Frognapped (Araminta Spook #3)

Chapter 9



    I decided that we should walk back into Water Wonderland through the front gate, as Nosy Nora would not expect that. It was very quiet at the gate, with just a few bored- looking people lining up to get tickets. Wanda hung back. "They'll see us, " she whispered. "Who will?" "Whoever's in the ticket office. "

    "There's no one there, " I told her. "Come  on. " "But people will wonder why we're walk- ing in without buying a ticket. " "So what? They won't say anything. They'll think we belong here. We'll just hold our heads up and march right past them. " Which is what we did. And then I had a great idea. A good detective does not waste an opportu- nity to search a suspect's premises, and this was too good to miss. I pulled Wanda into the ticket office. "Araminta, what are you doing?" she wailed. "About time, too, " said the man at the front of the line. He had a baby strapped to his chest and a small kid hanging on to his leg, wiping her lollipop on his trousers. He did not look happy. "We want to buy some tickets.

    We've been waiting for hours. " "What?" I said. "Two adults and two children please, " snapped the man with the baby stuck to him. He pointed to a disheveled-looking woman holding on to a buggy containing a chocolate- covered twin of the lollipop owner. "We don't do children's tickets, " I told him, "as children are just as much of a nui- sance as adults. More in fact. That will be five tickets in all. " "Five?" "Two adults, two kids, and one baby. Two and two and one make five. Where's the ticket roll, Wanda?" Wanda was not being much help. She was just standing there doing her goldfish im- pression.

    "You can't charge for a baby, " the man said. "Yes we can. Do you want to come in or not?" "No, " he snapped. The next customers were two old ladies who were much more reasonable. Wanda stopped being a goldfish, found the ticket roll, and we sold them their tickets. Then one of them said, "Mabel and I just love your fish and squid hats. Do all the staff wear such wonder- ful hats?" "Only the ones in charge, " I told her. Wanda gasped and dropped the ticket roll. "I do hope you have some for sale, " the other old lady said. "Vera and I are great fish fans. We have been looking for hats like these for years. "

    "You can buy these if you want to, " I told her. "They are limited edition sale samples. " "Really?" The old ladies looked thrilled. "How much?" I told them the price and I heard Wanda gasp again. "Stop it, Wanda, " I said, "and give me your hat. " The two old ladies put on our crazy hats, which really suited them. They went off look- ing extremely pleased. "But we're not in disguise now, " said Wanda. I sighed. "Wanda Wizzard, " I said, "just think about it. When Nosy Nora saw us with Sir Horace, what were we wearing?" "The usual stuff, " said Wanda, looking puz- zled. "The usual stuff and the hats. So what will she have noticed most–the usual stuff or the hats?" "The hats?" asked Wanda. "So what will she have told Old Morris to look out for?" "The hats?" "And what will she be looking out for?" "The hats, " muttered Wanda.

    "But who will be wearing the hats?"  "The old ladies. Oh, " said Wanda. "I see. " I was working very hard at training Wanda Wizzard to be an efficient sidekick, but as you can see it could be tough going sometimes. We sold ten more tickets and put the money in the cash box. Then we had the place to ourselves. It was time to search the sus- pect's premises for the stolen property. It was obvious, once you knew, that the ticket office was part of the old gatehouse. The little window that you sold the tickets through was where the gatekeeper must have sat and checked everyone out. I think the part where they poured boiling oil on anyone they didn't like was at the top where all the ivy was growing.

    Any other time I would have liked to climb up the little spiral steps and had a look to see if there were any pots of oil left, but we had frogs to find. The ticket office was really small and it took about two seconds to figure out that the frog bucket was not there. But there was a little room behind the ticket office with some coats hanging in it that looked more promis- ing–just the kind of place you would hide a bucket of frognapped frogs in fact. There was Nosy Nora's school coat, which is just like Wanda's, there was Old Morris's grubby over- coat, and then there was–a shark! Someone had hung up a shark in the cloak- room! Wanda, who is nosy–which I suppose can be a good thing if you are helping out a busy detective who does not have time to think of -132- everything–poked at the shark. "It's a shark suit, " she said. "Look!" She heaved it off the hook and the shark suit fell right on top of her. "Der-dum . . . Der-dum, I'm coming to get you!" said the Wanda-Shark. "Snap snap snap!" "Sharks don't go snap, " I told her. "Only crocodiles go snap. Take it off, Wanda. " Wanda wriggled out from underneath the suit. She looked very excited and her hair was sticking up like it does in the morning. "I like being a detective, " she said. "This is fun. " "An assistant detective, " I corrected her. "I think, Araminta, " said Wanda rather pompously, "that I am a real detective now. " "I don't think so, " I told her firmly. "You still have a lot of training to do. " "You've never done any training, so I don't see why I have to. " "Some people don't need to. Some people are just natural-born detectives, they can't help it. " "Well, since I have worked out a whole bunch of stuff about the shark, I think that makes me a real detective. " "What stuff?" I asked warily.

    "For a start, that was not a real shark in the sea, it was Old Morris in the shark suit. " "I was just about to say that. " "Oh, but you didn't say it, did you?"Wanda was getting irritating now. "And you didn't say why Old Morris swam around in a shark suit scaring everyone, did you?" "I don't have to tell you all my theories, " I said. "So why did he then?" I sighed. "That is one of the questions I want to ask Old Morris when we arrest him for frognapping. " "You don't have to ask him, " said Miss Smugpants, "because I am going to tell you. He went swimming in a shark suit to scare everyone off the beach and into Water Wonderland.

    He scared us, and all those little kids, just so that he could sell lots of tickets for people to come and watch Dad's frogs. He is not nice. " "He didn't scare me, " I said. "You should get your facts right if you are trying to be a real detective. " "I am a real detective, " said Wanda. "And I think that from now on I should be in charge. " "What?" I was shocked. It was mutiny. Wanda folded her arms and looked like the parking lot attendant who gave Aunt Tabby a ticket last week: kind of smug and I've-got-you- ha-ha at the same time. "Look at the facts, Araminta, " she said. "Have we rescued Dad's frogs? No. Have we rescued Sir Horace? No–" This was too much. "That's not true, " I told her. "We did find the frogs. " "But we didn't rescue them, did we?" "No, but we will.

    And we did rescue Sir Horace. He is quite safe in the ditch. " But Wanda was not going to give up–I could tell by the fiendish gleam in her eye,which reminded me of Aunt Tabby when she knows you have done something wrong and she goes on forever until she finds out what it is. "We may have rescued his suit of armor, " she said, "but Sir Horace is not inside it. " "You don't know that, you're just–what was that?" "What?" "Someone tapped me on the shoulder. " "It is no use trying to change the subject, " said Wanda, and then she jumped. "Someone just tapped me on the shoulder too, " she whispered.

    It was very spooky. A ghostly breeze ruffled past and suddenly it felt as though someone else was there in the little cloakroom, listen- ing to us. "Let's get out of here, " whispered Wanda. "This place is haunted. " But after Wanda's takeover bid for the Spookie Detective Agency I was not going to let on I was spooked too. "No, it's not, " I told her. "Yes, it is, " came a ghostly voice. "Miss Spookie, Miss Wizzard, I require your assis- tance, if you would be so kind. "

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