Read an Excerpt
The Comic Book Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2003 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Missing Comic Book
Six-year-old Benny Alden put down the Captain Fantastic comic book with a satisfied sigh.
"That was cool," he said. "Especially when Captain Fantastic jumped over a building to catch the bad guys."
"It was a good story wasn't it?" said ten-year-old Violet. They had read the comic together.
Jessie, who was twelve, glanced out the window of the boxcar.
"It's stopped raining," she said.
"Let's ride our bikes downtown and see if the new issue of Captain Fantastic is out yet," Henry suggested.
The boxcar was a great place to spend a rainy afternoon, but the Alden children were glad to be outside.
When their parents had died and they had no home, Benny, Jessie, Violet, and Henry had lived in the abandoned boxcar in the woods. But then Grandfather Alden found them and took them to his big house in Greenfield. Grandfather had the boxcar towed to the backyard so the kids could use it as a clubhouse.
Now the Boxcar Children rolled their bikes out of the garage and pedaled to the town square. They locked their bikes in the rack and walked into a small shop called Comic World.
"Hello," said a young man who was chewing gum. "What can I do for you?"
"Is the new Captain Fantastic here yet?" asked Benny.
"Just came in yesterday," replied the clerk, putting the comic on the counter.
As the oldest, fourteen-year-old Henry carried their pooled allowances. He paid for the comic and gave it to Benny.
"Need any back issues?" the young man inquired. "Comic World sells used comics as well as new ones."
"We have every issue except one," Jessie said. She kept their collection organized by issue number.
The clerk nodded. "I bet I know which one you're missing. Number nine, right?"
"How did you know?" asked Violet. She liked comics for the art. She was thinking about becoming an artist someday.
"There's a mistake in Captain Fantastic number nine," said the clerk, popping his gum. "You know that purple suit and green cape he always wears? Well, in the second story of number nine, the cape is orange."
The young man leaned on the counter. "The mistake makes it valuable. Collectors are hanging on to it. They don't bring it here to trade or sell."
"Will we ever find that comic?" Henry said. "We'd like to have a complete collection."
"It's not impossible to find number nine," the clerk answered. "There's an antiques show across town in the Greenfield Center. Some out-of-town comic book dealers are there. You might get lucky."
The Aldens thanked the clerk, then went outside. Henry said, "The Greenfield Center isn't far. Let's ride over."
The huge community building was packed with booths and dealers selling old furniture, paintings, lamps, rugs, coins, dishes, and books. Crowds of people escaping the rainy day clogged the aisles.
"Wow!" said Jessie. "It's like a bunch of little stores in one big store."
Violet spotted a display of old comics at a nearby booth.
"Let's try there," she said.
At that moment, a familiar figure turned away from the booth. He wore a purple suit with a green cape and a black eye-mask.
"Captain Fantastic!" Benny exclaimed. "He's real! No, wait. He walks too slowly and he doesn't have any muscles."
"It's a regular person dressed in a Captain Fantastic suit," Jessie told him.
Without saying a word, the masked man handed her a flyer, then strolled down the aisle.
"What does it say?" asked Benny.
"It says there's a meeting of the local Captain Fantastic Fan Club at the library this week," Jessie said. "And something about a big comic con next weekend in Hartford. What's a comic con?"
"I think it's short for convention," Henry said. "Comic book fans from all over the world will probably be there."
Ahead of them, the Captain Fantastic cruised the aisles, handing out flyers. He stopped briefly and spoke to a comic book dealer before hurrying off again.
"Do you have Captain Fantastic issue number nine?" Jessie asked the dealer.
The man shook his head. "The fellow in the cape asked me the same thing. That particular issue is as scarce as hens' teeth."
"I didn't know chickens have teeth," said Benny.
Jessie giggled. "They don't. It's an expression. It means the comic book is very hard to find."
The kids walked up and down each aisle, asking all the comic dealers if they had issue number nine. None did.
"Look, there's another comic booth," said Violet, pointing. "Over where that lady is standing."
The booth displaying racks of comics was half hidden in the corner. As the kids approached, a woman in jeans and boots was talking to the dealer intently.
"I wonder if she's asking for number nine, too," Jessie said. "So far we haven't had any luck."
The woman looked up at the kids, then back at the bald-headed man behind the stand. She tossed her reddish blond hair, spun on a booted heel, and stalked away.
"I don't suppose you have Captain Fantastic number nine," Henry asked without much hope.
"As a matter of fact, I do," the dealer replied. From beneath the counter, he pulled out a plastic bag containing the comic.
"Oh, boy!" cried Benny. They had actually found it!
"How much is it?" Jessie asked.
"Thirty dollars," the man replied. The plaque on his booth said his name was Al Conrad.
The kids stared at one another in disbelief. Thirty dollars for one comic book!
Henry was digging through his pockets. "Uh—we've only got twenty dollars —"
"You seem like nice kids," said Al generously. "I'll let you have it for twenty dollars. I like dealing with young fans."
Before Henry could count out the bills, the Captain Fantastic rushed up to the booth in a swirl of green cape.
"Number nine!" the costumed man exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. "Al, I must have it for my collection!"
"You're too late," Al told him. "I just sold my only copy to these young people. You should have gotten here earlier."
"I just now found your booth. I'll pay you double," the Captain Fantastic offered, his voice rising even higher.
"Sorry," the dealer told him firmly. "I sold it to them and I can't go back on my word."
The Captain Fantastic left, his shoulders sagging with disappointment.
"I wish that guy could have found a copy, too," Benny said. "He must really love Captain Fantastic, to go around in a suit like his."
"Lots of fans wear costumes," Al said, slipping their purchase into a paper bag. "And this comic does turn up from time to time. I'm sure he'll find one eventually. Would you like to sign up for my mailing list?"
While Jessie filled out the Aldens' address, Al added, "He may find one at the comic con in Hartford this weekend. That's a much bigger show. You should go."
"I wish we could," said Violet wistfully. "But we just spent our allowances for the next two weeks."
"There's the refreshment stand," said Henry, as they walked away. "We don't have any money, but we can get a drink of water."
Benny was so excited he didn't even mind missing a snack. "Can we look at our comic?"
At a small table, Violet removed the comic from its protective plastic bag. As she did, a slip of paper fell to the floor. She bent to pick it up.
"I guess this is our receipt," she said, then stared at the paper. "No, it's some kind of note."
"What does it say?" asked Jessie.
Violet turned the paper so they all could see. In strange lettering, the note read, I'll try to get orig. of #9. "Sid."
"What does it mean?" Jessie wondered.
"Maybe Mr. Conrad knows," said Violet. "Let's go back and ask him."
Al Conrad seemed surprised to see them back so soon.
"Do you know anybody named Sid?" asked Benny.
"Sid? Oh! That's the guy who writes and draws Captain Fantastic," Al replied. "Sid Hoyt. See?" He pulled a new issue of the comic off a rack and opened it to the first page.
"I don't see any name," said Violet.
"The first page of a comic is called the 'splash' page," Al told them. "The top panel is always the biggest. Most artists sign their names somewhere in that panel. Sid Hoyt's signature box is always in the bottom left corner."
"It's very small," said Henry. "I've never noticed before."
"Mr. Hoyt is very modest," said Al. "Did you know he lives right here in Connecticut?"
"Really?" said Jessie. "Where?"
"I don't know exactly," Al replied. "Some little town. Why all the interest in Sid Hoyt?"
Violet pulled the note from the comic bag.
"We found this when we opened our comic."
Al glanced at the paper with a frown. Then he laughed. "You think Sid Hoyt wrote this note?"
"We don't know," said Henry. "We don't even know what the note means. Do you?"
"It doesn't mean anything," Al said. "Just some foolishness left by the former owner, that's all. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to pack up."
He stuffed the paper in his pocket and turned away.
"Excuse me," said Violet. "May we have the note back, please?"
Al hesitated, then handed it back to her.
The kids walked out of Greenfield Center and into the sunlight.
As they pulled their bikes from the rack, Benny commented, "Al seemed to be in a big hurry all of a sudden. Like he wanted to get rid of us."
"And why did he try to keep the note?" asked Henry.
"He said the note doesn't mean anything," said Jessie. "I think it means something."CHAPTER 2
A Surprise Invitation
"Do you have a green cape?" Benny asked Mrs. McGregor.
The housekeeper looked at Benny who was wearing a purple T-shirt that belonged to Violet. The shirt came down to his knees.
"I'm afraid not," she told him. "But I have a green scarf. Will that do?"
With Mrs. McGregor's green silk scarf tied around his neck like a cape, Benny buzzed around the house. The Aldens' dog, Watch, scampered with him, barking at this new game.
When Benny was trying to jump over the footstool, he nearly ran into Grandfather.
"Whoa!" said Grandfather. "Who are you?"
"I'm Captain Fantastic!" Benny said.
"Oh, yes, the superhero character in the comic book," said James Alden. "Tell me, Captain Fantastic, what makes you so fantastic?"
"I can do anything!" Benny waved his arms for emphasis. "I can jump over buildings and run faster than the wind. I can swim like a fish and see in the dark."
"Well, Mr. Fantastic, it sounds like you'd be very handy to have around," Grandfather said, laughing.
"Captain Fantastic!" Benny protested. "Captain Fantastic does good all over the world. And when he isn't wearing his suit, he's an ordinary scientist. The kind that studies bugs."
"I smell something wonderful coming from the kitchen," said Grandfather. "I bet it's Mrs. McGregor's famous macaroni and cheese casserole. Maybe you ought to change back into Benny Alden for supper."
Benny giggled. "It was me all along, Grandfather!" Then he ran upstairs to his room to change.
Violet, Jessie, and Henry were gathered around the window seat in the hall.
"Supper's almost ready," Benny told them.
"We were talking about the note we found in the comic," said Jessie.
"What about it?" asked Benny.
Violet patted the window seat cushion, inviting Benny to sit beside her. "We think it's important. Maybe it has something to do with the comic book artist Sid Hoyt."
"Like what?" Benny wanted to know.
"It's somehow connected to that issue number nine we bought," said Henry. "We'd like to find out more."
Benny's eyes widened. "Do you think we've found a mystery?"
"Maybe," said Jessie with a smile. It had been a while since the Aldens were last involved in a case. They were very good at solving mysteries. "Wouldn't it be neat if we could meet Mr. Hoyt? Maybe he would sign our special comic book."
"But we don't know where he lives," said Violet. "Al Conrad only said he lives in Connecticut. That's a whole state. He could be anywhere."
"How will we find him?" Benny asked.
"Let's ask Grandfather," Henry said. "He knows about things like that."
Grandfather did know how to find a person's address.
"Go to the Greenfield Library," he instructed them. "There are phone books for every county and major city in this state. If the person you're looking for is listed, he'll be in one of those phone books."
"We'll go tomorrow," said Jessie. Maybe, she thought, we have stumbled onto another mystery!
The next morning, the children rode their bicycles into town again. Along the way, they stopped to watch some construction workers building a new house. ANOTHER FINE HOUSE BY ROLLINS CONSTRUCTION, the sign proclaimed. Cars and trucks belonging to the workers were parked along the curb.
"They've done a lot more work on the house since last week," Henry commented. "Yesterday the crew was off."
Benny watched a worker sawing some boards. "I want to be a house builder when I grow up," he said admiringly.
"I thought you were going to be Captain Fantastic," said Jessie, teasing.
Then Benny noticed that the worker with the saw had long hair tucked up into her hard hat.
"Hey, that's a lady house builder!" he exclaimed.
"Don't be so surprised," said Violet. "Women can do any job they want, even build houses."
At that moment, the woman glanced up from her work and looked across the street at the Aldens as if she had heard them. Jessie knew the woman couldn't hear them over all the hammering. But something in the woman's intense stare made her nervous.
"We'd better get moving," she said, climbing back on her bike.
They pedaled swiftly to the library. Inside, Henry asked where they would find the Connecticut telephone books.
"Upstairs in the reference room," the librarian replied.
In the reference room, another librarian directed them to several phone books on a low shelf.
Henry pulled out all the phone books and put them on a table.
"Connecticut has eight counties," he said. "There is a phone book for each county, plus ones for the cities of Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford. I'll take four. Jessie, you take four, and Violet will take three."
"What will I do?" asked Benny. He could read a little, but not such tiny print.
"Find some paper," Jessie told him. She began skimming her first book. "Does 'Hoyt, S.' count?"
"Yes," said Henry, taking out the note they found in the comic book. "His name is Sid, but you might see 'Hoyt, Sidney,' too. Sid is usually short for Sidney."
The children were silent as they leafed through one book after the other.
Then Violet jumped up in excitement. "Bingo! I bet this is him!"
The others leaned in to read the entry.
"'Hoyt, Sid, 145 Oak Tree Circle, Putnam,'" Violet read aloud.
Jessie nodded. "I found a 'Hoyt, S.' in this book, but your Sid sounds like he's the one." She carefully copied the information, including the man's phone number, on a piece of paper Benny found.
"Where is Putnam?" Violet wanted to know.
"I went to Putnam with Grandfather once," Henry said. "It's only about thirty minutes from Greenfield. What a lucky break for us!"
"Can we ride there on our bikes?" Benny asked.
Henry shook his head. "It's too far. Wait a minute."
He went over to the reference librarian and came back with a folded pamphlet. "Here's a bus schedule. A bus goes from Greenfield to Putnam three times a day."
"We'll call Mr. Hoyt as soon as we get home," said Jessie excitedly. "If Mr. Hoyt says it's okay I'm sure Grandfather will let us visit him."
Thump, thump, thumpity-thump!
Several books had suddenly dropped from the shelves of the bookcase behind the children.
"How did those books fall?" asked Violet.
"Let's check." Henry led the way around to the other side of the bookcase.
No one was there.
The children replaced the books on the shelf, then returned to their table.
The paper on which Jessie had written Sid Hoyt's address was still there. But the note they had found in the comic book was missing.
"The note is gone!" exclaimed Violet.
Jessie looked at Henry. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That someone knocked those books out so we would leave the table?" he said. "Yes, I think that's possible."
"Who took our note?" Benny asked. "And why?"
They looked around for clues.
Violet got down on her hands and knees. "Look at this." She brushed some yellowish powder near the table leg.
"That might be a clue," said Jessie. "But lots of people come in the library, so the powder may not have been left by the person who took the note. At least we have Mr. Hoyt's address and phone number. Let's go home and call him."
The Aldens rode straight home, not even stopping to see the progress on the new house.
They ran upstairs to use the phone in the hall.
"Who wants to call?" said Violet. "Not me!" She was shy and sometimes had trouble talking to strangers.
"I'll do it!" Benny offered.
"I'm sure Mr. Hoyt would love to talk to you, Benny, but maybe I should call him the first time," said Henry.
Jessie gave him the paper with the information.
Henry dialed the number, then waited. "I got his answering machine," he told the others. Henry left a message with the Aldens' phone number and the reason he called.
"Now we have to wait for him to call back," Benny said.
They didn't have to wait long. A short while later, Grandfather came out to the boxcar, where the kids were playing.
Benny jumped up. "Did Mr. Hoyt call us back?" he asked.
"No, but Mrs. Hoyt did." Grandfather grinned. "Nancy Hoyt is an old friend of Mrs. McGregor. They sometimes play bridge together. She invited you over to meet her husband—and they'd like you to stay for lunch!"
Excerpted from The Comic Book Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2003 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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