Chief Brown had no idea what to do with his latest case, so he had Encyclopedia take a crack at it.
Someone had broken into William Quinn’s house and stole an Ignazio Saracco painting worth thousands. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never of Saracco, neither has Google. The story tells us that he was a 15th century artist.
How crappy is this painting for it to be 500 years old, but only be worth thousands?
It happened one day when Quinn’s was out of town visiting her mother. Quinn decided to let his hair down and throw a kickin’ party. He had invited three of his friends – Edgar Trad, Tom Hauser and Murray Finkelstein – to come over and play checkers.
At first, I wondered why Quinn was such a lame-o. This guy’s wife was out of town, so he invited his friends over to play checkers? Then I realized that Chief Brown was telling the story to his 10-year-old son. “Play checkers” was obviously code for something a lot more interesting.
After hours of “playing checkers,” Quinn told his friends that he had to leave to go to the store to pick up four rolls of paper towels. Now, had I been in that room, my reaction to such a statement would have been, “Why four rolls?” Why did he announce how many rolls he was getting? Quinn could have easily had said, “I’m getting some paper towels,” or simply, “I have to pick up a few things.”
These three guys had a completely different reaction. They all said, “Hey, you’re going to the store? Can you do me a favor and pick up…?” Quinn didn’t mind, but I totally would have minded. Finkelstein asked for two loaves of rye bread, Houser asked for four tubes of toothpaste and Trad wanted Quinn to pick up a broom.
His friends left and he went to Morey’s Supermarket. At this point in the story, Mrs. Brown cut in to complain about Morey’s. She had stopped going there because the checkout process took too long. It was fine if you had ten items or less, because the express line was pretty speedy. But the other lines were much slower and it added about fifteen minutes to the whole shopping experience.
Anyway, so when Quinn returned from the store, he saw that someone had broken into his house and taken his undervalued Renaissance painting. The instinct would be to suspect one of the three “checkers party” guests. Chief Brown pointed out that these three weren’t the only people who know Quinn’s house was going to be empty. He saw people at the store. Neighbors could have seen him leaving.
Yeah, but this is an Encyclopedia Brown story, so that means that it was one of those three people. It was also possible that Quinn faked the robbery, but since there was no mention of insurance, that wasn’t the case.
It seemed that there was no way to get to the bottom of this. But to me, it’s pretty obvious
Encyclopedia asked his one question that would solve the mystery once and for all. “In what order did Quinn’s friends ask him to pick stuff up?”
See, I’m doubtful the answer to this is in Chief Brown’s report. If Chief Brown had had enough insight to question every minute detail of this crime (ex: “So three people asked you to buy stuff at the store. Please tell me the order in which they asked you.”) he would have already figured out the one fishy detail that points to the thief.
Chief Brown told Encyclopedia that the order was Trad, Finkelstein and Houser.
That’s when Encyclopedia figured it out. The thief was Houser. He and I had different ways of reaching this conclusion. Encyclopedia knew that Quinn was going to the store to buy four items. Trad asked him to buy one broom and Finkelstein wanted two loaves of bread. Houser said he needed four tubes of toothpaste, which would put Quinn’s purchases up to eleven, meaning that he wouldn’t be able to use the express checkout line. That meant that he would be out of his house for an additional fifteen minutes, leaving it the perfect prey for an art heist.
Here’s how I knew it was Houser: he asked for four tubes of toothpaste.
A broom and two loaves of bread, these are things that people could possibly need in the immediate future, given some weird circumstances. The two loaves of bread is a little odd, but not impossible.
Four tubes of toothpaste? How could someone be that desperate for four tubes of toothpaste? Someone in Houser’s position would have said, “Oh shit. I forgot. I’m completely out of toothpaste. Can you pick some up for me? I’m kind of desperate.” When Houser asked for four tubes, some red flags should have gone up. If someone absolutely needed toothpaste, they would ask for one tube and then stock up the next time they got to the store.
No one needs four tubes of toothpaste. Four tubes of toothpaste isn’t an emergency; it’s someone stocking up. If you’re asking someone to pick up some stuff at the store for you, you’re asking for things you’re going to need in the next few hours, not the next few months.
Why did Quinn even agree to buy four tubes of toothpaste for someone else? And why does he have a 500-year-old painting hanging up in his living room. That should be in a museum, even if it is only worth a few thousand dollars.