Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
“Sounds like as good a place to start as any,” said Henry.
The children went into the snake exhibit and walked around looking at interesting pictures of snakes and other reptiles. There were skeletons of giant boa constrictors and crocodiles, and diagrams of how their bodies work. Benny's favorites were the cases containing live snakes and lizards. A man who worked at the museum took out some iguanas and snakes for the children to touch and hold.
“That was great!” Benny said as the children headed into the exhibit next door, which was about holidays in different countries.
After that, the Aldens took a break for ice cream in the museum's cafÃ©. It was similar to the one at the Greenfield Museum, but bigger.
“So far we haven't learned anything,” said Jessie, disappointed.
“That's not true,” said Benny. “We've learned a lot about snakes!”
“And how they celebrate New Year's in China,” Violet added.
“That's true,” said Jessie. “But we haven't learned anything to help us solve the mystery at the Greenfield Museum.”
“That may be about to change,” Henry said.
“What do you mean?” Violet asked, turning to look in the direction he was staring. Then she said, “I don't believe it!”
Jessie and Benny looked over to see Lori Paulson entering the cafeteria.
As the children watched, Lori Paulson walked slowly down the cafeteria line. As usual, she had her bright orange bag slung over her shoulder. She selected a large cookie wrapped in plastic wrap and a cup of coffee. After she'd paid, she walked over to a table near the window. But as she went to sit down, her bag slipped off her shoulder and fell to the floor. A large pile of papers spilled out. Some slid beneath the table. “Oh, no!” she cried. “I'm so clumsy! I can't believe I just dropped all my stuff.”
“I do that, too, sometimes,” Violet said kindly, picking up some of the papers.
“I've had a really long day,” Lori said.
“Really? Doing what?” Violet asked.
“Oh, I've just been here ...” Lori said, and her voice trailed off.
“You've been here all day?” Violet asked. “You must really like going to museums.”
“I do,” Lori said. She smiled at Violet and then picked up the rest of her papers.
“What exhibits did you look at?” Violet asked.
“Oh, er ... the dinosaurs,” Lori said.
“Is there a dinosaur exhibit here, too?” asked Violet.
“Ohâno,” Lori said. “I must have been thinking of the Greenfield Museum.”
Violet said, “That dinosaur exhibit is great, isn't it?”
Then Lori sighed. “You know, actually I didn't see it. I only went to the Greenfield Museum because, well, there was something I was looking for. Something I had to get.”
Violet was confused. “Oh,” she said. She wondered what Lori was talking about. Why did her story keep changing?
Violet reached under the table to get the last piece of paper. As she pulled it up, she saw it was a letter addressed to Lori with the words CARSON CITY MUSEUM at the top.
Lori glanced down at the letter Violet was holding. “Thank you for your help.” She took the letter quickly, as if she was afraid Violet might try to read it. She stuffed it into her bag.
Just then a woman in a dark blue suit came into the cafeteria. “Ms. Paulson?” she said as she came over. “I'll be upstairs in my office in a minute if you want to talk.”
“All right, Ms. Delaney. I'll be there,” said Lori.
“Thanks for the help!” Lori said to Violet as she picked up her coffee and her cookie. “I've got to run.”
Violet walked back to where her sister and brothers were.
“What was she doing here?” Henry asked, and then ate some of his ice cream.
“I don't know,” said Violet, picking up her spoon. “She seemed really nervous. She said she liked the dinosaur exhibit.”
“Do they have one here, too?” Benny asked hopefully.
“That's what I asked,” said Violet. “And she said she must have been thinking of the Greenfield Museum. But when I asked her how she liked that exhibit, she admitted she was really just at the Greenfield Museum because she was looking for something. Something she had to get,” Violet said.
“I wonder what she meant by that,” said Henry.
“Do you think she meant she had to get a sculpture of a baboon? Or a blue hippo? Or a flute?” Benny asked.
“Why would she steal those pieces?” Jessie asked.
“Maybe for the same reason most thieves steal thingsâfor the money,” said Henry. “Pete said they were very valuable. Or maybe she's a collector and she likes Egyptian art.”
“Listen, you guys,” said Violet. “It gets weirder. One of the things that fell out of her bag was a letter from the Carson City Museum.”
“Why would someone here be writing to her?” Henry asked.
“I don't know,” Violet said. “All I saw was that it was addressed to her. I wasn't going to read it. But before I could even give it back to her, she grabbed it, as if she didn't want me to see it.”
“How odd,” said Jessie.
“And then that woman came in and said that Lori should come upstairs to her office to talk,” said Violet.
“Who was she?” asked Henry.
“I don't know,” said Violet. “Her name was Ms. Delaney.”
“We know she works for the museum if she has an office upstairs,” Jessie pointed out.
“That name sounds familiar,” said Benny.
“Let's go ask at the front desk,” suggested Henry.
The children finished their ice cream and threw their garbage in the trash can. Then they headed out to the front desk.
“Excuse me?” Henry asked the man sitting there. “Is there a Ms. Delaney working here?”
“Ms. Delaney?” the man repeated. “Yes. She's the director of the museum.”
“The director?” Henry said. “Oh, thank you.”
As the Aldens walked away, Benny turned to the others, an excited look on his face. “That's why that name is familiar! She's the one Dr. Snood said had called him because she was angry about the Egypt exhibit!”
“Why do you think Lori is talking to her?” Jessie wondered.
“Do you think Lori's working for the Carson City Museum?” Henry asked.
“Doing what?” asked Violet.
“I'm not sure. Maybe trying to get information about the Egypt exhibit,” Henry suggested.
Benny's eyes opened wide. “Like a spy?”
“Or maybe even more than that,” Jessie said. “Maybe Ms. Delaney is so angry at the Greenfield Museum that she's hired Lori to ruin the exhibit.”
“So you think Lori stole those pieces for the Carson City Museum?” Violet asked.
“It could be,” said Jessie.
Sam was working in the prep room when the Aldens arrived the next morning. When they asked her about the missing pieces, she said only that she didn't want to talk about them.
“She seems upset,” Violet whispered to Jessie. The children spent the morning helping Sam arrange the artifacts in the glass cases. Only Henry and Jessie were allowed to carry the pieces. Benny and Violet brought the description cards to place beside them. Sam carried the most delicate pieces herself.
The children also worked on their guide. They studied the books Pete had lent them. Sam let them use her computer and printer. Jessie wrote an introduction to the exhibit. Henry typed up a brief description of ancient Egypt. Violet, who was an excellent artist, traced a map. She also copied some hieroglyphs out of a book and made a chart showing what each word meant. And she drew a beautiful picture of a mummy's death mask for the cover. Benny finished his maze and added a comic strip about mummy making.
When all the pieces of the guide were complete, they gave them to Sam. “Would you take a look at these, please?” Henry asked. “We want to make sure we didn't make any mistakes.”
“I'd be happy to,” Sam said, sitting down at her desk to read the children's work.
As Jessie stood next to Sam, she noticed a framed photograph on her desk. It showed four small cats lying on a bed. “Are those all your cats?” Jessie asked.
“Yes, those are my beauties,” Sam said. “I have a weakness for cats.”
A few minutes later, Sam had read through everything. “This looks great! You can make copies on the machine outside Pete's office,” she suggested as she headed out to get some lunch. “Don't forget to lock the door when you go.”
The children took all the pages and locked the door to the prep room behind them. As Sam had told them, they went downstairs to the copy machine by Pete's office. They made a stack of copies and stapled the pages together into little booklets. On top of each stack they put a copy of Violet's death mask cover.
The children were quite pleased with their work. They each picked up a pile of guides and headed toward the stairs.
But they stopped abruptly when they saw who was sitting a little way down the hall, outside Dr. Snood's office.
It was Lori Paulson.
“Not again!” Henry said.
Lori didn't notice them because she was studying a small, blue notebook she held in her lap.
“Hey!” Jessie cried. “That's my notebook!”
Lori looked up then. She stood up and started walking toward the Aldens. “Is this yours?” she asked, holding the notebook out in front of her.
“Yes,” said Jessie. “It is.”
“I saw your name on the inside cover,” Lori said. “How convenient that you guys happened to be right here.”
“Yes, how convenient,” said Jessie suspiciously as Lori placed the notebook on top of the pile of guides she was holding. “Where did you find it?”
“It was right there on that bench,” Lori said.
Jessie nodded slowly. She didn't remember carrying the notebook down here. How had it ended up there?
Benny groaned. His arms were getting tired from holding the stack of guides. “Can we get going before I drop these?”
“Sure,” Jessie said. “See you later, Lori.”
The Aldens walked back up to the exhibit hall and put the guides down on one of the glass cases. Sam was still gone.
“How did your notebook end up down on that bench?” Violet asked.
“That's just what I was wondering,” said Jessie. “I don't remember bringing it down there.”
“Maybe Lori didn't really find it there,” Henry said.
“What do you mean?” Benny asked.
“Maybe she took the notebook,” said Henry.
“I don't understand,” said Benny. “Why would she take it?”
“She wanted to know all about the exhibit, right?” said Henry. “What better way to find out than by looking in Jessie's notebook, which listed everything?”
While he was talking, Jessie was slowly turning the pages of her notebook. The look on her face was growing more and more concerned.
“What is it, Jessie?” Violet asked.
“I think somebody's changed what I wrote!” said Jessie. She laid the book down on the display case where they could all see. She pointed to one of the items on the list. It had been crossed off so heavily it was hard to see what was written beneath. “See here? I don't remember crossing anything off.” She flipped to another page. “And here, where it says âgold cat statue'? I had written â
gold cat statues.' Someone crossed out the
at the end.”
“But why?” Henry wondered.
“I have a feeling I know,” Jessie said. But before she explained, she started walking around the room, looking at the display cases. At last, she stopped in front of one of the cases. “There's one of the gold cat statues,” she said. “But where's the other one?”
The children looked all around, but the other cat wasn't there.
“So you think Lori changed what was in here so you wouldn't remember there had been two cats?” Violet asked.
“Yes,” said Jessie.
“Or maybe it wasn't Lori,” said Henry. “Remember, Dr. Snood was holding that gold cat and he had that strange smile on his face? Maybe Lori wasn't lying about finding the notebook. Maybe it really was outside Dr. Snood's office. Maybe
the one who stole the pieces and changed what was written in here.”
“Why would he steal things from his own museum?” Benny asked.
“I don't know,” said Henry. “But he's always acting so strangeâholding the pieces as if they belonged to him, and yelling at us to make sure we don't touch them.”
“He does collect Egyptian artifacts. Remember, they're all over his office,” Jessie said. “Maybe he has even more at homeâones he's stolen.”
“Or maybe he's the one trying to ruin the exhibit!” Henry said all of a sudden. “He's been against this exhibit from the start. Maybe he wants to prove he's right by making sure the exhibit fails.”