Sara Matson's story, "The Kitten Conundrum," is in Short Circuit #03, Short Edition's quarterly review. Sara’s stories and articles have appeared in a variety of children’s magazines. Please visit her website at

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My name is Andy Tannenbaum, and I'm a private eye. But until last week, I'd never solved a case—except for the time my little sister Tara thought someone had stolen her Batman underpants. I found them behind the washing machine.
Then last Monday, Grandma called to report a real crime.

Monday, 5:15 p.m.
I held the phone away from my ear. When Grandma shouts, it means she's in a hurry or worried about something. Or both. "Yep," I said. "We used our key."
"No, why?"
"I'll be right over."
Grandma's house is a short bike ride away. When I got there, the kittens were in their basket, lying so still that Miss Twitchy Tail's tail wasn't even twitching. The other kitten, Bruce, was snuggled next to her like a fat gray pom-pom.
"They don't look so good," I said.
Grandma stroked Bruce's ear. "The vet said they'll be okay, but I wish I knew what they ate. All I gave them was a dish of Kitty Crunchy-Munchies." She pointed to the dish of x-and o-shaped kitty kibble next to the basket.
"I'll go look around," I said.
Minutes later, I found the first clues in the case.
Clue #1: An empty bowl on the kitchen floor. It contained a few drops of milk and one cat hair.
Clue #2: An empty milk jug on the counter.
My deduction: Someone had given milk to the kittens.
In books—like Tara's favorite Miss Twitchy Tail's Tea Party—kittens drink milk all the time. But in real life, it can make them as sick as dogs. I knew this, but did the person who fed the milk to Grandma's kittens? In other words, was this an honest mistake or something more sinister? To find out, I'd have to investigate.

Monday, 6:00 p.m.
I showed Grandma the clues.
"Who could have done this?" she wondered out loud. "Do you think it was Tara?"
"I don't think so," I said. "For one thing, Tara's too short to reach the milk in your fridge. For another, she always spills milk on the counter when she pours it at home, and your counter is clean. Third, she was with me practically every second today. There wouldn't have been time for her to pour milk for the kittens."
"She does love feeding them, though," Grandma pointed out.
So I biked home to ask her.

Interview #1

Suspect: Tara Tannenbaum. Age: 5
Me: "Did you give Bruce and Miss Twitchy Tail anything to eat or drink today?" *Note: You might think these are weird names for kittens. Grandma let Tara and me name them. Guess who named Miss Twitchy Tail?
Tara: "I gave them their kitty food. Why?"
Me: "Because they're sick."
Tara: (crying) "Oh, no! Was it my fault?"
Me: "Of course not. Kitty food is perfectly safe."
Tara: (still crying) "Wahhhhh!"
Me: "Will you stop crying if I read to you?"
I read Miss Twitchy Tail's Tea Party until Tara calmed down. Then I called Grandma.

Monday, 7:00 p.m.
"It wasn't Tara," I said. "I'm coming over again to interview the other suspect."
"What other suspect?" Grandma asked.
My cousin lives with Grandma while he's going to university. What's more, he doesn't like cats.

Interview #2

Suspect: Mike Tannenbaum. Age: 19
Me: "Did you give the kittens a bowl of milk this morning?"
Mike: "Everyone knows you shouldn't feed milk to kittens. Duh."
Me: "Did you have any milk this morning?"
Mike: "Yeah. On my cereal."
Me: "What kind of cereal?"
Mike: (suspiciously) "Why?"
Me: "Just answer the question, please."
Mike: "Fine. Tic-Tac-Osy-Os."
Me: (laughing) "That's a kid's cereal!"
Mike: (growling)
Me: "One more question. Did you put the milk jug back in the refrigerator?"
Me: "Mike!"
Mike: "I emptied it and left it on the counter. I was late for class, so I didn't have time to take it to the garage for recycling. Sue me."
Me: "I'll bet you left your bowl out, too."
Mike: (in a threatening tone) "Beat it. I've got homework to do."

Monday, 7:30 p.m.
I found Grandma in her garden pulling weeds.
"Mike didn't do it," I told her, "but he did leave the empty milk jug on the counter. Whoever poured milk for the cats must have done it after you left for work but before Mike emptied the jug."
Grandma frowned. "What if it was a burglar?"
I rolled my eyes. "Grandma, burglars don't break into people's houses to feed their cats."
Grandma's voice got louder as she shook a bunch of dandelions at me. "WELL, I NEED YOU TO FIGURE THIS OUT OR YOU AND TARA CAN'T COME OVER WHEN I'M AWAY. IT MIGHT NOT BE SAFE!"
"I'm working on it, Grandma. Believe me, I'm working on it."

Interview #3

Suspect: Grandma's next-door neighbor. Age: old
I found Mr. Pinkham in his driveway with his remote-control airplane. Sometimes he lets me fly it. It's really cool.
Me: "Mr. Pinkham, did you see anyone go into or come out of Grandma's house this morning?"
Mr. P: (makes the plane do a loop-de-loop) "Let me think...this morning, I was out here fixing my window. First, I saw Mike dash out of the house. I think he was late for class again. Then, you and Tara rode up and said hello. Tara went into the house while you held the ladder for me, and then you went inside. I didn't see anyone else."
Oops. I'd forgotten that Tara and I had been apart for about five minutes. But that shouldn't matter, because by the time we arrived, Mike had already emptied the milk jug. What was I missing?

Monday, 8:00 p.m.
I returned to the scene of the crime to go over my notes but being in Grandma's kitchen made me hungry—especially since it was full of tasty treats my parents never buy. I filled a bowl with Tic-Tac-Osy-Os and opened a new jug of milk. Then I noticed something interesting. Something very interesting. My bowl of Tic-Tac-Osy-Os looked a lot like kitty chow.
I was about to crack this case wide open.

Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Back at home, Tara was in her pajamas.
I sat on the edge of her bed. "Tell me again. What did you give to the kittens this morning?"
"Their kitty food," she said, throwing her Batman cape over her shoulders. "Will you tie this?"
I did, saying, "Where did you get the food?"
"From Grandma's counter," she said. "It was in a bowl."
"Tara," I said softly. "That was Mike's leftover cereal."
Her eyes got big. "It was? I thought it was kitty food."
"But didn't you see there was milk on it? And what about the spoon?"
"I took it out. And the kitties in my book like milk, so I thought ours would, too," she explained.
"They might like it, Tara, but it's not good for them. Okay?"
She shrugged. "Okay."
"Now, do you want me to read Miss Twitchy Tail's Tea Party?"
Tara shook her head. "I'm tired of that book. Will you read me my superhero book?"

Monday, 9:00 p.m.
Case closed. I called Grandma, and then I went off to finish Miss Twitchy Tail's Tea Party on my own. It's kind of a cute story. To be completely honest, I'm the one who gave Miss Twitchy Tail her name. Tara named the other kitten after Bruce Wayne. In case you hadn't noticed, she's a big Batman fan.

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