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Excerpt for The Old House Adventure - A Two Jays Story by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


About the Book

When Jessica comes to stay with her cousin James for the summer half term, they pass a creepy old house on their way to the town museum. James rescues Maddie Quedgley, a girl their age, from being run over by a speeding truck, but when James and Jessica, known as the Two Jays, insist on taking Maddie home, it is to a house where she seems to be living on her own. From down in the basement they hear footsteps walking around above them. When the door to the basement is suddenly locked, things become dangerous. Someone is very keen to get hold of a valuable item Maddie's father is guarding. So who is the man watching them in the museum, and who is the mysterious Ethan?


This is the fifth Two Jays adventure story. They can be read in any order, although each one moves forward slightly in time.


The Old House

Adventure

by

Chris Wright


© Chris Wright 2018


e-Book ISBN: 978-1-912529-07-0


also available as a paperback

ISBN: 978-1-912529-06-3


Published by

White Tree Publishing

Bristol

UNITED KINGDOM


Website: www.whitetreepublishing.com


Email: wtpbristol@gmail.com


The Old House Adventure is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.


All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.




Table of Contents


Cover


About the Book


Chapter 1


Chapter 2


Chapter 3


Chapter 4


Chapter 5


Chapter 6


Chapter 7


Chapter 8


Chapter 9


Chapter 10


Chapter 11


Chapter 12


Chapter 13


Chapter 14


Chapter 15


Chapter 16


Chapter 17


Chapter 18


Chapter 19


Chapter 20


Chapter 21


Chapter 22


Chapter 23


Chapter 24


Chapter 25


About White Tree Publishing


About the author


More books for young readers



Chapter 1


"That," James said, "is one creepy old house. Stop here a moment and look at it, Jessica."

Jessica Green had come to stay with her cousin, James Cooper, for the summer half term. James's parents were working, and unable to take the time off that week. So instead of going away as they usually did, Jessica had come on the train on Friday evening to stay with James and his parents. It was now Saturday morning.

James had planned to take Jessica for a walk on the common, but Jessica insisted they went to the museum in town. She said it was much larger than the one where she lived, and she wanted to look at some of the Roman exhibits for a school project she was working on.

"Well, at least it's not the shops," James had said, before they set off.

They were making their way down a wide road in what had once been a well-to-do part of town, but now most of the houses had been turned into low-cost apartments, and seemed to be badly cared for. Many of the gardens were overgrown.

James frowned. "I've got a weird feeling I've been inside that house. A long time ago." He gave a pretend shiver. "The creepy creeper growing up the walls doesn't help."

This was not a part of the town he knew, but it was a fairly direct route to the museum. The old house was built mostly of brick, with tall narrow windows with stone surrounds. The windows looked in need of urgent replacement. The strangest feature of all was a turret room high up on one corner, with narrow windows that looked out in three directions.

Jessica pointed up to it. "It can't be all that creepy," she said. "There's a small wooden cross hanging in one of the windows."

James gave an even bigger shiver. "That's there because the house was built over a mediaeval burial vault. Deep down in the basement there will be skeletons and spiders. You wouldn't like it down there at all."

Jessica laughed. "And tight squeezy passages where you'd probably get stuck," she said, remembering James's dislike of being underground.

James shrugged. "Well, one thing's for certain, we're never going to find out what's down there. Just look at that front door. It could do with a new coat of paint. The doorknocker is like a hand. It would probably grab hold of you if you tried to knock on it."

"I think we'd better go on," Jessica said. "I've just seen someone moving about in the turret. It's rude to stare into people's houses."

James was already walking away. "Especially staring into creepy ones," he called back over his shoulder. "You might see some ghastly face staring out at you from the window."

Jessica hurried to catch up with him. "The problem with you, James, is that you've got too vivid an imagination. Anyway, whoever it was didn't see me. You're right, fortunately we're never going to find out what's in the basement. Are you sure the museum is open all day on Saturdays?"

"Bound to be. If not, we can always go on the common, which is what I planned. You'd like it there."

Jessica shook her head. "I know it's the holidays, but I really do need to have a look at the Roman bits and pieces. I hope they let me take photographs. Most museums do nowadays. How much further is it?"

"The museum? About half a mile. We have to cross the main road and then we're right in the middle of town."

Known as the Two Jays, the cousins had been involved in several adventures together when on holiday, but James didn't expect anything especially exciting to happen on this holiday.

When they reached the main road James looked both ways. It seemed to be busy. "We'd better use the underpass," he said. "You never know when ... Hey, look out!"

A girl with unruly dark hair was walking in front of them, wearing earphones. She had bright blue leggings, a short yellow and black striped dress, and a bright red top, and was about to step into the road. James reached forward and grabbed hold of her top, pulling her to safety as a large truck almost brushed against her, its horn blaring.

The girl turned quickly and stared angrily at James.

Jessica came forward. "My cousin saved your life," she said. "Didn't you see the truck coming?"

The girl pulled her earphones away. "I thought I was being mugged, or kidnapped. I was miles away. Yes, thanks, James."

James shook his head as he stared at the girl. Her brightly coloured clothing reminded him of an exotic bird, probably a parrot, but he certainly wasn't going to comment on it. Although the girl was quite small, she had an older looking face, and was probably about their age. But he'd never seen her before. Well, not that he could think of. She certainly didn't go to his school. "Glad to help," he said. "But how do you know my name?"

"I'm...." The girl stopped, and began to shake. "I'm.... I need to.... That was so stupid of me stepping out without looking.... I need to sit down for a few minutes."

Jessica pointed to the other side of the main road. "I can see a café there. We'd better go with you. A hot drink might help. You look really shaken up."

"And we take the underpass," James said decisively. "Okay?"

Five minutes later they were sitting in what called itself a coffee shop, although it served a range of hot and cold drinks, and hot and cold snacks. The girl had opted for a fruit smoothie instead of a hot drink, but Jessica and James, feeling equally shaken now, had gone for hot chocolate, with James opting for added cream on top.

"You know my name," James said when everyone had settled down. "But I don't know you. At least, I don't think I do."

"I'm Maddie," the girl said. "Maddie Quedgley. Our mums knew each other, years ago. I used to come round to your house. You had a paddling pool in the back garden."

"Maddie Quedgley." James repeated slowly. He nodded. "Yes, of course. I'm surprised you can remember me. We must have being really small at the time. You had a knitted rabbit called Mr Binks that you took everywhere with you."

Mr. Binks' mouth was crooked, and his eyes were at a strange angle. James remembered being frightened the first time he saw the toy rabbit, and running to hide. He felt himself going red as he recalled a little girl in a bright red swimsuit playing in the water, while he wore skimpy swimming trunks. He remembered Maddie splashing water in his face as they giggled like two silly little children, which he realised is what they were at the time. He hoped Maddie wasn't going to mention that embarrassing scene.

"Your swimming trunks were blue," Maddie said thoughtfully, winking at Jessica. "And your hair was shorter then. I called your mother Aunty Amy, although she wasn't really my aunt. Who's your friend, James?"

"Sorry. This is Jessica Green, my cousin. She calls my mum Aunty Amy, as she really is her aunt. Jessica's come to stay for the half term. We're on our way to the museum."

Jessica shook her head. "Not yet, James. We can't let Maddie leave here on her own. Where do you live, Maddie? You ought to go home. We'll make sure you get back safely. You look really shaken up."

Maddie Quedgley pointed vaguely back across the main road. "It's only a few minutes. You're right though, I'm still feeling a bit shaky. But please don't bother about me. I can manage okay."

Jessica was insistent. "The museum can wait. I'm here for the whole of next week."

James sipped his chocolate. "We can't go yet. I want to finish this. It's still a bit hot. Yes, Maddie, it's all coming back to me now. Your mum and mine were friends. I seem to remember your mother is French. I haven't seen you or your mother for ages. What happened?"

Maddie shook her head. "Didn't you know? Maman died five years ago."

"Oh, I'm sorry," James said quietly, guessing maman was French for mum. "No, I don't think I did know. It was our mothers who were friends, not you and me. I don't think I'd have recognised you if you hadn't recognised me."

"So who are you living with?" Jessica asked gently.

Maddie looked surprised. "With my papa of course. You're right, my maman was French. Maman used to speak to me in French, and Papa spoke to me in English, so I was bilingual." She frowned. "I've forgotten most of the French now, as Papa only speaks English. Maman wanted me to call my father papa, which as I'm sure you know is French for dad." She thought for a moment. "And sometimes it's just me, when Papa is away. He's a Professor of archaeology, but I can't go with him on excavations and conventions in term time."

James stared at Maddie in amazement. "You don't mean you stay in the house on your own?"

Maddie shrugged. "It's no big deal. Papa's only ever away for a few days at a time. I have my own bank card. Even when Papa is home, I buy all the food for the week, and buy my own clothes and school uniform when I need things like that. Papa makes sure I have plenty of money in the account. He trusts me with it. Anyway, Papa is coming home today. He said he's taking me to a dig on a Roman site next week. A village called Happlett Parva. It's my half term too."

"A Roman excavation sounds great," Jessica said, her eyes lighting up. "Just the sort of thing that would help me with my school project."

"You could come as well," Maddie said. She seemed much calmer now.

Jessica shook her head. "I don't think I'd be allowed. I've come to stay with James and his parents. Do you really stay in the house all on your own when your father is away? It sounds a bit scary to me."

Maddie pulled a face. "It can sometimes be a bit scary. It's a large house, and it's old. The floors creak at night, all by themselves." She laughed. "Well, I always hope they're doing it by themselves! No, I don't really mind. Not too much, anyway."

"Talking about creaking floorboards," James said, finishing his hot chocolate and wiping the brown moustache from his mouth, "we passed the creepiest of creepy houses on our way here. It had stuff growing up the walls, and a weird turret thing with a pointed roof. The front door had a brass knocker like a hand, ready to grab hold of anyone using it. We wondered who on earth would live in a house like that."

Jessica laughed. "And James thought the basement would be full of skeletons."

"And spiders," James added, then he caught the expression on Maddie's face. "Oh."

"I'll take you down to the basement if you like," Maddie said, getting to her feet. "That sounds like my house."


Chapter 2


James stared at Maddie, trying to see a hint of a smile. She seemed to be serious. "You're not kidding?"

Maddie clearly wasn't kidding. "I know what you mean," she said quietly, "but it's my home. And if Papa is back from London, please don't tell him I nearly got run over."

James shook his head. "Of course not."

"I suggest you don't wear your earphones when crossing busy roads!" Jessica added.

Maddie shook her head. "Never again. Big lesson there."

As Maddie shook her head, her long curly hair flew everywhere. James thought his mum would probably call it wild hair, but it looked okay on Maddie. "That room in the turret must be interesting," he said, trying to cover up his comments about the house being so creepy. "What's up there?"

Maddie smiled as she pushed back her chair and stood up. "That's my bedroom, and I love it. James, don't worry about what you said about the house. You're right, it does look creepy, but it's the only home I've ever known, and I love it."

"Isn't the house a bit big for just two of you?" James said.

Maddie opened the coffee shop door to leave. "Not really. Papa works from home and he needs somewhere big. Come on, I'll show you round. Believe me, there aren't any spiders in the basement."

"What about skeletons?" James asked, as they went into the street.

Maddie smiled. "Papa sometimes brings a few bones back to examine, but never a complete skeleton. You could be in luck, we might find one there today!"

Maddie's house was indeed the one they had passed on their way into town. Even knowing that Maddie Quedgley lived there didn't seem to make it any less creepy. James caught Jessica's eye and gave one of his pretend shivers. "Where did that brass doorknocker come from?" he asked.

"It's great," Maddie said. "It was here when Papa and Maman bought the house. The previous owner was eccentric, Papa says. It came from an old manor house."

James thought the knocker would be the first thing he'd change if he ever bought the house. He looked up at the creeper-infested wall. Not that he ever would be buying a house like this, even if he had a billion pounds. "We'll just see you to the bottom of the front steps, Maddie," he said. "I don't fancy being grabbed by that hand."

"We'll make sure you're safely inside," Jessica said firmly.

Maddie was in front and stopped at the large entrance door, painted dark red, and in need of repainting. It was slightly open. She turned, frowning. "That's strange. The lock's been damaged. It was okay when I went out."

"Perhaps your father did it, if he's back" Jessica suggested.

Maddie was examining the lock. "It looks as though it's been forced. We'd better go inside and investigate."

"I think I saw your father, your papa, up in the turret," Jessica said. "I saw someone moving around up there, so I expect he's back early."

"It might be him," Maddie said, frowning, "although he doesn't usually go up there."

"In that case, perhaps we should stay out here and phone the police," Jessica said firmly. "Your father wouldn't have damaged the lock."

Maddie managed to laugh, although it sounded rather forced. "I'm not scared, if you're not. Let's go in and see."

She pushed the old front door cautiously. It squeaked on its hinges.

James put his fingers under the brass hand. "Help, it's caught me, it's caught me! It won't let go!"

Jessica pulled him away. "Stop messing about and come in."

Maddie led the way into the large, dark hallway. Several doors led off it, and a wide staircase faced them. They stood in the hallway, listening.

"Papa! Papa!" Maddie called loudly, making Jessica and James jump.

No one answered.

"Right," Maddie said with decision, "we'll start in the dining room."

She pushed open a white painted door that also squeaked on its hinges, making James wonder if there was a shortage of oil in town. He knew his mum would never put up with squeaking hinges at home.

The dining room had a huge mahogany table and dark wooden dining chairs with brown leather seats. There was a long sideboard and several bookcases, and everything looked a bit of a mess. James turned to Jessica and shrugged. Perhaps it always looked like this. An absent-minded Professor and a girl living on their own might not be as tidy as his parents were. One of the dining chairs lay on its back on the carpet.

"At least there's not any blood," James whispered. "I'm glad about that."

Jessica told him to be quiet. He wasn't helping at all.

On the table several small cardboard boxes had their contents scattered around, and some bits and pieces were even on the floor. "Then this isn't how it usually looks?" James asked cautiously, not wanting to sound critical.

"Of course not," Maddie said. She started to look through the scattered items on the table. There were broken bits of pottery, small metal items like rings and brooches, and what looked like ancient coins.

"Anything missing?" Jessica asked.

Maddie turned to her. "This is Papa's stuff, not mine. Most of it isn't worth much anyway, but how should I know what's missing?" she said sharply.

Jessica tried not to show how hurt she was by Maddie's response. After all, coming back and finding things like this must be upsetting, so she let it go. "How about the person I saw upstairs when we came by earlier," she said. "Maybe your father didn't hear us call out."

Before either Jessica or James could stop her, Maddie was out of the room and running up the wide staircase, her clothing a flash of bright colours.

"Come back," Jessica called. "It might not be your father. It might be whoever broke into the house, and they might still be here."

"If anyone really has broken in," James whispered to his cousin. "I remember now, my mum used to say Professor Quedgley was completely scatterbrained. It probably runs in the family."

Jessica gave him a shush, and hurried up the stairs after Maddie. "Come on, James, Maddie might need our help," she said, her long legs taking the stairs two at a time, with her blonde hair streaming out behind. James had a job to keep up.

On the landing, as they looked for the staircase up to the turret room, they heard Maddie shout out. It didn't sound as though she was being attacked, it was more a cry of distress.

Maddie hurried down the winding stairs from the turret, her phone in her hand. "I'm calling the police. Papa isn't back, but someone's been in here. They've taken my laptop!"

She raised a finger as her phone call was answered. With surprising calm and clarity Maddie explained exactly why she wanted the police, gave her name and address, and looked at the Two Jays. "They'll be here in a few minutes, and we are to go outside and wait. And ... Oh no, someone could be down in the basement. We'll have to check."

The Two Jays followed Maddie down the main staircase to the hallway.

"I think we ought to go and wait outside, if that's what the police told you to do," Jessica said.

"If there's someone in the basement, we can lock them down there," Maddie said. "This is the door."

James looked at the substantial lock on the substantial door at the end of the gloomy hallway, and wondered who or what was down there. Maybe the substantial door and lock were to stop someone or something dangerous from escaping. In which case he was staying up.

Maddie tried the handle and shook her head. "It's locked." She reached into a large stone vase on the coat-stand. "That's good, the key is still here. It means all Papa's equipment is safe."

James shook his head. To think that only an hour ago he had told Jessica he was glad they would never have to go inside the house and into the basement. Well, he was now in the house, but at least he was spared a trip to the dungeons.

"What's down there?" he asked.

Maddie raised a finger. "That sounds like the police."

Jessica caught hold of Maddie and pulled her towards the front door. "Then we'd better wait outside, as they told you to. And you too, James."

There were two police officers in the car, a man and a woman. The woman officer took Maddie into the large sitting room which also showed signs of having been searched by an intruder, assuming it wasn't always in a mess. James was unsure what to think. He looked at his watch. "I'll phone home. I know Mum is there. Not sure about Dad. One of them ought to come round. They need to know we've managed to get mixed up in some sort of incident. Again."

While James made the call and spoke to his mother, Maddie was explaining to the woman officer that her father was out, but would probably be back later in the afternoon.

"Probably? Have you tried phoning him?" the officer asked. Up until now she had sounded comforting and reassuring, but her smiley face seemed to be slipping.

"Good idea," Maddie said. She pulled a phone from a pocket in her red top, and keyed in a number on speed dial. She looked up, frowning. "It was switched straight off, as soon as it starting ringing. I'll try again in a few minutes."

The woman made a sort of grunting sound. "Well, you can't stay in this house on your own, Miss Quedgley. Not after there's been an intruder. We'll see what safe accommodation we can arrange for you, just until your father comes back." She turned to Jessica and James who were standing in the doorway. "Are you friends, or family?"

"Family friends," James said quickly, guessing where this was going. "Maddie is a family friend. I don't live far away, so Maddie's coming back with us. My mum is on her way, so she can sort it out with you. She'll be here in a few minutes."

James noticed Maddie give a sigh of relief. She obviously hadn't liked the idea of strangers being involved.

Maddie nodded. "So you don't have to worry about me."

The male officer said he'd made a complete search of the upstairs and ground floor, and asked Maddie if anything was missing.

"My laptop. It was up in my room in the turret. I don't know about anything else. I've had a quick look round, but my father may have lost some of his things. You probably noticed all sorts of antiquities in little boxes on the dining table. I don't think any of them are valuable. He keeps the valuable things in his laboratory."

"Which is where?" the male officer asked. "I didn't see a laboratory in my search."

"It's down in the basement, through the door at the end of the hall," Maddie said. "I'll get the key."

The officer opened the heavy door and stood at the top of a flight of stairs that went down into the darkness. He found the light switch and started down. "I want you all to stay up here," he told them.

"I hadn't thought of doing anything else," James whispered to Jessica. "Good luck down there with the skeletons."

The woman officer must have overheard. She turned to him. "There are skeletons down there?"

"It's one of his silly jokes," Jessica explained. "He's my cousin, so I have to keep apologising for him."

The woman smiled with what Jessica thought could either be understanding, or sympathy. Perhaps both.

The male officer came back up the stairs. "You'd better come down, Miss Quedgley," he said. "It all looks shipshape. I doubt if the intruder came this far, but we need to be certain before we secure the house."

As Maddie went down the staircase, Jessica gave James a nudge. "You're next," she said firmly.

James stood in the doorway and gasped in surprise. Down below was not some mediaeval burial vault filled with skeletons, spiders and rats, but an advanced laboratory with all sorts of technical equipment on benches. "No problem," he said.


Chapter 3


"I'll stop up here," the woman officer said. "Just in case your intruder returns and locks us all down there."

James wondered if she was serious or not, but it was a sensible suggestion anyway. A couple of minutes ago, staying up was a job he would willingly have undertaken, but the sight of the laboratory was far more attractive than remaining in the hallway.

James looked around. There were no windows, but bright overhead electric lights showed an advanced array of scientific equipment.

"Just as well the door was locked," the officer said. "This lot must be worth a few bob. What exactly does your father do, Miss Quedgley?"

"He's an archaeological scientist," Maddie said proudly. "Private collectors send him ancient artefacts and things to check for authenticity."

The officer frowned. "Artefacts?"

"Things like tools and ornaments made by people, but ancient. The big museums have their own laboratories, but private buyers and smaller museums need to be certain about what they're buying. There are lots of fakes and forgeries around, and people are asking thousands of pounds for some of them. He's just written a book about it with lots of photographs. The book's due out in ten days, and he's taking me out tonight for a meal to celebrate, so he must be on his way home."

James was examining a high-powered microscope when the woman officer called down the stairs.

"There's a Mrs Cooper here to see one of you."

"That's my mum," James said, as he made his way up the stairs to find his mother standing in the hallway looking extremely worried.

"You didn't tell me the police were here," his mother said, sounding as concerned as she looked. "What have you two been up to now? I thought you and Jessica were going to the museum."

Jessica now joined them. "It's nothing to do with us, Aunty Amy" she said. "We're only here to help one of James's friends. Her house has been broken into."

James led his mother out of the front door so they could talk in private. "You remember Maddie Quedgley," he said. "This is her house."

"You mean Ammadine Quedgley," his mother said, frowning. "I thought I recognised the house. We only came here once or twice. I found it a bit ... well, a bit creepy I suppose."

"She's called Maddie," James said, "but, yes, you're right, her name is Quedgley."

His mother smiled. "You started calling her Maddie, because you couldn't say Ammadine."

James put his hands to his face. "If I really did, I could only have been two or three at the time. So stop embarrassing me in front of Jessica. Anyway, I probably did her a favour, because the name seems to have stuck. Now listen, Mum, Maddie's in trouble. Her father's been away, and he's not back yet. He's not answering his phone, and the police might be putting her into residential care or something."

His mother looked up at the house. The creepy house. "You can't expect Maddie to stay here on her own. Her father might not come back today, and then what would happen?"

"I told the police we're family friends, and Maddie is coming back to stay with us until her father returns."

His mother looked horrified. "You surely can't think I'm going to lie to the police."

"No, Mum, Maddie really is going to stay with us. It will probably only be for a few hours, at the most. Or maybe until tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. "

"Maddie can sleep with me in the spare room," Jessica said. "One of us will have to sleep on the floor. I don't mind doing that."

"We'll see," Mrs Cooper said. "It's true, Maddie's mother and I were good friends, but I've not seen Maddie or her father since her mother died. Let's go in and see what the police have to say."

Maddie was in the hallway with her phone to her ear. "You're speaking too quietly, Papa. I can't hear you properly. When are you back? Wait, I need to know." She put her phone down in despair, and turned to the woman police officer. "I'm going to have to phone him back in a few minutes. He says he's somewhere where he's not supposed to make phone calls. That's why he blocked the call just now. I don't understand it. He said the meal will have to wait until he's back. He says he's on the Jerusalem excavation we were both working on last summer. He's never gone away that far without me before. He needs to be around for interviews when his book comes out."

The officer said, "That settles it then. We have to sort out where you're going to stay. We'll get in touch with Social Services, but try phoning your father again, Miss Quedgley, and let me speak to him. I'm going to give him a piece of my mind for being so irresponsible."

Maddie rang the number again, tears in her eyes. "It's gone to voicemail," she said.

The officer got her own phone out. Before she could dial, James nudged his mother. "Go on," he said. "Tell her."

Mrs Cooper nodded. "It's all right, officer, we're family friends, and Maddie will be perfectly safe with us. I'll take full responsibility for her. She'll be coming back with us now. I know her father would agree to that."

After a bit of discussion and argument, Mrs Cooper gave her address, and agreed that Social Services should contact her if they wanted to check that Maddie was being properly cared for, which they almost certainly would do on Monday, if not before.

The police arranged for someone to come and repair the damaged lock, but said the Professor would have to pay. They thought he could recover the money on his insurance.

"But the locksmith may want to be paid on the spot," the woman officer said. "How are you fixed?"

"It's all right," Maddie said, "I'll use my bank card. There's plenty of money in the account."

"You have a bank card?" the officer asked in surprise.

James was afraid that Maddie was about to explain how her father often went away and left her on her own, which in the circumstances wouldn't be a wise thing to say.

"It's just my papa and me living here," Maddie said. "He lets me do the housekeeping and pay the bills. Some people say he's a bit absent-minded, but he isn't. It's just that he gets so involved in his work that it helps us both if I get the food. I pay the bills for the heating and other things. Papa says it's good training for me in later life."

James noticed his mother nodding. She turned to the officer. "Sounds like a good idea to me. Young people need to get some idea of how family expenses work." She looked at James. "I hope you're listening, my lad."

"You're giving me my own bank card?" James said. "Excellent."

His mother shook her head. "I don't think we have to go that far. Now, Maddie, we don't need to keep the police any longer. If you've got food in the fridge or larder, perhaps we can get some lunch ready for the four of us, while we wait for the locksmith to come."

"Great idea, Mum," James said, laughing. "And if there isn't any food, you can lend me your bank card, and Jessica and I can go out and buy something."

"Dream on," his mother said, as she followed Maddie into a tidy kitchen. Clearly the person who broke in had not bothered to search in there.

As soon as the police had gone, Maddie and Mrs Cooper found enough cold food to keep even James from starvation. Maddie looked up in surprise as Mrs Cooper said grace. "Mrs. Cooper, can I call you Aunty Amy again, like I used to?"

"Of course you can, dear. It will be just like the old days. Now eat up."

They had only just started on the selection of cheese and ham sandwiches when Maddie jumped up. "You must excuse me," she said. "I've been wondering why the thief took my laptop. It might be connected with Papa's work. Not that I have anything of his work on it, but I do have access to the cloud. All my father's papers are on the cloud. I'm going down to the laboratory to log in and change the password. I just hope I'm in time."

"Jessica will go with you," Mrs Cooper said. "And take your sandwiches. You ought not to go anywhere in this house on your own. I know the police said there's no one here, but I think we should put something to keep the front door closed until the locksmith has been."

"Good idea, Aunty Amy" Maddie said. "We can put the coat-stand in front of it."

"I'll help you," James said, "but it's not heavy enough to stop someone pushing their way in."

"That's not a problem," Maddie said, as she and James struggled to move it in front of the door. "If anyone tries to get in, we'll hear it crashing over."

"And then what do we do?" James asked.

Maddie laughed. "We'll worry about that when it happens. Come on, Jessica, grab some sandwiches and come with me to the basement. Your Aunty Amy is right, and we shouldn't go down there on our own."

Downstairs in the laboratory Jessica watched while Maddie switched on an expensive-looking desktop computer. It sprang into life quickly.

"It's much faster than mine at home," Jessica said. "And the large monitor is so sharp."

Maddie was typing on the keyboard. She frowned, and typed something again. She looked up in alarm. "I can't log into the cloud."

"Try it again," Jessica suggested. "It's easy to make mistakes with long passwords, especially when you're feeling upset."

Maddie shook her head. "That's the problem, it isn't a long password. I keep telling Papa he needs long passwords, but he says he'll never remember them unless they're short."

"Well, try it again, anyway."

"It's no good, Jessica. What do you think has happened?"

Jessica didn't like to say what she thought had happened, but it had to be said. "It looks as though someone has changed the password. If your father didn't do it, it has to be whoever broke in!"


Chapter 4


Maddie kept typing, her hands getting more and more shaky. "It says I can't change the password unless I log in first. And I can't log in because the password doesn't work. I'm going round in circles."

"Did you have any passwords written on your laptop?"

Maddie sighed, and flung herself back in the chair, a bundle of bright colours. "I've got no more clue than Papa about security. Yes, I had some of them on there." Then she smiled. "But you need a password when you boot up. So how did the thief manage to get into the cloud?"

"Your father can contact the cloud company. He'll have arranged a secret question and the answer with them, in case he ever loses his password."

Maddie looked a bit more cheerful, then she sighed again. "But he's not here to do it. In the meantime someone could delete every file. His book is on there for a start."

"I thought you said it was with a publisher," Jessica said.

"His second book. He's got much of it written already." Maddie tapped the main computer unit gently. Then her eyes lit up. "What am I talking about? The cloud is only Papa's backup. All his files are on here, so we don't need to worry." She thought for a moment. "Or do we?"

"What are you suggesting?" Jessica asked, feeling relief that the files were safe.

"Papa has enemies. There are people who make a lot of money selling fake antiquities. If someone really has logged into his cloud account, they'll be able to read all his research. They'll find out exactly how he goes about identifying fakes and forgeries, and make sure they don't make the same mistakes again. He's not put all his techniques in the book, I know that for certain. Oh, this is terrible."

"What are you two up to down there?" Mrs Cooper called from the top of the stairs. "I think the locksmith is at the door. You'd better come up and help James move the coat-stand."

"Coming, Mrs Cooper," Maddie called. "I mean, Aunty Amy." She turned to Jessica. "Don't say anything to your aunt. Not yet. We don't need her worrying as well. After all, Papa might have changed the password without telling me."

While the locksmith went about his work, Jessica and James went down to the laboratory in the basement with Maddie, leaving Mrs Cooper to tidy the place up a bit. The police had said they had taken all the evidence they needed, but were doubtful about finding the identity of whoever had broken in.

"So all your father's work is on the hard drive of his computer?" James said, when he had been told of the situation. "Does he have any other backup, apart from the cloud?"

Maddie broke into a smile as she followed a cable from the back of the computer to a drawer in the desk. "Brilliant, James. There's a four-terabyte drive in here. Everything will be on it, right up to date. There's an automatic backup made every six hours."

"Then why use the cloud?" James asked.

"In case the house burns down," Maddie said simply. "What? It could happen. Better safe than sorry."

"Makes sense," Jessica said. "And what about your laptop? Do you have your class work on the cloud as well?"

"I do, but I always back it up on a USB drive. It was in the drawer in my bedroom, and I'm keeping it with me from now on." She pulled the miniature drive from her pocket. "As soon as I get another laptop, or get the stolen one back, I can easily carry on with my school work, even if I can't get back onto the cloud."

"Bring it with you to my house," James said. "My dad has an old laptop which I'm sure you can use until you get a replacement. We'll check you can open your files on there, and then you can get on with your class work." He began thinking to himself. Cloud backup, USB backup, a four terabytes drive. Great. But a simple password to everything on the cloud? A strange way to go about security!

Maddie disconnected the backup drive and took it up to the hall, saying it was wise to take it away from the house now someone had managed to break in. Mrs Cooper told her to pack her things, because it sounded as though her father was going to be away for quite some time if he was in Jerusalem.

"I don't understand why he's gone back to Jerusalem," Maddie said, frowning. "We spent the whole summer holiday at the dig last year, but Papa never said anything about going back. He could be there for ages. He's never gone away for more than four or five nights before, and he promised to take me out tonight to celebrate the forthcoming launch of his book. But it's not the first time he's gone off like this, so perhaps I should have expected it."

Mrs Cooper looked surprised. "Where do you stay when your father is away, Maddie?"

"Mum," James said quickly, "you don't want to know. Not yet. So don't ask."

"If it's what I'm thinking, James...."

"I don't know what you're thinking, Mum, but it doesn't matter at the moment. Maddie's come to no harm, and she's going to be safe with us until her father comes back."

"We'll leave it for now," his mother said, "but I knew Maddie's mother well. I feel some responsibility for Maddie's safety. She should never be in this big house on her own overnight. It has to be against the law. Now, Maddie, you must keep phoning your father, and be sure to bring the phone to me when he answers. I need to speak to him. Jessica, you'd better go up and help Maddie pack."

"I'll stay down here with you, Mum," James said, feeling unexpectedly embarrassed at the thought of going into a girl's bedroom. He'd often been in Jessica's room when visiting her house, but this was different. Mr Binks the knitted rabbit might be there! That rabbit was the thing of nightmares.

Jessica and Maddie were soon downstairs with some overnight things in a backpack. Maddie put the Professor's backup drive carefully in amongst the clothes so it wouldn't get knocked.

James watched as Maddie paid the locksmith with her card. The power of plastic. He wondered when he would be allowed one. Presumably he would need money in the bank first!

"I'm leaving you two new keys," the locksmith said. "You can always get more from me, and I'm keeping one in our safe for emergencies. The lock is different from the old one, and it's a lot stronger. It's part of the door handle now. You need to lift the handle to lock it, but make sure you use the key for added security. My advice is to call me to look at the security of your whole house as soon as your father gets back. Always use the key when you go out, or at night when you're in. Don't just slam it like you used to. It will latch, but not lock. Unless you lift the handle to set the lock, anyone could get in."

As soon as he had gone, Mrs Cooper said, "You all look knocked for six. We'll get a taxi."

James shook his head. "We can take it in turns with the backpack. Let's walk. It will do us good."

On the way home, Maddie started to look upset. "Don't worry, Maddie," Jessica said, putting an arm around her shoulder, "you'll feel much better as soon as you can contact your father."

"Poor Papa," Maddie said. "I hope he won't be in trouble with the police. If it hadn't been for someone breaking in, the police wouldn't have been involved. I can look after myself for weeks on my own."


When James's father heard what had happened, he said, "Now, Maddie, you can stay here with us until your father returns, no matter how long it is. That's a promise. Have you tried phoning him again?"

"Lots of times, Mr Cooper, but it keeps going to voicemail. Can I call you Uncle Clive? I know we didn't see each other a lot, but Mrs Cooper still lets me call her Aunty Amy. It sounds much more friendly."

"Of course you can, Maddie. Jessica calls me Uncle Clive because I'm her real uncle, and I want you to feel part of this family."

Jessica reached forward and put her arm round Maddie. "Hey, don't cry," she said.

Maddie wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "I'm sorry," she said brokenly. "Maman died five years ago, and I thought I'd got used to being just with my father. And now seeing you altogether as a family, like in the old days when I used to come here with Maman, it's ... so lovely." She rushed from the room and hurried up the stairs to the spare room she was sharing with Jessica.

Jessica got up from the sofa. "I'd better go up and see if she's all right," she said.

Her mother caught hold of her hand and pulled her back. "Leave Maddie for a few minutes, Jessica. She needs time on her own. It's not just the break-in, it's all the memories that will have come back of being here with her mother when she was small."

A few minutes later a faint call came from the top of the stairs. "Jessica, can you come up?"

Jessica looked at Mrs Cooper. "Should I, Aunty Amy?"

Mrs Cooper nodded. "It sounds like Maddie needs some girl-time with you. Just let her talk, and listen to what she has to say. She might have years of emotion bottled up. Maddie must really miss her mother."

Jessica went cautiously into the spare room Maddie was sharing with her. Aunty Amy had put a camp bed with a duvet on the floor, but Maddie was sitting on Jessica's bed with tearstained eyes.

"You've got a Bible by your bed," Maddie said. "Do you read it?"

Jessica sat beside Maddie and held her hand. Maddie didn't pull away. "I try to read it, every day. I'm a Christian."

Maddie nodded. "Me too. Did you see the wooden cross in my window?"

"James noticed it first."

Maddie took a couple of deep breaths, followed by a moment of silence. "Can I share with you?"

"Share what, Maddie?"

"Maman was a Christian. Before she died, she taught me to love Jesus. She said she was happy knowing we were both going to be with Jesus in heaven."

Jessica squeezed Maddie's shoulder. "That's good." She couldn't think of anything more to say.

"You and James are Christians. I can tell. The thing is, I'm not a very good Christian. Not anymore. I know about Jesus, but I don't really know Him. Not like I used to. I didn't think it would be so tough at times, especially at school. I thought it would be easy. What went wrong?"

Jessica took hold of Maddie's hand again. "Becoming a Christian isn't like getting on a train and sitting comfortably until you get to the end of the line," she said. "That's what my minister told us in church a couple of weeks ago. He said the Christian life is a long walk with Jesus, and it has to be lived every minute of every day, in hard times as well as good ones. And you already know all about hard times, losing your mum."

Maddie took a deep breath. "I think I've stopped walking. I only go to church because I think I ought to go. Will you come with me tomorrow? It's a noisy sort of church with a small band. We can pray there. Are you okay with noisy churches?"

"Love them," Jessica said. "It sounds like my church at home. But why wait until tomorrow? Let's pray together now, just the two of us. If you're okay with that."


Chapter 5


When Jessica woke up the next morning, the digital clock on her chest of drawers said it was nearly six. Too early to get up. She lay in bed trying to recall something special that had happened. Yes, it came back to her now. Maddie was on the camp bed on the floor. She couldn't hear her snoring, so it probably wasn't the sound of snoring that had woken her. But something had.

Jessica remembered waking up a couple of times in the night and hearing Maddie breathing. She propped herself up and looked down at the floor. The camp bed was empty. "Probably gone to the loo," Jessica thought. "That must be what woke me."

Although Maddie had tried several times to phone her father during the evening, the call had always gone to voicemail. Jessica lay on her back with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Maddie had really opened up to her yesterday evening, and seemed to have become more relaxed. But where was Maddie now? She'd been gone for ages.

Jessica leaned across and turned on the bedside light. Not only was the camp bed empty, but the duvet had been folded neatly on it. It seemed unlikely that Maddie was a tidiness fanatic, judging by her bedroom in the turret. Not that her room was a mess, but it definitely looked lived in. But this was the sign of someone who had got out of bed, not intending to come back to it.

She then noticed that all of Maddie's brightly coloured clothing had gone, and she knew Maddie wouldn't have dressed just to go to the bathroom.

"Where are you, Maddie?" Jessica said quietly.

She slipped out of bed and put on her slippers. Perhaps Maddie was in the kitchen having an early breakfast. But there was no one downstairs. As Jessica went back into the hall she saw the front door key lying on the doormat.

"Oh Maddie, Maddie, what have you done?" She hurried upstairs to James's room.

"Maddie's gone off somewhere," Jessica told her sleepy cousin who only wanted to get back to sleep.

"It's much too early," James said with a groan. "How do you know she's gone?"

"Because she let herself out with the key, and locked the door behind her. She's put the key back through the letterbox so we can get out."

James rubbed his eyes and yawned. "Well, at least she was thoughtful. So what are we going to do about it? My mum and dad won't thank us for waking them up this early. Has she left a note?"

"Couldn't see one."

"She's bound to have gone home. Where else would she go?"

"She was talking yesterday evening about going to church, but there wouldn't be a service this early." Jessica gave a shrug. "Yes, I'm guessing she's gone home. Perhaps her father has turned up unexpectedly, although I didn't hear her phone."

"Back from Jerusalem? Impossible. What do you want to do? Go round to her house and see if she's there?"

"That's what I'm thinking," Jessica said. "Get dressed and we'll go there now. I'll write a note for your mum and dad. Let's behave responsibly about this."

"We'll probably be there and back before they wake up," James said, dragging himself slowly out of bed. "Okay, go downstairs and write the note, and I'll get dressed. And try to be quiet."

"Me, be quiet? You should be talking to yourself about that." Jessica slipped out of the room before James could think of a suitable reply.

Ten minutes later they went out of the front door, leaving the note prominently on the kitchen table. James had his own key, and they locked the front door behind them.

They walked quickly, and within fifteen minutes they were approaching the creepy old house. Jessica pointed to a light in the front room. "Either Maddie is here, or someone has broken in and they're searching the place. I don't want to ring the bell or touch that knocker. What are we going to do?"

"I've got an idea," James said, making his way into the bushes by the side of the front door. He came out with a long stick.

"That's not going to be much protection if there's an intruder in there," Jessica said.

James shook his head. "Stand back and watch. See who comes to the window."

He reached up and tapped the end of the stick gently on the window of the room that had the light on.

Nothing.

He tried again, tapping harder this time.

In a few seconds later Maddie came to the window, cupped her hands around her eyes and looked out. Jessica, who was standing further back, waved to her, noticing the look of relief on Maddie's face.

Maddie disappeared from the window, and almost immediately the front door opened and Maddie, wearing her bright blue leggings, the short yellow and black striped dress and red top, beckoned them in.

"You scared me," she said, accusingly. "You shouldn't have done that."

"And you shouldn't have gone off without leaving a note," Jessica said. "You're supposed to stay with us all the time. Someone has already broken into your house, and they could come back at any time."

Maddie shrugged. "I don't see how. The locksmith made the front door much more secure. He fitted a better lock, and I'm going to make sure I lift the handle and lock it when we leave."

"So how will your father get in?" James asked.

"That's not a problem," Maddie said brightly. "When he phones to say he's back in England, I'll be here waiting for him and I can give him the spare key. Look, you don't have to worry about me, either of you. I've done what I came to do, and I'll go back with you to yours now, James."

"You should have left a note to say where you were," Jessica said. "We were really worried about you."

Maddie shrugged. "I didn't think you were going to be up so early. I was planning to be back before any of you found out."

"And how were you going to get back in?" James asked. "You dropped the key through the letterbox."

Maddie laughed. "You're right, I hadn't thought about that. Oh well, no harm done. I'm ready to go if you are."

While Maddie was locking the front door, James shook his head. The girl clearly was scatterbrained. Staying here alone some nights, it was amazing she'd come to no harm.

"What were you looking for, anyway?" Jessica asked. "Spare clothes?"

Maddie was walking on ahead, and Jessica and James were having to hurry to keep up with her. "I came to put an encryption on Papa's files. I've done it, and made an immediate backup to the cloud. It still works for uploads, even with the changed password. Now, if they haven't already looked, they won't be able to see what's on any of Papa's files. I woke early, thinking about it, and you were fast asleep and snoring loudly. I didn't want to worry you."

"I don't snore," Jessica said, noticing James laughing. "And you did worry both of us. This isn't a game, Maddie. Someone has been in your house and tried to find out what your father is working on. It could get dangerous. Uncle Clive told you that if you go back to your house, we have to go with you. For your own safety."

Maddie slowed down. "Okay, okay, sorry. It won't happen again." She pulled a face. "I'll do anything James's father wants, to avoid being put into some sort of care while Papa is away. He could be away for weeks if he's in Jerusalem. Look, look over there on the garden shed."

All James could see was a small bird. "What are we supposed to be looking at?"

"The pied wagtail, of course." Maddie said it as though James had asked a question that didn't need an answer.

James shook his head. "That sparrow with the long tail?"

Maddie looked annoyed. "It's nothing like a sparrow. It's the wrong colour. It's a pied wagtail."

"Well, it looks like a sparrow with a long tail to me."

"Do you know a lot about birds?" Jessica asked Maddie, trying to cool down the situation.

"I'm not exactly an expert, but I like to try to find the name of every bird I see. It all started when I was small, and I heard woodpigeons cooing in the apple tree in the back garden. I told Maman they were owls, and she explained what they really were. That's when I made up my mind not to make the same mistake again."

"Have you seen any rare birds?" James asked. "Eagles and things?"

"Eagles, yes, but not here. In Israel you can see them in some areas. The one bird I've heard but never seen is a woodpecker."

"What does a woodpecker look like?" James asked. "Just in case I ever see one."

Maddie smiled, clearly at peace with him again. "There are two sorts of woodpecker in this country. The great spotted and the green. The great spotted is mostly black with a red head, and the green is, well, green, also with a red head. I don't mind which one I see. I know it sounds silly, but either one is top of my list of must-see birds. I think there's something very romantic about woodpeckers."

James watched the "sparrow with the long tail" fly off, and they continued their journey. He stopped dead as they approached his house. Jessica and Maddie were walking close behind, talking away, and nearly bumped into him.

"What's the matter, James?" Jessica asked. "Oh. Oh no. Let's hope it's good news."

Parked in front of James's house was a police car. And ringing the doorbell was a uniformed policeman.

Mr Cooper, wearing a blue dressing gown, opened the front door just as Maddie and the Two Jays got there. He looked first at the police officer and then at the three of them.

"Are you three in trouble?" he asked.

James said, "No, Dad, we've all arrived at the same time. The officer isn't here for us." At least, I hope not, he thought to himself.

Jessica turned to James and whispered, "It might be bad news about Maddie's father."



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