The Case of the Missing Dolls
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction

by HA
January 26, 2003         6500 words

Disclaimer: The Adventures of Shirley Holmes and its characters are owned by Credo and Forefront. Everything else is my creative property. If you want to use one of my original characters, ask me first or face the wrath of the Mecha-Pikachu ;o)

The Case of the Missing Dolls : Part One :

On Saturdays, the Redington Mall was usually packed with shoppers, especially young people. After enduring a week of school, the mall offered them a place to relax and hang out with their friends. The wide variety of shops and refreshment stops were enough to draw them in.

Shirley Holmes was among the young shoppers this particular Saturday, but unlike her peers, she did not come with her friends. Standing near a clothes rack, she watched as her companion pulled out a white buttoned-up shirt with flowers and stars.

"Shirley, I think this will look great on you," Dr. Joanna Holmes said, holding the article of clothing before her daughter.

Shirley stared at the shirt. "Um, I don't think that's my style, Mom," she admitted.

Dr. Holmes rolled her eyes and sighed. "Shirley, we've been through this. You're starting to grow out of your clothes. You need a new wardrobe." She rummaged through the clothes rack and pulled out a pink shirt. "What about...?"

Shirley shook her head and quickly pulled out a shirt colored half red and half light green with yellow polka dots. "I believe this will suit me, Mom," she said, holding the shirt up for her mother's inspection.

Dr. Holmes stared at the shirt, blinked, rubbed her eyes, and stared again. "If you say so," she said, taking the shirt and draping it on her arm along with the other choices her daughter made.

"You know, I think this matches your eyes."

Shirley turned around and found a smiling Blake Hewitt standing behind her with a light-blue T-shirt in his hand. The look of surprise on her face quickly vanished due to her self-control. "Blake," she finally said after a brief period of silence. Before she could stop herself, she took the shirt from Blake. Feeling her hand brush against his, she fought the urge to blush as she handed the article of clothing to her mother.

"So, this is the infamous Blake Hewitt," Dr. Holmes said, looking over the young man as she draped the blue shirt over her arm. "Shirley talks about you a lot."

"Mom," Shirley said, bowing her head as she felt the heat rush to her face. Blake's smile grew a little.

"And you must be the infamous Dr. Joanna Holmes," a woman with light-brown hair shaped into a blunt cut commented from behind Blake. She was carrying a packet of underwear and some pairs of socks. "Dr. Lauren Hewitt," she introduced herself.

"Ah, the latest addition to the Redington Museum," Dr. Holmes said in a friendly tone. "My mother-in-law is very anxious to meet you. She couldn't come with me and Shirley today, however."

"Why's that?" Dr. Hewitt inquired curiously.

"She's taking it easy right now," Shirley answered. "She's camping out in Yorkshire on the moor, I believe."

"What a remarkable woman," Dr. Hewitt said. "She really must come back in time for our next great exhibit."

"Really? What's being exhibited?" Dr. Holmes asked.

"I don't know," Dr. Hewitt admitted with a shrug. "The curator's keeping everything hush-hush. However, Mrs. Holmes will have plenty of time to see it. We're not opening it until a week or two later."

"I'll be sure to tell her. Thank you," Dr. Holmes said.

Dr. Hewitt noticed the clothing Dr. Holmes had draped all over her person. "A little mother-daughter shopping, I see," she observed with a grin.

Dr. Holmes faked exhaustion. "I felt Shirley needed new clothes since she's outgrowing almost everything she owns," she explained. "Apparently, I should've looked into what Shirley likes to wear."

Dr. Hewitt looked at the two teen-agers, then gave a wink at Dr. Holmes. "I think we should get to know each other better over a little coffee or something like that," she said.

Dr. Holmes smiled. "Yes, we should go have a little something to drink after all this walking."

"Oh no," Blake said.

"They're big kids now, so I'm sure they'll be fine, Joanna," Dr. Hewitt said. "Blake's a good kid, and nothing bad will happen."

"I suppose," Dr. Holmes said, looking at her daughter and her new friend.

"Well, we'll just pay for everything now." Dr. Hewitt started towards the cashier. "You two can wander around for a bit. Just meet us at the center of the mall, okay?"

"Yes, Mom," Blake said, submitting to his mother's will .

"We'll see you later, Shirley," Dr. Holmes said as she followed Dr. Hewitt, leaving Shirley and Blake by themselves.

Both teens looked each other over for a while silently. Blake broke the silence first. "So, where do you want to go?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the floor.

"I'm...not sure," Shirley replied, lowering her head. She felt the heat spreading through her cheeks. "Any suggestions?"

Blake gulped and willed his head to rise. "We could try the bookstore," he blurted, feeling his own cheeks heating up. "I think there are some new mystery novels there, including some recent stuff starring Sherlock Holmes." He watched as Shirley looked at him. "Well, that is, if you're interested and..."

"Blake, it's okay," Shirley said, smiling a little. "I'll go with you."

"Oh," Blake said, swearing that he was losing his breath. "In that case, let's go, then!"

Shirley's smile grew larger as they walked towards the other side of the mall. As she kept up with her companion's stride, she studied him closely. Blake was taller than her; in fact, he was as tall as her best friend Bo Sawchuk. He was a little muscular, but not too much. Her eyes alternated between his frame to his hand. *I wonder if I should take his hand...* Thinking that Blake was about to turn and look at her, Shirley averted her gaze away from him. *I can't believe I'm acting like this!* the amateur sleuth admonished herself. *I should be acting like Great Granduncle Sherlock. I need to be able to function above emotion.* Noticing Blake was not looking at her, she eyed him again. *However, I have to admit Blake is rather attractive.* Her eyes wandered from Blake to the rest of her surroundings. *I haven't felt this way about anyone except...*

Despite focusing on what was in front of him, Blake sensed he was walking by himself. Stopping, he noticed he was by himself in the sea of mall-goers. Searching the area, he found Shirley standing in front of a store window. Making his way through the passing people, he caught up to his friend. "Hey, Shirley, are you okay?" Not getting a response, he looked at what had gotten Shirley's attention.

Both teens were looking at a display of cowboy clothing. Shirley was staring at a mannequin shaped like a teen-age boy. It was wearing a flannel shirt, jeans, and boots with spurs, all covered by a long coat. She noticed the hat, which has strands of fake dark hair shooting out from underneath. Her brain replayed images of a past trip to a ranch, where she encountered a young cowboy who almost resembled the dummy. It was there that she began to exhibit feelings she once thought to be childish and silly. Soon she was recalling how at one moment, they nearly kissed if not for some animal interference. Her mind said only one word: *Matt...*


Startled, Shirley spun around and found a concerned Blake. "You okay?" he asked

Shirley responded after catching her breath. "I'm fine."

Blake looked at the cowboy display again. "Hmmmmm, interested in the Wild Wild West?"

"You could say that," Shirley answered. "Let's go to the bookstore, okay?" she added quickly.

"Er, if you say so," Blake said.

Once again, they joined the moving crowd of shoppers, occasionally apologizing to someone carrying their purchased goods if they brushed by them. At one point, Blake said, "Hey, isn't that Molly?"

Shirley stopped and focused on where Blake was looking. Sure enough, she spotted a girl with long blonde hair heading in the opposite direction. From the way the girl walked, Shirley was sure it was Sussex Academy's most popular student and one of its academic leaders, the very influential Molly Hardy. Only she, Bo, and Blake knew her for the scheming manipulator that she was. A closer inspection showed that Molly was clutching something to her chest. As she made her way through the crowd, Molly bumped into a man and dropped whatever she was carrying. Shirley watched as the man bent down to help her, but Molly snatched her purchase, exchanged a few heated words, and quickly departed the scene.

"I wonder what she's up to?" Shirley said, knowing that Molly's head was filled with numerous schemes to increase her sphere of influence.

"I doubt she'll tell us," Blake said. "Let's just worry about it later."

"With Molly, prevention is essential," Shirley remarked in her usual serious tone, turning around and going after her nemesis. Sighing, Blake followed her.

Making her way past her fellow shoppers, Shirley kept her eye on the departing Molly. Behind her, Blake made sure not to knock anyone over. On the other hand, Shirley felt she had no time to make any apologies. She plowed through the other shoppers, determined not to lose Molly.

The young detective got a brief break when Molly bumped into a woman carrying two shopping bags. This time the impact was enough to knock the beautiful sociopath to the floor, and Shirley was able to see through the crowd that the bag in Molly's possession landed and spilled its contents. The woman, who managed to stay upright, bent down to help Molly, who frantically started scooping whatever she bought into her bag.

"Miss, I can..." the woman began.

"I'm fine!" Shirley heard Molly yell. A small crowd began to gather around the blond teen-ager, blocking her from the young Holmes' view. An older boy made his way through the curious people, and a few seconds later, Shirley heard Molly say, "I said I'm fine! Leave me alone!"

Shirley watched as the people backed away after a few minutes, and she could see a glowering Molly clutching her bag closely to her chest. Brown eyes met Shirley's own curious blues, and Molly's mouth curled into an expression of contempt that matched the glare of death she was giving Shirley. Without addressing the girl who served as a threat to her plans, Molly turned on her heel and ran off, not caring who she knocked aside. Soon the stream of shoppers swallowed the cold-hearted blonde. The object of its curiosity gone, the crowd dispersed.

"Hmmmmmm..." Shirley tilted her head down and tried to ponder what just happened.

Behind her, Blake rejoined her. "Sorry," he apologized. "Had to help an old lady pick up her stuff after I nearly ran her over." He searched the area for Molly. "Looks like she got away."

"That's a definite," Shirley said, still deep in thought.

Blake walked around Shirley and stood before her. "So, ever find out what she was carrying?"

"No," Shirley answered, looking up at Blake.

"Well, I guess we'll know when she puts her plan into action," Blake said.

"I just wish we could have stopped her," Shirley said, sounding a little disappointed.

"Hey." Blake placed a reassuring hand on Shirley's shoulder. "You've beaten her before. You can do it again," he said with a smile.

Shirley smiled back, and her face began to heat up again. Realizing what he was doing, Blake tried to will his hand to lift itself off her shoulder, but it was too late. The young Hewitt's cheeks finally exhibited a crimson hue. With reddened faces, they stared at each other, wondering what to do next.

While that was happening, Bo Sawchuk was watching from a small distance. Molly had ran into him a while ago, and before he could yell "Hey, watch it!", the sociopath bolted away. He did not get the chance to see what was inside her shopping bag. His speculations over what its contents were filed into another part of his brain when he spotted his best friend and his new friend. He was about to say "Hi," but then he saw Blake put his hand on Shirley's shoulder. From there, feelings of sadness, rage, and acceptance fought for dominance in his psyche. Bo's hand occasionally closed into a fist at his side and opened. Only his reason for coming to the Redington Mall stopped him from screaming in agony, and he pressed on, trying to stay out of their sight.

His effort was in vain, for Shirley's watchful eye picked him out among the throng of shoppers. "Bo!" she shouted to her friend.

Blake quickly yanked his hand off Shirley's shoulder and found his other friend. He moved away from her, and his hand went into a greeting wave. "Hey, Bo!"

Defeated, Bo forced himself to walk towards his friends. *Just relax, just relax, just relax...* he told himself repeatedly. His hands struggled to remain open, and his deep breaths did succeed in calming him down. When he was face-to-face with his friends, all signs of his discomfort were kept off his face. "Hey, guys," he said in his usual friendly manner. "What brings you to the mall?"

"My mom's buying me new clothes," Shirley answered.

"And you?" Bo asked Blake, fighting the urge to glare.

"Same here," Blake answered. "What about you, Bo?"

"None of your business," Bo snapped. "Er, I mean I can't say. Hey!"

Shirley had reached forward and yanked out a piece of paper sticking out of Bo's jacket pocket. Opening it, she read, "Surfboarder Larissa, Doctor Larissa, and Mountain Climber Larissa." She put the list down. "Larissa?"

"Larissa?" Blake looked over Shirley's shoulder and read the note. "You mean the Larissa line of dolls? Those are pretty popular, Bo."

Bo snatched the list away. "They're for my little cousin's birthday."

"They're also very expensive," Blake pointed out.

"I've been saving my money," Bo said. "After all, I don't have a family fortune to..." Only Shirley's glare stopped him from ranting on about Blake's wealth, and he went back to explaining the Larissa situation. "This morning, the toy store set up an exhibit of all the Larissa dolls produced throughout the years. They've also cut prices in half during this week, so I can afford probably at least one of them."

Blake let out a whistle. "That's a good deal."

"I believe we'll be helping you find your dolls, Bo," Shirley said. "That is, if you'll have us."

"No problem. Helps make me feel less embarrassed about the whole thing." Bo gave the two a look. "Er, weren't you going in the other direction?"

"Not anymore," Blake said. "The new books will have to wait. Gotta make sure Bo doesn't feel uncomfortable with the dreaded dolls."

"Right. The toy store's that way," Bo said, pointing the way.

All three proceeded on their way to the toy store. With Shirley taking the lead, Blake leaned sideways and whispered to Bo, "Er, sorry, man."

"For what?" Bo whispered back.

"I saw you watching us," Blake said. "Look, if I'm intruding on..."

"You're not," Bo said sharply, feeling his face heat up. He quickly looked away from Blake. "Let's just get those dolls, okay?"

The rest of the walk was quiet after Blake decided to drop the subject. The three friends arrived at the toy store and found a large crowd gathered outside. Shirley noted the number of little girls with one of both of their parents. She also noted that a significant number of them was apparently talking to a mall security guard, a large muscular man with a curly mustache. Shirley noticed how he kept holding his hand up to people as if to prevent them from entering the toy store. In fact, from where she was standing, Shirley couild not see any customers inside the store.

"Guess they're having a little delay with setting up the exhibit," Bo surmised. "A lot of Larissa dolls were produced over the years, and this exhibit has all of them."

"Funny," Blake said, consulting his watch. "I thought the exhibit should have been ready by now."

"Hmmmmmmm..." Shirley turned to a nearby woman who was trying to keep her grip on a little girl attempting to break loose. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Yeah, why are they keeping everyone outside?" Bo asked.

"Well, apparently someone stole some of the dolls from the exhibit," the woman recalled, still struggling to hold the girl. "At least, that's what someone else told me."

Bo was about to say something when he spotted Shirley plowing her way through the crowd. Blake bolted after her, and after a deep sigh, Bo went after his friends while apologizing to the people he occasionally brushed aside.


The Case of the Missing Dolls : Part Two

Miraculously, Shirley and her friends made their way past the guard trying to keep the crowd out of the store. They spotted a young cashier looking left to right from his position behind the cash register and another guard being engaged in a conversation with a young man dressed in a casual blue suit with sparkles. His black hair was styled into spikes, and his eyes were covered by red tinted glasses. The guard was tall and muscular with a square-jawed head topped with brown hair. From where Shirley stood, she could see the scowl of annoyance on the guard's face.

"Roy, what's the meaning of this?" the young man said to the guard. "Why are you keeping these cute little darlings out here?"

"It's called a thorough investigation, Mr. Obley," the guard said through clenched teeth. "No one comes in or out until we're finished."

"I don't recall the mall ordering one, Mr. Mann." A middle-aged woman appeared next to the young man. She was dressed in a business suit, and her graying hair was styled in a bun.

"Well, I called for it, Ms. Anderson," the guard said pointedly.

"Whoa," Bo said. "That's Karla Anderson."

"Who?" Shirley asked, looking at the woman.

"The head of Karla Toys, the maker of Larissa," Bo explained. "She's actually here."

"And looking pretty upset," Blake remarked.

"The last time I checked, I was in charge of this exhibit, Mr. Mann," Ms. Anderson said sharply. "Also, maybe I should be investigating you in light of your sloppy work."

The guard finally noticed Shirley and her friends, and he scowled at the great-grandniece of Sherlock Holmes. "Look, for the umpteenth time, no one's coming in until we're done!"

Unfazed, Shirley addressed the three adults. "Actually, I believe I can help."

The young man raised his glasses, squinted, then lowered them back over his eyes. "You? Help?" he said in disbelief.

Ms. Anderson shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, but this is a job for me and mall security." She gave a nasty look at the guard. "That is, if mall security can get things done right around here."

As the guard returned the look to Ms. Anderson, Shirley looked over the toy mogul. Her observant blue eyes took every detail in. "You've really been in a hurry this morning, Ms. Anderson. You're also a little tired, and you spilled some coffee on yourself during breakfast."

Three sets of eyes looked at Shirley in shock. "How...?" the young man began.

"For starters, you have a few hairs sticking out of your bun, and those shoes don't match your suit," Shirley said, pointing to the woman's shoes and suit. "I doubt a woman of your bearing ever makes such a mistake in accessorizing." She continued without noticing Ms. Anderson's look of surprise. You have bags under your eyes, indicating a lack of sleep. Finally, there's a stain on your blouse. Its color matches that of coffee."

The three adults stared at Shirley silently, and Ms. Anderson nodded. "Score another one for you, Shirley," Blake whispered.

Willing her mouth to move, Ms. Anderson spoke. "Well, you've proven yourself a lot smarter than some people," she remarked, giving the guard a dirty look.

The guard glared back. "My men and I have searched everywhere, and we're about to seal off the whole mall like you recommended," he shot back.

Shirley examined the nearby display as Ms. Anderson and the guard began arguing again. A large sign hanging over the display declared "LARISSA" in large pink cursive letters, and a large pink cloth was lying on the floor nearby. Sitting atop a white platform with "LARISSA" written in a similar fashion as the sign, a number of dolls stood inside glass boxes with their accessories. Although their dress ranged from a nurse to a teacher, all of them had the same long blond hair and green eyes. The feature that stood out in Shirley's mind was the big white toothed grin each doll wore. A significant number of boxes was empty with open doors.

"This is what appeals to girls?" Shirley remarked, pointing to a doll called "Housewife Larissa, 1957." It wore a white dress with a pink apron. An ironing board leaned against the back of the display box.

"Well, she's grown up over the years," Bo said, pointing to a doll called "Karate Larissa, 1991." It wore a karate gi and a black belt.

"Cool," Blake said, looking at the same doll.

"Ah, I see you're admiring the beauty that is Larissa."

All three teens' heads turned to see the young man in the sparkly suit. "You are...?" Shirley began to ask.

"Clarence Obley," Bo answered for the man. "I've heard of you. You're the self-declared biggest fan of Larissa."

"Yes, I am!" the young man declared loudly, pointing skyward.

"Here to see the exhibit?" Blake asked.

"Actually, I'm in charge of setting it up," Mr. Obley clarified proudly, placing his hands on his hips. "Being president of the Larissa Fan Club and having the largest fan collection of Larissa dolls, I was called upon by Karla to help out with the setup since I do a lot of promotion for Larissa."

"I see," Shirley said, staring incredulously at Mr. Obley. "So, you have no clue on how the dolls disappeared?"

"Actually, I do have one suspect," Mr. Obley said, rubbing his chin and looking at someone. Shirley followed his gaze to Mr. Mann, the security guard.

"Why him?" Bo asked.

"Oh, he's been grumpy all day today and also while I set everything up last night," Mr. Obley revealed. "He kept grumbling about how he has to babysit a stupid doll display..." His hand went into a fist, and its shaking in addition to his clenched teeth did not the always watchful eye of Shirley. "Stupid? Ha! Larissa is not stupid! She's beautiful, versitile, well-loved..."

"Plastic," Bo whispered to Blake, who suppressed a small laugh with his hand.

"Larissa is simply wonderful," Mr. Obley continued, oblivious to Bo and Blake shaking as they contained their laughter with their hands. They turned around so the self-proclaimed Larissa fan could not see their faces.

"So you have the largest collection of these dolls?" Shirley asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Indeed," Mr. Obley answered, flashing a grin. He looked past her. "Oh, Karla and Mr. Grouch need me, so if you excuse me..."

Shirley looked behind her and saw Ms. Anderson and Mr. Mann arguing heatedly. She stood aside as Mr. Obley walked past her and returned to them.

"I can't believe you...!" Ms. Anderson shouted, pointing an accusing finger at Mr. Mann.

"Now see her, Ms. Anderson...!" Mr. Mann yelled back.

"Now, now..." Mr. Obley said, placing himself between the two verbal combatants and gesturing for peace.

Bo shook his head. "All this for a few missing dolls."

"A few old and valuable missing dolls," Shirley remarked, pointing to one empty box's label. "This one contained the first Larissa doll that came off the assembly line."

Ms. Anderson stormed off towards the exhibit. "Of all the days to get bad publicity..." she mumbled, fists formed at her side. "What else could go wrong?"

"Anderson!" a man's voice shouted.

All eyes were on a slightly plump man with a thick mustache and a balding head. Behind him was a thin man in a lab coat that kept muttering, "Mr. Mott, please..."

Shirley made her way to the adults. Bo and Blake looked at each other, shrugged, and followed her in.

The plump man pointed a pudgy finger at Ms. Anderson. "Hold it right there, thief!"

Ms. Anderson turned her fury on the thin man. "Trump, you brought him here?"

Wiping his brow and his brown hair, the thin man gulped loudly as he walked shakily to her. "N-n-n-no, ma'am. He followed me here when I wanted to show you th-th-this."

With a trembling hand, the thin man pulled out a doll from his lab pocket. He spoke only after taking a deep breath that apparently calmed him down. "This is my latest invention, Ms. Anderson. Meet Talking Anime Girl Larissa."

Shirley looked at the doll. Talking Anime Girl Larissa had the same blond hair, green eyes, and big grin as her counterparts. The hair was styled into a spiky style, the eyes were large with big eyeballs, and her clothes consisted of a black leather jacket and what Shirley recognized as a Japanese sailor style girl's uniform.

"'Talking Anime Girl Larissa'?" Bo said, staring at the doll.

The thin man nodded and pushed the doll's back. "Konnichiwa, everyone!" the doll said. "Let's go out and have a good time!" He pushed the back again. "Watch out for the giant robot battle!" Another push produced "Ganbatte! You can do it!", and another resulted in "Stay away from him. He's mine!"

"Okay," Blake said. "That's weird."

"At least it's not trying to kill people," Bo commented.

Shirley blinked at the grinning doll. "And who'd buy this?" she asked the man in the lab coat.

"Well, fans of Japanese cartoons," the man admitted. "She still needs a little fine-tuning, but I'm sure once I perfect her..."

"You'll do no such thing!" the plump man roared. "You stole the concept from my company, and you know it, Anderson!"

Ms. Anderson defiantly placed her hands on her hips and glowered at the plump man. "Mott, talking dolls aren't exactly an exclusive idea of yours, and you know it!"

"Why you...!" the plump man began.

"Who is that man?" Shirley asked as Ms. Anderson and the balding newcomer began arguing about idea theft. Mr. Obley had retreated from them and was now next to the display.

"That's Harold Mott, the head of Havender Toys, our biggest rival," the thin man answered. "He and Ms. Anderson have hated each other since kindergarten. At least, that's what she says."

"And you are...?" Shirley asked.

"Percy Trump, head of toy development at Karla Toys," the thin man replied.

"You help make dolls?" Mr. Mann asked, staring incredulously at Mr. Trump.

"I do," Mr. Trump answered, holding his head up high.

Mr. Mann shook his head. "Great, just what I need. First I have to deal with a man who collects them, and now I have to deal with the guy who comes up with the stupid things."

"Just what exactly do you have against dolls?" Blake asked Mr. Mann politely.

"They're just...girly," the security guard admitted. "Uh, no offense," he said to Shirley.

"None taken," Shirley said, shifting her gaze from the verbal battle between the two doll manufacturers and the Larissa doll display.

Mr. Trump noticed the empty display boxes and sighed. "Great, and to make things worse..." He looked at Mr. Mann and Mr. Obley. "When I was here last night, there was a lot of security and all the dolls were here."

"You were here last night?" Bo asked.

"I accompanied Ms. Anderson here so I could make sure all the selected dolls were here," Mr. Trump clarified. "Heck, I was the one who drove the van with the dolls. Ms. Anderson kept telling me to drive carefully so our 'precious cargo' wouldn't get damaged." He let out a small sigh, then threw his hands up. "I don't get paid enough. I come up with all the ideas for Larissa, and I'm still earning the same salary I had when I started out at the company. Plus, I don't even leave work until I'm done with it. A good thing I don't have a wife, or she'd kill me. I mean, I stay there until midnight, for Pete's sake!"

As Mr. Trump continued complaining about his life, Shirley and her friends slipped away to the exhibit and examined the scene before them. Ms. Anderson and Mr. Mott were still engaged in loud verbal sparring, and Mr. Trump was still complaining with Mr. Mann listening.

"This is almost like last night," Mr. Obley remarked.

"This happened last night too?" Bo asked.

"Well, except last night, Mr. Mott complained about Ms Anderson stealing the concept for a singing doll," Mr. Obley said as the shouting got louder. "He stormed out, vowing to get her back for her theft."

"Hmm," Shirley said with a nod. Ignoring the shouting around her, she pondered the problem.

"Looks like we've got a good list of suspects, huh, Shirley?" Blake said.

Shirley nodded. "Mr. Obley, so everyone here was here last night?"

"Yep," Mr. Obley replied. "I left late. Roy let me out."

Mr. Mann joined the group near the display. "Trump's got some real problems," he commented, pointing to him. The poor man was now complaining to himself as his boss and her rival kept shouting.

"I bet you had someone steal my dolls!" Ms. Anderson shouted.

"That's poppycock, and you know it!" Mr. Mott bellowed back, spraying spit in Ms. Anderson's direction. "I think you stole your own dolls so you'd have all this free publicity!"

"That's absurd, you little...!"

"Did the security cameras catch anything?" Shirley asked Mr. Mann as the shouting continued. She pointed out the various cameras hanging on the ceiling.

"Nope," the security guard answered. "They caught nothing. All I got was my men covering the display with that pink cloth on the floor," he added, pointing to the cloth in question. "The only time it came off was a while ago so we could do a final check on it, and that's when we noticed the missing dolls."

"Hey, did you let a blond girl in here?" Bo suddenly asked. "Fairly tall with long hair?"

"I didn't let anyone in here, and no one ever snuck past me and my men," Mr. Mann said.

"Bo, are you saying that Molly stole the dolls?" Blake asked.

"Well, she is pure evil," Bo said. "Plus, she was in a hurry when we saw her."

"And why would Molly steal a few dolls?" Shirley asked. "She plays for higher stakes, and I'm sure her father could buy her any of them if she has an interest in them. Of course, she feels she's too mature for such childish things, so I doubt she even cares about them." She cupped her chin with her hand and closed her eyes.

"What is she doing?" Mr. Mann asked.

"Thinking," Bo answered.

Two minutes passed before Shirley reopened her eyes. She looked at the display and around the store. "Could someone get their attention please?" she requested, looking at Ms. Anderson, Mr. Mott, and Mr. Trump.

Bo was about to yell "Hey" when Blake put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. It was good enough to earn the stares of three puzzled adults.

"Now what?" Mr. Mott demanded. "Hey, why are these kids doing...?"

"What is it?" Ms. Anderson asked.

"I believe I know who the thief is," Shirley announced.


The Case of the Missing Dolls : Conclusion

After everyone present was done staring at Shirley incredulously, Mr. Mott spoke. "You don't have to tell me who the thief is!" he said, pointing an accusing finger at Ms. Anderson. "I bet she did it for the publicity!"

"Actually, you'd be wrong," Shirley told the plump man. "From what I've learned about Ms. Anderson, I highly doubt she'd resort to something like this. Plus, the guards would've seen her do it."

"Well, I know who did it," Bo whispered to Shirley, pointing at Mr. Trump. "Considering how Ms. Anderson treats him, I wouldn't blame him."

"Except for helping with the delivery, he didn't leave his workplace, remember?" Blake pointed out.

"He could've snuck out with the dolls," Bo countered.

"The cover for the exhibit wasn't disturbed until today, remember?" Shirley reminded her friend.

"Well, who did it, then?" Ms. Anderson said, crossing her arms across her chest and tapping her foot impatiently.

After a tense moment of silence, Shirley spoke. "Mr. Mann, could you please restrain Mr. Obley?"

As soon a the words left Shirley's mouth, Mr. Obley tried to bolt for the store's entrance. Bo and Blake were about to head him off when the doll collector suddenly fell to the floor face-first. Nearby, Mr. Trump had his foot out.

"Well, that was a close call," he remarked as Mr. Mann roughly pulled Mr. Obley to his feet.

"Looks like we have our thief," Bo remarked.

"Thief? Me?" Mr. Obley said. "Why would I bother stealing Larissa dolls when I have my own collection?"

"You were the only one other than Mr. Mann here who was present at the setup of the display," Shirley said. "You had the chance to get rid of the dolls while in here."

"Oh, come on!" Mr. Obley said angrily. "Do I look like I have any dolls on me? No!"

"Should I search his vehicle?" Mr. Mann asked Ms. Anderson as Mr. Obley struggled in his grip.

"No need," Shirley said. "I know where he put them."

"Where?" everyone asked at once.

Shirley walked over to the display. Without a word, she took the side of the platform's front and swung it upward, revealing a hidden chamber. Inside were the stolen dolls, all still in good condition. "I assume you were planning to sneak them out after things cooled down," she said to Mr. Obley.

Ms. Anderson stared at Mr. Obley in disbelief. "Why, Clarence?"

At that point, Mr. Obley sobbed. "I couldn't handle a collection that outdid mine. Plus, I never could find some of those dolls. I just had to have them! I just had to!"

"Methinks the guy's really lost it," Bo whispered to Blake.

"I'll take Dollboy here to the security office and call the cops," Mr. Mann said, aiming his prisoner at the store's exit. "That is, unless you don't want to press charges, Ms. Anderson."

"Oh, I'm sure I'll be pressing charges," Ms. Anderson said, glaring at Mr. Obley.

Mr. Mann led Mr. Obley out of the story rather roughly. "Well, that was easy," Bo remarked to Blake.

Ms. Anderson eyed her corporate rival. "Unless you have anything else to say, Mr. Mott, I think you should leave."

Giving her a dirty look, Mr. Mott exited the store quietly. He brushed past Mr. Trump, who let out an "I never!"

Once Mr. Mott was gone, Ms. Anderson looked at Shirley. "You saved the display! How can I ever repay you?"

Shirley looked at Mr. Trump. "First, I think you can give Mr. Trump a raise since he stopped Mr. Obley from escaping." Her gaze shifted to Bo. "Then, there's another matter I'd like resolved for my friend here."

* * * * *

As the crowd started pushing their way back into the toy store, Shirley and her two friends made their way out. Bo was careful to keep his newly acquired gifts close to him.

"That was quick," he remarked as he watched people looking in awe at the newly restored Larissa exhibit.

"Good thing they were able to put everything back the way it was," Blake commented.

"With a little help from Ms. Anderson," Shirley added, recalling how Mr. Trump and some secruity guards set up the exhibit as the toy company head bellowed out orders. She did notice the big smile on Mr. Trump's face as he worked; his recent raise obviously made up for future verbal abuse from his employer.

Bo held out his shopping bag. "Nice of them to let me have these for free." Through the almost transparent blue bag, Shirley could make out the Larissa dolls Bo needed. "My cousin's sure to love these."

"And you didn't have to spend one cent, Bo," Blake said with a grin. "That was definitely the best part," Bo said, sounding relieved.

The three friends continued to walk away from the toy store. Bo listened as Shirley and Blake discussed the facts of the mystery they just solved moments ago and what new mystery books were now out. Suddenly, he stopped walking, and it was only a few paces later that Shirley and Blake realized he had stopped.

"Hey, Bo, what's wrong?" Blake asked.

Looking at his friends, Bo felt the feelings he fought so hard to supress trying to surface. His hand tightened around the handle of his shopping bag, but in the end, what he truly wanted to say gave way to something else.

"Oh, nothing," Bo said, a little nervousness leaking into his voice. "Just want to get this home ASAP, ya know." He waved with his free hand. "See ya later," he said before turning on his heel and walking off.

Shirley and Blake watched as their friend quickly made his way through the throng of shoppers walking to and fro. "That's odd," Shirley said. "The mall exit's the other way."

* * * * *

That night at the Sussex Academy dorms, Molly Hardy quickly poured the contents of her shopping bag onto her bed. Taking a deep breath, she looked through the contents. "Good, good, good," she muttered, her hands closing over the box of small light bulbs. Opening the box, she took out one and brought it to her desk, where the recipient awaited.

After doing what she had to do, Molly got ready for bed. She put away the remaining light bulbs and made sure to tuck her other purchase under her arm. She walked up to the light switch, and like many nights before, she froze as she stretched out her hand to flick the lights off.

"It's just for tonight," she told herself, now squeezing tightly on the soft object in her arm. "It'll still be here tomorrow."

With that affirmation, she flicked off the lights. Taking another deep breath, she made her way to her bed and settled in. She looked down at the stuffed teddy bear in her arms. It was light blue with a big smile and a yellow bow on its head. At that moment, she regretted getting rid of her old teddy in order to grow up, and she hugged what she had even tighter.

As Molly closed her eyes, she told herself she would be able to see again tomorrow. While she tried to sleep, her night-light shone brightly in one corner of the room, ensuring that the room was not enshrouded in total darkness.