Partners in Crime
Father was in his chamber and was enjoying a nice cup of tea and one of William’s delicious cookies. He’d just taken a bite when a very irate William burst into his chamber, and without any preamble said, "Father we have a thief!"
Of course the suddenness of William’s arrival made Father jump, and he swallowed the piece of cookie and it went down the wrong way, causing him to start coughing and spluttering. William at once started to bang him on the back quite hard, until Father managed to say,
"W…William…please…stop, you’re just about caving my back in."
William stopped at once, very contrite. "I’m sorry Father, I was just trying to help."
"I know you were William, but next time could you try to help a little less hard. I don’t know which was worse…nearly choking…or being beaten to death."
"Now, what did you say?"
"I said we have a thief."
"That is very serious, what has been stolen?"
"A jar of blueberries."
"A jar of…are you sure you haven’t just mislaid it?"
"Father," William said very indignantly, "you can’t mislay a two pound jar of blueberries!"
"Ah, point taken. Where was it taken from?"
"I’d put it on the table ready to make some muffins, and I just left the kitchen for a minute, and when I went back it was gone."
"In that case we will have to think about putting a lock on the kitchen door."
"But Father, we’ve never…"
"I know that William, but if there is a thief…"
William sighed. "You’re right of course; I’ll go and see Cullen."
"Meanwhile we’ll have to see if we can find out who it is," Father added.
And in another part of the tunnels, in a little used storage chamber, two young boys were sitting on an old sofa, and in between them was the jar of blueberries. And they’d had the foresight to pick two spoons up, at least one of them had.
"Devin, I don’t think we shoulda took this, it’s stealing."
"Look Vincent, it ain’t exactly stealing. If it hadn’t been left out we couldn’t have taken it, could we?" he asked with the all logic of a twelve year old.
"No…I s’pose not," Vincent answered, still not fully convinced.
"Awright…" Vincent agreed.
Devin tried to open the jar, but the lid was on too tight."Let me do it Dev."
"Look Vincent, if I can’t do it…" he began, but Vincent stopped him by taking the jar and opening it easily.
Devin glared at him and his look said, "Don’t say a word."
"You go first Devin," Vincent said placatingly, because he knew Devin was mad because he couldn’t open the jar.
Devin put his spoon into the jar and dug in deep. When he brought it back out it was heaped with fruit, and he put the whole lot into his mouth in one go.
"Mmmm," he mumbled appreciatively, savouring the taste. "That’s wonderful," he stated when he’d swallowed it.
Vincent followed suit, and when he’d swallowed his mouthful he said, "It sure is Dev."
And so, turn and turn about they emptied the jar, getting very sticky in the process. Especially Vincent because of his fur.
Back at the Hub a meeting was being held in Father’s chamber to decide how best they could catch the thief. Several suggestions had been put forward, but no solution had been found.
"We could set a trap," someone suggested.
"No, we can’t do that, someone innocent might get hurt," Father told him.
After about an hour they still hadn’t decided on a plan of action, and the meeting was closed. Everyone left, except for Mary.
"It’s very serious, isn’t it Father? We’ve never had any thieving before."
"Yes Mary it is. It was only a jar of fruit…but still…, if someone would take that, what else might they take?"
"But who could be hungry enough to steal a jar of fruit…and why just fruit when there was other more substantial food in the pantry?"
They both sat for a few minutes trying to think, when suddenly Father said,
"Oh no Father, I don’t think…"
"I do, it’s just the sort of thing he would do."
"You don’t know that. It might be someone else."
"It might be, but I dare bet even money that he’s the culprit."
"If he is, where do you think he might have gone, because you can be certain if he did take it he would find someplace out of the way to eat it. He wouldn’t risk eating it so close to home."
"I’ve no idea. I’ll ask someone to see if they can find him."
"Find who?" William asked, as he appeared at the top of the steps.
"Father thinks that Devin might be the culprit," Mary told him.
"Hmmm, he may well be right. That boy is always getting into mischief."
Mary bridled. "No he isn’t."
"Yeah he is," William argued.
"Stop, both of you," Father commanded. "This is not helping. William, if you have the time perhaps you could see if you can find him."
"Okay Father, I will."
He turned and left.
And back at the storage chamber the boys were feeling rather sorry for themselves.
"Ohhhh Dev, I’ve got an awfu’ pain in my tummy. We shouldn’ta eaten the whole lot."
"Well we did, so there’s no use griping ‘bout it," Devin said more sharply than he intended, because he too had a pain, but he wasn’t going to admit it to Vincent.
Tears welled into Vincent’s eyes. "W…why are you bein’ s…so nasty Dev?" Vincent stammered, as he always did when he was upset.
And Devin, seeing the tears, was instantly contrite. "I’m sorry little bro’, I didn’t mean to snap. The truth is I’ve got a bellyache too."
"Have you Dev?"
"Yeah I have. You’re right, we shouldn’ta eaten it all. But it was real good, wasn’t it?"
Vincent smiled tremulously. "Yeah it was," and then groaned as another pain rolled round.
"What we gonna do now Dev?"
"I guess we go back and face the music."
"What music Dev?" Vincent asked innocently.
Devin laughed, and then explained.
"We’re gonna be in real trouble, aren’t we Dev?"
"Yeah we are, but what the hell."
Vincent gasped. "Oh Dev, you said a bad word."
"It ain’t so bad. Cullen says it."
"Yes but Cullen’s a grown up."
Vincent had no answer to that. Then, "Dev, can we just have a lie down before we go back?"
Devin knew that Vincent was scared of the consequences of what they’d done, and wanted to delay the inevitable.
"Okay, just for a little while."
Both boys lay down on the couch, and very soon were fast asleep.
And that’s how William found them.
He shook them none too gently. "Come on you two, wake up."
Both boys woke up instantly and got off the couch.
"Hi William," Devin said brazenly, having decided that he might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.
But Vincent dropped his head and wouldn’t look at William.
William secretly admired Devin for his audacity, but he said,
"Never mind ‘hi William’, you two are in big trouble. If I had my way I’d tan both your backsides."
Now both boys knew that physical punishment was never used Below, but when they looked at William’s face they weren’t so sure.
"Come on, let’s go," he said, and took hold of each boys hand, but let go instantly when he felt how sticky they were. So he got hold of their shirt collars instead, because truth to tell he wasn’t sure that they wouldn’t run off. And in fact that’s exactly what went through Devin’s mind, although he would never leave Vincent.
"Don’t even think about it," William said warningly, and Devin, acting all innocent, said,
"Think about what, William?"
William hastily turned a chuckle into a cough. "You know exactly what I mean Devin."
They continued on their way and finally reached Father’s chamber. They went in, and William said,
"I’ve caught the thieves Father, here they are."
Father was sitting at his desk looking at some papers, and when he looked up he was dismayed to see that Vincent was with Devin. He got up and went and sat in his armchair. "You can let them go now William, I’ll deal with them."
William released them and Father said,
"Right you two, come here please."
Devin strode across the chamber with his head held high, but Vincent went very slowly with his head down. When both boys were standing in front of him, Father said,
"I hope you two realise that you’re in very serious trouble?"
"Yes Father," Vincent mumbled.
"Yes Father, but it wasn’t altogether all our fault."
"Not altogether…would you mind explaining that to me Devin."
"If it hadn’ta just been sitting there, we wouldn’ta been able to take it, would we?"
Father did what William had done earlier, and changed a chuckle into a cough. Devin looked at him suspiciously.
"Much as I admire your logic Devin, the fact remains that you did steal it, and what’s more you involved Vincent. You ought to know better, he’s a lot younger than you, you should set an example."
Devin groaned quietly, but not quietly enough.
"You have something to say Devin?"
Father turned his attention to Vincent. "Vincent, have you anything to say?"
Vincent raised his head, and Father saw tears in his eyes. "I…it w…wasn’t j…just Devin, Father, I helped him."
"Be that as it may…the fact remains that he is older than you, he should know better, he must be punished."
"P…please…F…Father, you can’t just punish Devin, that wouldn’t be fair. I ate half of the fruit."
Father was struck anew at Vincent’s loyalty to Devin, despite the fact that it was Devin’s fault that he was in trouble.
"Very well Vincent, I shall have to think of a suitable punishment for both of you. Meanwhile you will both go to the boys’ chamber and stay there until I send for you. And you go straight there mind, else you’ll be in even more trouble. Is that clear?"
The two boys left the chamber, and although Devin seriously considered defying Father by not going straight to where he’d been told to go, he didn’t want Vincent to get into any more trouble.
"C’mon little bro’, we’d better do what Father says."
They reached the boys’ chamber and went in, and they both sat on Devin’s bed.
"What do you think our punishment will be Dev?" Vincent asked tremulously.
"I have no idea, probably something really disgusting, like collecting all the scraps left from dinner for Mr. Ling’s pig."
"Yuck! That would be horrible," Vincent agreed.
They both fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly they were both snapped from their reverie by a message on the pipes.
‘Vincent…Devin…come at once to my chamber. Father.’
"This is it Vincent, time to pay."
"Oh Dev, s’pose it’s something really awful."
"If it is, I’ll do most of it ‘cos it’s my fault. And besides you’re littler than me."
"I can do nearly as much as you Dev," Vincent argued.
"I know you can little bro’."
They went to Father’s chamber, and when they got there William was there too. The boys looked at each other wondering what was going to happen, because they remembered that William had said something about ‘tanning their backsides.’
William saw the look they exchanged.
"Don’t worry, I’m not gonna tan your backsides if that’s what you’re worried about. Father has come up with a much more suitable punishment. For one whole week you will help me in the kitchen, and each day after you’ve finished you’re to go straight back to the boys’ chamber."
"Can’t we go with the other kids to play?" Devin asked.
"No you cannot," Father told him. "That’s part of the punishment."
"But that’s not…" Devin started to say, but Father interrupted him.
"Don’t say that it’s not fair Devin, it’s perfectly fair. You did wrong and you’ve got to pay for it. Do you understand?"
Devin didn’t answer.
"When do we start?" Vincent asked.
"Tomorrow morning. William will make sure you’re up good and early."
Both boys groaned.
"You two boys had better have an early night," William said, "because I’ll be coming for you at six o’ clock."
"Six…that’s still the middle of the night," Devin protested,
"I’m being generous, I could have said five."
"Off you go now," Father said.
When the boys had left the chamber, William and Father looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Did you see the look on their faces?" William asked.
"Yes I did, it was priceless," Father answered.
"That’ll teach them to steal," William said.
"Yes it should, but what concerns me is the fact that Devin roped Vincent in."
"I shouldn’t worry too much Father, as Vincent gets older he’ll assert himself more, and he won’t be as easily led."
"I hope you’re right."
"I know I am, mark my words. And now I’m going back to the kitchen to get tomorrows breakfast sorted out. Goodnight Father."
William left Father’s chamber and went back to the kitchen.
The next morning prompt at six am. William went and roused the boys."Come on you two, time to get up."
Devin groaned and stayed where he was, but Vincent got straight up.
They got dressed and went back to the kitchen where William set them their first task. Peeling potatoes for dinner.
Both boys were stunned at the amount there was, and Devin protested.
"Aw William, we’ll never get all of those done."
"You won’t if you don’t stop moaning. Now get on with it, and make sure you do it properly. And be careful with the knives."
Vincent picked his knife up, and very quickly discovered that because the knife was quite small, it was difficult to hold because of his claws. But as with everything he persevered, and soon contrived a way to do it. Unfortunately by the time he’d finished there wasn’t much of the potato left!
Devin, on the other hand, could manage very well. Now being a smart child, he reasoned that if the job got done too quickly William would find something else for them to do, so he decided to do the job ‘properly’ as William had instructed. So he took his time with each potato, making sure that every single eye was removed. Of course by the time William checked to see how they were doing, not much had been done. And when he saw Vincent’s efforts he stopped them.
"What’s taking you so long to get this done? he asked. "You should have been finished by now. And Vincent, you’re supposed to leave some of the potato to cook."
Vincent was at once contrite. "I’m sorry William, but the knife is too small. I did the best I could."
"It’s okay Vincent, I know you did. But the knife isn’t too small for you is it Devin?"
"No William, but you said we had to do them properly, so I am."
William sighed exasperatedly.
"Alright, leave the potatoes, I’ll do them myself. I’ll get them done quicker."
Devin was triumphant, and when William turned his back Devin punched the air. "Yes!" he mouthed, and Vincent smiled.
William spun back round and almost caught Devin’s action. He knew Devin had probably done something, but couldn’t figure out what.
"Okay boys, it’s time for breakfast. As soon as you’re finished I’ll find you something else to do."
"Yes William," they said together.
While they were having breakfast Devin whispered to Vincent.
"Right little bro’, whatever William has us do we’ll do it ‘properly.’ Okay?"
Vincent wasn’t so sure about that. "But Dev…"
"No ‘buts’, if he gets fed up with us he’ll want us out of the kitchen."
"But we’ll have to do somethin’ else."
"I don’t care, anything will be better than that."
"Awright," Vincent agreed.
After breakfast they reported back to William, and he set them another task. This time it was cleaning all the shelves in the larder. Of course it took them twice as long as it should have done, and William cottoned on to what they were doing, and took them to task over it.
"But William," Devin protested, "you said we had to do the jobs properly."
"I know I did, but…"
Both boys looked at him expectantly.
"Never mind. Just go back to the boys’ chamber and I’ll go see Father and get him to give you somethin’ else to do."
They left hurriedly in case William changed his mind.
When William had finished up in the kitchen he went along to Father’s chamber and went in.
"Hello William…" he began, and then stopped as he saw the look on William’s face.
"What have they done now?"
William told him, and Father made the mistake of laughing.
"It’s not funny Father," he protested, but then he too saw the funny side of it.
"Of course Devin is the instigator, but you’ve got to admire him," Father said with a chuckle.
"Yeah, that boy could fall on a dung heap and come up smellin’ of roses."
"The problem now is, how do we punish them?"
They both sat quietly trying to think of a suitable punishment, and then after about a half hour Father suddenly said, "I’ve got it."
He told William what he’d decided, and William thoroughly agreed.
"If that don’t teach them a lesson, nothin’ will."
"Will you go and fetch them please William?"
He left the chamber and went to the boys’ chamber.
"Come on you two, Father has decided what to do with you."
"What’s he gonna do William?" Devin asked.
"I’ll let him tell you, but you ain’t gonna like it."
The boys looked at each other apprehensively.
All too soon they were back at Father’s chamber. William shooed them in and went back to the kitchen.
Father was sitting at his desk when they went in, and appeared not to have noticed them.
"We’re here Father," Devin announced.
"So you are."
He came from behind his desk and went and sat in his big armchair. "Come here please boys."
They went and stood in front of him.
"William has told me of your little ploy Devin."
Devin opened his mouth to protest.
"Not one word Devin," Father warned him.
"Since you didn’t like it in the kitchen, I’ve thought of something else, something you will like even less than the kitchen. And bear in mind that it’s your own fault. If you had persevered it wouldn’t have been so bad."
The boys looked at each other, wondering what was coming.
"You Devin are forbidden to go swimming for a week, and you Vincent are forbidden to read any books."
Both boys were absolutely stunned. They’d never imagined that Father could come up with such a punishment.
Devin looked mutinously at Father.
"And if you defy me Devin it will be two weeks. Do you understand?"
Vincent however just stood mutely looking at Father with a hurt look on his face, and Father nearly relented, because he knew that to Vincent, books were almost as necessary as food. His appetite for them was voracious, but Father reckoned that with this punishment he might think twice about letting Devin lead him astray again. And he knew that Devin loved swimming. Perhaps this would make him think twice before getting into any more mischief.
"I can only hope," he said to himself.
To the boys he said, "Now off you go, back to the boys’ chamber."
It was two very solemn boys who made their way back there.
When they got back they went and sat on their own beds.
"Huh! If Father thinks he’ll stop me swimmin’, he’s got another think comin’," Devin stated, but Vincent stayed quiet.
Devin went and sat beside him and put his arm round his shoulder, but Vincent shrugged him off.
"Aw come on Vincent, it won’t be so bad."
"Yes it will."
"No it won’t," Devin started to say, but Vincent stopped him by growling very quietly.
Devin stood up and looked at him, and the enormity of the hurt he’d unwittingly caused Vincent, through his misbehaviour, hit him.
"Vincent…" he began, but Vincent lay down and turned his back on Devin.
For the next week Vincent barely spoke to Devin, and bore his punishment stoically, but not so Devin. He had thought about defying Father, but he knew that Father would carry out his threat of a longer ban if he disobeyed. Instead he bent the ear of anyone who would listen to his grievances, until Mary overheard him one day. She took him to one side.
"Now you listen to me young man, Vincent is taking his punishment without complaining, I suggest you do the same. Do I make myself clear?"
Devin looked at her, about to protest, then saw the look on her face. "Yes Mary, I’m sorry."
"Now I suggest you go and find Vincent, and tell him how sorry you are."
He found Vincent easily; he was at the Mirror Pool. He looked up when Devin entered the chamber but didn’t say anything.
Devin went and sat beside him, and to his relief Vincent didn’t get up.
"Look Vincent, I really am sorry, I never dreamt that Father would come up with such a punishment, but if you hadn’t stuck up for me the way you did, then I’d be the only one gettin’ punished."
"But I had to stick up for you Dev, you’re my brother."
Devin felt a tear trickle down his face, and hastily brushed it away. "Aw Vin, can we be friends again, I’ve missed you."
Vincent turned to him. "And I’ve missed you Dev," he said, and he put his arms as far round Devin as he could reach.
"Steady on Vincent," Devin said with a chuckle, "don’t go all soppy on me." But he was thrilled that Vincent had forgiven him. They left the chamber together and went back to the boys’ chamber arm in arm, both happy that they’d made up.
When the week was up Father sent for them both. Once again he was seated in his big armchair, and once again the two boys stood in front of him.
"I hope you both have learned a lesson from this?"
"Yes Father we have," both boys said together.
"And it is…?"
"That if we do wrong we’ll be punished," Vincent murmured.
"The same as Vincent, Father."
"And you’ll be good in future."
"Yes Father, I’ll try," Vincent said.
"Me too," Devin agreed.
"You must both try very hard, because if you don’t you’ll get into trouble again, won’t you?"
He looked at the two suitably chastened boys. "Alright, you may go now," he told them.
"We will be good Father, I promise. Won’t we Vincent?"
"Yes Father we will."
They turned and left the chamber. Father smiled to himself. He had no doubt that they would behave themselves. Until the next time!