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Claudia and the mystery.., p.8
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.8

           Ann M. Martin
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  A shadow fell over me, and I expected to see Ms. Madden when I looked up. Instead, I saw Mr. Cook, frowning as usual.

  “What have you done now?” he asked in his deep voice.

  “I was looking for this painting and when I walked by” — I cleared my throat — “it fell over.”

  He grabbed the painting out of my hands. “Where did you find this? This could be very valuable,” he said. “My wife must be out of her mind to let a bunch of kids handle these things.” He turned his back on me and started up the steps.

  “I wanted to check something,” I said, reaching out.

  “No one but an appraiser is going to check anything,” said Mr. Cook. “I’m not sure you understand how valuable some of Rebecca’s grandmother’s things may be,” he added in a softer tone. “We appreciate your help with Jimmy and with all the sorting, but there are some things that you need to leave to those who know something about art and antiques.”

  Mr. Cook held the painting carefully as he climbed the stairs. I expected to see him turn toward the studio, but he disappeared into a bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him.

  Did he suspect the painting was a Madden too? I followed him upstairs, deciding to show Ms. Madden the cat painting. After all, I’d said I had something to show her. I’d have to leave the news about the maybe-Madden to Mr. Cook.

  It would be fun to line up a row of cats — to see one of Grandmother Madden’s cats beside Ms. Madden’s painting and the painting of Goldie Jimmy had done at the Kaleidoscope Room.

  The studio was empty once again. Where had Ms. Madden gone now? I placed the small cat picture on a table and started throwing away old paints.

  My mind was churning. Could that painting possibly be a Madden — one that had been overlooked all this time? Mr. Cook and Mr. Ogura had certainly been interested in it. I didn’t dare believe it, myself. But I couldn’t quite keep from hoping.

  “We’re finished!” Ms. Madden sat on the bottom step of the front staircase, her arms around her knees, after we’d priced the last cup and sorted the last book. It was Friday afternoon. “I couldn’t have done it without your help.”

  “I had a good time,” I said. “And I’m looking forward to the sale tomorrow.”

  “You’re going to help then too, aren’t you?” Ms. Madden asked.

  “I wouldn’t miss it.”

  “I need to get cleaned up for the big exhibit opening.” Ms. Madden stood and brushed off her jeans. “Jimmy is very excited that he’ll have a picture in the same museum as his great-grandmother.”

  “Maybe you’ll have one there, too, someday,” I said, hoping the same thing for myself.

  “If this sale turns out okay and I can put the money together for art school.” She sighed. “Then no one will stop me.”

  I wanted to ask her about the painting I’d found the day before, but I didn’t know what Mr. Cook had done with it. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I’d looked all around the house as I worked that afternoon, and I hadn’t seen the painting I’d been calling a maybe-Madden anyplace. If it were a Madden, I decided, someone would have mentioned it. “I’ll see you tonight, then,” I said, opening the front door.

  “Thanks again for all your help,” Ms. Madden said.

  My hope of finding a Madden painting was fading fast. Between cleaning, sorting, and pricing, we’d turned over everything in that house. All we’d found that was even close was the one painting. I needed to let go of my notion of a secret store of Madden paintings and just be glad that we’d helped Ms. Madden and had fun sitting for Jimmy.

  I decided to drop by the library to pick up the books on primitive art that I’d reserved earlier. Mom had said she’d bring them home, but I knew if I waited for her to do that I wouldn’t have a chance to look at them before I left for the Kaleidoscope Room opening.

  * * *

  “Claudia, you’re back!” My mom wore the same surprised expression that she’d had on when I’d showed up the week before.

  “I came to look at the books on primitive art,” I explained.

  “Here you go.” Mom reached under the counter and handed them to me. “I would have brought them home with me, you know.”

  “Couldn’t wait,” I said, carrying them to a table nearby.

  In the biggest book was a whole chapter on Grandmother Madden. I took the copy of the list I found out of my pocket and compared it to the paintings mentioned. Pretty soon, I noticed a pattern. The paintings with check marks by the names were in museums, and the paintings with lines drawn through them were owned by individuals, including members of the Madden family. I almost swallowed my tongue when I read who else owned an original Grandmother Madden — D. Ogura. Mr. Ogura owned a Madden?

  I slammed the book shut. It was only 4:15. I could still make it to Estates Unlimited before closing time.

  I had a stitch in my side by the time I reached the office building where Estates Unlimited was located. Inside were a sofa and some plants and a very blonde, very pretty receptionist.

  “I’d like to talk to Mr. Ogura,” I said.

  “Now, would that be old Mr. Ogura or young Mr. Ogura?” the woman asked me.

  Two Mr. Oguras? I stammered a little as I tried to figure out what to answer. The Mr. Ogura I was looking for had to be “young Mr. Ogura.” He didn’t look old enough to have a son of his own. Unless, of course, he wasn’t “Mr. Ogura” at all. “Young Mr. Ogura,” I finally answered.

  The receptionist picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. She waited a moment, then smiled at me. She had the whitest teeth I’d ever seen. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Ogura didn’t answer. He must have left for the day. May I tell Dale who stopped by to see him?”

  I shook my head, my ponytail sweeping back and forth. “I’ll, uh, speak with him later.”

  “Have a good afternoon,” the woman said pleasantly.

  I pushed the door open and almost knocked Mr. Cook over.

  “You!” he said.

  “I’m really sorry,” I apologized, then held the door while he rushed into the office. He was carrying the maybe-Madden! I thought for about one second about not saying anything, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Why are you bringing that here? Have you shown the picture to Ms. Madden yet?”

  “I’m having it appraised. I told you we were going to do that.”

  Even though he sounded cross, as usual, I felt a bit sorry for him. Mr. Cook didn’t look comfortable. Estates Unlimited was probably the last place he wanted to be.

  I couldn’t very well follow him back inside, so I let the door close. I watched through the glass door as he said something to the receptionist. She showed him into a back office. I decided to wait awhile to see what he found out.

  There was a wooden bench nearby. Sitting there, I could see the door, but no one inside could see me watching. I sifted through my thoughts about the goings-on at Grandmother Madden’s house.

  All my ideas hinged on my feeling that Grandmother Madden hadn’t destroyed her paintings. If she hadn’t, they still existed some place — and the most likely place was in her house. I’d looked and looked and hadn’t found anything except one painting that was a maybe-Madden. I was sure that Ms. Madden had looked every bit as hard as I had, even though she claimed she didn’t believe there were any Grandmother Maddens left. And, it certainly seemed as if Mr. Ogura was doing the same thing.

  I caught a flash of red out of the corner of my eye — Mr. Ogura’s Mercedes. I pretended to be looking through my backpack, hoping that he wouldn’t notice it was me sitting outside his office. But he drove past. I looked up in time to see two people in the car. Mr. Ogura was driving, but I couldn’t make out the other person. I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman.

  I slung my backpack over my shoulder. I was cold, and if I didn’t hurry up, I would be late for the BSC meeting. Maybe my friends could help me make some sense of this mystery. I didn’t feel as though I were making any progress, and we were just about out of time.
  * * *

  Mallory was the last of my friends to arrive at our BSC meeting. The rest of us were already talking about the happenings at the Madden house. I had told everybody about finding the maybe-Madden, and losing it to Mr. Cook, and how I hadn’t seen it this afternoon, as Ms. Madden and I had finished preparing for the sale.

  “Ms. Madden said that if the estate sale was a success, she’d have the money for art school,” I said, repeating a part of my earlier conversation.

  “Maybe that’s why Mr. Cook is so grumpy,” said Mary Anne.

  “Why would that make him grumpy?” I asked. “It would make Ms. Madden grumpier.”

  “He might feel as though he’s the husband, so he should be able to pay for school for his wife,” Mary Anne explained. “Some guys are like that.”

  “Or he could think it was a waste of time. Jimmy said something like that the first time we talked about it,” I said.

  “It’s not a waste of time if she’s talented,” said Jessi.

  I didn’t think art school was a waste of time under any circumstances.

  “Anyway, I ran into Mr. Cook at Estates Unlimited this afternoon,” I announced.

  “Talking to Mr. Ogura?” Stacey asked.

  “He was taking the maybe-Madden in to have it appraised,” I said. “And I learned one thing: Mr. Ogura does work at Estates Unlimited. In fact, there are two of them at the company, father and son.”

  The looks on the faces of my friends reflected the look I must have had when the receptionist told me there were two Mr. Oguras.

  “The young Mr. Ogura, the one we’ve met, is named Dale. He was out of the office when I was there. I saw him in his car with someone else right after I left Mr. Cook.”

  “Mr. Cook was with Mr. Ogura?” Mal asked.

  “No, he was still in the office. I couldn’t see who was in the car with Mr. Ogura,” I admitted.

  “So our Mr. Ogura is who he says he is. But that’s all we managed to find out,” said Kristy.

  “I had a chance to go to the library and check the list of paintings against a reference book on primitive art. I found out something pretty interesting,” I said, drawing out the announcement. “The paintings with check marks beside them are owned by museums. The ones with lines drawn through them belong to individuals, including people in the Madden family. The big news is that D. Ogura owns a Madden painting.”

  I was disappointed that no one reacted more dramatically. The surprised looks were good, but not as good as gasps.

  “Do you think that’s Dale Ogura?” Abby asked. “Isn’t he young to collect expensive art?”

  “When I found out D. Ogura owned a painting, I immediately thought of our Mr. Ogura. But since there’s another Mr. Ogura, I thought it could be Dale’s father.”

  “You know, some other paintings are missing too,” said Stacey. “I’ve never seen the paintings that were delivered on Wednesday again. I’ve been thinking. If Ms. Madden found some of her grandmother’s paintings, she wouldn’t have to worry about money. But she might have to share any money from the paintings with her cousins. If they knew.”

  “So that would explain why she’s hiding the Grandmother Maddens — if that’s what’s going on,” I said.

  Stacey shrugged. “She’s so nice that I don’t want to think that, but it makes sense.”

  I had to admit it did. Ms. Madden needed money, she had the best opportunity to find the paintings, and she seemed to be hiding something. All of this was based on the assumption that there were paintings to be found.

  “And they’re Ms. Madden’s paintings anyway,” said Kristy. “Her grandmother left her the house and its contents.”

  Kristy had brought up something that I hadn’t thought about before. What if Ms. Madden had already found the paintings? They were hers. I sighed. “Be sure to look at Grandmother Madden’s painting at the museum tonight when we’re there,” I said. “It might be the only one you’ll ever see.”

  Stacey and Corrie were the first ones to arrive at the museum for the opening. They had to wait for Mrs. O’Neal to unlock the Kaleidoscope Room. Mr. and Mrs. Addison had dropped them off on their way to a dinner party, with a promise to return later. I know that Stacey tried hard to cheer Corrie up. If she’d known the whole story she could have helped Corrie sooner.

  While they were waiting for the room to open, Stacey admired the paintings that hung in the Kaleidoscope Gallery. “Look at these great pictures!” Stacey said. “Which are yours?”

  Corrie had tears glistening in her eyes as she pulled her ballerina pictures off the wall. “These are awful. I don’t want anyone to see them. And I’m never going to paint again. Ever.”

  Stacey grabbed the paintings before Corrie could crumple them. “I like them,” she said.

  Corrie shook her head and sat on the floor, her back against the wall, eyes looking toward the ceiling. “I didn’t want to come, but my mom made me. It’s a good thing I did or everyone would have seen these paintings. They’re horrible.”

  “Why do you think they’re horrible?” Stacey had studied the pictures and was sure she couldn’t paint a ballerina as well as Corrie had.

  “They just are,” Corrie answered. “And somebody told me I was a bad painter.”

  Stacey sat on the floor, putting herself between Corrie and her paintings. “Do you want to tell me who this person is who told you such a thing?”

  “No. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Corrie picked up Stacey’s hand. “I like these pictures on your fingernails. Did you paint them?”

  Stacey shook her head. “Those are decals that I bought and stuck on top of the nail polish. I wish I’d taken time to redo the polish underneath, though. It’s chipping and I’ll have to take the decals off before I can take the polish off.”

  “Do you have any more? I want some on my fingernails too,” said Corrie.

  Stacey opened her purse. She pulled out a calculator, a billfold, some papers, lipstick, a hairbrush, and finally a small package of decals. “I was going to give these to Claud, but I bet she wouldn’t mind if you used some of them.”

  “Look, there’s my snake!” Margo Pike appeared, pulling Mallory toward Stacey and Corrie. She was pointing at the display case in the Kaleidoscope Gallery that was filled with snakes of different colors and sizes.

  “Where’s the rest of your family?” Stacey asked Mallory, as she carefully applied a decal on top of Corrie’s fingernail. The nail had some polish on it already. (As Stacey told me later, it had definitely been applied sometime in the past year.) There was a little blob in the center of the nail. Stacey was trying to affix the decal there.

  “They’re coming, but Margo couldn’t wait. She wanted to be here when the place opened.”

  Abby and Mary Anne waved from the end of the hall.

  “Hi, Corrie,” Mary Anne greeted her. “How does it feel to be a published artist? I guess that’s not exactly the word. What is it when an artist has art hanging in a gallery?” Abby, Mallory, and Stacey giggled with her, but nobody could figure out what word Mary Anne was looking for.

  “You’re a published artist too,” Corrie said to Abby.

  Abby walked past Corrie and found one of the designs she’d painted. Mrs. O’Neal had hung it, even though it wasn’t one Abby and Mary Anne had selected. “I can’t believe it. This is one of my pictures.”

  “How does it feel to be a published artist?” Stacey asked, setting off a new storm of giggles.

  “Corrie, your ballerina paintings are better than my design,” Abby said. “Where are they?”

  “They’re right here,” Stacey answered. “Corrie doesn’t want them displayed.”

  “Why not? They’re excellent,” said Abby.

  “You said they were awful,” said Corrie, tears welling in her eyes again.

  “I didn’t!” said Abby.

  Corrie turned away. “I asked my brother if he knew who Pele was and he said Pele was a soccer player. He doesn’t paint at all.”

  Stacey saw Abby swallow hard.

  “What I meant,” Abby said, kneeling beside Corrie, “is that you’re as good at art as Pele is at soccer. I was trying to think of a way to give you a compliment, but I didn’t know how. I’m sorry if you misunderstood what I meant.”

  “Then who do I paint like?” Corrie demanded, still not smiling.

  “Who do you think you paint like?” Stacey asked.

  “Like … Corrie Addison,” Corrie answered.

  Everybody smiled.

  “That’s the best way for you to paint, or to do anything,” said Stacey.

  Finally, Corrie smiled.

  “May I hang your paintings back up?” Stacey asked.

  Corrie nodded.

  “Girls, I’m sorry I’m late.” Mrs. O’Neal unlocked the door and pushed it open.

  “Do you want us to set out paints and clay? Maybe some paper and glue?” Mary Anne asked.

  “Are you sure? With all these people around?” asked Mrs. O’Neal, grabbing hold of her pearls.

  “It would give the kids a taste of what it will be like to come here. You could even display some of the work they create tonight,” said Stacey.

  “But, but …”

  “We’ll watch everyone. Claudia and Kristy are coming too. That’ll be plenty of help,” put in Abby.

  “I’ll stand out here and greet everyone,” said Mrs. O’Neal, claiming a spot outside the door just as I arrived.

  “Claudia, you look fabulous!” Stacey called to me.

  “Thanks!” I was wearing a long, full black skirt with red, orange, pink, yellow, and turquoise flowers embroidered along the hem; a loose pink top; and a necklace I’d made out of papier-mâché beads painted to match the flowers on the skirt. My hair was tucked under a black beret, and I had on beaded earrings.

  “Did you remember to bring the face paints?” Stacey asked.

  We’d talked about how much the kids liked painting jewelry on themselves earlier and decided to bring some face paints so they could do it safely. I pulled the paints I’d brought from home out of my backpack and looked around for a place to set up.

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