Read an Excerpt
The Pet Shop Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Something to Squawk About
The Alden children pulled a wagon down the street, taking turns tossing rolled-up newspapers onto the porches and steps of each house.
"Good one," Henry, a tall fourteen-year-old, said to six-year-old Benny. "Right in front of the door, just the way Mr. Fisher likes it. I guess that's it for today."
But that wasn't it for Watch, the Aldens' dog. Something made his ears prick up. He took off for the dogwood tree on the corner.
"Watch! Watch! Where are you going?" twelve-year-old Jessie Alden called out. She ran after her dog. "Do you see a squirrel up there?"
Henry, Violet, and Benny Alden raced over to the tree. What was making Watch so excited?
"Squirrels don't mean a thing to Watch," Henry said. "He must have seen something else."
The four children stood at the foot of the tree and stared up. All they could see were leaves and branches. But a second later, they heard a voice.
"Watch! Watch!" an odd voice squawked.
To see better, ten-year-old Violet brushed back a few wisps of her dark hair. "Somebody's up in the tree. Somebody who knows Watch."
"Watch! Watch!" the odd voice repeated.
By now Benny Alden was jumping up and down. "I see it! I see it!" he said to his brother and sisters. "It's not a somebody. It's a gray parrot."
Nearly hidden in the branches was a light gray bird.
It looked quite at home in the dogwood tree.
Watch raced around in circles. He whined and sniffed. He scratched the tree trunk. But none of that got him any closer to this talking bird who knew his name.
"Watch! Watch!" the parrot squawked again.
Jessie tapped her forehead. "Of course! That's Grayfellow from the Pretty Bird Pet Shop. Remember how the owner, Mrs. Tweedy, told us he liked to peck at shiny things like jewelry and her watch when she feeds him? I bet that's why he said 'watch' when we called Watch's name."
Watch plopped himself down on the grass. He rested his head on his paws. A silly bird had gotten the better of him.
Henry clipped a leash to Watch's collar. "Come on, boy. Let's go get Grandfather and come back with the car and a ladder. We'll give Mrs. Tweedy a call to let her know we found her missing bird. There's a bundle of old newspapers we have to give her anyway."
After Henry left, Benny got a good idea. He dug into the pocket of his jeans. "I have some sunflower seeds. Maybe Grayfellow will come out when he sees a good snack."
Before Benny could get out his seeds, the children heard more noise. This time it was coming from the nearby bushes.
Jessie grabbed Benny's arm. "Shhh. I hope that's not a cat," she whispered. "Let's leave Grayfellow up in the tree until Henry gets back."
The children heard branches crackling. Something was moving in those bushes. Jessie tiptoed over and carefully parted the branches. "Arthur!" she screamed when she saw a boy's face stare back at her. "Why are you hiding in these bushes?"
The boy wriggled his way out and turned to leave without answering Jessie.
"Don't go," Jessie said in a gentle voice. "We didn't mean to scare you. What are you doing here?"
The pale, thin boy mumbled something the Aldens couldn't hear.
Jessie moved closer to him. "Arthur, come meet my brother Benny and my sister, Violet. You've probably seen them around school. Violet, Benny, this is Arthur Byrd. He's in my class."
"Were you playing hide and seek?" Benny asked.
"Uh ... no," Arthur answered. "I was looking for my cat. She's lost."
"Guess what?" Benny asked. "We found a lost animal, but not a cat. A parrot. It belongs to Mrs. Tweedy at the Pretty Bird Pet Shop. My big brother went to get a ladder. We're going to get this parrot down. Maybe we can look for your cat, too."
Arthur put his hands in his pockets, then took them out. He started to say something but stopped. Finally he spoke up. "I, uh ... I'm going by the pet shop. I know Grayfellow, too. I'll take the parrot back. Can I?"
Jessie was puzzled. "Thanks, Arthur, but don't you want to keep looking for your cat?"
The boy bit his lip and stared down at his sneakers. "Um ... never mind. I have to go home. I'm late." And with that, Arthur Byrd ran down the street.
Benny noticed something Arthur had left behind. He bent down and picked up a small package of sunflower seeds. "Hey, Arthur," he called after the boy, "you forgot your snack."
"That's so strange," Violet said to Jessie. "How did Arthur know it was Grayfellow in the tree? And why would he want to take him back to the pet shop instead of searching for his cat?"
Jessie looked down the street. "That was strange. And I wonder why he's way over on this side of Greenfield looking for his cat. He lives on the other side of town. He's so shy. If he hadn't left so fast, we could have asked him."
"Maybe Arthur can't have a real pet, so he made up a pretend pet," Benny suggested.
Jessie mussed Benny's curly hair. "You might be right about that, Benny. He's always by himself. Well, at least we found one pet. I guess we'd better see what we can do about getting Grayfellow back to the pet shop. We can do it without Henry, I guess."
Benny dug into his pocket again. "I have sunflower seeds, too. Let's see if Grayfellow wants a snack."
As soon as the parrot saw the delicious seeds, Grayfellow stretched out his long claws. One by one, branch by branch, the African gray parrot made his way down the tree to the lowest branch.
Benny held up a handful of seeds, then whistled.
Grayfellow studied Benny, Violet, and Jessie. With a flutter of his wings, he flew onto Benny's arm. Now that Grayfellow was safe, Benny stayed as still as possible. He wanted the bird to trust him. "Here, boy. Here, boy," he whispered.
"Here, boy. Here, boy," Grayfellow said back. Then the parrot got to work on those sunflower seeds.
Like most African gray parrots, Grayfellow was a good talker. He knew about ten words, and Benny wanted to hear them all. The children took turns feeding Grayfellow. The parrot hopped onto Violet's arm and began to play with the pretty bracelet she had made the summer before.
"Now, now." Violet stroked the bird's soft gray head. "Don't unhook my bracelet. Just play with it until we take you back to Mrs. Tweedy."
"Tweedy, tweedy," the bird said.
"That's right. Mrs. Tweedy."
Grandfather chuckled when he arrived with Henry. "I told Henry we wouldn't need a ladder. I knew you three would get that bird down from the tree on your own. I wonder how he got loose in the first place. Agnes Tweedy is pretty careful with all her animals."
"On sunny days," Jessie began, "Mrs. Tweedy likes to take Grayfellow out of his cage and put him on an open perch in the store window. If that little door to the store window was left open by mistake, he could have flown out the little door, through the store, and right outside! Even with clipped wings, Grayfellow can fly ... just not too far."
Grandfather Alden nodded. "You know, that's true. Only last week when I was picking up dog food, Grayfellow was loose in the store. He landed on my arm and started pecking at my watch."
"Watch! Watch!" the bird squawked again, and everyone laughed.
Mr. Alden drove slowly into Greenfield. He avoided every bump along the way so Grayfellow wouldn't get upset in the car.
Benny loved having a parrot in Grandfather's car. He hoped everyone in Greenfield was watching. "Know what?" he asked. "How come Grayfellow was all the way on Maple Street if he can't fly too far?"
"Hmm," Grandfather Alden said, turning up Main Street. "That's a good question, Benny."CHAPTER 2
Feathers, Fins, and Fur
Mrs. Tweedy was at the curb as soon as Grandfather Alden's car pulled up. "Thank you so much, James, for bringing back Grayfellow. And thank you children for being clever enough to catch him."
After their grandfather left, the children gathered around Mrs. Tweedy.
Benny just had to tell her about their adventure. "A boy named Arthur was trying to find his cat. He knows Grayfellow, too. Then the boy ran away."
Mrs. Tweedy fiddled with her earring.
"Oh, I think I know who you mean. A boy named Arthur often comes in here. Such a shy boy. I always get the feeling he wants to tell me something. He only seems happy visiting my animals, especially Grayfellow. In fact, the last time Grayfellow escaped, Arthur brought him back."
"This time we brought him back, Mrs. Tweedy." Violet held out her arm for the older woman to take the parrot.
"Tweedy," Grayfellow said. The parrot pecked at Mrs. Tweedy's silver earrings.
"Naughty boy," Mrs. Tweedy scolded, but she didn't mean it. "Well, then, let's get you safely back into your cage."
The Aldens followed Mrs. Tweedy into the shop. A man the children hadn't met before stood behind the counter.
Jessie poked Henry. "That must be the new manager Mrs. Tweedy hired," she whispered to her brother. "He doesn't look very friendly. I hope he doesn't think we let Grayfellow escape."
The man stared at the Aldens.
Finally Mrs. Tweedy called him over.
"Oh, Mr. Fowler, let me introduce you to some friends of mine. They found Grayfellow while they were on their paper route. You'll be seeing the Aldens while I'm gone. They often drop off old newspapers for our bird and animal cages."
Mr. Fowler went right on feeding some goldfish. "I met one of them just a while ago, thank you."
The Aldens looked at each other, then at Mrs. Tweedy.
"But we were in school," Jessie said. "Then we did our paper route. In fact, we haven't been in this shop for a few weeks."
"Well, a boy who is always hanging around here came by earlier this afternoon, snooping and bothering our birds. Probably went poking around where he didn't belong. Next thing I knew, that parrot was gone," Mr. Fowler said, shaking far too much fish food into the aquarium. "Children shouldn't be allowed in here without an adult."
"Now, now, Mr. Fowler," Mrs. Tweedy said. "You'll get used to having children in the store once you've been here awhile. After all, it was that boy who found Grayfellow the last time he got loose. Now the Aldens have found him. Most children are wonderful with animals."
"Well, all I know is that the parrot disappeared right after I saw a boy in here, maybe even one of these kids."
Mrs. Tweedy's face grew bright pink. "May I see you out front, Mr. Fowler? Let's collect the newspapers that Mr. Alden left on the sidewalk and take them to the storage building."
Mr. Fowler put down the fish food box without replacing the lid. "I can't be carrying things outside and tending the store at the same time, Mrs. Tweedy," the children overheard him complain.
The Aldens usually loved browsing in the Pretty Bird Pet Shop, but not after hearing Mr. Fowler. Although Benny had permission from Mrs. Tweedy to pet Doughnut, the guinea pig, today he didn't feel like it. Violet even skipped her visit to her two favorite parakeets, Milo and Magic.
"No more long faces," Mrs. Tweedy said when she returned. "Mr. Fowler is very grateful that you found Grayfellow. Truly he is. In fact, he has some notion that we should carry more unusual birds like Grayfellow. Of course, I wouldn't dream of it. The bigger birds don't belong in my small pet shop."
Violet's blue eyes widened. "You're not planning to sell Grayfellow, are you?"
Mrs. Tweedy shook her head. "Never. I promised Dr. Scott from the animal shelter that I would care for Grayfellow myself after he was abandoned. My canaries and parakeets are the biggest birds I care to sell."
Jessie stroked Grayfellow's head with the back of her finger. "Why does Mr. Fowler want to sell bigger birds?"
Mrs. Tweedy shrugged. "I don't know, really. Parrots are quite expensive, in the thousands of dollars. I suppose it would mean more money. But I have no such plans. I do hope Mr. Fowler will come around to my way of doing things. He's taking a while to get used to his job here. This is the second time Grayfellow got away."
Benny looked up at Mrs. Tweedy with his big brown eyes. "We're animal finders. We wouldn't let an animal get lost."
Mrs. Tweedy patted Benny's curly head. "Of course you wouldn't, Benny. I know how good you Aldens are with animals. Dr. Scott has often told me what a help you are at the shelter."
The children were all smiles now.
Mrs. Tweedy pushed her glasses on top of her fluffy white hair. "You know, I've been thinking of getting someone to help Mr. Fowler with some of the jobs in my shop. He might get used to the work sooner if he had a helper. Problem is, I'll be traveling for the next few weeks, and I won't have a minute to interview anyone."
Jessie lined up several cat food cans on the shelves so they were nice and straight. "Maybe Dr. Scott knows someone from the animal shelter. There are lots of volunteers."
That's when Mrs. Tweedy winked at the children. "I don't suppose you children would be available a few hours a day after school, and maybe a couple of weekends?"
"When can we start?" Henry asked.
"How about right now?" Mrs. Tweedy asked. She pulled out a clipboard from under the counter. "I made up this job list for Mr. Fowler. But I'll check off the small jobs that are just right for the four of you."
"I can clean Doughnut's cage," Benny piped up. "And make sure he and the other guinea pigs get brushed and petted every day. Isn't that what guinea pigs like?"
Mrs. Tweedy smiled. "That's just what guinea pigs like, Benny, especially when they're in a pet shop. If someone can groom them once a day, they will make much friendlier pets. I'll put you down for that job."
Benny went up to the guinea pig cage. "Can I start now?"
"Of course," Mrs. Tweedy said.
Benny found a grooming brush. He opened the cage door and gently lifted Doughnut out. Soon Doughnut was squeaking the way guinea pigs do when they are happy.
Jessie stood over Mrs. Tweedy's shoulder to see what else needed doing. "Henry and I can make some of the deliveries or go feed pets if the owners are away. A lot of your customers know us from my paper route anyway. We can do two jobs at the same time."
"Don't you think I can do more than one job at a time, Mrs. Tweedy?" Mr. Fowler demanded when he returned and overheard Jessie.
Mrs. Tweedy waved over Mr. Fowler. "Of course you can. I was just about to tell the Aldens that. In fact, you'll be doing much more than two jobs while I'm gone. And one of them will be supervising the Aldens."
"These kids?" Mr. Fowler asked, almost shouting. "I thought I was in charge of running the shop, not looking after a bunch of kids."
Mrs. Tweedy took a deep breath before she spoke. "They need very little supervision. Before their grandfather found them, the Aldens lived on their own in a boxcar in the woods. They did very well for themselves. They are hardworking, clever children. They can clean cages and help with the feeding and deliveries. That will free up your time for the bigger jobs."
Mr. Fowler banged a box of dog food cans on the counter. "What if they let the animals loose? That's what happened today."
Mrs. Tweedy's face grew red for the second time that day. "The Aldens had nothing to do with Grayfellow getting out, Mr. Fowler. I'm sure it happened because you've had too much to do. Now you'll have more time to supervise everything. I'm counting on you for that."
This seemed to calm down Mr. Fowler a bit. "All right," he agreed. "But make sure they know exactly what jobs on that list are theirs and what ones are mine."
Mrs. Tweedy nodded. "First of all, I want you to get to know the Aldens so you don't confuse them with other children. Henry is the oldest and Jessie the next oldest. They're both strong and very organized."
Mrs. Tweedy pointed out Violet and Benny, who were already on the job. "You'll be happy to have those two around, Mr. Fowler. Violet and Benny are so gentle with animals. They know how to give them attention without getting them nervous. Their second cousin Soo Lee is welcome here, too. Remember, you sold her a hamster a couple of weeks ago? She's been wonderful with it."
Mr. Fowler stared at the children but didn't seem to believe Mrs. Tweedy. "Don't see why the animals should be handled anyway. They're not playthings."
"Animals aren't playthings, Mr. Fowler, but they do like to play," Mrs. Tweedy said, going over to pet Doughnut. "I want all my animals to enjoy people so they'll make good pets. While I'm gone, no matter how busy everyone gets, I hope each of you—including you, Mr. Fowler—will give all my critters plenty of attention."
"We will!" the Aldens yelled, so loudly that no one noticed Mr. Fowler didn't join in.CHAPTER 3
A Mysterious Note
On the way home, the Aldens planned their pet shop schedules. Jessie walked along the sidewalk, reading her list.
"I divided all the chores. Some have to be done every few days. But some jobs are daily—like filling water bottles and feeding the animals who need to eat every day."
"Like me?" Benny asked, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. "I have to eat every day. And lots more than once. I wouldn't make a good turtle or fish."
Jessie gave Benny a friendly pat on the shoulder.
"You do make a good helper, though. After school we'll do our newspaper route on the way to the pet shop. As for the pet-sitting and deliveries, we can do some of those jobs at the end of the day, on our way home."
Excerpted from The Pet Shop Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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