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Authors: Chris Columbus,Ned Vizzini

House of Secrets

BOOK: House of Secrets
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Dedication

For Monica,
whose love of books and reading inspired this adventure

—C.C.

For my son, Felix,
whom I trust will enjoy this one day

—N.V.

Contents

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Epilogue

About the Authors

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

B
rendan Walker knew the house was going to be terrible.

The first tip-off was the super-cheerful tone the real estate agent, Diane Dobson, used with his mother.

“It’s
truly
the most
amazing
house, Mrs. Walker,” Diane chirped on speaker. “The perfect place for a sophisticated family like yours. And it’s just gone through a major price reduction.”

“Where is this house?” Brendan asked. Age twelve, he sat next to his older sister, Cordelia, playing
Uncharted
on his much-loved PSP. He sported his favorite grass-stained blue lacrosse jersey, torn jeans, and weathered high-tops.

“I’m sorry, who is that?” Diane asked from the dashboard of the car, where an iPhone sat in a holster.

“Our son, Brendan,” Dr. Walker answered. “You’re on speaker.”

“I’m talking with the whole Walker family! What a treat. Well,
Brendan
”—Diane sounded as if she expected to be commended for remembering his name—“the house is located at One twenty-eight Sea Cliff Avenue, among a stately collection of homes owned by prominent San Franciscans.”

“Like Forty-niners and Giants?” asked Brendan.

“Like CEOs and bankers,” corrected Diane.

“Shoot me.”

“Bren!” Mrs. Walker scolded.

“You won’t feel that way once you’ve seen the place,” said Diane. “It’s a charming, rustic, woodsy jewel—”

“Whoa, hold on!” Cordelia interrupted. “Say that again?”

“With whom am I speaking now?” Diane asked.

With whom? Seriously?
Cordelia thought—but the truth was she also used “whom” in her more intellectual moments.

“That’s our daughter Cordelia,” said Mrs. Walker. “Our eldest.”

“What a pretty name!”

Don’t “pretty name” me,
Cordelia wanted to say, but as the eldest she was better than Brendan at being tactful. She was a tall, wispy girl with delicate features that she hid behind dirty-blond bangs. “Diane, my family has been looking for a new house for the last month, and in that time I’ve learned that real estate agents speak in what I call ‘coded language.’”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Excuse me, but what does that mean, ‘I’m sure I don’t know’?” piped up Eleanor, age eight. She had sharp eyes, a small, precise nose, and long, curly hair, the same color as her sister’s, that sometimes had gum and leaves in it, if she’d been adventurous that day. She tended to be quiet except in moments when she wasn’t supposed to be quiet, which was what Brendan and Cordelia loved most about her. “How can you be sure if you don’t know?”

Cordelia gave her sister an appreciative nod and continued: “I mean that when real estate agents say ‘charming,’ Diane, they mean ‘small.’ When they say ‘rustic,’ they mean ‘located in a habitat for bears.’ ‘Woodsy’ means ‘termite infested.’ . . . ‘Jewel,’ I don’t even know . . . I assume ‘squat.’”

“Deal, stop being a tool,” grumbled Brendan, glued to his screen, irritated that he hadn’t thought up that line of reasoning himself.

Cordelia rolled her eyes and went on. “Diane, are you about to show my family a small, termite-infested squat located in a bear habitat?”

Diane sighed over speaker. “How old is she?”

“Fifteen,” Dr. and Mrs. Walker said together.

“She sounds thirty-five.”

“Why?” Cordelia asked. “Because I’m asking pertinent questions?”

Brendan reached over from the backseat and ended the call.

“Brendan!” Mrs. Walker yelled.

“I’m just trying to save our family some embarrassment.”

“But Ms. Dobson was about to tell us about the house!”

“We already know what the house is gonna be like. Like every other house we can afford: bad.”

“I have to agree,” Cordelia said. “And you know how much it hurts me to agree with Bren.”

“You love agreeing with me,” Brendan mumbled, “because that’s when you know you’re right.”

Cordelia laughed, which made Brendan smile despite himself.

“Good one, Bren,” said Eleanor, giving her brother’s uncombed hair a quick rub.

“Kids, let’s try to be positive about the house,” said Dr. Walker. “Sea Cliff is Sea Cliff. We’re talking unobstructed views of the Golden Gate. I want to see it, and I want to know about that ‘reduced’ price. What was the address?”

“One twenty-eight,” Brendan said without looking up. He had an eerie ability to remember things; it came from memorizing sports plays and game cheats. His parents joked that he would end up a lawyer because of it (and because he was so good at arguing), but Brendan didn’t want to end up a lawyer. He wanted to end up a 49er or a Giant.

“Plug it into my phone, will you?” Dr. Walker waved the phone in front of Brendan while he drove.

“I’m in the middle of a game, Dad.”

“So?”

“So I can’t just
pause
.”

“Isn’t there a pause
button
?” Cordelia asked.

“Nobody’s talking to you, Deal,” said Brendan. “Could you guys just leave me alone, please?”

“You’re already practically alone,” said Cordelia. “You always have your head buried in your stupid games, and then you get out of going to dinner with us because of lacrosse practice, and you refuse to go on trips . . . it’s like you don’t even want to be part of this family.”

“You
are
a genius,” said Brendan. “You guessed my secret.”

Eleanor swooped in, grabbed the phone, and plugged in the address—but she did it backward, putting the street in first and then the number. Cordelia started to give Brendan a nasty retort but reminded herself he was in that “awkward” stage for boys, the stage where you were supposed to say horribly sarcastic things because you looked so gawky.

It was the house that was the real problem. Even Eleanor was suspicious of it now. It was going to be old enough for people to have died in. It was going to be falling apart and have crooked shutters and a layer of dirt an inch thick and an overgrown tree out in front and a bunch of snoopy neighbors who were going to look at the Walkers and whisper, “Here are the suckers who are finally gonna buy this thing.”

But what could they do? At eight, twelve, and fifteen, Eleanor, Brendan, and Cordelia were each absolutely sure that they were at the worst possible age, the most powerless and unfair.

So Brendan gamed and Cordelia read and Eleanor fiddled with the GPS until they pulled up to 128 Sea Cliff Avenue. Then they looked out the window and their jaws dropped. They had never seen anything like it.

S
ea Cliff was a neighborhood of mansions on hills, most built right up against the sunny street with its row of young trees trimmed into perfect leafy spheres. But the house the Walkers were looking at was set back, perched at the edge of the cliff from which the neighborhood took its name, so far back that Brendan wondered if it was half supported by stilts. An expanse of emerald lawn buffered it from the street, with three wide pine trees that kept the grass in shadow. The house itself had gold and tan trim accenting the royal blue that wrapped around its slatted sides. An impeccably groomed pebbled path slalomed through the trees to the front door.

BOOK: House of Secrets
2.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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