Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,
Great news! Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, releases on . . . drum roll, please . . . FEBRUARY 1. Hallelujah!
Every Thursday this month, my blog will feature an excerpt from my book.
So get a clue, Readers. Please let me know what you think. And don’t forget to mark your calendars and purchase my book at Amazon.com in paperback and/or eBook on February 1.
But for now, I present to you Chapter 1, the first half:
Chapter 1 “A Mystery from Nutmeg Street”
Dead eyes, with years of curses and murder in them, stared back at thirteen-year-old Lexi Wyatt. She smiled. Lexi loved a good mummy and anything Egyptian. And a gripping mystery.
She and her friends treated Dr. Thornsley’s musty study like a shrine, with all its carefully copied treasures from Dr. T’s many Egyptian expeditions. She turned from the mummy mask on the wall to question Mrs. Thornsley but saw her twin brother, Lanny, walking toward her. He had a look Lexi knew meant her blond, brainiac brother wanted to share an important thought. Which meant he shared all his thoughts, Lexi decided, since he always had that look and considered everything he thought important.
“Lexi,” he whispered, “I just realized something. You and I are like ancient Egyptian kings and queens!”
She hesitated a moment, trying to decide if hearing his explanation was worth letting Lanny have his ego moment. Yes, she decided—if she was like Egyptian royalty, she wanted to know why. “Okay, I give. Explain.”
“Well,” he started, “Dad is a famous archaeologist, and Mom is an equally famous art historian, right? And because of them, we get access to all kinds of amazing places and people and adventures, right? We benefit from our lineage, just like princes and princesses do when they become queens and kings. See? Kings and queens–us! It’s all about lineage.”
“Oh,” she said. “Good one.” She could stand being like any royalty, but especially Egyptian.
And it wasn’t all that big a stretch, really. They did get to accompany their parents on many business trips around the world for the Antiquities Research Collective—or the ARC, as everyone in town called the “think tank” in beautiful Cortez Park. Not only did the twins’ parents work there, but so had Dr. Thornsley. Lexi dreamed of imitating the kind, brilliant man by becoming an Egyptologist herself someday. Then, she would work at the ARC as a vital member of the team of some of the world’s most renowned archaeologists and art historians.
Lanny and Lexi’s best friends, Moki Kalani and Rani Kumar, often went along on the ARC-sponsored adventures. Best of all, somehow, all their experiences with fascinating people and places ended up with them solving some mystery or other. They’d even started calling themselves detectives and taking on cases to solve. It was the best life Lexi could imagine. Those were the reasons the Wyatt twins, plus Moki and Rani, were here today, in the study of Dr. and Mrs. Thornsley’s big old house on Nutmeg Street. They were about to hear their next mystery.
But this mystery felt more serious than all the others. This one was happening because their family friend, the extraordinary Egyptologist, Dr. Thornsley, was dead.
Lexi returned to her task, addressing Mrs. Thornsley. “So you say, Mrs. T, four months ago Dr. T started getting mysterious phone calls.” Lexi gently ran her finger over a stubby pencil that had been used by Dr. Thornsley, whom she would never forget. “He’d jump up and lock the study door after saying hello. Sometimes, his voice would rise in anger, and then he’d bang down the landline receiver. Have I got that right?”
“Yes, that’s right, Alexia. The calls started last February right after Dr. Thornsley and I returned from a short trip out of town.” Mrs. Thornsley fidgeted with the old, curly telephone cord. “He changed the subject whenever I mentioned the calls, but I . . . I think he was being threatened.”
Lexi set her hand on the widow’s shoulder, looking fondly at the kind, fashionably dressed woman who often called her “Alexia” rather than her nickname. “Don’t worry, Mrs. T. We’ll find out what’s going on.”
They always did. They had solved all their mysteries. Their first case was just last year when they were in France with the twins’ parents. By chance, they helped the French police catch two jewel thieves and a sizable hoard of diamond bracelets stolen from a Paris jewelry store. That led to the four kids uncovering a ring of international jewel thieves. The news went viral. After returning home to a citywide celebration in their honor, the squad officially established their Botanic Hill Detectives Agency, and the cases poured in from near and far.
But this new mystery was right in their neighborhood. They had to solve it, mainly for Dr. and Mrs. Thornsley.
Thirteen-year-old Rani gracefully pivoted to face Mrs. Thornsley, her gold and turquoise sari twirling just a bit. Whenever possible, she preferred wearing clothing from her native country of India. “You said something else happened here in the study, Mrs. T?” She drew a squiggle on the dusty top of Dr. Thornsley’s wooden desk.
“Actually, two more strange occurrences, Rani. Three months ago, in March, an old framed picture from this very desk went missing.” Mrs. T’s index finger jabbed decisively at its surface. “It showed Dr. Thornsley twenty years ago with some people I never knew from his hometown back East. When I asked him what had happened to it, he said the picture had fallen from the desk and broken. He had planned to get a new frame, but the picture never reappeared. One month later . . . he died.” Mrs. Thornsley covered her face with her hands. She worked hard to choke back some sobs. Rani came to her side and put her arm around the woman.
After a moment, she continued. “Then one afternoon last month, I came home from running errands to discover that someone had broken into this room. Nothing appeared to be missing, but this desk had been ransacked. The police found no fingerprints or other clues to lead them to a suspect.” Mrs. Thornsley could no longer control herself. Tears flooded down the furrows in her face. She fretfully wrung her tired, wrinkled hands. Lexi, always emotional, teared up, too.
Seeing the two crying, Moki looked around and nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the next. “Hey, uh, Mrs. T,” he asked, “what’s that I see over there on the coffee table?” The Hawaiian boy, who had moved to Southern California five years ago, pointed beyond the study door. With big eyes, Lanny silently thanked Moki for the rescue.
“Bless you, Moki,” said the woman. “You read my mind. I’ve had enough of this room for a while. Let’s go. I set out some snacks for you four in the living room. It’s been very difficult for me to spend any time in this study alone, you know, since my husband’s death in April.” Mrs. Thornsley dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and squeezed Rani’s small but strong hand.
“That makes perfect sense to me, Mrs. T,” replied Lexi, blinking back a tear while supporting Mrs. Thornsley with an arm around the woman’s small waist. The girl snapped off the wall switch to the study’s overhead light fixture with her free hand.
Moki, a confirmed foodie, bounded into the living room. His Hawaiian shirt was a blur of colors as he ran and barely missed clipping his side on the woman’s enormous grand piano. His huge brown eyes had zeroed in on a platter piled high with cookies.
Mrs. Thornsley couldn’t resist a booming laugh. “Oh, Moki. You’re like medicine for my poor, sad soul. Please, do help yourself. You’ve earned your fill.”
“Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.” He lunged toward the platter and dug into the cookies. “Mmm, chocolate chip,” Moki said through a mouthful. “My fave.”
Lexi and Rani served everyone some of the frosty lemonade from the nearby crystal pitcher.
They stared as Moki grabbed a third large cookie. “Oinkers!” snorted Lexi.
“Huh?” he replied with crumbs cascading from his lips.
“Didn’t you have breakfast this morning?” asked Lexi.
“Sure, but that was almost two hours ago. Anyway, mysteries make me hungry,” he croaked between chomps.
No one seemed to have noticed that Lanny had remained behind in Dr. Thornsley’s study. Something had caught his eye. The room’s lighting was subdued now, and the study was as still as a tomb. Lanny felt as if he had been transported back in time to ancient Egypt. Such was the magic of this room. The only movement came from some dust particles that danced inside a splinter of sunlight stealing in through the sheer-curtained French doors behind Dr. Thornsley’s massive wooden desk.
A low cabinet beneath Lexi’s favorite mummy mask contained, among other mementos, meticulously detailed, expensive copies of assorted treasures from Dr. T’s excavations. There were miniature cat- and ibis-headed statues and raised cobras on pharaohs’ headdresses. In addition, Dr. Thornsley had displayed his old compass, badly scratched by desert sands, yellowed dig-site maps, and various archaeological tools. Though fascinating, he and his friends had seen these objects before in what Lexi called Dr. T’s mini museum during their frequent visits to Nutmeg Street.
What had actually grabbed Lanny’s attention was an out-of-place object on the floor to the left of Dr. T’s desk. He stooped to pick it up. It was a small sandstone sphinx. Its right forepaw had cracked off. Lanny knelt and rummaged under the desk and soon found the broken piece, reuniting it with the maimed original already cupped in his left hand.
From his low position on the floor, Lanny thought he saw a shadow cast on the rug. He turned around quickly to glance in the direction of the French doors. . . .
Come back next time for the conclusion of Chapter 1.