It is amazing that only one of us fell to pieces on the way to the beach. Wanda spent the whole time moaning that she was going to be sick and I bumped my head hundreds of times, but a good detective is always on duty and I made sure I kept look- ing out the window when we passed Old Morris's mushroom farm. It was a good thing I did because there were tons of clues just hanging around outside, waiting for a good detective to find them.
First: There was Nurse Watkins's bike leaning against the gate.
Second: There was Old Morris. He was carrying a large red bucket that looked suspi- ciously like it was full of frogs. Okay, I couldn't actually see any frogs because at that very moment Brenda went around a corner on two wheels, Aunt Tabby screamed, and some- thing rattly happened to Sir Horace. Third: The sign outside the mushroom farm no longer said:
FitzMaurice Premier MushroomS Grown for Your Delectation and Delight
Inquire Within Now it said:
Morris Water s WonderlanD H89-= Anything Aqua tic, It's Automatic We Have It We Have It !!!!!
Fourth: Guess what the exclamation marks were? Yep, frogs–five jumping frogs. And how many frogs does Barry have? That's right. Five. I was just about to explain all this to my sidekick–who was at the time underneath a pile of beach towels–when the van screeched to a halt and my sidekick landed on top of me. We had arrived at the beach parking lot.
Aunt Tabby threw open the door to the back of the van and peered in. She looked pale and her glasses were falling off her nose. She was not in a good mood. "How on earth, " she snapped, "did Sir Horace get in here?" "Araminta made him get in, " said Wanda. "He didn't want to. " "I did not, " I said. "And yes he did. So there. " Wanda snorted in what she thought was a disdainful way but that only made her sound like a pig. You may wonder why Sir Horace did not say anything, but that was because due to Brenda's driving, his head had fallen off. I fished his head out from underneath the beach umbrella and put it back on for him. I am quite good at putting Sir Horace's head on now; if you get it right it goes back with a little click.
I listened for the click but nothing happened, so I just squashed it down a bit more and tightened up the bolts on his shoul- ders. "Better now?" I asked him. Sir Horace groaned. "No, " he said.
"Headache. " "Let me do it, " said Wanda, pushing in. Without even asking, she pulled Sir Horace's head off–which is very rude, as you should always ask someone first before you pull their head off. Then she put his head back and it went on with a little click. Huh. "Better now?" asked Miss Smugpants. "Perfect, " said Sir Horace. "Sir Horace will have to stay here, " Aunt Tabby said, as she pulled out all the beach clutter from the back of the van.
"He can't come to the beach. " "I have no desire whatsoever to venture onto the sands, Tabitha, " boomed Sir Horace. "Rust is a terrible thing. " Aunt Tabby loaded Brenda and Wanda up with all the stuff and watched them stagger off to the beach. Then she slammed the van door shut. Sir Horace peered out of the win- dow–how was he going to get out of the van now? "Come on, Araminta, " said Aunt Tabby briskly. "Leave Sir Horace in peace. " She set off across the parking lot. "Come on, Araminta!" I slowly followed Aunt Tabby, and when she had climbed down the steps onto the beach and taken her shoes off I suddenly said, "Oh shoot! I forgot my hanky, Aunt Tabby. I shall have to go back to the van and get it. " "No need, I've got some tissues, " she said. "But it's my special hanky, " I said. "What special hanky?" asked Aunt Tabby -67- suspiciously. "You don't have a special hanky, Araminta. " "I do. It's so special that you don't know about it. " Aunt Tabby sighed. "Well, hurry up then. And come straight over to the umbrella. " She pointed to a large striped umbrella near the water, which seemed to have eaten Brenda and Wanda except for their legs. I rushed back to the van and pulled open the doors. I don't think Sir Horace was that pleased to see me. In fact I think he was asleep. "Come on, Sir Horace, " I said. "I need your help. Remember?" "Oh. Ah. " Sir Horace groaned. He heaved himself out of the van and very carefully stood up.
As he did I heard something rattle inside him, all the way down from his head to his foot. "Do you want me to get that out for you?" I asked Sir Horace. "Get what out, Miss Spookie?" "That rattly thing. " Sir Horace shook his right foot and it clat- tered like an old tin can tied to the back of a bike. "No thank you, Miss Spookie, " he said. "I shall be needing it. " I didn't get to ask him what it was, as a few little kids who had just got out of a car nearby had gathered around, staring and pointing, so I had to make my gibbering monster face at them. They ran off screaming. Morris's Water Wonderland was not far from the beach. You just had to walk down a small sandy lane, but it was a long way for an -69- old ghost in battered armor who was making an awful rattling noise. I wanted to make sure the old ghost got there all right, so I decided that Aunt Tabby would have to wait. "Come on, Sir Horace, " I said. "I'll show you the way. " We set off noisily. Sir Horace made a loud clanking noise as he walked, and every time he kicked his left leg up he kicked up a shower of sand, too. It was clank-clank thud, clank- clank thud, and then clank-clank thud ping. I picked up a small spring that had shot off from somewhere and put it in my pocket. Nothing important fell off Sir Horace so I figured he didn't need it right then. We were heading down the lane when I heard someone calling, "Araminta! Araminta!" It was Wanda, and she was as red as a beet from running.
"Tell Aunt Tabby I'll be back in a minute, " I said, peeved. "Never mind Aunt Tabby, " she said, puffing. "I want to know what you are doing with Sir Horace. You are up to something and you haven't told me. That's not fair. " "I have been following clues, " I told her. "I am on the trail of Barry's frogs, unlike you, who seem to have forgotten all about them. " "I have not, " said Wanda. "I am looking for them on the beach. " I sighed. "You won't find them there, Wanda. Nurse Watkins has frognapped them. " "No she hasn't. They weren't in her bag. The only thing you found in the bag was a–" "Stoppit, Wanda. There is no need to remind me. Now look over there. " "Where?"
"The gate to the mushroom farm. What do you see outside?" Wanda squinted. If you ask me she needs glasses. "A bike?" "Not just any old bike, is it?" "Isn't it?" "It's Nurse Watkins's bike. " "Well, yes. But she said she was going there. We know that. " "But why is she going there, Wanda? What is her motive?" "I dunno. Maybe Old Morris has a boil, too. " "Wanda, I told you not to remind me. . . . Anyway, I'll tell you why she is there. Because she is in league with old Morris. " Wanda gasped. "How do you know?"
"When you were snoozing underneath the beach towels I kept a lookout. That is why I am chief detective and you are not. You will see how I know in a minute. " We kept on walking–or lurching, in the case of Sir Horace–and soon we got to the gate. "Look at the sign, Wanda, " I said, and I pointed to the five frog exclama- tion marks. Wanda gasped again. Old Morris FitzMaurice, who is a thin, stringy man with a long greasy pony- tail, had come into view–and he was still carrying the red bucket.
"What is it you wish me to do, Miss Spookie?" Sir Horace rattled. "Shall I cut his head off for you? Boil him in oil? Or merely take him prisoner?" "Oh! Um, no thank you, Sir Horace. Although it is very nice of you to offer. I would just like you to rescue the frogs. I think they are in the bucket. " But Old Morris had seen us. "Hey!" he shouted. "What are you doing?" He put down the bucket and stomped over. "Tickets go on sale this afternoon, " he growled. "No unaccompanied kids and no scrap metal. You can come back then. Now stop staring at me like a couple of demented goldfish and scram. " I nodded and smiled. I was playing for time, which is a ploy that all detectives use when they are in a tight spot and the suspect looks threatening.
Even though he was thin and stringy, close up he looked quite strong. Then I noticed his right big toe was bandaged and sticking out of his sandal. "Do you play soccer?" I asked him politely. It is always a good idea to gain your suspect's trust and lull him into a false sense of secu- rity. Then eventually he will end up telling you everything you need to know, right down to why he did it and how sorry he is and what a great detective you are for finding him out. "Are you trying to be funny or what?" he snapped. "Got bit by a turtle, if you really want to know. " I could see I was gaining his trust, so I went in with what is called a leading question.
"Frogs can give you a nasty bite too, can't they?" I said, very sympathetically. "Are you sure it wasn't a frog?" It was an important moment. I stared at Old Morris, waiting for the giveaway guilty look, but I couldn't see it. He had a strange expression on his face–it reminded me of the one Aunt Tabby has when she gets really upset but tries not to show it. But I waited patiently and did not stop staring in case I missed a flicker of guilt. Old Morris was about to say something–and I was sure all would be revealed–when my dim-witted sidekick piped up, "What's in your bucket?" Now that was really stupid. It gave the whole game away. "None of your business, " Old Morris growled. "If you want to see what's in the bucket you get your mom or dad or whoever is in this pile of junk here to buy a ticket this afternoon.
Got that? Now scram. Pesky kids. " He stomped back to the bucket–but Wanda beat him to it. Wanda can really scoot when she gets going. She zoomed past Old Morris and grabbed the bucket. "Hey!" he yelled. "Frogs!" yelled Wanda, lifting off the lid. "I knew it, they're in here. I've found Dad's frogs!" Old Morris grabbed the bucket from Wanda. "Leave my bucket alone, " he growled, "and get lost. If I ever see you kids around here again there will be trouble. Got that?" But Wanda would not give up that easily. She grabbed the bucket back and hung on like a dog with a bone. I would not have been sur- prised if she had growled, too. A tug-of-war broke out between Wanda and Old Morris, but Wanda would not give. Old Morris was so busy fending her off that he did not notice the pile of junk moving in on him fast. I did not know that Sir Horace could run. Without losing a single bolt he ran over and grabbed the bucket from them both. "Who is that in there?" demanded Old Morris.
"Come out and fight like a man. Come on. " Old Morris, who was not as tall as Sir Horace, stood on tiptoe and peered into the visor. "It's no good hiding, " he yelled. "I am in here, FitzMaurice, " Sir Horace's voice boomed out. It sounded really spooky. "I, Sir Horace, have come on a quest for frogs and to take back what is rightfully mine. Now stand aside and let me pass!" Sir Horace drew his sword–the one Wanda and I had given him for his five hundredth birthday–and pointed it at Old Morris. It looked really sharp. "Careful!" I shouted. I did not want my suspect damaged. "Do not fear, Miss Spookie. I have him at my mercy. I am in no danger. " Sir Horace turned around and waggled his sword at me. "My trusty birthday present will protect me. " It obviously had been a long time since Sir Horace had done any proper knight stuff and it showed.
Even I know that you do not turn your back on someone like Old Morris for as much as one second. In that second Old Morris had snatched Sir Horace's sword and thrown it to the ground. The next second he grabbed Sir Horace around the waist and threw him into a nearby wheelbarrow. Sir Horace landed with a horri- ble crash, and both his arms fell off. He lay in the wheelbarrow with his feet kicking like a stranded beetle. It was horrible. "Nora!" yelled Old Morris. "Nora!" A little kid with carroty pigtails, grubby T-shirt and shorts, and long stick arms and legs appeared out of nowhere. "Yes, Dad?" she squeaked. I was shocked.
How could Old Morris possibly be a dad? He looked ancient. And he was so horrible. "Take the bucket, Nora, " said Old Morris, "and get rid of those pesky kids. " "Okay, Dad, " piped Nora. She gave Wanda a really mean stare and said, "Get lost, Wanda Wizzard, and take your googly-faced friend with you!" Well. She could talk. "Oh get lost yourself, Nora FitzMaurice, " said Wanda haughtily. "We're going anyway. We don't want anything to do with your smelly old dump, do we, Araminta?" Wanda grabbed my arm and walked me away. "But what about Sir Horace?" I hissed. "We can't leave him behind. " "We'll have to come back later, " Wanda hissed back, "and rescue him and the frogs. "
She pulled me across the lane to the sand dunes on the other side. "That Nora FitzMaurice is a real pest, " she said. "She's in my class at school. She's really nosy. We don't stand a chance of rescuing Sir Horace or Dad's frogs if she's hanging around. " Aha. At last my sidekick was providing some useful information. "We'll just have to come back in disguise, " I said. Then I raced Wanda to the top of the sand dune and pushed her down the other side.