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Claudia and the mystery.., p.2
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.2

           Ann M. Martin
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  Dawn was a BSC member when she lived here, and now she’s an honorary member. Plus, she started a sitting business of her own, called the We ♥ Kids Club, in California. We all miss Dawn, but Mary Anne misses her the most. Dawn has long blonde hair, blue eyes, and this thing for health food that I’ve never completely understood. She’s also very into the environment. Luckily for us, Dawn comes back to Stoneybrook for visits every chance she gets. Even though Dawn isn’t always here, I sketched her into the picture to make it complete.

  “This is so sad!” Mary Anne held up the article on Grandmother Madden. I swear she had tears in her eyes. “The family fighting over the will, and this poor artist never knowing that people came to love her paintings.”

  Did I mention that Mary Anne is not only shy but sensitive? She’s also the sweetest person I know and the most organized. That’s organized with a capital O. That’s why she’s our secretary and keeps track of the club record book.

  I continued to draw the rest of the members as they came in.

  I put my best friend, Stacey McGill, on the bed with Mary Anne and me. Stacey likes clothes as much as I do. Unfortunately, the picture I was working on was a pencil sketch, so I couldn’t show colors. I drew Stacey’s short plaid skirt (and noted that it should be red and black), clunky (black) shoes, ribbed (black) turtleneck, and (red) vest. I made her hair curly, although I couldn’t make it blonde, and penciled in her blue eyes. Stacey has a more grown-up look than most of the rest of the club members. That comes, I think, from the fact that she was born and raised in New York City. She moved here in seventh grade, then went back to the city when her dad was transferred there for his job. After her parents divorced, Stacey and her mom returned to Stoneybrook. Stacey often visits her dad, who stayed in the city.

  Another thing that makes Stacey seem more grown-up than the rest of us is her diabetes. That’s a disease that prevents her body from processing sugar properly. Because of it, Stacey can’t eat sugary food and she has to give herself insulin injections every day. It’s a lot of responsibility, but Stacey handles it well. She takes good care of herself and stays healthy. She’s also the reason I always have pretzels or some other sugar-free snack on hand, in addition to all the junk food.

  Stacey’s our treasurer, and she loves collecting our dues each Monday. We don’t give it up without protests. After all, we work hard for that money! The dues are important, though. We use our funds to pay part of my phone bill; to pay Charlie, Kristy’s oldest brother, for driving her and Abby Stevenson to meetings; to restock our Kid-Kit supplies; and, if there’s anything left over, for pizza parties. Stacey’s good at her job because she’s great at math.

  Our newest BSC member is Abby Stevenson. It was hard to decide how to draw her in the picture because, like Kristy, Abby is full of energy. She has a crazy sense of humor too. She also has opinions and isn’t shy about sharing them, something that has put her at odds with our president at times. I placed her in the middle of the picture because she likes to be the center of attention.

  Abby moved to Stoneybrook (in Kristy’s neighborhood) from Long Island with her mom and identical twin sister, Anna. Anna and Abby look alike, of course — they both have thick, curly, dark hair and dark eyes — but they’re very different. Abby likes sports and Anna likes music; Abby loves action and Anna seeks peace. We invited both of them to join the BSC, but Anna decided she was too busy with her music. She’s a serious violinist, and she practices a lot. Anna and Abby’s dad died in a car crash when the girls were nine. Abby doesn’t like to talk about it. She also has asthma and is allergic to all kinds of stuff. She definitely doesn’t let that stop her from doing things, though.

  Abby is our alternate officer, which means she fills in for anyone who is absent.

  We also have two junior officers, Mallory Pike and Jessica Ramsey. Mal and Jessi are eleven and in the sixth grade at Stoneybrook Middle School. They’re junior officers because they can only sit in the daytime, unless it’s for their own families.

  I drew Mallory reading a book. She has curly, reddish-brown hair and blue eyes, and she wears glasses and braces. She’s cute, though she doesn’t think so.

  Mal is a very experienced baby-sitter. She has seven younger brothers and sisters (including triplet brothers). She loves kids and wants to write and illustrate children’s books someday.

  Although she doesn’t usually stand around at our meetings in ballet positions, I put Jessi in my picture balanced on her toes with her arms gracefully poised above her head. She is a gifted ballet dancer. Jessi has huge, dark brown eyes and beautiful dark skin. She has a little sister, Becca, and a baby brother, Squirt (his real name is John Philip, Jr.). She lives with her mom and dad, Becca and Squirt, and their aunt Cecelia. Jessi and Mal are best friends and love horses and books, especially books about horses.

  I didn’t want to leave out two more V.I.M.s (Very Important Members), but I was running out of space on the paper. I flipped over the page and sketched Shannon Kilbourne and Logan Bruno, our associate members. They weren’t at our meeting that day. They don’t usually come to meetings, but we call them when we have jobs nobody else can fill.

  Shannon lives on Kristy and Abby’s street. She’s in the eighth grade at Stoneybrook Day School, a private school, and is involved in almost every activity they offer. She’s smart and funny, and she loves animals and kids. She has two younger sisters who have given her lots of practice baby-sitting. Shannon has blonde hair that’s thick and curly, and blue eyes. I drew her with her dog, a pedigreed Bernese mountain dog named Astrid of Grenville.

  In addition to being an associate member and the only guy in our club, Logan is Mary Anne’s boyfriend. He’s majorly cute, with blue eyes, blondish-brown hair, and a wonderful Southern accent (leftover from his days in Louisville, Kentucky). Sometimes Logan is too busy with sports to baby-sit, so I gave him a football to hold in my sketch.

  The phone had rung over and over while I was drawing my “primitive” masterpiece, and Mary Anne had handed out jobs right and left. That’s how the club operates. Whoever is closest to the phone, answers. That person takes the information from the client who’s calling and tells him or her that we’ll call back. She gives the information to Mary Anne, who checks the record book to see who’s available and assigns the job. Then we call the client back to say who the sitter will be.

  It was quiet for a moment, so I decided to see what everybody thought about the articles on Grandmother Madden.

  “Who has my newspaper clippings?” I asked.

  Abby held them up.

  “I’m baby-sitting for Rebecca Madden’s son — remember when she called? — at her grandmother’s house tomorrow,” I said. “What do you think of what it says in there?”

  “About what?” Abby asked.

  “Rebecca Madden is from the city,” Stacey observed. We all knew what city she meant.

  “It’s so sad that the family is fighting,” Mary Anne said again.

  “About the paintings,” I finally said, since they didn’t seem to see what had caught my attention.

  “The article said she destroyed the ones she still owned,” Kristy said.

  “I don’t believe she destroyed them,” I replied.

  Everybody leaned in a little closer.

  The phone rang and Stacey answered it. “For you, Claud.” She held out the receiver.

  “Claudia, this is Mrs. O’Neal. I’m a volunteer at the Stoneybrook Museum and I’m in charge of setting up a room for children, to give them a chance to experience different art activities. We’re calling it the Kaleidoscope Room. Mr. Snipes said you might be able to help me.”

  I liked the sound of the Kaleidoscope Room. And of course I love art and working with kids. “Help with what?”

  “I’ve come up with several possible activities, but I want to try them out with some children before we open to the public. Mr. Snipes said you’re not only an honorary trustee of the museum but a great professional baby-sitter.”

  “Well, I baby-sit and I belong to the Baby-sitters Club. I don’t know if that makes me great.” I had to giggle.

  “But you do know some young children you could bring to the museum to try out these activities?”

  Mrs. O’Neal sounded tense, as if she expected me to say no. “How many children?” I asked.

  “Three or four will be plenty.” Now she was starting to sound more hopeful.

  “Sure, I could do that.”

  “Great! That’s great!” She was so excited that I wondered how many people had said no — and why they’d said it. “Then I’ll see you and your little friends tomorrow morning around ten. Thanks, Claudia. Thanks so much.”

  “But, but —” I was trying to tell her that tomorrow wouldn’t work when the phone clicked. “Mrs. O’Neal? Mrs. O’Neal?” I hung up the receiver and put my head in my hands. “Oh, no. This woman from the museum wants me to bring some of our kids by tomorrow to try out a new art activity room. I said I’d help, but I’m supposed to baby-sit tomorrow.”

  Mary Anne stepped right in. “Does it have to be you?” she asked.

  “I don’t think so. She mostly wanted kids to try out the activities. I might be able to take Jimmy, Rebecca Madden’s son, but I thought it would be better to get acquainted first.”

  Mary Anne checked the book. “Abby, you’re sitting for Marilyn and Carolyn Arnold. Would you be willing to take them and go in Claud’s place? If their mother says it’s okay?”

  “I bet Corrie Addison would like to go,” I put in.

  “What would I have to do?” Abby asked warily.

  “Make sure the kids paint on paper and not on each other,” said Kristy.

  “That they don’t eat the clay,” said Stacey.

  “Or stick beans up their noses,” said Mal.

  “Beans?” said Abby.

  “Just a joke,” Mal said.

  Abby’s sense of humor seemed to have failed her. She looked pale, as if she were scared of a little art project. I guess I could understand that. I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled about coaching a kids’ soccer team.

  “Can anyone else go with me?” Abby asked.

  Mary Anne studied the record book, shaking her head.

  “Mrs. O’Neal will be there. She’s the one with the ideas. All you have to do is show up with some kids. And we’ll even help you round them up. It’ll be fun,” I assured her.

  Famous last words.

  A Saturday morning baby-sitting job isn’t my favorite thing, but I was so excited about going to a famous artist’s house that I didn’t mind getting up earlier than usual. I dressed in overalls and a long-sleeved green-and-blue-striped shirt, then put on a green-and-blue-checked cap, pulling my ponytail through the back. I had no idea what kinds of things Jimmy liked to do, but I was ready for anything in this outfit.

  I stood at the end of the sidewalk studying the house for a few minutes before I rang the bell. It looked like just the kind of place where an artist should live. There were trees and plants everywhere. I could picture the house in summer when everything was blooming. There would be explosions of color all around the yard. The house was painted a soft gray and the trim was a light pink. It may not sound great, but it looked terrific. A porch with railings painted a darker rose stretched clear across the front, and a driveway ran along the side of the house, past another entrance and a second porch. Ms. Madden had asked me to come to the side door, so I walked along the drive. I looked up at the back of the second story, and I saw every painter’s dream. Along the back of the house was a wall of windows. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw a skylight too. Grandmother Madden’s studio had to be up there.

  I rang the bell, and a boy with sandy-colored hair and freckles opened it just enough to stick his face out. He didn’t say a word.

  “Hi, you must be Jimmy. I’m Claudia Kishi.”

  He still didn’t say anything.

  “I’m your baby-sitter,” I tried again.

  He continued to stare at me.

  “Can you please tell your mother I’m here?” I asked, thinking he might have been told not to speak to strangers. Or he might be very shy — the quiet type.

  “MOM!” he shouted in a voice so loud I was afraid it would crack some of the windows in the studio. Definitely not the quiet type.

  “You must be the baby-sitter,” a woman said, opening the door and motioning for me to come inside.

  “I’m Claudia Kishi,” I said again.

  “I’m Rebecca Madden and this is my son, Jimmy Cook.” Ms. Madden tried to tuck some strands of brownish hair into the ponytail at the back of her neck. Her denim shirt and jeans were streaked with dust and dirt and she even had some smudges on her face. “Jimmy is seven. He’s been a big help to me, but I thought I might accomplish a little more if I could work by myself for a while. And I knew Jimmy would enjoy having some company.” Ms. Madden smiled, but I could tell she had to work at it. In fact, she looked as tired as she was dirty.

  “This is a great house,” I said. “Maybe Jimmy could give me a tour?”

  “He’ll be glad to show you around, won’t you, Jimbo?”

  Jimmy kept his head down as he kicked the hardwood floor with his toe.

  “If you have any questions, I’ll be upstairs in my grandmother’s bedroom,” said Ms. Madden, running up a narrow set of wooden stairs that led off the back hallway. She paused halfway up. “Claudia, there have been lots of people trying to talk their way into a preview of the estate sale we’re having next Saturday. If you answer the door, don’t let anybody inside, okay?”

  “Okay.” I wouldn’t let anybody I didn’t know inside anyway. It was one of the rules of the BSC. As Ms. Madden disappeared up the stairs, I felt a little disappointed that we hadn’t had time to talk about her grandmother. Maybe we could do that later, when she took a break. Meanwhile, I had something pretty important to do. I squatted down, face-to-face with my new baby-sitting charge. “Hey, Jimmy, could you show me the room upstairs with all the windows? I saw it from outside and it looked cool. What’s up there?”

  Jimmy gave a little shrug. But he was looking at me out of the corner of his eyes, so I knew he was listening.

  “I thought it might be where your great-grandmother painted her pictures,” I said.

  “Pictures, pictures, pictures. That’s all anybody ever talks about around here. There’s lots of pictures, all right, but my great-granny didn’t paint them. That’s what my mom told my dad, anyway.”

  “May I see them? I like to paint pictures. How about you? Have you ever tried it?” I was testing the waters a little, in case we needed some more kids to try out the new room at the museum. Plus, I was curious. It would help me connect with Jimmy if he turned out to be an art lover.

  But Jimmy didn’t answer my last two questions. All he said was, “Come on.” Jimmy stomped up the steps, making a big racket. I followed him quietly.

  The upstairs hallway ended at a set of double wooden doors. Jimmy threw them open, and the sunlight poured into the darkened hall. It was so bright it made me blink.

  The studio was everything I had thought it would be. Easels were set up around the room and paintings were leaning everywhere. Brushes stuck out of cans and jars and a smell of paint and dust and turpentine hung over it all. I walked around the room, looking at the paintings. Some of them were good and some of them weren’t, not even a little. I decided right away they must have been painted by some of Grandmother Madden’s students, because the styles and the skill levels varied a lot. The subjects varied too. There were bowls of fruit, vases of flowers, a rocky stream, mountain scenes…. And then I saw it.

  I picked up the picture and studied it carefully. It was a portrait of a Japanese woman wearing a kimono. The colors were tones of yellow and peach, giving the picture a glow. The woman had shiny dark hair (like mine), almond-shaped eyes (like mine), and a smile that seemed to be hiding a secret. You know the look I mean? The one that shows you know something and want to tell it badly, but you c
an’t. Yet you can’t keep it entirely hidden either. That’s exactly what her expression looked like to me. Although it wasn’t the best work in the room, the way the artist had captured the expression on the subject’s face gave it a special quality. (I’ve worked and worked on doing this and it’s not easy. I’m not always satisfied with the way my portraits turn out.) Not only that, the woman in the picture reminded me of Mimi. Looking at the portrait made my chest ache, something that happens every so often when I think about Mimi.

  “What do you know that you want to tell the rest of us?” I whispered to the woman in the picture. “I bet you could tell lots of stories about what happened in this studio.”

  “What did you say?” Jimmy asked me.

  Still holding on to the painting, I turned around to look at him. “Nothing. I was admiring this.” I held it up.

  “It’s all gloppy,” Jimmy said, then turned back to the easel in front of him and pretended to paint on it with a brush.

  The painting did have a texture to it, in the background and in the design of the kimono. I ran my finger gently over the surface of it. It reminded me of a Van Gogh. I had never used texture this way in a painting. It might be fun to try.

  Jimmy was still working on his imaginary canvas. “What are you painting?” I asked him.

  “A picture of the tree house in the backyard.”

  “It looks as if you do like to paint.”

  He gave me that little shrug again, then said, “A little, I guess, but don’t tell my dad.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m not very good, not like Great-Granny or Mom, and anyway, I don’t want my dad to get mad at me like he does at Mom whenever she talks about wanting to paint. He says it’s silly to spend so much time and money to go to school to learn something she should have learned in kindergarten. I didn’t really learn how to paint in kindergarten either.” Jimmy laid the brush on the tray in front of the easel.

  “You could buy that at our sale for a hundred dollars,” he said, pointing at the Japanese portrait.

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