Skip to content


In the end, they found the latest ersatz Kratatuk the way one finds truffles and earthquakes: with a pig. The Society’s cook looked on with fond sourness as, snuffling and clattering, it dragged Nussbaum down the stairs to the corner bed of a servant girl named Senf.

“I wasn’t going to keep it,” she said, when they plunged into her cubicle. She clutched the shards of a varnished walnut. “But I barely tapped it and it wasn’t unbreakable, it wasn’t!”

“So many things fall open, if you hit them hard enough,” panted Nussbaum, who might have had a friend after all.


“I stole it last year,” said Nussbaum, her young face strained.

“But I stole it three years before that,” said Brocken.

“I believe Professor Durchdrehn stole it almost a decade hence,” said Drosselmeier, “and Professor Buffalop still longer ago, a year before his tenure.”

Buffalop’s eyes had widened. “But if Durchdrehn just got my decoy, then who’s to say the one I took was–”

“Surely you can’t have believed you were the first to have this idea?” said Drosselmeier sadly. “A dusty and obscure article, of startling value to the right collector, guarded by a cheap lock: it practically stole itself.”


“The search must be accomplished tonight,” said Drosselmeier.

“We have arranged a diversion,” the astronomer said. “The quarters will be empty when the bell tolls nine.”

“Such villainy! Such daring!” said the professor. “Yes, yes, of course I will aid you in ferreting out the nut.”

“You’ll need to begin the search yourself,” said Drosselmeier. “Perhaps if you go early and hide in an alcove nearby…”

“We’ll be along shortly,” said the astronomer.

“I knew it all along,” said the professor, eyes cold with vindiction.

“Oh yes,” they told Durchdrehn, Brocken, Buffalop and Nussbaum, each in their turn. “So did we.”


“Brocken and Buffalop provide each other’s alibi,” frowned the astronomer. “This may be problematic.”

“The horoscope tells us that they will have a falling out in March,” said Drosselmeier. “The consequence of a heist whose loot they cannot sell?”

“You suspect Krakatuk is still in Acornshausen?”

“The roads are bad in winter, and it cannot be trusted to a messenger,” said Drosselmeier. “An accomplice would help hide the nut until spring.”

“Buffalop and Brocken together,” said the astronomer, “or Durchdrehn and a protégé? His stars show a dependence on admirers.”

“But our Professor Nussbaum,” said Drosselmeier, “has no friends at all.”


The astronomer and Drosselmeier cast horoscopes for all the Society faculty, with particular emphasis on the position of Mercury, god of thieves. It took a week of hard work in the high tower of Acornshausen, but in the end they had winnowed the suspects to four: Professors Nussbaum, Durchdrehn, Brocken, and Buffalop himself.

“See here,” they each huffed in various states of eye-pop and apoplexy, “I am clearly above suspicion–”

“Of course, of course,” said Drosselmeier, “we seek only evidence to defend your good name.”

“For which purposes,” said the astronomer, “you won’t mind detailing your whereabouts of Thursday last?”