Read an Excerpt
The Old Motel Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Old Motel
Aunt Jane and the four Alden children, Violet, Benny, Henry, and Jessie, hurried out of the Miami Airport. They had arrived in Florida to visit Aunt Jane's friend, Kay Kingsley.
Grandfather's sister, Aunt Jane said, "Hurry, children." She smiled to herself. She was lucky to have married a man like Andy Bean. He was most understanding and had urged her to visit her friend and stay as long as she liked. Grandfather Alden had agreed that she take her nieces and nephews with her for a Florida vacation.
As they came out into the hot August sunshine, Jessie said, "I miss Watch already."
"Oh, our dog is happy keeping Grandfather Alden company," Henry reassured her. "You wouldn't want Grandfather to be all alone, would you?"
Jessie shook her head, but she felt sad.
"Look!" Benny shouted. "Palm trees!"
Aunt Jane laughed. "You'll see stranger sights than palm trees in the Florida Everglades," she said.
Benny squinted up at her. "What are the Everglades?" he asked.
"The Everglades are a huge national park in Florida. The park has lots of waterways and swamps with all kinds of wildlife, from alligators to pelicans," Violet said. "I've read about it."
Henry grinned. "Just wait until we see it."
Benny's round face lit up, and his eyes grew big. "Alligators?"
"Alligators," Henry echoed. "You might not see one, though, because there are not as many now as there used to be."
Jessie hurried forward. "That must be Kay Kingsley in the blue dress. She's hugging Aunt Jane."
The four of them ran forward.
Kay Kingsley stopped talking. Her dark eyes admired the four Aldens lined up in front of her. "Jane! Are these the Alden children?"
Aunt Jane smiled proudly. "Yes, indeed." She placed her hands on Benny's shoulders. "This is Benny, the youngest."
"I'm six years old," he said proudly.
Aunt Jane touched him under the chin. "So you are, Benny." She motioned the others forward. "This is Henry, the oldest."
Politely, Henry shook Mrs. Kingsley's hand. He was fourteen years old, of medium height with brown hair.
"This is Violet," Aunt Jane continued. "She's ten, and as you can see, she loves the color of her name."
Violet's face turned pink, but she smiled when she glanced down at her lavender T-shirt. Shyly, she said, "Hello, Mrs. Kingsley."
Kay chuckled. "Please. Call me Kay."
"And last but not least," Aunt Jane said, stepping to one side and drawing Jessie forward, "this is Jessie Alden. She's twelve."
Jessie's eyes twinkled. "Hello, Kay." A blue ribbon tied back her brown hair.
"Jane, I have so much to tell you," Kay said happily, putting her arm around her friend. "All of you," she ordered pleasantly, glancing back, "follow me!"
Kay, her blue skirt rustling slightly in the warm breeze, walked to a white van. She opened the driver's side and paused. "Oh, Jane, it's so good to see you and these darling children." There was a catch in her throat. "I was lonely in my empty motel."
Jane gave her a quick look. Kay sounded as if she really needed someone. "Is your motel empty?" She couldn't hide the surprise in her voice.
"Almost," Kay answered. "Out of ten units I only have two rented." She slid into the driver's seat. "But you'll soon see for yourself."
The Aldens couldn't wait to see the motel and the swimming pool and the tennis court they'd heard Aunt Jane talk about.
The ride to the motel was fun. The children's eyes were glued to the tall cypress trees and the marshy grass. In the distance long fingers of water, dotted with clumps of reeds, reached into the mangrove forests.
Cranes screeched as they walked along the marsh on skinny legs. Peering into the muddy water, the big birds waited for a fish to appear.
"Florida is sure different from Greenfield," Benny said.
Violet laughed. "You're not lonesome, are you, Benny?"
"Not me," Benny said firmly.
After a forty-mile ride, Kay arrived in the small town of Lyndale. She drove a few more miles until she came to a narrow lane that led to her motel. Large cypress trees shaded both sides of the road. When the car stopped, the Aldens glimpsed a long building nestled among the trees, but it didn't look very inviting. The motel, a dark brown, had peeling paint and a roof with missing shingles. One door hung from its hinges and a few of the windowpanes were broken. All in all it was a pretty gloomy sight.
"Is that the motel?" Benny asked, wrinkling his nose.
"That's my Cypress Motel," Kay said sadly. She realized the bad shape it was in. "I inherited the motel a number of years ago. It wasn't in great shape then, and I guess I've let it get even worse. I just didn't want to put much money in it. However," she said in a more cheerful tone, "the white house on the hill is where I live. There's room for all of us. Unless," she hesitated, "you children would rather stay in one of the motel units. There's a kitchenette," she added.
"Oh, we want to stay in the motel," Jessie said, not hesitating a second.
"Right," Henry agreed. "We're used to taking care of ourselves. Aren't we?"
"Yes, we are!" Benny and Violet said together.
"Then Jane and I will stay in the house and you children will be on your own. Of course, you'll have dinner with us tonight. Next to the end unit is a bicycle shed with all sizes of bikes. You can choose one that you like." Kay looked at Jane. "Is that satisfactory?"
"Oh, my, yes," Jane answered. "The four of them like to be independent."
"Where's the pool?" Benny asked, wiping his forehead. "It's hot."
"I'm sorry," Kay answered. "The pool is empty. It needs a good cleaning before being filled with water."
"Cleaning. That's where we come in," Violet said with a smile.
Henry glanced around. Even the tennis court was overgrown with weeds and vines. But it was a lovely place, he thought. Kay's white house stood on the hill, and the motel was at the foot of it. The cypress trees and the crooked lane leading to it all added to the Cypress Motel's charm. It was too bad that it was so run-down.CHAPTER 2
The Empty Swimming Pool
Kay parked the van before her charming white house with a picket fence around it. The car had barely stopped when the children scrambled out.
All at once they noticed a tall, black-haired man with a mustache. With his hands on his hips and his booted feet far apart, he turned to Violet and Jessie.
"May I carry your suitcases?" he asked.
"Oh, no," Henry said, stepping forward. "We'll carry them down the hill to the motel."
The man smiled. "I'll be glad to help."
"Thanks," Benny said, lifting a heavy suitcase and dropping it to the ground. His round face was red. "We can do it," he said, panting.
"This is Rolf Jensen," Kay said. "He's my right hand, always willing to help me." She then introduced him to Aunt Jane and the four Aldens.
"Hi, everyone," Rolf said. "I'm glad you could come to Florida." He glanced at Kay. "I think Kay could use a little company."
Kay hastily interrupted, as if to dismiss her troubles, "Rolf has a barge boat that takes tourists out into the Everglades."
"How about it?" Rolf said, one black eyebrow shooting upward. "Would you like a tour?" he asked the Aldens.
"Yes, yes," Benny said excitedly. "I want to see an alligator."
A grin spread across Rolf's tanned face. "Well, we'll see what we can do about that."
"In the meantime," Kay said, "come into the house. We'll have a cold glass of orange juice."
"Hmmmm, that sounds good," Violet said.
"I pick the oranges from my orange trees in the backyard," Kay said, opening the screen door.
"Oh," Jessie said, her brown eyes sparkling. "I've never seen an orange tree."
"Me neither," Benny said.
"You'll have plenty of time to explore in a little while," Aunt Jane said, smiling. She knew they'd be all over the grounds before evening.
The children entered the living room. In the corner of a small sofa, a marmalade cat was curled up.
"Oh," Benny said. "A pretty orange cat with white paws!" He rushed forward, arms extended.
Quickly the cat jumped down and ran into a corner.
Violet followed, coming close to the frightened cat. Softly she stroked its fur, and before long the cat was purring.
Kay laughed. "You've made friends with Willie."
"Willie," Henry said gently, reaching down and letting Willie smell his hand.
"Let's call Grandfather," Violet said, "and tell him we're safe."
"Oh, let's," Benny said.
So they talked to Grandfather Alden and found out he was all right, too. He said the house seemed very quiet with just Mrs. McGregor and Watch.
Kay poured the cold juice and set out a plate of cookies. When they'd finished their snack, Jessie said, "We'll be back in time for dinner."
Then, despite the heavy suitcases, they hurried down the hill, eager to see their new vacation home.
Benny was the first to reach the door on the end unit and push it open. The unit had two large rooms plus a kitchenette. After tonight they could be independent of the house on the hill. They'd do their own cooking and make out their own grocery lists.
"It's so gloomy in here," Violet said, opening the blinds.
"Isn't it?" Jessie agreed, unpacking her jeans, shorts, and tops. "Wouldn't new drapes and a bedspread help?"
"You bet it would," Henry answered.
Benny tested the bed in the room he and Henry would share. "It bounces good," he said, laughing and jumping up and down.
Henry laughed, too. "Let's check out the motel grounds." He held the door open.
"Oh, yes," Jessie said, "let's."
Violet had walked ahead. "Oh, no," she said. Disappointed, she sank down on the grass. "Look!" She pointed to the pool.
The three Aldens hurried forward. Jessie and Benny peered over the edge of the pool.
"It's all green," Benny said. "I wish we could go swimming."
"I was hoping we could go swimming every day, too, Benny," Jessie said with a frown.
"Not with that yucky green stuff on the bottom," Benny said with a groan. "What is that?"
"Moss," Henry answered shortly. "If we scrape it off, though, there's no reason the pool can't be filled."
"Do you think Kay would do that?" Violet questioned softly.
"I'm sure she would," Jessie replied. "I just think this motel is too much of a burden for her."
"That's where we come in," Benny said, folding his arms. "I'm a good scraper."
"So am I," Henry said. "If it means we can swim, I know we'll all be good scrapers!"
"That Rolf Jensen seems like a nice fellow." Jessie looked at Violet. "Do you think he'd help us?"
"I'm sure he'll help as much as he can, but he has a job, remember?" Violet said.
"Oh, boy, he runs a barge boat." Benny grinned. "I can't wait for our tour."
Suddenly a tall black girl, dressed in white shorts and top, appeared through the trees. When she spotted the Aldens, she halted, and her dark eyes glanced from one to the other. "You must be the Aldens," she said with a dazzling smile.
"We are," Henry said, introducing himself and the rest.
"Kay told me about you. I'm Catherine Wilson," said the beautiful girl. "I'm an anthropology student at the University of Georgia."
"An-thro-pol-ogy?" Benny said slowly with a puzzled look.
She laughed, a happy tinkling sound. "That's the 'study of man.' In this case, I'm studying the Seminole Indians who live in the Everglades."
"How thrilling!" Jessie said, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice.
"Yes, I'm just about finished with my paper," Catherine said. "I'll go back to their camp several more times. I rented a car for the month and I go back and forth in that. I drive to the edge of the Everglades where Lacota, a Seminole Indian, meets me in his boat. He takes me to their camp."
"Do you live here, Catherine?" Violet asked.
"Yes, I'm staying in unit number nine, next to Millicent."
"Millicent?" Jessie questioned, unable to keep the admiration from shining in her eyes. Besides being a student, Jessie wondered if Catherine was also a model.
"Millicent Fair lives in the end unit number ten. She's a very nice older woman, who I'm sure you'll soon meet." Catherine had a little smile on her face as if she knew Millicent's habits quite well.
"We're staying in unit number one," Henry said. "Right now we're looking things over."
"Next to you is the bike shed. You can take out a bike anytime you want to." She smiled. "The bikes are in good condition, but everything else is pretty rundown." Catherine shook her head. "I feel sorry for Kay. She's so sweet and works so hard."
Catherine paused. "It's nice to meet you, but I'm in a bit of a hurry." Waving, she moved toward the motel. "I have to change. I'm having supper in the Seminole camp."
"Wow!" Benny said, his eyes wide. "What fun!"
"We'd better go, too." Henry said.
"'Bye, Catherine," Violet said. "We'll see you later."
The children walked on, brushing through the thick untrimmed shrubs. When they reached the tennis court, they stopped, unable to take another step.
"Oh, no," Jessie said, shaking her head. "The court is overgrown with vines and weeds."
"We can pull weeds." Violet said, a determined expression on her face.
"Yes, we can!" Benny shouted. "I'm a good weed puller."
"I see we have our work cut out for us," Henry said, glancing around at the run-down motel.
"Tomorrow we'll start on the swimming pool," Jessie said.
"Oh, boy, the swimming pool," Benny echoed. "That's a good idea."
Once they were unpacked, they went back up the hill to have supper at Kay's. The dinner of roast lamb, mashed potatoes, and peas was delicious.
Aunt Jane passed the peas and said, "Kay, you have a lovely place here."
"Yes, it is," Kay agreed, "but it's so run-down that I've almost given up on it. In fact, I've had an offer from the Adventure Hotel chain. They are eager to buy the motel and I'm thinking of selling."
"Oh, no," Jessie said quickly, putting her fork down. "This place is too beautiful."
Kay gave her a small smile. "I know, Jessie, but it's too much for me. The only help I can afford is Rolf. Maybe I'll take the hotel money and rent an apartment."
"Kay!" Aunt Jane protested, "you can't do that. You wouldn't be happy in an apartment."
"We could help in fixing your place up, Kay," Violet said, eager as always to help someone in trouble.
Kay stood up. "I don't know," she said doubtfully, setting a cherry pie on the table.
"We're good fixer-uppers," Benny said.
"Yes, we are," Violet agreed. "A little paint would help and so would new bedspreads."
Kay sat down, cutting the pie into six pieces and placing a piece on each plate.
Jane helped pass the pie. "You know, Kay, I think you should think about the children's offer. I can help, too. I can sew and I can redecorate."
Kay looked at the children's eager faces. "I don't know what to say. There's so much to be done."
"Make a list," Aunt Jane said practically, "and we'll take the work step by step. You'll see, it won't cost too much to do."
"The motel needs a coat of paint," Kay said thoughtfully. "And you kids could ..." She stopped, hesitated, her eyes shining with hope.
"We could do whatever you want us to," Henry added.
Smiling, Kay leaned forward. "I'll give it a try! It's worth putting some more money into it."
Benny said, "We'll make your motel shine!"
But lying in bed that night, staring at the big Florida moon, Violet couldn't sleep. How could they possibly tackle all the work that the old motel needed!CHAPTER 3
The second day the four Aldens scraped and scraped the green moss from the bottom of the pool. Fortunately, it wasn't a very large area. Kay was pleased at how clean the empty pool looked. So pleased that she promised to have it filled with water the next day, and to call the painters.
After cleaning the pool, the children biked to the small supermarket several blocks away. Grandfather had given them enough money to buy whatever they might need on their trip. Jessie took out the list which they'd all helped to write, and they went down the store aisles, filling the basket with green beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, fresh fruit, hamburger, chicken, ice cream, chocolate sauce, salad dressing, bread, butter, and milk. They also bought things for their breakfasts.
That evening, Jessie and Henry baked chicken for supper while Violet and Benny shelled peas and set the table.
After they had eaten fruit for dessert, they sat back and relaxed.
Benny asked, "Do you remember when we lived in the boxcar?"
"Do I!" Jessie exclaimed. "It was hard, but we had such good times, too."
Benny leaped up and ran to the cupboard. "Here's my pink cup that I found in the dump. It's all chipped and cracked, but I'll never throw it away!"
"Violet," Henry chimed in, taking his sister's hand, "if you hadn't become sick, Grandfather never would have found us."
"We ran away because we expected Grandfather to be a mean old man," Jessie said.
"And he was just the opposite," Henry said with a chuckle.
"We didn't have a mother or father," Benny said. "I'm glad Grandfather found us."
"Me, too," Henry replied. "I wonder how Grandfather is getting along without us."
"Oh, fine, I'm sure," Jessie said. "Mrs. McGregor will take good care of him!"
Excerpted from The Old Motel Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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