On this particular Monday morning, Moose and Goose (private investigators and solvers of tricky problems) were sitting in their office, bored. Last week was busy, this week was quiet. No work to do; no-one calling; no challenging puzzles to solve; nothing.
Moose got them each another cup of tea, because that always seemed to help, and said “Let’s solve a problem of our own, for a change. Why is no-one calling?” Goose took a careful sip of tea, because it was still hot, and agreed with a nod.
“Shall we do this properly”, wondered Moose.
“You mean telephone ourselves?”, sniggered Goose. “No, that would be silly. But let’s begin investigating it in the usual way.”
“Yes, let’s go and have a look”, said Moose, putting on his blue coat, while Goose put on his red coat, and out they went for a walk through the seaside town.
The first things they noticed were their own advertising posters saying, “Moose & Goose can solve all your problems”, still stuck up in various prominent places, very easy to see. So, no-one had taken them down. But, and this was new, just next to each of their posters was stuck a large label that said
“… or you could go to the library.”
So they did, and there they asked a librarian about the labels. “Ah yes”, she said, “we do have lots of books about solving problems. They are all in the self-help section over there by the sculpture of the octopus on a bicycle.”
Moose and Goose wandered over, intrigued. This was not the way they remembered libraries working, with advertising in the streets.
There were lots of books in the self-help section, mostly quite small. Goose squinted at some of the titles.
“What to do if your car tyres go yellow”,
“What to do if your tree has spaghetti in it”,
“What to do if ….”,
and lots more like that.
“This is very silly”, said Moose. “No-one has problems like that. Why yellow and not red, or any other colour?”
Just then, a confused looking man walked into the library and approached the main desk. Moose and Goose could not hear all of what he said, but they did catch the words “tree” and “spaghetti”. The librarian swiftly walked over to the section by Moose and Goose, saying over her shoulder, “we have just the book for you”, and plucked out the title, ‘What to do if your tree has spaghetti in it’, smiled at the two investigators, and returned to the man at the desk.
The two investigators looked at each other, eyebrows raised (showing they were rather surprised).
An angry woman strode in to the library, brushing past the man leaving with the spaghetti book. She said loudly, “my car tyres are all yellow”. Moose pulled the book, ‘What to do if your car tyres go yellow’, off the shelf and handed it over to the librarian who had just walked over. She smiled again, returned to the desk, and said “we have just the book for you”.
The two investigators looked at each other, eyebrows raised a little bit higher.
Very casually, they walked out of the library and followed the angry woman as she stomped through the town. Reaching a house with a car outside (yes, with yellow tyres), she opened the book and started reading. Looking around, she grabbed a bucket, filled it with water from a hose, hopped up and down on her left leg, flapped both arms, hopped up and down on her right leg, before letting loose a loud yodel. She then poured the bucket of water over the tyres.
Moose and Goose had their eyebrows up so high by this time that they were getting sore. This was not turning out to be a normal day.
They walked over to the woman, who was now not as angry, introduced themselves and asked if the library book was working for her. “Yes”, replied Marjorie (for that was her name), “it felt silly doing it, but the paint is coming off. It says here I have to do that three more times before it gets dark, with a bit more yodelling”.
They contacted Marjorie the next day, and she confirmed that her tyres were now fine.
This was most definitely odd.
Moose and Goose went back to the library to take a closer look at the rather too helpful self-help books. The librarian smiled, and welcomed them back.
Moose and Goose each grabbed an armful of self-help books and sat down to study them. They were all very short, very silly, and each was very specific (about just one thing). Each problem was silly, and the solution for each problem was silly. Moose and Goose looked at each other again. This was obviously connected with their lack of work, but how? This nonsense was, well, nonsensical. How could anyone have such problems, or expect these solutions to work? And yet, they had seen people come in with just these kinds of problems, and they had seen one of the solutions work.
Some closer investigation was needed; some careful thinking; some sneakiness.
Moose flicked to the front of the book he was holding. It had one date stamp in it, meaning it had been borrowed just once. He tried another book. That too had been borrowed only once. And another. And another. It turned out that most of the books had been borrowed only once, and there were just three books which had not been borrowed at all.
Goose looked again at his book, and noticed from the publishing date (as usual, printed near the front), that it had been published just one week before the book was borrowed. Someone must have borrowed the book as soon as it first arrived in the library.
He checked another book, and another, and a pattern emerged. All the borrowed books had been borrowed within one or two weeks of being published, and never again after that.
Moose and Goose jotted down some notes of what they had found and what they were thinking.
- labels stuck on our advertising posters saying “… or you could go to the library”
- the library having a new and very big self-help section
- the self-help section full of books about very silly problems (which no-one should ever have)
- and for each problem there was a very silly solution (which should never work)
- people did appear to be having these problems (for example, yellow tyres, spaghetti in tree)
- and at least one of the problems’ solutions worked (for example, yellow tyres, bucket of water, hopping, yodelling)
- most of the books were borrowed within one or two weeks of being published
- and having been borrowed once, they were never borrowed again
- there were only three new books, less than a week old, which had not yet been borrowed
- ‘What to do if your horse has custard on its head’
- ‘What to do if your chimney is blocked with truffles’
- ‘What to do if your garden goes purple’
Moose and Goose looked at their notes. What could they do to solve this mystery? “What about”, suggested Moose, “being there when one of these silly problems happens?”
Goose considered the remaining problems.
“Could we watch every garden in this town? No.”
“Could we watch every chimney? No.
“How about every horse?”
Moose continued with this line of thinking. “Would we have to watch every horse? How about just the horses which live with families in town? These problems seem to be affecting people in the town rather than those in the country”.
They now had a new, smaller problem to solve, in order to help them solve the bigger problem: how to find all the horses living with families in town. How indeed?
Moose and Goose started making lots of suggestions, writing everything down. (When you are thinking like this, it is important to write everything down and not ignore anything, no matter how silly it sounds at the time. Every idea is a good idea.) You need:
- horse feed,
- horse droppings,
- a horse box or a trailer,
- lots of grassy fields,
- a saddle,
- and a bridle,
- a stable,
- jumps made from poles,
Lots of suggestion later, Moose and Goose stopped to go over them again slowly. They knew the town pretty well, and there were really very few places that could have a horse. They got a map out and studied the larger houses. Only five of them had what could be a stable.
Moose and Goose walked back to their office to get their bikes, and cycled round to each house in turn, asking politely if they owned a horse. Because they were polite, and because they were well known in the town as investigators, the house owners were happy to help.
Three families had a horse, and one of those families was on holiday. That left two horses which could possibly soon been having the custard problem. Moose and Goose decided to stakeout both houses, one each.
The first night, with binoculars, warm blankets, a thermos flask of tea, and walkie talkies, the message was “nothing to report”. The same the next night, and the night after that. Moose and Goose were not bothered. This was how things happened in their line of work. They trusted their thinking and investigating skills, and they were patient.
On the fourth night, Moose heard a clicking noise as someone walked towards the house he was staking out. Even with night-vision goggles, he couldn’t see the person’s face. They wore a hood, with a cap and jacket, carrying a bag in the left hand. The click click click got louder. “Probably from high heels”, thought Moose, “so it might be a lady”. The bag rustled. “Plastic”, thought Moose.
The figure stopped outside the house, looked around, then walked carefully up the driveway to the stable, and went in. Moose activated the plan he’d agreed with Goose. He dashed over to the driveway, poured something onto the pavement in a puddle at the end of the driveway, and retreated to his lookout post. He contacted Goose on the walkie talkie, and Goose contacted the police before coming over himself. Moose kept watch on the stable.
The hooded person came out of the stable and walked quickly away, through the puddle, and down the street. Ten minutes later, a police car arrived with lights flashing, but no siren (because it was late at night, and no-one was in danger, so no need to wake everyone up).
Moose explained the situation, and a policeman went to the house and knocked on the door. A few minutes later, the house owner, wrapped in a dressing gown, walked with the policeman to the stables and switched the light on. There was a loud gasp. Custard! On the horse’s head!
The policeman came out of the stables, and asked Moose which way the person had gone. Moose pointed, but said there was no hurry and switched on his ultraviolet torch. The puddle on the pavement glowed bright white, as did the footprints leading away from the puddle along the street. It was fluorescent ink! (They’d made it themselves by crushing felt-tip pens from old issues of the Dr.Who magazine.)
Moose and Goose tracked the footprints with the special torch, and the police followed in their car. It was not long before the footprints turned off the pavement up the path to a house. The policeman knocked loudly, and …
… the librarian came out. She saw the policeman, and Moose and Goose, and looked sad.
Later on, in the police station, she admitted everything. She had written and published the books herself, and then made the problems happen to people. “But why”, she was asked. “To get more people to come into the library”, she replied, because she was a proud librarian, upset at seeing the library becoming less and less used.
Moose and Goose were sorry to hear about this. They decided that it was a problem that they would like to tackle themselves, but that is for another story.