Read Floors #2: 3 Below Online

Authors: Patrick Carman

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Fantasy & Magic, #Action & Adventure, #General

Floors #2: 3 Below (8 page)

BOOK: Floors #2: 3 Below
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I
don’t see why you had to bring the cat. It smells awful.”

Ms. Sparks was in a foul mood as she walked up Fifth Avenue. It was hot and sticky and Mr. Carp’s cat really did put off an odor. He’d tried everything — mothballs, kitty baths, perfume — but Claudius was born to stink.

Mr. Carp glanced down at the long-haired feline attached to a ragged leash (Claudius
hated
the leash) and tried to cover for what appeared to be his only friend in the world.

“It’s not my fault I can’t afford a cat walker,” Mr. Carp complained. “Claudius spends all day inside a
sweltering apartment; what do you expect?” He was sweating under the rim of a wide sun hat as he tried to keep up with Ms. Sparks, whose long stride was equal to two of his own.

Ms. Sparks crumpled her nose in disgust.

“I’ll make Leo Fillmore keep it in the basement. It’s the only way.”

“But —”

“Silence!” Ms. Sparks said as they approached the vast grounds of the Whippet Hotel. Mr. Carp thought she looked positively mesmerized at the sight of the tall iron gate. She gazed into the openness and stood as still as a statue, her heart leaping at the wonder of what lay inside. She wasn’t the only one who felt this way. It was common for passersby to gawk at the property as if they’d stumbled onto the edge of the Grand Canyon. With skyscrapers all around its edges, the corner lot where the hotel sat was a gripping sight. Rolling pathways on green grass, giant bushes cut into the shapes of animals, a pond — all with the tiny, miraculous hotel in the middle.

“We meet again,” Ms. Sparks said, just above a whisper. The chill in her voice made Mr. Carp shiver even in the hot sun. Claudius tried to climb through one of the openings between the iron bars, but his head was too big. He, too, wanted to go inside. There were small birds
and rodents to be chased in there. A cat could get used to a place like this, might even stay outside all summer long, climbing the trees and sleeping in the warm sun by the pond.

“Let me do all the talking,” Ms. Sparks warned. Her tall hairdo was casting a shadow over Mr. Carp’s face as he removed the silly hat and held it nervously in one of his grease-stained hands. Ms. Sparks loved casting intimidating shadows with her hair.

“Do you understand?” Ms. Sparks asked, her crooked finger hovering over the call button that would, more than likely, lead to an open gate. She was worried about how Mr. Yancey would take to Mr. Carp and his awful cat. “You’re here to observe, Mr. Carp, to make it official. Nothing more. The less you talk, the better.”

Mr. Carp seethed inside. Who did she think she was, the queen of England? But he was, to all appearances, a desperate man with no backbone. The Whippet was the answer, and Ms. Sparks the way in. All he really wanted was for her to stop glaring at him.

And so he nodded.
Of course, this is your show. I’m only here to observe.

Ms. Sparks smiled an evil, sharp-toothed grin and pushed the gate button, which buzzed annoyingly against her finger.

“Whippet Hotel, state your business,” a voice crackled. In the absence of Pilar and Remi and Leo, LillyAnn Pompadore had taken a break. The front desk was being manned by Captain Rickenbacker. He had no idea what he was doing and, besides, he was playing checkers with Mr. Phipps.

“It’s Ms. Sparks. Let me in. I have business to discuss.”

“Oh! Uhhhhhhhh,” Captain Rickenbacker said. He looked at Mr. Phipps, not knowing what to do.

“I’m afraid you’re not allowed on the property,” Mr. Phipps answered, somewhat feebly. He had always been terrified of Ms. Sparks when she’d been in charge of the hotel.

“Rickenbacker! And you, Phipps!” she yelled into the speaker. People who had been hovering near the gate outside began moving away, uncomfortable with where this was going. “I know it’s you two in there. Don’t deny it.”

“No, no, we would never . . .” Mr. Phipps trailed off. Captain Rickenbacker was already halfway to the stairs on the way to his room. Like most superheroes, he preferred playing pinball to being yelled at.

“Listen
good
, you two,” Ms. Sparks fumed. “Open. This. Gate. And get Mr. Yancey. Tell him to meet me in the lobby.”

No one responded. Captain Rickenbacker had fled and Mr. Phipps was seriously contemplating an escape of his own to the garden shed.

“OPEN THE GATE!”

Mr. Carp tugged on Claudius’s mangled leash and started backing away quietly.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Ms. Sparks said without taking her eyes off the hotel. She waited impatiently as Claudius sat down and licked the matted fur on his right foot.

When the gate buzzed softly, Ms. Sparks glowed with excitement. She knew that sound, knew what it meant. The gate was unlocked, and she pushed it open, stepping onto the soft grass on the other side and fixing her narrow eyes on the mysterious hotel in the distance. Her whole body tingled.

Just you wait, Merganzer D. Whippet
, she thought.
Soon this will all be mine.

“Come,” she said, waving Mr. Carp forward without looking at him. “You’ll like the room I’ve chosen for you. Much better than that cave you’ve been living in all these years.”

Mr. Carp looked back in the direction of the crummy neighborhood they’d walked from. He could run, even leave Claudius behind if he had to. But, for many complicated reasons, he did not run. His moment had come
and it would never come again. He turned and passed through the gate with Claudius leading the way. When he heard the iron clang behind him, he knew his fate was sealed.

There would be no turning back now.

And so it was that when Leo and Remi returned to the lobby expecting to find Ms. Pompadore, they found their old nemesis instead. Ms. Sparks had taken up residence in precisely the same place from which she’d run the hotel with an iron fist for years: behind the registration desk. She was speaking to Mr. Yancey in a small voice, like they were plotting.

“I knew we shouldn’t have left LillyAnn Pompadore in charge,” whispered Remi from their hiding place inside the duck elevator. They’d opened the door just a crack, hoping Betty didn’t quack and give them away. “We leave for a few hours and she loses control of the hotel. Great.”

“I’ll admit, it’s a supersized catastrophe,” Leo said. “I’m fairly speechless.”

Leo thought of how disappointed his dad and Pilar and Merganzer would be. They’d left him in charge and the one person who could ruin everything had found her way into the hotel in less than a day. It was a disaster.

Leo was trying to think of a plan when he heard a noise. It was soft and fuzzy at the edge of his hearing. At first he thought it was Betty, snoring quietly. But when he looked at Remi, he knew it wasn’t Betty. Remi had one of the easiest faces in the world to read. When he was hiding something, his dark eyebrows went up and the middle of his forehead crinkled. He’d heard the sound, too, and it had worried him.

“You didn’t,” Leo said.

Leo pulled the small duck elevator door all the way shut and stared at his brother.

“Didn’t do what?” Remi asked, his eyebrows raising, his forehead crinkling. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What if she gets loose? Then what are we going to do?” Leo asked.

“But she won’t. I’ll make sure,” Remi said. He knew immediately he’d given himself away.

Loopa peeked slowly out of Remi’s red jacket pocket. The little monkey had woken up. She was cute when she woke up, groggy-eyed and yawning. It was impossible not to smile.

“I couldn’t leave her there,” Remi explained, petting the little monkey on her furry head. Loopa smiled up at him. “We bonded.”

“Just don’t give her any Flart’s Fizz. She’d blow our cover for sure.”

“She’ll be quiet, won’t you?” Remi said. But when Remi looked, the monkey had fallen back to sleep.

“See? No worries,” Remi said.

Leo wasn’t so sure, but he gently pulled the doors open again. Betty got right up close to Loopa with her orange bill and stared curiously. She was acting motherly. It was what she did.

“Keep them both quiet,” Leo said, putting his finger to his lips. It wasn’t as if Remi could stop Betty from quacking or Loopa from making monkey sounds if they wanted to, but Leo still hoped for silence as he peered out into the lobby.

It was hard to hear what they were saying, but he definitely heard some things that alarmed him.

Mr. Yancey: “Who’s the new guy, and what’s with the cat?”

Ms. Sparks: “Don’t worry about them, just be ready.”

Mr. Yancey: “I can’t believe our luck. It’s too perfect.”

Ms. Sparks: “Where are those boys? They make me nervous.”

“What are they saying?” Remi whispered. He was getting tired of sitting in the cramped duck elevator and
wanted to get out. Betty was looking at him like she might start quacking at any moment.

“They’re in it together, Yancey and Ms. Sparks,” Leo explained.

“In
what
together?” asked Remi.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to find out. Take Betty to the roof as fast as you can, and I’ll meet you back here. I’m getting to the bottom of this.”

“But —”

Remi wasn’t sure it was a great idea to talk to Ms. Sparks, but Leo was the official owner of the hotel. Technically Remi was just the bellboy and the doorman, and in this particular situation, he was glad. It was a good moment not to be responsible.

Leo quietly opened the duck elevator door and crept out into the hall next to the lobby. The doors shut and Remi, Loopa, and Betty were gone, slowly rising toward the roof. Leo put on his most confident face, straightened his Whippet Hotel maintenance overalls, and started for the lobby. He passed through, toward the main doors, as if he hadn’t even noticed Ms. Sparks or Mr. Yancey.

“Leo Fillmore,” Ms. Sparks said. Her voice was full of satisfaction, like she was enjoying the fact that she’d appeared with bad news and it would surprise him to see her.

“Oh, hi, Ms. Sparks,” Leo said. “Did you need something? Because I’m kind of busy right at the moment.” Leo nodded in Mr. Yancey’s direction. “I hope your stay is going well, Mr. Yancey. We always appreciate your visits.”

Ms. Sparks looked quickly back and forth between Leo and Mr. Yancey, as if she’d been momentarily stunned into silence. It didn’t last long.

“I do have a rather pressing matter to discuss, if it’s not too much of a bother.”

She leaned over the desk in Leo’s general direction as Mr. Yancey’s phone rang. He used it as an excuse to leave the lobby, waving at Leo indifferently as he passed by.

“Come to think of it,” Leo said, rubbing his chin as if he’d only just remembered an important fact, “you’re banned from the hotel grounds.”

“Oh, that.” Ms. Sparks smiled. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. You see, I’ve got permission.”

“Permission from whom?” Leo walked two steps closer to Ms. Sparks. This was getting interesting, and not in a good way.

Ms. Sparks held up a letter and began reading aloud.

“‘By the power vested in me, I do hereby appoint Ms. Lenora Sparks the Tax Evasion Specialist for the Whippet Hotel and its associated properties. Ms. Sparks is granted state authority to oversee this matter during
the twenty-four hours after the signing of this letter. During that time, she is to observe, in person, the goings-on at said property. No items of value are to be removed.’”

There was more, but Ms. Sparks stopped reading. She felt she’d read enough to make her point.

“It goes on, but it only gets worse.”

Leo reached into the front pocket of his overalls feeling a little better. If this was about taxes, he’d already solved the problem. This was going to be easier than he’d thought.

“You need seven hundred thousand dollars. I know all about it. Fortunately, I’ve already prepared the necessary payment.”

He had no intention of letting Ms. Sparks touch the note, or even get within two feet of it. Instead, he held it out so she could see it, then yanked it back and held it tight in his hand.

“It will be couriered directly to the proper authorities before the close of business today,” Leo continued. He thought he’d done a fine job of sounding like he knew what he was doing. In reality, he didn’t actually know who to give the note to, but he was sure Mr. Phipps would.

“Oh, my dear boy,” said Ms. Sparks, and this time she pretended to actually care. “You’ve been misinformed.
Let me guess — Merganzer left you holding the bag? You can’t trust
him
. I tried to warn you. He’s no good with numbers, never has been. Always misplacing those pesky zeros.”

Leo was confused. “I don’t understand. How much do you think the Whippet Hotel owes?”

Ms. Sparks came out from behind the desk, holding the official-looking piece of paper.

“I don’t
think
, I know. It’s a very serious matter. You’re going to lose this hotel, Leo Fillmore. There’s simply no doubt about it.”

She glanced at the contract once more, just to be sure.

“This hotel is seven
million
dollars behind on its debt to the great state of New York. They have tried to reach you, but you have not answered their letters.”

BOOK: Floors #2: 3 Below
9.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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