Why I Created “Super Sleuths”

Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,

Drum roll, please! . . . We are on the brink of the release on FEBRUARY 1 of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series!

At this time, I would like to share with you what motivated me way back in 2013–and still motivates me–to write my mystery series. My interesting muses:

If my four teen detectives seem unusually mature, polite, and helpful, they are–by my design! My goal was–and still is–to create positive role models, someone for kids ages nine to twelve to look up to in this scary world and, perhaps, to emulate. Better yet, I hope my four “power sleuths” become kids’ new heroes. 
The detectives’ real-life prototypes were my then thirteen-year-old twin cousins and my eleven-year-old fifth grade students.  That’s right. Eleven. They were some of the smartest, most poised, and respectful kids I ever had the pleasure to teach and learn from. They energized me and made me feel daily that our planet will be in good hands when they take the helm.
Then it hit me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more kids could develop the same abilities to let their best selves shine forth? If they could learn by example to boost their confidence in order to showcase their intelligence and skills, not be ashamed of them? If their concerns for others could translate into being more helpful at home and in their communities? So, I launched my uber-efficient Botanic Hill detectives as guides for kids to courageously “up their game.” Nancy Drew was my childhood courage coach! Why not see if this concept will work for kids today? I hope to hear feedback from them when I visit schools.

So get a clue, Readers.If you’ve been reading my blogs/news items this month, you’ve gotten a little taste of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets. It awaits the pleasure of your company. And don’t forget to mark your calendars and purchase my book at Amazon.com in paperback and/or eBook on FEBRUARY 1. Thank you for all your support!

 

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The Conclusion of Chapter 2

Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,

We are getting closer to the release on FEBRUARY 1 of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series. I continue offering excerpts from the story.

Last time, I featured the first half of Chapter 2.

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, sit back and hopefully enjoy the conclusion of Chapter 2:

 

Lexi and Lanny didn’t arrive home on Quince Street until the late afternoon. As they walked through the back door into the large, well-equipped kitchen, they were greeted by the spicy aromas of freshly chopped cilantro and cheesy homemade enchiladas, and by the family’s cook and houseman, “Uncle” Rocky. He’d joined the family shortly before the twins were born. He had been the cook for one of Dr. Wyatt’s archaeological excavations, and the two men struck up a long-lasting friendship.

Lexi squeezed the middle-aged man around his big aproned middle. “We’re on a new case.”

“Great. I hope we’ll get to hear all about it at dinner­time,” the gravelly-voiced New Yorker said. “Which reminds me, your parents are home. Dinner’s in a few minutes. Go wash your hands, pronto.” He accentuated the last word with a beat in the air from his large chopping knife.

The twins were proud of their famous parents, Dr. Ian Wyatt and Dr. Becky Marlton. They usually left for their jobs at the ARC at the same time every weekday and came home together, walking hand in hand or riding their bicycles. Lexi had her father’s green eyes, dark hair, and love of ancient cultures. Lanny had inherited his mother’s creative sensibilities, curly blonde hair, and unusual blue-violet eyes—“Liz Taylor eyes,” as Uncle Rocky called them, referencing the beautiful, purple-eyed actress. Even though Elizabeth Taylor was a woman, Lanny couldn’t be happier about the comparison. One of his hobbies was watching old Hollywood movies, and he admired all those stars from long ago. In fact, one of his all-time favorite actresses was Miss Taylor.

Soon, the five were seated around the enormous kitchen table that often accommodated neighbors or guests from the ARC. During the meal, Lexi and Lanny shared their new case with the family. Their parents weren’t ones to worry. Uncle Rocky worried plenty enough for everyone. Still, Dad didn’t like the sound of a chase. “A theft is one thing,” he said, “but I don’t want you getting in over your heads.”

“The police are handling that part, Dad,” Lexi said. At Uncle Rocky’s snorting sound, she continued, “Really. You can check with Moki’s dad if you don’t believe me.” She had them there. She and her brother never lied. It was a point of pride for their parents.

“Okay, then,” Dad said, “anything we can do to help?”

“Yes. Please explain to us what exactly happened to Dr. Thornsley,” urged Lexi. She leaned over and tightly squeezed her father’s lower arm with both hands. Hearing him wince in pain, she quickly released her grip. Grabbing flesh when exuberant was her bad habit.

“Well,” he said as he set his fork down and massaged his arm. “It was last October when the theft occurred. Our family was out of town as you might remember. The urn Dr. Thornsley had found last summer in Egypt was on loan to the ARC from the British Museum in Cairo. It was stolen the very first night it arrived here.”

“Some people still believe he stole it,” said Mom with a pained look in her eyes.

“How could anyone believe that a man of Dr. Thornsley’s character and reputation would do such a thing?” returned Uncle Rocky. He shook his big sphinxlike head.

Lanny asked, “Dad, do you and Mom believe Dr. Thornsley stole the urn?” He slathered more salsa across the enchilada on his plate.

“Not for a second. For one thing, all the evidence against him turned out to be circumstantial,” replied Dad.

Lexi looked up from her meal. “Wait. What does ‘circumstantial’ mean?”

Lanny, the walking dictionary, pounced. “‘Circum­stantial’ means that the so-called evidence gathered was not determined to be worthy enough to be able to lead to an indisputable conviction of guilt in a court of law.”

“Okay. Thanks, I think,” Lexi said. Her brother was smarter than anyone else she knew, except for her parents, of course. But she didn’t tell him too often, or it might go to his head.

Dad continued, “Besides, we will always feel, as does Uncle Rocky, that Dr. Thornsley was too honest and devoted to Egyptology and the laws and ethics of archaeology to ever commit such a crime.”

“I still can’t believe he’s not with us anymore,” Mom said with a catch in her voice.

“No one ever said how he died,” Lanny nudged, hoping for information, not tears.

“Massive stroke,” his dad explained. “Perhaps from being under a terrible strain for six months following the theft.” He finished the last bite of tortilla left on his plate.

“What a waste of a terrific person and a great life,” Uncle Rocky sighed, hauling his tall frame up from his chair to serve the ice cream dessert. The others passed their dinner plates to Dad who rose and set the stack by the sink.

“Get this,” Lexi said. “While we were waiting for the police to arrive, Mrs. T shared some bad news she got this morning from Dr. Abbott. He told her Dr. T can’t be honored at this summer’s annual Paradise Days Festival. I just don’t understand that.” She scowled.

Dad returned to his seat. “Well, my princess, there are some people at the ARC and from the public in general who still have unfavorable opinions about Dr. Thornsley’s part in the theft. They feel that until the urn is found and returned to the ARC, and until any possible culprit or culprits are arrested and convicted for its theft, doubts about Dr. Thornsley’s innocence and integrity as a scientist will surely remain. Honoring a man who might be guilty could embarrass the ARC.”

“That’s so unfair,” replied Lexi, pushing away her chocolate dessert with a pout.

“Who at the ARC is in charge of finalizing the festival honorees’ list?” asked Lanny. He took a large bite of his ice cream.

Lexi had to admire her brother’s many qualities. He could separate out his feelings and get down to the business at hand. That’s what made him the leader of their detective agency.

“Dr. Abbott is the director, so he has the final say,” replied Dad. “But he must take into consideration what the ARC’s festival committee of scientists and art historians advises.”

“Before you ask, your dad and I couldn’t be on this year’s nominating committee since we served last year,” Mom said regretfully. Her ice cream was starting to resemble chocolate soup like Lexi’s.

“Life just isn’t fair sometimes, and that makes me angry,” Lexi said, scowling more intensely now and slumping at her place.

“I know, sweetie,” Mom replied. “But remember. You four kids are on the case now. That means you’re doing your part to set matters right. Think positively.” She stroked Lexi’s hand.

“Which reminds me,” said Lanny as he sat erectly. “We have our direction for tomorrow. The four Botanic Hill detectives’ first stop will be the ARC to see Dr. Abbott.”

Come back next time when the author will explain what motivated her to create the Botanic Hill detectives as “super sleuths” and their mysteries.

 

 

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Chapter 2, First Half

Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,

As we get closer to the release on FEBRUARY 1 of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, I will continue offering excerpts from the story.

Last time, I featured the conclusion of Chapter 1.

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, sit back and hopefully enjoy the first half of Chapter 2:

 

Chapter 2     “Helpful Discussions”

Rani led the pack in the chase after the masked nut, her sari flapping behind her. After a few blocks, however, she was forced to stop. Her golden bangle bracelets glinted in the early afternoon sun as she wiped her brow with the back of her hand. Her friends soon caught up with her, panting for breath and unhappily conceding defeat. They hadn’t been speedy enough to catch the trespasser, who had a good head start on them.

Several blocks away, they watched the wiry, still-disguised runner jump into the driver’s seat of a parked blue sedan. The engine roared to life, and the car screeched down the street, leaving behind only thick tread marks.

“Whoever’s behind that mask is really fit,” said Rani, hunched over and sucking in oxygen.

Lexi bit her lower lip and narrowed her eyes. “That’s a great clue, Rani. Let’s hang onto it because it could help us identify the person. By the way, I’m impressed at how fast you can run in a sari.”

Rani replied, “My grandmother would kill me if she knew. The fabric’s very delicate. But more important, remind me to tell all of you later about mac ’n’ cheese. It might be another clue.”

“Huh? Mac ’n’ cheese?” Moki asked. He always tuned in when food was mentioned. “What’s that have to do with anything? Plus, you’re making me hungry.”

“I’ll tell you later. Might help us with our case,” she said with a mysterious smile, then sauntered back toward the house.

“Rani, sometimes I just don’t get you,” Moki called after her.

“Good. Mystery makes life interesting.”

The four retraced their steps to the big Craftsman-style house, and Lanny shared their bad luck with Mrs. Thornsley. “Not even a license plate number,” he said, jamming his knuckles into the palm of his hand with a loud pop. “I must be losing it.”

“No, bro,” Moki said, placing his hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “They lost it—or more likely, someone removed it. No back license plate. But at least we have a description of the car and some info about the person and the tires. That’ll be important to us and to the police.” Moki would know. His dad was a cop.

Moki called the Las Palmitas Police Department to report the crime on Mrs. Thornsley’s behalf. After hanging up he said, “According to the dispatcher, Dad’s out on a call having to do with the earthquake, but some other officers will be here very soon. Now, no worries, Mrs. T.”

The woman was pacing the floor like a caged tiger. “I just wish it was your dad coming instead. Oh, Moki, that’s silly of me. I realize he’s a busy man. It’s just . . . why are burglars and trespassers so interested in my house all of a sudden?”

“We’ll figure it out, Mrs. T,” Lexi replied. She and Rani exchanged glances. They both knew how much serious work was ahead of them.

Two officers arrived just minutes after Moki’s call, and Mrs. Thornsley breathed a sigh of relief. They took statements from all five witnesses about “Mask Face,” as Moki named the trespasser, and checked the small footprints Rani had found in the soil outside under the living room window. Lanny mentioned the shadow he had seen through the study doors, but nothing appeared disturbed on the leaf-covered ground. The officers said a squad car would cruise past the Thornsley house several times an hour for the next two days. After checking all around the property one more time, the officers left to investigate the tire marks and to question the neighbors.

“Keep all your doors and windows locked, Mrs. Thornsley, and look out the spy hole before opening the door,” one of the officers said gently.

“That’s always good advice,” the woman replied. “I’ll certainly do as you say.”

The kids made sure Mrs. Thornsley was feeling safe and composed before they left. “Don’t worry, Mrs. T. We’re on the job. We’ll keep you posted on our progress,” said Lanny. Lexi and Rani stood like bookends next to the woman.

“I know, Lanyon. Even though you’re only thirteen years old, you all have a way of instilling confidence in me. That’s why I hired you.” She led the kids to her huge front door, hugged each of them, waved good-bye, then lingered and watched them disappear up Nutmeg Street.

The squad was already mulling over their new case as the early afternoon sun warmed their faces. Finally, Rani said, “I don’t think it was an accident that the trespasser wore an Egyptian death mask.”

“Why do you say that?” Lanny asked, kicking a small stone off the sidewalk.

“It made an effective disguise, and an insensitive one at that, given what Mrs. T’s already been through. Whoever was behind that mask could be the same person who ransacked Dr. T’s study last month and returned today to continue the search.”

Moki looked at Rani and replied, “That means, if I’m following your thinking for a change, that whatever was being searched for in the study last month is still being searched for.”

“Exactly.”

Lanny stopped walking. “Maybe, or it could have just been a mean prank. As my hero, the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, would say, ‘Give me facts, not just sup­positions.’ We do need theories, you guys, but we can’t suppose they’re true until we have proof. Proof comes from facts. That’s the scientific method of investigation, and so far, it’s worked well for us.”

Lanny was right. Boring, but right. Ever the voice of reason, an important quality in a detective. Each of the others had to admit it to themselves as they continued walking on in silence.

Soon, Moki disrupted the quiet. “Okay, so then, let’s get serious and scientific now and talk about mac ’n’ cheese. Rani, what’s up with that, and how can it be a clue in our case?”

“It’s simple. You see, I’m a synesthete,” she replied brightly.

“A synes-what?” Moki asked. Even Lanny, always ready with a definition, looked puzzled.

“A synesthete. I have synesthesia,” she said with a broad smile.

“Oh, now that clears everything up for me,” he smirked. “Is it fatal?”

Rani grimaced. “Uh, no, Moki, but I’ll explain. Syn­es­thesia is a mixing of the senses, an extrasensory ability where one type of brain stimulation—let’s say, hearing a word or name—makes you experience something else. In my case, that something else is a taste or smell. Isn’t that cool?” She didn’t wait for an answer.

“Well, anyway, some synesthetes associate a word, number, or musical note with a color. Those are the most common types. I associate words and names with foods or aromas. My type of synesthesia is very rare. Four percent of the world’s population has some form of synesthesia. But less than one percent of the world’s population has my type. Lots of famous people have had synesthesia. Van Gogh, Duke Ellington, Plato, and Socrates all had it.”

“Wow!” Lexi said, then quickly frowned. “But we’ve been best friends for eight years. How come I’m only just learning this about you now?”

“I didn’t know I had it, let alone that there was a name for it. I read an article about it online recently. Then it was as if a lightbulb flashed in me. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘that’s me!’ I’d thought everybody associated names with food. I didn’t know it was a thing.”

“So synesthesia is an ability, not a disability?” Lanny asked looking steadily at the girl.

“Yes, and it’s automatic. I can’t turn it off, but I wouldn’t want to. It makes life more, well, delicious. Plus, it helps me remember names. And it’s like eating but without calories,” she beamed.

“So, the moment of truth. What do our names make you taste or smell?” Moki asked.

“Oh, Moki, your name makes me taste warm blueberry pie with melting vanilla ice cream.” She purposely empha­sized the food words to make Moki hungry.

“Sweet. Of course,” he replied with crossed arms and a knowing smile directed at Lexi.

“Lexi, you’re crunchy, salty pretzels, the big heart-shaped kind. Lanny, you’re sweet potatoes mashed with butter, salt, and pepper. And my name, Rani, is raw green beans.”

“So, what’s with mac ’n’ cheese, and how can that help our case?” Moki asked.

“The word mask makes me taste mac ’n’ cheese. It might be interesting to see if that sensation occurs again during our mystery,” she replied.

They walked on to Rani’s house one block away on Oleander Street, discussing other names and food associ­ations. Once at Rani’s, however, they knew they would turn to the serious business of hashing over their new case and formulating a plan of action for tomorrow. . . .

Come back next time for the conclusion of Chapter 2.

Details

The Conclusion of Chapter 1

Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,

As we get closer to the release on FEBRUARY 1 of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, I will continue offering excerpts from the story.

Last time, I featured the first half of Chapter 1.

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 FEBRUARY1.

But for now, sit back and hopefully enjoy the conclusion of Chapter 1:

 

. . . Nothing. It must have been his imagination. Or maybe Mrs. T’s next- door neighbor was passing by in his side yard. Being a detective with a tendency toward curiosity, he decided to investigate.

Setting the pieces of the sphinx down on Dr. T’s desk, he unlocked the doors and stepped outside into the mild breeze. Scanning the area, he saw no one and con­cluded the shadow could have been caused by some fluttering branches of the nearby weeping willow tree. He hesitated a moment, shrugged, and returned to the study, making certain to relock the doors. Then, he carefully picked up the sphinx pieces off the desk to show the others.

“Lanny, you better hurry before Moki eats all the cookies,” Rani shouted over her shoulder just as the boy was rejoining the group. Cookie scents wafted to his nostrils, but he didn’t have food on his mind.

Mrs. T’s eyebrows knitted together as she stared at Lanny’s hands. “What do you have there, Lanyon?” she asked. In answer, he put his palms face up to reveal his find.

“Oh, that was my husband’s paperweight. He bought it in one of his favorite dusty, old curio shops in Giza on a trip to Egypt many years ago. It must have been too near the edge of his desk and gotten jostled off during the earthquake.”

A moderate earthquake had, indeed, rumbled through their coastal resort town of Las Palmitas that very morning and snaked its way up into the group’s beautiful neighbor­hood of Botanic Hill. They were all too familiar with earthquakes in Southern California.

“How he treasured that little sphinx so.” She gently took the precious pieces from Lanny, cradling and inspecting them momentarily. “Fortunately, I think I can easily fix it.”

Lanny watched the rest of the squad finish the snacks. He turned toward Mrs. Thornsley and said, “You said you called us here today to tell us about Dr. T’s urn. Is it from the same expedition where he found the mummy mask that’s on the wall in his study?”

“Yes, Lanyon, though the mask is just a copy of the original. My husband found both objects in Egypt at the royal burial grounds in Abydos last summer along with other treasures.” The widow quickly pulled something from her pocket. “Here’s a photo he took of the urn right after it arrived in his office at the ARC last October for study and display. He estimated the urn and mask to be 5,000 years old and priceless.”

The kids crowded around the photo. “It’s beautiful with all the golden swirling lotus designs on the black enamel paint,” Lexi said. Her voice swelled with pride over Dr. Thornsley’s discovery.

“And it contained a mummified Egyptian cobra,” said Mrs. Thornsley with hiked-up eyebrows.

“Whoa!” Moki called out, abruptly removing his hand from the photo’s edge. “Why would anyone want to keep a snake, even a dead one, in a jar?” He brushed his hands as if to remove something squirmy and toxic. Snakes didn’t exist in his native Hawaiʽi. He was no fan of reptiles.

“It’s a tomb burial urn, Moki, and snakes were sacred to ancient Egyptians,” she replied.

“A ‘sacred snake’? Sorry, but those words don’t seem to go together in my head.”

The woman paused. Her face had turned ashen again, but she slowly continued. “I realize you kids might already know some of this information, but you won’t know all of it. After all, you’ve been busy solving other mysteries. You see, my husband was the last ARC employee to see the urn before it disappeared. The police couldn’t find any other suspects, so he was blamed for stealing it. He died in shame from the rumors after a long and brilliant career. Oh, how I wish now he had never gone to Egypt last year to find that urn.” She closed her eyes tightly to squeeze back any more tears and sighed. Silence engulfed the room.

Then, Mrs. Thornsley squared her slumped shoulders and went on. “Since law enforcement agencies seem to have hit a dead end in their investigations, I want to hire you four to find the urn and who really stole it, return the object to the ARC, and restore my husband’s good name.”

“Mrs. T, Lexi’s right. We’ll find out what’s going on,” Lanny replied. “In fact, we’ll gladly take the case. But the theft occurred last fall. It’s June now. Something must have happened recently to make you call us today. What was it?” He hesitated to question her. Would she dissolve in tears? Worse, would she call him “Lanyon” again? Moki delighted in teasing Lanny about his real name. But they needed to know why she had called.

“Yes, Lanyon, two things have happened. Dr. Abbott called me this morning and—”

But before the widow could continue, Rani gasped and pointed at the window. Mrs. Thornsley turned and uttered a little cry, drawing her hand up sharply to her mouth.

“What the heck!” Lexi shouted as she sprang to her feet.

Through the large front window, a face disguised by what resembled the death mask of an Egyptian pharaoh was gazing in at them. Sensing discovery, the trespasser immediately ducked away. The kids raced to the window in time to see some­one squeeze back through the dense hydrangea bushes, rocket across the manicured lawn, and jump the hedge.

“The front door!” Lexi shouted, “Go, go, go!” She headed for the door with the two guys behind her. Rani was already there, yanking it open and bolting outside ahead of everyone.

“Teach that Mask Face a lesson,” Moki hollered as he almost tripped over a footstool. “It’s not nice to look in other people’s windows.”

“I’m with you, bro,” Lanny replied. “Catch that nut!”

The four kids tore across Mrs. Thornsley’s lawn and sprang over her low hedge in their hot pursuit of the brazen, masked trespasser. At the end of the block, they cut the corner sharply, not looking back to notice the broken branches and trampled flowers they left strewn down Nutmeg Street.

Come back next time for the first half of Chapter 2.

 

Details

It’s Excerpt Time! — Chapter 1, First Half

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.

 

 

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My 2020 Vision

Dear Readers and Other Visionaries,

To clarify, the only time I have 2020 vision is while wearing my eyeglasses! Actually, that’s not even the kind of vision I mean here. I’m talking about my vision for the New Year, appropriately, 2020.

Some might call a vision a resolution or goal, but I prefer vision in this case because it is fun to picture it in my mind.

Simply put, I delightfully foresee my book Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, once it launches on February 1, 2020, in LOTS of kids’ hands. Like many authors, I plan to give some of my books away to kids for free. My intent as a writer is that my books might bring some of the joy, adventure, and healthy role models to kids as Nancy Drew and Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries did for my childhood.

So get a clue, Readers. I hope you have some goals, visions, or resolutions in mind for 2020. Here’s to more clarity, good adventure, joy, and peace in all our lives. Happy 2020!

 

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