Every week, Woman’s World magazine runs a mini-mystery, which consists of a story that contains a mystery that the readers are challenged to solve. The solution is then revealed elsewhere in the magazine.
STEALING THE SHOW
Sally A. Breslin
Judith sat in the front row of the community center’s crowded auditorium and debated whether or not she should leave.
It had been ten years since she had danced onstage, yet here she was, about to audition for a spot in a local variety show, the proceeds of which would help fund new playground equipment for the local park.
“I want to thank all of you for coming here tonight,” a voice suddenly came over the microphone. “I’m Wayne Golding, the director.”
Judith’s head snapped up. He couldn’t be the same Wayne Golding she had worked with two years ago, she told herself…not the same Wayne Golding who so angrily had accused her of stealing his promotion. She hadn’t seen him since that day, when he’d quit his job and stormed out of the office.
But she immediately recognized the bald man with the square chin and narrow-set eyes. Judith’s spirits momentarily sank. She was certain Wayne never would choose her to be in his show, even if she were the only person who auditioned.
Still, she was determined not to allow him to discourage her from trying.
Judith’s tap-dancing routine to a peppy ragtime tune obviously impressed Wayne because, to her disbelief, he selected her to be one of the performers in the show.
On opening night, Judith was so nervous, she was afraid her constant pacing would wear a hole in the community center’s old wood-laminate floors. Her anxiety increased when she happened to see Wayne in the hallway just before curtain time.
“Flashy costume,” he said, frowning at her bright turquoise, sequin-covered shorts and top. “Trying to steal the show?”
Before Judith could respond, he muttered, “The way you steal people’s jobs?” He then walked off.
Judith willed herself to dismiss his comment. Her reasons for being in the show were to entertain the audience with her tap dancing and help earn money for some much-needed playground equipment, not concern herself about Wayne’s attitude or his bitterness toward her. The truth was, his reputation for being too short-tempered and self-centered had prevented him from getting the promotion at work. Yet he obviously still chose to blame her for his lack of success.
After the show that night, Judith returned to the performers’ dressing room to change. She searched for her tote bag, which contained her clothes and shoes, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Even long after everyone else had left, taking their belongings with them, there still was no sign of her bag. Frustrated, Judith decided to go check the backstage area in the auditorium.
As she approached the backstage office, she noticed a light on inside. She stopped and softly knocked on the door, which was slightly ajar, hoping whoever was inside might be able to offer some clue about her missing bag. When there was no answer, she opened the door and peeked inside. There, she found Wayne lying face-down on the floor. The show’s cash box, open and empty, was lying next to him.
Judith rushed over to him. “Mr. Golding…Wayne!” she cried, bending to give him a gentle shake. “Are you all right?”
When he didn’t respond, she grabbed the phone on the desk and called 911.
By the time the two police officers arrived, Wayne, with Judith’s help, had managed to get up and sit in a chair near the desk.
“I’m Detective Burton,” the elder policeman said, nodding at Judith. “And this is Patrolman Clemens.”
The detective moved closer to Wayne. “Are you injured, sir? An ambulance is on its way.”
“I’ll be fine,” Wayne said, rubbing the back of his head. “I don’t need an ambulance.”
“Can you tell us what happened?” Detective Burton asked.
Wayne took a deep breath. “I was backstage and started counting the cash proceeds from the show tonight, when I decided it would be safer to come into the office here to finish. I unlocked the door and just as I walked in, someone crept up behind me from out in the hallway and hit me on the back of the head. I blacked out.” He glanced at the empty cash box. “The money is gone.”
“Did you happen to catch any glimpse of the assailant?” Detective Burton asked. He slowly moved to stand behind Wayne.
Wayne shook his head. “No. I didn’t see or hear a thing. I had no clue anyone was following me…not until it was too late.”
Clemens, the young patrolman, looked at Judith. “Where were you when all of this happened?”
“I was in the dressing room,” she answered. “Too far away to hear or see anything.”
“Was there anyone with you?”
She shook her head. “I was alone. Everyone had already left, but I stayed behind to look for my tote bag. I seem to have misplaced it.”
The patrolman turned to Wayne. “Do you mind if I take a quick look around?”
“No, not at all,” Wayne said.
The patrolman left the office.
“So, Mr. Golding,” the detective said, “do you have any idea how much money was taken?”
“$1,175,” Wayne answered, slowly shaking his head. “It takes a real low-life to steal money from the town’s children.”
Five minutes later, the patrolman returned. “I found a tote bag,” he announced, holding up a bright pink bag with a large J monogrammed on the front. “It was under the staircase, just down the hall.”
“Is that your bag?” Detective Burton asked Judith as he took it from Clemens.
She nodded and frowned. “Someone obviously must have taken it, searched through it and then tossed it there. Luckily, I knew better than to keep anything of value in it.”
The detective handed the bag to her. “Would you mind removing the contents?”
Judith opened the bag. She removed her sweater, slacks, shoes, keys and makeup case.
“Shake out the clothing,” the detective ordered.
When Judith complied, bills of all denominations fluttered to the floor.
“Well, well,” the young patrolman said, smiling at the detective. “I think we’ve found our thief!”
“So do I,” Detective Burton said, reaching for his handcuffs. He moved toward Wayne and clasped them around his wrists.
* * *
Why did the detective suspect Wayne and not Judith?
(When you’re ready, scroll down for the solution!)
SOLUTION TO THE MYSTERY
Detective Burton knew that Wayne was lying about everything that had occurred.
Wayne said he had counted only a portion of the money before he entered the office, yet he knew the exact total when asked. He also said the thief had crept up behind him. Judith, because she couldn’t find her tote bag, still was wearing her costume and tap shoes, so Wayne surely would have heard her coming, especially on laminate flooring. This, however, also worked to his advantage, because her tap shoes allowed him to hear her approaching, so he would know exactly when to fake being assaulted. Also, if someone had hit him hard enough on the back of the head to knock him out, there would have been a noticeable mark or a lump on his bald scalp – yet Detective Burton, when he walked behind him to discreetly check his head, had seen no sign of an injury. Wayne, as an act of revenge, obviously had tried to set up Judith by putting the money into her tote bag as incriminating evidence and then hiding the bag so she would stay behind to search for it and hopefully find him lying “unconscious” in the office…placing her at the scene of the crime.
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