A Mystery novel for 8 to 15 years

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Darkson House


????It was sinister looking: made from dark sandstone, old deep red bricks and tiles. The wood was painted black and that gave it a bewitching look. It was tall and foreboding. The window frames were made from stained wood, with thick dark red curtains on the inside. The guttering was hanging down, broken, with rusty nails protruding from some boards near the windows.
????Jodie kept on toward the front steps. She stopped there and looked up at the huge door, vines hanging down over the entrance.

????'It's scary, isn't it?' I said.
????She nodded. We walked side by side, very slowly, up the steps. I counted them: thirteen. They were old and cracked, and creepers grew over everything. The walls had little patches of green moss on them. As we got to the top step, we brushed against some old leaves. A huge wart-covered toad hopped out near my feet startling us; it was vilely ugly. It jumped deeper into the leaves on the porch.
????We stood, trembling, in front of the massive doors. My heart, and I suspected Jodie's also, was going very fast.
????'Karen,' she asked, 'do you believe in werewolves?'
????'Oh for heavens sake don't ask me now!' ??I thought she was trying to tease me. The next thing she would say was that there was one standing at the bottom of the steps looking up at us. I just wanted to get out of the place as soon as possible. I figured if I rang the bell softly no one would hear.
????I pulled a rope hanging down. Nothing seemed to happen. I pulled it harder, and this time there was an enormous pealing of bells, like the town hall clock. I jumped back with fright. Then we could hear slow heavy footsteps coming toward the door. 'G-go on Jodie. You've got to ask.' ?I actually felt rather annoyed. I didn't want anything to do with this at all. What did I care about disproving the people were vampires?
????Slowly, the door swung open and an old lady, looking rather like a witch was standing in front of us. She had wrinkles all over her face and held a cigarette in her right hand; in her left arm clutched to her chest, she carried a black cat.
????'What the hell do you kids want?'
????'Uh,' was all Jodie said. I glanced at her and she seemed just as scared as me and tongue-tied.
????'We ?. . . her ?. . . b-bike chain--'
????'The chain came off ?. . . my bicycle and I wondered if anyone here could help me ?. . . put it back on.'
????I stared up at the old woman trying to see if she could be a vampire.
????'Don't be daft! You think I'd be waking Mr O'Brien up at midday? ?You girls oughta be more quiet. Ringing the bell like that. Who did it?'
????'Um, me ?. . . I didn't mean t--'
????'If Mr O'Brien wakes up with all that door bell ringing he'll give you a right walloping.'
????'Is he asleep?'
????'Yes, of course he's asleep!'
????'But it's half past twelve in the afternoon,' Jodie said.
????'Aren't you a cheeky one! What business is it of yours? ??Mr O'Brien is an inventor and he happens to stay up late at night flapping around the house and down in the laboratory.'
????'What d-do you mean, flapping about?'
????'Girly you've got a big tongue haven't you now? ?And you know what? 'd say you'd be Jodie Thomas, and you--the quiet one--would be Karen Casey.'
????'How could you know that?' I asked. I was amazed. If she knew who we were maybe she was a witch, maybe she knew why we had come. She stood in the doorway, the smoke curling up from the cigarette in her fingers. She brought the cigarette up to her mouth and sucked on it, then blew a long cloud of smoke from her nose, like a dragon. She wore a dark-brown ankle-length dress, and old-fashioned black leather shoes. The cat began struggling to get free. The old woman took a couple of steps forwards, we moved aside and to our surprise she sat down on the front step. The cat, which I could now see had white socks and a white belly, curled up in her lap.
????She bent down and said, 'We know everything around these parts don't we Snowball? ?Snowball ?want a saucer of milk? ?Pretty little thing.' The cat stretched a paw out indifferently and began to purr. 'I know who you are because I'm a witch!' And she laughed. 'And you'd better keep away from this house because it's haunted.'
????'It is not,' Jodie declared. I wasn't so sure.
????'Oh yes it is girly. We got bats.'
????'Fruit bats. They're nothing to be afraid of.'
????'And old statues broken and fallen over in the bushes like gravestones.'
????'So has the museum.'
????'You're a cheeky little thing, now aren't you Jodie?'
????'No, Mrs Parsons.'
????'Ah, so you do remember me?'
????'Yes. You were the cleaner at my father's office a couple of years ago.'
????'Sure I was. And now I'm the housekeeper for Mr O'Brien at Darkson House. And no offence, but it's a better job than working for your father. Trying to clean up after that lot your father works with. Though he was a nice enough man.' She scratched the cat under the chin, and it stretched its head forward. Mrs Parsons took another drag on her cigarette, then wrinkled her eyes up as she blew out the smoke.
????'Do you think Mr O'Brien would fix my bike? ?If he's an inventor ?. . . '
????'No. And I wouldn't be askin' him.'
????'Does Mr O'Brien ever go to the beach, or do any gardening?'
????'Well now it seems you must be employed by the police department. What's all these questions about? 'll get yourself into trouble girl if you go through life asking questions.'
????'Dad always says that if you don't ask questions you'll never find out the answers.'
????The old woman laughed. When her mouth opened up I could see she had no teeth, it looked horrible.
????'How old are you girls?'
????'Twelve,' I said.
????'I wish I was fifteen again with all the boys chasin' after me. Oh they did! Course I was a pretty little thing then. But now days I'm seventy-two years old. I wish I could live forever. Mr O'Brien's an inventor and maybe, I keep thinking, he'll invent a magic drink that'll make me young again.'
????'L-like a vampire that drinks blood?' I couldn't believe I said that. I shuddered.
????Mrs Parsons smiled. 'Exactly! Something that would make me beautiful and young again. Twenty-one years old and I would live forever, never looking a day older. Ahhh.'
????I looked closely at her wrinkled face, she looked rather sad. 'Is that what Mr O'Brien's inventing?'
????She laughed.
????'No. He's inventing a laster ?. . . er a laser, oh a laser thing-a-me-jig. He works all night in the cellar, sleeps in the day, then Friday afternoon he goes down to Sydney to look up books in the Mitchell Library.'
????'Aren't you scared in this big house by yourself?'
????'Oh a bit, it gives me the creeps, the wind whistling under the doors, the dark rooms, the floor and roof creaking day and night. Some nights I swear I hear footsteps in the hall, but when I open the door there's no one there. The floor boards are rotten and I'm afraid one night I'll fall right through into the basement. It's enough to drive a witch mad.' She cackled at her own joke and stubbed the cigarette out on the bricks, then flicked it into the dark overgrown shrubs.
????Jodie asked: 'Have you ever seen what Mr O'Brien does in the laboratory?'
????'No, he locks the door. What do I care? 's the one room I don't have to clean. For all I know he might keep pet wolves down there.'
????'Could we have a look?'
????'Girl, you'd be mad! If Mr O'Brien found us looking in his laboratory, he'd kill the lot of us!'
????At that moment a loud, deep voice called out from inside Darkson House, echoing down the long hallway. 'Mrs Parsons! Where are you?' She sprang up with surprising speed for such an old, thin looking woman. The cat landed on its feet and ran inside.
????'I've got to go! You girls vamoose out of here. If Mr O'Brien catches you here he'll--' And she slammed the door.
????I didn't hang around. I walked straight down the steps toward the front gate. We'd been there long enough. When we got back onto the path, I said: 'At least we know she's not a vampire.' But Jodie didn't answer me.
????I turned around and to my horror saw that Jodie had vanished.


????Artwork Printing was neater, cleaner and more modern than the other two printers. In the office we spoke to the owner, Mr Picard, and he told us his son would show us around the factory. We all walked down to where the son, who was about thirty years old, was sitting at a table in front of a computer. When the son saw his father coming he pushed a newspaper off the table and pretended to be working with the computer. I think his father, who looked about sixty, must have known what the son was up to for I heard him sigh.
????The old man said to his son: 'Eric, did you finish the Timeshare job?'
????'Nearly, pop. Just a little more to do.' ?
????I glanced down at the newspaper on the floor, it was the horse racing section and different horses were underlined in blue biro.
????'These girls are doing a school project on printing. It's good to see people still care about our work. Eric, would you show them around, and answer their questions?' ?Mr Picard walked back to the office.
????We stood there in front of Eric and he just stared at us angrily as if we were wasting his time. 'School project, huh?'
????'Sure,' I said.
????'Why don't you just go to a library and look it up in a book instead of barging in here and interrupting me?'
????'Well ... we wanted to see what the machinery looked like.'
????'They've got photos in the books.'
????'I guess.' ?I didn't like this man at all. He'd only just met us and he was being quite rude.
????'How come you're doing a project when school's finished for the year?' ???He was standing up and looking at Jodie suspiciously. She couldn't seem to find an answer so I said: ?'It's for next year.'
????'Oh sure,' Eric said disbelievingly. 'It's the first time I've heard of doing a school project for next year. All right, what do you want to know? ?You ask the questions and make it quick, I'm busy.'
????Jodie and I stared at each other. We didn't have a clue what to ask. Finally I said: 'Is this a photogravure press?' ?I pointed at the nearby machine.
????He sort of laughed. 'So you can read, congratulations! That's what's written on the side of it, isn't it?' ?He nodded to the machinery and now I could see the writing. Jodie was getting quite annoyed with him. I could tell by her expression, but the next thing she said surprised me.
????'Do you make counterfeit money on this?'
????'Do you make counterfeit money on this machine?'
????He stared at her for ten seconds. 'Who sent you here? ?Detective Withers? ?I knew that stinking cop would try and blame me for that counterfeiting job at the bank. Tell him it won't work. I had nothing to do with counterfeiting that seven thousand one hundred dollars. Who are you--his daughters? ?So that's what he's up to now--sending kids to try and catch me! You're not doing any school project. Get outa here--and tell Detective Withers to see my lawyer next time!'
????'Come on, Karen.' ?She turned and headed back to the office. Mr Picard came out. 'That was quick. Did he show you around?'
????'Not much. He said ... he was too busy.'
????'My foot he is! I'll talk to him--'
????'No, it's okay,' Jodie said. 'I think we've found out what we need to know.'
????'Are you sure? 's only mucking about with horse racing again. Oh girls don't ever marry a gambler--they've never got a cent to their name . . . debts, debts and more debts. Oh well. If there's anything you need to know come back another time.'
????'Thank you very much Mr Picard.'
????Outside in the street Jodie got onto her bike, put her helmet on and while I was still trying to do up my chin strap she raced off without me. It took me a whole block to catch her and that was only because she stopped for the cars. 'Hurry up, Karen,' she called over her shoulder.
????'What's the hurry? ?Where are you going?'
????She took off again, and as I tried to keep up with her I heard her yell over her shoulder: 'The police station of course!'


????We stood outside the front gates of Darkson House. The sky was almost black with rain clouds, and the wind was pushing hard against our umbrellas until mine snapped inside out, then with the very next gust of wind, Jodie's.
????I wanted to go home. Why did we have to go into Darkson House? ?I felt quite afraid, not of vampires, but of Mr O'Brien. I didn't want anything to do with this--all I wanted was to get dry and relax in front of the TV watching Seinfeld. Jodie stood with me and I felt sure the same ideas were running through her mind. Then she looked at her watch: four o'clock! If we gave up now it meant her dad would be going to court, it meant all that worry, all that money for lawyers. We really had to go through with it, unpleasant though it was. 'Here goes,' she said. And we stepped forward together, pushing on the heavy gate. It felt cold and wet under our fingers. Slowly it swung open while more rain lashed down around us. We scurried up the path, ran up the front steps and stopped on the porch. I tried to shake some of the water from my hair. Jodie looked like a wet dog, water dripping from her face. She pulled the bell rope and I kept wondering just what we were going to say. A brilliant zap of lightening flashed like a searchlight followed by a loud crack of thunder. The rain was now pelting down, the storm directly overhead. It took a full two minutes before Mrs Parsons came to the door. She opened it with the safety chain on.
????'What do you want?' ?She didn't recognize us. 'Selling rubbish? ?Go away!' ?She slammed the door.
????'Mrs Parsons!' ?We called out frantically, and I banged on the door with my hand. She had to let us in.
????'Mrs Parsons!' ?
????The door opened again.
????'Who are you?'
????'It's Karen and Jodie. Don't you remember us?'
????'What? ?My goodness, you're like drowned rats. Now what are you two rascals doing out in this dangerous thunderstorm?' ?And to prove her point there was a huge flash of lightening overhead, and almost at the same time the sound of an explosion--so loud it shook the whole house, rattling everything around us. I felt the vibration in my chest, and when I turned I saw the tree at the front gate, a large ghost gum, was shattered and burning. The lightening had struck it. The pale grey had turned charcoal black.
????'Quickly, come inside.' ?We scampered in.
????Jodie said: 'We were worried about poor little Snowball, and so we brought her a tin of sardines.'
????'You did? ?She loves sardines. Come into the kitchen. Oh I hate these storms. Oh dear, look the mirror has become uncovered. No wonder the lightening struck the tree!' ?
????I looked at Jodie and frowned. What did she mean? ?
????'Do your mothers cover all the mirrors up in thunderstorms?'
????'No. Why should they?'
????'Modern folks. Don't you know anything? ?The mirrors attract the lightening!'
????Jodie smiled, then I guess she remembered why we were there and how little time we had left.
????In the kitchen Mrs Parsons said: 'I hate this job. Mr O'Brien's been gone every day this week leaving me alone in this spooky old house. I hear noises all the time. And you know what? ?Have a biscuit? ?He hates her. Yesterday he threw a plate at her because she was inside the house. A great big mansion and he won't allow a nice little cat like Snowball inside. It cut her back, I had to take her to--come here Snowy--the vet. Look at the stitches--that pig of a man!'
????'Have you got a tin opener?'
????'Oh, you can't take cutlery out of the drawers when lightening is about.'
????'Is a tin opener cutlery, Jodie?'
????'Nope. Only knives, forks, and spoons.'
????'Is that right?' ?Mrs Parsons was confused. 'Maybe that's true. Oh well I can quickly open the tin with a tea-towel over it.'
????As she was doing this Jodie and I were patting Snowball who was purring loudly; the cat then climbed onto my lap. I could see the large cut on her back where it had been stitched up by the vet.
????When Mrs Parsons brought the sardines Snowball sprang from my lap and started eating and purring at the same time.
????Jodie looked at her watch. Thirty minutes left!
????'Mrs Parsons, where is Mr O'Brien?'
????'The Devil only knows. He says he's going to Sydney. But I don't believe him. You can't drive to Sydney do some study at the library and then drive back in ten hours. Besides a couple of days ago he told me he was going to Sydney, but I found a bag from a cake shop in his pocket. You know what it said. Delicious Cakes, Murwillumbah.'
????'Mrs Parsons, we need your help.'
????'You do? ?What for? ?I can't drive you home, haven't got a car and I can't drive!'
????'No it's more important. It's about the counterfeit money. You know about that don't you?'
????'Counterfeit money? ?What are you talking about?'
????'Don't you read the papers, or watch TV?'
????'No. Lot of rubbish. Just stories about people getting killed in wars and nonsense. I'd rather read a nice mystery book. What's all this about?'
????I looked at Jodie. This was going to be awful. If Mrs Parsons didn't even know about the counterfeit money, how were we going to explain it all and then on top of that how could she dob Mr O'Brien in for counterfeiting when she didn't know anything about it?'
????Jodie said: ?'Mrs Parsons, someone in Dayman Heads has been making counterfeit money. The police think it ?. . . might be my father.'
????'Oh you poor girl. No wonder you look so miserable. Your father is a crook!'
????'But he's innocent! We think the real counterfeiter is Mr O'Brien.'
????'What? 's an inventor not a counterfeiter.'
????'What does he invent?'
????'I don't know. Lasers, whatever they are.'
????'Does he have a colour photocopier in his lab?'
????'How would I know? 'm not allowed in there. It's top secret, he tells me. He probably sits in there and drinks vodka and tomato juice. Did I ever tell you the story about my father--there was a crook if ever there was one. Now let me see. It ?was back in 1948, just after the war--now this is The Second--'
????'Mrs Parsons, we are in a desperate hurry!' ?Jodie butted in.
????'What? ?You want me to tell the story faster?'
????'No, not now! Next time. We have to talk about the counterfeit money.'


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