TDTO: Start As You Mean To Go On

"Please hurry, Mr. Kreiner," Jenny begged.
The PE teacher sighed.
"Christina's been here, what, three hours and she's in trouble already?
Whatever's she managed to do?"
David and Jenny exchanged guilty looks.
"If we explain, will you promise not to tell Mr Maxil?" David asked.
"Certainly not."
The twins held a brief, whispered conference, which mainly seemed to consist
of iterations of 'You tell him.' 'No, you tell him.'
"Christina likes films where people steal things in complicated ways," David
eventually began. "You know, like 'The Italian Job'? Actually, I've worked
out how they could get out of that ending, you know, with the bus, where it's
about to fall over the cliff and smash into a hundred thousand pieces..."
Mr. Kreiner rubbed his temples, let the flow of physics-defying invention
wash over him, and waited for an opportunity to interrupt.
"...So after that, you wait for the eagles to come down for the
breadcrumbs, and you catch one in the fishing net..."
He changed his mind. If he didn't want to die of old age, more direct means
would be necessary.
"Quiet!" he said.
David stopped in mid-sentence.
Mr. Kreiner rubbed his temples again. "What has any of this to do with young
Christina de Souza?"
"Well..." David said reluctantly.
"She said she was going to try and steal the Golden Protractor of Omega,"
Jenny said, shuffling her feet. "Only we think something terrible's happened
to her."

By the time Mr Kreiner reached the locker room, it was already packed with
eleven-year-olds, all looking up at the pair of motionless black-clad legs
protruding from an air vent near the ceiling.
"That's her, is it?" he said.
"Yes." Toshiko wiped away tears. "She isn't moving and she doesn't answer
when we call her. I think she must be dead."
With a sigh, Mr Kreiner crossed the room, reached up to the legs, and
pulled gently. They slid easily out of the vent.
"Look," he said, showing them to the crowd of children. "This is just an old
pair of trousers someone's stuffed with foam. It's a practical joke. Now get
along to your lessons."
Grudgingly, the children dispersed.
"I dunno," Mr Kreiner grumbled. "You'd think even this lot'd have more
sense than to get taken in by a stupid fake. It's not as if there even is a
Golden Protractor of Omega in the first place."
"But, sir," said a voice. He looked down to see Martha Jones.
"Sir, we still can't find Christina."

- * -

"And they say no-one's seen a sign of her since," Gwendoline said
breathlessly, leaning over the main library desk.
"I'm sure that's very interesting," Zoe said. "But can't it wait until I'm
not so busy? These books aren't going to jump off my desk onto the shelves
on their own. I'm sure this girl will turn up again sooner or later."
"She isn't just a girl! She's The Honourable Christina de Souza!"
Gwendoline's eyes opened wide at the thought of a genuine blue-blooded
aristocrat attending their school. "It would be so dreadful if anything's
happened to her."
"Happened to who?" Jamie asked, seating himself on the desk as if he owned
Gwendoline launched into a flustered and involved explanation, in which
the Honourable Christina's real or imagined country estate, stables,
Rolls-Royces and illustrious forebears featured much more prominently than
any facts relating to her actual disappearance. Half-way through, she was
thrown by the arrival of Pat Doctor and Victoria, and had to start again.
"... And they say nobody's seen a sign of her since," Gwendoline eventually
repeated, her lip trembling.
"Oh, is it just that?" Jamie said. "My wee sister Heather told me about
Christina going missing hours ago. They're in the same class."
Gwendoline pouted. "If you knew, Jamie, why did you make me go to all that
trouble explaining?"
"Well, I thought you might have more news by now. Anyway, Heather reckons
yon Christina must have got into the crawlspace near the dining hall. She
could be anywhere by now."
"How would Heather know something like that?" Victoria asked.
"She's a sharp lassie," Jamie said proudly.
"Well, well," Pat said. "How very intriguing."
Victoria gave him a suspicious look. "Was it you who put those fake legs
in the locker room, Patrick?"
"Of course not. I'd say little Christina probably did it herself, to create
a diversion while she slipped away. But it's an interesting idea, isn't it?"
"It would be just like one of your pranks, if that's what you mean."
"Oh, that reminds me," Jamie said. "Those stink-bombs we hid behind the
water tank in the-- well, ye ken the ones I mean."
"You promised me you wouldn't make any more of those disgusting things,"
Victoria said.
"Yes," Patrick said. "But I didn't make any promises about the ones I'd
already made, now, did I? Anyway, what seems to be the problem, Jamie?"
"I checked jist now," Jamie said. "They've gone."
"What, all of them?"
"Aye. And the box they were in. All that's left is that stupid gadget thing
you made tae stop them being pinched. I said it wouldn't work, didn't I?"
"Yes, Jamie, you did." Patrick smiled beneficently. "But I think the thief
may have been a little too clever for their own good."
"Why?" Zoe asked, her book-shelving long forgotten. "What, exactly, did
that 'gadget thing' do?"
"Well, it was a simple burglar alarm," Patrick said. "But it did something
else as well. I used rather a special formula for those stink-bombs. They
tend to go off all by themselves."
"I mind that only too well," Jamie said darkly.
"So I worked out a way of stabilising them, with a pulsed magnetic field."
"And if you turn the electromagnet off, or take them out of range--" Zoe
winced. "They'd all detonate, more or less simultaneously."
"That's horrible," Victoria said.
"Wouldn't the thief just have to abandon the box and make a run for it,
Victoria shook her head emphatically. "In the middle of all those fumes?
They couldn't do a thing. And even if they could they'd have to change every
stitch of their clothes. I remember when these two hid one of those awful
bombs under my tennis shoes... Jamie, stop laughing at once!"
"Och, you should have seen your face," Jamie said.
"And it's all very well to laugh. Suppose some innocent person had set your
noisome little trap off by accident?"
"Ah, they wouldn't," Jamie replied triumphantly. "Not where we hid them.
Ye'd have to be up to no good to get there in the first place."
Gwendoline looked from one face to another, her bafflement plain to see.
"But what has all this to do with poor Lady Christina?" she asked.
Jamie sighed. "It's obvious. She's a lass who likes tae play at stealing
things, the trickier the better. She hears there's something hidden behind the
water tank--"
"And who, apart from you two, would know that?" Zoe asked.
Jamie adopted an expression of wounded innocence. "Like I said, Heather's a
sharp lassie. She might've seen us hiding the box in the first place. Anyway,
yon Christina jimmies the alarm, swipes the box, and sneaks off into the
crawlspace tae hide until the coast's clear. And then-- bang!" He held his
nose in illustration.
"It's impossible! She comes from one of the most noble families..."
Gwendoline sniffed. "Can you smell something funny?"
"Aye. I recognise that pong well enough."
Victoria grimaced. "So do I. It haunts my nightmares."
"Well, then," Patrick said, clasping his hands. "I don't think the
authorities will have any trouble tracking little Christina down now. They
should just have to follow their noses."

[ "Doctor Who" characters belong to the BBC.
This Time Round created by Tyler Dion.
Then Do That Over by Paul Gadzikowski.
Gwendoline is 'really entirely down to Enid Blyton'.

John Elliott

Thinks: This is what a nice clean life leads to. Hmm, why did I ever lead one?
-- Bluebottle, in the Goon Show