Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
Books by Joan Lowery Nixon
A Candidate for Murder
The Dark and Deadly Pool
The Ghosts of Now
Ghost Town: Seven Ghostly Stories
In the Face of Danger
The Island of Dangerous Dreams
The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore
Laugh Till You Cry
Murdered, My Sweet
The Name of the Game Was Murder
The Other Side of Dark
Playing for Keeps
Search for the Shadowman
Secret, Silent Screams
The Weekend Was
Whispers from the Dead
Who Are You?
The Making of a Writer
The stakes of this “game” are too high for
As fast and quietly as I could manage, with my hands shaking so violently they could hardly aim the key, I shoved it back into the keyhole. If someone had wanted my key out so their key could unlock the door, as I suspected, they’d find they couldn’t get away with it.
My key hit against something hard, and I thought I heard someone on the other side of the door grunt in surprise.
I waited for the person to try to dislodge my key again, but it didn’t happen.
Was someone still there? Had he left when the key trick hadn’t worked? Or, with all the noise of the thunder and wind, had I just imagined what I thought I’d heard? Maybe no one had been outside my door at all.
I was scared to death, but still so curious I couldn’t stand it. I slid out my key and bent down to peer through the empty keyhole. Lightning lit up the sky, and in that sudden white-bright flash, I saw the gleam of an eye looking back at me.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 1993 by Joan Lowery Nixon
Cover illustration copyright © by Tim Barrall
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company. Originally published in hardcover by Delacorte Press, New York, in 1993.
Laurel-Leaf Books with the colophon is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
To Louise Hagen
my sister-in-law and friend
clung to the heavy oak door for support, terrified of the old man seated behind the cluttered desk. His gargoyle eyes—magnified by thick, overlarge lenses—were huge, wet shimmers in a pale, shiny-bald head; and he hunched into a tight, stoop-shouldered ball as though at any minute he’d fling out moldy wings and swoop toward me. “What do you think you’re doing here?” he snapped.
As long as I could remember, Augustus Trevor had been famous as one of our country’s greatest literary novelists, and he was almost as well known for his well-publicized socializing with kings and presidents and a lot of people with tons of money. I had expected to meet the Augustus Trevor with the charming smile and elegant manner—the one I’d seen in so many photographs—but the Augustus Trevor who glared at me from behind his desk was a much older, scowling, mean-tempered person, and I was shocked.
I tried my best to smile but couldn’t make it, and I began
to sweat. Whether it was from nerves or because of the heat from the smoldering fire in the huge fireplace behind him, I didn’t know. “I—I’m Samantha B-Burns,” I stammered.
“I didn’t ask
you are,” he snapped. “I asked what you’re doing here.”
Good question. I was beginning to wonder myself, but I took a deep breath and started over. “I’m here because I’m Aunt Thea’s niece. That is, my mother is her niece.”
His scowl didn’t waver, and I wondered if he understood who I meant. “Thea, your wife,” I explained. “I suppose I should have waited for her to introduce us, but I couldn’t wait to meet you. You’re the reason I’m here. I mean, I’ve heard a lot about Catalina Island and Avalon, and the great beach and the music, and ‘island of romance’ and all that, but
…” His face was crinkling like a dark purple prune, so I quickly added, “but the main reason for my coming is
, Mr. Trevor.”
His lips parted, and he made a kind of burbling sound, the way babies do before they spit up, so I thought I’d better explain a bit more. “I asked Aunt Thea if I could come for a visit before school begins in September, because I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be a writer, but I don’t think I can do it without help, and I’ve brought some stories … I’d be so grateful if you’d read them and tell me if I really have any talent and give me some advice.”
It was awful trying to talk to someone whose face was screwed up in agony. “Remember?” I asked quickly, and smiled encouragingly. “Two years ago I mailed you a story I’d written, and I really didn’t expect you to answer. I mean I did then, but I don’t now because I realize the
story wasn’t terribly good. I was only thirteen then, but I’ve been writing something every day—an article in a writers’ magazine said to do that if you want to be successful—and, as I said, I’ve brought these stories.…”
Augustus exploded from his chair and scuttled around his desk. “Stop that foolish prattle!” he screeched.
I realized that he was short, too, and that surprised me. It’s hard to think of a literary giant as short, but Augustus Trevor was definitely short. I’m five six, and we were facing each other nose to nose.
Still maintaining a tight grip on the edge of the door, I mumbled, “I know I talk too much when I get nervous, and I’m really nervous meeting you, Mr. Trevor.”
“Then go home,” he said.
“I can’t,” I told him, although at the moment I wished with all my heart that I could. I hadn’t just asked to come. I’d begged Mom and Dad. I’d pleaded. I thought about what Dad had said about how I always jumped into things without thinking, and I had to admit that in this case, at least, he’d been right.
I suddenly realized that Augustus had regained control of his emotions and was speaking to me, so I took a deep breath and tried to pay attention.
“Young lady,” he said, “I invited you to leave. The correct response would have been ‘I will,’ not ‘I can’t.’ What do you mean by saying ‘I can’t’?”
“I mean that because I was coming here my parents decided to take a trip they’ve always wanted to the Grand Cayman Islands. That means no one’s home, and Mom would really be mad if I went home and lived there alone for two weeks, only I couldn’t anyway, because I’ve got one of those nonrefundable airline tickets and not enough
money to get another one, and then there’s the matter of food, because all I’ve got is spending money and …”
Augustus grimaced as he reached out and grabbed me, his bony fingertips digging into my arms. “I have better plans than entertaining you,” he said. “I am hosting a house party this coming weekend for some very important people, and you’ll be in the way.”
“Aunt Thea didn’t tell me about the party,” I answered.
“Thea didn’t know about it.”
“Maybe you should have told her,” I suggested helpfully, and tried a smile. “You can’t blame Aunt Thea for telling me I could come and visit, if she didn’t know you’d planned something else.” Augustus scowled again, and I quickly added, “Look, I’ll stay out of the way while your party’s going on. I promise. You won’t even know I’m here.”
And after your guests have left, then maybe you’ll be used to having me around, and you’ll read some of my stories
, I thought,
because if you don’t, how will I know if I can really be a writer or not?
Augustus let go of my arms, and I rubbed them as he stood there silently, looking as if he was thinking over what I’d said. Finally his pupils, swimming like fat fish in goldfish bowls, focused on me. “What room did Thea put you in?”
“It’s a big room,” I told him. “It’s got a huge bed with a dark red spread and canopy and red carpeting and French doors that open onto a balcony.”
“I suppose you’ll have to remain on the island, but you can’t sleep in that room. It’s reserved for Buck Thompson.”
“Buck Thompson? You mean Buck Thompson the network
sportscaster? That guy who does all those shoe commercials with little kids?”
Augustus’s only answer was a sneer of disgust in my direction. He strode toward the fireplace and yanked on a long, thin piece of tapestry that hung on the wall next to it. I knew what the tapestry was because I’d seen bellpulls like that in old movies. It was an odd, old-fashioned contrast to the modern computer that sat on his desk.
Suddenly a voice spoke behind me. “Yes, Mr. Trevor?”
I hadn’t heard anyone approach, and I jumped, whirling to face a slightly plump woman who wore no makeup and whose streaked gray hair was pulled back tightly and knotted at the base of her neck. She was dressed in a navy blue cotton dress with a high neck and long sleeves and looked exactly like what she probably was—a housekeeper.
“Mrs. Engstrom, this is the daughter of Mrs. Trevor’s niece,” Augustus said, leaving off my name as though it weren’t important. “Due to Mrs. Trevor’s carelessness in not asking my plans, this young woman will be our house guest for a brief period of time. She has been wrongly assigned to the Red Room, so please remove her things and escort her to the tower room at the end of the south wing.”
I smiled at Mrs. Engstrom, but she didn’t smile back. She gave me just the briefest of glances and said to Augustus, “The tower room is quite small and off to itself, Mr. Trevor.”
“The other bedrooms will be occupied. Take her things to the tower room,” he said with emphasis. “That will be all, Mrs. Engstrom.”
She nodded and turned, and I quickly followed.
Augustus Trevor was the most disagreeable, obnoxious dork I had ever met; and it made me angry that people read his written words that rippled and tumbled and fell like beautiful waterfalls one on top of the other, and thought that because he wrote super-wonderful stories he must be a super-wonderful person. It wasn’t fair.
I had to trot to keep up with Mrs. Engstrom as I followed her across the massive entry hall with its large black and white diamond-shaped tiles, careful not to trip on the edges of the oriental rugs that were scattered over the floor. We went up the sweeping, carved stairway, the sound of our footsteps lost in the heavy carpeting, and turned left, hurrying down the hall to the Red Room. There was no sign of Aunt Thea.