Dana wishes she’d have just followed one rule...
The Mystery of Windesta Creek
CHAPTER
9
Nooks N' Crannies
The next morning, I woke refreshed and eager to take on Miss. Hollis’s home. Parker and Gwen’s Operation Island Tour did make me feel a lot better, and not even Lil could dampen my mood at breakfast time.
“ I made the pancakes myself.” She boasted, “ Don’t worry, Dana. You can start learning how to cook by learning how to pour milk first. But for now, I’ll pour it for you until you pass third grade, alright dear?” She poured me some milk. I hated just drinking plain milk.
“ Um, I really didn’t want milk, Lil. I’ll go get some water from the kitchen.” I replied awkwardly.
“ Heavens, no! Didn’t you just hear me tell you about the dangers of pouring drinks? And you do want to drink milk, with all it’s vitamin C and all.” She said.
“ Actually, Milk has calcium, not vitamin C. That’s in oranges.” I told her uselessly. It wasn’t like she cared about the truth or anything like that.
“ Don’t defy me with your wrong little facts, Dana, or I’ll put you in the backyard. All that Poison Ivy can give you an itch for days!” She warned, but she couldn’t conceal her smirk. So I drank my milk and ate the hard, burnt pancakes that Lil was so proud of. There wasn’t even any syrup. She definitely wasn’t related to me. The Purple family had the “ douse all pancakes and waffles with syrup” gene. Apparently, Lil did not.
“ I’m gonna go hang out with Gwen and Parker. See you later, Lil.” I said coldly. But inside, I liked the thought of not doing what Lil wanted me to do. Because if she wanted to do something, it was wrong. She was a fake, and everything she made up about her life was false. The proof was in the pudding, on Parker’s unseen map, there was no soup kitchen.
“ Be careful, dear. Those kids are nothing but trouble, trust me.” She said, and waved me out the door.
I raced on my bike to Miss. Hollis’s old house, which looked as gorgeous as ever, if a bit forlorn. The details were still intact, but this mansion had lost some of it’s key luster and shine when it lost it’s owner. It could have been that the windows were gathering dust; or the unread newspapers were piling up at here door, or her wind chimes sounded when she wasn’t there, but this house was somehow wrong.
Parker and Gwen were waiting for me at the door. They were intently struggling with the lock. They were so into trying to push the door down that they didn’t even notice me behind them. Maybe, I thought, it was time to get them back for scaring me yesterday. They were about to learn that jumping out at me was not a smart idea.
“ Boo!” I shouted. To my horror, Gwen screamed in such a high pitch that I worried for the glass’s safety, and Parker fell down the stairs. When he got up, his midnight black hair was mussed and he had a scratch running down his leg, just below his now damaged khakis.
“ Sorry,” I told them sheepishly, “ I didn’t think you’d get that scared, to be honest.” Especially Gwen. Who knew that saying one word could evoke such a painful reaction?
“ Geez, Gwen, join the opera or something if you’re gonna scream that high. You were terrified.” Parker taunted Gwen. She playfully nudged him back, and I noticed that she was wearing a Gryffindor T-Shirt with a pair of jean shorts. Where, exactly, could she get these clothes, on an Island?
“ Well, Mr. Tough, how was the long fall off down the stairs? All part of the act, huh?” Gwen retorted. In the meantime, I pulled out a hair pin, and in less then one second I deftly picked the lock, and the door swung open without a creak.
“ Wow, that’s interesting, guys.” I pointed to the open door, and gestured for them to enter.
“ Oh.” Muttered Gwen awkwardly. But I had long forgiven them, and let my grudge go.
The inside of the Hollis Manor was bare, like seeing the bones of a once majestic beast. The place, which had been so well adorned a few days ago, had been stripped of any personal effects, and in the front room, all that was left were fancy Victorian style walls, a high ceiling, and a polished wooden floor that was still shiny despite the fact that no one had touched it with a mop for a while.
“ This is so creepy.” I accidently spoke aloud. But to my surprise, Gwen and Parker nodded. They too sensed that something here wasn’t right.
The kitchen was close to as empty, but the lights had been left on, which was a relief. But I saw squares where the refrigerator and stove used to be. I shivered. The perpetrator of this ransacking didn’t just take Miss. Hollis- they took every trace she had ever lived here.
We checked all the nooks and crannies for clues, but there wasn’t anywhere much to hide in there. So we moved on through the ghost of a beautiful mansion.
Next was the guest bedroom. Nothing, not even the sheets or the gold in the door handle. No frame, either! Someone must have been desperate for scrap metal. It was hot as the equator in that room because the air conditioner had been lifted, too. Parker checked for fingerprints, but they must have worn gloves, because the place was cleaner then a whistle.
“ Dana, these people are professionals at this,” I heard Parker’s voice quavering despite his attempts, “ They’ve done this before. If they catch us... we might be next.” He said. Gwen shook her head.
“ We won’t let them know. We don’t just run around, yelling that we broke into a house, you know. It’s gonna be fine.” But I could see her palms sweating, and I felt my heart racing. Parker was right. This was all too real, and all too dangerous.
“ How about we check out the indoor greenhouse next? Maybe they’re some prints on the plants.” I urged. So we checked the Greenhouse. And the living room. And the master bedroom, all empty. Nothing, nothing, nothing, on and on, until we had checked every room, even the bathroom, which was lacking a sink. Nada, nothing to see. Why had the bad guys been so thorough? I mean, I got couldn’t steal an extra cookie without leaving a trace, much less a whole house!
Not that I ever had stolen a cookie before or planned to, but, then again, I had just broken into an abandoned house, and I was guessing that was worse.
Next, I tried the second main bedroom, and that was exactly the same: there was nothing to see, no substance to the bones of the house at all. I was done with the Hollis Manor, and I could tell it had never even began with me.
“ Should we call it a day now?” I begged, “ There just aren’t any clues here. This whole expedition was pointless.”
“ Yeah, you’re right, Dana.” Said Parker sadly. We walked towards the front door. All of us were exhausted, but I was frustrated. How can someone go all over a house, taking things, and not leave a single clue? I became more and more upset until we reached the door, and I kicked the wall.
The wooden panel fell off. Awesome, now I would be facing destruction of property charges along with whatever you call breaking and entering charges. I would be in Juvy for life if this continued. I wasn’t cut out for a cell!
“ Oh, great!” I moaned. But then I noticed that behind the wood was another, velvet coated wall. It was a hidden compartment!
“ Everyone, start tearing off the boards! A nook is behind there! And no one hides nooks unless they have a secret.” I rallied. We started tearing the wood, and little by little, more velvet was revealed. This was working!
Twenty minutes and 6 splinters between the three of us later, the job was done. The hidden compartment was out in the open... and inside was a beautiful letter in Calligraphy, just like the one I found at the beach. I read it: Too late, H. And that was all, except a red and black seal, in the form of a horrible scaly snake, mangling a boat that was a third it’s size. I hated it.
“ Voila.” Gwen whispered in reverence of the first clue of the whole day.
We paraded it to the Tree Lab, where Parker could check out the chemical makeup of the seal and check for fingerprints. We thought it would take five minutes. Instead, me and Gwen sat twiddling our thumbs and joking about the every untrustworthy school nurses we’ve encountered for two hours while Parker examined the clue.
I was just at the good part of the story about how my friend Jamie fell out of a tree and broke his leg and the nurse told him to head back to class when Parker found something.
“ There’s high amounts of lead in this seal, but there’s something else too... I found a rare spore, AKA a mushroom seed that’s only found in South Africa. I mean, it’s so rare, that this could be a vital piece of information to see who sent the letter.” Parker babbled.
“ Hey genius, what part of South Africa? That place is huge! South Africa hardly narrows down the list of suspects.” Gwen explained.
“ Hey, I’m not a forensic scientist, Gwendolyn, cut me some slack. I play baseball, I just do this stuff on weekends.” Parker threw back. But I saw flashing lights on the screen that no one else was paying attention to, and I saw two letters of an element found in the seal: Au.
“ Guys, isn’t Au the symbol for gold or something?” I asked.
“ Sure, why?” Gwen wondered.
“ Hello, look at the screen! This seal is 46% gold!” I exclaimed.
“ Woah... that’s a lot. Whoever sent this must use this seal a lot. So they must have a huge supply of gold... but why waste it on an envelope seal?” Parker pondered. I had a horrible, horrible hunch, though...
“ Give me those tweezers.” I instructed Parker. Without question, he handed them to me. I snipped away the giant snake, and saw a layer of gold wire, connecting a circuit. A computer chip for one purpose only lay under it.
“ Oh no.” I muttered, “ Don’t say a word.” But it was far too late for that. The seal was a recording device, the likes my parents had shown me at the Police Station... and whoever was on the other end had listened to everything we’d wanted to keep secret.
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