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Mystery of the Bewitched Bookmobile
By Florence Parry Heide, Roxanne Heide, Seymour Fleishman
Albert Whitman and CompanyCopyright © 2013 Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce
All rights reserved.
Cindy Temple dashed around the corner with her arms full of books. She laughed when she saw the red motorbike, parked in its usual place behind the bookmobile. The motorbike belonged to the librarian, Terri Firestone.
"When I'm a librarian, I'm going to have a motorbike, too," thought Cindy. "A red one."
Cindy glanced at the roof of the bookmobile. She saw the red-haired young man who had been coming to make signs for the bookmobile. He was putting up one now. It was about the magic show, the last special show of the summer for the neighborhood kids who came to the bookmobile.
"You're late, P. Nelson Edward!" Cindy called. "You told Jay and Dexter and me that you'd turn into a pumpkin if you ever stayed late. You don't look like a pumpkin to me."
P. Nelson pushed his curly red hair off his forehead. "I didn't know it was so late. I've got to go. But first I've got to finish this sign. It's my masterpiece."
Just then a tall thin man with a silver beard and a heavy silver-headed cane crossed the street to the bookmobile. Cindy had seen him before, walking up and down. Now he glanced at P. Nelson Edward. "Not a bad job on a sunny day, eh?" he asked, stroking his beard.
P. Nelson looked down. "Oh, making signs? No, sir, not bad at all."
The man swung his silver cane slowly. He glanced at a big silver watch on his wrist. Then he looked up at P. Nelson once more. The silver rims on his dark glasses glinted in the sun. "How do you get up there?" he asked.
"It's easy," said P. Nelson. "There's the bumper, a window ledge, and a couple of hand grips. That's all there is to it."
The man nodded. Then he glanced over at Terri's red motorbike. He walked over to it and bent down to examine it closely. Then he turned and walked on, still swinging his silver cane.
"Who's he?" asked Cindy.
P. Nelson shrugged. "I don't know. I've never spoken to him before." He turned to his sign. "I've got to finish this and get going."
Cindy smiled at him and walked up the steps of the bookmobile. Terri Firestone was putting away the books that had been returned. "What, more books?" she laughed when she saw Cindy. "I've never known such a fast reader."
Cindy leaned against the counter with her armful of books. "I have," she said. "My mother. Most of these are hers."
There was a thumping on top of the bookmobile. "That P. Nelson Edward!" Terri exclaimed. "He made today's sign. He had today's coffee and doughnut. He left. Then back he came an hour ago, all hot and flustered. I thought he was coming to see me. But no, he had a new design he wanted to add to that sign." She sighed.
"Maybe he's getting up enough nerve to ask you for a date," said Cindy. "Do you suppose?"
"I can dream," smiled Terri. "Anyway, I'm glad he's made signs for our special programs. They let people know what's going on and get them to come to the bookmobile. But you kids are my best customers. You and P. Nelson. And Miss Beautiful."
Cindy laughed. "You mean Olga Ratchett. Jay and Dexter call her Cleopatra. I think she looks like someone in a spy movie."
Terri nodded. "She's here every afternoon, hunting for books. Tells me what a great librarian her aunt is—I guess she lives with her. Anyway, I won't see her today. I have a special appointment with the dentist. I lost a filling from a tooth last night."
"Where's your assistant?" asked Cindy. "Will she keep the bookmobile open?"
"Bonnie's home with a cold. The library downtown is sending a substitute. She should be here now. Maybe there's a mix-up. Anyway, I only need someone for the next two days. Then the bookmobile goes into the garage for an overhaul."
"I'll miss it," Cindy said. "This is a good place for a bookmobile."
"It should be, the university's so close," said Terri. "And Ye Olde Shopping Center's right across the street. I love those quaint shops. And there's a shoe repair, a laundry, a drugstore—everything." She spread her arms wide. "And now: a library!"
"And a magic show," added Cindy. "I hope everybody comes to it."
"I know how hard you and Jay and Dexter have been working on it," said Terri. "I'm sure we'll have a good crowd. And if they come to the magic show, they'll be reminded of the bookmobile. They can start thinking about its grand reopening, painted and filled with new books."
"We've got some great acts ready," said Cindy, "but I wish I knew a magic trick to keep books from sliding—" And she stooped to pick up a book from the floor.
"That reminds me," Terri said. "Look in the closet behind the counter. There's a surprise for you, a kind of thank-you for helping with the magic show."
"Something for me?" Cindy asked, peering into the little closet. "It's a book bag! All in patchwork like your shirt. Did you make it?"
Terri nodded. "I make everything. Just from scraps. People can't tell whether my shirt is an old curtain or my curtain is an old shirt."
Cindy held up the book bag. "So many pockets! I can put everything I need in here." She reached into her sweater pocket. "I'll start with my notebook. I always carry a notebook in case there's a mystery. And there usually is."
"A mystery?" asked Terri.
"Didn't I tell you? Jay and Dexter and I have a sort of detective club. We call it the Spotlight Club. We've solved lots of mysteries, real ones."
"Well, I have one for you," said Terri. "Why doesn't P. Nelson ask me for a date?"
Cindy laughed. She had no answer. She picked up a book from the counter. It was with the books to be put away. "Here's a book about magic. May I take it out today? I'll bring it back tomorrow when all the books have to be turned in."
"Sure," Terri said. "I think P. Nelson just brought it back. Here, I'll write your name down and stamp the card."
Cindy was tucking the book into her new book bag when there was a loud knocking overhead. The skylight opened, and P. Nelson Edward looked down.
"Knock, knock, may I come in? I'm about ready to go. Anything else I can do?"
Terri and Cindy tilted their heads to look up. His curly red hair fell over his face as he leaned down.
"Hey, while you're up there, how about fixing the catch on the skylight window?" asked Terri. "That's one more thing out of order around here."
P. Nelson looked at the catch. "It's missing a part," he announced.
"Okay," said Terri. "I'll add it to my list of things to be fixed."
"I have to be going," P. Nelson said, still looking down into the bookmobile.
"Wait, I have an idea," said Terri suddenly. "Cindy and Jay and Dexter are coming to my place for chili tonight. We're going to work on the magic show. Maybe you'd like to join us."
"I accept," said P. Nelson. "I love chili and I love magic. I'll bring the fixings for a super salad. I'm no chef, though. I'm a chemist. Or at least I'm studying to be one, working my way through graduate school. And now I've lost my great job. I'll have to find another one in a hurry. Maybe as a sign painter. I've had lots of experience here."
"I'm sorry you lost your job," said Terri.
"It was an important project for an important person," said P. Nelson grandly. "But today is the last day. Ah, well, it isn't the end of the world. If I'm coming to your house for supper, I need your address."
"I thought you'd never ask," said Terri. She wrote her address and telephone number and handed them up to him. "Around six for supper."
P. Nelson put the address in his pocket. "I'll be there with the salad," he called down. Then he pulled his head back from the skylight window and shut it.
Terri walked over to the closet and looked at herself in a mirror on the back of the door. "Why can't I be like Olga Ratchett?" she asked. "Beautiful."
"Does P. Nelson think Olga's beautiful?" asked Cindy.
"He doesn't know her," Terri said, turning around. "He's never even met her. So that's lucky. For me, anyway."
"What about that job of his?" asked Cindy.
Terri shook her head. "I don't know much about it. Something about helping somebody work on some important project. I don't know who, and I don't know what. Just part-time. Imagine not having to be at work until 10:30! That isn't a job, it's a vacation, no matter how important it is." She peered at herself again. "Maybe if I didn't wear my glasses I'd look better. I only wear them to look older and dignified."
She pulled her glasses off and tried to open the drawer under the counter. It stuck. "One more thing to fix," she said as the drawer came open and she put her glasses away. Then she looked at her watch. "My new helper hasn't come. And I've got to get to the dentist. I'll just have to close early."
Watching Terri hunt for a card to make a notice, Cindy asked, "Who is your new assistant?"
"I've forgotten her name. It's something long. She's retired and just works part-time. I haven't met her," Terri said while she wrote Emergency Closing on the card.
She lifted her red helmet down from the closet shelf. "I'll put the sign on the door. Oh, look at all those books to put away! And all the rest coming in tomorrow."
"Jay and I can come early tomorrow morning and help," said Cindy. "At eight-thirty."
Terri nodded. "Great. Now, what about tonight? I know—after the dentist, I have to pick up my shoes at Ye Olde Bootery. Why don't you and Jay and Dexter meet me there at five-thirty? I'll lead you to my place."
Outside, P. Nelson was just packing up his paints and brushes. "See you at six, P. Nelson," Terri said, fastening her helmet.
"At six," he answered. "One salad, one P. Nelson."
Terri gave Cindy a wink, kicked the starter on her motorbike, and was off. Cindy and P. Nelson watched the red motorbike chug up the street.
"What a racket!" P. Nelson exclaimed. "You can hear her a mile away. How can she stand that noise?"
"Noise doesn't seem to bother her," said Cindy. She looked at the sign on top of the bookmobile and said, "You're such a good sign painter. Maybe tonight you'll help me make the big cards we need for one magic trick. The man at Ye Happy Laundry said he'd give me some of the cardboard pieces he uses to package the shirts."
"Sure, I'll help," said P. Nelson.
Cindy started across the street to Ye Happy Laundry. A bright green sports car wheeled around the corner. "Too fast," thought Cindy, glancing at the driver, a fat man with a bald head. "Probably his hair blew off because he was going too fast."
On her way back with the cardboard, she saw Olga Ratchett walking with her dog toward the bookmobile. "They're both too beautiful," she decided. Then she stopped in her tracks.
Olga Ratchett's beautiful face was bright with anger. She did not see Cindy. She was staring at P. Nelson. And the next moment Olga Ratchett hissed through her teeth, "You fool! Don't you know what time it is?"
P. Nelson started to say something, then he stopped. He turned on his heel and walked away. He did not look back.
Cindy stared after him. What was that about? P. Nelson had told Terri he didn't even know Olga Ratchett!CHAPTER 2
Angry About What?
Cindy stared at Olga Ratchett and her big black Afghan hound. The two were a lot alike, Cindy decided.
Olga was dressed in a black turtleneck shirt and black pants. Long gold earrings swung from her ears. Around her neck was a gold chain with a pendant. The pendant was shaped like an eye, its center a large red jewel. On one finger she wore a gold ring shaped like a serpent with its tail in its mouth. The snake's ruby eye flashed in the sun. Like Olga Ratchett's anger, thought Cindy.
The dog's collar was gold colored, studded with red jewels. The leash was a long gold chain.
Both Olga and her dog were thin and graceful. People always turned to look at them.
Suddenly the big Afghan gave a small, short bark. He tugged at his leash and tried to reach Cindy. His big feathery tail wagged back and forth.
Cindy bent down to pat the dog's silky back. Olga Ratchett yanked at the gold leash and started up the steps of the bookmobile. She stared at the door.
"Closed!" she said, frowning. "It can't be!"
Cindy glanced up. "Well, it's closed now, but it will be open in the morning."
"In the morning!" exclaimed Olga Ratchett. "What about today? Today is when I want to take books out! Not tomorrow! Today! Right now! Where is that librarian? Can't she be called? What right has she to close like this?"
Cindy swallowed. "She had to go to the dentist. Her assistant didn't come. But the library will be open by nine tomorrow."
"Not until nine tomorrow!" said Olga angrily. "That doesn't suit me at all. I need the book now."
"I'm sorry," Cindy said. "My brother Jay and I are coming here to meet the librarian early, at eight-thirty. I'm sure she'd let you in then. We would come earlier, but we always have breakfast with Mom before she leaves for work."
Olga Ratchett pulled at the dog's leash. She said, "All the books have to be returned tomorrow. I want to take one out now. There's no excuse for this!"
Suddenly Cindy heard Jay's voice calling, "Cindy!" He stopped his bike in front of her. She bowed, "Cindy Temple at your service," she said.
"We've got to meet Dex at his house now to get the things from his attic. The things for the magic show," said Jay.
Olga glanced at Cindy and Jay. She swung the eye-shaped pendant angrily. Then she turned and started off.
"Wow!" Jay whispered. "What's Cleopatra so mad about?"
"I think we have a mystery," whispered Cindy. "P. Nelson said he didn't know Olga Ratchett. But he does. And she was really mad at him about something. Something about the time. And now she's upset because the bookmobile is closed early. And"
All at once Cindy stopped. "There's that strange man with the silver cane. Look!"
The Spotlight detectives watched as the man walked toward Olga Ratchett and her dog. His dark glasses with the silver rims flashed in the sun. He took her arm and began talking. He seemed very angry.
Olga Ratchett jerked the leash on her dog and pulled away from the man with the silver cane. He shook it at her angrily. She walked away from him, her head held high.
The man did not move. He stared after her. He gripped his silver cane tightly. He did not take his eyes off Olga Ratchett.
While Cindy and Jay watched, the man turned slowly around. He faced the bookmobile. Cindy and Jay stared. He paid no attention to them. He reached into his pocket, still peering up at the bookmobile. Then he wrote something on a piece of paper, using a silver pen. After another look he folded the paper, put it in his pocket, and walked away, swinging his heavy cane.
Cindy and Jay stared after him and then at each other.
"Why was he so mad at Olga? What did he write down?" wondered Jay. "Let's go to Dexter's. We've got to tell him everything."
"And I've got to write everything down," said Cindy, patting her notebook in her new book bag. "Let's hurry."
At Dexter's house the three Spotlighters did not talk about the magic show. They talked about their new mystery.
"This is our mystery so far," said Cindy. And she read:
1. P. Nelson Edward. He said he doesn't know Olga Ratchett. But he does. And she is very mad at him. Why? It had something to do with the time. Was he late? For what?
2. Olga Ratchett. Why was she angry with P. Nelson? Why was she so upset about the bookmobile being closed early?
3. The man with the silver cane. Why was he angry at Olga Ratchett? What did he write down? Was it something about the bookmobile? Or the sign?
"Maybe he just wants to be sure to remember when the magic show starts," said Dexter, pushing his glasses up on his forehead.
"Do you realize the show is day after tomorrow, and we're not nearly ready?" Cindy asked. She looked at her watch. "And do you realize it's time to meet Terri now?"
The three sped on their bikes to Ye Olde Bootery. Terri was just coming out with her shoes.
"We've got a lot to tell you!" said Cindy. "Remember, I said we solved mysteries? Well, we've got a new one."
"Let's talk about it over chili," suggested Terri. "We've got to beat P. Nelson to the apartment. Otherwise he may just go away. And we can't have that." She hopped on her motorbike and stepped on the starter. "I'll go slow so you can keep up with me."
The three detectives followed Terri. She stopped in front of a white house.
"It's pretty," said Cindy.
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" agreed Terri. "But I don't live here. I live over the garage. These nice people rent it to me."
After parking their bikes in the driveway, the three followed Terri up the garage stairs.
"It may not be elegant, but it's where I hang my elegant hat," she said, hanging her red helmet on a hook outside the door. A raincoat and other patchwork jackets hung on other hooks.
Excerpted from Mystery of the Bewitched Bookmobile by Florence Parry Heide, Roxanne Heide, Seymour Fleishman. Copyright © 2013 Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce. Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman and 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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