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Claudia and the mystery.., p.4
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.4

           Ann M. Martin
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  “Mrs. O’Neal?” A voice crackled over a loudspeaker in the room. Carolyn turned toward the sound, and her brush made an arc, carrying purple paint with it. Fortunately, Mrs. O’Neal didn’t notice.

  “Yes?” Mrs. O’Neal answered, speaking into a mesh-covered intercom in the wall.

  “Could you come to the office for a moment? There’s someone on the phone who wants to talk to you about the Kaleidoscope Room.”

  “Abby, can you handle these children for a few minutes?” Mrs. O’Neal asked.

  “No problem,” Abby replied.

  “I’ll be right back,” Mrs. O’Neal said. When she left the room, Abby thought she looked a bit relieved.

  “I got purple paint on my shoes,” said Carolyn.

  Abby knelt down to check her shoes. She saw drops of purple paint on the floor and table too. “Let me grab a sponge and we’ll wipe it off,” she said.

  Abby located a new sponge, ran it under some water, and returned to the table. “Carolyn! What are you doing?” While Abby’s back was turned, Carolyn had painted purple dots on her white tennis shoes.

  “I decided I liked it. I have a shirt at home that has purple stripes, and these shoes will look good with it.”

  “Let me see.” Marilyn moved closer, stepping in a puddle of purple paint.

  “Stand still. Stay right where you are,” said Abby.

  Marilyn backed up, leaving purple prints along the way.

  Abby scrubbed with the sponge — first the floor, then the sole of Marilyn’s shoe. “Let me rinse this out.”

  Jamie had returned to the paint table with some small pieces of clay. “Look, Abby. Earrings.” He held up small circles of clay decorated with dots of paint. The paint was still wet, so he ended up with paint on his fingers, ears, and neck.

  “Cool,” said Carolyn.

  “Wait a minute. I don’t think Mrs. O’Neal wants you to paint the clay. She has these molds …” Abby began.

  “Boring,” said Corrie. “Just like painting this bear. I want a plain sheet of paper so I can paint the picture I want to paint.”

  “I’ll see what I can find, but no more painting clay. Okay? At least not right now,” Abby amended. She thought painting clay sounded like it might be fun, certainly more fun than sticking clay into molds.

  Abby rinsed the sponge and turned back to the table.

  Marilyn was in the process of painting purple earrings on Carolyn’s ears, while Corrie was painting a tiny blue bird on Jamie’s cheek.

  “And a necklace. Make me purple pearls like Mrs. O’Neal’s white ones,” said Carolyn as Marilyn dipped her brush in the paint again.

  “Oh, no! Not on your skin,” said Abby. “Paint goes on paper, not on people.” (She was sure Mrs. O’Neal would approve of that statement.) She grabbed a handful of paper towels and looked toward the door to see if Mrs. O’Neal was anywhere nearby.

  “Over to the sinks, all of you,” Abby commanded. “Wash the paint off your faces and necks and ears. And wash your hands while you’re at it. You can play with the clay when you’re all clean.”

  Jamie grabbed the faucet with a brown hand. The balloons on his Band-Aid, even the Band-Aid itself, had completely disappeared under the paint.

  Abby rubbed soap on her own hands, then took one of Jamie’s hands to scrub.

  Jamie pulled away. “No, I can do it myself. You help them.” He pointed to the three girls at the neighboring sinks.

  Abby wet some more paper towels and scrubbed the paint off of Carolyn’s ears and neck. Rivers of paint flowed off Marilyn’s and Corrie’s hands as they held them under the water. Carolyn even had paint in her hair, Abby discovered, washing it out strand by strand.

  “How’s this?” Corrie asked, holding up her hands.

  “Nice,” said Abby. “You guys go on and play with some clay for a while.” She turned to inspect Jamie’s hands. “No! Jamie, what happened?”

  Water was cascading over the edges of the sink — brown water. Jamie’s hands were covered in soapsuds tinged with brown. He dipped them into the sink, and more water poured over the edge.

  Abby plunged her hand into the dirty water. A lump of clay rested on the bottom of the sink, acting as a drain plug.

  “There wasn’t a plug, so I made one out of clay,” Jamie explained proudly. He finished rinsing his hands under the clear running water, then shook them dry.

  Using more paper towels, Abby wiped the water off the floor.

  “What happened here?” Mrs. O’Neal’s voice made Abby look up quickly. Mrs. O’Neal had a tight grip on her pearls as she surveyed the room. “My room. My nice, clean room!”

  “It’s okay. We’re just cleaning up,” said Abby with a weary smile. She looked down and saw streaks of purple and brown paint on her jeans. “Art projects are messy, Mrs. O’Neal, and you can’t expect kids to learn how to use paint and clay without getting a little bit messy.” Abby’s reluctance to speak up had disappeared along with the dirty water.

  Carolyn chose that moment to show the clay beads she’d made into a necklace to Mrs. O’Neal. She brushed against her skirt.

  Mrs. O’Neal looked down, her eyes widened, and she jumped back. “Stop! Stop right where you are. This isn’t going to work. Paint on the floor! Paint on your hands! Paint on my skirt! This isn’t art. It’s chaos. I thought I’d invited young artists to work in here, not hooligans.”

  Carolyn looked toward Abby.

  Abby hurried to Carolyn’s side and gave her a hug. The rest of the children remained frozen in their chairs.

  With her arm around Carolyn, Abby said, “Mrs. O’Neal, this room could work. Maybe if you gave the kids blank paper and paints and let them make whatever they wanted instead of expecting them to make what you want them to, they wouldn’t have to paint on themselves. Give us another chance. Let me come back with some help, and we’ll show you how much fun it can be.”

  “Chaos. It looks like chaos in here. What was I thinking?” Mrs. O’Neal murmured.

  Corrie was now standing next to Abby. “I’ll come back if I can paint what I want,” she said. “I want to hang one of my pictures in the museum.”

  “Me too,” said Marilyn.

  Jamie continued to roll the clay into thinner and thinner strips. “I’d like to come back and work with the clay some more,” he said.

  “Mrs. O’Neal?” Abby said.

  “You may try again, if you want, but I need to think about some guidelines that will prevent another fiasco like today’s.”

  Abby closed her eyes. “We’ll be thinking about it too,” she said, counting on the BSC to come through.

  I was studying rocks in the Maddens’ side yard when the Junk Bucket, Charlie Thomas’s car, pulled up.

  “Hey, Claud, planning a rock sculpture?” Charlie asked as Kristy climbed out of the car.

  He wouldn’t have heard my answer even if I’d given him one, because Kristy slammed the car door hard enough to make the Junk Bucket shimmy. Charlie left us in his dust.

  Actually, I was already in the dust, kneeling by the rocks. I was trying to remember which rock the key was under. I had thought it was the one shaped like a soup tureen covered with ripples like ocean waves, but that one was firmly stuck in the ground. I tried to remove a second one, shaped more like a boat with tiny mountains all over it, and it came up easily. The key was there, just as Ms. Madden had promised before she and Jimmy had left for New York City. I was setting the rock back when a red Mercedes pulled up beside us.

  I stuck the key in my pocket and nudged the stone back into place, standing on it for good measure.

  “Is Rebecca here?” The man in the car was the one who had come by the house on Saturday morning. He looked up at the studio windows.

  “Not yet,” I replied as pleasantly as I could. I had this feeling he was going to —

  “No problem. I’ll go on in and take a look at some things she wanted another appraisal on,” he said, shutting the car door.

  “Could you come back l
ater? When Ms. Madden is here?” said Kristy.

  “It’s fine, girls. I’m just doing my job,” the man said. As I watched him walk toward the porch I tried to remember the name Ms. Madden had mentioned. “My company has been taking care of this house for years.”

  Then why didn’t he have a key? I wondered.

  Kristy looked at me as if she were waiting for me to stop him. It was a look that said, “Is this guy for real?”

  I nodded to let Kristy know it was okay for him to go inside, then glanced over my shoulder at his car. It was fire-engine red with a black top. Very cool. The seats were black too — black leather. I took a second look. There was a book on the passenger’s seat. On the front cover was a picture I recognized from my research on primitive art. It was one of the books I was waiting for. I couldn’t see the picture completely because an airline ticket folder was lying on top of it. The name “Ogura” was printed on the folder. Right, that’s what Ms. Madden had said.

  “Mr. Ogura?” I called after him.

  He motioned for me to follow him on to the porch, but I wanted to see the book.

  “Do you know this guy?” Kristy asked.

  “He was here the other day too. And Ms. Madden did say he was helping her with the sale.”

  “Then I guess it’s —”

  “The phone is ringing! Maybe it’s Rebecca and you can get her okay to let me in,” he called. “Tell her it’s Mr. Ogura.” He was holding the screen door open and tapping his foot.

  I ran to the porch and fumbled with the key. The door finally opened, and I almost fell into the hall. Kristy and Mr. Ogura were right behind me. I hurried into the kitchen and yanked the phone out of the cradle. “Hello!”

  “Hello,” a woman’s voice answered me. “Is Mr. Ogura there by any chance?”

  I turned slowly, holding the phone out. “Mr. Ogura, it’s for you.”

  He was already on his way upstairs. He turned, a puzzled expression on his face. “Who is it?”

  I shrugged. “A woman.”

  Mr. Ogura jerked the phone away, then stepped around me and turned his back to us. “Hello,” he said in a low, deep voice. “Hello,” he said a little louder. He turned around and glared at me. “You cut off whoever was calling and didn’t even get a name. I’ll call my office. If it isn’t my secretary, then perhaps she’ll know who was trying to reach me.”

  Again, he huddled close to the phone, as if he were going to deliver some important confidential information, and punched the buttons.

  “Come on, I’ll show you the studio,” I said to Kristy. I was sure Mr. Ogura wasn’t going to say anything I cared about overhearing, no matter how important he thought he was. “It’s the greatest room — lots of light and easels set up all over the place.” We went up the back stairs and again I was surprised when I pulled open the doors to the studio and light flooded the hall.

  “Cool,” said Kristy, taking a step inside and looking at the room from the entrance. “She painted a lot of pictures!”

  “None of these are by Grandmother Madden,” I said. “They were done by her students.” I heard a car start and looked out to see Mr. Ogura driving away. “He’s gone. I guess that call was important.”

  “Where should we start?” Kristy asked.

  Before I could tell her, the doorbell rang.

  We went down the front staircase this time. I looked through the oval window in the front door and was glad to see Ms. Madden standing on the porch. Of course, I had the only key to the house in my pocket. I opened the door.

  “Hi. Is this where the estate sale is?” the woman asked.

  It wasn’t Ms. Madden after all. But her hair was the same color, and she was about the same size.

  “The sale is Saturday,” I said.

  “I’ve driven over a hundred miles,” the woman explained in a soft voice, “because Grandmother Madden is one of my all-time favorite artists. I’d love to have a peek at where she lived. May I?” She smiled nicely and took a step forward.

  I moved to block the doorway, and Kristy stood close to my shoulder. “Sorry,” I said, “but no one is allowed in until Saturday.” I returned the woman’s smile. I knew how it felt to admire an artist and want to have a glimpse of how she lived.

  Another car turned into the driveway, and I recognized Ms. Madden and Jimmy for sure this time. “There’s the owner of the house,” I said to the woman. “You could ask her if you want. Wait a minute and I’ll ask her if she can come talk to you.” I closed the door, feeling a little rude leaving her there, and met Ms. Madden at the side door.

  Jimmy almost knocked Kristy and me over as he ran by us and up the steps without even a “Hi.”

  “Jimmy! Come back here,” Ms. Madden called after him.

  “What’s wrong?” Kristy asked.

  “Kristy! How nice to see you again,” Ms. Madden greeted her before answering her question. “Jimmy didn’t want to come back with me,” she said. “He’s getting so tired of being here while I prepare for the sale. I’d hoped his dad would be able to come back with us and watch Jimmy, but he had to work … again. At least he’ll be here this evening.” Ms. Madden tossed her purse on the kitchen counter. “Is there someone waiting on the front porch? For me? I have some stuff to bring in from the car….”

  “She wants to come in and have a look around,” I said. “I’ll unload the stuff from your car if you want to go talk to her.”

  “I’ll talk to her after I unload the car.” Ms. Madden pushed her hair out of her face.

  I followed her outside to the driveway and waited while she opened the trunk of her car. Ms. Madden took out a box of cleaning supplies, and I started to pick up a flat package wrapped in brown paper. From the size and shape, I guessed that it was a painting. My heart did a little flip-flop. Maybe she’d brought her grandmother’s painting for me to see.

  “Leave that where it is!” Ms. Madden said sharply, and I pulled my hand away. “I don’t need it yet,” she said a little more pleasantly. “You could close the trunk for me.” She smiled, but it wasn’t much of a smile. She could have been just stretching her lips.

  “I have an idea.” Kristy met us at the door with this unsurprising statement. (She always has an idea.) “I could call someone to come over and play with Jimmy. Maybe Mal could bring one of her brothers.”

  “Jimmy would love that,” Ms. Madden said, “and I’d love for Jimmy to be happy here for a change.” This time her smile looked a little more like she meant it.

  Kristy picked up the phone, then put it back. “It’s making a weird sound,” she said, putting it up to her ear again, then punching the disconnect a few times. “It sounds as if it was off the hook.”

  “Maybe Mr. Ogura didn’t hang it up all the way,” I said.

  “Mr. Ogura was here again?” Ms. Madden asked.

  “He wanted to have a look at something. You told me it was all right to let him in,” I reminded her.

  “Isn’t he the nicest man?” Ms. Madden said. “He’s been such a help with the house and the sale.”

  I hadn’t seen this side of Mr. Ogura yet, but if Ms. Madden said it was so … I remembered the woman we’d left standing outside. “Ms. Madden, that woman at the front door?”

  “Okay, sure.” She followed me down the hall.

  “This is Ms. Madden,” I said as I opened the door. But no one was there. “I guess she got tired of waiting.”

  “Some people.” Ms. Madden shook her head. “I don’t understand why they think they’re entitled to see things before anyone else does.”

  Jimmy joined us in the front hall, standing close to his mom.

  “Stacey! Mary Anne! Come on in here,” I called to my friends. I’d spotted them standing on the sidewalk, looking at the house as if they weren’t sure it was the right place.

  “So much help!” said Ms. Madden. “We may have things ready for this sale after all.”

  “Great house,” said Mary Anne.

  “This is Stacey and Mary Anne,” I sai
d, introducing my friends. “This is Ms. Madden. Her grandmother lived here. And this,” I pulled Jimmy out from behind his mother, “is Jimmy.”

  “Nice to meet you all,” Ms. Madden said.

  “I called Mal to see if she could bring one of her brothers over, but they’re busy,” said Kristy.

  “Maybe someone could come over tomorrow,” said Ms. Madden. “Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by to help. Let’s see. Stacey, you can go upstairs and start on the closets. Mr. Ogura tells me that my grandmother’s vintage clothing might sell for a good price.”

  How did Ms. Madden know that Stacey would love to go through closets and sort clothes? She must have been talking to Kristy’s mother.

  “Mary Anne, could you go into the library and try to sort the books by category? There are books all over the place, and I’d like all of them to go on the shelves. Mr. Ogura is going to have a look through them to see if there’s anything rare, but otherwise we’ll sell most of them for a dollar a book. And, Kristy, I need you to take the covers off the furniture in the living room and library. Okay?”

  I pointed everyone toward the places they’d been assigned. “Jimmy, how about if we go up to the studio?” I asked.

  “I guess,” he mumbled.

  “You guys!” I exclaimed suddenly. My friends turned around. “There’s a painting I saw the first day I was here. It’s a portrait of a Japanese woman with lots of yellow and peach in it. If you see it anyplace, will you let me know?”

  Before Jimmy and I even reached the studio, Stacey pulled us into a bedroom to look at some hats she’d found on a shelf. There was a small black velvet one, some large straw ones, several with net veils, and some wide-brimmed men’s hats.

  Stacey tried on a small red hat with a sequined veil, and I arranged a black velvet beret on Jimmy so it hung to one side of his head.

  To me, he looked like a Parisian artist. But he took one look in the mirror and pulled it off. “You try it on. I think I like this one better,” Jimmy said, plopping a black felt fedora on his head. His eyes and ears disappeared as the brim came to rest on the bridge of his nose.

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