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Authors: Karen King

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BOOK: Sabotage
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Chapter 4
Lies

‘I always feel like we’re being watched in here,’ I told Max as we cycled through the woods to Old Joe’s the next morning.

‘Me too,’ he replied, looking around nervously. ‘I can’t remember it being this spooky before,’ he said, just as an ice cold breeze whipped past, sending our bikes veering to the left.

The shivers down my spine began to multiply when we heard hurried footsteps coming from deep within the woods. I couldn’t believe our bad luck. It was only Skinhead and his two friends again, looking very amused about something. I braced myself for trouble, but they seemed to be distracted by something else.

‘That’ll teach the old guy to grass us up,’ Skinhead chortled, and they all ran off, shrieking with laughter.

‘Sounds like they’ve been causing trouble for Old Joe,’ I said to Max. ‘Let’s go and see what they’ve been up to.’

We didn’t have to wait long to find out. As Old Joe’s cottage came into sight we saw half a dozen chickens running around outside his garden.

‘Those creeps must have let them out,’ I said. ‘We’d better try to round them up before they get lost.’

We jumped off our bikes and ran after the chickens, trying to shoo them back into the yard, but they just kept running around in circles, squawking like mad. Chickens are pretty dumb animals, I can tell you!

‘Hey, what are you kids doing with my birds!’ Old Joe was standing at the fence, watching us, and he looked real mad.

‘We’re trying to get your chickens back in,’ Max said. ‘I think those yobs you told off yesterday let them out – probably some kind of revenge because you told PC Lambard about them starting that fire.’

‘Hmm, I saw them hanging around earlier and wondered if they were up to mischief. Well, you’ll not catch the chickens that way. Wait there, and for goodness sake stop chasing them around.’ Joe hurried off, returning a few minutes later with a bucket of corn. He scooped out a handful and sprinkled it on the ground. The chickens immediately ran over and started eating it. Then Joe walked back into his yard, scattering a trail of corn on the ground behind him. The chickens eagerly scuttled after him, gobbling it up as he went. Max and I followed, wheeling our bikes alongside us.

‘Neat!’ I told Joe when the chickens were all rounded up. ‘I think you might have trouble with those three yobs, though. They seem to have got it in for you.’

‘That’s the trouble with the youth of today,’ said Old Joe. ‘No respect!’ ‘Well, they’ll get more than they bargained for if they keep bothering me. I won’t stand for it.’

I wasn’t sure about that. Skinhead and his friends were trouble with a capital T. I just hoped they didn’t bother Old Joe too much. I liked him.

‘What brought you two back here today?’ he asked. ‘My home-made lemonade and crusty bread, perhaps?’

‘Mum sent you an apple pie to thank you for the vegetables,’ Max told him.

I took the pie out of the basket on the back of my bike. ‘Here it is.’

‘Thank you. Come and have a slice with me,’ he said. ‘It’s good to have a bit of company.’

As we tucked into lemonade and apple pie, I told Joe about the phone call I’d overheard Mr Smythe make. ‘Maybe they’re the ones that made the offer for your cottage,’ I said. ‘Have you heard any more about it?’

‘No, and they’d be wasting their time. I was born here and I’m going to die here, just like the rest of my family did before me,’ Old Joe said adamantly. ‘I don’t care what treasure they think is buried here. It can stay buried as far as I’m concerned.’

Max’s mum was at home when we got back. We told her about the bracelet and Old Joe’s letter.

‘Did Joe ever get married?’ I asked. ‘Has he got any children?’

‘He was married, but his wife died many years ago,’ she replied. ‘And no, they didn’t have any children. Why?’

‘It’s just that … well … he’s quite old, isn’t he? And I wondered who would get the cottage when he dies. It would be nice for it to stay in the family.’

‘I’ve no idea. I’m sure there’s a relative somewhere. A niece or nephew, perhaps, but don’t worry, Old Joe’s got years in him yet.’

Mr Smythe was the only person around when I got home, so I decided to tackle him head-on about the bracelet.

‘You know that bracelet I showed you yesterday?’ I asked him. ‘Well I changed my mind about throwing it away, but when I went to get it out of the bin, it had gone.’

He looked at me. ‘It was very small, easy to miss. It probably dropped inside a tin or something.’

I folded my arms and met his eyes. ‘I emptied the whole bin. There weren’t any tins in there, and the bracelet wasn’t there either.’

He put his hand in his pocket and took out a ten pound note. ‘Look, you seem a bit upset about it, so why don’t you go and buy yourself a nice new bracelet.’ He held out the note in his cold, sweaty hand. ‘Go on, take it.’

I was tempted, I can tell you. It’s not every day someone offers me money, but I couldn’t do it. He’d taken the bracelet; I knew it and he knew I knew it. If I accepted his money it was like saying that he’d bought it off me, and I wasn’t having that. I shook my head. ‘No thanks. I want the bracelet back. I found it, so it’s mine.’

Mr Smythe looked as if he was trying to hold in his anger as he put the banknote back in his pocket. He leaned forward so that his face was level with mine. I backed away a bit; I didn’t like my personal space being invaded – and he was real creepy. ‘Then you shouldn’t have thrown it away, should you?’ he said menacingly. ‘And, just a friendly warning – if I were you, I wouldn’t mention this to anyone else. You might not like the consequences.’

Chapter 5
Trapped

How dare he? I fumed once I’d recovered from the shock. How dare Mr Smythe steal my bracelet then threaten me not to talk about it. I toyed with the idea of telling Gran, but I didn’t want to make any trouble for her. I knew she needed the money from her guests. It hadn’t been easy for her to cope since Grandad had walked out. No, I decided to bide my time and get the bracelet back at the first opportunity I could. That would show him.

My chance came the next day. Gran had just finished cleaning the guests’ rooms and asked me to take some clean towels into Mr Smythe’s room. He was out, of course. He’d gone out straight after breakfast as usual, but Gran had left his door open for me. I walked in with the clean towels and looked around. It was spick and span, as I’d guessed. Some guests were really messy and left all sorts of things lying around, but I’d figured Mr Smythe was the sort of man who would tidy everything away.

Now where would he put the bracelet? It was wrong to look through his stuff, I knew that. Gran would go totally mad if she caught me, but I was only trying to find what was rightfully mine. I put the clean towels in the en suite then went over to the chest of drawers. I checked the drawers one by one – nothing but some neatly-folded clothes in each. I searched the bedside cabinet too, and under the pillow (my favourite hiding place) – but no bracelet. I guess he’s taken it with him, I thought, disappointed.

As I turned to go, I saw a thick book peeping out from under the bed. Curious, I bent down and picked it up. It was about Roman history. A marker was sticking out of one page, so I opened it up and saw that it was a page of jewellery – necklaces, bracelets, rings – and that one bracelet had been highlighted in yellow. It looked just like the one I’d found; the one Mr Smythe had stolen. Excited, I started to read about it.

‘Hello, Mr Smythe. I thought you were out for the day.’

What? He’d come back!

‘I am, Mrs Carter, but I’ve forgotten something,’ Mr Smythe replied. Then, to my horror, I heard him pounding up the stairs. I couldn’t let him find me here, not after his threat last night. I snapped the book shut and dived under the bed, wriggling out of sight just as I heard his footsteps outside the door. Too late I realised that I was still holding the book. What if he’d come back for that?

‘Why is the door to my room open, Mrs Carter?’ Mr Smythe demanded.

Oh sugar, why hadn’t I closed the door? Please don’t tell him you sent me to put some clean towels in here Gran, I begged silently.

‘I’ve just cleaned your room and was about to bring you some more refreshment supplies. I see you’re almost out of coffee and milk,’ Gran called up the stairs. She always left a kettle and cups, plus tea, coffee, milk and sugar so the guests could make themselves a hot drink in their room.

‘Thank you, that’s very much appreciated,’ Mr Smythe replied.

Holding my breath, I listened as he walked across the room, opened the wardrobe and rummaged inside. Then he took something out, closed it again and walked back across the room. Great, he was going. I relaxed a bit and waited for him to go out and close the door so I could make my escape.

Suddenly, I heard a yap and the patter of doggy feet bound across the room. Oh no, it was Fluffy! And she’d sussed me! She started sniffing under the bed, yapping away. Then she started wriggling under it. Damn that dog, why did she always have to be such a nuisance? She was going to give me away. My heart was pounding in my chest so loud, I was sure it was echoing around the room. So, how was I going to get out of this one without getting into some serious trouble?

‘Get out of there!’ Mr Smythe sounded quite hysterical. ‘Mrs Carter. Would you kindly get your dog out of my room?’ he bellowed.

‘I’ll get her, Auntie Sue.’ It was Max, thank goodness.

I heard him run into the room. ‘Fluffy, here girl!’ He bent down to get Fluffy, who had now wriggled right under the bed. His eyes widened when he saw me staring up at him. I put my fingers to my lips and tried to edge away from the yapping dog.

Luckily, Fluffy much preferred Max to me, so came out happily and went back downstairs with him. Mr Smythe went to follow Max out of the room, but just then, his cellphone rang. I groaned inwardly as he sat down on the bed to answer it. I hoped he didn’t talk for long. My eyes and nose were itching like mad. Any minute now I was going to sneeze. I pinched my nose tight to hold it back.

‘Neil?’

Could this be the same man he’d been talking to the other day?

‘Yes, I got it checked. It’s authentic.’

I couldn’t make out the reply, but was sure they were talking about the bracelet.

‘Good. Then it’s time we made a move and approached the old man with an offer. Yes, yes, I’ll do it. I’m the nearest, after all, and I’m a bit more persuasive than you, if I say so myself.’

He finished the phone call and finally left the room, closing the door behind him just as I couldn’t hold back the sneeze any longer.

‘Atchooo!’

I froze as I heard the door open again. He’d heard me! I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead as I closed my eyes and braced myself for the inevitable.

‘You can come out now, he’s gone.’

Phew! It was Max. I scrambled out from under the bed and brushed myself down. ‘That was a really close shave!’

‘What on earth were you doing under there?’ asked Max.

‘Let’s go up to my room and I’ll tell you. I don’t want to hang about here for a minute longer.’

I told Max about Mr Smythe’s threat and the phone call I’d heard him make. ‘So you see, Mr Smythe and his friend must be looking for Roman ruins. And now I’ve found that bracelet, they think that some ruins are buried under Old Joe’s cottage,’ I explained.

‘Wow!’ Max looked at me with saucer eyes. ‘We’ve been learning about the Romans at school. How cool that they might have actually lived here.’

‘There’s another thing ...’

‘What?’

‘If Mr Smythe and his friend haven’t approached Old Joe with an offer to buy his cottage yet, Mr Dawson can’t have anything to do with them and this Roman stuff – so why does
he
want to buy the cottage?’

We decided to go and visit Old Joe that afternoon to see if he knew any more about why Mr Dawson wanted his cottage.

‘I’ve had a visitor,’ Joe said as soon as we arrived. ‘Real smart looking man, he was. Said he was calling on behalf of Mr Dawson. Offered me even more money to buy my house,’ he sniffed. ‘I refused, of course. This is my home, I said. You could offer me all the money in the world and I wouldn’t sell it.’

‘What did the man say then?’ asked Max.

‘Just went off in a huff and said I might regret turning down such a generous offer. Some people just can’t understand that money can’t buy everything.’

‘What did the man look like?’ I asked.

Joe thought for a minute. ‘Tall, dark-haired, very smart, spoke like he had a plum in his mouth.’

Definitely not Mr Smythe then. I looked over at the field. Mr Smythe was nowhere to be seen – but then he wouldn’t be, I suppose – it was Old Joe’s place he was interested in now.

‘Have you found out any more about the bracelet?’ Joe asked.

‘Yes, it’s a Roman one,’ I told him, briefly explaining about finding the book in Mr Smythe’s room. Then I told him about the phone call I’d overheard.

‘I think you’ll be getting a visit from My Smythe soon,’ I told him. ‘He and his friend are convinced that there are Roman ruins buried below your land, with lots of valuable relics.’

‘So now there are two people after your cottage,’ Max said. ‘Maybe Mr Dawson has heard about the ruins too, and that’s why he wants to buy it.’

‘You know, my father was very interested in the Romans,’ Old Joe said. ‘There’s still a pile of his old journals and books in a trunk in the attic – and maybe some of my grandfather’s too.’

‘Can we have a look at some of the journals?’ I asked. ‘We might find something interesting.’

‘Of course, but I’m warning you, the attic is full of cobwebs and dust and who knows what else.’

I shrugged. ‘Fine by me.’

‘Me too,’ said Max.

Joe was right, the attic was dusty and full of spiders. It was also full of old trunks, clothes, pictures and books. Mom would love this stuff, I thought, stopping to look at a painting of a beautiful autumn woodland scene. It looked like it had been painted hundreds of years ago.

‘Hey, look at this!’ Max swooped on a black bowler hat and put it on, but it fell down over his eyes.

Joe laughed. ‘All you need is a walking stick and moustache and you’d be a proper Charlie Chaplin.’

‘Charlie who?’ we both asked.

‘Charlie Chaplin,’ Joe replied. ‘He was a comedian when I was a lad.’

Joe scanned the dark, dusty room. ‘Grandad’s trunk is here somewhere,’ he muttered.

‘What does it look like?’ I asked.

Joe frowned. ‘Dark wood with black leather straps going across it, from what I can recall.’

Finally, we found it, pushed against the far wall near the window. We spent a good couple of hours browsing through it. There were lots of faded family photos – Joe got quite nostalgic looking at them – and letters that his dad sent to his mom when he was away fighting in the War. Joe wouldn’t read them though (he said it was snooping). Among a pile of dusty books, there were three about the Romans. We took one each and flicked through them. I saw a section on jewellery and eagerly scanned for a picture of my bracelet.

‘This is it, this is my bracelet!’ I shouted, pointing at the picture. ‘It says here that it was made of solid gold and only worn by the nobility.’ I looked up. ‘Gosh, it must be really valuable.’

‘Maybe not … it could just be a copy made out of some cheap metal,’ Joe said.

He was right, there was no way of knowing if the bracelet I found was real or not. If only I’d kept it.

‘And just because you dug up one Roman bracelet doesn’t mean that there’s a Roman village underneath my land,’ he continued. ‘It could be a one-off. Someone might have lost it and it’s been there ever since, until your machine picked it up.’

It was a possibility, but Mr Smythe clearly believed that there were valuable Roman artefacts under this land and that’s why he wanted to buy the cottage. And Mr Dawson must think there’s something special about the place, or why would he offer Joe such a vast amount of money?

BOOK: Sabotage
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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