Read an Excerpt
The Animal Shelter Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
A Thump at the Window
Dinner at the Aldens' ended with the sound of a growl. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Grandfather Alden, too, all turned to look at Watch.
"What's the matter, Watch?" Jessie asked the family dog.
"Did you hear that fat raccoon again?" Violet wanted to know.
"Or maybe a skunk, boy?" Henry asked.
Watch answered all these questions with another growl. This surprised everyone at the dinner table but Benny. He was too busy spooning up his blueberries and vanilla ice cream to pay any attention to Watch.
Something hit the screen, and Watch's growl turned into a real bark. Something—or someone—was at the porch window, trying to get in!
"I'll go out back and check," Henry said.
Now Benny dropped his spoon into the bowl. He ran out to the porch with everyone else. "Maybe it's a prowler," he said.
"Oh!" Violet cried out suddenly. "Something just brushed against my legs."
Jessie stooped down. "Why, look," she said. "It's not a prowler at all. It's a little calico cat."
"So this ball of fur was trying to get into our house?" Mr. Alden asked. He laughed as an orange, gray, and white cat circled through everyone's legs.
Violet picked up the cat. "I think she's lost, poor thing."
"And hungry," Benny added. He quickly ran into the dining room and came back with his ice-cream bowl.
"She is hungry," Jessie said. "Look how fast she's lapping up Benny's dessert."
In no time at all Benny's bowl was licked clean.
Mr. Alden smiled. His grandchildren had adopted many pets since the old boxcar days when Watch first showed up to protect them. Of course, the Aldens didn't need much protection anymore. After their parents died, their grandfather had found them living in a boxcar and brought them home to his big safe house.
"Listen!" Jessie said when the cat finished her dinner. "She's purring."
"Sounds like she's got a little radio in there," Benny said, laughing. "For such a small cat, she sure has a big purr."
"How do you know she's a she?" Henry asked. "Maybe she's a he."
"Dr. Scott, the animal doctor, told me calico cats are always girl cats," Violet explained.
Though Violet was only ten, her family knew she must be right. The Aldens were all working as volunteers at the Greenfield Animal Shelter this summer, but Violet was Dr. Scott's special helper. No one was gentler than Violet when it came to soothing scared animals or fixing their hurts.
"Well, let's see if this girl cat has a name," Mr. Alden said. "There's some sort of tag on her collar."
Jessie took a look. "It's a locket. Here, Violet, you open it. It's too small for my fingers."
Violet's delicate fingers opened the locket with no trouble at all. "Why, look, there's a message inside!" she cried. A folded piece of paper fell out of the locket.
Benny got to it first. He brushed back his hair from his eyes. "I'll read it," he said. "Now that I'm six, I know how to read."
And so he did ... with some help from Jessie.
My name is Patches. My owner can no longer take care of me. I know you children will give me a good home.
"Then she's not really lost," Jessie said. "Somebody left her here on purpose," Henry agreed. "But why? And why did they bring her to our house?"
"Maybe the person wanted this home," Benny said. "Not just any old place, but Grandfather's house, with a big porch, and a boxcar in the backyard, and blueberries and ice cream, and everything just right."
Mr. Alden smiled. He was happy to hear Benny say this. His grandson was right. Anyone who wanted a good home couldn't do any better than the Alden place.
Jessie looked puzzled. She twisted her braid around her finger. "Patches is such a healthy and friendly cat. Her owners must have taken very good care of her. Why would they give her away?"
"We should try to find out who her owners are," Violet said. "And what their reason was for giving her to us."
"I wish we could keep this cat," Benny said. "She likes us. Can we keep her just for tonight? Please?"
"Sure thing, Benny," Henry said. He gave his little brother a pat on the head. "I guess she can sleep in one of our rooms."
Just then, Watch barked.
"Patches can't sleep inside," Jessie said. "We have to be careful of Watch's feelings. Patches can stay on the screened porch. It's a lovely summer night. We'll leave a small light on to keep her company."
Violet added, "We can make up a small bed for her out there in Benny's red wagon."
"With a soft mattress," Jessie said. She came back out to the porch carrying a flannel-covered pillow. She tucked it in the wagon and tried to coax Patches to climb up. But the little cat wasn't interested.
"She's nervous," Violet said. "I know what she needs." She whispered something in Mr. Alden's ear, then ran upstairs. When she came down again, she was carrying something lumpy wrapped in an old towel. She laid the lump carefully on the pillow in Benny's wagon. "There you go," she said. She lifted the cat and placed her on the pillow.
The cat sniffed the lump, walked in a circle around the pillow, then curled up.
"What did you put there, Violet?" Benny asked.
"It's Grandfather's big black alarm clock. The ticking will make Patches think of her mother's heartbeat. That will help her sleep," Violet explained.
"Well, what do you know!" Henry said. "Look at that."
Everyone stared at Patches. She was practically asleep already!
"I don't know who or why somebody left her here, but they certainly picked the right place," Mr. Alden said. He left on the porch light but locked the screen door. "Time for all of us to get to sleep, too."
Jessie coaxed Benny into the house. "We'll have to get up early if we're going to look for this cat's owner before we go to the animal shelter. If everyone helps me in the morning on my newspaper route, we'll have time to talk to people along the way. Maybe someone will know where Patches came from."
Everyone looked back once more to check on their calico guest. Cuddled in Benny's wagon, the cat looked right at home. But how had she gotten here? The Aldens meant to find out.CHAPTER 2
The Aldens had their own alarm clock to wake them up every day. With the first ray of light, Watch stood by Jessie's bed and pushed her with his nose. Then he visited Henry and Violet and did the same thing.
Benny needed something different to wake up. Watch tugged at the blankets until Benny opened his eyes.
"It's still dark out," Benny told the dog. He pulled the covers over his head.
Watch pulled them down again.
"Okay, boy, okay. I'll get up. But that doesn't mean I'll wake up."
Benny was wrong. Suddenly he remembered what was special about today. Wide awake now, he ran downstairs and rushed out to the porch. Too late. Violet, Jessie, and Henry were already there, feeding Patches bits of scrambled eggs.
"Is that my breakfast?" Benny cried.
Henry laughed. "Don't worry, there's plenty left in the kitchen."
"Boy, for such a small cat, she sure eats a lot," Benny told the housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor, when he got to the kitchen.
Mrs. McGregor couldn't help laughing. "And for such a small boy, you sure eat a lot!"
Benny helped himself to a heap of scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, and two pieces of toast with peanut butter. He had to make a second trip back to the kitchen to fill his pink cup with fresh-squeezed orange juice.
After breakfast, Henry and Benny helped Mrs. McGregor clean up. "There's not even a crumb left on your plate to scrape into the garbage, Benny!" Henry said. "Here's a dishtowel so you can dry these plates. I'm going to see how Jessie and Violet are doing on the cat carrier they're making in the garage. We want to bring the cat along when we help Jessie with her paper route. Maybe someone along the way will know who her owner is."
Benny was having a great time teasing Patches with a thread hanging from the dishtowel. "I wish she could belong to us," he said.
"She belongs to us for now, at least until we find her owner," Henry said. "I'm going out to the garage. See you in a few minutes."
Thanks to fourteen-year-old Henry's part-time summer job at Seed's Hardware Store, the Aldens now had a well-equipped workshop in their grandfather's garage. Henry had stacked up scrap lumber, jars of shiny nails and tacks, and the excellent tools Mr. Seed had lent him. The Aldens loved to fix things that were broken and build whatever they needed.
Today they needed a cat carrier, and Jessie was busy making one when Henry came into the garage. "The extra screening you brought back from the hardware store fits just right over this wooden fruit-box carrier, Henry," Jessie told her brother.
"Good job, Jessie," Henry said when he saw the cat carrier. "Now, what're you up to, Violet?"
Violet was bent over some drawings at the end of the workbench. She held up a handful of FOUND CAT posters she had made. "Do you think anyone will recognize Patches?" she asked.
"I don't think there's another cat in Greenfield with a triangle on her nose like this one," Henry answered.
Benny, too, had something to add when he came out to the garage. "Here's my blanket," he said. He folded the blanket so it fit into the carrier. "She's all set."
Henry looked around the garage, then out in the backyard. "Now all we need is the cat," he said.
That was the hard part. Patches had just discovered Grandfather Alden's vegetable garden. She was running in and out of the poles he had set up to grow his pea vines.
Jessie went into the house and came out again. "Here's a spoonful of Mrs. McGregor's tuna fish. Maybe Patches will come over to eat it, and we can catch her that way."
Benny laughed. "No one can turn down Mrs. McGregor's good tuna fish, especially a cat."
When Patches smelled the fish, she ran to Jessie. She quickly licked the spoon, then cleaned her face and paws carefully. This gave Jessie a chance to get the cat into the carrier.
"It's a great box, Jessie, but I don't think she much likes it," Henry told his sister.
Patches wasn't just meowing now. She was howling mad.
In between the howls, the Aldens heard the thud of Jessie's newspapers hitting the curb. "My papers are here," Jessie said. "Let's fold them up quickly so we have plenty of time to talk to people along the way."
When all the papers were folded, everyone set out to deliver them just the way Jessie did. Even Benny was careful to place each newspaper on the porch mat and not just toss it across the yard.
"No one's up this early on our street," Henry said when he came back for another armload of papers. "I'll do the next street. Maybe more people will be out. I'll ask them about the cat."
But there was no one to ask. People in Greenfield were still asleep. The Aldens didn't see anyone until they reached Acorn Street.
"There's Mr. Clover delivering milk and eggs," Benny said. "Mr. Clover! Mr. Clover! Do you know this cat?"
Mr. Clover put down his milk crate and looked into the cat carrier. Patches sniffed at Mr. Clover's hand.
"I sure do," Mr. Clover said. "Belongs to one of my customers, Miss Newcombe, over on Fox Den Road. How did you folks happen to get her?"
The Aldens all talked at once.
"Whoa." Mr. Clover smiled. "How about you, Benny? You're always full of good stories."
Benny took a deep breath and told Mr. Clover all about how Patches had showed up thumping at the window the night before.
Everyone expected Mr. Clover to smile when Benny got to the part about reading the note all by himself. But Mr. Clover wasn't smiling at all.
"You say the note wasn't signed?" He looked upset. "That's pretty odd, I must say. Up until I ran into you, I thought Miss Newcombe had gone on a trip and forgotten to cancel her weekly order for milk and eggs. Went there today, and the gate was locked up tight. Got a box of stuff to bring back to the dairy," he said. He pointed into his truck.
"Why don't you head over to Miss Newcombe's while I finish my route? She lives at 264 Fox Den Road. Maybe she's there by now. Tell her I'll make another run by at the end of my route if she'll just give me a call. I like to check on my older customers when I don't see them around. Miss Newcombe is old and has no family left, so I keep an eye on her when I can. She's very private, though, so I try not to meddle."
After Mr. Clover's bright blue truck pulled away, the Aldens finished the rest of the route quickly. Even Jessie tossed the last few papers up to the porches instead of delivering them by hand. Everyone wanted to get to Fox Den Road as soon as they could.
"What Mr. Clover said doesn't make sense," Henry said when he delivered the last of the newspapers. "Miss Newcombe might have left town too quickly to cancel her order with Mr. Clover. But why did she take the time to write a note and deliver her cat to our house?"
Jessie was puzzled. "And why didn't she sign the note?"
"Oh, where, oh, where is your owner, little cat?" Violet asked.
Patches whined in answer to Violet's question.CHAPTER 3
Fox Den Road was narrow and twisted. Benny didn't take any chances with his wagon or Patches as the Aldens walked along. He kept his red wagon as far to the side as he could so that cars could get by.
Screech! Screech! Everyone heard the noise when they neared the mailbox marked 264. Benny nearly tipped over the wagon at the awful sound.
"What was that sound, Henry?" Violet asked.
Jessie and Henry had run ahead. "It was these iron gates closing!" Jessie yelled back to Violet and Benny. "Someone just slammed them shut on us!"
The Aldens walked up to the rusted iron gate that blocked the driveway. Next to the gate was a freshly painted sign in dripping black letters: No TRESPASSING! THIS MEANS You!
"Does that mean me, too?" Benny asked Jessie. People usually wanted to meet Benny Alden, not chase him away.
"It means everybody," Henry said.
Violet tried to calm the cat. "They can't mean Patches. This is her home!"
Jessie was careful not to get wet paint on her clothes. "This sign is brand-new," she said. "Someone is in there, but we didn't see who it was." Jessie was twelve and not a bit put off by the sign. She tried to shake open the gate.
"It's no use, Jessie," Violet told her sister. "That padlock is locked tight."
The Aldens stared at the house from outside the gate. Tall, dark evergreens covered most of the house. Unlike the other homes they had passed, there were no cheery lights on, or people making breakfast in their kitchens. The windows above the tall front door looked like big blank eyes. The drapes in every window on the first floor were pulled shut.
"Watch out! Watch out!" Henry and Jessie yelled when a rusty pickup truck roared up Fox Den Road out of nowhere. Violet felt gravel hit her legs. Benny nearly tipped over the wagon again.
"It's turning around. Step back!" Henry warned. He pushed his brother and sisters even farther back from the road.
The truck made a sharp turn in the middle of the narrow road and roared back past the children. Again, pieces of gravel peppered everyone's legs.
Henry was angry but not afraid. He chased the truck halfway down Fox Den Road. He wanted to catch it and yell at the driver. The truck sped around the corner and left Henry behind, shaking his fist.
He was still angry when he got back to his brother and sisters. "I bet the men in that truck didn't want anyone to see them going into Miss Newcombe's property," he said. "That must be why they turned around when they saw us. I couldn't read the sign on the side. All I could make out was 'Wolf D-E-M,' or something like that."
The Aldens tried to calm themselves down. Jessie pulled burrs from the cuffs of Benny's pants. Her hands were shaking. "Are you all right, Benny?"
"I'm not scared," he said in a small voice.
Violet brushed her scratched legs. "That truck nearly ran us over!" she said.
Henry put his arm around Violet. "Well, they won't do it again," he said in a strong voice. "I want to come back here later and get to the bottom of this!"
Violet and Benny still looked pale and frightened and not at all eager to come back to this place again. Jessie took several deep gulps of air and tried to look brave. But her hands were still shaking, and her legs felt rubbery.
When everyone felt a little safer they set off for the animal shelter again. No speeding trucks passed the Aldens this time. Still, all of them turned around every few minutes to make sure they wouldn't be surprised again. That truck had come so close. Everyone stayed to the far edge of the road, just in case.
The sight of the Greenfield Animal Shelter made them all feel a little better. It was in a big red barn, not too far from Seed's Hardware Store and the Greenfield Bank.
"I like going to work in a barn that's practically in the middle of our town," Benny said to his brother and sisters. "Especially a red one."
"Me, too," Jessie said. She put her arm around Benny to give him a squeeze. She was glad that he was feeling better after their upsetting morning.
"See you at lunchtime when I get off from work," Henry told Jessie, Violet, and Benny when they reached the small parking lot at the shelter. "Tell Dr. Scott that Mr. Seed is giving me some leftover shingles from the store. I'll use them to fix up that rundown toolshed in back of the shelter. It will make a good kennel once we clean it out and patch it up."
Excerpted from The Animal Shelter Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1991 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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