I was around 12 years old when my mother asked me to write a short detective story to enter the Young Writer Contest at the local library in our German town. I felt overwhelmed by the request because my German at the time was nothing to write home about, barely passable. Of course, my mother corrected the story. I enjoyed reading Arthur Conan Doyle that year and drew inspiration from his works. She “forgot” to tell me that I would need to read the story out loud during the judging in front of a crowd. My stammer was almost wholly gone that year, but it returned with a vengeance that evening – though it would disappear later (it rarely reoccurs, only when under extreme stress). This short detective story is straightforward and seriously did not deserve the second prize I was awarded. Still, the grocery basket we received would mean my mother worked no overtime that week. Worth it!
The Woodwards’ old country house was quite remote from the nearest town, which was Cardiff. It was over three hundred years old and now occupied by Mrs. Woodward IX. One morning she walked into her breakfast room as usual and called cheerfully, “Cheeky, Cheeky! Where are you, little darling?”
A moment later, a joyful bark was heard. Mrs. Clare Woodward IX had inherited the animal from Mrs. Woodward VIII, her mother-in-law. Mr. Woodward, Mrs. Clare’s husband, had never liked the dog, and he broke his neck one night, tripping over it on the dark stairs. Every night since then, the staff thought they heard poor Mr. Woodward thumping on the stairs. Mrs. Woodward, on the other hand, spoiled the dog beyond measure. When it was his birthday, he got a cake with pink candles.
Mrs. Woodward was by no means living alone. She had a maid, a butler, and kitchen and park staff, although she rarely saw them. Her nephew Charles III lived in the house with his wife, Janet. That morning, she happily fed her “Cheeky” and let him run outside, knowing he would return in half an hour because he always did. You could set your watch by him.
While she was waiting for him, her nephew Charles and his wife came downstairs and said goodbye because they were going to Rockwood for a picnic. A little later, Mrs. Woodward heard the two’s car moving away down the long driveway. After half an hour, Mrs. Woodward looked anxiously at her gold watch and thought she heard a dull noise somewhere.
She immediately rang for the butler and instructed him to find Cheeky. The butler sighed. He was a tall, thin man and had been in the service of the house for twenty years. So he went into the park, and half an hour later, he came back and told Mrs. Woodward that he had searched everywhere and found nothing but that she shouldn’t worry: the dog probably tracked something down and followed it.
Mrs. Woodward could no longer hold back her tears of worry. On the way out, the butler murmured that it wasn’t worth crying over that vicious little mutt! Mrs. Woodward was staring out the window when her maid entered the room, huffing. She stammered excitedly about a whining from downstairs while making the bed. Mrs. Woodward ran into the hall, but it was dead quiet there. The staff was told to search the entire park again but found no trace of the dog.
When Charles and his wife got home and heard of the dog’s disappearance, they were delighted, knowing that their aunt had named Cheeky as the universal heir in her will. Nevertheless, they acted as if they were looking for him everywhere. Later, when everyone was seated at dinner, a piercing scream was suddenly heard. Everyone stared at each other, jumped up, and ran out, Mrs. Woodward in the lead. The maid came towards them screaming, but before she could say anything else, Charles grabbed her arm and put his finger over her mouth.
The butler stood motionless by the stairs and pointed to the flowerpots that were set up on one side of the stairs. In between lay the dead Cheeky. Mrs. Woodward fainted. Janet glanced at her husband furtively. “It’s better if Mrs. Woodward doesn’t know at once,” whispered the butler, “but the dog’s neck is broken. Mrs. Woodward won’t believe it, and we’ll have to call the police.”
“Who shouted as the family sat at dinner?” asked Inspector White when he had gathered everyone in the hall an hour later. “I did,” said the maid, “I came down the stairs and saw the late Mr. Woodward’s portrait among the flowers. It must have fallen. I picked it up, and so found poor little Cheeky.”
“It must have been like that,” interrupted the butler hastily, “the picture killed the dog; he loved to sit on the stairs. So, everything is settled.”
“The dog was your heir, Mrs. Woodward?” asked the Inspector.
“Murder!” cried Mrs. Woodward, “he’s been murdered! I know for sure!”
“Have you any particular suspicions?” asked the inspector.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Woodward darkly, “I know exactly who it was. The killer did it so cleverly that nothing can be proven against him.”
Who was the killer?