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The Curious Janie Query Mysteries
By Adda Leah Davis
Abbott PressCopyright © 2014 Adda Leah Davis
All rights reserved.
"Shh!" whispered Curious Janie Query as she stepped behind a huge oak tree, drawing her friend Prudence Leery with her. Somewhere to their right they heard the sounds of leaves rustling, muffled talk, and labored grunts.
This gnarled oak tree, their hiding place, had stood guard in the Garden of Eternal Peace for hundreds of years. The initials J Q for John Query, Janie's grandfather, were etched high in its bark. He was a small boy when he carved them. The tree had grown and with each passing year the initials were higher on the tree trunk. Her father had often lifted Janie up to view her grandfather's handiwork.
Prudence, who was known by everyone as Pru, was Janie's best friend and constant companion. Now she huddled closer to Janie and whispered, "What is it?"
For answer Janie reached out and luckily found Pru's face, hoping to cover her mouth, and whispered "Shh" again. They didn't dare use their flashlight even though it was nearly nine o'clock. With no moon the area was so dark that they could only dimly make out a form, but could not really see each other. Janie could see the tombstones, but now they looked like threatening ghostly silhouettes standing guard.
Janie took her hand from Pru's face, but suddenly covered it again and pulled Pru tighter against her as she shrank into the tree's rough bark.
A thud was heard as if something had fallen, followed by a minced "Drat" and the sounds were not that far away. As they shrank into the tree afraid to breathe, slow muted footsteps moved step by step, closer and closer, directly toward their hiding place.
"I'd like to know what's in this thing, wouldn't you," said a voice so close that Janie drew in a quick breath and held it. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she just knew it could be heard. She sucked in air as she felt Pru go limp and start sliding toward the ground. It was then she heard a hoarse guttural whisper.
"You don't get paid to be nosey," or that's what it sounded like to Janie. The voice was so rough and hoarse and she was holding Pru so tightly against her that she wasn't sure if she'd heard correctly.
The darkness and being dressed in indigo denim jeans and jacket were a bonus to their secrecy, as was the breadth of the tree trunk behind which they were hiding. Janie didn't think they could be seen, but unexpectedly a sliver of the moon sailed from behind a cloud, casting a dim silvery light over the scene.
Janie stood almost petrified with fear. Her arms ached with trying to hold Pru upright, but she had to keep Pru from falling. Any noise would reveal their hiding place. When the moonlight spread, Janie tried to shrink further into the tree and pulled Pru against her more tightly.
Afraid to get a deep breath, Janie stood rooted to the spot. Fear wasn't the only problem though. Breathing had become very difficult with her effort to keep Pru on her feet. Making her effort worse was Pru's elbow, which had somehow gotten against Janie's windpipe, making her feel faint. She moved her head slightly and drew in a big gulp of air just as the footsteps halted. Only the tree separated the two girls from the voices.
Janie started shaking as panic skittered through her, making her scalp tingle. She gritted her teeth, determined to withstand whatever would happen next. Pru and I will never leave the Garden of Eternal Peace, she thought and cringed inside.
She felt a nervous impulse to chuckle. Peace was certainly not what she was experiencing right now, for tears were slowing seeping from her eyes.
Peeping around the edge of the tree, Janie saw a tall man with a slouch hat of some dark material, drawn low over his forehead. He was breathing heavily. He stood silently turned away from their hiding place for a few seconds then groaned painfully and bending down he picked up his load. Again, he started walking slowly and heavily with each step a labored, bent-forward thrust.
That must be really heavy, thought Janie, as she listened to his labored gasps for air and watched him straining with every step. As he moved on past the tree, Janie realized that he was only carrying one end of a long box or crate. His partner on the other end of the load was hidden behind a large tombstone, but he would soon come into view.
Janie didn't get to see him though. The night was suddenly dark again as a cloud hid the moon once more.
"We'll have to lug this crate back the same way, but I'd rather do this than be down there, wouldn't you?" asked the tall man and Janie waited for the other man to answer.
When he did, his voice was the same guttural rough whisper she'd heard before. The sound came out as whispered spurts or rough whistled rasps.
"You do what you're told. It's a lot safer," or again that's what Janie thought he said. She was so scared, and as before, his spastic rough whisper was hard to understand.
Janie was becoming numb in her cramped, stilted position, and felt she might faint if she didn't soon get relief, but the footsteps finally faded away. The tall man's voice became fainter and fainter as it moved toward the main entrance of the cemetery and then was heard no more.
Janie stood still, holding Pru close to her, but when the moon slid from behind a cloud again, she released her. She fell to the ground ker-plunk.
"Ouch! Why did you knock me down?" demanded Pru as she jerked awake.
"I didn't knock you down. You fainted and I've had to hide and hold you on your feet the whole time. You're no help at all. You didn't get to see a thing," scolded Janie.
Pru lay on the ground for a moment with a strange puzzled look on her face. Suddenly she sat up and Janie reached for her hand to help her to her feet.
"Are they gone?"
"Of course they're gone. I wouldn't have let you fall if they were still here."
Janie had forgotten to whisper, but now she lowered her voice. Suddenly it was dark again. "Let's go. We can't see a thing tonight anyway."
"Wait, my legs won't work. They're asleep." Pru whispered.
They stood waiting until Pru was recovered enough to walk. The moon slid into view again and Janie looked up at the sky. "I hope it doesn't rain. We need to come back when it's daylight and see where those two men came from. If it rains it will wash out their footprints."
"What if they are still here? They could be hiding so they can catch us," whimpered Pru softly as they were again plunged into darkness.
"Pru, it's too dark for them to see us. They wouldn't have to hide. They can't see us and we can't see them. Come on. They're gone. I guess I'll have to start believing some of Kyle Jester's wild tales."
"Turn on your flashlight, Janie. I can't see my hand in front of me. We'll fall into one of these tombstones and knock our brains out trying to walk in the dark," cautioned Pru.
"If we do, we won't have to be carried too far to be buried. After all, this is the Garden of Eternal Peace," said Janie, chuckling as the beam from her light penetrated the smothering darkness.
Pru was eleven to Janie's twelve years, but heavier built and taller than Janie. Prudence had never been as daring as Janie, though.
"Why do we need to come back and see anything? Those men aren't bothering us. I don't like the dark especially in a cemetery. Why do you always want to check out everything you hear about, Janie?"
Just then the moon made another appearance to reveal the owlish stare of Curious Janie Query. Her glasses had slipped down and her chestnut brown pigtails hung to her waist in front of her, making her look young and shy. This was especially true when her pixie face dimpled into a broad grin at the least provocation. No one, however, had ever described Janie as shy. Janie was always called "strange, nosey, inquisitive, curious, or a busybody by those who knew her. Another characteristic that really created the name of Curious was the snow white streak through her hair that ran at an angle from above her right eye toward her right ear but stopped abruptly about half-way there.
"Isn't that a curious sight? I've never seen a child with such a mark as that. It's like the hair comes in white and grows so long and then turns brown." This comment no longer bothered Janie since she had heard it so often, nor did the term curious being tacked to her name.
"We don't need the light now so let's run. Once we're out in the road we can make our way home even if the moon is gone," said Janie, switching off the flashlight.
"If our parents knew we were out here, we'd be grounded for two weeks. I want to go to the carnival next Saturday," said Pru and they both knew that she certainly wouldn't get to go if she couldn't sneak into her room without waking her parents.
"Stop worrying Pru. You always think the worst about everything. Why would our parents check our rooms? They wouldn't dream of us being brave enough to go out at night. Anyway, my parents never come into my room after I go to bed, does yours?" asked Janie as they cleared the cemetery gate and stepped onto the road.
Pru grabbed Janie's sleeve. "A car is coming. What are we going to do?"
Janie didn't answer. Instead she shoved Pru across the road and down over the side into the woods. She slid down beside Pru and they lay flat on their stomachs until the car had passed.
"Okay, let's go," said Janie as she grabbed Pru's hand and pulled her to her knees. Pru grunted as she crawled back to the roadway and stood up.
"Did you get hurt?" asked Janie, flashing her light into Pru's face.
"Get that light out of my face. I can't see a thing, and no, I didn't get hurt. Why?" Pru asked.
"You were grunting and groaning like some old woman, that's why," said Janie, shaking and slapping her pant legs to rid herself of dirt and leaves.
Using the same procedure, Prudence was finally satisfied, but began slapping at Janie's back.
"Stop it Pru. I know I have leaves all over me, but you don't have to slap so hard."
The next morning the two friends met at the intersection of Ivy Road and Vine Street on their way to school. Willowdale Elementary and Middle School was only three blocks further along at the entrance to Willow Street and since First Grade the two friends had walked to and from school together.
"It looks like neither of us got caught" said Janie, smiling brightly. "You worried for nothing, didn't you, Pru?"
"Like Grandpa always says though, 'one of these days our luck will run out' and then we'll be in a mess," replied Pru.
Janie adjusted her backpack and fell into step beside Pru. "We'll have to go back, you know. The taller of the men said they'd have to bring whatever they were carrying back the same way."
"Go back! No, Janie. I'm not going back. That man that you said whispered sounded dangerous. I'm not going to take a chance on getting killed."
Janie stopped and grabbed Pru's arm. "We're not going to let them see us, silly. We'll stay hid like we did last night."
Pru jerked her arm out of Janie's grasp. "I thought my heart would stop last night when they were close enough for me to hear a man talking. That's why I fainted. I'll bet a person could die if they got scared bad enough. Besides it isn't any of our business what they were doing. Let Kyle Jester tell his tall tales. If he's so afraid that something criminal is going on he can find out himself or call the police."
"Kyle just said that he'd heard his dad say that several businesses were missing some of their goods and then Henry Mercer said that several people had reported seeing lights in the cemetery at night. I tied the two together and I just know we saw, no not really saw, but we did hear the crooks last night. But Pru, we don't have to go after dark tonight. I don't believe they'll be back tonight, but I do want to find out where they came from. There's a stone wall around three sides of the cemetery and I don't think they lifted that big crate or box over that stone wall, do you? They had to get in the cemetery some way, though."
"They went out through the gate so they probably came in before we got there," said Pru as if Janie should have known that.
"That tall man said that he'd rather be there in the cemetery as down there. Now, what did he mean, 'down there?' said Janie with a puzzled scowl.
"I don't care what he meant and I don't plan to find out. That whispering man that scared you would scare me to death. I'd probably die instead of faint if I'd heard him," said Pru and shivered.
"Well, you just fainted, but you were as heavy as a dead person. You started sliding toward the ground and I couldn't let you fall. A noise like that would have got us in trouble for sure."
They had now arrived at school and their guessing at clues had to be put on hold until the evening.CHAPTER 2
Janie and Pru were both in the seventh grade even though Janie was several months older than Pru. "My birthday is in October and I couldn't start to school until I was almost seven. That's the reason you are in my grade, Pru. I don't know where you got the idea that you are smarter than I am."
Janie glared in annoyance. "You know I have to help you with all your math homework."
"Yes, but I help you with your writing assignments. You can't spell cat."
"You didn't have to laugh your head off when I spelled fatigue wrong in English class. I don't tell anybody that you can't add two and two," scolded Janie.
Pru laughed. "Well it was funny and I can laugh if I want to." Pru flung her head up, her bob of curly red hair bouncing indignantly. Their arguments, on a daily basis, didn't change their habits of best buddies. They still walked side by side on their way to science class.
Their science teacher this year, Miss Cross, was a slender, cheerful, young woman with glasses, short blond hair and bangs. She wore knee-high boots and short plaid skirts with long pullover sweaters that fell to two inches above the hem of her skirts. She had sharp, penetrating eyes and her glasses gave her the appearance of seeing everything at once. The first morning they all filed into the classroom, she sat down on a tall stool and stared until every student was in the room.
"I am M. K. Cross, your science teacher this year. Find a seat. Sit down and be quiet. I need to get your names and learn something about each of you. I don't like working with strangers," were her first words.
Janie loved her immediately. "Miss Cross, why are you wearing boots? It's fall not winter."
Miss Cross looked at her sternly. "Please raise your hand and ask permission before speaking. I wear boots because I like boots. Why do you wear a denim jacket? It's too hot in this weather."
Janie grinned but didn't reply to her question.
Miss Cross gave Janie a saucy grin and raised her eyebrows and then starting on the right side of the room she began. Pointing to Mary Fletcher, who was seated in the front seat, she said, "What is your name? What are the names of your parents? What is your address and telephone number?" Then, one by one, she wrote down names, addresses, and anything else the student wanted to tell her.
Janie raised her hand and asked, "What if someone doesn't want to tell you anything else?"
"I'm not forcing anyone."
Finally she came to Janie. "Janie Query. Hm-m-m, your name is certainly appropriate. I mean your last name of course, since you always question everything."
Janie looked at her. "How will I learn anything, if I don't ask? I guess I just like to learn."
"Maybe, or maybe you just like attention," said Miss Cross.
Janie sat back as if thinking. "No, I don't think it's that. I just always want to know why or how something is the way it is. People say I'm curious. Well, some just say I'm nosey, but I don't think I am."
Miss Cross shook her head. "Well, I can't help what you think, but you are getting a lot of attention. That isn't fair to the other students. I'm sure you want to be fair, don't you, Miss Query?
"Yes, I do. I'm sorry." Janie's face turned red as she looked around and saw her classmates hiding their grins.
Kyle Jester sniggered loud enough to be heard and gained the attention Miss Cross accused Janie of wanting.
Miss Cross looked down her list. "Mr. Jester ... Kyle, do you want to share your joke?"
Janie looked at Kyle with a satisfied smirk. Good for you, Mr. Jester. I'm sure you didn't expect that, she thought.
"Well, we're waiting. What was so amusing?" asked Miss Cross.
Kyle squirmed in his seat. "It was just seeing Janie's face when you embarrassed her. She looked funny."
Excerpted from The Whisperer by Adda Leah Davis. Copyright © 2014 Adda Leah Davis. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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