The Case of the Tattooed Twiggy
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction
by Andrea Russell
July 24, 2000 14,700 words
It was three o'clock in the afternoon, Wednesday, when Shirley Holmes and Bo Sawchuck stood by the observation window in the Redington International Airport, waving good-bye to the plane that was taking Shirley's cousin, Maya Norton, back to her home in England.
"Are you going to miss her?" Bo asked kindly.
"Yeah," Shirley sighed, reluctantly lowering her arm. "It's nice to be able to have somebody who you can talk to. Oh!" she broke off, realizing what she'd just said. "I don't mean- it's not that you aren't-"
"It's okay," Bo reassured her. "I know what you meant."
Although Bo was Shirley's best friend, he was also a very typical teenage guy. Shirley was bordering on genius, had a nose for trouble, and a flair for the impossible. They couldn't have been more different had they tried.
Maya, however, was exactly like Shirley, and while she'd been in Redington, Shirley had not only helped her solve a mystery involving a group of criminal freedom fighters, but she had finally had somebody who could speak her language.
That night, before she had left, Maya had sat up talking to Shirley until almost four a.m. about almost everything. It was great, Shirley thought wistfully, to have friends and all, but it was even nicer when they not only understood, but also agreed with what you were saying.
"But I'll still be able to talk with her," Shirley tried to cheer herself up. "There's e-mail, and the phone, and- oh- screw that! I'm going to miss her so much!"
She was about to burst into tears, when a familiar voice drawled:
"Oh, cry me a river, won't you! You'd think the world was coming to an end! Are all you city girls like this?"
Shirley turned around slowly, disbelieving.
"What is it with you cowboys and your communication problems?!" she exclaimed. "What is this, the third time? You never call!"
Standing there, flanked by a pair of duffel bags, was Shirley's most puzzling acquaintance (relationship-wise, that is), Matt Harris.
"What, don't I even get a hug, City Girl?" he teased.
With a laugh, she ran to him, and threw her arms around him, whispering as she did:
"Missed ya, cowboy."
"I missed you too, City Girl," he grinned, as he took a step back, and her hand slid into his. Then he looked up, and smiled at Bo.
"Hey," he called. Bo grinned and waked.
"Hi, Matt. Good to see you again. Are you in town for a while?"
"For a little while, anyway," he said, and bent to pick up his bags, having first reluctantly let go of Shirley's hand. He turned to her and asked,
"So, how's the throat?"
Shirley touched the fading bruises around her windpipe, caused by an English diplomat who had threatened to choke her to =death, and grimaced.
"Better. I can talk normally now, and I didn't need a tube, or reconstructive surgery, or anything. How'd your case turn out?"
"Oh, so-so," he said, knowing she was referring to a con-artist toy store owner he had tangled with for a while, before finally having him arrested two days before.
"Actually," he admitted, as the three fell into step with each other and started to walk, "I'm here on a case. I managed to figure it out so I ended up in Redington, rather than a remote oil dig in Saudi Arabia."
"Well, I'm glad you did," Shirley decided. "Where are you staying, anyway?"
"Loon Lodge Bed and Breakfast," he cracked a smile. "I hear they have a horse or two."
"You cowboys," Shirley said scoldingly, but sounding affectionate at the same time, "you never give up, do you?"
Matt stopped, looked her directly in the eye, and, with a slight smile, said:
Shirley flushed bright red, and ducked her head to hide and involuntary smile.
"So, uh," she said, "why don't you, um, stay with us? We've got a few free beds for you to choose from, although I can't promise any horses. We even have a free couch, now that Maya's left."
"Has she?" Matt looked disappointed. "I'd hoped to experience two Shirley's at once- gale force, so to speak." Then he smiled.
"But that sounds like a great idea- I'll finally get to meet all of your family. And, of course, experience an all-fish diet."
Now both Shirley and Bo grinned- and grimaced. Bo's parents had had a sale at their fish shop, so Shirley's mother and grandmother had bought up tons of seafood, and proceeded to fix it in every way imaginable- and unimaginable.
"Were down to three tuna casseroles, some salmon, a couple of lobsters, and scraps." Shirley said, looking visibly relieved. "I'll be glad when it's over."
Matt laughed as Bo hailed a cab, and Shirley and he helped load Matt's two big bags into the trunk.
Then the three of them crammed into the back seat, and Shirley gave her address to the cab driver, who swung nimbly into traffic and headed for the Holmes mansion.
"So, what have you been doing with yourself, besides bringing international criminals to justice, and nearly dying in the process?" Matt asked.
"Not much," Shirley sighed.
"It's unusual," Bo put in, "You know, what with Redington being such a hotspot for criminal activity and all. I think it's getting to her- no suspicious happenings since she was released from the hospital on Monday morning. Three whole days without a single crime- however do we manage it, Moneypenny?"
"I take it you're enjoying yourself?" Matt asked Bo, amused.
"It does feel kind of nice to be normal for once in four years," Bo admitted. Shirley shot him a withering look.
"Well, Bo," Matt said, a tiny smile dancing around his mouth, "I hate to be the one to break your little bubble of peace, security, and normalcy, but I was planning to ask you for some help."
"On a case?" Shirley's eyes lit up. "Your case?!"
"My case," Matt agreed. "Or, our case."
"Whatever the case may be," Bo quipped.
Shirley and Matt stared at him, puzzled. He subsided.
"What are the details?" Shirley wanted to know.
"Well, it's complicated," Matt said, seemingly hesitant. "Mainly because it involves - well, revolves around - a hedgehog."
"I beg your pardon?" Shirley blinked.
"A hedgehog." Matt repeated. "A small, quill-covered mammal with a kinda cute face, makes little clicking, snuffling sounds-"
"Yes, I'm familiar with the concept," Shirley interrupted. "But what about the hedgehog?"
"Well, for starters, it's right here." Matt extracted a small, prickly ball from his pocket. It was about the size of a baseball, and there seemed to be no apparent end to the quilly sphere.
"A hedgehog!" Shirley exclaimed, as slowly the creature unrolled itself and looked around, blinking. Matt was right- it was awfully cute.
"It looks like a pincushion," Bo observed, reaching out and hesitantly brushing his hand along the quills.
"It's cute," Shirley decided, "but it doesn't look very mysterious to me."
"That's because you haven't seen this yet," Matt said, unperturbed, and gently flipped the hedgehog onto its back. Holding it with one hand, he used the other to point at a small, blue tattoo on the animal's inside hind thigh.
"It's a tattoo," Shirley observed.
"Look closer," Matt insisted. Shirley obeyed. Then she stiffened, wide-eyed, and looked curiously at Matt.
"That's not what it looks like, is it?"
"I think so," Matt nodded.
"Um," Bo said, completely lost, "what does it look like?"
"The seal of the Asian royal family that was assassinated just over a month ago." Matt told him.
"But why on a hedgehog?" Shirley demanded.
"I'm assuming it was a pet," Matt said, gently righting the little animal, which looked dignifiedly grateful. "They tattoo horse; dogs; cats; so why not a hedgehog?"
"Where'd you find it?" Bo wanted to know.
"Pet store. I was just stopping in to say hi to my friend Kyle, and some woman had just brought this little guy in. I thought he was cute, so I had picked him up and started to play with him when I saw the tattoo.
"May I?" Shirley held out her hands. Matt put the hedgehog in them, and she began to gently examine it, checking the tattoo, feeling its feet, etc.
"After you saw the tattoo, did you buy it?" Bo wanted to know.
"Yes. I thought it looked familiar, and when I made the connection, I bought him right away. Then I logged onto thew Net, to try and find out what had happened to the Family's property after the murder."
"Well?" Bo prompted.
Matt, who had been watching Shirley make kissy-faces at the hedgehog with a smile on his face, hastily turned to Bo.
"The property was split among the new royal family. Everything from china to racehorses to gold and silver objets d'art."
"Then- Bo was baffled. Matt nodded.
"There is no good reason the hedgehog should have been in Kyle's family's pet shop. I tried to trace it to the woman who brought him in, but she'd given a fake name- all I know it that she had slightly Middle Eastern features, was tall for her nationality, and was in her mid-twenties at the most."
Shirley finally looked up from the hedgehog, which had decided it had fallen madly in love with her, to speak.
"We could plug all of that into Bart's database- it should get us something." Then she smiled at the hedgehog, and asked Matt:
"What's her name?"
"Her?" Matt was startled.
"Some cowboy you are!" Shirley teased. "This is a girl, alright."
Matt blushed, accepted defeat, and suggested "Sophia".
Shirley vetoed it, saying that she leaned more towards "Helena".
Bo said they were both crazy, and that "Polly" would suit her just fine.
A minor verbal scrimmage broke out, and the hedgehog emerged at the end of the ride with the name Emily.
Emily was deposited in Matt's pocket once more, and the cab driver unloaded Matt's bags, having first collected his fare.
Then Shirley took one, Bo the other, and they led Matt into the large stone house, and up to Shirley's attic lab.
While Bo and Matt made up the pullout couch that Shirley and Maya had unmade less than three hours earlier, Shirley picked up the phone, and dialed her mother's work number.
"Hi, is this Roger? Oh, hi Joan. Sorry. Its Shirley- is my mum there? Okay- thanks."
It took less than five minutes for her to obtain permission for Matt to stay, and she hung up with a triumphant smile to deliver the news.
Then the three teens sat down, Watson draped across Bo's lap, Emily waddling back and forth from Matt's to Shirley's.
"What's your theory?" Shirley asked Matt, watching the hedgehog snuffle around his pockets.
"Frankly, I haven't got much of one," he admitted. "Obviously, there must have been some sort of conspiracy or underground passage that got Emily out of the country, but why? Why just Emily?"
"There's a chance, isn't there, that there's something special about Emily that you've overlooked?" Shirley queried. "I mean., is it possible she's carrying something valuable? A code, maybe, or something else important?"
"Shirley," Bo rolled his eyes, "it's not as if she's got a pocket to put it in."
Shirley gave him a Look and opened her mouth as if to say something, but quickly shut it as Matt spoke.
"It would make sense, in a way." he said slowly. "It would certainly qualify her as top-secret documents, and she would be given priority exit. But where would she be going? The Royal Family is all dead, and the new one probably doesn't even know about Emily- the king is just a distant cousin of the dead queen."
Shirley frowned. That did complicate things.
the three of them talked for a little while longer, but not about hedgehogs and dead kings. Instead, the focused on what had been going on since they last saw Matt, and he, them.
When Peggy got home from her sculpting class, she found three kids, a dog, and a strange ball all playing poker at the dining room table.
The little, prickly brown ball was nestled between the front paws of the dog, which was curled up on a chair at the head of the table. The kids were all sitting spread apart from each other, eyes roaming shiftily across the table to study their opponents.
"Am I interrupting?" Peggy asked, blue eyes twinkling. All three looked up and smiled at her.
"Hi, Gran!" Shirley said. "This is Matt Harris- he's staying with us for a few days. Matt, this is my grandmother."
"Hello, Mrs.Holmes," Matt smiled. Peggy returned the grin.
"Hello, Matt. Please call me Peggy- when you are as old as I, you begin to realize that life' too short for formalities."
"Alright, Mrs.- Peggy."
Gran turned, smiled at Bo, raised a questioning eyebrow at Watson's new little toy (really, she thought, it looked almost like a- but that was ridiculous), and walked into the kitchen.
The poker game ended a while later, Bo triumphant and twenty-seven dollars, forty-eight cents richer, and they all wandered out onto the lawn to talk, and lie (or sit) on lawn furniture under the towering trees in the backyard.
"Is Redington always this - eh - peaceful?" Matt asked at length.
"You mean, boring." Shirley frowned. "No, not usually. I'm typically always working on something, but for the past three days . . . Nothing."
"Yeah," Bo sighed happily, kicking back in a well-padded lounge, "Nothing. Isn't it terrible?"
Shirley glared. Matt laughed.
"So- how's school?" he asked. "Did you go today?"
"No- Mum and Dad agreed I should stay home, and say good-bye to Maya. We don't know when I'll see her again."
Shirley's expression became suddenly wistful.
"I'm really going to miss her."
Matt and Bo gave her sympathetic looks but said nothing, which was just as well, since they didn't know what to say.
"School itself," she said, after a pause, "is alright. We did a project on explosives- it's amazing the variations they have in existence."
"Sounds right up your alley," Matt smiled. "What did you get?"
"An A minus," Shirley admitted. "I think that out Science teacher was a bit turned off by the firecracker we brought in as a demo."
"Made quite a mess," Bo said, with some degree of satisfaction.
"Men," Shirley muttered. The expression on the face of Emily, who sat contentedly in Shirley's lap, was one of wholehearted agreement.
Then they lapsed once more into silence until around five o'clock, when there came a rustling from the dense bushes on the other side of the chain-link fence that bordered the Holmes backyard.
The three kids sat up, tensing. There was a brief pause, and then Dr. Joanna Holmes entered her backyard by way of the back fence.
The problem was, there was no gate in the back fence. Shirley's mum was, however, very much like Shirley in the fact that she refused to be thwarted by problems, instead electing to solve or deter them.
This one she simply vaulted over.
The kids stared. Then Matt spoke.
"Wow! Now, that's a woman!"
"Hello!" Joanna looked surprised, and somewhat embarrassed. "I was just - er - keeping up my - that is - keeping in shape."
"More jungle knowledge, Mum?" Shirley asked with a knowing grin.
"Er- well - yes." Joanna admitted. "So, won't you properly introduce me to your friend, Shirley?" she paused, noticing the hedgehog. "The one without quills, I mean."
Matt smiled, stood, extended his hand, and said, "Matthew Harris. And- Dr. Holmes, I presume?"
"Yes," Joanna nodded, shaking his hand. He noticed that, despite her recent leap over the fence, her immaculate brown silk pantsuit and creamy blouse and scarf she wore were just that- immaculate. Not a strand of hair was out of place, and her flat leather briefcase had miraculously stayed shut, her shoes remaining on her feet.
He gave a mental whistle.
"So, Matthew- where did you meet Shirley?"
"At a ranch," Matt said. "They won a trip to where I was working from their science fair."
"Ah," Joanna smiled. "So, you're Matt, then."
"Yeah," Matt nodded, shooting a curious glance at Shirley, whose cheeks were pink, "I'm Matt."
"Well, why don't you kids come on inside? Bo, you wouldn't by any chance be allowed to stay for supper, and try some tuna casserole?"
Bo turned slightly green- he had been visiting every night for the past several days, and had grown steadily sick of fish. Even at his home, where they owned a fish market, they didn't have fish every night.
"Oh, gee, Dr. Holmes - Joanna - I'd really love it, but you see I just have to- to- not."
Joanna nodded, smiling, and led them all into the house.
"Traitor," Shirley hissed under her breath, as they were walking.
"Hey, Bo whispered back, "don't push it, okay? There's a difference between saving your life every now and then, and eating fish every night, every afternoon for a week! And not just any fish, either- gross fish! Really gross fish!"
"I have to eat it for breakfast, too, you know," Shirley reminded him primly. "Oh, fine- you go on home and eat something nice and normal, while I suffer!"
As he was leaving she hollered after him:
"They even gave it to me in the hospital, Bo!"
"Gave what to you?" asked Robert Holmes, getting out of his car as Bo vanished around the corner.
"Fish." Shirley made a face. Robert smiled. Then his eyes went past his daughter to rest on the boy who stood slightly behind her, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Who's your friend, Shirley?" he inquired.
"Oh- Dad, this is Matt Harris, my- friend. Matt, this is my dad, Robert Holmes." Shirley said.
"Hi, Mr.Holmes," Matt smiled.
"Hello, Matt," Robert replied, walking up the steps briefcase in hand. "So- what are we having for supper tonight?"
"Fish." Shirley groaned.
"Oh." Robert couldn't keep his expression from falling to his shoelaces. "Oh. I see. Fish."
Shirley laughed, slipping her hand into her dad's, leading him into the house. As they walked, she reached out, and took Matt's hand, too.
It was fifteen minutes later that they assembled in the dining room around a tuna casserole, sole-and-carrots, and squash and haddock mashed together.
It all tasted great, and Matt was having a good time, not only polishing off his dinner but parts of Shirley's and Robert's as well, who had simply had too much of a good (?) thing.
For dessert there were heavily buttered oysters, which Shirley and Robert didnt even touch, and even Matt had a hard time getting down.
After supper, the entire family - plus Matt - gathered in the family room to chat. But when the Holmes family chats, you have to understand it isn't normal chat. You might think that, with a friend of Shirley's present, the family would make an effort to normalize their topics. And, I suppose, if she were to bring home a 'normal' friend, then they would. But Matt was not what you would call a 'normal' friend.
"So, the Italians were finally coming to a compromise," Robert was telling his wife, "and it looked as if we might actually get the blasted papers signed . . ."
"Paula insisted on carving the putty herself," Gran frowned over her teacup at Matt and Shirley, who were hanging on to every word. "I told her that her hand wasn't steady enough, but of course, she wouldn't listen . . ."
"We were ready, even!" Robert continued, enraged now. "Our pens ready . . ."
" . . . Made a complete mess of a lovely block of putty!" Gran sighed at the tragedy, took a sip of her tea, and continued. "Naturally, we were furious . . ."
" . . . when this- this Asian man comes bursting in, shouting at the top of his lungs that the signatures of his country's diplomats are all nullified . . ."
"It sounds like my aunt, Alice," Matt grinned. "Some people, you just can't tell anything."
" . . . because they- the diplomats -were all chosen by the current Royal family . . ."
"But after sculpting class, the real problems started. This- this young lady backed right out in front of me . . ."
" . . . and it was possible that they were not, after all, entitled to assigning people to diplomatic posts . . ."
" . . . I only just stopped in time to avoid being flattened like a pancake."
"Some drivers don't even take the training these days," Shirley said sympathetically, "just the tests."
" . . . because it seems possible that the heir to the former family line is still alive!"
"Do me a favor, Shirley," Peggy said, "and get some training before getting your license!"
"And how do they know this?" Joanna asked her husband, frowning.
"I will, Gran," Shirley promised. After she said this, she, Matt and Peggy fell silent for a minute, just as Robert Holmes shouted at top volume:
"Because of a HEDGEHOG, Joanna! Because a HEDGEHOG is missing, they think that somebody survived the assassination of the Royal family!"
It was Shirley and Matt, shouting simultaneously. Robert Holmes stopped, startled. The three adults looked at the two teens in surprise.
The kids both blushed, but didn't back down.
"What do you mean, Dad?" Shirley pressed. "What about a hedgehog, and the Royal Family? England? Or- maybe a small country in Asia?"
Robert's brow furrowed. He glanced at his wife, mother, and finally, his daughter.
She was kneeling in an armchair, elbows propped on the arm of it, looking directly at him. There was a searching expression of intense curiosity in her face, her blue eyes shining with anticipation.
He wondered, fleetingly, if that was how his great-uncle Sherlock had looked when he was looking for the answer to a particularly difficult puzzle, and was on the verge of a breakthrough. He'd have bet any money that it was.
"A small country," Matt joined in, "called Sojrenjaro?"
He pronounced it properly, Robert noticed: sore-en-YAR-oh. The diplomat's eyebrows climbed steadily higher on his forehead.
"Er, yes, Matt, it is."
He snuck a sidelong glance at the boy, who had a sort of "cute puppy" look you didn't often see these days (Robert could only guess it had gone out of style). His features were unique, and he was, Robert guessed, what a teenage girl might possibly see as being attractive.
He should have known better, he thought, than to think that Shirley would speak as an equal to any friend she brought home who wasn't at least brilliant, or clever (Bo had been around so long Robert no longer thought of him as a guest, but as a drifting family member).
This boy looked as if he might be both.
Shirley and Matt exchanged significant glances, and, as soon as they could, asked to be excused.
Upstairs in the lab, they logged onto the Net, and Shirley set to hacking around, trying to access the Embassy's mainframe. Three times, the phrase 'Access Denied' flashed across the screen before Matt asked if he could have a turn.
Shirley slid over, and Matt hunched over the keyboard, typing like crazy. He called up a strange-looking site, mostly in what looked like Spanish or Portuguese. He typed a few commands in the same language into a box, and clicked on a button. The Spanish/Portuguese equivalent of the 'Please Wait' icon flashed at them, and the computer began to hum.
Three minutes later, the Embassy page appeared on the screen. Matt smiled slightly. Shirley was deeply impressed.
"Pretty good," she approved, as he gave a little bow, and slid to the side for her to resume her place at the terminal.
"I had some spare time on my hands," he explained, as her fingers flew over the keyboard, requesting access to the files in past and present Sojrenjaro diplomats. The icon 'Please Wait' appeared on the screen again- in English, this time.
"So, I found this Portuguese site," he went on, "that can get you access to just about anything connected to the Net."
"Sounds like it would come in handy," Shirley smiled almost shyly at Matt."
"I could give you the address," he offered, leaning in a bit closer.
"Would you?" she asked, leaning in to meet him.
"Uh-huh," he murmured.
Their lip were millimeters apart, when the computer beeped proudly to display a list of results.
Reluctantly, they backed off, and turned to look at the screen
"Here's what we're looking for," Shirley said at length, pointing to a block of four names- three diplomats and an ambassador. "These are the current ones. Dad said it was a diplomat, and I distinctively heard him use the term he, so we can cut the ambassador and this one, Dr. Miang Ludessin."
"Miang?" Matt queried.
"A female name." Shirley explained, clicking on the first of two male diplomats.
She read the information on a Mr. Jovek Liangaro, and her eyes methodically scanned the information, a slight frown furrowing her brow.
"Sounds alright," she said cautiously. "He's been chosen by the new Royal Family, and he's one of the people who signed the new document."
She read a bit further, however, and shook her head.
"He was in an envoy to the capital today. He'll be back tomorrow, but there's no way he was the one to interrupt the final conferences today."
"Then let's check on the other one." Matt said. "It's got to be him."
They read the profile, and decided that it had to be. So Shirley composed a brief e-mail to send to him, which Matt proofread for her.
To a Mr.Alisson Ifor. Certain parties would be greatly interested in discussing with you any information you may have regarding the supposed total annihilation of the Sojrenjaro Royal family. We believe that this may lead to the finding of the unaccounted-for heir- and the hedgehog. With respects, a friend.
With Matt's nod of approval, she sent the e-mail to the private account of Alisson Ifor. Then they both checked their own e-mail accounts, both the ones under their own names (Matt had an e-mail from his parents, who seemed to be quite relaxed about his carefree country hopping) and the aliases.
Shirley found one e-mail, from Maya, and she and Matt read it together.
Hello, cousin! I just thought you'd like to know that I'm up in the air and having a grand time. The gentleman next to me kindly lent me the use of his laptop, so I'm sending an e-mail to you, and one to Bo. I'm afraid I forget your friend Matt's address, or I'd send one to him, too.
Say hi to Aunt Joanna, Uncle Robert and Grams for me, won't you? And keep me posted on your next case.
With love and friendship, your cousin, Maya.
Shirley felt a lump rising in her throat, and quickly swallowed it away, but not before her blue eyes became bright with tears.
Matt noticed, and put a comforting hand over hers.
She looked down at it for a minute, as if she had never seen anything like it before. Then tentatively, she took it in her own, and he squeezed gently. She studied their entwined hands for a minute, and then smiled at him.
"No problem," he told her. "You really do miss her, don't you?"
She nodded, a tear escaping (much to her annoyance) and trickling down her cheek.
"Yeah, I do."
He reached out, and brushed the tear away.
She smiled at him.
"I guess I'm being kind of stupid, aren't I?" she asked finally. "I mean, I haven't seen her since I was eight, when we had the good-bye party for Mum, and I only saw her here for a week, but still . . . Anyway, like I said, stupid, right?"
"No," Matt shook his head, "not stupid at all."
Then he leaned in, and gently kissed her. He was about to kiss her again, when there came a gentle knock on the lab door.
"Shirley? Matt?" It was Peggy. "It's a quarter to ten."
"It is?" Shirley exclaimed, glancing at the computer clock. It was.
"Well, I guess this means good-night?" Matt smiled.
"Yup," she sighed. She stood, and hesitated.
"You'll print that off?" she asked, pointing at the minimized box that represented Alisson Ifor's information and picture.
"I'll print it off," he promised.
Then, as she was turning to go, he reached out, and caught her wrist. With a smile she turned back, and, leaning down, kissed him once more.
Then she left the lab, shutting the door noiselessly behind her.
* * *
The next morning, it was Joanna Holmes's suggestion that Matt go to Sussex with Shirley. Shirley wasn't sure, and asked Matt. She was surprised when he agreed to the idea so enthusiastically, and told him as much, adding,
"I'd have thought that, after your last run-in with Molly, you'd rather stay home with Emily and Watson, and hack around."
"Ah, yes," Matt said with a tiny smile. "Molly. I did some reading up on her since our last interlude- quite an amazing history she's got, isn't it? And I'm willing to be you don't know the half of it!
"But I wouldn't worry too much about her- I found out a thing or two that might come in handy."
Then he smiled invitingly at Shirley, tucked Emily into his pocket, and followed his friend out the door, towards Sussex.
Bo met up with them halfway, and listened with growing horror as Shirley eagerly filled him in on their new mystery.
"Shirley, wait a minute." he said, when at last he could get a word in edgewise, "The last international mess you got mixed up in almost got you killed, as did the one before that, and the one before that. Do you really want to go through that again?"
"Bo," Shirley frowned, "You know me better than to ask that."
"Sorry. Of course you don't want to get killed. But I know- it's all about the mystery. Just, tell me, won't you- why?"
That one, she had to think about for a second. At last, she answered.
"'Cause I'm bored."
Matt and Bo stared. She shrugged.
"I know I know, it's not very noble, is it? But it's the plain truth- I'm bored, and I want something to do."
"How about marbles?" Bo deadpanned. "Really, I'd think you could find something safer to do than to invent new ways to replenish your supply of bruises."
Matt snickered behind his hand.
Shirley swatted at him, but he ducked, grabbed her arm, and kissed her cheek. She blushed. Bo's eyebrows shot skyward.
They started talking again after several minutes' silence, and reached Sussex in a short amount of time.
There, Matt looked nervously around him at the milling, shouting crowd of students. Shirley grinned at him reassuringly, and she and Bo dragged him over to where their own little 'clique' was standing.
They were Stink Patterson, Alicia Gianelli, Carson Evans, Blake Hewitt, Bart James, Parker, and Shirley' nemesis, Molly Hardy.
"Matt?" Alicia was surprised. "Are you coming to Sussex now, or something?"
"Uh, no, actually," Matt admitted, "I'm here with Shirley. I- I'm staying with he family for a while."
Shirley really didn't feel like she deserved the raised eyebrows all around. She also didn't like the way they made her blush.
Luckily, Bart soon provided a distraction by offering around a few pamphlets on a UFO convention.
"It's set up by a man named Albert Wiley," Bart said eagerly. "He's a real sci-fi buff, and speaks six different dialects, including two thought to be extra-terrestrial. He's my idol."
"Now, he disturbs me," Molly frowned, studying her pamphlet cautiously.
"You aren't the only one," Alicia reassured her, tossing hers into the trashcan.
"We'd better go introduce you to Ms.Stratman," Shirley told Matt. "The earlier you meet her, the better the impression you make."
"You mean," he exclaimed in mock hurt, "there's a chance I could make anything but?"
"Come on," was all she said, and yanked him away from the cluster of teenagers, towards the school.
They found Ms.Stratman deep in conversation with Mr.Howie, discussing the schedule he would have to cover when filling in for a regular science teacher that morning. They stood there for a good five minutes before she even realized that they were there.
"Good morning, Miss Holmes," she said. "Early, I see."
"Yes, ma'am," Shirley nodded. "I came to introduce my- friend, Matthew Harris to you. He's staying with us for a few days, and he was hoping he'd be allowed to sit in on my classes."
"Of course," Ms.Stratman smiled at Matt, who'd had the presence of mind to dig out his old K-On uniform, and wear it to Sussex. You could practically see Ms.Stratman melting at the sight.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Matthew," she told him, extending her hand. He accepted it, and shook it cordially.
"Yes, ma'am," he smiled at her.
A few more pleasantries, and Ms.Stratman dismissed them with the suggestion that Shirley take Matt to their first class ahead of time.
After they'd left, Shirley turned to Matt and exclaimed:
"I can't believe it! You've got her eating right out of the palm of your hand! How'd you do it?"
"Same way your disturbed little friend, Molly, does," Matt smiled. "You find out what the person wants to see in the people around them, and you alter your appearance and attitude to conform to those standards. It's actually quite simple- your Ms.Stratman likes order, decorum and ambition. Molly gives her all three. I gave her the first two, and you unconsciously gave her the last when-"
"-I said you wanted to come to Sussex," Shirley finished, admiring. "That's pretty neat. Now- could you tell me why I bother her so much?"
"I think so," Matt grinned, as she led him into an empty classroom. "She likes your ambition - she'd be crazy not to - but you don't conform. You're late to class, your uniform isn't always pristine, and you don't seem to care."
"But I do!" Shirley protested. "About other things, I mean. Not those."
"I know," Matt smiled slightly. "Important things- like mysteries, and people who need your help. That's what you care about. You're thinking straight- it's the rest of the world that's got it backwards."
"Well, Shirley twinkled, "maybe not all the rest of the world."
Matt's smile broadened.
* * *
Science was first, taught by Mr.Howie, who was proving to be a very nervous substitute for their regular teacher.
"Now," he gasped, rushing over to stop Parker, who was prepared to drop a heaping cupful of something gray into a bowl of something blue, "now, we are going to attempt to begin the - er - experiment to prove our hypothesis about chemical changes of state. If you would take your sample of cobalt chloride, we will attempt to - oh, no, Miss Gianelli, not like that!"
A blue cloud of smoke billowed out to engulf Alicia, and all of those within a five-foot radius of her lab bench.
Mr.Howie stumbled over, choking and coughing, waving his arms about in a frantic attempt to clear the smoky blue air.
"Well, well, uh-" Mr.Howie hacked, fanning the scorched beaker that held the woebegone remnants of Alicia's science experiment, "well, it's not a total loss, now, is it, class?"
He smiled weakly, holding up the beaker.
"Class, will somebody please tell me what kind of change this would be- chemical, or physical?"
A small boy raised his hand, and replied promptly, "Chemical, Sir."
Mr.Howie nodded, pleased.
"Very god. Now, let's see if the rest of you can try it."
Well, they tried it. Some succeed, but most failed. Matt sat with Shirley and Bo, with Mr.Howie's permission, and between the three of them they managed to complete it successfully.
Mr.Howie was suitably impressed, commenting that Miss Holmes had been turning up one genius after another (this being a reference to Maya's visit).
Matt smiled, and cracked a joke that made Mr.Howie laugh uproariously. Shirley and Bo recognized it as one Mr.Howie himself often told, and which the students either didn't understand, or didn't find funny.
The next class was English. Ms.Goldstein was going on and on about Shakespeare, and yet somehow managed to make him seem to be the most fascinating man on - or under - earth.
Matt was again an eager student. Ms.Goldstein fell in love with him, and, towards the end of class, stopped at their table to have a long chat with him, Bo and Shirley.
"So, Matt," she smiled at him, "where are you from?"
"The US, actually." Matt smiled. "Most recently, anyhow. I was born a Canadian, and Mum and Dad offered to send me to the ranch of my choice before- before I, changed schools. I picked one I'd heard of out in Alberta, which was supposed to be really good, and that's where I met Shirley and Bo. I've been down in New York for a while now, and when I- had some time off, I thought I might visit them for a while."
"Well I'm very glad that you did," Ms.Goldstein, a smiling, peasant-faced woman in her mid-thirties, said. "Those were some very insightful comments you made, and I'm glad you'll be joining us."
"Thanks," Matt grinned up at her, and with a few more words, she walked away, just as the bell rang.
"You will never cease to amaze me," Shirley promised, as she, Bo, and Matt were picking up their lunches.
"Maybe not," Matt smiled at her, "but then, you'll never cease to amaze me, either."
"Another thing we have in common," Shirley teased. "Besides being pigheaded, I mean."
"Don't knock it," Matt warned. "Being pigheaded, I mean," he added. "It'll get you places you might never've got to, otherwise."
"Some of them, places you don't want to be," Bo frowned, recalling the many scrapes Shirley's pigheadedness had gotten her - and him - into.
"True," Matt acknowledged with a slight smile, which faded as he remembered the trouble Bo had gotten when he (Matt) had come to Redington twice before. Had he ever apologized?
He was about to ask Bo, when that girl who had come to the ranch with them before, Alicia, came running over to babble at them, thrilled, about a new teacher who was a - how did she put it? - "total hunk".
Shirley arched an eyebrow.
"Uh-huh! A Mr.Marany- I tell you, I've never seen somebody with eyes that black! And they're- they're so . . intense. They have a way of just looking right into your soul."
As if that wasn't enough, Alicia insisted on dragging Shirley along to see this "total hunk".
Matt and Bo followed- at a safe distance.
When they reached at Chemistry room, Shirley peeked around the doorframe, at Alicia's insistence.
A dark-haired, dark-skinned man was sitting at the desk, bent over a piece of paper he was carefully writing on. He appeared to be deep in concentration, but at the sound of her footstep, he looked up sharply.
Alicia had been right, Shirley was forced to admit, he was very attractive. When he saw her he smiled, exposing a row of even, pearly-white teeth.
"Hello there, young lady," he said in a high, keening accent that suited his rather Indian or Pakistani features and deep, dark eyes, "may I help you?"
"Uh, yes," Shirley said, since she didn't know what else to say, and stepped into the classroom. "It's this chemistry problem I've been having some trouble with."
"Well, that's what I'm here for, now, isn't it?" Mr.Marany asked cheerfully, standing up. "And what is your name, Miss?"
"Shirley," Shirley replied, extending her hand, "Shirley Holmes."
Mr.Marany shook her hand, introduced himself, and asked what problem she was having trouble with.
"Actually," she admitted, "it isn't a school question- it's one of my own. It starts off like this . . ."
It took five minutes for Shirley to explain her problem to Mr.Marany, and another five for him to help her find a solution.
At the conclusion, the teacher once more shook her hand, but this time in admiration, rather than greeting.
"Well, Miss Holmes, I must congratulate you on your perception, as well as your ambition. That was quite a problem, but you pretty well had it beat."
"It was just the bromthymol blue part that was confusing me," Shirley grinned in real gratitude- she'd been wrestling with that question for months. Mr.Marany wasn't just cute, he was smart, too. He actually reminded her of Matt.
No sooner had she thought of this than Mr.Marany glanced up, over the top of her head, and a quizzical-but-friendly look appeared on his face.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
It was Matt. Curious, Shirley watched him to see how he would deal with this teacher. To her surprise, his manner never changed.
"Sorry," he said easily, "but I'm just visiting here for a few days, and I don't know where my next class is- I'll need Shirley to show me."
"By all means," Mr.Marany gestured that Shirley could leave, and smiling at Matt, "It was a pleasure speaking with you, Miss.Holmes."
"Likewise," Shirley smiled, and left.
"He seems nice," Matt commented, as they walked down the hallway.
"Yup," Shirley agreed. She paused, then burst out: "What was that all about? You didn't change, or anything. I mean- your attitude."
"I didn't have to." Matt shrugged, following Shirley into her math class, "I mean, he wasn't like that."
"Like what?" Shirley wrinkled her nose in puzzlement. She looked, Matt found himself thinking, very cute.
"Like, with preferences," he said, sitting in the desk on Shirley's right. "He liked you when you first came to him, even before he knew what you were like as a person, and he still liked you when you were about to leave, when he did. In other words, he wasn't going to force you to conform to some idealism he had about the way the world should behave."
"Which is just as well," Shirley teased. "He would have been very disappointed!" Then she became serious, but still with a twinkle in her eyes, as she asked him playfully, "D'you know anybody else like that?"
Matt's little smile broadened. "Maybe," he said noncommittally, "just maybe."
The rest of the day followed the pattern of the first, with Matt endearing himself to every teacher, and Shirley asking him curiously if he had ever considered a career in psychology.
He simply smiled and shrugged.
It was the end of the day when Molly Hardy again accosted Shirley's houseguest, her look coolly appraising and somewhat contemptuous.
"So, Harris," she said, "what brings you back to Redington? Should have thought the Pentagon would have offered you A job by now. Or weren't you tall enough for them?
"Height is relative," Matt smiled blandly, as he looked Shirley's chief nemesis straight in the eye; their heads were perfectly level.
"I suppose so," Molly allowed graciously. "But that doesn't answer my first question- what brings back?"
"A close friend, who is going to help me solve a problem." Matt replied, still perfectly calm.
"So, you're a master detective, too?" Molly asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Not exactly," Matt smiled politely, "not exactly. However, I do know how to snoop around. It's actually amazing the files you can hack into - untraceably - when you own a specially modified computer. But you already knew that, didn't you?"
He leaned in closer, smile increasing. Molly became, for what could possibly be the first time ever in Shirley's presence, slightly uncertain.
"What do you-"
Matt began to whisper in her ear, slowly, steadily. Molly's eyes widened, grew angry, then calmly enraged when Matt finally drew back.
"Well?" he asked, arms folded across his chest. Molly's eyes narrowed, but at last she nodded.
"Yes. And I have your word, Harris?"
"Of course," Matt said, "Until later, then?"
"I hope not," Molly muttered, stalking away. Matt, still smiling, watched her go.
"What did you say to her?" Shirley demanded, as she, Matt, and Bo walked home (Emily, whom Matt had brought, had eaten his lunch, enjoyed herself immensely, and was now riding home on Shirley's shoulder).
"I told her that if she tried to make trouble for you during this case, I'd expose a little secret I discovered about her.
"A few years ago she hacked into government documents- ones the government would just as soon as forget ever existed, much less have exposed to the public. She was looking for a certain particular- which she found, and used. Now, I have proof of her hacking, and, of course, she doesn't want this proof forwarded. It'll be weeks before she can tap into my files and destroy it."
Shirley stared at Matt, blue eyes swollen to an almost abnormal size. At last she spoke, with no little amount of difficulty.
"You- how do you do it? Tell me, won't you? How do you do it?!"
"No," Matt smiled, stopping and turning to face her. "The question is, how do you do it, City Girl?"
Shirley blushed to the roots of her hair, and stared very, very hard at her black shoe tops. Bo hooted with laughter.
"She's bright red!" he chortled. "She's about as red as a brick building! Just look at her!"
"I am," Matt smiled. "Believe me, I am."
Shirley went form brick building red to fire hydrant red, and with a muttered, "Come on," she set off down the road, leading them towards her house.
When she reached it, she stopped, surprised. There were about six or seven shining black cars with diplomatic license plates parked in the Holmes driveway, and at the curb. The extra security required for an urgent conference was on hand, only half of whom she vaguely recognized.
Peggy was watching them menacingly, having threatened them with death and dismemberment should they come within an inch of her plants.
Joanna Holmes was reclining unconcernedly in a lawn hammock that was hung between two birch trees. She wore a sundress (of all things Shirley would least expect her mother to wear, that was probably it), a large straw picture hat, and bare feet. She was drinking from a tall, crystal glass of lemonade, generously poured and iced, and looked calm and contented. So did Watson, who was stretched to full length under the hammock luxuriating in the shade.
"Mum?" Shirley was confused, "What's going on?"
She, Bo and Matt ran over to the side of the hammock. Joanna looked up, smiled, and greeted them all.
"How was your day, kids?" she asked. "Did Shirley show you around, Matt?"
"Yes, Mrs.Holmes," Matt nodded.
"Ew!" Joanna exclaimed. For a second, the kids thought she was referring to the lemonade, but then realized she meant the title. "Don't do that! You make me sound so old! It's Joanna- please."
"Alright. Yeah, Joanna, she did. I like Sussex- it's a pretty cool place."
"Even Ms.Stratman loves him," Shirley moaned tragically. Joanna burst into peals of delighted laughter, and reached out to ruffle her daughter's hair.
"Poor Shirley! Always late, n'est-ce pas?"
"The tragedy of my life," Shirley agreed good-naturedly, before looking up to see several Security men attempt to take a seat on a decorative park bench, and get run off by an enraged-beyond-words Gran.
"But, Mum," she continued, remembering her previous question, "what is going on here, anyway?"
"What, you mean the stuff-shirts?" Joanna frowned. "Oh, nothing much really, I think. Your father planted me out here like a lawn ornament the moment he learned they were coming- and believe me, they didn't give him much notice! Something big, or so they think, to do with some little diplomats or something-or-other from that little Asian country he was telling us about last night. It's to do with their king and queen, and wondering about the heir, and if the diplomats are legit, or not."
Joanna heaved a sigh, and examined her half-empty glass before concluding, "So, here I am like a little garden gnome or something. Although I've got to admit, it's certainly nice to be able to stretch out in a silk dress with an ice-cold glass of something civilized to drink."
Her expression dimmed, as she added:
"I didn't have much time for lemonade-drinking I the jungle, I'm afraid. A noticeable lack of crystal - or glass - glasses, for one thing. Among others."
"Would you like a refill, Joanna?" Matt twinkled at her. She grinned.
"I'd love that, Matt. Thanks so much!" Then, as he was heading for the house, glass in hand, she hollered after him:
"And if one of those pompous idiots asks if you're the waiter, you tell him where to go, y'hear?"
Then she turned back to Shirley, Bo, and Emily, and greeted the latter warmly.
"Hello, there, little thing! You're quite the cutie, aren't you? I presume," she added, glancing at Shirley, "that she belongs to Matt?"
"He- well- yeah. Sort of." Shirley stumbled.
"Your grandmother used to have a pet hedgehog," Joanna mused. "She was absolutely devoted to him, or so she told me. Does Matt have a cage for her? If not, your Gran might."
"We could ask," Bo suggested.
Joanna glanced across the yard at Peggy. She was dragging a man over the coals for not using the gravel path, instead electing to walk on the grass. She overruled his arguments that, as a Security guard, he would need to make a complete circulation of the house with an unparalleled viciousness.
"Perhaps, Bo, you had better wait for a more convenient time. Why don't you two run through the house (figuratively speaking, of course) and find something to out back. You might be able to do your homework on the table back there, under the pavilion, if you like."
"Sounds go," Shirley decoded. Then, to Bo, "Come on- would you like some pop or juice? We'll be heading through the kitchen."
"Sure," Bo decided.
So, saying good-bye to Joanna, the two friends and the little hedgehog headed into the house.
Stopping in the kitchen, Shirley poured them both a tall glass of pop, with ice cubes, and they dumped their backpacks on the floor to be tripped over later.
Matt, just adding ice to Joanna's replenished glass of lemonade, promised to meet them out in the backyard as soon as he delivered the drink to her.
They made their way towards the back doors, but Shirley stopped when they were nearly there, and motioned for Bo to be quiet.
He nodded his comprehension, then watched nervously as she pressed her ear to the study door, and wrinkled up her face in an attempt to hear better.
" . . . regrettable, indeed, but certainly no cause to go chasing- chasing a hope that the heir might remain!"
"Really, Jovek, you might show a bit more excitement for this news," said a fluting, heavily accented female voice. "After all, it should not be your wish, should it, that the Marhini family is gone forever?"
"You are out of line, Miang!" said another, harsh, male voice.
"A thousand humble apologies, Ambassador Rajhim." the woman, Miang, murmured.
"Look here," said a voice that Shirley recognized as belonging to Dr.Shepherd, a surly, elderly Englishman, who was the Embassy's Security Chief, "this isn't doing us any good. What we must ascertain is if there is any real chance that this- this heir, especially, is still alive."
"It is definitely possible, sighed a new voice, sounding almost restrained, as if it were trying to keep something like laughter back.
"But how do you know this, Alisson?" Robert asked. "You said something about a hedgehog, but-"
"Not just any hedgehog," said Miang quietly, with great authority. "The hedgehog. The favored pet of His Highness, Prince Ariani Marhini of Sojrenjaro. Her name was Tashari, and the prince was completely enamoured of her- he would bring her to every court function, and whisper in her ear his opinion of all that transpired there. There was many a man - and woman - prepared to kill to get their hands on the kind of information Prince Ariani gave to Tashari.
"But what does it mean, that she's missing?" a strange female voice wanted to know.
"Well," said the first voice, the one of the man called Jovek, "Tashari was kept in a special cage in the Royal bedroom of the Prince. The morning the assassination was discovered, bodies were hastily assembled, counted, and buried. It is likely that servants' bodies were counted as Royals', and vice versa, so the mistake could very easily have occurred.
"It was days until anybody thought to assemble the old family's belongings for being divided up amongst the new rulers and heirs. Naturally, the tallying took over a month, and it was only then that it was discovered Tashari was missing."
"So- you are assuming that the heir somehow smuggled the hedgehog out of the bedroom, through the castle, and escaped with her?" Robert inquired.
"Yes, that's basically it," said the Ambassador. "We believe that the heir escaped by water or air, although how - or even if - Prince Ariani escaped, we are not at all certain."
"So, where do we go from here?" Robert wanted to know. "Is it still legal for you to act as diplomats? Ambassador?"
There was a moment's silence, and then the ambassador spoke, his voice heavy.
"It is the only option. It is, after all, hardly legal to reinstate the former diplomats and ambassador when we are not even certain the heir still lives. So, although all signatures are null and void pending further notification, we must consider . . ."
Shirley, having heard enough, hastily stepped back, and beckoned for Bo to follow her into the backyard.
He did, carrying the drinks. Shirley carried Emily.
Matt was waiting for them, holding a can of root beer in his hand. He had removed his jacket and tie, loosened his shirt collar, and was sitting back in a padded lounge.
He held in his hand a piece of paper, which he was carefully studying with a frown on his face. As they came up the steps of the pavilion, he looked up.
"Hey," he greeted them, "come take a look at this."
They went over, Bo removing his jacket and loosening his own tie.
"What is it?" Shirley asked, studying the sketch he held.
"A reproduction of Emily's tattoo." he said calmly. "Sort of. I did it a couple days ago, but I didn't really have time to figure out what was wrong with it until now."
"It's not the Sojrenjaro crest!" Shirley exclaimed. "It looks kind of like it, sure, but not really!"
"It's Emily's tattoo," he repeated, "It's the Sojrenjaro crest twice- one the right way up, an the then the mirror image of it placed over top. You don't really notice it on Emily because there it's so small, and the lines of the crest are almost perfectly symmetrical- there's hardly any difference. So- does it look familiar?"
Shirley studied it carefully for several seconds, and at last she nodded.
"It's a street map. Of a city."
"But which city?" Matt persisted. This time it was Bo, reading over Shirley's shoulder, who answered.
"No way." he said, disbelieving.
"Yes, way." Matt countered, perfectly calm.
"What is it?" Shirley asked again.
"Shirley," Bo said, "It's a map of Redington."
It was. Almost as soon as the words were out of Bo's mouth, she saw it- everything from the Redington River to Main Street.
"It is Redington!" Shirley exclaimed. "But why?"
"Probably an escape route," Matt frowned. "Canada was always on very good terms with the Marhini family. It makes sense that the heir's escape route would be situated here- in the King's favorite foreign city."
"His favorite?" Bo asked, disbelieving.
"Yeah," Shirley smiled, remembering. "I met him once. I was- oh, about seven or eight, and the Ambassador wanted me to present Britain's bouquet to him at the welcoming ceremony."
It had been a beautiful, spring day, and Mum, Gran and Dad had fussed over her dress and hair for hours.
The dress had been mostly green, with some white, and nits of yellow, making a lush looking print. The puffed sleeves had been huge, bordered in green satin that matched her sash and hem, and the collar had been a white linen bib edged in handmade lace.
Mum had bought her tiny white gloves, white ankle socks, and new black Mary Janes. Gran had grown a special kind of large white forget-me-not, and had spent hours weaving fresh buds in and out of little Shirley's carefully curled hair in a dainty crown.
The flowers themselves Robert had grown, a blending mixture of white lilies, green ferns, and one beautiful Tudor rose, all bound together with silk ribbon.
Shirley had been deathly scared, but she had somehow managed to make it down the red carpet to where King Mussanti Marhini had stood, 'informally' dressed in a black tuxedo and green silk cummerbund.
She had held out the bouquet in a trembling hand, and the king had smiled at her as he accepted it, thanking her courteously.
Then he had asked her what her name was, who her mummy and daddy were, and a few other things that had, she now realized, been designed to reassure a little girl enough to calm her down, and have her picture taken with him.
Then she had played with the prince and princess, both of them several years older than she. The prince, she thought with a jolt, must have been the very same Prince Ariani whom the diplomats and ambassadors were discussing so feverishly in the house. The heir. But what didn't seem right about this picture?
"Shirley? Earth to Shirley!" Bo was calling.
Shirley jumped nervously.
"Sorry- I was just thinking about something else. Let me see that sheet for a second, won't you?"
She reached for the sketch that Matt had taken back during her daydream, and he willingly passed it to her.
Her eyes flew over the paper, and her finger followed the path they made, finally coming to a halt at a certain square.
"That's the British Embassy." she informed her cohorts. Her finger traced a faint diagonal line to another square that, in real life, would be about a kilometer away. "That's the bandstand, where I presented a bouquet to His Majesty, and played with the prince and princess" (what was it about that day that was bothering her, anyway?) "and this," her finger led to a third square, where two lines extending from the Embassy and the Bandstand met, forming a triangle, which was the principal shield in the Sojrenjaro crest, "is where I bet you money we'll find our key to the heir of Sojrenjaro."
"What would that be?" Matt asked, leaning in to examine it.
"Um . . ." Shirley studied it carefully. "I think it's that block of apartments- it's only about a street away from Sussex. I've walked past it before on my way to school."
"Well, then, what are we waiting for?" Matt wanted to know. "Let's go there!"
"Like this?" Bo raised his eyebrows, and pointed at the remnants of his school uniform. Matt glanced at Shirley.
"You have clothes here," she said. "Remember that time we got caught out in the rain? You went home in Dad's things. You sent them back, but we never gave you back yours. I think Gran put them in the spare room dresser. You could change into them."
So it was agreed. Bo changed in the spare room, Matt in the lab, and Shirley in her bedroom.
They met downstairs, just as the diplomats were getting out of their conference, so they were obliged to wait, and be introduced to all of them.
"How do you do, Shirley?" smiled a petite Asian woman who introduced herself as Miang Luddesin. "How big you've gotten! And so pretty, too!"
"Fine, thank-you," Shirley said, only half-paying attention. "So, did you get everything worked out in there?"
A quick flash of pain passed over Miang's face, but vanished quickly, and she said pleasantly:
"Yes, I think so. Thank-you for asking."
That sweet, lilting voice- it was the same accent as all of the diplomats, as well as the ambassador, had. The king had had it. The prince and princess had had it- how old had they been, around sixteen and seventeen? As she thought about this, her eyebrows drew together.
That day- what was bothering her about that day? Something about the heir- what had the king said about the heir? Whatever it was, it eluded her for the moment. She smiled once more at Miang, who was absolutely lovely; even in the stiff black business suit she wore, and moved on.
It took them almost half an hour to get through all of the formalities, with Joanna coming in from the front lawn to stand decorously behind her daughter and, as she put it, "shine my Colgate smile for the masses."
Gran, mounted guard over the garden and lawn ornaments, would not be budged, so seven diplomats and two Ambassadors had to shuffle out to kiss (or shake) her hand, and murmur their thanks.
The queen in her house, Peggy Holmes accepted all homage as her due, and with astounding grace. Her eyes, however, not once left the Security man who had been chosen to guard the study window; his toes were only inches away from the few Echinacea stalks that remained after a trampling which had occurred during Maya's stay.
Once their house was empty of invaders, the Holmes family al let out a collective sigh of relief, although each member had different reasons for doing so.
Robert was glad they were gone, because now the problem of the signatures, which had been a pressing one, was now solved, and he could relax.
Joanna was happy that she could stop posing "like a Victoria's Secret model", and could actually kick back in the hammock and take a nap.
Gran was triumphant that every single one of the guards was gone, with not a plant trampled, and only a small patch of flattened grass.
Shirley was glad because now she, Matt and Bo could at last start actively looking for the Sojrenjaro heir.
* * *
Just as the three friends were leaving the house, Gran happened by, and spotted Emily nestled down against Shirley's neck, nibbling happily on her hair.
"A twiggy!" she exclaimed, delighted."
"A- a what?" Bo stammered.
"A twiggy!" Gran repeated, approaching the little animal and offering her fingertips for haughty inspection. "It's what they call them - hedgehogs - in the rural parts of England. I spent a summer there, and haven't been able to drop the habit since.
"I had one, once. I called him Maximilian. He was a perfect little gentleman- used to sit on my shoulder quite nicely, in fact. We called him the Twittering Twiggy, because he used to make little twittering, chirping noises like a bird. May I?" she asked the last question with hands extended in a request to hold Emily. Matt boded, so Peggy picked Emily up.
"Hello there, you lovely . . . lady! How are you? Why- what on Earth is this? A tattoo?" she squinted, trying to study it. "So, you're a tattooed twiggy, are you? And what id your name, little miss, hmm?"
"Emily," Matt said, just as Shirley said:
They glanced at each other, Matt puzzled, and Shirley horrified that she had said the name.
Gran merely arched an eyebrow, petted Emily/Tashari a bit more, and then handed her back to Shirley.
As they were walking down the road, Matt turned to look at Shirley and ask, "Why'd you call her Tashari?"
"Because, Shirley said, "it's her real name."
Then she related what she had heard taking place in the conference room, and why people were looking for the heir.
"You mean, she's the Prince's hedgehog?" Matt was shocked.
"Twiggy." Bo tried out the name. "It's cute."
"Yes," Shirley nodded to Matt, "But what I don't understand is, what was she doing in your friend's pet store?"
"Good question," Matt frowned slightly. Bo spoke.
"Hey- didn't you say that an Asian woman brought her in?"
"Yeah," Matt said, comprehension dawning in his eyes.
"So," Shirley said quickly, picking up on what Bo meant, "It's possible the woman was a courier, and Emily was left as- as a map to find the heir?"
"Yeah!" Matt exclaimed. Then he paused, concluding, "Although it would make a lot more sense if it were the heir himself who brought her in. Maybe he couldn't."
Again, memory assaulted Shirley. This time, she could remember a bit more- it was something the king had said about the heir's "affliction", and how it was "bound to divide the nation." But he had also said "birthright it birthright, and I stand firm there."
Was the heir crippled? But hadn't that been Prince Ariani and Princess Liani she'd played with? And the prince had challenged her (Shirley) to race after race. Although he had generously lost most of them, there had been nothing wrong with him that she could see.
Still, she shared her memory and hypothesis with Bo and Matt, who had agreed that it was very likely.
They had almost reached the block of apartments when Alicia accosted them for the second time that day.
"Shirleyshirleyshirley!" she squealed at her friend, appearing to be on a sugar-high, "guesswhatguesswhatguesswhat!"
"Um, I don'tknowdon'tknowdon'tknow?" Shirley frowned.
"It's Mr.Marany! He's agreed to teach me after school, because Mr.Howie vouched for the fact that I need so much help in chemistry."
"That's great, Alicia," Shirley said, with an effort. She was fairly dancing with her impatience to go on. "Now-"
"It's going to be so much fun!" Alicia sighed rapturously. "Those eyes- that smile - that accent . . ."
"Accent?" Shirley as startled. She had completely forgotten about the piercing, almost mosquito-like voice of the Asian man. But now that Alicia mentioned it . . .
An idea was forming in her head.
"Bo," she said abruptly, "how bad are you in Chemistry?"
"Shirley, don't rub it in," Bo frowned. His friend shook her head impatiently at him.
"No, no- can you fake needing help? I need you to get closer to Mr.Marany. I need you to check his wrist for a little, triangle-shaped tattoo."
Matt's head snapped up, and his eyes widened.
"Uh-huh," she nodded, "the tattoo- the mark of the Marhini Royal Family. I think," she went on, turning to face Bo, too, "that our Mr.Marany is actually Prince Ariani."
* * *
"You're kidding, right?" Bo asked for the fifth time, as Shirley and Matt dragged him up to the doors of Sussex Academy, a downright bewildered Alicia tagging along.
"Not by half," Shirley promised, as she studied his appearance critically. "Hmm- try to make your stare look a bit more vacant, won't you?"
What does this triangle look like, anyway?" Bo wanted to know.
"A regular triangle," Matt reassured him, "Probably blue, to match Emily's tattoo. Just a single line, not filled in- sort of like your tattoo there, on your hand."
Bo looked down at the last remaining symbol of what he was inclined to think of as his 'previous life', an unreadable expression on his face. Shirley cut into his thoughts with a pensive question.
"I don't suppose you could drool a bit, could you?"
"Shirley!" Bo exclaimed in protest.
"Shirley," Matt said gently. "he's just going in for some after-school help, not to run for 'Dunce of the Year'. He looks fine."
Bo shot Matt a grateful look, as Shirley sighed her reluctant defeat and said:
"Fine. But remember, you need help with problem six, page forty-two. He'll need to show you that one on your paper, instead of on the board. Matt and I won't be out here- we'll go and check the apartment, to see who else is in on this, and we'll meet you here around six o'clock."
"Will you please call your parents, and say you're eating at Shirley's, and call Shirley's, and say that we're eating at your house? Matt put in.
"Sure. But don't be too long- if I'm not back by seven, I think Mum and Dad will start to wonder. Well- here I go!"
They watched as Alicia and Bo went up the steps, into the school building. Then Shirley turned to Matt, took a deep breath, and said:
"Well? Shall we?"
* * *
The apartments that matched the pattern on the map were extremely nice ones, with well-dressed people filtering in and out of doors guarded by forbidding-looking doormen.
"Pricey," Shirley murmured, as they advanced up the flagstone walk.
"Nice, Matt approved."
Shirley felt, rather than saw, the doorman giving them both elevator eyes. She held her breath; both of them were well dressed, but now she wished that they'd kept on their school uniforms- it would have practically guaranteed their admittance.
Apparently they checked out, however, for the doorman made no move to stop them, and they passed through the elegant glass doors with simultaneous sighs of relief.
Stopping in the lobby, they studied an elegant list of the names of the people who lived in the apartments.
"Adler, Allen, Anderson, Argyle, Armstrong, Belden, Bennett, Benson . . . Remember, we're probably looking for Marany or Marhini. " Shirley murmured.
"Horton, Huntington, Ives, Jackson . . ."
"There sure are a bunch of them," Shirley frowned. "By the looks of it, this place can hold over a hundred families."
"Hey- Luddesin, M." That's that pretty diplomat's name, isn't it?" Matt said. Shirley frowned, thought, then nodded.
"Yes. Miang, I think was her first name. Dad said that she was best friends with the princess before she died." Shirley's expression was sympathetic, now, and she thought of Maya. "You can only imagine how terrible she must feel, now that the princess is- is- you know."
"What was her name?" Matt asked, as they continued to study the list carefully for any name that sounded like Marany or Marhini.
"The princess?" Shirley squinted, trying to picture the shadowy figure of the gentle, solemn-faced girl who had been kind and friendly towards the merry little girl who was playing so eagerly with she and her brother. She had been small (not as small as the other women of her nationality, though), and beautiful- very, very beautiful.
"I think it was Liana, or Liani. Yes, Liani. Liani Marhini." Shirley nodded. "She was-"
She stopped abruptly.
"I know," Matt was smiling quietly. "I now. Just now, I started to wonder. You're sure-?"
"Positive." Shirley was fairly quivering with excitement. "The king was talking about the heir's handicap. How the nation would be divided- I just never remembered what he meant."
"Well, that's understandable," Matt said, as the two detectives noted the room number by the name, and took off, heading for the elevator, "I mean, at the time you probably wouldn't have agreed that the heir really was handicapped."
"I still don't!" Shirley said, indignant, as the elevator ascended to the sixth floor.
"Imagine," she fumed, as the box stopped, and the doors slid open, "Handicapped! Just because the heir is a GIRL!"
Matt smiled wryly at her as they reached apartment F6, and knocked on the door.
"I'll have to admit, Shirley, if there's one thing you're not, then it's handicapped."
Shirley was about to snort, when Miang Luddesin opened the door. She had removed the business suit she'd been wearing earlier, and replaced it with a gray silk sari, embroidered with shining silver threads. Her thick, glossy black hair hung down her back to her waist in shimmering waves, and she had a single dot made of jet in the center of her forehead that, Shirley recalled, stood for beauty.
Well, she thought, if anybody should wear it, then Miang was the one.
"Its Shirley Holmes!" Miang exclaimed, delighted. "And- Matthew, wasn't it? Matthew Haring? Harris!"
"Yes," Matt smiled. Shirley smiled too, then spoke.
"We need to talk to you," she informed the woman. "It's urgent. It's about- Tashari. And Prince Ariani, and the heir."
Miang's eyes widened, and she raised one slim hand to her mouth.
"The princess? You have news of the princess?"
"Come in," she said, "please!"
As they followed her, Matt leaned over and hissed at Shirley:
"Why'd you tell her that? Wasn't she, like, best friends with the princess? It news to us that she even was the heir!"
"I have news about her, then," Shirley said calmly, "Don't worry- I know exactly where Liani is."
Miang gestured for them to be seated, and then followed their example.
"Firstly," Shirley said, "for Tashari."
Then, reaching around behind her neck, under her hair, she carefully picked up the little hedgehog (twiggy) which had nestled down there.
"Tashari!" Miang exclaimed. "It's Prince Ariani's little Tashari!" she reached out, and plucked the little animal form Shirley's hands to nestle it close to her body, crooning to it in her native language.
"Secondly," Shirley said, "is Prince Ariani. He's posing as a Chemistry teacher at Sussex Academy, a private school I attend. You can reach him whenever you choose."
"Ariani, as I recall, always loved chemistry," Miang's pert little nose wrinkled in amusement. "And he always did wonder what it would be like to be a teacher. Is he any good at it?" she asked curiously.
"He's wonderful," Shirley reassured her, "just wonderful."
She fell silent for a minute, watching Miang as she played with Emily/Tashari, whom she held comfortably between her elegant, dark hands.
At last, Miang looked up, and prompted, voice soft but tense,
"Ah, yes," Shirley said uncomfortably, "Her Highness, the Princess Liani of the Royal House Marhini, went into hiding. She picked the perfect disguise- a woman in a foreign country, among men who don't know her face from that of another woman's. A particular woman's. In fact- her best friend's.
"And how," Shirley continued, "could she manage that? Because her friend was with her the night of the assassination. And that friend took the bullet that was meant for the princess. Am I right, Your Highness?"
But she didn't need confirmation when Miang Luddesin - Liani Marhini - was bent over her brother's pet hedgehog, crying her heart out.
She wept for over ten minutes, a steady stream of saltwater grief, and Matt and Shirley just let her.
At last she looked up, and her face was no longer that of a common woman who has achieved high status, but that of one who had been born a princess, lived the life of a princess, and would die a princess, no matter what.
"You must think I'm very stupid," Miang - Shirley would never be able to think of her as anything else, now - murmured.
Shirley smiled, and replied using the same words Matt had a day before.
"No," she smiled, "Not stupid. Not stupid at all."
Miang managed a smile. "I don't suppose you remember me, do you, Shirley?"
"Yes. I presented a bouquet to your father. Then you, your brother and I played together for the rest of the day. That must have been . . .eight years ago, now?"
"Yes," Miang smiled- a gentle, regal smile. "Yes, we had quite a day. You were such a pretty little girl- I still remember your dress, and how proud you were of it! And, Shirley, you've grown into a lovely young lady."
Shirley's cheeks flushed a bright pink, and the rest of her followed suit as Mat exclaimed wholeheartedly:
"Hasn't she, though?"
"Now, what is this about Ariani? Can you take me to him? It is most urgent- although Alisson Ifor is still loyal to my family, and knows me for who I am (I assume it was you, Shirley, who sent that e-mail. Alisson brought it straight to me), Jovek Liangaro and Ambassador Rajhim were active participants in bringing about my family's murder. Should they learn I am still alive, I fear my life would not last much longer at all."
"Is it possible anybody followed us?" Shirley immediately demanded of Matt, who considered the question before answering.
"Not only possible, but likely," he said quietly. "When we left the house, either the Ambassador or Liangaro could have been waiting for us- and Alicia sure didn't make us hard to spot when she started shouting about Mr.Marany- I mean, His Highness."
"Then we have to get Princess Liani out of here," Shirley said tersely. "Matt, take her out the front door- they'd never expect that. I'll call the police, and stay here- if there's an emergency, I can reach you with this."
She tossed Matt her cell phone, and with a reluctant look at her, he led Miang and Emily/Tashari out the door, and down the hall.
Shirley counted to a hundred slowly and agonizingly, at last getting up from her seat, and reaching for the phone.
She had just punched in the first digit of 9-1-1, when a scraping sound came from the front of the apartment.
"Bo?" she called. "Matt? Is that you?"
"No, Shirley," said a voice with definite Sojrenjaron accents, "it's not. Now, please put down that phone. I really don't want to have to shoot you."
* * *
Bo and Mr.Marany were waiting anxiously outside of Sussex, and had been doing so for almost twenty minutes past when Shirley and Matt had agreed to meet them.
"Something's not right," Bo said at last. "I know it wouldn't take them this long if everything was fine. We need to find them."
* * *
We have been down here for some time, Matthew," Miang said at length. "Is it possible that Shirley is in some sort of trouble?"
Matt reviewed the stories Bo had regaled him with of Shirley's many exploits, now wishing that the other boy had not been quite so vivid.
"Yeah, it's more than possible. It's kind of likely." he said, eyes fastened on the visible window of Miang's apartment.
"I should then go back inside," Miang said firmly, and took several steps toward the door before Matt caught hold of her arm, stopping her.
"No!" he said hastily. "No- you're the heir to the throne. You have to be safe. I can go, but you need to stay here."
"No," Miang said firmly. "You are a child. It would be wrong were you to go, and not I. And don't give me any of that sexist crap, do you hear?"
"Yes'm," Matt said hastily. "We- we'll give it another minute, then?"
Miang hesitated, but realizing they were at a standoff, nodded her head reluctantly.
"Yes." she nodded, unaware that inside his head, Matt was shouting:
"What's happened, City Girl? What went wrong?"
* * *
Everything, from Shirley's point of view.
Just before the owner of the voice appeared around the corner of the hallway, she punched in the last two digits of the distress call, and lowered the receiver to her side as it started to ring.
The speaker had not been bluffing when he spoke of shooting her- he held an antique handgun, that nonetheless looked sufficiently preserved to perform its natural function.
"Ambassador Rajhim," Shirley said faintly. Now she had an inkling of how Maya had felt when she saw the face of the man who had been attempting to kill her, and it had proved to be her father's dearest friend.
Ambassador Rajhim had, until a couple months ago, only been a diplomat, but he had been a diplomat at the British Embassy for eight years.
He had often greeted her with a smile or a joke when he saw her. Somewhat different, she thought absently, from the weapon he was holding now.
"Hello, Shirley," he said, "I'm very sorry that it has to be this way."
"Does it?" she asked plaintively. "Does it, really?"
"Yes," he sighed, "I'm afraid it does. I can't say I would enjoy returning to diplomat status, having now been an Ambassador." He glanced at the phone she still held, which had stopped ringing.
Shirley could now hear a man politely requesting details. When he received no reply he tried again, and then again.
Keeping the old revolver trained on her, Rajhim snatched the phone from Shirley's grasp, and spoke into it.
"Hello? Yes, I'm most terribly sorry about that- just my daughter fooling around. Yes, I understand. I'm very sorry- it won't happen again. Yes, you too. Goodbye.
He replaced it in the cradle carefully, and then motioned for Shirley to step over to the sofa, and sit down.
"Your friends Mr.Harris and Mr.Sawchuck have succeeded in getting hold of what, for the moment, at least, I want the most- the prince and the princess. Now, Shirley, we will contact your friends, and tell them that you would like to see them again, and that I am willing to make a trade. Understand?"
"Yep," Shirley groaned.
"Good," he held the cell phone to her ear. "If you would please dial the number . . ?"
* * *
"Matt?" Bo jumped out of Mr.Marany's car.
"LIANI!" Mr.Marany shouted, running towards Miang, his arms outstretched.
"ARIANI!" she exclaimed, as he lifted her bodily from the ground and swung her about. She started to cry, as she chattered almost hysterically.
"Matthew says he bought Tashari before you could, and this is why you could not find me."
"It doesn't matter now," Prince Ariani promised, setting his older sister down gently. "Now we're back together, and we're going to take you home, and get you on the throne where you belong!"
" . . . And she said she'd meet you out here?" Bo asked Matt, who nodded.
"Almost ten minutes ago, now. I wouldn't let Miang go in, and she wouldn't let me go."
"So- she's the princess?" Bo asked, looking at Miang, who was now reuniting her brother with his hedgehog, and watching with delight as Ariani smothered the little animal with affection.
"Yes. Did Ariani tell you about her?"
"On the way here," Bo nodded. "Man, have they gone through Hell and back! But about Shirley . . ."
The cell phone in Matt's pocket cut him off. Matt hastily pulled it out, and flicked it open.
"Matt-" she was cut off abruptly, and a heavily accented voice came on the line.
"Mr.Harris. I should like to propose an exchange of valuables, so to speak. Do you catch my meaning?"
"Yes." Matt's voice wasn't even above a whisper.
"Good, good, very good. Your friend, here, in exchange for my own, dear friends, the Princess and her brother. Please tell them that I-"
"You can tell me yourself, Mikhail," Princess Liani, who had seen the look on Matt's face and snatched the phone from him, snapped bitterly into the mouthpiece, "I'm listening."
"Liani! How wonderful! You really had me fooled, you know- I hadn't seen you for eight years, and I must say I didn't recognize you at all.
"But this is no time for nostalgia- Miss Holmes's friends would probably like to see her again- alive. You do know what you must do to bring this about, I hope?"
"Yes." Liani's voice was even quieter than Matt's had been when he'd spoken the word.
"Good, good. I'll be hearing from you soon, then?"
Liani hung up on him.
* * *
Ambassador Rajhim smiled at Shirley as he broke the connection, and spoke to her.
"Well, it seems as if you'll see your two friends again very soon. Not much to do until then but wait, is there?"
Shirley, eyes focused on the floor, said nothing.
"What, you're not sulking, are you? I find it so aggravating when people sulk, just because not everything goes their way. I'd have thought you were above such a thing!"
"Yeah, well, life is just full of surprises, isn't it?" Shirley muttered.
"Capital, Shirley. capital!" Rajhim beamed at her benevolently, like a jolly old Pakistani Santa Claus. "Although it isn't your material, it's very true, and it really does suit your situation, doesn't it?"
"Not just mine," Shirley replied cryptically, "not just mine."
Seconds later, he found out what she meant, as four policemen, four firefighters, and two ambulance personnel all burst into the room.
Rajhim turned, and took a step towards the window. Shirley didn't know why, and didn't stop to find out. She took his legs out from under him with a roundhouse kick they'd taught her in karate. He dropped like a log, and two policemen approached, on to handcuff him, the other to red him his rights.
"It's the duty of 9-1-1 personnel," Shirley informed Rajhim, who lay on the floor, "to follow up on all calls."
"You city girls and your rules," said a voice from the doorway. Matt.
Shirley ran to him, threw her arms around him, and buried her face in his neck. He hugged her back.
"You cowboys," she whispered, "you always wait until the last minute,. don't you?"
"What about us loyal friends?" Bo wanted to know.
With a shaky laugh, Shirley hugged him, too.
Then she turned to face the prince and princess, who stood overseeing the arrests of Rajhim with a cold, impersonal approval.
She smiled slightly, and said "You'll make a wonderful Queen, Miang, I know it."
"Thank-you, Shirley," Miang smiled. "thank-you very much, indeed."
It took only a minute for the prince to arrange for himself and his sister to be flown home- and, when he saw how crazy she was about him, for Emily to stay with Matt.
On their way to the plane, they dropped the kids off at Shirley's house.
"Are you going to miss them?" Matt asked Bo and Shirley, as they waved good-bye.
"Yeah," Shirley smiled, "but it's not the last we'll be hearing of them, I'm sure."
* * *
It was two days later that Shirley and Bo stood in the Redington International Airport once more, this time saying good-bye to Matt and Emily.
"Catch you later," Bo said easily.
"Sure," Matt nodded.
"Excellent," Bo grinned. He caught the pointed looks that Shirley was sending in his direction, and hastily cleared his throat.
"Um, I think that I'll go and, uh, check out those magazines over there."
He walked off to inspect the rack, leaving Shirley and Matt alone together, except for Emily, whom Matt had tucked into his pocket.
"So, Cowboy," Shirley said softly, "I guess it's good-bye again, hmm?"
"Yeah," Matt smiled a small, half-smile. "I guess it is, City Girl. Time for me to ride off into the sunset."
Shirley looked momentarily upset, but then her expression relaxed.
"That's alright, then," she said contentedly, "because you can always ride back in on the sunrise, can't you?"
Matt laughed, making Shirley squint up her face in amusement.
When Matt at last stopped laughing, he reached over, and put a reassuring hand out to cup Shirley's cheek.
"You can bet I will," he promised.
"With a happy little sigh, she melted against him, tightening her grip around his waist as if she wanted to get right on the plane with him.
Maybe she did.
He hugged back for the longest time, until they started to call his flight for boarding.
With a reluctant sigh, he let go, and collected his baggage stubs, the lobster salad sandwich Joanna had made for him, and his little overnight bag, and headed up the boarding ramp.
Shirley watched him go with an aching heart, not wanting to lose sight of him.
"Matt!" she cried impulsively. He turned around. She was silent for a long moment. At last, with a slight catch in her voice, she asked him, "See you around, Cowboy?"
"Yeah, City Girl," he promised her affectionately, "you will." Then he turned around, and was slowly swallowed up in the crowd.