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Kelvin McCloud and the Seaside Storm
By Michael Erb, Susan Paquette
Tumblehome Learning, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Michael Erb
All rights reserved.
The Weather Detective
The hairs on Henry Alabaster's arms bristled when he heard the sound outside his bedroom door that night. It was one long, quiet creak, like an old stair complaining under too much weight.
Henry looked up from the photo in his hands. The small lamp on his desk didn't illuminate much more than him and the crumpled white sheets over his raised knees, leaving the door on the near wall in partial darkness. Somewhere outside, the long creak petered out. Was it his uncle? No, the occasional purr of snoring continued down the hall.
Henry set the picture frame back on his desk, returning his missing parents to their usual spot. Beside their two smiling faces, the dim numbers of Henry's spaceship alarm clock radiated the time: two fourteen a.m.
Henry clicked off the lamp and slid his legs out of bed, touching down gingerly on his toes. His foot brushed a stack of comics, toppling them over. Another sound came from the next room: a soft, quick scrape. Henry paused. Then, easing his bedroom door open an inch, he put his eye to the gap.
City lights shimmered on the living room ceiling. A broken ribbon of light shone at the base of the apartment's front door, outlining the shapes of furniture and old bookshelves.
Henry blinked. Nobody was in the living room. Not a cat burglar or a spy or even one of those lanky gray aliens they sometimes showed on the sci-fi channel. He opened his door wider. One of those alien shows was on TV last night, he remembered. Aliens Throughout History, it was called, and it featured grainy footage of a long-limbed figure standing with President Truman way back at the end of World War II. The show's eerie music had made everything in the apartment seem sinister, and the scariness remained there now in the quiet room. Even his uncle's snores and the muffled city sounds coming in at the window didn't help. This late at night, everything seemed sinister.
Henry scanned the room again. His night vision had started to kick in, and this time he did spot something. A small, thick envelope lay on the floor, half illuminated by the yellow light sneaking under the door. Its stark white surface contrasted sharply with the dark floorboards. Who'd put that there? No deliveryman came at this time of night. Well, maybe a ninja deliveryman, but not a regular one.
Henry took two steps into the living room. The long, slow, shuddering creak came again from just outside the front door. Henry froze. Two shadows cut the light at the bottom of the door.
Henry heard himself breathing. For once this creaky old place had been useful. That spot in the hallway always creaked when someone stepped on it the wrong way. The shadows darted to the right and vanished.
Henry ran for the door. The envelope still lay on the floor, with a bit of elegant, looping cursive scrawled on the front, but Henry had no time for that now. Flinging himself into the suddenly bright hallway, he glimpsed something yellow at the end of the corridor. No, not just yellow, but a woman — a tall woman with long blond hair and a yellow summer dress — vanishing into the stairwell.
Who was that? No alien Henry ever saw. He sprinted after her, pushed into the stairwell at the end of the hall, and stared downward through all of the dizzying, circling sections of concrete steps. He couldn't see the woman, but her faint, quick footsteps echoed back to him from somewhere far below. He circled downward after her. The footsteps didn't get closer. Somewhere ahead, a door shut.
Several floors lower, Henry pushed through a heavy steel door and felt a wave of muggy summer air on his face. In front of him, dark streets tinted with yellow light stretched between the buildings of Midtown West, Manhattan. Or Hell's Kitchen, as it was normally called. Henry stopped, his feet aching. Trying to catch his breath, he looked around.
No luck. The woman was gone. Henry glanced at the sky, imagining a UFO zipping away above the rooftops.
He shook his head. "Grow up," he said to nobody in particular.
Henry closed his eyes, picturing that long yellow hair again, vanishing into the stairwell. It stirred something in him. It felt as if a serpent had just woken up in his gut and now slithered and coiled inside him. Who was that woman? Something about that hair ...
A group of teens wearing baggy T-shirts walked by, hands deep in their pockets. Henry turned back inside. The grimy stairwell seemed cool compared to the muggy summer night, and Henry started the long walk up the stairs in silence.
Ninth floor. In the hallway ahead, a polished mahogany plaque hung next to his uncle's apartment door. Henry had helped his uncle hang it there last winter, and it was the only thing that looked new in this dirty old place. Silver letters stood out from the dark surface. It read:
Kelvin McCloud Weather Detective
Engraved above the words, the plaque bore a small image of a thunderstorm covered by a magnifying lens.
Next to this, framed in the open doorway, stood Henry's uncle — a tall, thin man wearing a deep blue bathrobe over his cloud-patterned pajamas. He held the small white envelope from the floor, torn open, in one hand. His other hand contained a newspaper clipping.
Kelvin's sharp gray eyes gleamed.
"What is it?" Henry asked.
Kelvin raised his long eyebrows, and the corners of his mouth curled upward into a smile.
"It's just what we've been waiting for," he said. He tapped the newspaper clipping a few times with his finger. "A mystery."
Henry's skin tingled. The word was electric. Mystery. Ever since opening this weather detective business six months ago, they'd been waiting for something like this. Not the howling windows and leaking roofs of fussy neighbors, but an honest-to-goodness mystery.
Turning, Kelvin crossed their dark living room in four long strides and disappeared into his study. Closing the apartment door, Henry followed. There was quickness in his uncle's step, the clear sign that some scientific curiosity tingled on his brain. Kelvin was a reserved man about most things, and he could seem terse and confrontational about subjects that didn't interest him, but he had a clear love of solving problems.
Kelvin flipped on the study's lamp, which cast a soft cone of light across a desk cluttered with books, papers, and metal and glass contraptions. Henry and Kelvin's shadows fell across tall shelves of science books. The books bore titles like Paleoclimatology and Physical Oceanography and lent the small room a musty smell of leather and old paper. A small cot with rumpled sheets occupied one half of the room.
Kelvin cast off his slippers and pushed the books and papers on his desk aside, careful not to break any of the thermometers, barometers, or cup anemometers sitting there. A grin spread beneath his bent, hawkish nose. In the open space on his desk, he placed the small white envelope. The envelope, Henry now saw, still had something in it.
"Now just you look at that," Kelvin said, giving the envelope a rapid tap with his finger. Leaning in, Henry read the looping cursive on the front.
To Kelvin, McCloud: Something you should look into. –S.
Henry nodded. A good start. He lifted the torn edge of the envelope to see inside, and then drew back with a sharp breath.
"Holy crap! What's that?"
Kelvin smiled. "Hundred dollar bills. Ten of them."
"Yeah, but what for?"
"Advance payment for the case, I would think."
Kelvin set the newspaper clipping on the desk and Henry peered around his uncle's shoulder. A grainy black and white portrait sat beside a column of blocky text. The portrait showed an older gentleman with a sagging neck but sharp, intelligent eyes.
Above the picture, the headline ran, Local Banker Killed by Sleetstone. Despite the oppressive heat of the dark study, a chill ran through Henry.
"Did you get a good look at the woman, Henry?"
"Uh, not really. She was —" Henry stopped, thunderstruck. "Wait. You were snoring. How'd you ..."
"How'd I know it was a woman?" Kelvin looked at him with a knowing smile, and Henry immediately realized how foolish his question was.
"Well, for one, the handwriting." Kelvin pressed down a long finger on the envelope. "See? Men rarely write with such flourish. Now, this could have been dropped off by a man, but considering the writer's apparent desire for secrecy, I deemed the possibility unlikely. And two —" He pressed down a second finger and here gave a small, embarrassed shrug of his shoulders. "A few strands of long blond hair lay on the hallway floor. She must have lingered outside our door for a moment, pulling on her hair, probably debating her decision to come here. So did you see her?"
"Just a little. Like you said, she had blond hair. Yellow dress. She was about your age: mid-forties. That's all I could see." Henry pointed to the ornate S on the front of the envelope. "An initial, you think?"
Kelvin held the envelope up to the desk lamp, leaning forward to inspect it at close range. It cast a huge rectangular shadow over much of the small room. "Very likely. Look out for people with S names, I suppose?"
Henry's attention returned to the newspaper clipping. That's what he really wanted to see. Man, a thousand bucks, for what? Dead of night, nearly two-forty now, and his mind buzzed with the possibilities of what might be in that article. "So, what's it say?"
Kelvin followed Henry's gaze. He smiled. Adjusting the lamp, he slid the article closer. "Well, why don't you tell me?"
Henry took the article and, hands trembling, began to read.CHAPTER 2
The Sleetstone Case
Local Banker Killed by Sleetstone
Sandy Run, N.J. – The body of local banker Edward J. Wrightly was discovered lying face down in the grass in front of his house on Browning Lane this morning, following a violent storm that swept through Sandy Run during the night.
Wrightly was spotted by a neighbor at 6:15 a.m., surrounded by the remains of white, nickel-sized sleetstones from last night's storm. Eyewitnesses report that severe bruising covered much of his body, and a medical team pronounced him dead at the scene. According to police speculation, Wrightly may have attempted to reach his front door when he arrived home in the storm, whereupon he was fatally struck in the back of the head by the falling ice. No foul play is suspected.
Edward Wrightly, 63, worked for 40 years at Oceanside Banking and Loan, where he rose tothe position of executive vice president. He quickly became one of the town's most wealthy residents, and the seaside manor where he lived is one of the largest residences in the town.
"Ed was pretty well liked around here," said neighbor Josephina Rosenbloom. "We didn't see him too often, but he was quick with a smile. He was bright, too. It's such a shame for this to happen."
Wrightly's seaside estate and fortune are to be divided according to his will, the particulars of which are unknown. He is survived by no children.
Henry lowered the paper. Was that all? He turned to the back, only to see part of an unrelated story about watermelons. The top of the page displayed the name of the newspaper, The Daily Conch, dated yesterday.
Kelvin sat on the edge of his desk, peering at Henry. "So?"
The word hung in the stillness of the tiny room. Henry didn't know what to say. "It's too bad, I guess."
"Yeah, the guy sounds all right. Too bad he died."
Kelvin, brushing the comment away with a wave, said, "Yes, yes, undoubtedly. But what do you think of the circumstances? The 'sleetstones'?"
Something seemed off to Henry about the sleetstones. Kelvin had explained all about sleet last January. Henry checked the article again: nickel-sized sleetstones.
The answer clicked into place. "That can't be right."
Kelvin prodded. "How so?"
"Well, sleet just can't get that big. Sleet is frozen rain, so it has to be raindrop size. That's way smaller than a nickel. Plus, sleet doesn't usually happen in the summer. The article must be talking about hail."
Kelvin smiled. "Precisely. That's the first thing I noticed too, but it may be a simple mix-up by the writer. If you're not familiar with these things, it's easy to get hail and sleet confused. However, there are other things that don't make sense."
Henry eyed the article again, but he couldn't see anything unusual.
Standing up, Kelvin turned to his bookshelf. He passed his fingers over the thick volumes. "Take, for instance, the death itself. The article suggests he was killed by hail, but how large does it say the hail was?"
Kelvin picked a nickel off the bookshelf and tossed it to Henry. It didn't look big enough to kill a man.
"Ah, and here!" Kelvin dislodged a well-worn volume. He paged through it, stopping somewhere near the back. "Deaths by hail," he read aloud. "In the United States, only a handful of hail-related deaths have occurred since 1900. One is the tragic case of ... Let's skip forward a little. Here we are. In most deaths involving hail, the hailstones reached the size of baseballs or larger. The largest hailstone ever found in the U.S. measured eight inches across."
Kelvin snapped the book shut. Henry eyed the nickel in his hand. It looked miniscule. And eight inches across! That sounded more like a cantaloupe.
"What about the broken windows?" Henry asked. "The dented house? Enough hailstones could kill somebody. It didn't have to be a single blow."
Kelvin fixed him with a stare. "Henry, I'm not saying hail isn't dangerous. It is. Don't ever let yourself be caught out in a hailstorm. But the article doesn't say he was killed by a lot of little bruises. What does it say?"
"Struck in the back of the head ... and killed."
Kelvin nodded. "Not many blows, but one. Doesn't sound much like an accident, does it?"
Henry's response died before it reached his lips. His uncle was right. Suddenly, it didn't sound much like an accident at all. As Henry stood in the study with his uncle, a suffocating feeling rose from the recesses of his stomach.
For a moment, Henry didn't think about the case, but about the past: before he and his uncle started this weather detective business, before he moved to New York City, back to when he lived in Pennsylvania with his parents. The images from that wretched day still cut into him. They seemed bright and unreal, like a movie played on lousy projection. He recalled the school bus receding down the green lane by his house. He remembered those noisy squirrels leaping from branch to branch in the great maple trees out front, knocking down leaves. Then that man and woman in their stuffy gray suits came to the door. They used no pleasantries, but simply explained to Henry that Susan and Arthur, his parents, were missing.
Not dead, they said — at least not for sure — but missing.
Missing after their plane disappeared over the Atlantic. What did that even mean?
Henry blinked. He found Kelvin staring at him. Concern creased his uncle's face. "What's wrong, Henry?"
Henry's stomach churned, twisting around itself like a snake uncoiling.
"Look," Kelvin said, "about your parents. I know that —"
Henry didn't let him finish. "I know!" The words rung loudly in the small room. "I don't need to hear it. Let's just ... could we not talk about that? I'm okay."
"You sure? Are you still having the night terrors?"
"Look, Kelvin, I'm okay."
Kelvin leaned against the bookshelf. He stayed silent for ten or fifteen seconds, pressing his lips together. "All right, Henry. Another time."
Henry discovered he was gripping the newspaper article with white knuckles. He placed it back on the desk. His stomach gradually unclenched.
"So what now? We go to Sandy Run?"
Kelvin corrected him. "I go to Sandy Run."
"Remember, Henry, I'm the detective. You're," he added with a poke to the chest, "thirteen. If school was in session, you'd be studying algebra."
Henry clenched his fists. "And if you hadn't gotten fired, you'd still be at the university."
Kelvin cringed, but didn't respond; he said instead, "So what can I do with you? You could stay with your friend from baseball. Doug, was it?"
"He's visiting family."
"Really? Too bad. How about Mrs. Forrester? You remember her, right, from the Christmas party?"
Henry rolled his eyes. "She smells like cheese."
His uncle laughed, and then stifled it with a snort.
"Look," Henry said, "there's no way I'm staying here. I helped all the times you wanted to put up signs and pass out fliers. We're in this together."
Kelvin met his nephew's gaze. "Of course you're right. We're in this together. But if things get dangerous, you're staying at the hotel."
Being stuck at a hotel didn't sound like much fun, but now wasn't the time to haggle. "Fine. So what about the woman? What do we do about her?"
Excerpted from Kelvin McCloud and the Seaside Storm by Michael Erb, Susan Paquette. Copyright © 2012 Michael Erb. Excerpted by permission of Tumblehome Learning, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1: The Weather Detective,
Chapter 2: The Sleetstone Case,
Chapter 3: The Silver Barometer,
Chapter 4: The Sandy Run Inn,
Chapter 5: The Dead Man's Estate,
Chapter 6: Cooks, Salmons, and Rosenblooms,
Chapter 7: The Hotel at Night,
Chapter 8: The Light in the Yard,
Chapter 9: The Black Mark,
Chapter 10: Letters in the Study,
Chapter 11: Isabel and Eugene,
Chapter 12: Deeper and Deeper,
Chapter 13: The Alleys of Sandy Run,
Chapter 14: The Sandy Run Lighthouse,
Chapter 15: The Storm,
Chapter 16: Detective Work,
Chapter 17: Dinner and Stories,
Chapter 18: A Fire for the Dead,
Chapter 19: Mr. Wrightly's Shadow,
Chapter 20: What the Clues Reveal,
Chapter 21: Hailstones,
Chapter 22: The Woman from New York,
Chapter 23: Not an End, but a Beginning,