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The View from the East End (44)

By Inspector Hopkins

July 30, 2006

The Dent in the Trunk

  by Inspector Hopkins 

The other day, Missus Hopkins and I had a chance to try our hands at forming “a theory which explained all the facts”, as Sherlock Holmes did in STUD, GREE, NORW, and in so many other of his adventures.

It was a bright Saturday morning in the East End, and I welcomed the break in the rainy weather we had been having. It was such a nice day that I decided to wash our cars. They were parked in the driveway since the night before, and after gathering up the bucket, hose, and soap, I went to work and soon had both machines gleaming.

Missus Hopkins has a teenaged son and daughter from a previous marriage. While I was working on the cars, two of her son’s friends came by on their bicycles to visit him. Without even looking up, I knew we had visitors because our dog barks excitedly whenever anyone approaches the house. They left their bikes on the front walk next to the driveway and went into the house. I finished up, put all my carwash tools away, rolled up the hose, and then paused for a moment to admire my handiwork.

An hour or two later, Missus Hopkins asked me to take her daughter to work. I was only too glad for an excuse to take a drive in my newly washed car, so I dropped her off at work and returned in less than half an hour.  I parked my car back where it was in the driveway, and as I got out, I noticed a very sizable dent in the trunk lid of my wife’s car.

I quickly summoned her and we examined the dent together. It was about the size of a small dinner plate and was towards the left edge of the trunk. She had not driven anywhere, and although she heard the dog barking while I was gone, no one else had come in.

Thinking like a Sherlockian, I studied the dent carefully, looking for any sort of clue as to how it got there.  There was no question that it had not been there before I left, so it must have happened within the half hour period that I was gone.  I thus established a timeframe for the mystery.  I immediately thought of vandalism since there had been instances of that in our area. If that was true, then the dent must have been made with a tool or a bat or similar object, because it was unlikely that anyone could have caused such a large dent by striking the trunk with their fist.  Close examination of the paint showed that it had not even been scratched, thus ruling out any metal or wooden objects. 

Likewise, there were no smudges or fingerprints visible anywhere on the freshly washed surface. Missus Hopkins and I looked at each in dismay. There was no reason for anyone to have done this to her car, no motive other than sheer mischief. She suggested that perhaps the damage had been caused by an errant football or baseball. There were only the three teenage boys down in the basement playing video games. Perhaps they had come upstairs, went outside, and had been throwing a ball around?  Again, we had to rule out this possibility, due to the lack of any sort of scratch marks in the center of the dent. Besides, I reasoned, there was no logical way anyone could thrown a ball in the direction that her car had been parked, and it would not have had enough energy or force to damage her trunk lid. The boys very frequently played basketball near the driveway (since we have a hoop) with all their leaping and jumping around, but a basketball would have simply bounced off the car.

We sadly shook our heads and walked back towards the house, discussing all these various possibilities.  Again, thinking like a Sherlockian, I suggested we interview the “suspects” down in the basement, but alas, they pled ignorance and strongly asserted that they had not even left the basement all the time I was gone. 

I recalled the line in BLAN: “There was nothing more I could do and I spent an uneasy night turning the matter over in my mind and trying to find some theory which would cover the facts.”  I realized that, indeed, this was the situation I found myself in.

The next day, my wife suddenly and excitedly postulated the following theory:

“While you were gone, two more of my son’s friends came by, and noticed the two bicycles parked out front. They recognized the bikes and knew the two boys who were already downstairs visiting my son. One of them came up to ring the doorbell, and the other, being a typical teenaged-basketball-playing boy, jumped up in one motion and sat on the trunk of my car. The impact left no scratch marks but was strong enough to dent the trunk lid.  The dog was barking at the boy who was about to ring the bell. But before he could, the other boy, seeing what he had done to my car, stopped him and they both ran away together.”

I had to admit it sounded like a very plausible explanation and was very proud of her Sherlockian potential!  I realized that, as in SILV, after we “got a grip of the essential facts of the case”, we “enumerated” them to each other “for nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person”. And as in YELL, her theory may have been “surmise” but it did “at least cover all the facts”.

Now all we have to do is actually find the culprit.

But that’s another story.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I remain as always,

Yours faithfully,