardedly, clutching his nearly broken in half purple crayon to his chest as though Tony was about to take that too. "I'm whiting a th-story."
"What about?" Tony asked, still waving Timmy's paper about.
Timmy tried to grab his novel from Tony, but Tony shook his head and held it up higher as he grinned. Timmy scrambled to his feet and started jumping for the paper. But Tony was taller and Timmy wasn't very good at jumping. "Pwease, Tony?" Timmy asked.
Mean Tony shook his head again. "Uh-huh. You didn't answered my question."
"Anthony D. DiNozzo!"
A high-pitched squeal echoed across the daycare room and both little boys forgot what they were doing. Tony let his arm drop to his side and Timmy stopped his jumping. They looked to the side and saw Abby storming towards them with a frown on her face and Bert the hippo tucked under her arm. She narrowed her eyes as she approached and both little boys gulped.
"Tony DiNozzo!" Abby scolded, one hand on her hip, the other clutching the fat grey hippo that was nearly as large as she was. "You don't takes Timmy's writings without his 'mission," she lectured, glaring at Tony. She stared the boy down until Tony meekly handed over Timmy's paper and hung his head in shame.
Abby softened and smiled at Timmy. "Here you goes, Timmy, your writings. Are you writing about L.J. Tabby again?" Abby fluttered her eyelashes when Timmy nodded. "He's the bestest," Abby announced gleefully.
Timmy blushed and point to a significant scribble on his manuscript. "That'sth where L.J. Tabby looksth for the icy-cream."
Abby squealed and clapped her hands together, sending Bert tumbling to the floor. "Did the ice-cream rat taked all the ice-cream?" she asked, wide-eyed.
Timmy shook his head and glanced furtively around the room. He lowered his voice as though he was about to impart state secrets to the little pigtailed girl. Timmy leaned in close to Abby and whispered, "Tommy. Tommy tooked all the icy-cream. Tommy the terrible tiger." Timmy paused and added, "He's mean."
"Ooh," Abby whispered back. Then she frowned, confused. "Why did Tommy taked the ice-cream?"
Timmy shrugged and hugged his manuscript close. "I dunno. Haven't gotsth to that part yet. I was but then Tony th-showed up."
At the mention of his name, Tony looked up; his self-imposed exile over. "What kinda tiger takes ice-cream?" he asked nastily, hurt that Timmy hadn't told him about L.J. Tabby and the ice-cream before Abby. Timmy was his bestest friend after all.
"A bad tiger," Abby retorted, sticking out her tongue at Tony and pulling a face. "A bad meany tiger. Like you."
Tony's lower lip trembled, but the three children were interrupted by the arrival of Miss Jenny, one of the daycare teachers.
"Now, Abby," she scolded lightly. "We don't say those kinds of things to our friends at daycare, do we, Ziva?"
The little girl with dark brown hair who was clutching Miss Jenny's hand shook her head.
"That's right, Ziva," Miss Jenny praised. "What do we say, Abby?" she asked sternly
"Sorry, Tony," Abby offered, pigtails drooping. "I didn't means to be a meany." But then she protested, "But Miss Jenny, Tony tooked Timmy's writings an' wouldn't give 'em back. He was being a . . ."
"Abby," Miss Jenny warned and Abby snapped her mouth shut. Miss Jenny was very nice, but she could be very scary too, not like Dr Ducky who was always nice and told the bestest stories.
"Sorry," Abby repeated, chastised.
"That's alright, Abby," Miss Jenny replied. "Thank you for apologising." Miss Jenny looked down at the new girl, Ziva. "And this is Ziva. She's joining us today all the way from Israel – that's another country a long way away from here."
The three children looked at Ziva curiously until Abby spoke up and asked, "Is Is-Is-Isra . . ." Abby stumbled over the word. "Is that furtherer away than the museum?" Abby loved the museum but it was very far away, all the way downtown, in fact.
Miss Jenny laughed. "It's a little further than the museum, Abby." She smiled at Ziva and then at the rest of the children gathered around her legs. "Now I want you all to make Ziva feel welcome at daycare since today's her very first day and I'm sure she's a little scared, just like all of you were when you first started."
Abby, Tony and Timmy nodded solemnly.
"Are you okay to stay here with Abby and Timmy and Tony?" Miss Jenny asked Ziva.
Ziva nodded and took a step towards the three little toddlers. She smiled at them and Tony and Timmy immediately smiled back.
"Shalom," Ziva said, almost shyly.
The others gave her blank looks until Timmy tried to repeat, "Th-shalom?"
Ziva laughed and shook her head. "No. Sha-lom."
"Sha-zam," Tony tried and grinned proudly at Timmy.
Timmy ducked his head and blushed. He tried, he really did, but he just didn't sound like the other children. "Th-shalom," he tried again.
Ziva shook her head, but smiled at him. "Nearly right." She frowned at Tony. "Sha-lom, not Sha-zam."
This time Timmy gave Tony a toothy grin.
Abby was upset.
She glanced across the yard and pouted. Timmy and Tony were in the sandpit with Ziva, playing restaurant. Ziva and Timmy, by the looks of things, were playing chef and waiter respectively, while Tony was the customer. Ziva laughed as Timmy blew across the top of a sand-filled bucket, sending sand into Tony's lap. Tony frowned.
Abby crossed her arms and glared at the children. She'd wanted to play explorer, but Ziva had wanted to play in the sandpit. Tony and Timmy agreed and told Abby that they could play explorer later, but she wanted to play now and didn't want to play restaurant, so the little boys had left her and dutifully followed Ziva to the sandpit, where she was bossing them around.
It wasn't fair. Tony and Timmy were her friends, not Ziva's, and she couldn't just come and take them away from her. Abby's lower lip trembled and she tried not to cry.
Abby looked up and her frown turned to a watery smile. A boy, a couple of years older than her, had sat down next to her on the green bench under the acorn tree. He swung his feet back and forth as he asked,
"Tony an' Timmy won't play withs me," she complained, pointing to the offending parties across the daycare yard.
"Why not?" Leroy asked, adjusting his Marine baseball cap.
"'Cos of her." Abby stuck out her tongue in Ziva's direction. "The new girl. She camed today from Is-Is-Isra . . ."
"Israel?" Leroy suggested.
Abby nodded. "A really, really far awayed place, even furtherer than the museum." Abby's eyes welled up with tears. "An' now Timmy an' Tony like her better and won't plays with me!" Abby wailed.
"Maybe they're jus' playin' with Ziver now and will play with you later?" Leroy remarked diplomatically. He smiled at Abby. "I don' understand why anyone wouldn't want to play with you."
Abby smiled and leaned into Leroy, resting her head on his shoulder. She didn't have any brothers or sisters, but Leroy was just as good. He might have been older than Abby and in the pre-school room, but she was his favourite and he took special care of her.
"Will you play with me?" Abby asked in a small voice.
Abby lit up. "I wants to play explorers!" she exclaimed, jumping off the green bench and landing with a soft bump on the soft-fall. She turned to Leroy. "We're lookin' for . . . for . . . Tommy tigers! Meany Tommy tigers!" Abby lowered her voice. "They're very dangerous and they steals the ice-cream."
"That's not right," Leroy agreed solemnly as he hopped off the bench too. "How do we hunt for Tommy tigers?" he asked Abby seriously.
"Like 'dis!" Abby squealed and tugged on Leroy hand, pulling him along as the little girl raced off to the rock garden in order to hunt for Tommy tigers.
There was a high-pitched scream.
Miss Jenny, who was sitting quietly with a couple of children on the floor, sprung to her feet. She hurried over to the source of the scream, looking for objects she could use as potential weapons. But instead of finding a potential kidnapper in her daycare, Miss Jenny found a little girl with pigtails crying silent tears.
"Abby." Miss Jenny dropped to her knees. "What's the matter?"
Abby hiccupped as she cried, "Someone, hic, has taked, hic, Bert!"
Miss Jenny was confused. "Bert? Oh, the hippo . . ."
Abby nodded tearfully. "He's goned."
"Are you sure you just haven't put Bert down somewhere and don't know where he is?" Miss Jenny asked gently.
"NO!" Abby wailed. "I left him here and now he's goned?"
"Okay, okay," Miss Jenny soothed, pulling Abby into a hug. "Don't worry. I'm sure Bert is somewhere inside."
"He was 'nappped." Abby replied determinedly, sniffling.
"Miss Jenny?" Tony asked as he, Timmy and Ziva gathered around Abby and their teacher. "What's wrong with Abby?"
Miss Jenny smiled at the other children. "Abby has lost Bert, her hippo."
Tony gasped. "Bert was 'napped!"
"No, Tony," Miss Jenny replied, sighing inwards, "Bert hasn't been kidnapped. I'm sure he's just hiding somewhere inside." She smiled at the children.
"No!" Abby shook her head vehemently. "He was 'napped . . . hipponapped!"
"Hipponapped!" Timmy, Tony and Ziva echoed in unison, eyes wide, mouths gaping.
I need a drink, Miss Jenny thought as she mentally banged her head against the proverbial wall. She plastered a smile on her face. "I'm sure Bert hasn't been, uh, hipponapped."
"We needs to call the police!" Abby declared. She was no longer crying and actually looked quite enthused about the whole thing.
Tony nodded seriously. "The policemen."
Oh boy, Miss Jenny groaned. "Abby, I don't think the policemen deal with, uh, hipponappings."
Abby's eyes lit up. "You're right, Miss Jenny. We don't needs the police, we needs a defective."
"A defective," Tony echoed. Then he screwed up his nose. "What's a defective?"
"They looks for things!" Abby announced, liking the fact she was now the expert on defectives. Abby racked her brains for an example. "Like . . . like . . . L.J. Tabby!"
"Yeah!" Tony nodded in agreement. "L.J. Tabby." He turned to Timmy. "L.J. Tabby can find Bert!"
"But there are no cluesth," Timmy replied in an almost whisper. "L.J. Tabby alwaysth looksth for the cluesth."
"But we can looks for clues!" Ziva suggested, eager to include herself in the game. "Clues to who 'napped Bert!"
"Yeah!" Abby squealed. "Clues!"
Oh thank goodness, Miss Jenny sighed. She was thankful that the children had finally focused on something other than calling the police. Miss Jenny grinned brightly and clapped her hands together. "Great idea, Ziva. You four can look for clues together and maybe you'll find Bert."
"But how do we finds the clues?" Tony asked with a frown. "I dunno how to find clues."
"Is someone talking about clues?" A new voice joined their conversation.
Miss Jenny got to her feet and spun around to face the newcomer as the children looked up and broke out into grins.
"Dr Ducky!" Abby squealed and launched herself at the older gentleman, the daycare's favourite volunteer helper. But then she blinked tearfully and whispered, "Someone tooked Bert."
Dr Ducky got down her level and looked grave. "We can't have that, can we?"
Abby shook her head. "He was 'napped. Hipponapped." She grinned. "But we are gonna look for clues!" Abby frowned and leaned into Dr Ducky's ear to whisper, "But we dunno how to looks for clues."
"Well now, that's easy," Dr Ducky whispered back. "I used to be a detective, you know." He winked at Abby.
"You were defective?" Abby breathed.
Dr Ducky laughed heartedly. "That too, Abigail, but I was a good detective."
"So you know hows to look for clues?" Abby asked.
"I am very good at finding clues," Dr Ducky agreed, nodding.
"But how?" Tony asked.
"Well, first you need a magnifying glass," he replied, getting to his feet.
"What's a frying glass?" Tony asked.
"You use it to looksth for cluesth," Timmy told him. "Like in the book mommy readsth."
"That's right, Timothy," Dr Ducky praised. "You use it to look for clues."
"But we don't have one," Abby complained.
"Who says we don't have one." Dr Ducky walked over to the large toy cupboard, flicked on the light switch and fished around in the storeroom until he found his prize. He grinned triumphantly.
"This, boys and girls, is a magnifying glass." He held up the large black object and got back down on his knees. "See, you put it up to your eye and you can see things that you couldn't see before because it magnifies – it makes things bigger."
"And you use it to looksth for cluesth," Timmy concluded.
"Quite right, Timothy," Dr Ducky said cheerfully, handing the magnifying glass to the little boy.
Timmy stared at the object in his hand. "But I'm not a defective," he said quietly.
"Sure you are," Dr Ducky said gently. "You have a magnifying glass. All good detectives have a magnifying glass."
Tony nodded enthusiastically. "You're a defective now! Like L.J. Tabby!" Tony turned to the other children and exclaimed, "Timmy and L.J. Tabby are gonna saves Bert from the 'nappers."
"You better start looking for your clues then," Dr Ducky suggested jovially. "If you need any help, just ask."
Tony shook his head. "We won't need any help 'cos we have L.J. Tabby, the bestest defective EVER!"
"Is 'dis a clue?" Tony asked as he squatted and poked a curled up millipede in the reading corner, the last place Abby had seen Bert.
Timmy, magnifying glass in hand, puffed out his chest importantly and squatted down next to Tony. He raised the large object to peer at the millipede. Tony peered curiously over his shoulder as Timmy squinted.
"I'm not th-sure," Timmy replied, shrugging. "I don't think it'sth a clue. It'sth a mill-pede." He watched through the lens as the millipede uncurled itself and started to move away.
"Oh." Tony followed the millipede with his eyes. "I thoughted it was a clue."
Abby interrupted them. "I've gots one!" she exclaimed excitedly, gesturing for the other children to join her.
Timmy, Tony and Ziva gathered around Abby.
Ziva frowned. "That's fluff, Abby," she pointed out.
"Nuh-uh," Abby protested stubbornly. "It's Bert."
"I think it's fluff, Abbs," Tony added solemnly. "It doesn't look like Bert. It's fluff."
"Is not!" Abby cried, pouting. "It's Bert! His inside! Like when you gets a cut and there's blood 'n stuff!"
Tony gasped. "Oh no. Someone hurted Bert?"
"But it does not help with who took him," Ziva noted.
Abby looked to be on the verge of tears when Timmy interrupted and exclaimed, "I gotsth th-something!"
"What is it, Timmy?" Tony asked.
The children gathered around Timmy as he raised his magnifying glass. On the floor was a plastic frog, looking more like a toad under Timmy's magnifying glass. It was bright red with yellow spots and certainly didn't belong in their toddler room. It actually looked like the ones in . . .
Tony gasped again. "A pre-school froggy!" he shouted.
"SHHH!" Abby hissed, glancing around furtively. "We dun want Miz Jenny and Dr Ducky hearing."
"But someone from pre-school must've taked Bert!" Tony exclaimed in a slightly lower voice. "We needs to get him back. We needs to get Bert back like the policemen in movies. We needs to takeover pre-school."
"We can'ts take over pre-school," Abby replied, "duh. But we do needs to get Bert back."
"How?" Tony asked.
Abby looked thoughtful, but shrugged. "I dun know how to gets Bert back from pre-school." She looked worried. "They're much biggerer than us and I bet Bert is scaredy. Poor Bert."
"Poor Bert," Tony echoed.
"We couldsth go get him," Timmy suggested quietly.
The other three children turned to look at him.
"But we's not allowed in pre-school," Abby pointed out, putting her hands on her hips. "Miz Jenny won't let us."
"Let's sneaky in then!" Tony suggested excitedly. "Like the policemen in the movies."
"But we'd hafta open the door from outside," Abby mused.
The children turned to look at the latched door that led to the outside area and to the backdoor of the pre-school room.
"I have an idea," Ziva whispered suddenly, leaning in close to the other children, "to open the door, but I need some rope."
"Wrope?" Timmy asked.
"Rope," Ziva repeated. "Rope for the door."
"I knows where rope is! It's . . ." Abby exclaimed loudly before her voice became muffled as Tony slapped his hand over her mouth. "Uhm . . . ugh . . . ufh . . . Tony!"
Tony removed his hand and hushed, "Shhh, Abbs. We dun want Miz Jenny or Doc Ducky to hear us. We gets in trouble otherwise."
"Sorry," Abby whispered. "But I knows where rope is. Jump rope."
"Jump rope," Tony echoed, "from the small toy cupboard."
Abby nodded. "Yeah, jump rope." She frowned. "But we needs a detraction."
Abby nodded again. "So's Miz Jenny and Dr Ducky don't sees us. A detraction." Abby paused for a moment. "Tony! You make detraction."
"How do I make detraction?" he asked, looking confused.
"You cry," Ziva whispered. "Loud crying."
"Very loud crying," Abby agreed.
"But why do I loud cry?" Tony asked, puzzled.
"For detraction." Abby sighed impatiently.
"Pwetend crying," Timmy added. "For detraction."
"But I can't!" Tony complained. "I . . ." The little boy was cut off as Ziva pushed him over, sending him tumbling to the ground. Tony looked stunned for a moment, before his bottom lip trembled and he began to wail.
Ziva and Abby exchanged grins. They left Timmy to help with the detraction as Abby pulled Ziva over to the small toy cupboard while Miss Jenny and Dr Ducky tended to a bawling Tony. Abby tugged on the door and it opened, swinging backwards. The two little girls jumped out of the way in fright, but Abby frowned and approached the cupboard.
Inside Abby found a neatly coiled jump rope. She grinned brilliantly at Ziva, as Tony still wailed in the background, and plucked it from the shelf. Abby stepped back from the cupboard and Ziva quickly shut the door, just as Tony finally stopped crying.
Miss Jenny and Dr Ducky, looking relieved, moved away from the boys so Timmy gestured for Ziva and Abby to return. Keeping an eye on their daycare teachers, the girls hurried back over to the boys and proudly showed them their find. Timmy smiled at their success, but Tony glared at the pair.
"What was that for?" he grumbled, pouting. He rubbed his shoulder.
Abby and Ziva gave each other a look and giggled in unison, "Detraction!"
Tony frowned and narrowed his eyes as though he was about to tell the girls off, so Abby jumped in and said dramatically, "It's for helping Bert from the 'nappers, 'member. We hafta save Bert from the pre-school 'nappers."
Timmy and Ziva nodded.
Tony sighed. "Okay. But don'ts do it again. I dun like it."
Abby nodded, looking apologetic. "Sorry, Tony." Then she grinned. "But it was a good detraction."
"But now we need another one," Ziva pointed out as she fiddled with the end of the jump rope. "Far away from the door."
Abby's grinned faltered. "You right, Ziva." She looked across at Miss Jenny and Dr Ducky. "We needs even bigger detraction.
This time it was Timmy who had the great idea. "I hasth an idea," he said softly, almost nervously. "But I needsth two peoplesth. Th-so only two peoplesth can go get Bert."
"I'll be a detraction with you, McGoo," Tony said grandly. "I good at detraction. And then Ziva and Abby can gets Bert from pre-school. Agree?"
The others hesitated, but then Ziva nodded, prompting a chain reaction from Timmy and Abby. Tony grinned and grabbed Timmy's hand.
"Detraction time," Tony told the other boy.
"Are you sure nobodies saw us?" Abby asked nervously as she and Ziva slipped out the door, leaving Timmy and Tony's detraction behind them as the door shut.
Ziva shrugged. "I don't know. But we must get Bert from the 'nappers before they do anything mean to him."
Abby nodded. "You're right, Ziva," she agreed. "We must gets Bert from the 'nappers before meany stuff happens to him." She took a deep breath. "Let's go."
Holding hands, the two girls inched their way to the pre-school door. They kept their backs pressed to the brick wall and even though only about three feet separated the two doors, for the toddlers it seemed to take an eternity. With every step, they were sure Miss Jenny or Dr Ducky would emerge from a door and tell them off. But the two little girls reached the window that looked into the pre-school room without any dramas, except for the fact that anyone from the pre-school room looking outside would see two stowaway toddlers.
"Get down," Ziva hissed and tugged Abby to the cement ground underneath the window. "We can't have anyone seeing us."
Abby hadn't thought of that. "But hows do we get inside to gets Bert?" she asked, worried.
That left Ziva stumped. "I don't know." Then she had a flash of inspiration. "I know, we need someone on the inside to get Bert for us! But I don't know anyone."
Abby nodded enthusiastically. "Leroy! He's my bestest friend and he's a big boy in pre-school. He'll help us to gets Bert back."
"Is Leroy in there?" Ziva asked, gesturing to the pre-school room.
Abby nodded. "Ah-huh. But how do we gets him to get Bert?"
Ziva shrugged. "You could bang on the window?"
"But Mr Leon might see," Abby whined, referring to one of the pre-school teachers.
"Might not," Ziva countered.
"Might to," Abby complained.
"But you want Bert back, yes?"
Abby looked unsure, but she nodded. Chewing her bottom lip, Abby slowly got to her feet and peeked over the edge of the windowsill. The pre-school children were running amok and Abby couldn't see Mr Leon anywhere. But she could see Leroy sitting at a table with a basket of blocks in front of him. The table, thankfully, was quite near the window so with a final look at Ziva, who nodded encouragingly, Abby started to tap on the window.
At first, she got no response from anyone. The pre-school children continued to run amok while Leroy concentrated on his blocks. So Abby started to bang louder, looking frustrated. The longer she spent tapping away, the longer the meany pre-school kids had to harm Bert. But finally, after what felt like forever, Leroy looked up.
His eyes widened as he saw Abby gesturing wildly at him. Leroy glanced around to make sure nobody had seen Abby before slipping from his chair and hurrying over to the window, looking over his shoulder as did so.
"What are you doing?" he asked, but Abby just looked blankly at him, unable to hear through the glass.
She shrugged and mouthed something that Leroy couldn't make out.
'What. Are. You. Doing?' This time, Leroy signed his question.
Abby's face lit up and she sighed back, 'Someone 'napped Bert.'
Abby nodded. 'From in there.' She pointed to the pre-school room behind the glass.
'Someone in here 'napped Bert?'
Abby nodded again.
'You want me to find Bert?'
Abby grinned and gave Leroy a thumbs up.
Leroy sighed and nodded. His block boat would have to wait; he had a hippo to find. But where would one hide a hippo in the pre-school room? Leroy had no idea.
But suddenly Abby signed, 'We found pre-school froggy at the crime scene.'
And then Leroy knew exactly where to find the stuffed hippopotamus.
"I hope Leroy don'ts get into trouble," Abby remarked as the two girls sat with the backs against the brick wall underneath the pre-school window.
Leroy was somewhere inside, hunting down the elusive Bert from whoever had left the frog at the crime scene.
"He'll be fine," Ziva reassured her. "Probably."
And to illustrate Ziva's point, someone banged on the window above the toddlers. They jumped and Ziva nearly hit her head on the windowsill. Abby scrambled to her feet and stood on tip-toes to see inside. Leroy had returned to the window, grinning. From behind his back, Leroy produced Bert.
Abby squealed excitedly and clapped her hands, only to have Ziva shush her. Abby covered her mouth, but didn't let her excitement disappear. Leroy had Bert; Bert was saved from the meany pre-school children. But how was she going to get him back? Abby's excitement faded.
But Leroy had thought of that too and expertly unhooked the preschool door. He opened it just enough to thrust Bert through the crack and into Abby's waiting arms.
"Don't lose him again," Leroy told her before he closed the door.
Abby ignored Leroy and concentrated on hugging the life out of Bert. Leroy sighed and rolled his eyes, backing away from the door and sidestepping back over to the pre-school window. Abby finally looked up from Bert as Leroy signed,
'Don't lose him again.'
Abby nodded and replied with one hand, 'I won't. The 'nappers?'
'One 'napper, Abbs. I took care of it. The Frog won't be taking anymore toys.'
That seemed to satisfy Abby. 'Thank you,' she signed.
Leroy nodded and disappeared from the window, probably returning to his blocks. Abby glanced down at Bert and grinned. She was so glad to have her favourite toy back. Abby had no idea who "The Frog" was, but she didn't really care, as long as they never took Bert again. But Leroy had promised he'd taken care of it and Leroy always kept his promises.
Ziva tugged on Abby's hand. "Let's go."
The two little girls retraced their steps, inching their way back along the small distance between the pre-school and toddler rooms. Neither girl was paying any attention until they ran smack-bang into a pair of legs. Gulping, they looked up slowly and Miss Jenny's frowning face stared down at them.
"And just where have you been?"
"Um . . ." Abby looked sheepish and held up the stuffed animal. "We founds Bert?"
"So The Frog had Bert," Tony summarised.
The four toddlers were gathered in the reading nook, which had become sort of their unofficial headquarters. Timmy sat with his back against a bookshelf. Abby was cross-legged and held Bert in her lap. Ziva had stretched out and was lying on her stomach, propped up by her hands. And Tony was pacing back and forth between the other children.
"Who's The Frog?" he finished.
Abby shrugged. "I have no ideas. But I'm jus' glad to haves Bert back." She smiled indulgently at the stuff animal and hugged him tight.
"You're lucky you didn'tsth get into twrouble," Timmy added, "even after Missth Jenny caughted you."
Miss Jenny had been angry after finding Abby and Ziva outside, but Dr Ducky had seen the funny side of the whole thing, and had convinced Miss Jenny that it was simply some children playing pretend. Miss Jenny had huffed and confiscated the jump rope, but left it at that. Dr Ducky had winked at the children as he followed a grumpy Miss Jenny away.
"You shoulda seen McGoo's detraction," Tony added with a grin. "He actually letted Kate Mousey out of her cage and she ranned under the tables. Miz Jenny was a scaredy-cat and Dr Ducky hads to get Kate Mousey out from under the tables."
"L.J. Tabby saveded the day again," Abby declared, "with his clues and frying glassing."
"We helped too," Tony protested, crossing his arms in defiance. "I did detractions."
"But what if Bert goesth missthing again?" Timmy asked worriedly.
"Then we finds him again!" Abby announced. "Togetherer, as defectives."
"So we're defectives?" Tony asked.
Abby nodded. "The very bestest defectives. The four very bestest defectives."
"No 'napping we can't solve!" Tony agreed enthusiastically. He tilted his head to the side. "Are we policemen now?"
"No, silly, defectives," Abby repeated. "The bestest defectives. We solvered the mysteries."
"The bestest mysteries!" Tony shouted.
"We needsth a name to be defectivesth," Timmy added. He knew all about defective teams from his writings.
The children thought long and hard about this.
It was Ziva who finally said, "What about 'Napper Criminals Is Shooted?"
"Yeah!" Tony seconded.
Abby shook her head, pigtails flying. "We can't have shooted. That's not very nice."
"'Napper Cases Is Solved?" Ziva suggested. "No shooted."
"Yeah!" Tony agreed, though he seemed to agree with anything Ziva said. "I like it! 'Nappers, beware!" Tony made his hands into guns and started shooting invisible 'nappers while dancing around the other three children.
"'Napper Cases Is Solved," Abby repeated. "But nows we need more 'nappers!"
"I thought we didn't wantsth any more 'nappers?" Timmy said.
"No," Abby replied, drawing out the sound, "jus' no more hipponappers. We coulds have a Miss Jenny 'napper, though."
"That'sth not vwery nice," Timmy remarked, but Abby wasn't listening.
Abby had turned back to Bert and was babbling away to him, and Ziva had joined Tony in his quest for 'nappers, so Timmy reached into the bookshelf and pulled out his writings. Maybe after L.J. Tabby finished solving the case of the missing ice-cream and nabbing the Tommy Tiger, L.J. Tabby could be on the trail of a fiendish hipponapper named The Frog.
Timmy smiled and picked up his crayon.