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Authors: Melanie Jackson

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BOOK: Spy in the Alley
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Roderick had an amazing talent for swiftly turning any conversation around to himself. Unimpressed, Wilfred began to wriggle. Madge put him back inside. Wilfred had never really cottoned to Roderick.

“How
is
your father?” Mother asked. “I understand from the society page that your parents just got back from their long vacation.”

“They're both rested and relaxed,” Roderick assured her. “Dad's going to ease back into work gradually. Boy, will he be surprised when I present him with a long-term contract signed by Bonna Terra and Fields Tobacco. There'll be no shunting me off to some school or other — he'll need
me
to manage the place! Yup, I think the old man will be quite impressed with my powers of persuasion, sweet-talking these big companies.”

With Roderick, a little bragging went an extremely long way. I cut in, “Well, Buzz's powers of persuasion leave a lot to be desired. Our buck-toothed spy came back.”

Roderick gave me a thin, superior smile. “So you claim,” he said. “The word is that you dreamed him up. Your neighbor's hopping mad about the damage to his garden.”

Just as I started to boil, an amused voice behind him commented, “I can't imagine Mr. Dubuque
hopping
. It would sure register high on the Richter scale.”

Madge and I giggled. Even Mother, who eyed the Dubuques' house uneasily in case one of them might be listening, smiled.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said Jack, not looking sorry at all. “I just wondered if anyone,” and his eyes met Madge's, “would like to come to the park with me and some friends for a picnic and some singing and — ”

“How wholesome,” Roderick said jeeringly. “A few rounds of

Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” maybe? What
fun
. Fortunately, Madge has a ready-made excuse not to attend. We have a photo shoot to do. Right, Madge?” he prompted, because Madge was still looking at Jack.

“In all the excitement, we forgot to ask if the thief made off with anything last night,” she said.

Jack picked up a fat, pretty bluebell that, in last night's trampling, had been torn off its stem. Holding the flower, he looked back at Madge — and it was clear he wanted to give it to her.

Roderick reached over and clasped Madge's hand. So Jack tucked the flower in his shirt pocket and replied, “Yeah, the thief did help himself to something. He only had a few seconds between the time he jimmied the kitchen door lock and the alarm went from bleeping to blaring. I guess he decided anything was better than going away empty-handed, and I do mean
anything
. The guy took my old, battered briefcase. Nothing in there he could sell.”

“For some reason, really stupid thieves seem to be targeting the Rinaldis' house,” I observed, remembering the tomato photos. “Maybe you should put a sign on the door: ‘Please do not break in unless you have passed the official thief certification program.'”

Everyone laughed except Roderick. “I'll get our official Wellman Talent security person to keep an eye on your place as well,” he offered.

“That's decent of you,” replied Jack, surprised and grateful. “I'd appreciate that.”

“No problemo. C'mon, Madge, we gotta split.” Roderick added to Jack, “Enjoy your picnic, or whatever.”

I gaped after Roderick and my sister as, with good-bys to my mom and me, they disappeared round the front of the house. My mouth was hanging open. “Butterflies and wasps are going to fly in there,” Jack teased, but I couldn't help it. Roderick —
Roderick Wellman
— had been nice. Had offered to help Jack. Had been totally
un
dweebish.

“I'm feeling a bit weak,” I mumbled.

That, however, did not get me out of raking the Dubuques' lawn free of wisteria leaves. “Nobody believes me,” I informed the lean, mean tabby perched on our fence. As usual, he was staring through our windows to catch a glimpse of Wilfred. “Therefore,” I sighed, stuffing a bunch of the leaves into a garbage bag, “I get punished with two hours' hard labor. But I didn't
dream
that I saw Buckteeth. He was real. In the moonlight, his teeth were shining as bright as day.”

The tabby yawned at me. “Too slow to appreciate my wit, huh,” I told him. “Like
you're
so great. Wilfred's been out twice lately, and you haven't been around either time to nab him. Some stalker you are.”

Our alley seemed to attract ineptitude, I reflected, running the rake beneath the Dubuques' porch steps. Take the Rinaldis' burglars. How hopeless the first one had been, to make off with some photos of tomatoes. “I mean, I ask you,
tomatoes
,” I mused to the tabby. Then, the next burglar had picked off an ancient laptop when all that silver was lying around. And, he'd knocked juice all over the place. Tom Cruise would never recruit these guys for his
Mission Impossible
team.

At least the burglar last night had got a drink for his trouble. Life was so unfair: here I was, by contrast, an honest, upright citizen, and parched with thirst.

Soon after that, Mrs. Dubuque came out to give me a glass of pink lemonade and a brownie, so my martyr complex lost some of its strength.

I realized it wasn't me she was mad at, so much as the wisteria. She fumed, “Wisteria climbs, it gropes, it clutches, it strangles!”

My eyes widened appreciatively. “Wisteria's done this to you?”

“What?” The wild look left Mrs. Dubuque's eyes and she regarded me in puzzlement. “Me? No, dear, I'm referring to the drainpipes.”

“Oh,” I nodded, disappointed. For a while she'd really had me interested. “Well, thanks for the treat,” I said politely. I placed the glass on her patio table. “I have to get back to
Deathstalkers at
Hangman's Hideaway
now. I'm on level twelve, and about to be shot down in flames.”

“Oh no, you're not,” said Mother, from behind the offending wisteria. Her face appeared above it; she was on our deck. Jack and Pantelli were beside her.

“Jack has been kind enough to wait for you,” Mother said. “He's taking both you and Pantelli to his anti-smoking, folk-song rally at the park. I think you've spent too much time indoors, hunched over these gruesome computer games. You've lost your perspective, honey. You're hearing spies when it's just leaves rustling. Villains, where there are only shadows. Suspecting crime when it's just —”

“We'll go, we'll go,” I interrupted hastily, thinking, Man! What ever happened to
curt
orders?

Jack teased, “I can promise you guys bracing fresh air … healthy sunshine … ”

Pantelli and I traded unhappy glances. “Talk about
gruesome
,” Pantelli said.

Pantelli and I had brought along our Game Boys, so we did not immediately notice where Jack was driving us.

“Hey, I thought we were going to the
park
,” I objected, as Jack bounced his rattling, paint-peeling red jeep past the Japanese grocery store where Mother always bought sushi. “Like, the park down the
street
.”

“Stanley Park,” corrected Jack, as the jeep bounced into a pothole and the tops of our heads hit the partly rolled-back canvas roof.

Apologetically, Jack had told us that the top was too rickety to be pushed back any farther than above the driver's seat — otherwise it would fall right off. Furthermore, the roof was patched in many places with duct tape; given our approaching rainy season,
not
a good sign for a car.

“Nobody calls Stanley Park ‘the park,' ” I said disapprovingly. “People will spot you from a mile off as a tourist if you talk like that.”

With loud creaks, the jeep veered up the Georgia Street viaduct. Jack allowed himself an admiring glance at our cityscape, with its glimpses of sparkling blue ocean between tall buildings shimmering in the sun.

He asked, “You mean, everybody has to say the whole name, Stanley Park, all the time? You can't occasionally just say, like, ‘Catch ya later. I'm off to see Stanley?'”

We giggled. “‘Stanley' on its own is the name of a theater,” Pantelli explained, and then, at Jack's confused look, we giggled even harder.

We were in a giddy condition by the time Jack pulled into a parking spot near the totem poles towering over Burrard Inlet. Right away, faces belonging to kids about Jack's age crowded the jeep's windows.

“Hi Jack, who're the tykes?” a boy demanded good-naturedly.

“Who're
you
?” I retorted.

“Gasp,” said a girl.

I sat up straight, glared at her and began brandishing my Game Boy indignantly. “Listen, if you have a problem — ”

“Time, please,” interrupted Jack, laughing. He swung out of the jeep and opened the door for me. “GASP,” he explained kindly, “stands for Grad Advocates for Smoking Prevention. It's that group of kids I was telling you about at dinner the other night, the ones who are taking a year off after high school to raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking … Dinah, Pantelli, I'd like you to meet Lorraine,” this was the freckled, dark-braided girl who'd spoken to us, “and Todd,” the bespectacled boy of the offensive “tykes” remarks, though actually he looked pretty nice.

There were a lot more GASPers milling around a table piled with brochures and booklets about smoking. Placards, stacked against a side of the table, were plucked up one by one by the GASPers: NO JOKE, DON'T SMOKE, the placards read, and GASP AGAINST SMOKING.

Lifted high, the placards bobbed in a circle in the clearing behind the totem poles. At the opposite side of the table, a guitar player strummed and sang.

“On top of old Smokey
All covered with tars
I found some rat poison

And switched to cigars
But cigars weren't much better
With nail polish they're filled.
Be you poor or jet-setter
You're bound to be killed.”

“Catchy, isn't it,” Lorraine remarked to Pantelli and me. “There are a lot more verses, because there are a lot more yucky things stuffed into smokes. Like paint thinner. And gasoline.”

“Don't worry,” said Jack, noticing our aghast expressions. “If you make it to sixteen without smoking, you'll probably make it through life without getting addicted.”

I raised my eyebrows at Pantelli. Once or twice, at recess, he and some of the other boys had sneaked away to try smoking.

“I might have experimented,” Pantelli said, guessing my thoughts. “Just out of curiosity.”

“Ah well,” Jack said sadly. “That's what Mom told me she'd thought, when she ‘experimented' at age thirteen.”

“Not me,” Pantelli replied. “Doesn't mean anything.” In a sudden, angry gesture he grabbed a placard and began marching round and round with the others.

Since Jack, already holding a placard, was about to do the same thing, I lifted one from the stack and joined them.

Chapter Nine

Madge is not amused

On TV, scenes of protesters trudging in a circle always looked kind of monotonous to me. This wasn't at all dull. Our circle was more like a merry-go-round, with kids jumping up and down to wave at passing cyclists, walkers and drivers, and clapping and singing along with the GASP guitarist.

I was enjoying myself — but I was also peering around to see if I could spot Buckteeth. He was, after all, supposed to be involved in the anti-smoking movement.

“Looking for something?” inquired a red-haired girl in cut-offs and a GASP T-shirt with a bunch of stick figures kicking at a pile of cigarettes. Kicking the habit. I got it. I got something else, too. A sick, sinking feeling. Her T-shirt had the same design as the one I'd spotted Buckteeth in last night. The stick figures must be some sort of GASP logo.

Buzz had been right: Buckteeth
was
in some way associated with GASP.

“Buckteeth.
Great
,” I muttered.

The girl flushed. She opened her mouth and I saw that her teeth were covered with train-track braces. You couldn't even see white. “I'm trying as hard as I can to improve my appearance,” she snarled. “I don't think cruel personal remarks are called for.” She stomped off, her mood ruined.

Nearby, Jack was biting his lower lip in an effort not to smile. “I've been watching for any
male
buck-toothed members of GASP myself,” he assured me. “So far I've come across a chipped tooth and a missing tooth. No buck ones, though.”

“Buckteeth must have
something
to do with GASP,” I said. “Maybe he's in a weird cult branch of your organization. You know, that only meets at midnight, flapping around in sheets and chanting.”

Now Jack did laugh — quite rude of him, I thought. It had been a perfectly good theory. He rumpled my hair. “It's true I haven't met all the volunteers yet,” he admitted. “I'll keep an eye out.”

Pantelli was listening. He pretended to remove an eye, examine it and eat it. I giggled. Now
that
was humor.

After a while a catering truck pulled up, and a woman got out, opened a huge flap on the side of the truck and gave us all sandwiches and cans of iced tea. Her treat, she said; her husband had died a long, lingering death from lung cancer, and she'd do anything to help the anti-smoking movement.

“When he and I were growing up,” the woman reminisced, folding her arms and shaking her head ruefully, “cigarettes were considered glamorous. Before you could even start chatting with each other, you surrounded yourselves with a cloud of smoke. I suppose it provided a certain aura.” She laughed. “Sometimes the aura got so thick you could hardly tell who you were with anymore!”

Everybody laughed along with her, me included — though, as I whispered to Pantelli, the story just confirmed what I'd thought all along: older people were
weird
.

“The question is,” I murmured, “will we grow up and be like we are now, I mean,
sensible
, or will we grow out of that? Is weirdness something you grow into?”

BOOK: Spy in the Alley
3.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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