Aunt Tabby does not approve of paying to see things that it is perfectly possible to see for free–like fish and turtles and frogs– and I was sure she would not approve of going to Water Wonderland. Which she didn't. So I asked her when she had last seen a real fish–one that was swimming around and not just lying on her plate covered in bread crumbs. Aunt Tabby sniffed and said that that was the way she preferred to see her fish, thank you very much.
That gave me an idea. You never know with Aunt Tabby–she likes eating really weird stuff. Who knows, maybe the frogs in Old Morris's bucket were not Barry's frogs but a coincidence–coincidences happen to detec- tives all the time and it is something you have to watch out for. Maybe what had really hap- pened was that Aunt Tabby had snuck down- stairs and fried up Barry's frogs as a midnight snack. I added the fried-frog theory to my list of possibilities. "But what about frogs in bread crumbs, Aunt Tabby?" I asked. As a detective you have to learn to notice when people look guilty.
But Aunt Tabby looked like she normally does when I say stuff–kind of amazed and irritated at the same time–and said, "Don't be silly, Araminta. " I decided to cross the fried-frog theory right off. Then Aunt Tabby amazed me. She said, "Very well, we'll go to this Water Wonderland place if you really want to. " I think the shark must have made Aunt Tabby go a bit peculiar. Wanda and I had to wear our hats. I pointed out to Wanda that they were a really good disguise, as everyone would look at the hats and no one would notice who was stuck underneath them, not even Nosy Nora.
Before long before we were all at the ticket office in the old gatehouse to Water Wonder- land with Aunt Tabby saying in a loud voice, "How much?"
The man selling the tickets was none other than Old Morris. His little beady eyes stared at Aunt Tabby and he growled, "You heard, lady. Take it or leave it. " "Leave it, " snapped Aunt Tabby. "Rude man. " Wanda gave a mournful wail and Brenda– who was also being a bit peculiar since the shark incident–quickly opened the new bat purse that Uncle Drac had knitted for her. "Two adults and two children please, " she said. "All tickets cost the same, " growled Old Morris. I looked at Old Morris carefully. He was soaking wet and was dripping water all over the tickets. I thought it was very suspi- cious. He saw me staring at him and stared back. Then he said, "Although I am considering charging more for kids since they are nothing but trouble. " I am sure I heard Aunt Tabby mutter "How true" under her breath. Water Wonderland was packed.
All the people from the beach were there, which was strange as earlier the place had been totally empty. But I suppose the shark had scared them all so much that they only wanted to see safe fish. Aunt Tabby looked around in disgust. "This is a ghastly place, " she said. "I can't think why you want to come here, Wanda. " "Neither can I, " I told Wanda. "It's horri- ble. " "Don't be silly, Araminta, " hissed Wanda. "You know why we want to come here. " "I am laying a false trail, " I hissed back. "I don't want Aunt Tabby getting suspicious. " A good detective has to think ahead, but I do not know of any detectives who first have to get rid of their aunt and their sidekick's mother -102- before they can go detecting. But I had to. "Why don't you and Brenda go and have a cup of coffee?" I asked Aunt Tabby. Aunt Tabby looked at me suspiciously. "Why?" she asked. See what I mean? The nearest mushroom shed had been turned into something called Squid Caf. It was painted with a picture of a giant squid with its tentacles wrapped around a massive doughnut and a picture of an octopus drink- ing eight cups of coffee. Brenda was already on her way. Brenda's homing instinct for doughnuts runs a close second to the Wanda homing instinct. Soon Brenda and Pusskins had sat down with three doughnuts and a milk shake;
Aunt Tabby was reluctantly sipping a cup of black coffee. "Can Araminta and I go and see the fish, Mom?" Wanda asked. Brenda nodded and shoveled another doughnut into her mouth. "You've got sugar all over your nose, Brenda, " said Aunt Tabby disapprovingly. She looked at her watch and said, "Don't be long. Fish Frolics–whatever that is–starts in half an hour. " So we had half an hour to find Sir Horace, rescue him, find the frogs, and rescue them. It was a tight schedule, but I knew Detective Spookie could do it.
Water Wonderland was a strange place. It was just a track with three long and very decrepit old mushroom sheds on one side of it and a scruffy green circus tent on the other side. Outside the tent there was a sign that said:
=FISH FROLICS! H Fantastic Flying Frogs! Fearless Fish and the Surprise of Your Life! Performance Starts at 4 p. M. Today! 9Don't Delay!- "We've found the frogs!" said Wanda. "They're here!" The next thing I knew she had wriggled underneath the canvas and disappeared inside the tent. I followed her. It was weird inside the tent.
It was filled with a strange green light and smelled of a mixture of crushed grass and fish. There were three tiers of wooden benches arranged in front of a huge glass tank, which was full of water and a few bored fish. Around the edge of the tank was a wide wooden ledge with a ladder propped up against it and there was a big striped curtain hiding the back of the tank. "I bet the frogs are behind that curtain, " whispered Wanda. We climbed up the ladder, walked around the ledge, and peered behind the curtain. They weren't. There was nothing there–no frog bucket and no Sir Horace. Just a big empty ledge like a diving board and one lonely hat stand. "This is a weird place, " whispered Wanda. "I prefer mushrooms. "
But there weren't any mushrooms left in Water Wonderland. Now we checked out the old mushroom shed opposite the tent. It had pictures of weird fish painted on the side and someone had written "Akwarium Aquarium" across the corrugated iron roof. A little kid and a big kid were coming out with their parents, and the little one was saying, "But why were the fish floating upside down, Dad?" and his dad said, "I expect they were just a bit tired. " Then the big kid said, "Just a bit dead you mean, " and the little kid burst into tears. We peered into the Akwarium Aquarium but there was no sign of Sir Horace or the frogs. There was just a great big dripping tank lit with a few dim light bulbs swinging from frayed wires. The tank was green and very murky. The only fish I could see were a few yucky suckerfish with their heads stuck to the glass–and even those were upside down.
The next shed had pictures of turtles all over it–at least I think that was what they were meant to be, although Wanda thought they were rocks with legs. It was quite dark inside as only one light bulb was working; all we could see were old mushroom boxes and a few of Uncle Drac's bat poo sacks–which was why all the kids in there were holding their noses. In the middle of the floor there was a small dirty yellow plastic pool, and a few people were standing around it. Since Wanda and I were on important business we pushed our way through to check it out. It wasn't worth it. One small turtle sat on an upturned bucket in the middle of the pool. Personally I do not see the point in staring at turtles but there were a lot of people there who obvi- ously did. The turtle stared at them and they stared at the turtle. Fun.
We left them to it. Outside the turtle shed I found our first clue. I picked it up and showed it to Wanda. "Look!" I said. "A clue!" "No it's not, it's a rusty old bolt, " she said. "Exactly. From Sir Horace's helmet. " "You don't know that. " "I do. When you've fixed Sir Horace's hel- met as many times as I have you know every single bolt. " And then we found another one. And a bit further along the track we found another. "Maybe you're right, " said Wanda. "I know I'm right, " I said. "We are on a trail now. All we have to do is follow the bolts and we will find Sir Horace. "
The trail led us away from the mushroom sheds, past a smelly old pond to the back of the mushroom farm. Suddenly I guessed where it was going. "It leads to the old ruins, " I told Wanda. I felt really excited and just like a real detective. "What old ruins?" she asked. This is why Wanda Wizzard will never make chief detective. She does not look properly. The old ruins were staring us in the face. I very helpfully pointed them out to my side- kick, who was not appreciative. "That's just a pile of boring old rocks, " she said. But when I showed her the old door with Sir Horace's crest on it she changed her mind.