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Claudia and the mystery.., p.9
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.9

           Ann M. Martin
 
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  “Stacey, did you see my picture hanging in the museum?” Jimmy asked when he arrived. “We went to see my great-granny’s painting, then we came to see mine.”

  “I saw it and I liked it,” said Stacey. She’d settled Corrie with Claudia to help her with face painting.

  “Come here.” Jimmy grabbed her hand and pulled her into the hall. “My great-granny has a picture of Goldie in all her paintings, and so I’m going to do that, too, next time. Look, Dad, this is Stacey.”

  Stacey turned around, smiling broadly, to greet Mr. Cook. The smile crumpled. “You’re … I thought you were …” It was the deliveryman — at least, she’d thought he was a deliveryman when he’d brought the paintings to the house.

  “I’m James Cook, Jimmy’s dad.”

  “But you brought those paintings to the house,” said Stacey. “I thought you were Federal Express or UPS or something like that.”

  Mr. Cook grinned. “Just a good husband,” he said. “Rebecca needed some of her paintings to give to a committee reviewing her application for art school.”

  “What’s that about art school?” Ms. Madden joined them.

  “Stacey thought I was a delivery service,” said Mr. Cook.

  “I was hoping you were going to say that an acceptance letter had arrived,” Ms. Madden said. “But I guess we better see how the estate sale goes first. If we don’t make money, it won’t matter if I’m accepted or not.”

  “Well, that’s not what we’re here to discuss tonight. This is Jimmy’s night,” said Mr. Cook. He wasn’t grinning now.

  “Jimmy, maybe you’d like to go into the Kaleidoscope Room and show your mom and dad around,” Stacey said, trying to change the subject.

  “Dad, you have to see the great paints and easels they have here. I wish we could take some of Great-granny Madden’s easels home with us for me and Mom to use,” said Jimmy, leading the way. “And there are big brushes and little brushes …”

  “What kind of paints do they use here?” Ms. Madden asked her son. “Watercolor? Acrylic? Tempera?”

  “I think they’re school paints,” said Jimmy.

  Mr. Cook followed his wife and son so slowly that Jimmy had to stop and wait for him to catch up. Stacey said he looked confused as he stared through the open door of the art room. She wondered why, since the Maddens were such an arty family.

  “How’s the face painting going?” Stacey asked Corrie.

  “When I smile, it cracks,” she said, turning up the corners of her mouth. “I’m the only one with fancy nails, though. Claudia said the paint won’t stick to fingernails.”

  Lots of kids had shown up and they were all eager to try out the Kaleidoscope Room. Stacey stayed busy hanging pictures in the gallery. She and Abby pulled out the screens they’d found in the art room and arranged them in a zigzag pattern down the middle of the hall.

  When the crowds had cleared and Mrs. Addison had picked up Corrie, admiring her paintings and her nails, Stacey collapsed in a chair.

  “That was fun,” said Abby. “It was great to see so many kids here.”

  “How many more paintings did you do?” Mary Anne asked.

  “Three,” replied Abby primly.

  “Your work is a lot like Pele’s,” said Kristy.

  “On the soccer field it is,” Abby answered with a grin.

  “My nails looked so nice when I left the house. But I should have known better than to put the decals on top of old polish,” said Stacey, peeling a chipped decal off of her left index finger.

  I stood very still. “Let me see that for a minute.” I grabbed Stacey’s hand and studied her nail.

  “Tell me, O Powerful One, what do you see in my future?” Stacey asked, and the rest of my friends giggled.

  “You have on a coat of polish, then a decal …”

  “I have on a base coat, two coats of polish, an overcoat, then the decal,” Stacey corrected me.

  “It’s as if you painted over the polish with the decal,” I said.

  “Sort of,” said Stacey.

  “So when it chips, you see what’s underneath it.”

  “Plain, old, pink, chipped polish,” Stacey said.

  “That’s why the paint flakes off the paintings in Grandmother Madden’s studio,” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t I think of that before? She wouldn’t get rid of the canvases, but she might use them for something else.”

  “What are you talking about?” Abby asked.

  “The painting that I found, the one I thought was a Madden? Well, the paint chipped off when it fell over,” I explained, my thoughts tumbling out as fast as I could put them into words. “It’s the right size and everything. Then, there’s the Japanese portrait that Jimmy knocked over. The paint chipped off of it too. But wait a minute, it’s too big.”

  “I’m still not sure what you’re talking about,” said Mary Anne.

  “I don’t think Rebecca Madden hid the paintings. I think Grandmother Madden herself did! She let her students paint over her pictures. There might be eight or ten of them in the studio. And the portrait could even be a Madden — it could be two of them! Since it’s framed, the backing would hide any signs that it was two canvas frames joined together, and the paint is so thick that it would hide the seams on the front. Remember, I told you that her paintings fit together to form bigger pictures? I need to measure it to know if something might be underneath.”

  “You mean — you found the lost Madden paintings?” Stacey said.

  “Maybe. We’ll know more when I have the chance to check this idea out.”

  “Charlie could drive by the Maddens’ on our way home,” said Kristy.

  Charlie was waiting for us by the time the room was clean.

  Kristy gave him directions and he pulled up beside the house.

  “It’s dark,” said Stacey. “Ms. Madden and Mr. Cook must not be back yet.”

  “But I know where the key is,” I said.

  Everyone piled out of the car. I picked up every loose stone in the walk. “It’s not here.” I stomped my foot. They must have taken the key with them. “I want to see those pictures.”

  “They’ll still be there in the morning.” Stacey put her arm around me.

  “But how am I going to be able to sleep?” I’d been so sure that there were Maddens, and now that I had something concrete to investigate I couldn’t get inside to check my theory. And it wasn’t just curiosity that made me so anxious. I was afraid that if I’d figured it out, someone else might have figured it out too.

  “Claudia, is that you? Or do I see an apparition reclining in your chair?”

  “Very funny, Dad,” I said, not in the mood for jokes so early in the morning. It was Saturday, and I was out of bed way earlier than I would be even on a school day. I hadn’t slept very well either. One minute I was sure the small square canvases in the Madden house had original Grandmother Maddens underneath the student pictures, and the next I was wondering how I could have come up with such an idea. I’d know soon, as soon as I got inside that house.

  * * *

  Not many people were outside so early. It was a beautiful fall day, perfect for an estate sale. As I walked to the Maddens’, I wondered if people were lined up outside the house already.

  As it turned out, a few people were wandering around in front of the house, so I went to the side door and knocked. No one answered.

  Making sure that no one was watching, I lifted the stone where Ms. Madden usually hid the key, hoping she’d put it back when she’d come home the night before. I couldn’t imagine where they’d gone already.

  The key was there. I took it out and quickly unlocked the door, slipping inside and making sure the door shut behind me.

  The studio doors were open wide. The Japanese portrait was the first thing I saw. I looked around for the maybe-Madden, but I didn’t see it anyplace. In fact, only a few paintings were in sight. I wondered where Ms. Madden had put the others. She’d said she was going to offer them in the sale.

&
nbsp; I’d stuck a tape measure in my backpack. Now I pulled it out and held it against the frame of the portrait — ten inches across the top and twenty inches tall. It could be two Maddens together. I felt a rush of excitement. If I could only uncover the cat now. I’d noticed that it was usually in a corner. If I could just take some of the paint off, very carefully, I’d know. I had a strong feeling I should wait for Ms. Madden, but I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me without proof. I decided to look for the other canvases first.

  I opened the door to the small alcove Jimmy had shown me earlier. The shock of excitement I’d felt then was nothing compared to the flash I had when I saw what was inside now. A stack of square canvases, all the same size, was waiting for me. I pulled them out. On top of the pile was a plain white piece of paper with HOLD written across it in red letters. I looked at each painting and still didn’t see the maybe-Madden. I did know that Ms. Madden shouldn’t sell these until she heard what I had to say. I turned around and picked up the Japanese portrait.

  “I know your secret now,” I whispered to her. “Thank you for finally telling me what you’ve known for such a long time.”

  A coughing noise made me look up. I gasped. A woman stood a few feet away from me. It took me about two seconds to figure out that she was the woman who had come to the house for a preview a few days earlier, and who I’d seen at the museum with Dale Ogura. “You scared me,” I said. “I’m sorry, but the sale doesn’t begin until ten. How did you get in here?” I had to give the woman points for persistence. This was the second time she’d tried to sneak in early.

  “I knocked on the door — it was open. I came to pay for my purchases, and it seems you have them right here. Thank you very much.” She picked up as many of the ten x ten canvases as she could hold. “I may not have to share these after all.”

  I started to move slowly toward the door. I did not want this woman to leave with those paintings. Besides, something about her wasn’t right. There was a wild gleam in her eyes when she looked at the paintings, and it scared me a little. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Maybe you need to see Ms. Madden.”

  “Ms. Madden? I am Ms. Madden, and these paintings are mine! Rebecca has the house. It isn’t fair for her to have these too.”

  “Who are you?” I asked. She must be crazy, I thought. Calling herself Ms. Madden. Did she like Grandmother Madden’s work so much she wanted to be her?

  The woman laughed. “I’m Suzanne Madden, Rebecca’s cousin. I’d like to thank you for finding these for me.” She turned and started to leave.

  Goldie limped into the room, meowing loudly. She wrapped herself around Suzanne’s ankles, making it impossible for her to move. “Goldie! You little devil, there you are.” She freed one hand, leaving the paintings wobbling dangerously, and patted the cat on the head. “This cat is the one thing I got from my grandmother’s house. I ‘adopted’ her when Granny died. Of course, no one knows that I’m the one who ‘adopted’ her, but I love the little dickens. I brought her along when I came to town earlier this week, and she bolted out of the car.”

  I wondered if she was telling me that she catnapped Goldie when her grandmother died. Ms. Madden — Rebecca, that is — seemed to think her aunt had the cat.

  “I’m so glad to see you, little punkin,” she cooed to the cat. “I thought I’d lost you.”

  “Let me help you with those paintings.” I reached out to take a few off the top, but Suzanne pulled away. One painting started to fall, but a hand reached out and caught it.

  “Hi, Suzanne,” I heard Dale Ogura say. “I thought you might try something like this. I guess I made it here just in time. Those are my paintings. Rebecca’s holding them for me.”

  “These paintings belong to Rebecca,” I said. What was he doing here? Where were Ms. Madden and Mr. Cook? I thought about screaming.

  “Don’t you dare.” Dale Ogura grabbed me.

  The next thing I knew, he and Suzanne were stuffing me into the storage area behind the wall.

  As soon as Mr. Ogura took his hand away from my mouth to shove me inside, I squawked. They slammed the door shut.

  I beat against the door for a few minutes. Finally, I gave up and leaned against the wall.

  All I can say about the storage area is that it was dark.

  And there was no way out.

  I had to think. Someone was bound to come in sooner or later. I didn’t want the later to be too late — after Mr. Ogura and Suzanne got away with the paintings. Here I was, locked in a small, dark room, with who knows what (I couldn’t even think about what might be crawling toward me), and a little piece of me was happy because I had been right. Grandmother Madden had not destroyed her paintings.

  I heard a noise: a rustling, then a clump. Hoping that it came from outside the closet, I pressed my ear against the wall. I heard heavy footsteps, like a man’s. I wanted to call for help but waited a minute to make sure it wasn’t Dale Ogura coming back for something else. I didn’t think he’d hurt me, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

  “Hey, Dad, the line goes all the way around the house now,” I heard Jimmy say.

  I knocked on the door. “Jimmy, it’s me, Claudia!” I yelled.

  Nothing. I knocked again. “I’m in the closet behind the wall. Please, let me out!”

  The door opened and I tumbled out, landing at Mr. Cook’s feet.

  “What on earth?” he said. As he stared at me, he ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand straight up.

  “Quick! Did you see Mr. Ogura or Ms. Madden’s cousin anyplace?”

  Ms. Madden hurried into the room. “My cousin? Which cousin?” she asked.

  “Suzanne. She said her name was Suzanne,” I said quickly. “The cat was hers. It got out one day when she was snooping around trying to find your grandmother’s paintings, then she couldn’t find it —”

  “Someone took Goldie?” Jimmy interrupted. “Where is she?”

  “I guess they took her,” I said, “but they also took the paintings. All the square paintings, because they were your grandmother’s!”

  “No they weren’t, Claudia,” said Ms. Madden, shaking her head. “I know they were the right shape. But they weren’t anything like the way Granny painted.”

  “Underneath. She let her students paint over her work. I knew she wouldn’t be able to destroy it,” I said.

  Everyone gasped. Ms. Madden’s hand flew to her mouth. “But I promised those paintings to a young man, an art student.”

  “Was he Asian-American?” I asked.

  Ms. Madden nodded. “He offered me a very good price.”

  “It was Dale Ogura,” I said.

  “Mr. Ogura is an old man,” Ms. Madden said, looking bewildered.

  “This is his son,” I explained.

  “Granny’s paintings. They were here. And now they’re gone!” Ms. Madden turned to her husband and he pulled her close.

  “Goldie. I want Goldie.” Tears streamed down Jimmy’s face.

  “But wait a minute,” I said. “I wasn’t in there too long —”

  “They locked you in that closet! I can’t believe they would do something like that,” said Ms. Madden.

  “They have to divide the paintings between them and they have to do it someplace. I wonder …” I racked my brain trying to think where they might go. I had no idea where Mr. Ogura lived, although I knew where he worked. “I wonder if Estates Unlimited is open on Saturday,” I said. If it were, they wouldn’t go there because someone might see them.

  “The office is closed because the staff is busy working estate sales today. I have a beeper number if you think we need to call,” said Ms. Madden.

  “The office is closed?” Then it would be a perfect place for Suzanne and Mr. Ogura to run to. No one would question them carrying a pile of paintings into the office. “We need to call the police and tell them what happened. Your cousin and Mr. Ogura may have gone to Mr. Ogura’s office.”

  Mr. Cook and Ms. Madden were out
of the room before I finished. I followed them to the phone in the upstairs hallway. Mr. Cook explained what had happened and asked the police to send a car to Dale Ogura’s home and one to the office.

  Jimmy kept pulling on his dad’s shirt. “Don’t forget they stole Goldie. Please tell them to bring my cat back.”

  “They’ll send someone right away,” Mr. Cook said, hanging up the phone.

  “I want to go there myself,” said Ms. Madden, echoing my feelings.

  “The sale is going to start in about thirty minutes,” Mr. Cook reminded her.

  “But you could stay here and take care of everything. We’ll drive to the office and see what’s going on — see if the police caught them,” said Ms. Madden.

  “Me too,” said Jimmy.

  “No, you stay here with your daddy. Okay?” Ms. Madden said. “Claudia, you want to come along?” She looked at me. “They’ll need someone to identify the paintings, and you need to tell the police what happened to you.”

  “Okay,” I said.

  Mr. Cook held out the keys and Ms. Madden grabbed them. We raced outside.

  Her car was parked on the street, and we had to push through a throng of people to reach it. If the number of people waiting was any indication, Ms. Madden’s sale was going to be a big success.

  Ms. Madden drove quickly through town. The police were already at the Estates Unlimited office, standing beside Mr. Ogura’s red Mercedes, when we arrived.

  “I’m Rebecca Madden. My husband called about some paintings that are missing from our house,” she said as she climbed out of the car.

  “There’s no one here, ma’am. No one at the house either,” the officer greeted us.

  Ms. Madden threw up her hands. “Where could they have gone so quickly?”

  I peeked inside the car. I saw a brochure with Japanese writing on it lying on the passenger seat. “Mr. Ogura had a ticket from Japan Airlines,” I said. “I saw it one day last week. Maybe he —”

 
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