For as long as anyone could remember the children of the Shire had been warned about a most singular and elusive thief. Generations of Baggins and Burrows, Puddifoot and Gamwich and even those rambunctious Tooks all learned to fear this most pernicious and mysterious sneak. Tales were told from hobbit to hobbit, parent to child and those tales grew with every telling.
‘He is a thousand years old and lives in a camp, deep in the woods where even the Trolls fear to tread.’
‘No, no! It’s not a man or even a woman; it is a group. A band of criminals trained and financed by some distant wizard who is intolerant to gluten.’
‘Are you mad? It is the ghost of a poor orphaned hobbit who used to live with an evil pie maker who starved her to death! Now she goes from house to house stealing pies with hunger that can never be sated.’
Every hobbit had a story, each as unique as a snowflake. The one thing everyone could agree on was that this was no ordinary thief. They were in fact, the lowest, most disgusting and reprehensible pilferer of all a pie thief known as the Pastry Bandit.
As the hobbits grew up and few sightings occurred, they worried less and less about the Pastry Bandit their minds turning to more mundane problems. He was just a myth. A story to scare young children with. That was until the day that he wasn’t a myth anymore.
That day came on the 20th of Thrimidge 2991. The day that Lobelia Sackville-Baggins put a perfect apple pie on her window ledge to cool only to return half an hour later to find it missing. Accusations had flown, and everyone was a suspect. Baggins Tooks and Brandywines all were accused, investigated and exonerated. The following week and the Pastry Bandit struck again, not once, not twice but thrice. First May Gamgee lost one of her rhubarb and blackberry specials, and then both Daisy Boffin and Peony Burrows suffered similar tragedies with their own delicious baked goods. The local authorities were called in, but a thorough investigation turned up no clues, no suspects and worst of all no pies.
By the 14th of Forelithe, the thefts were so common that people were resorting to extreme measures. Fences sprung up like shining silver weeds, every able man was pressed into service patrolling the town, and some even began to empty their safes of gold and gems to make room for their precious pies.
“The Pastry Bandit was on the loose, and there was only one hobbit who could stop him… Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective,” said Frodo as he scribbled into his journal.
“One hobbit Master Frodo?” said Samwise Gamgee with a frown. “What about me?”
“Don’t worry Sam! This is just a working draft. I’ll make sure you get proper credit in the final edit. What do we know?”
“Not much I’m afraid,” replied Sam.
“Pies have been pilfered from all over the Shire and there doesn’t seem to be anything that links the crimes at all. They happen at different times of day and night and there isn’t even a link with the pies, sweet, savoury he will take anything.”
“So what you’re saying is we have no clues?”
“Pretty much Master Frodo, yes. There’s a reason he hasn’t been caught in all these years.”
“Well, you know what the greats do when they don’t have any clues?”
“Go back to the beginning, go over every crime-scene, interview every witness work the case until something comes up?”
“Gods no, Sam. Do you know how much work that would be? They make their own evidence!” With that, he turned away and started back towards Bag End his mind already grappling with the problem.
“What do you mean Master Frodo?” asked Sam. “Master Frodo? We’re not going to frame someone, are we? Are we?!?”
Crouching in the darkness, hidden from the road by a thick row of gorse bushes Frodo surveyed the scene. From his position on the edge of the wood, he had a perfect view of both the road running by the house and more critically pie which sat cooling on the window ledge. The lantern high on the lamppost was lit and cast a warm glow over the scene but fell short of where the two boys lay in wait. They were shrouded in a cloak of darkness while anyone approaching would be lit up like one of Gandalf’s skyrockets. There was no way that the Pastry Bandit could get to the tasty, blueberry-filled delicacy without being seen.
“Are you ready Sam?”
“Ready Master Frodo.”
“Okay keep your eyes peeled he could show up at any time.”
As if on queue their first suspect came into view. He was a short, fat hobbit wearing a wide straw hat that was pulled low to cover his face. It looked as though he was going to walk on but then he stopped dead and tilted his head. He looked from left to right then his eyes locked onto the pie and a smile flashed across his face. He glanced left then right to make sure no one was looking then stepped darted towards the pie. Frodo felt Sam tense and held out an arm to restrain him.
“Not yet Sam,” he whispered. “Let him take the bait…”
As he reached the pie, the man looked around again and finding the coast clear, leaned down and took a long sniff. Frodo’s heart raced, and his hands shook with anticipation. They had him, the Pastry Bandit! Where countless others had failed Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective had succeeded. Images of parades held in his honour and the mayor draping a medal over his head flashed through his mind.
“That’s a lovely looking pie Mrs Gamgee,” called the hobbit. “You better take it in, or the Pastry Bandit will have it away…”
The images vanished with the retreating back of the innocent hobbit.
“Perhaps this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought,” moaned Frodo slumping back onto a tree stump.
Several more hobbits came into view, and each time the boys readied themselves for action only to be disappointed as the suspects passed without incident. The night wore on past midnight and into the early hours with less and less people going by and no sign of the Pastry Bandit. Sam had fallen asleep some time ago, and Frodo himself was starting to nod when something startled him awake. Somewhat dazed Frodo looked up at the house, and his heart stopped in his chest. His eyes were fixed straight ahead as he reached out and shook Sam.
“Wha… Who… When…” muttered Sam. Frodo just pointed to the house where the pie was floating in mid-air. He watched in horror as a slice of pie floated out of the tin all by itself then vanished in three swift bites.
“Ghost!” screamed Sam. “The Pastry Bandit is a ghost!”
A second slice froze in mid-air then fell to the floor followed quickly by the pie itself but the boys hadn’t waited long enough to see it, they had already bolted for the hills in panic. They ran until their legs gave out and had reached the very outskirts of Hobbiton before they finally collapsed.
“Miss Posey was right!” said Sam between breaths. “The Pastry Bandit is a ghost, and we’ve gone and proved it.”
“I don’t think we proved anything,” sighed Frodo.
“What do you mean we saw with our own eyes!”
“But who will believe us?”
Sam started to speak then let out his own sigh. “Perhaps you’re right. At least we cracked the case.”
“Right!” said Frodo brightening. “Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective triumphs again!”
“Don’t forget about his old pal Sam…” started Sam but Frodo wasn’t listening he was already heading for home.
Bilbo looked up from his book as Frodo pushed his way into Bag End.
“Good night Frodo?”
“Sorry Bilbo,” said Frodo as he crossed the room. “I’ve no time to chat I’ve got to get this down while it’s fresh in my head.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“I caught the Pastry Bandit tonight!”
“Caught him eh? Who was it?”
“Well, maybe not caught exactly but we saw him, well no we didn’t see him but only because he is a ghost!”
“A ghost you say? isn’t that something!”
“Right and now I need to write it all down before I forget. Goodnight Bilbo.”
As Frodo headed to bed, Bilbo surreptitiously slipped the ring from his pocket and twirled it in his hands. “I guess I should put this whole pie stealing thing to bed before he catches me. Besides, it’s not good for the old physique,” said Bilbo rubbing his large belly. “He’s a sharp boy that one I see big things in his future.”