The Case of the Haunted House
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction

by HA
October 08, 2000         47,400 words




The Case of the Haunted House : Prologue

The sheriff looked at the spot where he was summoned in the middle of the night. It was an area on the edge of the forest located on the outskirts of town. Nothing moved except for some nearby owls in a tree; they hooted occasionally.

The sheriff grumbled and looked at his wristwatch. It was around three in the morning. He yawned and scratched his side. "Can't believe I'm up here at this hour," he said to himself. He thought how he would be still sleeping if he had not decided to answer the mysterious phone call. If he had not, he would have been fortunate to have Cindy Crawford as his dream wife.

The unidentified caller had an electronically disguised voice. At first, he wanted to hang up, conclude it was a prank, and return to the moment when the reverend was about to ask Cindy if she wanted him as her husband. Then, he heard the voice, the very familiar voice he thought he would never hear again.

The sheriff continued to stare into the forest. He was glad that he decided to wear his heavy jacket and gloves, for it was rather cold. He breathed a little and watched a puff of warm air form in front of him. The anonymous caller had told him to wait, and the sheriff was willing to wait. For two weeks, he had been waiting.

The sheriff heard someone coming behind him. He could tell by the breaking of dry twigs underfoot. He reached into his holster and grabbed his gun. He spun around, shouting "Freeze!" while pointing the gun at the newcomer.

"Hey, it's me, Abe!" the newcomer shouted.

Recognizing the voice, the sheriff reached for his flashlight and turned it

on to get a better look at the newcomer. The light beam revealed a familiar face. "Geez, Emmett, what are you doing out here at this time of night?" he asked.

"I was going to ask you the same thing, little brother," the other man replied.

"Someone called me a while ago. Woke me up from a pleasant dream," the sheriff explained. "Told me to come out her immediately."

Emmett looked at his brother. "Was the voice disguised?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"I got the same call."

"Did you hear...?"

Emmett nodded. "I did. It's her."

"It definitely is," the sheriff said in agreement. "I recognized her

voice."

Emmett looked at the forest. "So we're supposed to wait here?"

The sheriff nodded. "That's what the voice said."

"So what are we looking for?"

The sheriff was about to answer when he heard movement from the forest. He turned his flashlight towards there to get a better look. Both men fixed their eyes at the source.

They watched as a procession of deer marched out of the forest. They came out in two lines and walked toward the men.

"What the...?" the sheriff said wide-eyed.

The two lines of deer stopped, then parted and formed a corridor. They

looked at the forest and nodded. Soon, a deer with something in its mouth walked out, leading a group of people through the corridor of deer.

The two men watched as the deer lead the people out, then stepped aside. The people walked towards the sheriff and Emmett. They noticed that some of them were wearing outdated clothing, usually ragged.

Emmett spotted a little girl in the small crowd of people. "Tiffany!" he cried out.

The girl saw Emmett and started running towards him. She ran into him and threw her arms around his waist. "Daddy!" she cried out happily.

Emmett bent down and hugged his daughter back. "Oh, honey, I missed you so much. I thought I'd lost you forever." Tears fell from his eyes, and for the first time in a week, they were of joy.

"I felt the same way about you, Daddy," Tiffany said.

The sheriff watched the happy reunion, then turned his attention to the other people. He recognized two boys. "Derek Havisham? Albie Tulone?"

The boys nodded. "I thought you two ran away after school. You've been missing for five weeks."

One of the boys shook his head. "Nope. The deer took us when we went for a walk in the forest after school."

"It's true," the other boy said.

"They did the same to us," a young man clad in a military jacket and bellbottoms said. "They got tired of us humans ruining the forest, so they started catching us on orders from the forest spirit. The spirit then put us into the trees to teach us a lesson."

The sheriff tried to take this all in. "Deer capturing people? Forest spirit putting people into trees?" He looked at the young man and wondered if he was a frequent pot smoker. "Who are you?" he asked suspiciously.

"Eddie Wilcox," the young man answered.

The sheriff stared at the young man, knowing the name from local legend.

"B-but according to the town records, you disappeared in the forest thirty years ago."

"We were all captured by the deer over the years," a young woman said. "We were all kept in the trees. Only good thing about it is that we didn't age."

Emmett looked at the people, then at Tiffany. "Is this true?"

"Yeah, Daddy. The spirit said that people kept destroying nature, especially you and your plan to turn this forest into a shopping mall. If it wasn't for those kids, we'd still be stuck there."

Emmett looked at his daughter. "Kids? What kids?"

"The kids who made the spirit promise to never trap people in the trees

again, Daddy," Tiffany told her father.

Emmett looked at her brother. "Abe, those kids who were snooping around..." He was about to say more when he heard a ringing in his pants pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. "Hello?" he spoke into the phone.

"You found everyone, including your daughter?" an electronically disguised voice asked.

"I did," Emmett answered without hesitation.

"Good. We cut a deal. You sponsor a forest cleanup and stop the mall project, no more people will disappear. Got it?"

"Got it. Thanks for your help, whoever you are," Emmett said, sincerely thankful.

"Oh, tell your brother that all evidence of our presence has been eliminated. Don't bother telling anyone about us. Bye now."

Before Emmett could respond, the other person hung up on him. The deer that led the people out of the forest walked up to the sheriff. The sheriff noticed the little card in its mouth. The deer lifted its head and opened its mouth. The sheriff took out the card and looked at it, trying to figure out what it was.

Emmett, with Tiffany in tow, walked up to the sheriff. "Abe, what's wrong?"

The sheriff showed the card to his brother. It was a white card with the deer's teeth marks and saliva on it. On the card was a white head with a question mark covering its face wearing a white-banded black bowler and a black bowtie.

* * * * *

"Does he check out?" the police chief asked the arresting officer outside the interrogation room.

"Yes, ma'am," the officer, a relative newcomer to the force, replied. "He confessed everything."

Both looked through the one-way mirror at the young man in the interrogation room. He was wearing mainly blue denim. His blue jeans had holes in the knees.

"What did he say?" the police chief asked.

"He admitted that he and his friends kidnapped Carol Kersey, raped her, and then he shot her in the head as she was trying to escape," the officer reported.

The police chief watched the prisoner. He was trembling a little. He kept looking left to right rapidly.

"I guess Mr. Kersey will be happy when we tell him we found who killed his daughter," the officer said. "We haven't had a lead on this case until now."

The police chief nodded. "What's wrong with him?"

"Oh, he was pretty spooked when we found him. The person who called us told us that he would." The officer recalled what had happened hours ago. "He was sitting in the corner of that old abandoned building on Pine and Elm, curled up like a ball and shaking like crazy." He paused briefly as he looked at the prisoner. "Kept saying 'I did it. I killed her. I did it' over and over. He also kept babbling about Carol's ghost killing his friends."

"Looks like we'll need to get a shrink to check him out. See if he can stand trial." The police chief cupped her chin in her hand. "You said he was a gang leader?"

"That's right, Chief," the officer replied. "Until the members started dying on him."

"You mean these recent accidental deaths?"

"Yep. All the victims belonged to his gang."

"Looks like he got lucky."

"Not from where I'm standing, Chief."

Suddenly, the prisoner stood up, knocking his chair down. He backed into

the wall behind him, then started screaming. The police chief and the officer went for the door and burst in.

"What's going on here?" the police chief demanded.

His eyes wide open with fear, the prisoner trembled and pointed next to the policepersons. "She's over there! She's over there! She said she'd let me live if I confessed, but she's here! She's here to kill me!"

The police chief and the officer looked around. "What are you talking about? Who's going to kill you?"

"C-C-Carol Kersey," the prisoner managed to say. "She killed my friends, and now she's here to get me."

Both the police chief and the officer stared at the prisoner in disbelief. "Calm down, buddy. There's no one in here but us," the officer said, trying to reassure the prisoner.

The prisoner kept pointing next to the police chief and the office. "You can't see her? She's right there next to you! She's looking at me! She...she's waving?"

The prisoner kept staring past the police chief and the officer. He was gradually calming down with deep breaths. Finally, he said, "Oh, she was just waving goodbye. Kinda appropriate considering where I'm going."

* * * * *

After the prisoner was put in lockup, the police chief and the officer went to the chief's office.

"Talk about guilt," the police chief said. "It just built up, and poof!

He finally snapped."

"I take it you don't believe in ghosts?"

"No. Ghosts don't exist. Just figments created by frightened minds."

"Well, something happened to him. We looked around carefully, yet we found no sign that anyone else was there. No distinct footprints, no other clues."

"Doesn't mean that ghosts were involved."

The officer reached into his pocket. "Can you explain this then, Chief?"

He took out a small evidence bag and handed it to his superior. "I found this taped on him when we found him. No sign of fingerprints."

The police chief looked at the bag. In it was a card with a black-and-white drawing of a face with a question mark wearing a bowler and a bowtie.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part One

Shirley Holmes found herself walking around in total darkness. At first, she could not make out her surroundings. Thanks to the glow growing around her, she could make them out now. It was no different that it was without the light enveloping her; she was walking around in emptiness.

"You're not afraid of the dark," a soft monotone voice said in front of her.

Shirley looked ahead and saw the strange girl in the white long-sleeved blouse and checkered skirt. She had pale skin and light blue eyes that seemed to penetrate one's soul. The feature that caught Shirley's attentive eye the most was the girl's hair; it was silver and styled into pigtails. Standing behind her was a man dressed in black and white. Wearing a black bowler and black bowtie, the man's face was composed solely of a black question mark.

Shirley glared at the silver-haired girl and the question mark man. She could not hold back her frustration anymore. "You keep saying that! What are you talking about?"

"I mean what I say," the silver-haired girl answered. "You're not afraid of the dark."

Shirley found herself standing alone in an empty field with the silver-haired girl and the question mark man. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and birds were about chirping and flying without a care in the world. Shirley examined her attire. She was wearing a cape over her clothes and a deerstalker cap on her head. The glow was gone.

"Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?"

Shirley turned around to face the silver-haired girl. "What?"

The silver-haired girl repeated the question. "Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?"

"What do you mean?" Shirley asked.

"You're not afraid of the dark," the silver-haired girl stated, gazing at

Shirley. "But do you truly understand it?" She stepped closer to Shirley. "You may not be afraid of the dark now, but will that change after you understand it?"

"Nothing scares me," Shirley declared, meeting the gaze of the silver-haired girl.

"That is true," the silver-haired girl said with a nod. "You have managed to master your fears to a point. You still have fear, but you can control it."

Shirley stared at the silver-haired girl. "Who are you?"

"A friend." The silver-haired girl turned to leave. "It doesn't matter to

them whether or not you're afraid. They'll kill you if you aren't ready."

"Who are they?" Shirley demanded, but she knew the answer.

"You know who they are," the silver-haired girl said. "The problem is, they know who you are."

"What are you talking about?" Shirley asked. "Who are you? Who are you?"

"Farewell, Shirley. We will meet sooner than you think." The silver-haired girl and the question mark man walked away. "Watch out for that snake at your feet. Its bite is venomous."

Shirley looked down and saw a golden snake with three spikes on its back. She jumped back in time to avoid getting bitten by its long fangs. The snake hissed at her for a while, then slithered off.

Shirley looked around for the silver-haired girl and her companion, but they were gone. "Who are you?" she shouted. "Who are you?"

* * * * *

"Who are you? Who are you? Who are you...?"

"Shirley? Shirley?"

Shirley shot her head out of bed to face her mother, Dr. Joanna Holmes.

She blinked her eyes. "Mom?" She looked at the foot of her bed and saw Watson, her pet basset hound, still sleeping. She looked at herself; instead of the garb of her famous ancestor, she was wearing her pajamas.

"Wake up, sleepyhead. You've got school today, remember?"

Shirley looked at her alarm clock. Her mother was right; school would

start in about twenty-five minutes. She realized that she missed the paperboy again. She knew that downstairs, her father was enjoying an intact newspaper for the fifth time this week. Once again, she would have to do her clipping later if she could get the newspaper.

"Well, you'd better get ready. I'll drop you off at school on my way to work." After returning to Redington from Rwanda, Dr. Holmes was hired by the Redington Infectious Diseases Laboratory. Being a virologist, Dr. Holmes was well-suited for the job. After being separated from her daughter for years, Dr. Holmes was glad to be able to do anything normal with Shirley, like dropping her off at school.

Shirley rubbed her eyes. "Mom, I'll be fine. I'll ride my bike to school."

"Shirley, you've nearly been late to school for the past few days," Dr. Holmes pointed out. "You've also been nearly falling asleep in some of your classes. You really should stop being on-line late at night."

"Mom, I did," Shirley said, getting out of bed. She had stopped the late night cybersurfing because what she was looking for was not available on the Net.

"Shirley, is something bothering you?" Dr. Holmes asked with concern.

For a moment, Shirley wanted to tell her mother about her dreams and the

silver-haired girl, but she dismissed the notion. She felt that her mother would not understand; after all, her friends did not understand what her dream meant after she told them.

"No, Mom," Shirley lied, forcing a smile. "I'm okay. Really."

"Well, then, you'd better get ready quickly. I'll wait for you downstairs,

honey." Dr. Holmes left the room so that Shirley could get ready for school.

Shirley stretched her arms, wondering why she kept having these dreams of the silver-haired girl. As she got ready to take a quick shower, she noted all the constant elements in her dreams: being dressed like Sherlock Holmes, walking in total darkness, glowing in the dark, an empty green field on a beautiful sunny day, golden snakes with spiked backs, a man with a question mark for a face, and most importantly, the silver-haired girl.

"Watson, what do you think it all means?" Shirley asked her pet dog.

Watson just laid on the bed without making a sound. Shirley shook her head

with an amused smile and dashed off to the bathroom.

* * * * *

In another house in Redington, a girl woke up. After yawning and stretching, she made her bed, then went to the closet to get her clothes. When they were laid on the bed, she grabbed a bathrobe and went to the bathroom to take a quick shower. She was going out in about a half-hour, and she was in a hurry. She returned to her room wearing the bathrobe and a towel was wrapped around her head. She sat down at her desk and looked into the mirror, focusing on her own blue eyes.

"It begins," she said softly without any emotion.

With that, she removed the towel from her head, releasing her long silver hair and letting it fall to her shoulders.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Two

"Save the Harrison house! Save the Harrison house!" Bart James shouted as he waved the fliers in his hand. "Rally at the old Harrison house! Help the Redington Paranormal Society save a genuine haunted house!"

Unfortunately for Bart, no one else on the Sussex Academy lawn was heeding him. It was lunchtime and everyone was eating, talking to friends, or both. Some students did stare at the budding paranormalist, but they eventually whispered to their friends how weird he was and returned to their lunch.

Bo Sawchuk watched everything from his table. "Poor Bart," he remarked, shaking his head.

"Why's that?" Blake Hewitt asked. "Because he's pursuing a lost cause or because he actually believes in ghosts?"

"Both, actually," Bo answered as he watched Bart try to hand a flyer to a girl. The girl just stared at Bart and passed him without a second glance.

"Still persisting in this supernatural silliness, Mr. James?"

Bart turned around to face Mr. Howie, the history teacher at Sussex

Academy. "Mr. Howie, that house is haunted by the spirit of someone who was murdered there," the budding scientist stated.

Mr. Howie placed his hands on his hips. "Mr. James, although someone was killed in that house, it does not mean that there is a ghost roaming its halls."

"The Redington Paranormal Society has proof that there is a ghost at the Harrison House." Bart shoved a flier in Mr. Howie's face. "See? That photo was taken a year ago by someone who actually spent the night there."

The history teacher looked at the picture, which showed nothing but a blob of some kind. "Mr. James, a blurry picture does not prove anything to me." Mr. Howie sighed, rolling his eyes. "You are one of the brightest students at this institution, Mr. James. Why you pursue such nonsense is a mystery to me." With that, the exasperated teacher left Bart.

As Mr. Howie left, Parker walked up to Bart. "Uh, Bart, we aren't making any headway," he said, showing Bart some fliers.

"I can't believe that people can be so apathetic about a haunted house," Bart said, frustrated.

"Bart, that's the least of your worries," Parker said.

"What are you talking about?"

Parker steadied his nerves before telling his friend the bad news. "Well,

some of the other members of the Science Club are thinking about voting you out."

Bart was surprised at this piece of news. "As president?"

"As a member." Parker sighed. "Bart, they haven't been thrilled about

your interest in the supernatural and paranormal."

"That hasn't been a problem in the past," Bart recalled.

"Well, now that all the science-related clubs are merged to cut back on

costs, you have more opposition from the 'serious' science guys. They've really been trying to influence everyone else," Parker informed his friend. "Word is they plan to vote you out at the next meeting, and believe me, there's a significant number of them."

Bart sighed as he and Parker walked towards the table where Bo and Blake were sitting. "Great. Now I'm facing public apathy and a mutiny."

Blake saw how downcast Bart was. "Man, poor guy. This whole rejection thing has really got him down."

"I'm sorry to say this, but he asked for it," Alicia Gianelli said.

"That's what he gets for believing in all this weird stuff."

"You know, I remember how some of that weird stuff happened to you," Bo said to Alicia. "Didn't you say on TV once how some creature nibbled on your toes in the shower and made a humming noise?"

Alicia rolled her eyes and turned to the girl beside her. "Shirley, what do you think of all this?"

Shirley did not respond immediately. She was propping her head up with her arm and was in deep thought. Her eyes stared blankly ahead.

Bo rose from his seat and snapped his fingers in front of Shirley's face.

"Hello? Shirley? Earth to Shirley Holmes."

Bo's snapping brought Shirley back to reality. "Huh?" she said, dazed a little.

"Shirley, are you all right?" Blake asked.

"You've been zoning out all day," Bo pointed out.

"Sorry. It's just these dreams I've been having," Shirley explained.

"You mean the ones with some girl?" Alicia asked.

"Silver-haired girl," Blake clarified.

"Those would be the ones," Shirley acknowledged.

Bo sighed. "Shirley, didn't you stop staying up late on the computer?"

"I did, Bo, but I keep having these dreams," Shirley said. "They're all

different, but they share some elements."

"Like the silver-haired girl," Blake said.

"And a guy with a question mark for a face," Bo recalled.

"And me walking in darkness and a grassy field during a sunny day," Shirley

added. "Let's not forget the golden snakes with spikes on their back."

"Shirley, that's the only thing I understand," Bo said. "The golden snake with spikes is the symbol of..."

"The ENIGMA organization," Blake said quietly, knowing how the group had affected his life. Thanks to them, his father had to go into hiding after they tried to kill him.

"ENIGMA?" Alicia looked around the table. "Isn't it that group of mercenaries Blake's dad helped find?"

"That's them," Blake said, knowing who was the real hero, or rather, heroine.

Bart and Parker joined the group, with Bart joining the boys while Parker sat by Alicia. "Hey, guys," Bart greeted. "What's going on here?"

"Oh, we're just psychoanalyzing Shirley's dreams," Bo said half-jokingly.

"You mean you're still having them?" Bart asked Shirley.

"I'm afraid so," Shirley answered.

"You know..." Bart began.

Bo groaned. "Bart, if you're going to say what you're going to say..."

Bart ignored Bo and continued. "It could be a ghost communicating with

you."

"In her dreams, Bart?" Blake asked, trying to swallow the young researcher's hypothesis.

"Well, it's either that or a psychic," Bart said.

"A psychic? Like one of those people who advertise on TV claiming that

they can read your palm?" Alicia looked at Bart disbelievingly. "Give me a break, Bart."

"Okay, you explain why the same stuff keeps showing up in Shirley's dreams," Bart responded hotly. "It's uncommon for someone to keep having the same dream. Ghost or psychic. Take your pick."

Alicia glared at Bart, then noticed that Parker was watching closely.

"Parker, what do you want?" she asked.

Parker held out a flier. "Uh, want to go to the haunted house rally? I'll be there," he asked nervously.

Alicia smiled sweetly, trying not to explode in rage at the red-haired boy. "Parker, like I've already told you in the hallway this morning and in class, I have work around that time."

"Oh." Parker withdrew the flier.

Bo resisted the urge to laugh and Blake shook his head. Like some of the

other students, they noticed how Parker was trying to get himself and Alicia together. For some unknown reason, Parker became enamored recently with the fashion-conscious Alicia. His efforts to court her were usually laughable. Bo looked at Shirley, who exchanged a knowing look with him.

"Bart, you seem upset," Shirley said after looking over the young genius.

Bart sighed. "Parker tells me that some members of the Science Club wants

to vote me out as a member because of my beliefs in the supernatural and paranormal."

"Man, that's cold," Blake remarked. "And after you managed to get more funding for them."

"Yeah." Bart stood up. "Well, I'm going to keep trying to get people to come to the rally. Parker, you wanna help out?"

Parker was staring at Alicia affectionately. "Huh?" he said, snapping out of his trance-like state.

"Never mind," Bart said before he left the table.

"There goes a man with a mission," Blake remarked. "Gotta admit that he's

got guts to stand up for what he believes."

"But why the weird stuff?" Bo wondered.

"Why not?" Shirley said. "We all have our interests, Bo."

They watched as Bart continued to call to people to attend the haunted

house rally. He waved the fliers in the air, trying to get attention to his cause. He spotted some kids in the distance and shouted to them. Seeing that he was being ignored, Bart ran towards them. Unfortunately, he ran into someone, and both fell to the ground. His fliers flew out of his hand and fell all over the place.

"Hoo boy," Bo remarked as he got off his feet. Shirley and Blake followed him to where Bart and the other person were. As they ran towards them, they saw a small group heading for the same location. Leading the way at a distance was a tall, dark-haired woman in a uniform. She was literally dashing up towards the two people on the ground.

Shirley noticed a familiar face in the group. "Ms. Stratmann?"

All of them were now where Bart and the other person was. Bart was

apologizing to the other person, who happened to be a girl. She had brown hair done in a ponytail and was wearing a scarf over her neck. Seeing that she was about her age, Shirley saw that she was not wearing the Sussex Academy uniform.

The woman in the uniform knelt at the girl's side. "Miss Knight, are you all right?" she asked her, glaring at Bart. "Did this young man hurt you?"

The girl shook everything off as she was helped off her feet. "I'm fine, Bernadette. Really," she assured the uniformed woman.

Bo helped Bart to his feet while Blake started picking up the scattered fliers. "You okay, Bart?" Shirley asked with concern.

"I'm fine," Bart said. He turned his attention to the girl he knocked down. "Are you okay?"

"Don't worry. I'm fine," the girl said. She looked at the ground. "Has anyone seen my glasses?"

The uniformed woman searched the ground and picked up a pair of glasses.

"I found them, Miss Knight," she declared, handing them to the girl.

"Thanks, Bernadette," the girl said, putting on her glasses and adjusting them on her nose. Shirley saw that the girl's glasses resembled goggles. "Sorry about that. I wasn't paying attention where I was going," the girl apologized.

"No, no, it was my fault entirely," Bart apologized as Blake handed him his fliers. "I wasn't looking where I was running."

The rest of the group caught up and Ms. Stratmann faced Bart. "Mr. James, what is the meaning of this? Explain yourself."

The uniformed woman glared at Bart. "You heard your headmistress, boy! Explain yourself!" she bellowed to him. She glared at the crowd of students starting to form around the little group. "What are you all looking at?" she demanded loudly. The students responded by walking or running away and relegating themselves to watching from afar.

While Bart stuttered out an explanation, a dark-haired man in a business suit spoke. "Don't worry about it, young man. It was an accident. It was no one's fault." As the man spoke, Shirley noticed the white hairs in his hair, especially around the temples.

The uniformed woman stood at attention. "If you say so, Mr. Knight."

Ms. Stratmann's demeanor also changed. "Well, since you think so, Mr.

Knight. Still, I feel that I should apologize..."

"Please don't, Ms. Stratmann," the man said. "You don't have to. It's not really necessary."

A woman walked up besides the man. "Since no one's hurt, I'm sure we can drop all these possible lawsuits," she said with a grin.

The man looked at Shirley and her friends. "Well, here's an opportunity to talk with some Sussex Academy students, Ms. Stratmann. Guess I won't have to interrupt a class after all," he said cheerfully. "I think introductions are in order."

"These students are Bart James, Shirley Holmes, Boris Sawchuk, and Blake Hewitt," Ms. Stratmann said, motioning to each of the kids. Bo winced as he heard his full middle name.

The man nodded. The woman elbowed the man playfully in his side. "Nathan, don't be rude. Introduce us."

The man laughed and motioned to the girl. "The young lady Bart ran into is my daughter, Lucy." He motioned to the woman besides him. "This charming and wonderful woman is my wife, Regan, and I'm Nathan Knight."

"Hi," Lucy said cheerfully with a wave.

Blake stared at Mr. Knight. "Knight? As in head of the Knight

Foundation?"

"The one and the same," Mr. Knight said with a grin, then he motioned to the uniformed woman. "This is Mrs. Bernadette LeMarche, my chief of security. As you can probably tell, she's too good at her job," he remarked with a light-hearted chuckle.

Mrs. LeMarche stood at attention without making a sound. If she found Mr.

Knight's joke funny, it did not show on her stern face.

"Nathan," Mrs. Knight said, pointing to a girl behind her.

Mr. Knight slapped his head. "Oh, I'm so forgetful...this young lady

behind me is Katrina Mansfield. She's one of Lucy's cousins."

Katrina stepped out from behind Mrs. Knight. Immediately, Shirley and her friends gasped. Their eyes widened and their jaws nearly fell in amazement.

Standing before them was the silver-haired girl from Shirley's dreams.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Three

Shirley could not believe her eyes. It was like Katrina just stepped out of her dreams. She was wearing the same clothing: a long-sleeved white blouse and a checkered skirt. Her silver hair was tied into large pigtails. Her skin was deathly pale. Her light blue eyes, although half-open, seemed to be seeing through Shirley.

Mr. Knight noticed the stares of Shirley and her friends. "Well, this reminds me of how you reacted when you saw Katrina for the first time, Ms. Stratmann."

Ms. Stratmann started to stutter. "Um, well, Mr. Knight..."

"Don't worry about it," Mr. Knight said reassuringly. "Katrina has that

effect on people. They get used to it after a while."

"I don't get out much," Katrina said, her voice not betraying any sign of emotion.

"Got that right," Bo mumbled, catching a glare from Ms. Stratmann.

Shirley regained her composure and looked over Katrina, then at the three

Knights. She noted that Lucy and her parents shared some physical features, but Katrina did not share anything in common with the Knights, unless there were members of the Knight family that had silver hair.

"I'm a distant cousin of the Knights," Katrina said, fixing her gaze on Shirley.

Shirley was stunned. She had tried to be as inconspicuous with her observing as possible. "What...?"

"She's from the former Soviet Union," Lucy explained. "The Ukraine."

"Really? My parents are from there, and I have relatives living there," Bo

said.

"This is hair dye," Katrina said, pointing to her hair.

"It sure is," Lucy said, smiling.

"Oh," Shirley said, stunned again. "It looks very realistic," she

commented, still suspicious. For some reason, she found that hard to swallow that Katrina's hair was dyed and that she was from the Ukraine. She did not detect any sign of accent.

"I lost my accent," Katrina told Shirley, who was stunned again.

"So, what brings the head of the Knight Foundation and his family to Sussex

Academy?" Blake asked Mr. Knight curiously.

"I've been hearing a lot about how Sussex Academy's been having financial problems now and then," Mr. Knight started to explain. "I faxed Ms. Stratmann yesterday to set up a tour of the campus so that I could assess the situation."

"What have you found out so far?" Bart asked.

"That this place is in need of major repairs," Lucy said before her father

could speak. "Also, the computer equipment could use some upgrading." When her mother shot her a look, Lucy grinned sheepishly and said, "Sorry."

"I'm happy to report that the teachers are competent and the material they teach is more than adequate, however," Mrs. Knight added.

"So it's all a matter of updating and renovating," Mr. Knight concluded.

"Do you agree?" he asked.

"When you think about it, the computers around here could use upgrading," Blake remarked. "Maybe some of your recent models?"

"You know of our computer line?" Mr. Knight asked the young computer expert.

"I do, but my mom owns a calculator manufactured by the Knight Foundation," Blake explained. "I also know that the Knight Foundation makes hi-tech stuff like computers."

"Not to mention medical equipment, medicines, fertilizers, and eyeglasses," Lucy added proudly, pointing to her eyeglasses. "Plus other things."

"Well, those, too," Mr. Knight said humbly.

"To be honest, this place can use some fixing up," Bo said, looking around.

"How long has this place been around? The Middle Ages?"

Ms. Stratmann and Mrs. LeMarche glared at Bo, but lightened up when they saw Mr. Knight laughing. The sight of the head of the Knight Foundation laughing surprised Shirley and her friends. "Ah, this is a relief," he commented, looking at Bo. "The other school I visited last week was so dull. The students there had no sense of humor. They were all work and no play. Brilliant, but boring."

"So if you decide to donate some money, will we be fixing up the place so that it looks modern?" Bo asked.

"Oh, no," Mrs. Knight answered. "The money will be used to renovate, not change completely the school. Repairs would be made, but we wouldn't dream of changing anything that makes Sussex Academy so distinct."

Katrina fixed her gaze on Bo. "You're not like the other students," she observed. "You're not rich."

Bo's eyes widened. "How...?"

"Mr. Sawchuk is here on a special scholarship," Ms. Stratmann explained.

"He was a juvenile delinquent heading for reform school until the judge sent him here."

"Is this true?" Mr. Knight asked Bo.

"It is," Bo said with a little hesitation.

"And have you done well?" the businessman asked.

"I have, sir," Bo answered.

"Well then..." Mr. Knight turned to his wife, and they started to talk in

private. Mrs. LeMarche marched over to them and stood behind them as they discussed over something. Ms. Stratmann looked concerned as she watched the Knights talk in low tones. She tried to lean in to listen, but the imposing figure of Mrs. LeMarche stopped her. Lucy and Katrina were left to talk with Shirley and the others.

Lucy's scarf caught Bart's attention. "Nice scarf, but isn't it a little warm to wear one?" he inquired.

"It's a family heirloom," Lucy answered quickly, which Shirley noted.

"Actually, I consider it a part of me. I like to wear it wherever I go."

"Really?" Shirley took a closer look at Lucy's scarf. "It looks rather ordinary."

"It's got sentimental value," Lucy said.

"What about your glasses?" Blake asked. "They look more like safety

goggles than eyeglasses."

"They're a combination of both, really," Lucy explained. "They're designed to be durable like safety goggles, yet able to compensate for poor eyesight. This model is one of our most popular. In fact, this is the prototype I'm wearing."

"How do you know?" Bart asked.

"I was there when these glasses were made," Lucy replied. "In fact, I

designed them."

"You seem to know a lot about your parents' business, not to mention you have a little involvement in it," Shirley said to Lucy.

"Oh, I help them out now and then when they ask me," Lucy said. "I have a lot of free time."

"Why's that?" Blake asked.

"I'm sort of a prodigy," Lucy explained. "In fact, I graduated from the

University of Redington a while back with a major in computer sciences."

Bo let out a long whistle. "That's very impressive."

Bart looked at Katrina, who kept silent while the others talked. "What

about you?"

"I'm home-schooled at a normal pace," the silver-haired girl answered.

"I wonder why," Bo muttered to himself, paying close attention to Katrina's

hair. He quickly turned away when Katrina fixed her gaze on him.

"Funny. Something like that should have appeared in the newspaper," Shirley said. "A child prodigy graduating from a university would make an excellent story."

"Well, the graduation was reported as a standard graduation," Lucy said. "I was just another graduate. Same thing happened when I graduated from high school. It was Dad's idea not to put the media spotlight on me."

"Your father seems to do that with himself, especially with a recent wrestling event held for the Maple Street orphanage," Shirley said matter-of-factly. "I'm a little surprised that he doesn't publicize his charity work much."

"Dad's very modest about his philanthropy," Lucy said, not acting the least bit surprised by Shirley's comment. "He feels that doing something good is a reward in itself. The only time the newspaper knows about his charity work is when someone leaks it out or when he actually does a press release, although he downplays it when he does that."

"Gee, that sounds familiar," Bo whispered to Shirley. "Except for the press release."

"Oh yeah, I really need to thank you, Shirley," Lucy said.

Shirley looked puzzled. "For what?"

"For helping out with the wrestling show," Lucy replied like it was common

knowledge. "Not to mention helping catch that saboteur."

"Of course, you were not working alone," Katrina said, looking at Bo and Blake.

"Huh?" Bo said, knowing that only he and Blake knew about Shirley's detective work.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Shirley said.

"Um, maybe you should be thanking the police," Blake said.

"But who helped the police?" Katrina said calmly, staring at Shirley and

her friends.

Bart looked at his friends. "Guys, what are they talking about?"

Before Bart could get an answer, the Knights finished their private

discussion and returned their attention to the others. Ms. Stratmann looked especially nervous.

"Well, Bo here helped make our decision," Mrs. Knight said.

"I did?" Bo said, noticing how Ms. Stratmann was glaring at him. He had

the feeling that he had cost Sussex Academy the much needed financial aid of the Knight Foundation.

"You did," Mrs. Knight answered. "After some discussion, my husband and I have decided not to donate the amount we were considering, Ms. Stratmann."

Ms. Stratmann's jaw nearly fell upon hearing this piece of news. The poor woman looked like she could have a heart attack at any moment.

"Instead, we are doubling the amount and throwing in new computers, chemistry sets, and calculators," Mr. Knight announced. "Everything will be our latest models, of course."

"We feel that a school that can help turn around a young man like Bo deserves our help," Mrs. Knight explained.

Ms. Stratmann breathed a sigh of relief. The danger of having a heart attack was gone.

"Wait a second," Bart said suspiciously. "What's the catch?"

Shirley looked at Mr. Knight, expecting an answer. Bart had given voice to

the question she had in mind.

Ms. Stratmann stared at Bart. "Mr. James..."

"Catch?" Mrs. Knight looked perplexed. "Whatever do you mean?"

Bart cleared his throat. "Well, you're offering to renovate Sussex Academy

and donate brand new equipment, but you're not asking for anything in return."

"Your point being, young man?" Mr. Knight asked.

"So these days, you don't get anything for free," Bart remarked. "So what

does the school have to do in order to get these freebies? Do we have to eliminate a subject like math?"

"Mr. James!" Ms. Stratmann exclaimed. She turned to the Knights. "I must apologize for Mr. James' behavior. He is one of our brightest students, but he is also one of the most unstructured. He keeps asking questions and persists in believing in nonsense like ghosts and aliens."

"Is this true?" Mrs. Knight asked Bart.

"Yes, and I'm proud of it," Bart said.

Mr. Knight thought for a moment. Everyone else assumed that he was

rethinking his generosity. "Well, then, I guess we'll have to triple the money we'll be donating to Sussex Academy, won't we, dear?" he said, looking at his wife and smiling.

"Indeed," Mrs. Knight said, nodding in agreement.

"What?" Ms. Stratmann exclaimed in surprise.

"Well, if a school can produce free-thinking students like Bart here, then

it must be doing something right," Mr. Knight explained. "Too many students are taught to think based on what others say, not how they feel." He looked at Bart with admiration. "There are limits, of course, like not causing harm to others, but I don't think a belief in the supernatural and paranormal is really harmful to others if possessed by a rational person. In this case, Bart is a rational person."

"I'm beginning to really like this guy," Bo whispered to Shirley and Blake.

"Although I have to disagree with Bart being rational."

Shirley ignored Bo's remarks and looked at Mr. Knight with suspicion.

"You still haven't answered my question," Bart said.

"Yes," Ms. Stratmann said. "Although I cannot excuse Mr. James' rudeness,

he has brought up a good point. What exactly must we do in order to get your help? I am not prepared to sacrifice anything for money, no matter what, especially any part of the curriculum."

Mr. Knight laughed lightheartedly. "Well, Bart, Ms. Stratmann, you've got me. There is something Sussex Academy can do for me in exchange for our financial assistance."

Bart looked at the others with a "I told you so" face. "Which is?" he asked Mr. Knight.

"Darling, why don't you tell them?" Mr. Knight asked his wife. "I think it's more appropriate if you do."

Mrs. Knight nodded. "Well, in exchange for our financial assistance, we must insist..."

"On selling out to a big company and allowing its propaganda to spread throughout its curriculum," Bart completed hotly.

Mrs. Knight did not look unfazed. "On accepting the Knight Foundation Scholarship Program."

Bart blinked. He was not expecting that answer. "The what?"

"The Knight Foundation Scholarship Program," Mr. Knight said. "Since my

wife created it, I'll let her explain."

Mrs. Knight cleared her throat and explained everything. "The Knight Foundation Scholarship Program is essentially an independent study program that encourages free-thinking. Those who are accepted into the program participate in field trips within and without Canada and do various learning activities related to their destination and any relevant school subjects. These activities range from simple papers to show-and-tell individual or group projects, which will count as credit for regular classes. Participants will be excused from normal classes to be on these trips. Participants are also guaranteed money after they graduate from high school in order to further their education or pursue their goals."

"So you get credit for your classes while you get out of them?" Bo said.

"Cool."

"Knight Foundation Scholars also get to experience other cultures in other countries firsthand," Mrs. Knight said. "They get to meet students from other countries and some long distance friendships have been formed as a result."

"Who evaluates these activities?" Shirley asked curiously.

"Teachers that will be appointed by the head of the school and approved by

me," Mrs. Knight answered. "Or in some cases, my daughter. She's an excellent judge of character."

"Mom." Lucy looked down and blushed.

"Will the teachers be accompanying the students on these field trips?" Ms.

Stratmann asked.

"If their schedules allow it," Mrs. Knight replied. "We do have tutors who handle the supervision of the students, so you have nothing to worry about. The parents or guardians are free to come along, if they wish."

"Are participants selected or do they apply?" Bart asked.

"They have to apply," Mrs. Knight answered.

"So what qualifications are you looking for in the applicants?" Blake

asked. "Do they have to be smart?"

"I'll let Lucy and Katrina answer anything else on the subject," Mrs. Knight said with a smile. "They know what we look for in Knight Foundation Scholars. They just happen to be members."

"Wait a sec." Bo looked at Lucy and Katrina. "She graduated from a university and she's home-schooled. How can they be Knight Foundation Scholars?"

"I was a Knight Foundation Scholar in high school. Once a Knight Foundation Scholar, always a Knight Foundation Scholar," Lucy replied with a grin. "I serve as an assistant tutor when I'm available and I help out any newcomers to the program."

"Okay, but how is she a Knight Foundation Scholar when she doesn't even attend school?" Bo asked, pointing to Katrina.

"Oh, the Knight Foundation Scholarship Program isn't limited to people who attend school. Any kid at the junior high and senior high levels can be a participant in the program," Lucy answered. "Public or private, institutional or home-schooled, rich or poor, it doesn't matter. As long as the kids fit the qualifications, they can join."

"And what are the qualifications?" Shirley asked.

"To put it simply, you have to be able to think on your own and be willing

to work hard and to do good," Lucy answered seriously. "Intelligence and economic status means little in whether or not you become a Knight Foundation Scholar. Sure, you can be smart and it does help, but brains alone aren't the sole criteria for consideration. We look for kids who are civic-minded and who are sincere about it."

"Looks like Molly wouldn't be accepted," Bo whispered to Shirley and Blake.

As if on cue, Molly Hardy approached the group. "Ms. Stratmann, I need to

talk to you about something of the utmost importance," the blonde addressed the headmistress, waving a piece of paper.

Ms. Stratmann smiled at her favorite pupil. "Molly, I'm very busy right now," she said, waving to the Knights. "I've been giving Mr. Knight and his family a tour of the campus. I'm surprised that you didn't join us."

"I've been attending my classes, Ms. Stratmann," Molly answered.

Ms. Stratmann turned to Mr. Knight. "Mr. Knight, I'd like for you to meet

the student council president and Sussex Academy's star pupil, Molly Hardy.

Molly, this is Mr. Knight of the Knight Foundation and his family. Mr. Knight is being generous enough to donate some of his money and equipment to help the school."

"Gag me with a shovel," Bo whispered to Shirley and Blake. Of all the students at Sussex Academy, only these three knew that Molly was a manipulating schemer who would do anything to get her way.

"Without her help, I wouldn't know what to do," Ms. Stratmann said.

Mr. Knight looked at Molly Hardy. "Excuse me, but you are the student

council president?"

"That is correct, Mr. Knight," Molly answered politely.

"Oh dear," Mr. Knight said, turning to Ms. Stratmann. "Did you read the

fax closely?"

"Of course, Mr. Knight. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known about your visit today," Ms. Stratmann answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, the fax also said that I wanted to meet you and the student who was the elected president of the student body or any other student leader," Mr. Knight explained.

"What?" Molly looked like she was ready to explode, but she calmed down.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Knight, but your fax didn't mention that. If it had, Molly

would have joined us instead of attending her classes," Ms. Stratmann said regretfully.

Mr. Knight thought for a moment. "Hmmmmmm...maybe I forgot to put it in my fax. I have a bad habit of forgetting things."

Lucy shot a conspiratorial look and a grin to Katrina, who showed no reaction except for a slight nod. This did not escape Shirley's watchful eye.

Mr. Knight checked the time on his watch. "Well, this was shorter than expected. Ms. Stratmann, do let me know if you want to accept our generous offer and I must say that it has been a pleasure in your company," he said, shaking the headmistress' hand.

"Likewise, Mr. Knight," Ms. Stratmann responded.

"It has been definitely been an honor to meet these fine young people," Mr.

Knight said, shaking Bart's hand, then Shirley's, and then Bo's and Blake's.

"You do this old institution proud."

"You're leaving so soon?" Molly asked.

"Well, I have another school to visit, but if Ms. Stratmann has any

questions about anything, I'll be happy to remain longer. I'd be going to the other school early anyway," Mr. Knight said.

"I do have some questions to clarify some things, especially about the Knight Foundation Scholarship program," Ms. Stratmann said. "I think Molly has her own suggestions."

"Really? Well, fire away, young lady," Mr. Knight said.

Mr. and Mrs. Knight, Ms. Stratmann, and Molly began talking about the

Knight Foundation's donation to Sussex Academy. As they talked, Bo started back for the lunch area. "Let's get going. We've got about fifteen minutes of lunch left."

"Besides, I think Alicia won't forgive us for leaving her with Parker," Bart said with a wry smile.

Blake laughed, and the boys started back to their table. As he left, Blake saw that Shirley was not leaving. "Shirley, aren't you coming?" he asked.

Shirley eyed Lucy and Katrina. Ever since she met them, her curiosity was piqued. She was astonished at how Lucy knew about her involvement in the wrestling show. She turned to Blake. "Go ahead. I'll be with you shortly."

Blake nodded and joined the others, leaving Shirley to focus on Lucy and Katrina, who were talking. She listened carefully to what they were saying.

"I must use the bathroom," Katrina said.

"Go ahead. I'll get you when we're about to leave," Lucy said.

Katrina nodded and left the group for the school building. Lucy got closer

to her parents, the grateful Ms. Stratmann, and Molly. Mrs. LeMarche watched the group closely. Shirley followed Katrina carefully to the school building, making sure the silver-haired girl did not see her.

Entering the school building, Shirley saw Katrina head for the nearest girls' bathroom. After waiting for a minute, she walked in, expecting to find Katrina. Instead, an empty bathroom greeted her. She started looking under the stalls for a pair of feet. Finding nothing, she headed for the door.

"Looking for me?"

Shirley turned around and found Katrina standing behind her.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Four

Shirley stared at Katrina, who seemed to appear behind her out of thin air.

"How did you...?"

"You have many questions," Katrina stated to the junior detective.

"You're correct on that," Shirley answered. "For starters, who are you?"

"I am Katrina Mansfield, a distant cousin of Lucy Knight," Katrina answered

robotically. "That is what who I am. Shall I tell you who you are?"

"I'm the one who's asking the questions," Shirley said, nearly losing her characteristic cool. "Who are you?"

Katrina went on without acknowledging Shirley's questioning. "You are Shirley Holmes, great-grandniece of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, who was real, yet thanks to embellishments of his actual cases by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is perceived as a fictional literary character. Your main goal in life is to solve mysteries and become a great detective like your famous ancestor. You are responsible for solving many of this city's crimes, yet you claim no credit for your deeds. Your taste in clothes is unique and you own a number of hats. You also possess a taste in unique foods, especially peanut butter and blue cheese sandwiches."

Shirley was left speechless. How did she know all that? she wondered to herself.

"Until recently, your mother, Dr. Joanna Holmes, a virologist, was missing in Rwanda and presumed dead. You were obsessed with her disappearance for three or four years. Now she lives with you along with your father, Robert, a diplomat with the British embassy, and your grandmother, Peggy, whom you call affectionately 'Gran.' Peggy is very active for her age and practices tai-chi. You have a basset hound named Watson, whom you feel is lazy yet lovable."

All Shirley could do in response to this outpouring of data was stare wide-eyed at Katrina.

"Do you wish to hear more?" Katrina asked. "I can, but some of it is personal, especially your desires and fears."

"You know everything about me?" Shirley asked, hiding her anxiety.

Katrina nodded. "You are a strong girl despite your fears, Shirley."

"Why is that?" Shirley wondered.

"You're not afraid of the dark," Katrina answered.

"What?" Shirley said, puzzled. "What do you mean by that?"

"While other people run away or hide in the dark, you run into the dark and

shine your light on it," Katrina said.

"Huh?" Shirley said, confused.

"You solve mysteries, right?"

Shirley turned around and saw Lucy standing behind her. "Let's make this

quick. I think Molly noticed me leaving and she might be coming here at any moment," Lucy said. "Well, you solve mysteries, don't you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Shirley said, still determined to deny the fact she was a detective.

Lucy looked amused. "You know, we know everything about you, so lying isn't going to help you," she said nicely, yet firmly.

Shirley realized that she could not fool these two girls, so she decided to play along. "Okay, so I do solve mysteries like my great-granduncle Sherlock. What does that have to do with not being afraid of the dark?"

"Well, you like to solve mysteries, no matter how much danger there is," Lucy explained. "You persist in your cases until you find the solution. That's like shining a flashlight on a dark corner, don't you think?"

"Of course, the dark has other meanings," Katrina said. "I'm confident you'll figure it all out."

Shirley grasped Lucy's visual metaphor. "I understand that, but how did Katrina get into my dreams?" she asked, looking back at the silver-haired girl.

"What did your friend Bart say?" Katrina asked.

Shirley was surprised, but she answered Katrina anyway without any

hesitation. "He said that either you were a ghost or a psychic."

"As you can see, Katrina's not a ghost, so that leaves one choice," Lucy said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Despite the improbability, keep in mind your own great-granduncle's words: 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

Shirley recalled those words by her famous ancestor. "That still doesn't answer who you two are and how you know so much about me."

Lucy looked out the door. "That'll be for another time. Your minor Moriarty is about to enter the building." She closed the door. "Perhaps if you, Bo, and Blake come to the Harrison house rally, we can talk further."

"The Harrison house rally? The one Bart is trying to get people to attend?" Shirley asked.

"The one and the same. We'll be there with some friends. Maybe after the rally, we can talk," Lucy recommended. "We have a lot to talk about."

"Wait, I have one question," Shirley said. "Did you tamper with your father's fax to Ms. Stratmann?"

"Well, I do like to practice my computer skills now and then," Lucy revealed, grinning mischievously. "Considering what Molly really deserves for what she's done to people, making her miss an opportunity to get out of class seems minuscule."

"You know what she is?" Shirley asked.

"Yep. Certified sociopath, with nonattentive parents probably the cause,"

Lucy said, backing away from the door. "And don't worry, I'll make sure her 'recommendations' aren't mentioned when my dad gets the donation ready. At least, not the selfish ones."

"She is the least of your worries now," Katrina said. "There is another threat to deal with, and it is even more dangerous than Molly's manipulations. Unlike her, it deserves no pity."

"What? Who?" Shirley asked, but she had a good idea what Katrina was referring to.

"You know," Katrina answered.

Shirley was about to tell Katrina what she thought in order to get a

confirmation when Molly entered the bathroom. "Lucy, your parents told me to tell you that it's time to go."

"Well, got to go. We'll see you later, Shirley," Lucy said, flashing the amateur sleuth a smile as she left the bathroom.

As she started for the door, Katrina looked at Molly. "You are weak," she told the blonde sociopath.

Molly glared at Katrina. "What are you talking about?"

Katrina stood before the door. "You are weak," she repeated without

looking at Molly's face.

"Why would you say a thing like that?" Molly demanded angrily.

"Because you're afraid of the dark," Katrina answered calmly.

Katrina exited the bathroom, leaving Molly confused and Shirley with more

questions.

* * * * *

"They know about you?" Blake asked Shirley, astonished.

Shirley and her two sleuthing partners were in the Holmes family's attic,

which served as Shirley's crime laboratory. After calling Bo and Blake over, she had explained to them what happened to her in the girls' bathroom. After she had returned to them at their lunch table, she did not bring up the subject. Instead, she thought about what happened.

"It appears so," Shirley said. "They know about me and my mysteries."

"But how?" Bo asked.

"I'm still trying to figure that out," Shirley answered.

"Well, one thing's for sure," Bo said, walking around the room and stopping

by the portrait of Sherlock Holmes. "We definitely need to find out who Lucy and Katrina are. Especially Katrina. That girl gives me the creeps."

"We do know that they're connected with the Knight Foundation," Blake noted.

"So what do we know about the Knight Foundation?" Bo asked.

"They manufacture a lot of products, especially hi-tech stuff," Shirley

said. "Like medical equipment, medicine, and fertilizer."

"I've got some info on Nathan and Regan Knight," Blake said, taking out some papers from his pants pocket. He read some items to his friends. "Nathan was born in Vancouver, but was raised in Redington, and Regan was born in Chicago. Both came from well-to-do families. They met in Denver while Nathan was on a skiing trip. Regan nursed him after he broke his leg, and they started writing each other letters and making visits. They finally married in New York City. Nathan believes that people should help each other, either by contributing money to charitable causes or by giving time to charitable organizations. Regan believes strongly in improving education around the world so that children will actually learn and enjoy themselves at the same time. In their spare time, they like to play golf and tennis. Both are members of various civic organizations. Besides Lucy, they have a college-aged daughter named Brooke. Nathan has a younger brother, Nick, who is an ex-cop and works with the Knight Foundation Scholarship as a tutor."

"Nice work, Blake," Shirley said with admiration.

"Yeah. How'd you learn all that?" Bo asked. "Did you hack your way into

their personal computer or something?"

"Actually, no," Blake said, shaking his head and smiling. "I went to the company's official web site and printed out their profiles." He handed the papers to Shirley and Bo. "I also printed out more stuff and had some copies made."

Shirley skimmed through the papers. "Nothing bad about them here, but it did come from its official web site. According to all this, the Knight Foundation was started about ten years ago and started off by manufacturing operation software for computers."

"I also learned a few things about the Knight Foundation Scholarship program," Blake told the others. "For starters, it's primarily a Canada-based education program, but branches in the US, Japan, Britain, Germany, Russia, and Australia are being tried out right now. They've been successful so far, so there are plans to expand the program even further. Among the possible candidates are Ireland, Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, and Israel."

Shirley spotted something. "The Knight Foundation Scholarship program is relatively new, with it being started about four years ago while its branches were started about a year later. Interesting."

"Here's something on that security chief of Mr. Knight's. Seems she used to be in the Canadian military. That explains a lot." Bo noticed the company logo, a white knight chess piece facing left inside a black circle. "The company logo is appropriate."

Blake studied the logo. "Definitely symbolic."

"How so?" Bo asked.

"The knight piece is white, symbolizing good. It is facing left, and

'left' is usually associated with 'liberal' and 'change,'" Blake interpreted. "The black circle symbolizes a world shrouded in darkness which the company shines its light upon."

"Okay," Bo said, fighting the urge to say that was the most farfetched thing that he ever heard.

Shirley nodded. "That's a good interpretation, but here's another, albeit negative, one. The knight is facing left or behind it, but progress is perceived by some as looking forward, or to the right. Also, 'sinister' is Latin for 'left.'"

"Hmmmm...two possible meanings to this logo," Blake said. "Personally, I'm hoping for my interpretation."

"Considering Mr. Knight's character, the first interpretation is more likely the correct one, but only further analysis of the company will confirm it," Shirley concluded.

"You know, it could just be what it is, a horse in a black circle," Bo said. "Maybe whoever came up with this logo didn't mean for it to have any meaning."

"You could be right, Bo," Shirley said. "Right now, it's a minute point compared to other things on my mind."

"Such as?" Bo wondered.

"Such as the intentions of Lucy Knight and her cousin," Shirley answered.

"They have an interest in me, and I want to know why."

"Maybe they're aliens," Bo said jokingly, who got stares from Shirley and Blake. "What?"

"Considering what's been happening to me, any explanation will work," Shirley admitted.

"Hold on. We are not becoming Bart," Bo said, waving his hands in the air.

"I did call him before you guys came," Shirley revealed.

"Why?" Blake asked.

"For two reasons," Shirley said. "The first reason was to find out about

if there was such a thing as psychics being able to project their image in dreams and manipulate them."

"And Bart said 'yes'?" Bo guessed.

"He said that there is some documentation of psychic activity including

that. He also mentioned telepathy, pyrokinetic ability, and ESP again," Shirley said.

"So what was the second reason why you called Bart?" Blake asked.

"To tell him that we are going to the haunted house rally tomorrow,"

Shirley replied.

"What? Excuse me?" Bo said, surprised. "You volunteered us to picket an old house with ghost fanatics?"

"I believe they prefer to be called 'supernatural researchers,'" Blake said with a grin.

"Whatever." Bo stared at Shirley. "Why are we going?"

"Lucy sort of invited us there," Shirley answered. "It's our opportunity

to get some answers from her."

"Well, we definitely need some answers," Bo said.

"At this point, I think we have some," Shirley said.

"Explain," Blake said.

"The dreams I've been having thanks to Katrina may have some answers,"

Shirley explained. "What she told me helped me put together some of the pieces."

"And?" Bo said curiously.

"We know that Katrina is a real person, for starters. We also know that

the golden snake represents the ENIGMA organization."

"Okay," Bo said. "So?"

"So I keep encountering that snake before or after my little walk through

the darkness," Shirley said. "Katrina keeps asking me if I know what I've gotten myself into."

"So what does it mean?" Blake asked.

"I think I've got it," Bo declared. "It means Shirley's in big trouble

with ENIGMA."

"Exactly," Shirley said. "Katrina's been trying to warn me about ENIGMA.

It is a shadowy organization with a lot of power."

"Actually, I think that dummy we encountered last time kinda hinted at that," Bo pointed out. "You know, the whole 'I'll deal with you later' warning."

"They haven't come to Redington for a while," Blake noted. "Maybe they've given up or just forgot about Shirley."

"I don't think so," Shirley said. "Katrina seemed serious. In my dreams, she keeps telling me I'm not afraid of the dark. Today, she told me I'm strong because of that."

"Well, you don't let anything stand in the way when you're on a case," Blake said. "I don't think a criminal organization like ENIGMA is an exception to that."

"Got to agree on that one," Bo said. "You just don't know when to accept the word 'no' into your vocabulary, even when your life's at stake."

Shirley started to pace around the room. "But why warn me about them? Why not warn someone who's officially affiliated with law enforcement?" She thought for a moment. "From what Katrina's been telling me, I think there's something more to ENIGMA."

"While we're on the subject, what about the guy with the question mark for a face who keeps hanging out with her in your dreams?" Bo said. "What's the deal with him?"

"Shirley!" Gran's voice from below interrupted Shirley before she could answer Bo. "Can you come down for a moment, dear?"

"You guys wait here. I'll be right back." Shirley came down from the attic and found Gran holding a small box wrapped in brown packing paper. "This came for you a while ago, Shirley," Gran said, handing the package to Shirley. "A nice young man in a uniform delivered it a minute ago."

"Thanks, Gran," Shirley said. She opened the secret bookcase and darted up the stairs back to the attic.

"Well, what did she want?" Bo asked.

Shirley showed her friends the package. "What do you see?"

"A small box wrapped in brown paper with your address written on it," Bo

said.

Blake looked at the corner of the box. "No postage."

"Exactly," Shirley said, starting to unwrap the box. "It was sent locally

via a privately-owned delivery service."

"Shirley, should we be opening it?" Bo asked, concerned. "What if it's a bomb?"

Shirley held the box to her ear. "I don't hear a timer or any ticking. Besides, if it were a bomb, it would've exploded with all the shaking I'm doing to it and we'd all be dead."

"What a comforting thought," Bo said with a moan.

Shirley went to her table and removed the wrapping paper, revealing a

little white box. Bo and Blake watched as Shirley removed the lid and revealed something tiny and metallic.

"What the...?" Blake said as Shirley removed the object from the box.

Shirley held the object to her face, then showed it to the others. "It's a

toy dragon," she said, looking it over. The toy dragon had a snake-like body with four long-clawed feet and a long-snouted head with sharp teeth, horns, and hair.

"It's a Chinese dragon," Blake observed after getting a closer look.

"Indeed," Shirley said, examining it. "There's a switch on the back," she

said, and she pressed the back.

The dragon immediately roared, its eyes flashing red, and one of its front claws slashed the young detective's hand. "Ow!" Shirley cried out, dropping the toy dragon to the table.

Bo was immediately at his best friend's side. "Are you okay?" he asked with concerning, checking Shirley's hand.

"I'm fine," Shirley assured him. "It was just a minor scratch."

Bo looked at the cut the claw had caused. "We should clean it quick," he

told her. He started to look around the attic for something to clean and dress the cut with.

Blake shushed them. "Uh, guys, the dragon's making a sound."

Everyone was silent as the dragon on the table spoke. "The exchange of

something old for something new in Hades despite the end of A.N.," it said in an electronic voice. "The exchange of something old for something new in Hades despite the end of A.N."

All three looked at each other as the dragon repeated itself.

"ENIGMA," Shirley said, sounding very serious.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Five

After school and going home to change out of their school uniforms, Shirley, Bo and Blake rode their bikes to the Harrison house, which was located on the outskirts of Redington. When they arrived, they found a number of people surrounding the house carrying picket signs like "SAVE THE HARRISON HOUSE" and "SPARE THE GHOST." On the other side of the road, men hired to demolish the house watched the protesters with short tempers. Behind them was their van, which held a crate of dynamite in the back. Curious onlookers joined them, wondering what was going on and occasionally snickered at the protesters. A TV news crew was present and was setting up. The field reporter waited for everything to be set up. The house itself was an old Victorian mansion, and it had seen better days. The house was in need of a good paint job and the roof needed a good patching. Along with its gloomy gray color and the surrounding sickly trees, the Harrison house seemed like it could be haunted.

"Nice place," Bo quipped as he and the others parked their bikes in a designated area where the protesters parked their cars, vans, and bikes.

"Yeah, it's rather cheerful," Blake commented.

Shirley studied the protesters and found that they were mostly adults. She

could see a few kids, though. "Where could Bart be? He said he would meet us here."

"Right behind you." Bart and Parker appeared behind Shirley, Bo, and Blake. "Look who we bumped into," Bart said, pointing to a girl with them. Shirley recognized her as Lucy Knight, and she was wearing her goggle-like glasses and scarf.

"Why, Shirley, what a coincidence," Lucy said, acting surprised. "I didn't know you were coming."

"Yeah, right," Bo whispered to Blake.

"I'm glad you came, you guys," Bart said enthusiastically. "Every extra

person helps."

"Yeah, since practically no one from our school bothered to come," Parker said negatively.

"I wouldn't say that," Bart said, pointing to the group of onlookers on the other side of the road. "I recognize some kids from our school."

"Yeah, but they've been jeering us," Parker pointed out.

"Bart, can you and Parker rejoin the protesters? I'll be there in a

moment," Lucy requested.

"Sure thing. Come on, Parker." The two boys left and rejoined the protesters, who were shouting "Save the Harrison house! Save the Harrison house!"

"So, you've heard about what happened at the police station this morning?"

Lucy asked the young detective.

"Yes, I have," Shirley answered. "A toy dragon was delivered to the police station. When someone opened it, it said a riddle."

"The exchange of something old for something new in Hades despite the end of A.N.," Lucy said from the top of her head.

"Exactly," Shirley said with a nod.

"The policeman who pressed the switch on the dragon's back got scratched on

his hand." Lucy saw the bandage on Shirley's hand. "I deduce that the same thing happened to you."

"I'll live," Shirley remarked. "They haven't solved the riddle yet?"

"Nope," Lucy replied. "You?"

"Still working on it," Shirley said.

"I've heard that the police really miss your dad right now," Lucy told

Blake.

"Yeah, well, the head honchos at Interpol are still keeping him to devise a way to take care of ENIGMA," Blake said. Shirley could not help but notice a little sadness or disappointment in Blake's voice.

"Say, where's the weird cousin of yours?" Bo asked Lucy, looking around.

Lucy caught the remark, but did not show any sign of being offended.

"She's with the protesters right now. She's somewhere in the back." She pointed out a silver-haired head among the back section of protesters.

"Okay, Lucy, you're the one who called us here," Shirley reminded the teen-age genius. "What do you want?"

"Right now, I'd like for you guys to help us out," Lucy said, pointing to the group of protesters. "Most of the Redington Paranormal Society's out here, plus some volunteers."

"Hold on, I'm not going over there and holding a sign that says 'SPARE THE GHOST,'" Bo declared. "Especially with a TV reporter and possibly some of the guys from Sussex Academy on the scene."

"Don't worry. Just keep to the back," Lucy reassured Bo. "Besides, we don't want to destroy Shirley's anonymity," she remarked with a grin and a wink before walking back to the crowd.

"When in Rome," Blake said with a shrug. He followed Lucy and started shouting "Save the Harrison house! Save the Harrison house!" while raising his fist into the air.

"Save the Harrison house! Save the Harrison house!" the protesters shouted.

Bo stared at the protesters and groaned, then followed Blake into the back of the crowd. Shirley smiled to herself, then joined her friends in protesting the proposed demolition of the Harrison house.

A bespectacled woman with a megaphone stood in front of the crowd of protesters. "Okay, people, what do we want?" she shouted into the megaphone.

"The Harrison house and its ghost to be left alone!" the crowd responded. Bo did not even bother to say anything and groaned. Bart was very enthusiastic.

"What don't we need?" the woman asked the crowd.

"Guys with dynamite!" the crowd roared back.

"You know, if there is a ghost, I don't think he'll be happy about this

noise," Bo whispered to Shirley.

"It's a she, actually," Katrina told Bo.

"Okay," Bo said, trying his hardest not to stare at the silver-haired girl.

"How long has this been going on?" Shirley asked Bart as the woman

continued to pump up the crowd with the megaphone.

"I think it's been an hour," Bart guessed.

"Funny, I feel like it's been two," Parker admitted.

"So what brings you here?" Shirley asked Lucy.

"Oh, it's a good cause, and like Dad, I'm attracted to them," Lucy said.

"These people want to turn this house into a city landmark."

"Because it's allegedly haunted?" Shirley asked.

"Bingo," Bart said.

The reporter was interviewing the woman with the megaphone, who was

explaining why the people there were protesting the upcoming demolition of the Harrison house. Her curiosity piqued, Shirley moved up closer to the front in order to listen better. She made sure to stay out of view of the cameraman. Bart joined her at her right, and they listened in.

"We can't just blow up this house," the woman said. "It's still someone's home."

"You mean the ghost," the reporter said, trying to maintain his professionalism.

"Exactly," the woman responded. "We have no right to destroy someone else's home, whether or not the person is alive or not."

"So besides blocking the men assigned to the house's demolition, what else are you doing to save it?" the reporter asked.

"Some members of the Redington Paranormal Society have gone to City Hall to present a petition supporting the preservation of the Harrison house as a city landmark to the mayor and the city council," the woman answered. "We should be getting the results of that meeting soon."

"All you people are crazy!" Shirley spotted one of the men from the other side of the road lumbering towards the woman and the reporter. He was in a T-shirt and jeans and wore a construction helmet on his head. "This is just an old house, and no one, living or dead, is in there!"

"How do you know that? Have you ever been in there?" the woman questioned the man.

"No! Have you?" the man fired back. The reporter stepped back, but he kept his microphone in front of him to capture the argument. The cameraman also stepped back, but he kept rolling.

"Actually, no, but we've got reports of people saying that they saw the ghost while staying in the house overnight," the woman replied.

"Oh really?" The man was not convinced. "Were they nuts like you or were they just drunk? Ah, forget drunk. I've been drunk and I never thought I saw a ghost." He looked at the protesters. "Don't you people have lives or something? Go home and let me and my men do our job!"

"You mean blow up this house so that Mr. Maxson can build another mall out here?" the woman questioned. "Redington already has a mall. Why build a mall out here?"

"Well, you can't have too many malls, now can you, Miss Spook Supporter?" the man retorted, looking down at the woman. "People love malls, and Mr. Maxson guarantees that this one will have a lot of shops for people to spend their money in."

"Oh, of course! It's all about money!" the woman said in exasperation.

"Sure, let's blow up the ghost's home so that your boss can make a profit!"

"For the last time, there's no stinking ghost!" the man shouted furiously at the woman. "Now why don't you go home, put on an apron, and go clean the house and make dinner like a good woman should?"

"Hey!" someone shouted. Shirley saw a girl her age walk out of the group of protesters towards the arguing adults. She had short brown hair and wore glasses. Her jean jacket was too large for her; the sleeves had to be folded back more so that her hands could stick out, and even then, they barely peaked out.

"What the...?" Bart wondered.

Bo moved from the back and joined Shirley. He had glimpsed what was going

on from the back. He saw the girl take a firm stand in front of the man, who towered over her. "Is she crazy?"

"Sometimes the brave are considered crazy," Katrina commented, appearing behind Bo.

Blake, Parker, and Lucy joined them. "What's going on?" Blake asked.

"That girl's confronting that man over there," Shirley answered, pointing

to the front.

"Whoa!" Parker exclaimed. "That guy's huge!"

Lucy spotted the woman and the girl. "Great," she muttered. She exchanged

a look with Katrina.

"You know her?" Shirley asked.

Lucy nodded silently and turned her attention to the girl, who glared at

the man. "You can't talk to her like that, you lumbering Neanderthal!" she shouted.

The woman looked at the girl with concern. "Susan, get back. I can handle this."

The man looked down at the girl. "What are you going to do about it, pipsqueak?" he taunted, putting his hands on his hips.

The girl snarled at the man, revealing her braces. The man saw this and laughed. "Hey, guys!" he shouted to the other men across the road. "This little girl's gonna bite me!"

The other men laughed loudly. "So, Metalmouth, what're you going to do?" the man taunted further.

Bart watched with admiration as the girl stood her ground. "You're nothing but a big bully!" she declared.

"Oh, go take a seat!" the man shouted.

Shirley and Bart watched as the man pushed the girl to the ground. She

landed on her back hard.

"Hey, you can't do that!" the woman shouted.

"Sure I can." The man shoved the woman down next to the girl. "See, I

did." He laughed loudly. The reporter started towards the woman and the girl to help them, but the man raised his fist, which made the reporter rethink his next action and he resumed being impartial.

Bart was furious. "He can't do that..."

Before Shirley could stop him, Bart darted out of the crowd and was soon at

the side of the fallen girl, who was trying to get up. An Asian boy also darted out to help.

"Oh, great, another four-eyed brat," the man remarked meanly as he looked at Bart.

Bart looked at the girl, who was trying to sit up. "Are you okay?" he asked with concern.

The Asian boy joined Bart at the girl's side. "Yeah, are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm a bit shaken up and my butt hurts a little, but I'm fine," the

girl replied.

Bart took the girl's hand and helped her to her feet. The girl looked into his eyes and smiled. Bart found himself smiling back. She was not a ravishing beauty, but Bart found himself strangely attracted to her. His hand started squeezing her hand, and he felt her squeezing back. For a moment, they said nothing.

Shirley and the others watched this from their position. "Hmmmmmm..." The junior detective studied Bart and the girl closely.

Bo realized what was going on between the two. "You go, Bart," he said with a grin.

"Whoa," Parker remarked.

Blake just smiled. Lucy and Katrina showed no reaction on their faces.

"Um, you know," the girl said finally, blushing. "I think my mom could use

our help getting back up."

"Besides, there's a big man with muscles standing right there," the Asian boy whispered in Bart's ear while pointing to the man.

Bart snapped out of his trance. "Oh, oh, right."

"Awwwwwwww, look. A hero," the man said mockingly as Bart, the girl, and

the Asian boy helped the woman up.

"Better stay with your mom," the Asian boy told the girl. The girl nodded and took her mother away.

Bart faced the man who was the aggressor. It was clear that he was at a disadvantage against the mountain of muscle, but he showed no sign of fear. "Yeah, whatever." Bart looked angrily at the man. "What right do you have to shove innocent women around?"

"This right!" the man declared, flexing his right arm to show off his muscles. "My boss wants that building blasted today, and I'm not letting a bunch of ghost-lovers stand in my way." He faced down Bart. "Now get out of my way, kid."

"No." Bart stood his ground.

The Asian boy stood beside Bart. "Same with me."

The man snarled. "Fine by me, kid," he said as he started to advance on

Bart.

Bo and Blake were about to rush in to help Bart when Lucy held out her arm to block their way. "Hey, what are you doing?" Bo demanded.

"Don't worry about it," Lucy assured them. "Everything's under control."

"What are you talking about?" Blake asked, puzzled. "He'll get stomped!"

"You got that right," Parker said, almost panicking.

"Be patient," Katrina told them. "Your friend is brave," she remarked to

Shirley.

"Well, Bart always stood up for what he believed in, no matter what," Shirley said.

"And now he's going to get killed for it," Bo remarked dryly. "I'm not going to stand here while it happens."

"Me neither," Blake said, ready for action.

Shirley looked at Lucy, who shook her head. "Someone's got to do

something," Shirley said.

"Don't worry, Shirley. This one's on us," Lucy said.

Shirley and her friends watched as the man advanced on Bart and the Asian

boy. It seemed that the man was going to tear them apart. Meanwhile, the reporter and the cameraman kept themselves at a safe distance, filming everything.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Six

Shirley and her friends watched as the man advanced on Bart and the Asian boy. Shirley noticed that no one among the protesters was charging to their rescue. Apparently the mountain of muscle heading in their direction intimidated them, not to mention his friends across the street, who could overpower them at any moment.

"Nice knowing you," the Asian boy whispered to Bart.

"You are a weak coward if you wish to hurt innocent children," a calm,

emotionless voice addressed the man from behind.

The man turned around and saw a tall boy behind him. "What the...?" he muttered to himself.

Everyone present--the reporter, the cameraman, the onlookers, the demolition crew, the protesters, and Shirley and her friends--stared at the newcomer. His skin was deathly pale and his hair was black and spiked up. He wore a long black coat with a purple inner lining, black gloves, black pants, and black sneakers. The only piece of clothing that was not black was his T-shirt, which was crimson red, and the goggles he wore around his forehead, which were black framed and had red lenses.

"Who's that?" Bo wondered.

"Beats me, Bo," Blake said.

Shirley turned to Lucy and Katrina, who showed no surprise on their part.

"You know him," she said knowingly.

Lucy smiled. "Don't worry. You'll meet him later."

Bart stared at the boy in black. "Huh?"

"Don't worry, we're saved," the Asian boy said. "I feel sorry for the

other guy, though."

"Why's that?" Bart asked.

The Asian boy smiled. "You'll see."

"Huh?" the cameraman said, puzzled. "Who's that kid?"

"Never mind. Just keep rolling," the reporter ordered.

The man snickered at the sight of this strange youth. "Great, it's Kid

Dracula." He faced the boy in black. "So, I'm weak, huh? I'll show you!"

He charged the boy with his right arm bent back, ready for a punch.

The boy calmly and quickly stepped aside of the man's charge and he pressed two fingers on the man's arm as he passed him. Everyone watched as the man screamed in pain as his right arm hung limply. "My arm! I can't move my arm!" the man shouted. He glared at the boy in black, who smiled coldly. "What did you do to it, you freak?"

"Pressure points," Blake said.

"What?" Parker said, not knowing what Blake meant.

"That kid found a pressure point that incapacitated the man's arm when it

was touched. He can't move it now," Blake explained.

"Well, that big bozo's still got one good arm left," Bo said.

Frustrated, the man charged the boy in black and threw a punch with his

left arm. The boy dodged the punch and pressed his fingers against a pressure point on the man's left arm. The man cried out in pain, with both his arms rendered useless.

"Not only are you weak, but you are an idiot," the boy commented. "You never learn from your mistakes."

The protesters were silent. The onlookers whispered among themselves, curious on who this stranger was. Shirley was the most curious.

The man snarled and looked at the other members of the demolition crew. "Hey, get over here and get this guy!" Immediately, five muscular men ran across the road and were soon surrounding the boy in black.

"Great, he's dead," Parker remarked.

Blake grinned. "You never saw a Bruce Lee movie before, have you, Parker?"

"News flash, Blake. That's not Bruce Lee," Bo said. "In fact, who is this

guy?"

Shirley kept silent on the matter and watched as the boy in black studied the five men surrounding him. "Five against one? Hmph, more cowards. You have to attack in large numbers to take me on," the boy commented, his tone apparently cold, yet not worried.

"Get him!" the leader shouted.

One man charged the boy from behind, hoping to grab him. Without looking,

the boy swung a gloved fist into his would-be attacker's face, knocking him to the ground senseless.

"Ouch," Parker remarked.

The remaining four men were petrified. "Oh my God, he knocked down Kenny

with one hit!" one man exclaimed.

"Whoa," Bo whispered.

"Very impressive," Shirley commented.

The boy in black faced the remaining men. "Who is next?"

The men looked at each other. "Well, what are you waiting for?" their

leader demanded, still unable to move his arms. "Get him!"

Two of the men went to the side of their fallen comrade. "No way, Carl," one of the men said. "We didn't sign up to get our butts kicked by some guy in black."

"He's just one kid!" the leader shouted.

"And look what that one kid did to you and Kenny," another man said, trying

to revive the fallen man by slapping him in the face.

The boy in black shook his head. "Pathetic."

At that moment, a cell phone rang in someone's pocket. It happened to

belong to the woman with the megaphone. She got it out and turned it on.

"Hello?" she asked.

As the woman talked with the person on the other line, everyone's attention was still on the boy in black and the demolition crew. The cameraman had recorded everything that had happened while the reporter commentated on the action. Now both men were watching quietly for who was going to make the next move.

The woman finished talking on her cell phone and she hung up. Putting away the cell phone, she spoke into the megaphone. "Hey, people, listen up!"

Everyone gave their attention to the woman. The cameraman turned his focus from the boy in black to the woman. "The city council's granted a reprieve to the Harrison house until tomorrow, where we'll get to present our case before it!"

The reporter rushed up to the woman. "Is this true?" he asked her.

"It is," the woman replied with a big smile.

This piece of news was met with loud cheering and applause from the

protesters. The onlookers were amazed. The demolition crew was not exactly thrilled.

"I believe you gentlemen are not welcome here," the boy in black told the crew leader.

The leader snarled. "Just you wait. We'll be back. Mr. Maxson's got clout on the city council. This house'll be nothing but bricks when we're done with it."

Now conscious, the man called Kenny was helped up by his co-workers. "What happened?" he asked, still dazed.

"We're leaving, Kenny," the leader said angrily. "But don't worry. Mr.

Maxson's got everything covered."

The boy in black walked up to Bart and the Asian boy. "Are you two all right?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah," Bart said, staring at the stranger.

"We're cool," the Asian boy said. "Did you really have to hurt the bad

men, Damian?" he asked with a grin. "I'm surprised they're still breathing."

Bart looked at the Asian boy, then at the boy in black. "You know each other?"

Both boys nodded. "We do," the boy in black said.

The demolition crew walked to their van and much to the delight of the

protesters, they left. The cameraman captured the cheering protesters as they raised their signs and voices in victory.

Among the cheering, the reporter was still interviewing the woman. "You've won a victory, albeit temporary. Are you worried that George Maxson will still demolish this house?"

"Not likely at this point," the woman replied. "We've managed to find supporters among the Historical Society who want to keep the house as it is and set it up as a tourist attraction. Of course, the ghost will have to be willing."

Soon, the TV news crew was done, and they were packing up their equipment. The protesters started to leave, their goal accomplished. The onlookers also left, their curiosity satisfied.

Katrina walked up to the reporter. "Your footage will be broadcast tonight, correct?"

The reporter stared at Katrina's silver hair before answering. "Uh, sure, little girl."

"That is all I need to know," Katrina said before rejoining the others.

"Well, that was interesting," Bo remarked.

"It sure was," Blake said. "Right, Shirley?"

"It was," Shirley said keeping her eye on Lucy and Katrina. Katrina was

standing with her eyes closed. Shirley noted that she seemed to be concentrating on something. "What is she doing?" she asked Lucy.

Before Shirley could get an answer, the woman and her daughter walked up to the young Knight. "Lucy, I really need to thank you for your help today, especially with your father," the woman said gratefully.

"Well, Mrs. March, as members of the Redington Historical Society, my parents feel that some pieces of the past must be preserved," Lucy said. "I'll tell them that you and the Redington Paranormal Society are very thankful for their help."

"I'm also happy that you and your friends stopped by to lend a hand," the woman said. "Susan was so insistent on having you here, and she was right to do so."

"Awwww, Mom," the girl said, bowing her head with embarrassment.

Bart, the Asian boy, and the boy in black joined them. "Well, I didn't

expect that to happen," Bart said, amazed at what just happened.

The woman saw Bart. "Ah, here's your knight in shining armor, Susan," she told her daughter teasingly.

The girl raised her head. "Uh, hi," she managed to say.

"Hi," Bart said nervously, doing a little wave.

Behind Bart, the Asian boy and the boy in black exchanged glances. "Hoo

boy," the Asian boy said, rolling his eyes. The boy in black expressed nothing.

"Blake, tell me I'm not seeing this," Bo whispered, noticing the interaction between Bart and the girl.

"Sorry, man. It's happening," Blake said with a smile.

The woman looked at the boy in black. "Hello there, Damian. Although I

don't approve of violence, I know you acted in self-defense. Still, I feel sorry for those poor men."

"I understand, Mrs. March," the boy in black replied with a nod. "However, those who must prey on the weak to be strong are weak themselves."

"Okay," Bo remarked upon hearing that deep thought.

"An interesting saying," Blake said, awed by the boy's apparent wisdom.

"It is a belief I have that has been proven time and again by my

observations and experiences," the boy in black said.

The woman looked at Shirley and her friends. "Hmmmmmmm...Lucy, I don't think I've ever met these kids before."

"Actually, I just met them yesterday at Sussex Academy." Lucy motioned to each of Shirley and her friends. "This is Shirley Holmes, Bo Sawchuk, Blake Hewitt, Parker..." She motioned to Bart. "This boy who stood up for your daughter is Bart James."

The woman introduced herself and her daughter. "I'm Bethany March, and this is Susan, my daughter." She looked at Bart. "Ah yes, you're the young man who reported an encounter with a poltergeist to the society, correct?"

"That's right, Mrs. March," Bart answered.

"Susan's been dying to meet you in person ever since you sent in that

report," Mrs. March revealed. "She has quite an interest in the paranormal.

Guess it's hereditary," she said with a wink.

Susan stepped forward and shook Bart's hand. "It's such an honor to finally meet you," she said with a smile. "Didn't you also work at the local SETI station?"

"Yeah, I did," Bart replied.

"Cool!" Susan exclaimed. "Find any signs of life?"

"Well..." From there, Bart and Susan started talking about aliens.

"I think Bart finally found his match," Blake whispered to Shirley with a

grin.

Mrs. March checked the time on her watch. "Well, I'd better report back to the society. Susan, are you coming with me or with your friends?" She saw Susan talking to Bart excitedly. "Oh, my. I guess that answers my question," Mrs. March said, shaking her head and smiling. Lucy, Damian, can you just drop her off at home before it gets too dark?"

"Of course, Mrs. March," the boy in black replied.

"No problem," Lucy said.

"Bye, Mom," Susan said before returning to talking with Bart.

"I'll see you later, Susan," Mrs. March said before heading for her own

car.

Shirley looked at the Asian boy and the boy in black. "Lucy, you haven't properly introduced us yet to your other friends."

Lucy smiled and motioned to the boy in black. "This is Damian Thorne, another distant cousin. He's the one who drove us here."

Bo looked over Damian. "Where's he from? Transylvania?"

Shirley raised an eyebrow at Bo and glared at him. Bo shut up immediately.

"I am from Nevada," Damian answered. Shirley wondered if Damian's reply

was rehearsed just like Katrina's.

Lucy started to introduce the Asian boy. "And this is..."

"Hiroshi Fujiyama," Shirley completed, recognizing the Asian boy. "We met

at the talent contest held at the Landmark Theater a while back."

"You remember me?" Hiroshi said in amazement. "I'm touched," he said in a mock sad tone.

"Shirley's got quite a memory," Blake said. "She can remember anything."

Katrina opened her eyes finally. Lucy took her aside and they discussed

something in low tones. Shirley tried to listen in, but she could not make out what they were saying.

"Well, now that we know each other, why don't we go somewhere to celebrate our little victory?" Lucy asked after she was done talking with Katrina.

"Uh, what about the Quazar Cafe?" Parker proposed.

"The Quazar Cafe?" Lucy thought for a moment. "Ah, that cybercafe you all

hang out at. Yes, we'll stop by for some refreshments. I'm buying."

"I second that motion!" Hiroshi declared, raising his hand.

"I third it," Bo said, glad that he did not have to pay for anything.

"Parker, that's not a bad idea," Blake said, complimenting his friend.

"Alicia's working there today," Shirley pointed out.

"I see," Bo said, grinning at Parker, who bowed his head to hide the red

blush spreading across his face.

Everyone started to leave the area. Just as Bart was about to join his friends, he heard a little voice say to him, "Please save my home, Bart."

Bart looked behind him and saw a figure on the porch. From where he was standing, it looked like a little girl in a dress.

"Please save my home, Bart," he heard her say again.

Bart came in for a closer look. He saw that it was indeed a little girl in

a dress. He noted that is was old-fashioned. "Who are you?" Bart asked the little girl.

"Please save my home, Bart," the little girl repeated.

"Hey, Bart," someone said from behind.

Bart found Blake standing behind him. "I heard you talking to someone."

Blake looked around. "Who were you talking to?"

"What are you talking about, Blake?" Bart asked his friend. "Can't you see her?"

"See who, Bart?" Blake asked, confused. "I don't see anyone else here expect you and me."

Bart turned back to where the little girl was, except now she was gone. "Huh?" he said, scratching his head. "She was here a minute ago. I swear it, Blake."

Blake looked at his friend with concern. "Uh, Bart, I think you'd better take a break from all this supernatural stuff. Come on. Maybe something from the Quazar Cafe will do the trick," he said with a smile.

"If you say so," Bart said, following Blake away from the Harrison house.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Seven

"You actually have a landing spot for aliens in your backyard?" Susan asked Bart.

"That's right," Bart said, beaming.

"Well, what does it look like?" Susan asked excitedly. "Does it look like

a crop circle?"

Lucy watched Bart and Susan from the table she was sharing with Shirley inside the Quazar Cafe. Katrina was not there; she had gone to the bathroom before Alicia took their order. "Well, those two have certainly hit it off," she said with a smile.

"Indeed," Shirley said.

At the neighboring table, Bo, Blake, Parker, and Hiroshi watched Bart and

Susan. Damian did not join them; instead he stood near them. "I'm amazed that Bart's actually interested in a girl that's alive and human," Bo said, grinning.

"The same can be said for Susan," Hiroshi said, laughing a little. "She's never really taken interest in a live boy before ever since I've know her."

"You two attend the same school?" Blake asked.

"Yep," Hiroshi answered. "We're in the same classes, actually."

"You know, Hiroshi," Bo said, recalling something, "I thought you'd be

pursuing fame and fortune like your friend Madelyn."

"Yeah, well, my parents pretty much killed that idea," Hiroshi said with a smile. "They want me to finish my education, including going to a good university, before I try the fame game."

"With that prize money, you have a good start," Blake said. "Of course, you could also get the things you want."

"Sorry, no can do," Hiroshi said, shaking his head. "All the money went into a savings account. I can't touch the money until I'm college age. My parents feel that along with the money I'm getting from the Knight Foundation, I'll have a pretty good nest egg when I start my higher education."

"Money from the Knight Foundation?" Bo wondered.

"You're a Knight Foundation Scholar?" Blake asked.

"Yep," Hiroshi said proudly. "Great program. Most of the time, I don't

have to sit in some boring class. Instead, I get to have adventures and learn at the same time."

Damian looked at Hiroshi sternly. "Hey, lighten up, D-Man, I wasn't going to say anything that's confidential," Hiroshi told him.

"Confidential?" Bo asked.

Hiroshi looked alarmed. "Um, forget I said that, okay?" he said, grinning.

Katrina emerged from the bathroom and sat by Lucy. "So, is everything

okay?" she asked.

"Yes. All is well," Katrina answered.

Alicia came by with everyone's orders and started passing them out. She

served Bart and Susan first, giving them vanilla milkshakes. "Enjoy, you guys," she told them with a grin.

Alicia moved to the girls' table and gave them their sandwiches. "Your usual, Shirley," she said as she handed the junior detective her sandwich after serving Lucy and Katrina.

"Peanut butter and blue cheese," Katrina observed as Alicia went to the boys' table.

Shirley nodded silently. "Blake ordered the same thing," Katrina said.

"Yes, he did." Shirley bit into her sandwich and tried not to stare at

Katrina.

Alicia handed the boys their orders. "Thank you, Alicia," Parker said with a grin as he received his order. "You look great."

"Uh, thanks, Parker." After serving the boys, Alicia looked at Damian.

"You didn't order anything."

"I am not hungry nor thirsty," Damian replied simply.

Alicia gulped nervously. "Uh, well, I was wondering if you could leave.

Some of the customers have been looking at you funny." She paused as Damian gazed at her. "No offense, but I think you're scaring people. I think they think that you're going to suck their blood or something like that."

Shirley heard this and looked around. Almost everyone was staring at Damian. Some of them looked absolutely frightened, and Shirley did not blame them. Damian Thorne gave her the creeps, but she kept this feeling to herself.

Damian nodded to Alicia. "I understand." He walked up to Lucy as she was eating her sandwich. "I will be waiting in the van," he told her.

"Okay, Damian," Lucy said. Damian exited the Quazar Cafe, and some of the customers breathed a sigh of relief and returned to their meals.

"If I remember correctly, everyone kept looking at you strangely when you came in," Shirley said, addressing Katrina. "Now they're rather calm about it."

"Katrina just doesn't have that threatening aura like Damian does," Lucy said with a grin. "People get used to Katrina. It's not the same thing with Damian."

"Why's that?" Shirley asked.

"I can't say," Lucy said, which piqued Shirley's curiosity even more.

At their table, Bart and Susan were now talking about the Knight Foundation

Scholarship program. "So you're a Knight Foundation Scholar?" Bart asked.

Susan nodded. "That's right."

"Tell me. What's it like?" Bart asked.

Susan thought for a moment. "Well, it is interesting. You get to go to

other places and meet interesting people. It's much better than sitting in a classroom."

"I'll say. Do you have to deal with teachers who won't accept your beliefs in the supernatural and paranormal?" Bart asked, remembering how Mr. Howie and his peers treated him.

"When I have my normal classes, I do," Susan admitted. "Especially my science teacher. She hates it when I mention ghosts and aliens." She went into an impression and as she spoke, she wagged her finger. "Ghosts and aliens do not exist, young lady. There has not been conclusive proof that they do exist. Now return to studying your periodic table, Miss March."

Bart laughed, much to the surprise of his friends. "That's good," he told Susan.

"Well, not really," Susan admitted.

"I sound more like this, Miss March," a woman's voice declared. "How dare

you talk about me behind my back!"

Frightened, Susan looked around, then saw the boys at the other table chucking and laughing. She stared at Hiroshi. "Hiroshi!"

Hiroshi laughed. "Sorry about that, Susan, but I couldn't help myself.

Besides, you didn't do it right," he said with a big grin.

"That wasn't bad," Bo said.

"Actually, that was excellent," Blake complemented. "So you're a mimic,

too?"

"Yeah, that's me. Hiroshi Fujiyama, ventriloquist and voice mimic," Hiroshi said, beaming. "My special talents. It makes up for my lacking in other areas."

"Like math?" Susan said from her table. "I recall you getting a C- on our last test."

"Oh sure, rub that in," Hiroshi said, pretending to be hurt. "All Asians aren't good in math, you know."

Shirley looked at Lucy and was about to ask Lucy a question concerning the Harrison House when Katrina interrupted her. "You wish to know what's going on with the Harrison house."

"Yes," Shirley said, wishing that Katrina would stop doing that.

Bart joined the girls at their table. "Do you mind if I hear this story?"

"Not at all," Lucy said.

Susan sat down besides Bart. "I know this story, but I thought I'd listen

to it again," she said, looking at Bart.

"Guys, you might want to hear this," Hiroshi recommended to Bo, Blake, and Parker. They got ready to listen.

Smiling at Bart and Susan, Lucy put down her sandwich and began her explanation. "Well, during the nineteenth century, a Mr. and Mrs. Harrison lived there, hence the name. They had one young daughter by the name of Clarissa. She was their only child at the time. Mr. Harrison was a well-known corn merchant, and he and his family were well-off. Mrs. Harrison was known to host numerous parties on the estate. One day, such a party was being held. It was a nice sunny day, so everyone was outside. The guests' children played with Clarissa while the men discussed local matters and the women gossiped among themselves. Mrs. Harrison went back inside the house now and then to check on things in the kitchen and helped the servants bring out the food and drinks. After a while, she stayed inside.

"Well, the kids decided to play hide-and-go-seek. While one of the boys started counting by a tree, the other kids looked for places to hide, including Clarissa. She decided to hide in the basement, and so she snuck into the house. Eventually, the boy had found everyone except Clarissa, and all the kids started looking for her. A man said that he saw Clarissa sneak into the house. Everyone was about to go into the house when Mrs. Harrison came out of the house with tears running down her face. When Mr. Harrison asked her what was the matter, his wife told him that she found Clarissa in the basement at the bottom of the stairs. She was dead due to a broken neck.

"An official police investigation was launched and everyone was questioned, but they all had good alibis, including Mr. and Mrs. Harrison. Eventually, it was concluded that the poor girl had fallen to her death. They would have two other kids, twins actually, but they never got over the death of their firstborn. The children, named Oscar and Olivia, grew up and eventually left Redington. Their parents stayed in their house. Oscar became an architect and Olivia married a preacher. Years later, they returned to see their mother, who was on her deathbed. Her health had declined over the years despite her husband's best efforts. The doctor told her family that he could do nothing further and that soon she would be in heaven. He told them that she wanted to see her husband and her two children. They went in to see her, and during their talk, she shocked them all with the tearful confession that she was responsible for Clarissa's death. Apparently, she had found Clarissa in the basement and became angry since it was forbidden for Clarissa to play down there. Mrs. Harrison was dragging her up the stairs to put her in her room, but Clarissa was struggling to break loose of her hold. She succeeded, but by then, they were at the door leading to the basement. The poor girl tumbled down the stairs and broke her neck. Mrs. Harrison, realizing that her daughter was dead, started to weep and blamed herself despite the fact that it was an accident. She kept this knowledge to herself as her own punishment. The day after this confession, she died.

"Now, eventually Mr. Harrison died at a ripe old age, leaving the house to Oscar. Already established in New York, Oscar rented out the house to tenants, but they left after a few days. When he asked them about what was wrong, they told him that they kept seeing a little girl dressed in white roaming the house.

"After Oscar's death, the house was left to Olivia, but by then the Great Depression affected the entire world. She had to sell the old family estate to a young businessman named Aldernook. Aldernook installed electrical lines and tried living there, but he left, citing the ghost of a little girl for the reason. Still, the house was used as a place for children to runaway to when they had problems at home. Usually, they came right back home. They did admit seeing a ghost of a little girl, but they weren't scared. They said that the ghost talked to them and eventually convinced them to go home. Paranormal experts have claimed to see the ghost and have produced pictures, but skeptics didn't accept their proof."

"So what does this George Maxson have to do with the Harrison house?"

Shirley asked out of curiosity.

Lucy continued. "Well, a few years back, Aldernook's daughter married George Maxson, a man in the mall business, so to speak. When Aldernook kicked the bucket recently, he left everything, including the house, to his daughter. Maxson then came up with the idea of tearing the house down and building a new mall on the land. He managed to get the building permits from City Hall. After all, the house was old, and no one wanted to claim it or live there."

"Until the Redington Paranormal Society expressed an interest in it," Shirley said.

"Exactly," Lucy said. "Now Maxson's all bent out of shape that someone's actually trying to save the house. The temporary reprieve isn't exactly a good thing, either, and now that the Redington Historical Society is involved, his chances of building the mall are close to zero. He stands to lose a lot if the mall isn't built, about ten million or more."

"How do you know that?" Shirley asked.

"I estimated," Lucy answered quickly.

"I see." Shirley's suspicions were aroused further even more.

* * * * *

Once all of the kids were done with their food, they exited the Quazar Cafe. Lucy kept her word and paid for everything. After exchanging goodbyes with Shirley and her friends, Lucy and her friends left in their van to keep their promise to Mrs. March. Parker hurried out of there because he promised to be home before a certain time. The only ones left outside the Quazar Cafe were Shirley, Bo, Blake, and Bart.

"Very interesting people," Bart remarked as he watched the black van Lucy and her friends were using.

"Are you sure you're not just thinking about Susan?" Bo said teasingly.

Bart bowed his head and blushed. "You know, I've been thinking of applying

for the Knight Foundation Scholarship program if Sussex Academy accepts it."

"They were voting for it today after school, if I recall," Shirley said.

"Gee, I wonder why Bart would be interested in it now?" Bo said, flashing a

grin.

"Well, Susan did say some great stuff about the program," Bart said as he went to his bike. "I'll see you guys tomorrow at school," he said before he took off on his bike.

Bo shook his head and smiled. "Looks like our resident ghost and UFO expert is growing up."

Blake noticed the intense, thoughtful look on Shirley's face as they waved goodbye to Bart. "Still suspicious of Lucy Knight?" he asked her.

"Very," Shirley admitted. "There's something strange about her and her friends."

"Definitely with the friends," Bo said. "One of them has silver hair and the other one dresses like Dracula Jr. and can incapacitate grown men with his fingers. Oh, and let's not forget that they are both in serious need of a tan."

"Katrina and Damian are indeed strange characters," Shirley acknowledged.

"Katrina seemed to be able to read what was on my mind."

"Like a psychic?" Blake asked.

"Perhaps," Shirley said. "Still, the only link connecting all of them is

the Knight Foundation Scholarship program. Blake, don't you think you...?"

Blake knew what Shirley was going to ask him. "Say no more, Shirley.

Sherlock's on the case."

"Thanks, Blake," Shirley said as she got on her bike. "I'll see you guys later." As she rode her bike towards home, she wondered what was going on now in her life.

* * * * *

That night, Shirley watched the TV news with her family. The report about the protest rally at the Harrison house was going to be on the broadcast, and she did not want to miss it.

"As of now, the Redington Police Department hasn't figured out the riddle allegedly sent to them by the ENIGMA crime organization," the TV desk reporter said. A picture of the toy Chinese dragon was shown. "The riddle was spoken by--yes, this is true--a toy dragon that was delivered to the Police Department. When it was activated, it scratched the policeman who was holding it."

The screen switched to a policeman showing off his bandaged hand. "It hurt like hell, but I'll live," the policeman said.

"Any idea what the riddle means?" a reporter off-screen asked.

"Nope," the policeman answered. "We're still trying to figure it out."

As the report on the ENIGMA riddle concluded and the report on the protest

rally was about to begin, the phone rang. "I'll get it," Shirley said, getting up from her seat. She went to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hi, Shirley. It's me, Blake," the person on the other line said.

"Hi, Blake. What did you find out?"

"Actually, I just confirmed that Hiroshi, Susan, and Damian are Knight

Foundation Scholars," Blake reported. "I wasn't able to get more info on them, however."

"Why's that?" Shirley asked.

"Because I couldn't get through the security protocols for those files,"

Blake answered. "I tried every trick I knew, and I couldn't get any access.

That's not even the weirdest part."

Now Shirley was really curious. "What was?"

"After trying probably for the umpteenth time to access the files, my

screen went blank, and a message showed up," Blake revealed. "It said, 'Please don't pry, Sherlock, a.k.a. Blake Hewitt. Don't worry. I'll cover up your trail and charges won't be filed, but don't do this ever again. After all, we're on the same side. Excalibur.'"

"Excalibur?"

"Excalibur. That was the handle used. After that, I lost my connection

and I was left staring at my desktop," Blake said.

Shirley started thinking over this new development, then checked the TV. She heard that the report on the protest rally was about to start. "Okay, thanks, Blake. I've got to go. I'll see you at school tomorrow."

"Okay, Shirley. Take care." Blake hung up.

Hanging up the phone, Shirley returned to her seat and saw that the news

had moved on to sports. "Did I miss anything?" she asked her parents and Gran.

"I'm afraid you did," Gran said. "It was rather interesting about the Harrison house. Too bad some of the footage was ruined."

"What?" Shirley asked.

"Well, at certain parts of the footage, the images were too blurry or

nonexistent," Mr. Holmes said. "Strangely, this happened when the alleged fight happened."

"Yes, although lots of people do complain about too much violence on TV," Dr. Holmes said with a little laugh.

"Good point, Mom," Shirley said, but her mind was on Lucy Knight and her friends. Things were getting even more interesting to the young sleuth.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Eight

Shirley managed to get a good night's sleep, with no sign of Katrina in her dreams. As a result, she returned to her morning routine of getting the newspaper before her father could. Among the more interesting items she clipped from the newspaper were an article on the toy dragon and its riddle and the Harrison house debate.

Taking her bike to school, she met up with Bo and Blake in the hallway.

"Well, someone got a good night's sleep," Bo commented.

"I sure did," Shirley said, opening her locker.

"Back to the usual routine?" Blake asked.

"Yes," Shirley answered, searching through her locker. "Dad lamented the

loss of his non-cut paper this morning. The dragon's riddle hasn't been solved yet, and I'm still trying to figure it out."

Bo lowered his voice. "Blake told me what happened last night. I'm actually at a loss. Sherlock actually failed."

"Well, I was beaten by a superior opponent," Blake whispered. "Now I just want to know who Excalibur is."

"From what was in his message to you, he or she seems rather generous," Shirley said, taking out what she needed. "If anyone else had discovered you, you would've been at the police station facing charges of computer hacking."

"Yeah, it was a close call," Blake said, relieved. "Apparently, someone doesn't like me digging in too much."

"Did you guys see the news last night?" Bo asked. "The footage of the fight those guys had with Damian was either gone or screwed up."

"I've heard," Shirley said, closing her locker. "Rather unusual, don't you think?"

"Tell me about it. The reporter said the footage was checked before it aired. It was fine," Bo said.

"Guys, we'd better get to class or we'll be late," Blake said urgently.

They made it to their first class on time. As they made it to their seats,

the school's public address system crackled to life. "Attention, all Sussex Academy students!" the voice of Ms. Stratmann boomed. "I have an important announcement to make before the usual items."

"What? The cafeteria will be serving pizza from now on?" Bo quipped in a low voice.

Shirley shook her head as Ms. Stratmann continued her announcement. "I am pleased to report that there will be a new option to the curriculum of Sussex Academy. Starting today, applications for the Knight Foundation Scholarship program will be made available. Students who are interested in this independent study program can pick up an explanation of the program along with an application from the administrative office..."

"Looks like Sussex Academy's accepted Mr. Knight's terms," Blake whispered to Shirley as Ms. Stratmann continued her announcements.

Shirley nodded silently. She knew one person who would be applying for the program.

* * * * *

At lunch, Shirley saw Bart heading towards her table carrying some papers.

He also had a large smile on his face.

"Well, somebody's happy," Bo said as Bart sat down. "You do know that the Science Club is determining your fate today after school?"

Shirley looked at the papers Bart had. "The application for the Knight Foundation Scholarship program?"

"Exactly," Bart said with gladness in his voice. "I've gotten most of it filled out and I've gotten an adult's permission from a person considered a parent or guardian. I just called Grandpa a while ago if he could stop by after school and if I could get his signature. He was okay with it after I explained everything. Once I get a final reference and finish the written part, I'm turning it in after school. Grandpa will meet me and I can get his signature."

"That's quite a plan, Bart," Blake remarked.

Shirley examined the application and found the written section. "'Essay

questions: What are your beliefs on the nature of man? Describe yourself as a person. What would you do to better mankind? Note: Please print with a black or blue pen. Use extra paper if necessary. Above all, be honest,'" Shirley read. "Interesting questions." She also noted that Bart had most of the written part done in blue ink.

"Bart, don't keep us in suspense. Why are you in such a cheerful mood today?" Blake asked.

Bart blushed before saying what happened. "Susan e-mailed me last night."

"Well, that explains everything," Bo said, then he paused. "Wait a sec,

you guys exchanged e-mail addresses?"

"After the get-together at the Quazar Cafe," Bart recalled with a sigh.

"We've lost him," Bo whispered to Shirley, noticing the lovesick look on

Bart's face.

"She's simply amazing," Bart said with a sigh, his eyes looking skyward. "We have so much in common. We're both into hi-tech stuff. More importantly, we're both interested in the supernatural, paranormal, and preety much weird things in general. We almost own the same books on those subjects." Bart looked at his friends. "Susan's so open-minded about stuff like that. She's dedicated to finding out more about aliens, ghosts, UFO's, and the like, just like me. We were meant for each other," he said dreamily.

"Oh yeah, we lost him," Bo said, shaking his head.

"So, what did she say in her e-mail, or is that private?" Shirley asked.

"Actually, she wants you guys to know," Bart said.

"Know what?" Blake asked.

"She's invited me to join a club that specializes in studying the

supernatural and paranormal," Bart revealed excitedly. "Imagine, a group of kids that are just like me. They have a meeting this afternoon."

"Great, just what we need, a junior version of the Redington Paranormal Society," Bo muttered.

"Susan says they're more than just the Redington Paranormal Society," Bart said. "She really stressed that."

"Right," Bo said dryly.

"Did you accept her invitation?" Shirley asked.

"I e-mailed her a reply as soon as I was done reading her message," Bart

replied. "I said 'yes.'"

"Just like that?" Blake asked.

"Just like that," Bart said with a nod. "There's also something else she

told me to do if I said 'yes.'"

"What would that be?" Shirley asked.

"She also would like you guys to come with me," Bart told his friends.

"What?" Bo said. "Come again?"

"Why us?" Blake asked.

"Well, Susan said the head of the club invited you three to the meeting.

She said he's very anxious to meet you. That is, if you can make it," Bart explained.

"Hmmmmmm..." Shirley thought for a moment. She saw the perfect opportunity to find out more information about the group of mysterious kids she had just met a couple of days ago. Shirley gave her answer quickly. "We'll be there, Bart."

* * * * *

That afternoon, Shirley waited for Bart to pick her up. She was wearing a finely decorated cylindrical cap. Her parents went out for dinner at a formal restaurant, so she told Gran that she would be going out with friends and would probably be back late. She did not tell Gran the reason for her going out; in fact, she was not so sure why she was invited.

The doorbell rang, and Shirley answered the door. She found Bart standing alone. "Hi, Bart," Shirley greeted.

"Hi, Shirley," Bart said. "We'd better hurry. The meeting starts in an hour."

"Where's the meeting being held?" Shirley inquired.

"Somewhere downtown," Bart answered.

"Well, we'd better get going," Shirley said as she slung her backpack over

her shoulder. "I'm going now, Gran! I'll see you later!"

"Bye, dear!" Gran shouted as Shirley left the house.

"So, how did you get here?" Shirley asked her friend.

Bart pointed across the street. Parked there was the black van Damian

drove. As they got closer, Shirley recognized the boy dressed in black standing near the sliding door at the side of the van.

"Come in," Damian said as he opened the door for Shirley. Bart took the front passenger seat. As she stepped inside, he said, "Please fasten your seat belt."

Shirley found Bo and Blake seated and buckled up inside the van. "Hi, guys," she said.

"Hi, Shirley. Welcome to the Grave Express," Bo joked.

"Hey, at least it isn't a hearse," Blake quipped.

Both boys broke out into laughter. As Shirley closed the door and took her

seat, she wondered if Bo was having too big an influence on Blake.

Damian took the driver's seat. "Please fasten your seat belt," he repeated.

Shirley did that, and the van was on its way. As they drove through Redington, they all talked.

"So, how did the Science Club meeting go, Bart?" Shirley asked.

"I barely kept my membership," Bart revealed. "The vote was close. I

stayed in because my supporters outnumbered the other side by two."

"That is close," Shirley remarked. "Did you turn in your Knight Foundation Scholarship application yet?"

"I did," Bart answered. "I had good timing. A guy from the Knight Foundation was there to pick up all the applications turned in today. Grandpa showed up just in time to sign my papers. The guy said they'd be processed ASAP."

"Hey, Damian. Where are we going?" Bo asked.

"You will see," Damian replied, keeping his eyes on the road.

As the van moved past various buildings, Shirley noticed that they were

passing through Bo's neighborhood, then she found they were in another. The van made a turn and parked in front of a building.

"We are here," Damian told his visitors.

"Finally," Bo said. He looked out the windshield as saw what the building

was. It had a storefront window with the following written on it in red letters: CHANG'S CHINESE AND FILIPINO CUISINE. Two golden Chinese dragons hovered above and below this sign.

"A Chinese restaurant?" Bo said, surprised.

"A Chinese and Filipino restaurant," Blake corrected.

"Whatever," Bo said, rolling his eyes.

"Hmmmmmm..." Bart said, sounding a little disappointed.

"The meeting is here?" Shirley asked Damian.

"That is correct," Damian responded.

"Well, then..." Shirley unbuckled her seat belt, got out of her seat, then

unlocked the door, but just as she was about to open it, it locked again.

"What the...?"

"Please leave your backpack here," Damian told the junior detective. From the look on Damian's face, he was serious.

"I'd do what he says, Shirley," Bo whispered. "Remember the nice men he whipped at the Harrison house."

"If you insist." Shirley removed her backpack and left it on her seat, then unlocked the door again. The door locked again just as she was about to open it.

"Please leave your pen camera and any recording devices you have on your person," Damian insisted.

Bart stared at the amateur sleuth. "Shirley."

Shirley reached into her pockets and removed a small object that resembled

a pen and a small tape recorder. She placed them into her backpack.

"Busted," Bo whispered to Shirley, grinning.

"All of you, please empty your pockets and put everything in Shirley's

backpack," Damian ordered.

"Yeesh," Bo said as he, Blake, and Shirley put whatever was in their pockets into the backpack.

"That is better," Damian said, satisfied. "Better to hear it from me now than later."

"Why?" Shirley asked.

"You will find out," Damian replied cryptically.

Shirley unlocked the door, and this time she was able to open it. She

exited first, with Bo and Blake behind her. Damian and Bart exited the van, and the four friends stood before the restaurant while Damian locked up the van. They saw a lot of customers in the restaurant enjoying their meal.

"Don't worry about your things, Shirley. This van is well-secured and it has a car alarm," Damian reassured the junior detective.

"Gee, I feel so relaxed now," Bo quipped.

"Please follow me," Damian said, starting to walk past the building.

"Aren't we going through the front?" Blake asked.

Damian stopped momentarily. "No," he said before continuing on his way.

"Well, let's follow him," Shirley told her friends, and they did.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Nine

Shirley and her friends followed Damian to a side exit located near the back of the restaurant. There, they saw a girl standing next to it. Her blond hair was styled into French curls and she wore a long coat.

"Halt!" the girl ordered as the small group approached, holding up her hand for emphasis. She stepped forward to get a better look. "Damian, did you bring Bart James?" she inquired.

"I have," Damian replied, motioning to the budding paranormalist. "He has no spying devices on him. I checked when I picked him up," he added thoughtfully.

The girl narrowed her eyes at Bart. "Empty your pockets," she ordered.

"Do it," Damian recommended. Bart reached into his pockets and took out

their contents: his wallet, a few coins, and a tube of breath freshener.

As the girl examined the contents of Bart's pockets, Bo spotted the breath freshener. "Bart, you sly dog, you," he said with a grin.

The girl returned Bart's possessions and looked satisfied. "Okay, you two can go in," the girl said to Damian and Bart, jerking her finger towards the door. She looked at Shirley and the others. "You three must stay outside until the meeting is over," she declared.

"What?" Bo exclaimed. "Now listen here..." Bo started to march up to the girl, but Damian blocked the way with his arm.

"You do not want to take a step closer unless she approves of it," Damian warned. Bo glared at the girl, then rejoined the others.

"We were told that we were invited by the leader of the club," Shirley said to the girl. "I'm..."

"I know who you are," the girl said, cutting off Shirley's introduction. "I do not recall receiving an approval for outsiders to sit in at the meeting."

"Collette, they have been approved," Damian said.

"Susan e-mailed me and said that my friends could come and sit in at the

meeting," Bart said.

"Well, I haven't been sent any approval," the girl shot back.

"Maybe that jet lag's still affecting that narrow-minded brain of yours,"

someone said from the door.

Everyone saw Hiroshi emerge from the door. "Yeesh, Collette, these people are okay. They're cool."

"Your opinion means little to me, Hiroshi," the girl said with a sneer. "Unless I hear from Arthur himself, I'm not letting these outsiders through."

"Oh, just call him then," Hiroshi said, exasperated.

"Fine, I will," the girl said, ready to reenter the building.

"That won't be necessary, Collette," an Asian girl emerging behind Hiroshi

said. Shirley studied her closely. She had long dark hair and wore a jean jacket and matching pants with a light blue shirt.

"What do you mean by that, Rika?" the girl asked, surprised.

The Asian girl produced a piece of paper. "You left this behind at your

place. I picked it up from your fax machine before we left and I put it in my pocket. I almost forgot about it until I heard you giving these guys the third degree out here."

The girl took the paper and looked at it, then at Shirley and her friends.

She snorted before speaking to the young detective and her group.

"According to this, you three are approved by Arthur to attend the meeting."

She glared at Shirley. "I see that your infamous backpack is not with you."

"I left it in the van," Shirley answered, meeting the girl's eyes. "Damian told me to."

The girl turned to Damian. "Did you frisk her for listening devices and the like, especially that pen camera of hers?"

"I do not frisk," Damian answered. "Besides, she removed those items and anything else in her pockets and placed them in her backpack. Her friends did the same. I saw them."

The girl examined Shirley carefully. "Well, I do frisk people, and I'm not convinced that she possesses no more spying devices." She looked like she was about to frisk the young detective when Bo stepped in her way before Damian and Blake could restrain him.

"Lay one hand on her and I'll..." Bo began to threaten.

Hiroshi made a loud whistle. "Hold it! Time out! All combatants please

return to your respective corners!"

The Asian girl faced the girl. "Collette, these three have been invited by Arthur. Damian has made sure Shirley has no recording devices."

"They are outsiders!" the girl said angrily. "We cannot take any chances with them."

"We're taking chances tonight, Collette," the Asian girl said calmly. "She is descended from Sherlock Holmes, who was able to keep a secret." She turned to Shirley and her friends. "I trust you won't tell anyone what happens here?"

"No," Shirley said.

"Nope," Bo answered.

"No," Blake replied.

The girl studied Shirley and her friends. "Very well," she said, giving

in. "But I will be watching them very closely." With a final snort, she headed for the door. As she walked by Hiroshi, she said with a snarl, "The next time something witty comes out of your mouth, I'll cut off your tongue."

"Okay, that makes maybe the thousandth time you've said that to me," Hiroshi said mockingly. The girl snarled and shook her fist at him, then reentered the building.

"What a charming girl," Bo remarked dryly.

"Yes, she is definitely security guard material," Shirley observed.

"I will wait for Arthur," Damian said before walking back to the front.

The Asian girl and Hiroshi approached the group. "If you don't mind me

asking, but what's up with the evil grownup version of Shirley Temple?" Bo asked.

"Please excuse Collette," the Asian girl said. "She has a good heart, but she's like her mom in many aspects, I'm afraid. She's tough, overcautious, and tactless at times."

"Who's her mom?" Bart asked.

"Mrs. LeMarche, chief of security for the Knight Foundation," Hiroshi

answered. "Like mother, like daughter. Collette's sorta nominated herself as our chief of security."

"We've seen Mrs. LeMarche," Bo said with a groan.

"She's rather good at her job," Blake said, trying to sound nice.

"Indeed," Shirley said in agreement, wondering what type of people she was

dealing with.

The Asian girl stood before Shirley and bowed. "Konnichiwa, Shirley Holmes. I am Rika Tamura. It is an honor to have you and your friends here."

"Thank you, but why is it an honor for us to be here?" Shirley asked.

"Why, because of all the good you've done," Rika answered.

"Hold on here," Bo said, raising his pointer finger. "Does everyone here

know what Shirley does in her spare time?"

"In a nutshell, yes," Hiroshi answered. "You're quite the popular person around the Strangers' Club, Shirley."

"The Strangers' Club?" Blake said.

"That's the name of our little group," Hiroshi said with a grin. "Bart

James, welcome to the Strangers' Club!" he declared in a game show announcer's voice.

Bo thought to himself that the name "Strangers' Club" suited the group well. Well, they've got a guy who might be Dracula's long lost son and a girl training to be a drill sergeant on their team, he mused to himself.

"Thanks. Is Susan here?" Bart asked nervously.

"Waiting for you to come in, Bartman," Hiroshi answered with a mischievous

gleam in his eye and a smile to match it. "You sure made an impression on her when she first heard about you, Bartman. It was big enough to make her recommend you to join us."

"Well, I..." Bart began, his face slowly turning crimson red.

"Um, are we going to get in anytime soon?" Bo asked impatiently.

Rika laughed a little. "Of course. We can talk inside. Follow us."

With Rika and Hiroshi in the lead, they entered the restaurant. They got a

brief glimpse of the main eating area. People were eating at tables and in booths while waiters wandered around, ready to take orders from those who preferred not to dine buffet style. Other people were walking up to a large buffet set-up filled with various Chinese and Filipino dishes. As some people left, more came in. The place was almost packed.

"Whoa. Look at all that food," Bo remarked.

"This place is pretty popular in this area," Rika said. "Good food and a

friendly atmosphere."

"Plus the owner lets us have free food," Hiroshi revealed with a grin.

Shirley and the others were led to a door marked "PARTY ROOM." A sign on

the door read "PRIVATE PARTY. INVITED GUESTS ONLY." Rika opened the door and motioned Shirley and her friends to enter. "After you," she said.

"This is where the meeting is?" Bart asked, pointing to the door.

"That is correct," Rika answered. "We use this place instead of our main

clubhouse when we have pledges present."

"Where is this main clubhouse?" Shirley asked, curious.

Rika looked at Shirley. "Sore wa himitsu desu," she answered sharply.

"Huh?" Bo said, staring wide-eyed at Rika.

"It's a secret," Hiroshi translated.

"Why am I not surprised?" Bo said.

They all entered and found a large room with tables on the side and

twenty-seven chairs set up into three rows, with the first two rows having ten seats. The walls were covered with Chinese and Filipino designs, prominent among them renditions of Chinese dragons. A wall clock was located in the corner of the room. A podium was located in the front of the room. Six kids were sitting in the chairs talking with each other in low voices. When Shirley and the others came in, the talking stopped and all eyes were on them.

"Okay," Bo said, noticing how everyone was staring at them.

Collette was standing near the door. She eyed Shirley suspiciously.

"Don't try anything funny," she warned the junior detective.

Bart saw Susan waving to him from the second row. She got out of her seat and walked up to him. "You made it!" she said happily.

Bart blushed. "Well, it wasn't easy, considering the security," he said, eyeing the ever-vigilant Collette.

"Good point. Collette can be a little overzealous," Susan said in agreement.

"'A little' doesn't quite cover her," Shirley said. She looked around the room. "I take it this is where private parties are held in the restaurant?"

"That is correct," Rika answered. "We use it whenever its available.

Thanks to Marcus, we don't even have to pay."

"Marcus?" Shirley asked. "Who's Marcus?"

"Marcus Chang, the son of the proprietors of this restaurant," Rika

replied. "He's also a member of the Strangers' Club."

"And the guy responsible for the free eats, no matter where we hold our meetings," Hiroshi added with a smile. He heard a knock on the door. "Speaking of which..."

Collette opened the door, and an Asian boy carrying a large covered tray of food entered the room. "Marcus, you are my savior!" Hiroshi declared happily as he approached the boy.

"Touch anything on this tray and I'll break your arms," Marcus said half-jokingly. "You know the rules. No eating until after the meeting."

Susan laughed and looked at Bart. "That's Hiroshi for you. Always going after the food."

Hiroshi backed off. "Okay, okay," he said, waving his hands in front of him. "Geez, Marcus, you don't have to be so hostile. I can only take one Collette or Damian."

Collette snarled from her position at the door. Shirley watched as Marcus placed the tray on a nearby table. Marcus was tall with short black hair that spiked out and the sides of his head were shaved. His skin was brown on the pale side.

"You are part Chinese, part Filipino," Shirley told Marcus as he joined them. "Your father is Chinese and your mother is Filipino. Both are excellent cooks and have passed on their recipes to their assistant chefs."

Marcus nodded and laughed. "Well, I guess you're Shirley Holmes," he said in a friendly manner. "It's an honor to meet you. Like your famous ancestor, you're correct."

"A lucky guess," Collette scoffed from the door. "How did you figure it out?"

"Like Sherlock, I never guess," Shirley told the self-appointed security chief. "I noticed how Marcus' skin was brown, yet it's almost white. Therefore, he has mixed genes. Your last name is Chang, so your father is the Chinese parent, leaving your mother to be the Filipina. Also, why would a Chinese restaurant owner serve both Chinese and Filipino cuisine? From that, I deduced that both your father and mother like to cook and decided to go into business together."

"How did you know about the assistant chefs?" Susan asked the young sleuth.

"Well, in order to keep up with orders from so many patrons, Mr. and Mrs.

Chang would have to hire more chefs," Shirley explained. "They would also have to teach their recipes to their employees so that they capture the taste correctly."

When Shirley was finished with her explanations, all the kids gathered in the room applauded her loudly. Even Collette begrudgingly clapped a little.

"That's our Shirley," Blake said proudly, grinning at her.

"Definitely," Bart said in agreement.

"Whoa," Bo said as the applause died down. "You are popular around here."

"Yes." Shirley turned to Rika. "How does the Strangers' Club know about

me and my mysteries?"

"We've been monitoring your activities for some time," Rika admitted. "In the news, we always noticed crimes that have baffled the police, yet they were solved within a few days."

"We knew that there was a Holmes family living in Redington," Marcus said. "Although Sherlock had no children, the other members of the Holmes clan did. Since you were the only Holmeses in the area, we concluded that you were the one behind the solving of these crimes."

"How did you come to that conclusion?" Shirley inquired.

"Well, your father is too busy with his position at the British Embassy, so

he was ruled out. Your grandmother has other interests. You were the only person left who could've solved these crimes," Rika said. "However, we are not Sherlock, so we essentially guessed you're the one and monitored your activities."

"You've been watching me?" Shirley asked, hiding her astonishment.

"When we find the time," Rika said. "We're usually busy with our own

cases, but we do attribute every unsolvable crime in Redington that is solved mysteriously to you."

"Your own cases?" Blake said.

"Wait, don't you guys look into weird stuff like ghosts and aliens?" Bo

asked, recalling what Bart told them earlier in the day.

"That's correct," Susan said proudly. "And more."

"More?" Bart said, sounding surprised and intrigued at the same time.

"More?" Shirley said, wondering what that meant.

Hiroshi eyed Collette, who was watching everything. "I think we'd better

stop telling Shirley our secrets. Collette might blow a vein if we don't," he half-joked.

Collette growled as everyone laughed at Hiroshi's joke. "Seriously, I think he's right," Rika said. "It's best not to anger Collette."

"Why's that?" Bo asked, glancing at Collette. He felt he could take her on in a fight, bad attitude or not.

"You remember that threat she gave me about cutting of my tongue?" Hiroshi asked.

"Yeah. So?" Bo responded.

"Well, she's got a French saber hidden Highlander-style in that coat of

hers," Hiroshi revealed. "Believe me, she's very good at wielding that thing. She can carry out that threat if she wished, plus so much more."

"Where did she get a French saber?" Shirley asked, surprised that a girl so young was carrying a lethal sword in her coat.

"It's a family heirloom," Hiroshi answered. "Her ancestors served in the French army, I think."

Bo eyed Collette a little more seriously. "Guess I'd better not tick her off then."

"Good idea," Hiroshi said with a nod, then he looked at Bart. "If you make it into the club, keep that in mind, Bartman."

"Got it," Bart said. "Never tick off Collette."

Hiroshi patted Bart on the shoulder. "Good boy."

"Besides, I think Arthur will explain everything to you after the meeting,"

Marcus said.

"Arthur? You and Collette have mentioned that name many times," Shirley recalled.

"Yeah, who is this Arthur?" Bo asked.

"Arthur Kingston," Susan answered. "He's the president of the Strangers'

Club."

"Arthur Kingston?" Shirley said, thinking over the name.

"That's right. He's the big boss, the big cheese, the main man, the head

honcho, El Supremo..." Hiroshi began.

"I believe our guests have gotten the picture, Hiroshi," Rika said, rolling her eyes.

Bart looked around the room. "You know, there aren't as many members here as I thought there were."

"Some of them are still working on cases," a girl with a blue bow in her blond hair answered. She got up from her seat and walked over to Shirley and the others. "I'm Sara Stanley, club secretary," she introduced herself to Shirley and her friends, then she looked at Bart. "Hi, Bart. Welcome to the Strangers' Club. I hope you'll be joining us soon."

"Thanks, Sara," Bart said.

"This girl's the one who keeps track of who comes and who doesn't come to

the meeting," Hiroshi said, standing next to Sara and pointing at her head.

"As of now, only fourteen members will be here for this meeting," Sara calculated.

"Out of how many members?" Bart asked.

"As of today, twenty-seven," Sara answered.

"Twenty-seven?" Bart said, amazed.

Bo let out a whistle. "Whoa. That's a lot of members."

"Yes," Shirley said, wondering how many of those twenty-seven members were

keeping tabs on her when she was not paying attention.

"Tell me about it," Sara said. "I have to keep track of all of them," she added with a grin.

"So when does the meeting start?" Blake asked.

"When Arthur gets here," Sara answered. The door opened. "In fact, this

could be him now."

Damian entered the room, and Lucy and Katrina followed him in. "Okay, this isn't a surprise," Bo said. He had a feeling Lucy and Katrina would show up.

"Hi, Shirley," Lucy greeted cheerfully. "I'm glad you and your friends could make it."

"Well, I am looking for answers," Shirley admitted. "I'm hoping this meeting will give me some."

"Perhaps," someone spoke from behind Damian, Lucy, and Katrina.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Ten

Bo looked at Damian, Lucy, and Katrina. "Okay, who said that?"

"I did." A boy stepped out from behind Damian while making a tapping noise

on the floor. He wore glasses and had brown hair. Bo noticed his wardrobe and wondered if he and Shirley shopped in the same store. The boy wore a light blue long-sleeved shirt, an orange bowtie, a green vest, and light brown pants. The tapping noise was caused by a dark blue umbrella he held in his left hand. Shirley spotted a red pipe in his right.

"Arthur Kingston, I presume?" Shirley addressed the newcomer.

Arthur bowed. "Correct," he said. "And you are Shirley Holmes, aspiring

detective."

"Also correct," Shirley said.

"And these fine young gentlemen are Bo Sawchuk and Blake Hewitt, your

partners in sleuthing," Arthur said, pointing his umbrella to Bo and Blake. Before they could ask him how he knew, he spoke again. "The Strangers' Club knows everything about you and your exploits, Shirley, and quite frankly, we're very impressed. You do your great-granduncle Sherlock proud."

"Thank you," Shirley said politely, still curious.

"Well, I see that everyone who isn't out of Redington on a case is here,"

Arthur said, looking around the room. "I guess we can begin. I hope you and your friends enjoy yourselves, Shirley." With his umbrella hitting the ground like a cane, the president of the Strangers' Club made his way to the podium. Sara followed him to the podium. On her way, she grabbed a glass of water from a table.

"He's the president of the Strangers' Club?" Bo whispered to the others. He was still unable to get his mind off Arthur's colorful attire. From how the other members of the Strangers' Club spoke about their president, Bo expected someone who did not look like a fashion disaster.

"He is," Lucy said. "He's the guy who started it all."

Katrina looked at Bo with her pale blue eyes. "Don't assume by appearance

alone," she told him.

"I'd listen to her," Hiroshi said to Bo. "Don't ever make Arthur mad."

"What? He's going to beat me with his umbrella?" Bo whispered jokingly.

"And more," Damian said seriously.

Blake looked at Bo. "Bo, don't joke around," he warned his friend.

"We need some answers, and I doubt we'll get them if you insult our host,"

Shirley warned in a low voice.

Sara walked up to Arthur, who was now standing behind the podium. She handed the glass of water and a plastic spoon to him.

"Sara, you know me too well. Thank you," Arthur said with a smile as he removed a small packet out of his vest pocket. Sara smiled back at him, then took a seat in the front row. After he placed his umbrella against the wall behind him, Arthur emptied the packet's contents into the glass and stirred the water with the spoon.

"What is he doing?" Blake asked as he watched Arthur stir the water.

"You'll find out," Hiroshi said.

Shirley cupped her chin with her hand as she watched the president of the

Strangers' Club. "I think I know."

"You do?" Bo asked. "Care to tell us?"

Before Shirley could speak, Arthur addressed the small gathering in a voice

loud enough to be heard since the podium had no microphone. "Okay, I believe we can begin. Can everyone please take a seat?"

Shirley and her friends watched as Lucy, Katrina, and Damian made their way to the front row and sat down besides Sara, who left the seat closest to the podium empty. Rika and Marcus joined them there. Collette moved from the door and headed for the front row. She glanced at Shirley briefly as she passed her, then took her seat.

"Well, meeting's gonna start. Let's take a seat," Hiroshi said, going to the second row and motioning the others to follow him.

"C'mon," Susan said with a smile, taking Bart's hand. Bart found himself being dragged into the second row.

Shirley looked at the front row and noticed that none of the other kids tried to get a front row seat. "Why are they sitting in the front?" she asked Susan as she sat down next to her.

"They're all Big Ten," Susan answered.

"Big Ten? Who are they?" Bart asked.

"The founding members of the Strangers' Club," Susan answered, smiling.

"If it weren't for them, there wouldn't be a Strangers' Club."

"I see," Shirley said, nodding.

"And Arthur is the biggest of the Big Ten," Bart said.

"Exactly," Hiroshi said, nodding.

Blake took a seat next to Shirley, leaving Bo to sit next to him. Bo

sighed as he looked at his two friends together and shook his head.

"You really should tell her," Bo heard someone whisper behind him.

Bo turned around to face the person who addressed him. A girl with long

brown hair sat behind him. Bo wondered if being attached to strange clothing was a trademark with the Strangers' Club because he saw that the girl was wearing a dress that could have come from the wardrobe of Little House on the Prairie; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; or any other TV show or movie that depicted life on the wild frontier. Her outfit was completed by a pair of brown boots.

"What are you talking about?" Bo whispered back.

"Excuse me," a boy with a blond flattop and thick glasses whispered to Bo

with a trace of an accent. "The meeting is about to start."

"Sorry," Bo apologized.

Shirley watched as Arthur dipped his pipe into the glass. He brought the

pipe to his lips, then blew out a series of soap bubbles that floated away from him.

"You've got to be kidding me," Bo said, wide-eyed.

"Does he always do that?" Shirley asked.

"Yep," Hiroshi answered. "He's always been doing that ever since me and

Susan joined."

"Why does he do that?" Blake asked curiously.

"When I find out, I'll let you know," Hiroshi responded.

Arthur cleared his throat before speaking and dipped the pipe slightly into

the soap solution again. "Well, it looks like everyone who isn't on a case right now is here. Today, we have two items on this meeting's agenda, but before we go into those, Sara will read the minutes from our last meeting." He yielded the podium to Sara and sat down on his reserved seat. While he made his way to his seat, he blew more bubbles.

As Sara read the minutes from the club's last meeting from a notebook, Shirley's ears perked up in interest. The words that got her attention were "forest spirit," "mysterious disappearances," "deer abducting people," "Carol Kersey rape-murder," and "avenging spirit calmed."

"I was wondering..." Shirley said to herself, keeping her voice down.

After Sara was done, she took her seat and Arthur returned to the podium.

After blowing more bubbles, he spoke. "Now then, the first item on this meeting is the Harrison house matter. Since Lucy is in charge of this case, she'll discuss what's been happening so far and answer any questions the rest of you may have."

Arthur yielded the podium to Lucy and sat down. Sara started writing in her notebook as the discussion started. "Thank you, Arthur," Lucy began. "Now, the Redington Paranormal Society and the Redington Historical Society have teamed up to save the house. I believe that this will increase the chances of the house being saved."

"How so?" a Latino boy in the second row asked.

"Well, the legitimacy of their cause is strengthened, not to mention they

can be taken more seriously now," Lucy explained. "The official reason for saving the Harrison house is that it's a piece of the past that must be preserved."

"How's everything going so far?" a girl with short yellow hair in the second row asked.

"Today, both parties went before the city council to argue their sides of the matter," Lucy reported. "The council will make an official vote tomorrow."

"Has any action been taken against Maxson?" Collette asked.

"No," Lucy answered. "My team hasn't done anything to Maxson. We have

limited our operations to observation only. We won't take any action until after the vote if it's necessary."

"And how has this observation been doing?" Collette asked.

"It was doing fine." Lucy took a pause and looked at someone in the second

row. Shirley saw that she was looking at Hiroshi. "Until the audio tape that had all of Maxson's recent office conversations on the phone and to other people was accidentally covered."

"Hey, it's not my fault my dad thought it was a blank tape," Hiroshi said in his defense. He looked at Shirley and her friends. "This is what I get for having a dad who likes the polka," he whispered.

"Have there been any other problems?" Rika asked with concern.

"Yes, but they've been dealt with. You may recall the report on the

protest rally I filed to the club," Lucy said. "The problem was handled well. Damian didn't show up on the news footage and the rest of us weren't in camera range."

So it was sabotage, Shirley thought, her suspicions about the ruined footage confirmed. But how?

"So, that's how the case stands. Anyone else have a question?" Lucy said, looking around the room.

Shirley had a few questions, but she decided not to speak. She knew that Lucy was asking the other club members for questions. She decided to ask them after the meeting.

"I have a question," the bespectacled boy with the flattop and slight accent said. "The ghost is a rarity, yes?"

"I'd have to say so," Lucy answered. "The ghost of Clarissa Harrison reportedly hasn't left the house despite the deathbed confession of her accidental death by her mother. Child ghosts genreally cross over to the afterlife after the truth about their deaths is revealed. She seems to like it there at the house and has not crossed over yet."

The club members muttered among themselves. "Oh brother," Bo said in a low voice.

"Any other questions? Well, okay, that's it for now," Lucy said.

"Arthur?"

Lucy relinquished the podium to Arthur and returned to her seat. "Now, on to the second item on today's agenda." Arthur looked at the second row as he blew more bubbles from his pipe. "All of you may have noticed four outsiders among our ranks today," he said. "One of them has been through a lot in order to carry on her famous ancestor's legacy, and another is here as a pledge to the Strangers' Club."

Shirley felt like a spotlight was shining directly down on her. Bart started to get nervous, but a squeeze on his hand from Susan calmed him down a little.

"You all know about Shirley Holmes," Arthur continued. "However, she is only here at my invitation to witness how we work. She and her two sleuthing partners are also here as morale boosters as their friend Bart James is brought before us as a possible addition to the Strangers' Club." He looked at Bart. "Bart, can you and your sponsor please come up to the podium?"

Bart and Susan stood up. "Good luck, Bartman," Hiroshi whispered.

"Good luck, Bart," Shirley told her friend.

"Yeah. Good luck, Bart," Blake said.

"Don't let them scare you, Bart," Bo said.

Bart gulped and adjusted his glasses. "Don't worry, Bart," Susan whispered

reassuringly into his ear. "Just relax and be prepared for any questions."

"Okay," Bart whispered back.

They made their way to the podium. "Now, Bart, tell the club about

yourself," Arthur said, stepping aside.

With Susan at his side, Bart took the podium and faced the gathered club members. Sara started taking notes. Blake flashed him a thumbs-up. "Hi, I'm Bartholomew James III, but my friends call me Bart," the young paranormalist said after calming his nerves and speaking in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear him. "I'm a student at Sussex Academy, a prestigious private school attended by the children of government officials, businessmen, and the like. I've been the elected president of the various science-themed clubs at Sussex Academy and I'm now the president of the newly formed Science Club, a union of all these clubs due to apparent money problems. I'm well-known for my interests in the supernatural and paranormal."

"Have these interests gotten you in trouble with your teachers?" the Latino boy asked.

"On many occasions," Bart admitted without hesitation. "My teachers don't exactly share my beliefs."

"Have you actually had any encounters with the supernatural and paranormal?" the girl with the yellow hair asked.

Here we go, Bo thought to himself.

"Well, I did encounter a poltergeist in my house during my twelfth

birthday," Bart recalled. "I've also met an alien child which posed as Dr. O. Henry at SETI. Although I didn't see it, I participated in aiding a baby cryptid return to its mother. My friends can vouch for me."

Shirley nodded, although she really did not want to go into detail about the poltergeist. In reality, the poltergeist was cooked up by Bart's grandfather as a birthday present to his grandson. Shirley doubted that this piece of information would help Bart become a member of the Strangers' Club. Her observations of the gathered members brought her to the conclusion that the Strangers' Club took its belief in the supernatural and paranormal seriously, and exposing the poltergeist hoax would not only ruin Bart in the eyes of Susan and the Strangers' Club, but could also possible destroy him because his grandfather, a close loved one, was responsible.

"Are there any more questions for Bart?" Arthur asked the club members.

Collette spoke. "So, Bart, why do you want to join the Strangers' Club?"

The question was laced with a tone of suspicion. The self-appointed security chief's gaze was on Susan. Bart noticed this and concluded that Collette thought that Susan was the primary reason why he wanted to join the Strangers' Club.

Bart thought over this question carefully before answering it. "Susan was the one who brought the club to my attention. She didn't go into too much detail, if you're wondering. Although I have to thank Susan for recommending me to the club, my reason for accepting the invitation to join is this." He briefly paused before continuing. "To be honest, I'm tired of being ridiculed for my beliefs," he said seriously and almost angrily with a little frustration. "My teachers don't reward me for my original thinking and my friends keep mocking the very notion that such things as aliens and ghosts can exist." Bart took a deep breath. "Just today, my fellow Science Club members would've voted me out if it wasn't for a narrow margin. At Sussex Academy, I feel restricted and left out. Among all of you, I feel free to believe in the unusual without fear of being laughed at. That is my reason why I want to join, Collette," he said, fixing his gaze on his questioner. Finished, he closed his eyes and bowed his head. He started to will himself to calm down.

After a brief moment of silence, the members of the Strangers' Club responded to Bart's explanation by standing up and clapping loudly. After a moment, Collette joined in. Bart opened his eyes as soon as he heard the applause. Arthur also applauded, and Susan placed her hand on Bart's shoulder and looked into his eyes. Having rid himself of that emotional burden, Bart looked back into Susan's eyes and smiled a little. Meanwhile, Shirley and her friends were trying to digest what Bart had said. They had no idea that Bart felt so left out among them.

"Man, I didn't know Bart felt so hurt," Blake said, ashamed.

"I don't think anyone knew," Shirley said.

Arthur approached Bart just as the applause died down. "Well, Bart, if you

succeed in your test, you'll make an excellent member of the Strangers' Club," he said in a friendly tone. "Susan did tell you about that part of joining us, right?" he asked, looking at Bart's sponsor.

"Susan did mention something about proving myself before the club voted on my membership, yes," Bart answered.

Arthur took the podium and addressed the small gathering. "Now, we all know club rules. A potential candidate for club membership must perform a task recommended by a member. If the candidate succeeds, he or she has a good chance when it's time for all of us to vote. If he or she fails to accomplish the test or doesn't meet up to the sponsor's expectations, the chances of being voted into the Strangers' Club get slimmer." He looked around. "Now, who has a challenge that Bart can reasonably accomplish in a short time?"

The gathered members of the Strangers' Club talked amongst themselves, trying to come up with the perfect test for Bart. "I hope they don't make him do something dangerous," Blake said, worried a little.

"Excuse me, Arthur, but may I recommend my own test?" Bart asked the club president.

The question surprised everyone in the room, especially Arthur. "Well, it is a precedent, but I guess you can, provided it's a challenge," Arthur said.

"I believe it is, Arthur," Bart said.

"Bart, what do you want to do for your test?" Susan asked with deep

concern.

"I wish to take a picture of the ghost of Clarissa Harrison," Bart answered after a brief period of silence.

The room was abuzz with the astonished whispering of the club members.

Shirley and her friends were also surprised.

"Many have tried to do that, and their photos turned out wrong," Arthur pointed out. "It is a challenge, but why do you want it to be your test, Bart?"

"Because the ghost asked for my help in saving her home," Bart answered.

The whispering among the Strangers' Club became more intense. "After the

protest rally, I saw someone on the porch of the house. It happened to be a little girl in a dress that was definitely not modern. She asked me for my help in saving her home," Bart recalled.

"What the heck is he talking about?" Bo wondered.

"Well, when I went looking for Bart, I found him near the porch of the

house," Blake revealed. "He claimed that he was talking to someone, but there was no one there except me and him."

"Hmmmmm..." Shirley went into deep thought.

Arthur listened to Bart with interest as he dipped his pipe into the water.

"I see," he said with a nod and blowing more bubbles. "An interesting encounter. Bart, your request is granted. When do you wish to start?"

"As soon as possible," Bart said, determined.

"Very well, then," Arthur said, nodding. "Tomorrow night, you'll be taken

to the Harrison house in order to accomplish your task. Susan, your sponsor, will accompany you to evaluate your performance, and we'll equip you with an advanced camera so that your photograph will turn out perfectly. Can't have another terrible photograph, you know."

"That's fine by me," Bart said. "I'll go after I finish any homework I have."

"Excellent." Arthur blew a few bubbles. "You and your sponsor may sit down."

As Bart and Susan returned to their seats, Arthur spoke to the small group. "Now, if there is no more business to discuss, I move that this meeting of the Strangers' Club be concluded. Do I have a second motion?"

"Yo!" Hiroshi declared, raising his hand. Shirley saw that he was eyeing the food.

"I third the motion," Lucy said, raising her hand.

"All those in favor of ending this meeting?" Arthur asked the club members.

"Aye!" all of the members shouted.

"All those opposed?" Arthur asked. Hearing no "nays," he said, "All right,

this meeting is adjourned. Everyone, please enjoy the refreshments courtesy of the Chang family."

All present got out of their seats and headed for the refreshment table. Hiroshi beat everyone there and started grabbing Chinese fried chicken and lumpia Shanghai. Marcus watched him and shook his head. Susan laughed and got food for herself and Bart.

After everyone got some food and returned to their seats, Arthur approached Shirley and her friends. "So, what do you think?" he asked the junior detective.

"Your organization is quite interesting," Shirley said.

"Thank you," Arthur said. "I'd like you, Bo, and Blake to stay behind

after everyone has left. We need to talk."

"Definitely," Shirley said, facing the president of the Strangers' Club.

"It's settled, then." Arthur turned to Susan. "Your mother will be

picking you up later?"

"Yeah," Susan said. "The Redington Paranormal Society's having a meeting about the Harrison house."

"Well, I doubt you'll mind if I ask you to keep Bart and Damian company while they wait in the van for Shirley and her friends," Arthur requested with a little twinkle in his eye.

Susan gasped. "Um...no, Arthur," she said nervously, looking at Bart.

"Good. It's settled, then," Arthur said.

As they ate, Susan and Bart talked about his upcoming test. "Are you up to

it?" she asked him.

"I am," Bart answered.

"You do know that I have to be impartial," Susan said with a smile. "I'm

going to be extra tough on you."

"Of course," Bart said, smiling back.

"Actually, I've decided to have another member help you with Bart's

evaluation, Susan," Arthur said, then he looked at Hiroshi, who was stuffing his face with egg rolls. "Hiroshi, you aren't busy tomorrow, are you?"

"No," Hiroshi managed to say through his stuffed cheeks, spitting out some food fragments.

"Good. You'll go with Bart and Susan to the Harrison house tomorrow night, then," Arthur said, smiling.

"Me and my big mouth," Hiroshi mumbled before resuming eating.

Collette came up from behind Arthur. "Arthur, maybe I should stay here

when you talk with the detective and her friends," she said, having heard everything.

"Don't worry, Collette. Lucy and Katrina will be with me. After all, we share the same ride," Arthur assured the self-appointed security chief. "You'll just be picked up by Ms. Tamura along with Rika, as scheduled."

"If you wish, Arthur," Collette said obediently, nodding.

As she watched this verbal exchange, Shirley wondered about the power

Arthur Kingston wielded in his group. The fact that he could control someone like Collette LeMarche attested to his leadership abilities; she observed that Arthur's manner was not that of a bully and that he seemed to be willing to listen to other suggestions as well as make his own. Overall, Arthur seemed to be a friendly individual, but that made Shirley even more suspicious about him. She also pondered the reason for the meeting. One thing was for certain; Shirley's curiosity was at an all-time high, and her mind started to formulate questions for the president of the Strangers' Club.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Eleven

After everyone left the room, the talk Arthur requested with Shirley and her friends began. The only club members left with Arthur were Lucy and Katrina. Damian was waiting in the black van with Bart and Susan.

"Okay, Arthur, what do you want to talk about?" Shirley asked, watching as he blew soap bubbles from his pipe.

"According to my cousin, you have a lot of questions to ask," Arthur said.

"I thought I'd take this time to answer any that I choose to answer."

"Cousin?" Bo looked at Lucy, then at Arthur. "You mean you're another cousin of Lucy's?"

"And another child prodigy," Lucy acknowledged. "He graduated from a university before me."

Arthur nodded. "Yes, I'm one of Lucy's cousins. I'm the son of Mr. Knight's late sister Alexandra, who married my father, Kenneth Kingston, also deceased. I'm originally from Washington state, in the Seattle area." During this retelling, Arthur closed his eyes as if in pain. Shirley wondered if the Kingstons had died in a horrible accident.

"They did," Katrina told Shirley, fixing her gaze on her.

"It was a terrorist bombing at the research facility they were working at,"

Arthur revealed, his eyes still closed. When he finally opened them, he looked at Shirley. "Care to start now?" he asked, seeming to have regained his steady manner.

"Very well, Arthur, or should I call you Excalibur?" Shirley said knowingly.

Arthur's mouth formed an amused smile. "Ah, you caught the reference to the little word play on my name. Congratulations."

"It was easy," Shirley said confidently. "Excalibur was the famed sword of King Arthur of Camelot. When I heard your name, it hit me."

"Wait, you mean you're the guy who kicked Blake out of the Knight Foundation's computer system?" Bo asked the Strangers' Club leader in amazement.

"I should add I did it in time, too," Arthur said. "The computers at the Knight Foundation have an extremely advanced security program. Even the most skilled hackers could've been detected within a few minutes." He fixed a gaze on Blake. "You're the one with the record time of staying within the system before being discovered, by the way. Consider it a consolation prize."

"Thanks," Blake said sincerely. "That system was a little tougher to hack than all the other systems I've been in."

Arthur blew more bubbles. "I'm afraid that as soon as you were in the system, your presence was detected. Your computer skills must be excellent since the security program didn't try to take action until a few minutes later, when you tried to hack into the files of some of our members. Still, if you had stayed longer, Mrs. LeMarche would've arrived at your house with a security team and you'd be incarcerated on computer break-in charges. I highly doubt your family, especially your father, would've been pleased by that."

"How do you know about the system's security program?" Shirley asked.

"I helped Lucy upgrade it," Arthur confessed, grinning.

"It's true," Lucy said. "The security program needed serious upgrading.

Arthur and I upgraded the program a while back, especially around the Knight Foundation Scholar files."

"How did you know I was the one who broke into the system?" Blake asked.

"In fact, how did you get informed about my break-in?"

"Well, you only accessed Knight Foundation Scholar files that belonged to some of our members," Arthur explained. "I suspected that Shirley was at work, but the unique techniques you were using clarified your identity. As for how I knew about your break-in, my personal computer is connected to the security system. Whenever someone tries to break into the system, an alarm goes off on my computer. So when you did, I took the usual measures and booted you off. I also erased your trail so that the official security wouldn't be able to trace it back to you."

"Thanks," Blake said appreciatively.

"No problem," Arthur said, dipping his pipe and blowing more bubbles.

"Wouldn't want one of Shirley's sleuthing partners to be jailed for doing something he thought was right."

"So are all of the members of the Strangers' Club in the Knight Foundation Scholarship program?" Shirley asked.

"Yes," Arthur admitted. "The traveling the program encourages helps to investigate cases that occur outside Redington."

"Cases?" Bo wondered. "What type of cases do you investigate?"

"Mainly things that have to do with the supernatural, paranormal, and

anything else bizarre," Arthur answered. "That's why we're called the Strangers' Club. We look into the strange stuff whenever and wherever. I'm sure you've seen the other reason why we call ourselves that."

"I have a good idea," Bo muttered, glancing at Katrina's silver hair and recalling the dark, grim figure of Damian.

"So you use the Knight Foundation Scholarship program as a cover for your investigating?" Shirley asked.

"Exactly," Arthur said. "We also manage to turn in the most interesting assignments."

"You're just like the X-Files," Blake said to Arthur. "And the Redington Paranormal Society."

"Believe me, we're a little better equipped than either agency," Arthur said.

"How so?" Shirley asked,

"We 'borrow' parts from the Knight Foundation to make our various

instruments," Arthur answered. "Our cases can be considered more dangerous that what you've been doing before recent times. Besides, Uncle Nathan never notices a few pieces of equipment missing here and there."

"He's sometimes too busy with business to notice," Lucy said. "That and he can be so scatter-brained also," she added with a smile.

"What do you use this stuff you take from the Knight Foundation for?" Blake asked.

"To build our equipment," Lucy answered. "It's specialized for what we investigate."

"Why do you have to build special equipment?" Shirley asked. "Can't you just get your equipment from the Redington Paranormal Society?"

"Because of the bizarre, and please believe me when I say the Redington Paranormal Society is ill-equipped for paranormal investigations," Arthur said. "We've encountered things that will convince even the most skeptical people. Sometimes we run into a situation that requires special equipment."

"Like forest spirits abducting people and ghosts of murder victims avenging their deaths?" Shirley said.

"Ah, you were paying attention when Sara was reading the last meeting's minutes," Arthur said, nodding with approval. "Your friend's mind there was wandering off during that." His gaze was on Bo.

"What?" Bo said. "It all sounded ridiculous."

"You're responsible for all those people reappearing and the Kersey girl's

murderer revealing himself," Shirley declared to Arthur.

"Shirley, what are you talking about?" Blake asked.

"Although I wasn't able to get the newspaper before my dad in the mornings

recently, I was able to get it later," Shirley explained. "During my afternoon clipping, I found two stories in the States. One involved a group of missing people, including the daughter of a local developer, who just came out of the local forest. Some of them had been missing for years and claimed to have been trapped in the trees by a ghost. The other involved a man who confessed to the rape-murder of the daughter of a local politician. He kept babbling about the ghost of the girl killing his friends."

Arthur nodded. "That's what we do."

"So why are you telling us all this?" Shirley asked, curious about Arthur's

openness about his club's activities.

"Because I feel it's fair for you for me to do so, what with all the spying we've done on you and your crime-solving," Arthur said, smiling. "We know about you. Now you know a little about us. Also, we're so alike. We both investigate unusual situations and we both manage to solve them without letting anyone know we are responsible. We both feel that our reward is that we did some good in this seemingly bleak world." He blew more bubbles from his pipe. "Now, anything else you want to know?"

"Well, everyone in this club calls you and the other founders the 'Big Ten,'" Blake said.

"It's a little name they gave us. One that we've accepted," Arthur said, sounding a little annoyed. "Eventually."

"So where are the other two members of this Big Ten?" Shirley asked. "From what I saw, besides you, there's Lucy, Katrina, Damian, Rika, Marcus, Collette, and Sara."

"One of them is investigating a case somewhere in Pennsylvania," Lucy answered. "He's on his own," she added. Shirley noted that Lucy looked worried when she said that.

"The other founder never comes to the meetings," Arthur stated. "We keep him posted via e-mail."

"Why doesn't he come to the meetings?" Blake asked.

"I'm afraid that's a secret," Arthur answered firmly, then he changed the

subject. "I presume that you're curious on why your friend is being considered by us for membership."

"Yeah," Bo said, looking at Arthur suspiciously. "Why Bart?"

Arthur shrugged. "Why not? He fits the bill as a potential member of the

Strangers' Club."

"How did you learn about Bart?" Shirley asked. "He's not exactly someone who's normally in the public eye a lot."

"We first learned about him when we read that article in the Redington Paranormal Society's official newsletter," Lucy revealed. "The one about his encounter with the poltergeist."

"We eventually found out that he was one of your friends, so we launched our own investigation into the poltergeist." Arthur shook his head, disappointed. "We weren't exactly pleased initially when we found out it was a hoax."

"What? You knew that the whole poltergeist thing was fake?" Bo said.

"Set up by Bart's grandfather with some help," Arthur said with a nod.

"If you knew, why didn't you tell him?" Shirley inquired curiously.

"The same reason you didn't tell him," Arthur said, smiling. "We didn't

want to crush his spirit."

"Wouldn't something like that ruin his chances of joining the Strangers' Club?" Blake asked.

"No, actually," Lucy answered.

"Why not?" Shirley asked.

Arthur blew more bubbles before answering. "You see, we don't view actual

experiences with the extremely bizarre as a prerequisite for membership. Just a positive dedication to investigating it will do for us. Bart is a striking example of this. It's his dedication that attracted our attention, not his actual feats."

"I presume that the alien child made him more legitimate in the eyes in some of your doubtful members," Shirley said.

"It did," Arthur said.

Bo was still suspicious. "Okay, here's something that's been on my mind.

Did you use Susan to lure Bart so that he'd actually want to join this club?"

Arthur laughed a little and did not seem offended at this accusation. "No, no, no. Susan was assigned to look into Bart and study him, but I think as she did, she became genuinely enamored with him. So all the affection she was showing him is real, I assure you. In fact, that's why I assigned Hiroshi to go with them. To make sure they stick to business." This was said with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Shirley saw how Lucy and Katrina were staring at the leader of the Strangers' Club. Apparently Arthur Kingston was not someone you expected to be lighthearted. Bo was still suspicious, however.

Arthur blew more bubbles from his pipe, then his voice took a more serious tone. "Now, you and your two friends here have gotten yourselves in serious trouble with a certain organization." He looked thoughtful. "The full name is the Establishment for Nefarious, Insidious, Global, and Malevolent Acts, but it's better known as ENIGMA."

Shirley's interest increased upon hearing the name of the criminal organization that recently became a part of her life. "What do you know about ENIGMA?"

"A little more than what the public knows," Arthur said. "We do have our sources."

"What are these sources?" Shirley asked.

"I can't say," Arthur said, shaking his head. "I do know that there's more

to them than meets the eye."

"Why do you say that?" Bo asked.

"Consider this," Arthur said. "Why would a worldwide group of mercenaries

focus their efforts on a young girl in a relatively small city in Canada?"

"I think ENIGMA's still a little bitter about us with that thing with the Mona Lisa that exposed them to the world," Bo pointed out.

"True, but think about this. Why would ENIGMA go to such lengths to kidnap your archrival to acquire a ruby ring that could've been easily stolen with their fantastic equipment?" Arthur said, pointing his pipe at Shirley.

"They wanted to meet me, so to speak," Shirley said, recalling that the ENIGMA leader was coordinating the operation through a specially-fitted dummy.

"Yes, and that means that the group's taken an interest in you," Arthur said gravely. "A dangerous interest. I felt you needed to know about us."

"Why?" Blake asked.

Arthur dipped his pipe into the glass and blew more bubbles. "Believe me,

you'll need all the help you can get."

"Oh really?" Bo said, crossing his arms across his chest. "Why would we need your help?"

Arthur fixed his eyes on Bo. "You'll find out."

"So, have you figured out the dragon's riddle yet?" Lucy asked Shirley.

"She's still working on it," Blake revealed.

"You were trying to warn me about ENIGMA," Shirley said, looking at

Katrina, who nodded silently in response.

"That is correct," Arthur said. "Sorry for the way we've bothered your sleep and nearly ruined your permanent record, but we needed a way to communicate our message with you."

"Ever try the phone, a letter, or e-mail?" Bo said dryly.

"Well, I wanted to send our message in a way that would've been worthy of

the attention of someone carrying on Sherlock Holmes' legacy," Arthur said. "Something bizarre and interesting. So, I had Katrina go into your dreams with certain symbols."

"I see," Shirley said. "One thing still eludes me, though."

"What would that be?" Arthur asked.

"What did the question mark man mean?" Shirley asked. That was the only

part of her dreams that still baffled her.

Arthur smiled mysteriously. "Oh, that. I consider that a type of advertising. Katrina did that on my order also." He reached into his pants pocket and took out a card. "This will explain all," he said as he handed the card to Shirley. "It's our symbol. We leave it when we solve our cases. Curiously, it never shows up in the newspapers. Perhaps the authorities have enough to digest as it is, what with all the other weird stuff they have to sort through."

Shirley studied the card. "Look at this," she told her friends.

Bo and Blake looked over Shirley's shoulder and saw what she saw. The card

had a white face with a black bowler and a black bowtie. A black question mark covered the entire face.

"Exactly like the man in my dream," Shirley said softly.

As Shirley and her friends looked at the card, Arthur looked at the clock

on the wall. "I'm afraid we must depart," he told Shirley. "Mr. Chang has a reservation for this room coming in about five minutes. Damian will take you and your friends home."

* * * * *

After Damian dropped him off at the Sussex Academy dormitory, Bart got ready for bed, excited about tomorrow night. He could not believe his good luck. He was given the chance to take the picture of one of the city's most famous ghosts. If he succeeded and the picture was of perfect quality, he would more likely be accepted into a group that appreciated and shared his beliefs in the supernatural and paranormal.

Bart climbed into his bed and sighed when Susan came into his thoughts. He admitted to himself that she was not the most beautiful girl in Redington. He wondered if all the boys at her school found her an easy target for insults. His blood boiled at that thought, for she had a bright mind and that was the thing that attracted him to her. When he talked with her at the Quazar Cafe, he found her to be a kindred spirit. When he mentioned aliens, ghosts, and the like, she did not ridicule them like his friends would. Instead, she offered her own insights on them, and sometimes her ideas coincided with his. He never thought that he would find a girl who shared the same beliefs he did, but during that moment at the protest rally when their hands touched and they looked into each other's eyes and when they talked at the Quazar Cafe, he knew that he found someone he could consider his soulmate.

Bart started to doze off when he heard a little girl's voice whisper to him. "Please save my home, Bart. Please save my home, Bart."

Bart opened his eyes and gasped at what he saw. Standing at the foot of his bed was the girl he saw on the porch of the Harrison house.

"Please save my home, Bart," the little girl pleaded.

Bart wanted to say "How did you get in here?", but he had a good answer to

that question. Instead, he asked, "How? How can I save your home?"

Before he could get an answer, the little girl faded away, leaving Bart alone in his dorm room.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Twelve

The next day during lunch, Bo brought up the events of the previous afternoon. "There's something about those guys that creeps me out," he said as he picked at the unrecognizable piece of meat on his tray with his fork.

"You mean the Strangers' Club?" Blake said, making sure to keep his voice down.

"Yep," Bo said. "They're a weird bunch, especially Katrina and Damian. She can go into dreams and can apparently read minds. He can take out guys with his fingers and one punch. Let's not forget the silver hair and the vampire outfit."

"They are unique, that's for sure," Shirley said, conceding to Bo's point.

"Having established that, let's move on to other matters."

"Like the toy dragon, right?" Bo said knowingly. "You heard about what happened at the police station this morning, right?"

"Yes. Their dragon fizzled out suddenly, ruining its parts," Shirley recalled. "If you're wondering, I didn't have the same problem. Perhaps it's because I dismantled it last night to examine it."

"Have you solved the riddle yet?" Blake asked.

Shirley nodded. "It took me a while, but I believe it refers to the

Harrison house."

"Okay, Shirley, enlighten us," Bo said to his best friend.

"From what I can gather, the whole affair involves whether or not the house

should stay," Shirley began to explain. "Mr. Maxson plans to blow up the house and build a new mall on the land. That's exchanging something old for something new, right?"

"Yeah," Bo said. "Anything else?"

"The initials 'A.N.'," Shirley said. "The alleged ghost's name is Clarissa

Harrison, who had a tragic end, so to speak."

"Uh, Shirley, I hate to burst your bubble, but 'A.N.' can't stand for Clarissa Harrison," Bo pointed out, wondering if he had scored a rare upset over the junior detective. "Otherwise, the letters would've been 'C.H.'"

"But it does in a way, Bo," Shirley said. "'A.N.' are the ending letters in Clarissa's name."

Bo thought for a moment and realized Shirley was right. "Oh."

"Okay, so the riddle refers to the Harrison house and Clarissa," Blake

said, trying to put everything together. "Now Hades is the name of the Greek god of the underworld and is usually used to refer to the Greek underworld, right?"

"Right," Shirley confirmed. "So this riddle has to do with death."

"What a comforting thought," Bo said. "Any idea what it all means?"

"I think it means that ENIGMA is working for Maxson to demolish the house,"

Shirley said. "They are working to achieve the death of the house."

"Wouldn't that be below their standards?" Blake asked.

"I don't think these guys have standards," Bo said. "After all, they do

kill people when they get paid enough."

"Unfortunately, the police haven't come to the same conclusion," Shirley said with a sigh. "They're convinced that ENIGMA's after the collection of Greek artifacts donated to the museum by a Mr. Antonio Naverelli."

Bo rolled his eyes. "As usual, the police go for the easiest target."

"Hmmmmm...my mom may have mentioned that a few times during dinner," Blake

said. His mother worked at the Redington Museum.

"Well, the police and I do agree that ENIGMA's the guilty party," Shirley said. "Like I said before, I took apart the dragon and examined its parts last night. It's quite a masterpiece, and I spotted some parts that are unique, to say the least. That toy wasn't built cheap."

Bo thought for a moment. "Hmmmmm...I have another idea who could've sent that riddle, Shirley."

"Who, Bo?" Shirley asked.

"Try our new friends," Bo answered, convinced that he was right.

"Hold on, Bo. You're saying that the Strangers' Club sent Shirley the

dragon?" Blake asked.

"That's exactly what I'm saying, Blake," Bo said.

"Well, how did you come up with this hypothesis?" Shirley asked Bo.

Bo drank some milk before he answered. "Okay, for one thing, there were a

lot of Chinese dragon designs at that restaurant the club meeting was held in. Also, why would ENIGMA want to blow up a house? They might not have any standards, but wouldn't that be below their skills? I think they'd consider an assignment like that to be a total insult. Now back to the Harrison house. The Strangers' Club is trying to save the house because they think a ghost lives there." He took another sip of milk. "Then there's the dragon. You said that it had some not-so-cheap parts. Arthur said that the club took parts from the Knight Foundation to make its special equipment. That and they knew about you getting the dragon."

"Well, I doubt you're right, Bo, but you do make a good point," Blake said.

"What would their motive be?" Shirley asked, intrigued a little by Bo's

idea.

"They said they've been watching you solve mysteries," Bo explained. "Maybe they want to watch you in action, so they decided to simulate a mystery for you to solve."

"Perhaps," Shirley said, thinking for a moment.

"I don't know, Bo," Blake said, expressing doubt. "The Strangers' Club may

be weird, but they seem to be good guys."

"I thought the same thing when Molly came over here," Bo said.

"Good point," Blake said. "However, if they are behind the dragons, why

would they send one to the police?"

"Maybe they want to make it look like ENIGMA's behind it. You know, make it a perfect simulation." Bo shrugged. "I'm not sure."

Bart walked up to their table and sat next to Bo. His manner indicated excitement. "Didn't you hear the news?" he asked his friends.

"If you're referring to the city council voting to preserve the Harrison house as a city landmark, I saw it on the news this morning," Shirley said.

"Boy, Maxson's gotta be mad about that," Bo said. "All that money down the drain." He made a whooshing sound.

"Oh, guess what happened to me last night," Bart said.

"Aliens took you to their spaceship and probed you?" Bo remarked before

returning to his lunch.

"I wish," Bart said, briefly switching to that image in his mind. "The ghost appeared in my room last night."

Everyone stared at Bart. "Come again?" Bo asked.

"What?" Shirley and Blake said at the same time.

"Yeah. Clarissa Harrison appeared at the foot of my bed last night," Bart

recalled excitedly. "She kept telling me to save her home, then she vanished."

"Okay," Bo said, not believing his ears.

"Well, you know what happens tonight," Bart said proudly.

"Yep," Blake said. "Tonight's when you take a picture of the ghost."

"Exactly," Bart said excitedly. "I'm leaving immediately after I finish

any homework I have to meet Susan and Hiroshi. They're going to brief me on the camera I'll be using, plus they're treating me to dinner at Chang's. After that, we move on to the Harrison house."

"Good luck, Bart," Blake said sincerely, although he still had doubts over the ghost's existence.

"I wish you luck on your test, Bart, although I must still express my skepticism on ghosts," Shirley said.

"I guess I was expecting that, but thanks, guys," Bart said, smiling.

Shirley saw that Bo did not say anything. "Bo, don't you have anything to

say to Bart?"

"Only that you're making a big mistake in doing this," Bo said in an uncharacteristically harsh tone of voice. "You're the last person I'd expect to do something so dumb for a girl."

"Bo!" Shirley exclaimed, shocked at her friend's attitude.

"Well, he is," Bo said. "Bart, I know you're too lovesick to use your

brain, but do it. Have you ever considered the idea that Susan's setting you up?"

"What?" Bart said, insulted. "There's no way she could..."

"News flash, Bart. You know her for, what, a couple of days now?" Bo said,

trying to drive some sense into his friend. "You really don't know her, and you really don't know the Strangers' Club. Have you even considered that they're just toying with you?"

"And why would they do that to me, Bo?" Bart asked, his eyes nearly on fire.

"Well, maybe they just want to make you think they want you as a member, then they'll just dump you," Bo hypothesized.

"You just don't like them because they believe in the same things I do," Bart countered.

"Bart, they're a bunch of weirdoes!" Bo shouted in frustration. "Not only do they look weird, but they believe in the dumbest things."

Bart's face turned pale. "'Dumbest things,' huh?" He looked hurt. "Guess that makes me a total idiot, huh?"

Bo realized what he had done. "Whoa, Bart, I didn't mean that..."

"No, no, you must be right," Bart said, shaking his head. "After all, if

you believe in aliens and ghosts, you're an idiot and a weirdo."

"Bo didn't mean..." Shirley began, trying to explain.

Bart laughed bitterly. "Well, I guess I don't deserve to hang out with

normal people, then," he said sadly, getting up from his seat. "I'm still going to the Harrison house tonight with my new weird friends. At least they understand me better than you guys."

"Bart..." Before Shirley could finish the sentence, Bart marched off.

"Great going, Bo," Blake said as Bart left the table.

Bo watched as Bart walked away from them. "Hey, I didn't mean to hurt his

feelings. I just didn't want him to get into any trouble."

"Well, you still hurt his feelings just the same, Bo," Blake said.

"Bo, you made perhaps one of the most fatal errors in detective work,"

Shirley told her friend. "You made accusations without positive proof."

Bo sighed. "So, what do I do now?" he asked, now feeling guilty.

"I'd wait until he cools down," Blake recommended.

"I agree," Shirley said. "That's all we can do for now."

* * * * *

That night, Shirley looked at the dismantled dragon on her examination table. She marveled at how intricate its construction was. The jointed parts were simple, but the sound and light components were in another league. Also, the material the dragon was made from was composed of a metal that was new to her. "A very expensive toy to make," Shirley observed.

Shirley heard her cell phone ring. She pulled it out of her pants pocket and answered it. "Hello?"

"Hi, Shirley. It's me, Bo."

"Hi, Bo. Did you get to talk with Bart?"

"I didn't get a chance to. He was in his room, but he refused to let me

in. Blake came with me and tried to persuade him to let us in, but it was no use. We pretty much waited until he came out. He was all packed; he had a sleeping bag and a pillow with him, I think."

"Did you try talking to him as he left?"

"I tried, but he kept ignoring me. Blake tried too, and Bart dissed him,

too. We kept following him until his ride picked him up. It was Damian. After he left, Blake just went home and I went to the fish store to get some work done."

"Sorry for not coming with you guys, but I was told to go home immediately after school. Mom wanted to do more bonding with me."

Bo laughed a little. "Don't worry about it. If you had come, Bart would've been ignoring three people instead of two."

Shirley checked the time on her wristwatch. "Well, it's almost eight now.

I guess he's at the Harrison house already."

"Yeah, I guess he's trying to take a picture of that ghost."

"It's a definite. Anything else you wanted to say, Bo?"

There was a pause on the other line. "Um, no, not really." Shirley could

have sworn that Bo sounded nervous.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. Listen, I'd better go. I have to help my dad with something.

See you later." Bo hung up.

Shirley hung up her cell phone and put it back in her pocket. "Hmmmm," she said, scratching her head and trying to figure out if Bo did have something else to say.

Shirley resumed examining the dismantled dragon for the next hour or two. Her parents and Gran were at the British Embassy for a retirement party for one of the employees. Shirley had managed to get out of going by saying that she had a lot of homework to do. She was half-right; after she had finished her school homework, she started studying the dismantled dragon to find anything she could have possible missed the first time. Her examination was interrupted briefly earlier by dinner composed of leftovers.

Shirley checked her watch and saw that it was now almost ten. The rest of her family had not come home yet. She yawned and removed her rubber gloves and lab coat. She pulled off the ponytail holder and let her brown hair loose. She was about to get ready for bed when her cell phone went off.

Wondering who could be calling at this late hour, Shirley turned it on.

"Hello?"

The next voice surprised her. "Shirley? It's me, Lucy."

Shirley noticed the urgency in Lucy's voice. "Hi, Lucy. What's wrong?"

"It's Bart, Shirley," Lucy answered quickly. "We think he's in trouble."



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Thirteen

Shirley was stunned when she heard Lucy's news. "What do you mean Bart's in trouble?" she asked. "What happened?"

"We don't know," Lucy answered. "We lost contact with them when they were trying to call in. We're going to find out what happened and I was wondering..."

"I'll be there," Shirley told Lucy firmly. Her friend was in trouble and she felt she could not stand by and leave him. "I'll get my bike and I'll ride over to the Harrison house."

"Don't worry about transportation," Lucy said. "We're on our way in Damian's van. We picked up Bo and Blake, too. Just stay there and we'll pick you up." With that, Lucy hung up.

After putting her cell phone in her pocket, Shirley grabbed her backpack and ran down the stairs. She noticed Watson lying near the foot of the stairs. "Looks like you're guarding the house tonight," she told the basset hound, who whimpered in reply. She took out a piece of paper and wrote "Went to Blake's to get something for a class. Hope to be back soon. Shirley." She taped the note on the wall next to the door, then went outside to wait for the others. A few minutes after she locked the front door, the black van came.

Shirley ran up to the side door as it opened. Bo was there to greet her.

"Family not home?" Bo asked her as she took her seat.

"Embassy function," Shirley answered as she fastened her seat belt. "What about you?" she asked Bo as he closed the door.

"Parents are doing bingo again," Bo answered. "They always come home way late. It's the talking they do with other people. I left a note saying I needed to pick up something for class from Blake."

"I did the same thing," Shirley answered as the van moved.

"Why am I the excuse guy?" Blake said half-jokingly.

"What about you?" Bo asked Blake.

"Mom's at the museum waiting for a shipment of Japanese samurai armor.

Rosa went out to--get this--play bingo," Blake explained, grinning.

"So whose house did you say you were going to?" Shirley asked.

"Yours, of course," Blake answered.

As the van drove to the Harrison house, Shirley looked at her fellow

passengers. Bo and Blake were sitting with her. Katrina and Marcus were sitting in the back. Lucy was riding shotgun. Damian was, of course, the driver.

"So you lost contact with Bart?" Shirley asked Lucy.

"Sadly," Lucy answered. "We can't seem to get any response from any of

them."

"You mean you've been in touch with them?" Bo asked.

"Of course," Marcus said from behind. "You think we're going to send

people into a haunted house without a comlink?"

"A what?" Bo asked, not recognizing the term "comlink."

"A comlink," Lucy said. "It's a device we all have in order to keep in

touch with each other." She turned to Shirley as best as she could with her seat belt on and stretched her arm to her. Shirley saw an object in Lucy's hand. Shirley managed to take the object from Lucy so that she could get a look at it. "That's how we've been keeping in touch with Bart and the others," Lucy told Shirley.

Shirley examined the comlink in her hand. It was slightly wider and larger than a pocket calculator and had a retractable antenna. It had keys arranged like a cell phone and it even had the same numbers, letters, and symbols. She saw that the letter "Z" was located over the number zero instead of "OPER," not to mention that there were a number of keys with mathematical symbols. A small quartz screen with a black dot above it were located near the top. Below the screen was a tiny sound receiver and on each side of the screen was a small speaker. There were eight buttons as well, with four on each side of the comlink: three that said "1st LETTER," "2nd LETTER," and "3rd LETTER"; one that said "TRANSMIT"; one that said "SCAN"; one that said "SWITCH"; one that said "SOUND/NO SOUND"; and one that said "ON/OFF." A rectangular button labeled "DISTORT" was located on the side of the comlink. At the bottom she saw the Strangers' Club symbol. When she touched it, it became the Knight Foundation logo and the keys were more like phone keys. In addition, the eight side buttons became blank knobs of plastic.

"Nice, huh?" Marcus said, seeing that Shirley was looking at the comlink. "It's a combination of a videophone, scanner/camera, and calculator. Made from the best of the Knight Foundation's latest technology."

"So this little dot is a miniature digital camera?" Shirley asked, pointing to it.

"Yep," Marcus said. "Something the Knight Foundation's been working on.

We just perfected it before they did."

"Cool," Bo said approvingly.

"Nice touch," Blake said.

"An interesting device," Shirley said, returning the comlink to Lucy.

"So why did you call us?" Bo asked, wondering why he got called at night.

"I thought you'd want to help us out with your friend," Lucy explained.

"Also, as you can see, we're a little undermanned tonight," she added, pointing to Katrina and Marcus. "Most of us went on a field trip to investigate a poltergeist in Calgary, and the rest haven't come back from their cases yet."

"So where's Arthur?" Shirley asked.

"He's helping my parents out with something," Lucy replied. "He would've

been with us if he wasn't busy."

"What's he helping with?" Blake asked.

"Upgrading the security system for the Knight Foundation mainframe," Lucy

answered.

"Oh," Blake said, not exactly surprised.

"Besides, this is my case, remember?" Lucy said. "I haven't lost anyone

before, and I'm not aiming to start now."

The van finally arrived at the Harrison house. Damian parked it on the side of the road, and everyone got off.

"Well, there it is," Lucy said, facing the Harrison house. "Somewhere in there, our friends are in trouble."

Damian lowered his red-tinted goggles so that they covered his eyes. He seemed even scarier than before. "I will stay out here just in case something goes wrong," he said.

"Okay, Damian. The rest of you, follow me," Lucy said, taking charge.

"Are you sure you want to leave him behind?" Bo asked, jabbing his thumb at

Damian. "I think we'll be needing him inside the house."

"Afraid you might run into a ghost, Bo?" Blake asked, grinning.

"No," Bo denied. "Besides, someone could've gotten them. Someone who's

flesh and blood."

"Well, don't worry. Ghost or no ghost, we're prepared," Lucy reassured them.

Leaving Damian behind, the others walked to the house. They stood at the small set of stairs leading to the porch and the front door. Shirley took out her flashlight and turned it on so that everyone could see better. Marcus took out a device that looked like a portable TV with a V-shaped antenna.

"What is that?" Shirley asked, pointing to Marcus' device.

"To put it simply, a ghost detector," Marcus answered. "It picks up any

spectral presence and it's far superior than anything the Redington Paranormal Society ever came up with."

"You had to ask, didn't you?" Bo whispered to Shirley.

The ghost detector made a beeping noise as Marcus waved it around. "Well,

I'm detecting a minute amount of spectral energy..."

Before Marcus could finish, the device froze, then it started to fizzle and smoke and sparks started coming from its sides. The heat built up to an intolerable level. "Ouch!" Marcus exclaimed as he dropped the ghost detector, which proceeded to smoke more and shoot out more sparks. Soon the ghost detector was nothing more that a piece of worthless junk. After watching the device die out, Marcus turned to the others. "Not a good sign," he said, shaking his head and holding his slightly burned hand.

"What happened?" Blake asked.

"Somehow, something in the house sent a large amount of power through the

ghost detector," Marcus explained. "It fried it totally."

"That's it. We're going in," Bo said, determined. He walked up the stairs and headed for the front door. Shirley shined her flashlight on the door.

Bo was about to take another step towards the door when Shirley shouted "No!" By then, Bo had his foot up. Shirley's shout made Bo go off-balance and he was about to fall towards the door.

"I got him," Lucy said, pulling her scarf off quickly from behind her neck. Before Shirley or Blake could ask what she was doing, Lucy whipped the scarf into Bo's direction and it stretched outward at an unbelievable length. Shirley and Blake watched in amazement as the scarf wrapped itself around Bo and pulled him away from the door and off the porch. Bo landed on the ground hard in front of the others butt-first.

Lucy's scarf returned to its normal length and she rehung it around her neck. She saw the amazed looks on Shirley and Blake. "Now you know what the scarf's for," she said, flashing a smile at them.

Everyone rushed up to Bo, who got up and was now rubbing his butt. "Are you okay?" Shirley asked her best friend.

"Besides the fact that my butt hurts, I'm just dandy," Bo answered, facing Shirley. "What was that all about?"

"Look carefully at the foot of the door," Shirley said, shining her flashlight there.

Everyone looked at the illuminated spot. Blake spotted something thin and long stretched across the foot of the door. "A tripwire," he concluded.

"I'll find out what it would've triggered," Shirley said. She walked up the stairs, then looked above the door and shined her flashlight there. She saw what appeared to be an arrangement of metal Chinese dragons on the ceiling with their mouths open and facing down, then returned to her friends.

"Well?" Bo asked, rubbing his backside a little.

"I need a rock large enough to hit that tripwire," Shirley requested.

Everyone started searching for a rock that met Shirley's requirement.

Katrina found a rock that did just that and showed it to Shirley. "Now what?" she asked.

Shirley looked around. "Who's got a good throwing arm?"

"I can do it," Katrina answered with a nod.

Shirley shined the flashlight where the tripwire was. "Can you hit that?"

"We'll see," Katrina answered. She walked up to the foot of the stairs and

saw the tripwire thanks to Shirley's flashlight. Everyone gathered around her. Without a sound, she flung the rock at the tripwire.

Bo saw that the throw was going to be a little off its mark. "I'll go get another rock," he said. What happened next surprised him, not to mention Shirley and Blake.

The rock was going to fly over the tripwire, but just as it was going to, it fell straight down. It landed on the tripwire and it bounced off. Everyone backed up quickly when the dragons fired lasers from their mouths. The combined lasers made up a red curtain of death. After the dragons had stopped firing, Shirley climbed the steps a little and found burn marks where the lasers had hit.

"Close one," Bo said, not enjoying the thought that if he had made it to the door, he would have become instant barbecue.

Lucy heard her comlink beep and she quickly took it out of her pocket. Damian's face appeared on the screen. "I saw a bright light appear at the front. What happened?" he asked.

"Some sort of laser trap," Lucy answered. "It's been rigged at the front door so we can't go in that way."

"I am going to join you," Damian said, ready to move.

"No. We'll be fine. Just stay where you are and keep a lookout for

anyone," Lucy ordered. "I don't want any unexpected company."

"As you wish," Damian said, and his face vanished from the comlink's screen.

Putting her comlink away, Lucy turned to Katrina, who was looking at the front door. "Can you...?"

Katrina shook her head. "I can't. Something's blocking me. Some sore of interference."

"Can't do what?" Blake asked.

"Well, we can't go in that way," Marcus said before Lucy or Katrina could

answer Blake.

"At least we know we're dealing with someone who's still alive," Blake said.

"That's supposed to make me feel better?" Bo remarked.

Katrina closed her eyes. Shirley thought over the situation. "They're not

making it any easier for us," she said.

"'They'?" Lucy asked.

Blake eyed the house, then answered for Shirley. "ENIGMA."

Lucy turned to Katrina. "Anything?"

Katrina opened her eyes. "I can't tell," she answered softly. "I can't

feel anything. Something is interfering."

Bo stared at Katrina. "What is she talking about?"

"We don't know if they're alive or..." Marcus stopped himself. He did not

want to complete the sentence.

"There's only one way to find out," Shirley said, determined. "Is there a back way in?" she asked Lucy.

Lucy nodded. "Yeah. The back door leads to the kitchen."

"That's the way we're going in," Shirley said, starting for the back.

Soon, everyone was at the back of the house. Shirley looked at the back

door. "I'm going in first."

Shirley was about to take another step forward when Bo grabbed her by the shoulder. "Are you nuts? There could be another booby trap here," he said with concern. He pointed out a strange box with flashing lights all over it that was attached to the door.

Shirley shook off Bo's hand and continued forward. "There isn't any," she stated before walking up to the door. Everyone watched as Shirley tested the doorknob, then she opened the door. She turned around and saw that the others were staring at her in surprise that she was alive. "Well, let's go in," she told them.

Soon, they found themselves in the kitchen. Shirley moved her flashlight around the room. She saw cobwebs on the ceiling and everything needed a good dusting more or less.

"How did you know about the back door being safe?" Lucy asked Shirley.

"The riddle," Shirley answered. "The initials 'A.N.' were the back of

Clarissa Harrison, so to speak. I figured that the back way was the only way he would let us in."

"'He'?" Blake said.

"Whoever ENIGMA sent here on this assignment," Shirley answered.

Lucy closed the door, took out her comlink, and turned it on. She dialed

in a number, then started talking. "Damian. It's me, Lucy. Can you read me?" All she got was static from the speakers and snow on the screen. Turning it off and putting it away, Lucy looked at Shirley. "I'm afraid we're on our own if we encounter any trouble."

"Look." Katrina pointed to someone slumped over a table.

Marcus got in for a closer look. Shirley pointed her flashlight to help

him out. "It's Hiroshi," he reported. He shook him, but he did not respond.

Shirley got closer and studied Hiroshi carefully. "He's unconscious, but I don't see any signs of a blow to his head."

Bo saw the unopened Tupperware container next to Hiroshi's head. He sniffed the container. "Smells like egg rolls," he concluded.

"Looks like we can eliminate knockout drugs," Blake said. "He didn't touch his food."

Katrina walked up to the unconscious boy, then touched his head. "He's alive," she declared softly.

Bo checked Hiroshi's pulse on his neck. "She's right."

"Then wake him up, if you can," Lucy told Katrina.

"I can." Katrina placed her pale hand on Hiroshi's head and closed her

eyes. Within a few seconds, a moan could be heard from Hiroshi. When Katrina removed her hand and opened her eyes, Hiroshi was conscious and he got up.

"Hey, what just happened here?" Bo asked to no one in particular.

"Hey, what took you guys?" Hiroshi asked, looking around.

"What happened to you?" Blake asked him.

"Well, I came in here to have a snack," Hiroshi began. "Next thing you

know, I'm out like a light."

"Where's Bart and Susan?" Shirley asked.

"The last time I checked, they were going upstairs," Hiroshi answered.

"Bart said he saw the ghost there. He tried to take a picture, but the ghost vanished just as the flash went off. He and Susan went upstairs after her. They told me to wait downstairs and go up when they called for me. I took that as my cue for snack time, so..."

Marcus shook his head. "Typical."

"Hey, it's not my fault your folks are great cooks, Marcus," Hiroshi told

his friend, managing a little grin.

"We'd better go to the parlor," Shirley said, leading the way with her flashlight.

Everyone followed Shirley through the kitchen and into the parlor. The parlor was a large space with furniture covered with white sheets now turned gray due to age and cobwebs. The stairs were present as was the hallway of the second floor. A chandelier hung over the room.

"Nice place," Bo quipped. "Maybe someone should've cleaned it up in case they had company."

"Oh, but I prefer everything the way it is," someone said in a sinister voice. "It's the perfect atmosphere for this house, don't you think?"

"Hiroshi, cut it out with the creepy voices," Lucy said.

"Uh, Lucy, I didn't say that," Hiroshi said, sounding nervous.

"He didn't," Blake confirmed. "He didn't open his mouth."

"Well, he is a ventriloquist," Bo said.

"True, but that sounded too perfect for someone to be throwing his voice,"

Shirley pointed out.

"How correct, Miss Holmes," the voice said, chuckling evilly. "No wonder Mr. E perceives you as a threat to us."

Everyone looked around in order to find the mysterious speaker. Shirley waved her flashlight around. "Who's there?" the young detective demanded. She finally saw a figure on the other end of the room. It was walking towards the center of the parlor.

Shirley was about to shine her flashlight on the figure when he spoke again. "Oh, turn off your flashlight," he said to her. "This house has electric lights, but they were disconnected since the previous owners kept moving out."

The figure raised his hand. Shirley saw something in it that resembled a large spade. Suddenly, the chandelier lit up, illuminating the dark room. Everyone looked up, surprised.

"How...?" Lucy began to say, looking around now that she could see better.

"I've decided to reconnect the electrical wires for obvious reasons," the

figure said, covering his face with the spade-shaped object. Shirley saw that it was a Chinese non-folding fan. "Welcome to the Harrison house, Shirley Holmes," he addressed the junior sleuth. "I knew you'd come."



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Fourteen

Shirley studied the man carefully. Although she could not see his face due to the Chinese fan, she noticed that his clothes were of the old Chinese style. They were white with some touches of red, especially at the end of his long sleeves and pant legs. His shoes were also old Chinese style. His hands looked metallic and resembled claws. From where she stood, Shirley saw that he was rather short and round and probably was around her height.

"You were expecting us?" Lucy asked the strange figure.

"To be honest, I was expecting the detective and her two sidekicks only,"

the mysterious figure answered, still blocking his face with his fan. "I wasn't expecting them to bring help."

"So you're an ENIGMA agent, huh?" Hiroshi said, looking over the man.

The man laughed from behind his fan. "Ah, you're awake finally," he said

to Hiroshi. "My sleeping powder is usually very potent. I think I should consider improving it later."

Shirley's eyes narrowed as she looked at the man. "Who are you?"

The man chuckled a little. "If you're expecting my real name, I'm afraid I

must disappoint you. My code number is a different matter, however. It is Number Eight."

"Number Eight?" Blake said. "That's a pretty high rank for an ENIGMA agent."

"How perceptive of you, Mr. Hewitt," the man said. "Like father, like son."

Bo took a step forward and faced the man. "What did you do with Bart?" he said, his hands forming into fists at his side.

"Ah, Mr. James," Number Eight said, seeming to recall something. "He's upstairs in the master bedroom. I'm afraid he's stuck there."

"Why you..." Bo started to advance, but Shirley grabbed his shoulder and stopped him.

"Bo, we don't know who we're up against," Shirley whispered. Bo nodded and stood his ground.

"My my, your friend there has quite a nasty temper, Miss Holmes," Number Eight said, laughing a little.

Katrina looked up the stairs and the second floor hallway. "Lucy," she whispered to her, tapping her on the shoulder and pointing to the top of the stairs.

Lucy turned her head towards where Katrina was pointing. "Guys," she said, motioning to the top of the stairs. There, Susan was lying on her side in the hallway unconscious.

"Katrina, Hiroshi, get up there," Lucy ordered. They did not waste any time going up the stairs and attending to their fallen friend. Lucy turned to Number Eight. "If you hurt her, I swear..." she started to say with menace in her voice, her hand reaching for her scarf.

Number Eight laughed a little. "Oh, no, she's alive, I assure you. Mr.

James is also still among the living. Live bait works better."

"Bait?" Blake said. "This is a trap?"

"But of course," Number Eight said, chuckling. "I'm amazed you're even

asking that."

"Not again," Bo groaned.

"All of this was to get me here," Shirley said, understanding.

"Exactly, my little detective," Number Eight answered evilly. "Your

compassion and curiosity will be your downfall always. Like a moth attracted to the flame of a candle." At this point, he lowered his fan so that his face could be visible to everyone.

"Whoa," Blake said, his eyes widening at the sight before him.

Number Eight's head was covered by a mask that resembled the head of a

Chinese dragon. The mask was mostly green, with white hair around the rim of the head, two strands of it shooting out from the sides of the elongated snout, and a goatee. Two horns shot out of the forehead. A red cylindric cap with a skull sat on top of his head. The mask's two piercing yellow reptilian eyes, with furry white eyebrows above them, dominated Number Eight's face, giving him an evil stare. The mask's mouth had long clinched teeth, giving the appearance of a large, permanent dragon grin.

"Well, I can see why you sent Shirley a Chinese dragon," Bo stated, beholding the face of the enemy.

Number Eight chuckled. "I couldn't help but drop a little hint at who was behind this little plan."

"What would that plan be?" Lucy asked the ENIGMA agent.

"To get me to this place by using Bart as bait," Shirley answered for her,

staring intently at Number Eight.

"Nothing gets by you, does it, my dear?" Number Eight waved his fan around.

"Maxson hired ENIGMA to destroy this house, didn't he?" Shirley questioned Number Eight.

"How perceptive of you," Number Eight replied. "We've recently started advertising our services to the local underworld. He wanted so badly for this house to be gone that he contacted us. "

"So you knew Bart would be helping out with the protest rally," Blake said.

Number Eight laughed sinisterly. "It was too easy, considering Mr. James'

interest in the supernatural. When I learned he was going to participate in the protest rally to save this house, I knew I found the perfect bait for you to come here, Miss Holmes." He slapped his open palm with his fan as he continued talking. "He wanted so much to see a ghost that I gave him one, thanks to the holographic projectors placed throughout this house."

"So he did see a ghost," Bo said. "Just not the real one."

"Exactly," Number Eight said. "We found an old photograph of the young

girl and we used it as our basis for the holograms." He pointed his fan towards the top of the stairs, where Katrina and Hiroshi were trying to revive Susan. The poor girl was starting to regain consciousness, much to their relief.

Susan slowly opened her eyes and saw her friends. "H-H-Hiroshi?

K-Katrina?" she managed to say.

"Yeah, it's us," Hiroshi said, giving his friend a reassuring smile.

"We're here," Katrina said.

Susan was about to say more when she saw something appear before them. It

was the image of a little girl in a white dress.

"The ghost!" Hiroshi exclaimed.

All eyes were now on the top of the stairs. Number Eight laughed under his

breath as he saw the kids watching the little girl. "She looks rather convincing, doesn't she?" With a wave of his fan, the girl disappeared. "That's how I piqued Mr. James' interest with those two appearances of the 'ghost' on the porch and in his room. That's also how I've managed to trap him in the master bedroom."

Susan picked herself up, then ran to the left and started banging on the door. "Bart! Bart!" she cried out. Finding no answer, she started pulling on the doorknob.

Katrina and Hiroshi joined her and reached for the doorknob, then pulled with all their might. Unfortunately, the door would not budge. "It's stuck!" Hiroshi shouted in frustration.

"We must keep trying," Katrina told him calmly. All three kids resumed trying to get into the room.

Number Eight laughed evilly at this spectacle. "Now that you're here, I can complete my contract with Maxson and my official orders from Mr. E." He raised his fan. "Time to close this trap!"

Bo heard a loud noise behind him. "Huh?"

Lucy listened closely. "That sounded like the back door being locked," she

concluded. "That device on the back door must've been some kind of computerized lock."

"Look!" Blake pointed to the front door, where a device similar to the one on the back door was located. Both of its sides shot out coiled telescoping arms that grabbed the side of the door and started emitting electricity.

Suddenly, there was a clanging noise coming from around the room. Everyone looked around and saw that metallic panels were falling over the windows. The covered windows then started to emit a yellow glow.

"What's going on?" Marcus said.

"We've been sealed in," Shirley said firmly.

Number Eight brought his fan down. "Correct, my dear detective. As you

can see, all the windows have been sealed and the back door has been locked. I believe that you've already tried the front door, but I've added a lock to it to make sure."

Lucy walked up to one of the side windows. "Sorry, but we need a way out," she whispered apologetically to the house. She yanked off her scarf and before everyone's eyes, it wrapped itself around her hand rapidly until it resembled a drill bit.

"Okay, this is getting weird now," Bo said, still trying to believe what he saw.

Lucy closed her eyes for a brief moment and breathed deeply. "What is she doing?" Shirley asked Marcus.

"You'll find out," Marcus replied as he watched his friend get ready.

The scarf started to glow and spin quickly around Lucy's hand. Lucy opened

her eyes, then with a yell, she charged for the window with her drill hand outstretched. The scarf drill rammed into the window panel, and as contact was made, sparks started flying. In response, the glow intensified and after a few seconds, a brief explosion threw Lucy back. She hit the floor hard, with her scarf landing beside her.

Shirley and the others ran over to where Lucy was. "Are you okay?" Shirley asked her.

"I'll live," Lucy answered, managing a grin. "Scratch that way of getting out."

Number Eight stroked his white goatee. "Interesting display of psychic power. I'm very familiar with that way of using a scarf. A good thing I always plan for all possibilities, including the involvement of psychics. And the others thought I was overpreparing for this assignment..."

Bo and Blake helped Lucy to her feet. Shirley grabbed Lucy's scarf and handed it to her. "Thanks," she said to Shirley as she hung it around her neck.

Marcus faced Number Eight. "So you've psychic-proofed this whole house?"

"As best as I could, not to mention activated a communications shield that

blocks all communication devices to the outside world," Number Eight replied. "I didn't anticipate any psychics to interfere in this assignment, but I never take chances. Experience is a wonderful teacher."

"Well, that explains why Katrina couldn't sense anything or disable the laser trap," Lucy said, having regained her equilibrium.

"Whoa whoa whoa whoa," Bo said, waving his hands in disbelief. "You and your cousin are real psychics?" he asked Lucy, who answered with a nod. "Bart, what type of people have you gotten yourself involved with?" he muttered to himself.

Shirley reminded herself to look further into the Strangers' Club. That is, if she survived the night.

Number Eight looked at the children with amusement. The permanent dragon teeth smile on his mask seemed to be mocking them. "As you can see, there's no way out. In ten minutes, you'll all be dead."

Shirley was not surprised by this announcement. "So how have you planned my demise?"

Number Eight chuckled evilly. "I've placed a bomb in this house. With the activation of the window panels and door locks, its timer has been triggered. You have about ten minutes to live now."

"A bomb?" Bo's eyes widened. "Isn't that a little too much overkill?"

"It accomplishes both my goals," Number Eight said to Shirley, amused at

Bo's unintentional pun. "Maxson gets this house destroyed before it officially becomes a city landmark, and it'll look like a sinkhole opened here. You get caught in the explosion, and our little problem is solved."

Shirley eyed the fan in Number Eight's hand. "That has to be how he's controlling everything," she whispered to her friends, pointing out the fan to them.

"You're betting that it controls the bomb as well?" Lucy asked.

"Well, every time he waves it around, something happens, like the windows

getting sealed and the hologram appearing at the top of the stairs," Shirley recalled.

"I'll take care of it," Marcus said, stepping forward.

"Uh, what can you do? Shoot fireballs?" Bo asked Marcus dryly.

Marcus reached into his pocket and took out a small yellow rod. With a

flick of his wrist, the rod grew into a long staff. With this weapon, he faced Number Eight.

"Okay..." Bo said. "Now we're officially in the Twilight Zone."

Number Eight studied Marcus closely. "Interesting. Similar to the staff

of the legendary Monkey King."

"That's because it is." Marcus smiled and started spinning the staff around. "Let's see how well you do against it."

Number Eight's body shook with laughter. "We shall see, young one."

"Lucy, is he going to...?" Shirley began to ask.

Marcus took a battle pose and answered Shirley's question by charging at

Number Eight with his staff. He cried out as he ran toward his target.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Fifteen

"This should be good for a laugh," Number Eight mused as Marcus ran toward him. All eyes were on them, including those of Susan, Hiroshi, and Katrina from upstairs.

At the last moment, Marcus dug his staff into the floor and flipped over Number Eight. "What?" Number Eight exclaimed in genuine surprise.

Marcus landed perfectly on his two feet in a squatting position. Just as Number Eight turned around to face him, Marcus stood up quickly, yelled, and swung his staff at the ENIGMA agent's fan.

"What the...?" Marcus exclaimed as he watched his staff pass through the fan instead of knocking it away from Number Eight.

Everyone saw what happened. "What's going on?" Bo asked, stunned.

"He's a hologram," Shirley concluded, fixing her gaze on Number Eight.

"He's been controlling everything from another location."

"So he was never in this house?" Lucy asked, blinking to make sure she did not imagine anything.

"Exactly," Shirley answered, keeping her eyes on the ENIGMA agent, or rather, the image of him.

Leaving a stunned Marcus in order to focus his attention on Shirley, the image of Number Eight laughed cruelly. "My dear detective, you don't know the power you've dared to challenge!" he declared dramatically. He stretched out his fan and a fireball ignited suddenly over it. "You think you can beat us? Silly girl! Even if I fail, the others will stop at nothing until you've joined your great-granduncle Sherlock and your other ancestors!"

Shirley blinked. "Others?"

The image of Number Eight laughed evilly. As he spoke, the fireball over

his fan started to expand, shooting out tendrils of fire. "Yes, the others. All of them strongly devoted to Mr. E and ENIGMA like I am. If you manage to survive tonight, I guarantee that the others will carry out Mr. E's order and you'll never be safe! In the end, ENIGMA will crush you!" He waved his fan and the fireball disappeared. "You have no idea who you're dealing with, detective! Spare yourself future grief and do yourself, your family, and your friends a favor by dying tonight!" Shirley and the others watched as flames started to appear around the image of Number Eight. "ENIGMA forever!" he declared gleefully as the flames seemingly engulfed him. Laughing evilly, he was soon gone.

"Nice fireworks," Bo quipped as Number Eight's evil laughter echoed throughout the house. "ENIGMA definitely should go into the special FX business."

Shirley looked at her watch. "I estimate that we have about eight to nine minutes before the bomb goes off," she reported calmly.

"Great," Bo said. "And there's no way out."

Shirley quickly formulated a plan. "Bo, go help the others upstairs and

get Bart. The rest of you guys, come with me. Lucy, do you know the blueprints of this house?"

"Yeah," Lucy answered. "It was necessary for this case."

"Then where's the basement?" Shirley asked urgently.

Lucy pointed to a nearby door. "That's it, I think. Why?"

"Because that's where the bomb is," Shirley answered as started running for

the door. When she reached it, she saw that everyone was not moving. "What are you all waiting for? Move!" she shouted.

Bo ran up the stairs as quickly as his legs could take him while Shirley opened the door leading to the basement. She turned on her flashlight and waved everyone on her team to follow her down the stairs. Marcus retracted his staff and ran after Shirley and her group.

While Shirley and her group made their way down the basement stairs, Bo met the other Strangers upstairs. "Any luck with the door?" he asked.

"Nope," Hiroshi answered, shaking his head. "I think Dragonhead rigged a locking device behind the door, and I doubt Katrina can do anything about it."

Susan looked at Bo, her eyes saying desperation. "You've got to help us get in there. Bart could be hurt!" she pleaded.

"I'll give it a crack," Bo assured her. He walked away from the door and got ready to charge. "Everyone get out of the way!" he warned.

Susan and the others backed up against the wall, and Bo rushed at the door with his shoulder out. He hit the door hard, but all he could do was cause it to shake a little. The door stood firm, and Bo was left with a sore shoulder.

"Okay, if anyone has any ideas how to get through that door, I'd like to hear them right now," Bo said, rubbing his shoulder.

"Well, I've got a last resort," Hiroshi said, fishing in his pocket until he found something. He took it out and showed it to everyone.

"A pen?" Bo exclaimed, disappointed and confused. "Great."

Susan looked upset. "Hiroshi! Why didn't you use it before?"

"Well, I'm sorry, but our freaky friend doused me with sleeping powder and

I forgot!" Hiroshi argued back to his fellow Stranger. "Besides, this place is going to be a city landmark, right? I don't think it's be a good idea to blast the door."

Susan groaned. "Should've remembered to get my new one before I left," she mumbled to herself.

"Guys!" Bo said, knowing the urgency of the situation. "We've got a bomb that's going to go off in maybe," Bo said, glancing at his watch, "six to seven minutes! Can you just do what you're going to do before we all get blown up?"

"Yeesh, don't get so snippy," Hiroshi said as he turned the cap of the pen-like object, which started to make a humming noise. "Everyone follow me."

Bo followed everyone reluctantly away from the door. "This should be a safe enough distance," Hiroshi said over the humming.

"For what?" Bo asked, wondering what the humming was all about.

Hiroshi pointed the "pen" at the door. "For this," he said before clicking

a button on the pen-like object's side.

Before Bo's eyes, a bead of light shot out of the pen-like object and flew towards the door. When it collided, it make a loud boom and the door flew open with a ripping sound coming from behind it.

Hiroshi studied his shot. "Okay, that was strong enough," he said before breaking into a run for the room.

"What was that?" Bo asked as he and the others followed Hiroshi in.

"Sonic boomer," Susan answered as they entered the room. "Small, but

deadly."

As they entered, Bo noticed a broken locking device on the floor. They looked in awe at the sight before them. In the far left corner of the room was Bart. He was stuck in a standing pose by a beam being emitted from the bed. At his feet laid the remains of what appeared to be a camera.

"Bart!" Susan cried out. When he could not respond, she turned to Hiroshi.

"What's wrong with him?"

Hiroshi followed the immobilizing beam to its source, which was coming from something on the bed. The beam's light made out a dragon-shaped object.

"Bo, better get ready to catch him, but don't get too close to him," Hiroshi said. Bo did so, not even bothering to ask Hiroshi what he was going to do. Hiroshi turned the cap on his boomer, then pointed it at the dragon. "I'm starting to hate Chinese dragons," he remarked. Making sure his aim was right, he fired a shot that shattered the dragon into pieces.

The beam vanished, and Bart fell into Bo's outstretched arms. He mumbled as the numbness left his body. Groaning, he lifted his head to see Bo. "Bo?" he said. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me, buddy," Bo said, smiling as he helped Bart stand up. "What happened?"

Bart rubbed his temples since he was feeling a slight throbbing in his head. "Some guy in a dragon mask trapped me here with the dragon statue on the bed," he told Bo. "He called himself Number Eight, then he vanished before my eyes."

"We've met," Bo said. "Sort of."

"Bart!" Susan exclaimed, glad that he was all right. Before he could

react, she ran up to him and threw her arms around him. "I'm so glad you're all right," she told him while hugging him tightly.

Bart blushed and looked up at Bo, who was grinning. Hiroshi groaned and shook his head with an amused expression on his face. Katrina's face showed no sign of emotion.

"Uh, Bart," Bo began nervously. "Sorry about what I said earlier. I was a total jerk."

After Susan let him go, Bart answered his friend. "Hey, no problem. I guess I did have my head in the clouds."

"Um, excuse me," Hiroshi said, raising his pointer finger. "I hate to break up this touching Kodak moment, but we have a bomb that's going to explode soon, people," he reminded urgently.

Bo had briefly forgotten about the bomb. "Come on!" he shouted urgently.

"We've got to help the others in the basement!"

Everyone broke into a run after Bo as he dashed through the hallway and down the stairs. Soon they were making their way down the stairs leading to the basement, hoping that their friends had found the bomb.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Sixteen

While Bo and the others were freeing Bart, Shirley and her group were searching for the bomb in the basement. It if was not for Shirley's flashlight, the room would have remained pitch black. As she pointed it around the basement, she found a number of unopened crates and boxes.

"At least our dragon-faced friend should've turned on the lights down here," Marcus remarked just as they were about to start their search.

Shirley shined her flashlight on the light switch near the door. "Try it," she recommended.

Marcus followed the beam of light up the stairs and flipped the switch on.

A single light bulb lit up, relieving the darkness of the basement a little.

Shirley turned off her flashlight, then started looking around the basement.

"Okay, I'm hoping that they get some bulbs with better wattage for this place," Marcus said as the search began, opening a crate with his staff.

"Marcus, if we don't find that bomb, we won't have to worry about new light bulbs," Lucy said, looking near a wall.

"So, Shirley, how did you know the bomb would be here?" Blake asked as he opened some boxes.

Shirley looked into a box and found nothing. "Remember Hades in the riddle? He was the Greek god of the underworld. Well, a basement is the space beneath a house, so it all fits."

Lucy opened a crate with her scarf and found some old clothes. "That's some good deduction there, Shirley," she complimented as she sifted through the clothes.

"Also, Number Eight mentioned that when the bomb exploded, it'll make it look like a sinkhole suddenly opened up," Shirley explained further. "That meant the bomb had to be under the house somewhere."

"Let's hope the bomb is here and not deep underground," Blake said, sorting through an old toy chest.

The search lasted about three minutes. Marcus headed for a lone crate near the far wall. He was about to open it when he heard beeping from it. He stopped and turned to the others. "Guys, I think I found it," he said, pointing to the crate.

Everyone joined him near the crate. "It's an electronic timer," Shirley said, recognizing the beeping. "We need to open the crate without disturbing the bomb."

"Leave it to me," Lucy said, pulling off her scarf. She stretched it out and it stiffened. "Better toss some clothes on the sides and someone get ready to catch the front."

Shirley and Blake threw some old clothes near the side of the crate. Lucy eyed the crate and focused her mind, then swung her scarf like a sword as she moved around the crate. A few seconds after she stopped, the side panels of the crate fell on the old clothes and the front panel fell forward. Marcus caught it on time, then he gently laid it on the ground.

Lucy returned he scarf to normal, then all four looked at the contents of the crate. A large silver ball sat at the bottom of the crate. Its front displayed a digital display similar to the ones on alarm clocks. It read "5:25" and it kept counting down before their eyes.

Blake reached for the crate's lid and removed it. "Okay, we found the bomb. Anyone here know how to defuse it?"

Shirley saw a panel below the timer. Noticing the four screws on its corners, she reached into her backpack and took out the correct screwdriver. She took out her flashlight. "Someone shine this on the panel," Shirley requested as she bent down in front of the bomb.

Blake took the flashlight and shined it on the panel. Just as Shirley started to unscrew the panel, Bo, Bart, Susan, Hiroshi, and Katrina ran down the stairs and joined in.

"So, did you find the bomb?" Bo asked.

"Shirley's unscrewing the master panel right now," Lucy said, watching

Shirley doing her task.

Hiroshi looked at Katrina. "Uh, can you...? he began to ask her, but all he got in response was her shaking her head gravely. "Okay, scratch that plan."

Shirley finally removed the final screw. "Got it!" she shouted as she removed the panel. Suddenly, a bright flash shot out from the bomb. Blake covered his eyes quickly. Surprised, Shirley was thrown back and started to rub her eyes.

"Shirley!" Bo bent down next to his friend. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"My eyes..." Shirley said, seeing many colored blobs floating in her sight.

"I can't see..."

"Must've been a little defense mechanism to make defusing the bomb harder," Blake theorized, shaking off the effects of the flash.

"Guys..." Hiroshi pointed to the bomb timer. Everyone gasped as they saw that the timer now read "2:00."

"Damn!" Lucy shouted in frustration. "When Shirley removed the panel, it cut the time in half."

"Looks like ENIGMA's making sure no one's getting out of this alive," Marcus said.

Hiroshi looked at everyone nervously as the timer ticked down. "Um, is there a bomb expert in the house?"

Bo looked around him. "Well, is there?"

"He's outside right now, and we can't communicate with him," Lucy admitted.

Hope started to die in the basement.

Bart stepped forward with determination all over his face. "I'll do it."

Bo stared at Bart. "What? Are you nuts? Remember the last time you tried

to defuse a bomb?"

Bart knelt down before the bomb. "Look, it's my fault we're all here. I'll make sure we get out of this alive." He turned to Susan. "Susan, help me out with spotting the wires. Blake, keep shining that flashlight on the wires. Bo, get me Shirley's wire cutters."

Shocked by Bart's sudden take-charge attitude, Bo dug through Shirley's backpack and pulled out a pair of wire cutters. "I hope you know what you're doing," he told Bart as he handed them over.

"That makes two of us, Bartman," Hiroshi said with apprehension.

Bart took the wire cutters and looked over the area Blake illuminated with

the flashlight. He mentally counted seven wires altogether. Susan joined him on his side. "Susan, can you tell me from left to right what the color of the wires are?"

Susan noted the wires quickly. "Um, red, white, blue, green, yellow, gray, and black."

"Thanks." Bart looked over the wires, wondering which one to cut.

Hiroshi was panicking. "Cut the red wire! Cut the red wire!"

"Bart, you'd better make a choice," Blake recommended, eyeing the timer.

"You've only got about a minute left."

"What about the dragon man?" Bart heard someone say softly. Startled, he paused for a moment.

"Fifty seconds!" Hiroshi shouted.

"What about the dragon man?" the voice repeated in Bart's ear.

"I understand," Bart said to himself after some thought. "What did Number

Eight look like?" he asked the others suddenly.

Hiroshi thought for a moment. "Short, fat, and ugly, especially with that mask," he said finally.

"What colors were on him?" Bart asked.

Everyone thought for a moment. "Um, definitely green," Bo said. "That

mask of his was mostly green."

"Thanks." Bart quickly went for the green wire and snipped it. The timer kept ticking down.

"Well, that helped," Hiroshi said, worried. "Thirty seconds left."

"I guess Number Eight didn't want it to be too easy," Shirley said.

"You'll have to cut another wire, Bart."

"Okay," Bart said, watching the timer. "Any other colors?"

"White," Lucy said. "His clothes and mask hair were white."

Bart cut the white wire. The timer still kept ticking down. "Any other

colors?"

"I recall some red," Shirley said, rubbing her eyes to make the blobs in her vision go away. "Especially around his sleeves and cap."

Bart cut the red wire. The timer still ticked down. "I need more colors," he informed his friends.

"More?" Bo said, exasperated. "How many wires do we have to cut to stop this thing?"

"Try yellow," Blake told Bart calmly. "Those eyes on his mask were yellow."

"Twenty seconds left!" Hiroshi reported.

Bart proceeded to cut the yellow wire. The timer still ticked down. "Any

other colors?" he asked everyone.

Everyone tried to remember Number Eight's image again. "Okay, we've done his mask, his clothes, his hair, and his eyes," Lucy recalled. "What else could there be?"

"We can try his fan," Marcus said.

"Um, what color was that?" Bo asked. "I forgot."

As everyone argued over what color should be next, Lucy glanced at Katrina,

who responded by shaking her head. "Guys, we'd better come up with something quick," she warned the others.

Just as Hiroshi was about to report that the time was almost to ten seconds, Marcus slapped him on the back of his head. "You're not helping," he said as his friend rubbed the slapped area.

Bart stopped for a moment as he stared at the remaining three wires. Blake noticed how calm he was despite the little time left.

10...

"Bart, there's ten seconds left," Lucy warned.

9...

"Bart, we're running out of time!" Hiroshi exclaimed 8...

"Susan, which wire is this?" Bart asked without a trace of panic in his

voice, pointing to the gray wire.

7...

Susan looked at the gray wire.

6...

Bo looked at Shirley. "Shirley, I have to tell you something," he said

nervously in a low voice.

5...

Susan reported to Bart. "It's the gray wire, Bart."

Shirley turned to Bo, her vision still recovering from the flash. "What is

it?" she asked him.

4...

"What?" Hiroshi cried out, hearing Susan. "Cut the black one! Cut the

black one!"

3...

Marcus slapped the back of Hiroshi's head again.

2...

"Thank you," Bart said, opening the wire cutters over the gray wire. Susan

placed her hand on his.

1...

"Been nice knowing you guys," Hiroshi said, closing his eyes.

Bo took Shirley's hand and looked into her blue eyes. Bart closed his

eyes, cut the wire, and hoped for the best.



The Case of the Haunted House : Part Seventeen

Then...nothing.

Bart opened his eyes, then blinked them. He looked around and saw that

everything--and everyone--was still there.

Hiroshi opened his eyes slowly, then looked around. "Uh, am I dreaming, or am I actually still here?"

Marcus reached out and pinched Hiroshi on his arm. "Ouch!" Hiroshi cried out in pain.

"That answer your question?" Marcus said with a smile.

Hiroshi rubbed his arm. "You're supposed to pinch yourself, you know," he

said, slightly annoyed.

A wave of relief spread throughout the room. "You did it, Bart," Blake said, bending down to pat him on the shoulder.

Bart looked at the timer. It read "0:01" and was now blinking.

"That was close," Bart said, breathing a sigh of relief.

Hiroshi stared at the timer. "A little too close, if you ask me, Bartman.

Why is it that it always has to be at the very last moment?"

"Why so picky, Hiroshi? We're still alive," Blake remarked.

"You're right," Hiroshi said, beaming. "We're alive!" he shouted in

triumph, raising his arms into the air.

Susan looked at Bart and smiled. "Nice work. I'll have to note that in my evaluation of you."

Bart started to blush. "Well, I...mmmmmmmmph." Before Bart could say another word, Susan leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. When she finally parted from him, Bart's face got even redder and he was unable to say anything. He was so surprised.

"Sorry," Susan said, blushing. "I couldn't help myself."

"Um, no problem," Bart said, trying to catch his breath.

Blake smiled. Marcus laughed a little. Lucy grinned at the apparent

couple. Even Katrina cracked a smile, albeit a small one. Hiroshi sighed and laid his hand on his forehead while shaking his head. "No wonder Arthur sent me along on this test," he told himself.

Bo laughed a little at the embarrassed Bart until he looked down. Realizing that he was still holding Shirley's hand, he quickly released it before anyone else noticed. Shirley, whose eyes were starting to recover from the flash, gave Bo a strange look.

"Uh, sorry about that," Bo said apologetically, his voice a little shaky.

Shirley arched an eyebrow at her friend. "Are you okay, Bo?"

"Yeah, sure, I'm fine," Bo tried to reassure her.

Shirley crossed her arms over her chest. "So what did you want to tell

me?"

Bo gulped. "Um, I just wanted to say..."

Shirley stared at Bo. "Well?"

"That you're the bestest friend I've ever had," Bo said quickly, smiling

sheepishly.

"Thanks for the compliment," Shirley said, although something kept telling her that was not what Bo wanted to say.

"We're done here," Katrina said to the others. "We can leave now."

Bart and Susan got up from the ground. Everyone started to walk up the

stairs. Blake and Katrina brought up the rear of the exiting party.

"Your friend Bo isn't being honest to her and with himself," Katrina told Blake.

"Tell me about it," Blake said, looking at Bo, then at Shirley.

"You're an unusual person," Katrina said to Blake.

Blake smiled a little, keeping in mind that Katrina was telling him that he

was "unusual" and that she was right in a way. "I guess you're right," he told her.

When they all were back in the parlor, Hiroshi came up to Bart. "Hey, Bartman. How exactly did you know which wires to cut?" he asked out of curiosity.

"Well, Susan whispered something in my ear about the man with the dragon mask," Bart started to explain. "I decided that she was talking about the colors on his mask and outfit. After asking you guys what colors he wore, I cut the corresponding wires."

"So why the gray wire?" Bo asked.

"I thought about his hands," Bart said. "Although I only got a brief

glimpse of him, I noticed that his hands were claw-like and seemed metallic, so I picked gray because of that and blue and black seemed too dark."

"Okay, so we were saved based on a lucky guess," Hiroshi said.

"Better that than nothing," Blake remarked.

Bart turned to Susan. "Thanks for helping me come up with that idea," he

told her. "Your suggestion saved the day, or rather, the night."

Susan was looking at Bart strangely while he was explaining. "Bart, I didn't tell you anything about Number Eight."

"Huh?" Bart was puzzled. "But it was a girl's voice that whispered into my ear..."

"Look!" Blake exclaimed, looking and pointing at the center of the parlor.

All eyes were there. Standing in the parlor was a little girl in a white

dress. She seemed to be glowing.

"Uh, Shirley, isn't that...?" Bo started to ask.

Shirley did not reply. She was too busy staring silently at the apparition

with Blake and Bart. The little girl stepped forward and stood in front of Bart.

"Thank you, Bart," the glowing girl said, then with a final wave, she faded away.

For a moment, no one spoke, especially Shirley and her friends. They were still trying to comprehend what just happened. Shirley turned to Lucy and the other members of the Strangers' Club, who did not look so surprised. Apparently they were used to seeing ghosts.

"Let's get going," Lucy said.

* * * * *

Everyone got out the back way after Hiroshi blasted the door with his sonic boomer. "You know, I could've used this to help us get out before the bomb could've exploded," Hiroshi remarked.

"And let Maxson win?" Lucy shook her head. "I don't think so, Hiroshi."

"I think letting the house get blown up would be considered a bad thing by

your group," Shirley said.

"Hey, it was just a thought," Hiroshi said with a shrug.

"Hmmmmmm, thinking and Hiroshi. Not a good combination," Marcus joked.

As they made their way to the front, Bart walked with Susan. They were

talking about the ghost when he spotted something ahead. "Isn't that Damian?" he asked, pointing out what he saw.

Susan looked in the direction Bart was pointing at. "Yeah, it is. I wonder what that big pile is next to him."

When everyone got to the front, they found Damian standing guard over a heap of unconscious muscular men. He was also carrying a large garbage bag. "I see you had your own problems out here," Lucy observed.

Damian faced the others while placing the garbage bag on the ground.

"Maxson sent them to blow up the house and make it look like an accident. Apparently he did not have too much faith in the people he hired to do the job."

"I think he should've had a lot of faith," Bo commented seriously. "That guy he hired had us trapped in there with a bomb."

Hiroshi looked at the men Damian managed to defeat. "They're alive, right?" he said half-jokingly.

"I do not kill," Damian replied.

Blake counted the number of men in the pile. "You took out ten men by

yourself?" he asked, astonished.

"Whoa," Bo remarked. "Good thing you were out here."

"I wanted to get into the house, but I could not due to these gentlemen,"

Damian said, gesturing towards his fallen foes. "They were rather persistent."

Lucy studied the men. "Good job, Damian."

Damian nodded. "I take it your mission was successful?"

Bart stepped forward with Susan and Hiroshi. "We're fine, Damian, thanks

to everyone's help," Bart said.

"That is good to hear," Damian said. "What happened in there? How did it go with the ENIGMA agent?" When Damian said "ENIGMA," Shirley could have swore that there was a trace of emotion, something that was not characteristic of him.

Hiroshi took it upon himself to explain what happened in the house. "Oh, we got locked in the house by some guy in a dragon mask who was really a hologram. Then we had to free Bart and defuse a bomb that would've..."

Damian suddenly marched up to Hiroshi and faced him. "A man in a dragon mask? You saw him?" he asked him.

"Well, his hologram, really," Hiroshi said nervously, feeling intimidated by Damian.

"What was his code number?" Damian demanded, nearly losing his cool, sometimes cold demeanor, which surprised everyone present, especially the members of the Strangers' Club. Shirley saw that only Lucy, Katrina, and Marcus were not surprised at Damian's unusual behavior and wondered if they knew anything.

Hiroshi searched his brain for the answer. "It was Number Eight, I think.

Yeah, that was what he called himself. Number Eight."

"Are you sure?" Damian asked.

"We're sure," Lucy said gravely. "The agent was Number Eight."

"I see." Damian calmed down, much to Hiroshi's relief. He looked at the

garbage bag thoughfully.

Shirley eyed the garbage bag. "What's in there?" she inquired.

"Trash," Damian answered. "I did some cleanup around the area."

"Your trash is leaking," Bo told Damian, pointing to the bag.

Shirley saw a liquid leaking from the bag. She was about to take a closer

look when Damian snatched up the bag. "It is just trash," he told her, sounding defensive.

Shirley bent down and stuck her finger into the small puddle made by the bag. The substance felt slimy and she saw that it was greenish in color. She rubbed the mysterious goo between her fingers, confirming its sliminess.

"What is this stuff?" she asked the dark-clothed boy.

Damian ignored the teen detective and turned to Lucy. "We must go back into the house," he said, sounding urgent. This and the look Damian and Lucy exchanged did not escape Shirley's watchful eye.

"You might want to get rid of the booby traps," Bo suggested.

"It will be my pleasure," Damian stated.

"We'll go back in to investigate and recover some items, Damian," Lucy

reassured him. "But we need to take Shirley and her friends home. It's really late, and I doubt their families are as lenient as ours."

"Got that right," Bo said. "If I'm late, my parents'll ground me for the rest of my life."

"Don't worry, Bo. You'll be home before your parents realize that you left," Lucy told him reassuringly.

"What'll you do with these guys?" Blake asked, pointing to the pile of knocked-out men.

"We'll just toss them into the house after we deactivate all of the devices used by our 'friend,'" Marcus replied. "We'll tie them up and we'll leave our calling card." He held up a Strangers' Club symbol card. "Something to remember us by."

"Also, it's a clever way of connecting Maxson with the crime," Lucy added.

"So how are we getting home?" Shirley asked after rubbing the goo on her

fingers onto a handkerchief and placing it in a plastic bag.

Lucy looked to Katrina, who closed her eyes. "Hope to work with you again, Shirley," Lucy said, shaking Shirley's hand.

"Likewise," Shirley said, returning the handshake. "It has been an...interesting experience."

"Definitely," Bo said in agreement.

"Absolutely," Blake added.

Susan faced Bart. "Bye, Bart. I hope to see you later."

"Same here," Bart answered. Susan came up to him and hugged him, and Bart

hugged her back.

When Susan let go of Bart and stepped away, Lucy nodded to Katrina. "Begin now," she told her.

"Begin what?" Shirley asked.

Bo looked around himself. "Uh, Shirley? Better look at me."

Shirley watched as Bo started to glow, then Blake, Bart, and finally

herself. She looked at her hands, which started to glow brighter. "What's happening?" she asked Lucy.

"Don't worry. It isn't painful, although you might feel a little disoriented after the first time," Lucy said calmly. "Everyone just relax and focus on the place in your home you want to be in right now."

The members of the Strangers' Club waved goodbye to Shirley and her friends. Despite the glow surrounding her, Shirley waved back, then felt herself disappearing as the glow around her increased. Soon, she and her friends were gone.

* * * * *

Shirley looked around her and blinked. The light was gone, but she was no longer at the old Harrison estate. She was back in the Holmes' attic by herself. Clutching her head, she was still gathering her thoughts when she heard the door open downstairs. After that, there were footprints, then voices.

"I must say, I must feel really sorry for old Fezziwig," Shirley heard her father say. "Poor chap didn't want to retire, but he's reached that age."

"I can't believe he's been at the Embassy for so long," her mother remarked.

"If you ask me, that man's got a few more years of work left," Gran commented.

Leaving the plastic bag containing the slimy handkerchief on her table, Shirley managed to make her way out of the attic and down the stairs. Her parents and grandmother were dressed in formal wear for the occasion. Watson was fast asleep at the foot of the stairs.

Gran was the first to spot Shirley. "Why, Shirley, you're still up?"

Shirley smiled sheepishly. "I was looking over some things for school."

"Including what you picked up from Blake's?" Dr. Holmes asked.

"Huh?" Shirley did not understand the question until she saw the note she

left for her family in her mother's hand. "Oh, yes. Especially that."

"It's rather past your bedtime, eh, young lady?" Mr. Holmes asked his daughter. "In fact, why aren't you in your pajamas?"

"I just wanted to make sure I got everything right." Shirley yawned a little. "I guess I'd better turn in. Good night, Mom, Dad, Gran."

"Good night, Shirley," Gran said to her granddaughter.

"Good night, Shirley," Mr. Holmes said.

"Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite," Dr. Holmes teased.

"I'll see you in the morning," Shirley said as she climbed up the stairs to

her bedroom for a well-deserved sleep.



The Case of the Haunted House : Epilogue

"For the final time, Parker, either buy something or get out!" an exasperated Alicia ordered the lovesick redhead.

Shirley and her friends watched this spectacle from their table in the Quazar Cafe. Alicia was working again after school, and Parker had decided to hang out at the Quazar Cafe just to watch Alicia work.

Bo shook his head as Alicia left Parker's table to look for someone who was actually going to order. "Some people never learn," he said as he bit into his sandwich.

"I'll have to agree on you there," Blake said, taking a bite out of his peanut butter and blue cheese sandwich.

Shirley was about to take a bite out of her sandwich, the same type as Blake's, when she noticed Bart leaning on his arm. He was not touching his order. "What's the matter, Bart?" she asked with concern.

Bart sighed. "The Strangers' Club is deciding whether or not I'll become a member at this very moment."

"So what's the problem?" Bo asked.

"I didn't accomplish my task," Bart answered sadly. "I didn't get to take

a picture of Clarissa Harrison's ghost."

"You feel that you failed," Shirley noted.

"Exactly," Bart said, nodding glumly.

"Hey, you defused the bomb that could've leveled the Harrison house," Bo

told the bespectacled junior paranormalist. "You're a big hero."

"Too bad no one knows about it," Bart remarked.

"Well, they did find Maxson's men all tied up in the parlor," Blake said,

recalling what he saw on the morning news. "I think they're going to confess to trying to blow up the house before the city could make it a landmark."

"They're going to confess and testify against their boss," Shirley reported. "There was no mention of the Strangers' Club symbol being found on the men, however."

"That's great to hear, but I saw the ghost of Clarissa Harrison standing before me, and my camera got broken when Number Eight trapped me," Bart lamented.

"Cheer up, Bart," Bo said. "She was probably one of Number Eight's holograms."

"Possibly," Blake said. "None of his devices were deactivated after his hologram was gone."

"Thanks for cheering me up, guys," Bart said with a sigh.

"He won't be able to see Susan again if the Strangers' Club rejects him,"

Shirley said knowingly. That only got more sighing from Bart.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," someone said from the entrance.

Bart's face lit up as Susan came in with Lucy and Hiroshi. "Susan," he

said, his mood lightening up.

"Here we go," Bo whispered to Blake.

Shirley noticed that someone was missing. "Where's Katrina?" she asked

Lucy.

"Resting from last night," Lucy answered. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Teleporting you four home really taxed her."

"It was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me," Bart whispered back excitedly.

"I just thought of something. Why couldn't she had done that to get us out of the house?" Bo asked.

"Because she couldn't," Lucy answered. "Number Eight was blocking her abilities somehow. Besides, we were supposed to save the house, remember?" she said with a grin. "I take it you all got home before someone noticed you were gone?"

"No one suspected a thing," Bart reported. "Didn't even get in trouble for staying out so late because I didn't get caught."

"Got home before my parents did," Bo said. "In my bedroom too."

"Ended up in my bedroom just as Mom and Rosa came home," Blake revealed.

"A similar situation to Blake's and I ended up in my attic," Shirley

answered. "This isn't a social call, I presume," she said to Lucy.

Lucy nodded. "Susan and Hiroshi turned in their evaluation of Bart to the other members and they voted via comlink."

"We just finished everything a few minutes ago," Hiroshi added. "Gotta love technology when it's not trying to kill you."

"How did you know where we were?" Bo asked.

"I told them via e-mail that I'd probably be here after school with you

guys," Bart said. "If I wasn't, they were to wait for me." He looked at the three Strangers. "So how did they vote?" he asked nervously.

Susan stepped up to Bart and spoke loud enough so that only everyone at the table could hear her. "Bart James, your admission into the Strangers' Club has been..."

"If you don't mind, I'll deliver the final vote of the club myself."

Everyone turned their heads to the door and saw Arthur heading for

Shirley's table. Dressed in bright colors, he had his umbrella with him, and it made a tapping noise on the ground as he approached them. Shirley saw the astonished looks on the three Strangers. She concluded that Arthur was not someone who got out much.

"Arthur, what are you doing here?" Lucy asked, still surprised by his sudden appearance.

Arthur walked up to Bart. "Well, the first reason is that I wanted to welcome the latest addition to our little group personally." He held out his hand to Bart, who looked like he was going into shock. "Congratulations, Bart. You've earned it."

Bart took Arthur's hand and shook it. "Thank you, but how? I didn't get the picture of the ghost, plus I broke your camera."

"Which was the only casualty of last night. Easily fixed or replaced, I assure you," Arthur told Bart, waving his hand. "I believe Susan and Hiroshi's report of last night's events helped the other members in their voting. They noted your cool in the line of fire, especially."

"It was an unanimous vote in favor of your membership," Susan said, smiling.

Bart was flabbergasted. "I...I...I don't know what to say..."

"Well, you either have to accept your membership or not," Arthur said.

"You got a taste of what we have to deal with on a regular basis, and you nearly got killed, Bart."

"You got that right," Bo remarked.

"So do you still want to join us, Bart?" Lucy asked. "The risk is pretty

high during our cases."

To his friends' surprise, Bart wasted no time in giving his answer. "Sign me up."

Bo stared at Bart. "Come again?"

"Hey, it's something to do in my free time," Bart said. "Besides, I guess

I need a little excitement in my life. I've always wanted to chase aliens and look for ghosts."

"You'll do that and so much more, Bartman," Hiroshi said, smiling. "Take my word for it."

"Oh, and on a totally unrelated, yet essential note, you'll be receiving a notice in your mail soon regarding the Knight Foundation Scholarship program," Lucy informed Bart.

"You're going to be a Knight Foundation Scholar," Susan said with a smile.

"Soon, you'll be going on cases with us."

"Now you're truly one of us, Bart," Hiroshi said in a spooky voice while wiggling his fingers in the air.

"Congratulations, Bart," Blake said.

"Yes. Congratulations on your new affiliation," Shirley said.

Bo shook his head. He still had his doubts concerning the Strangers' Club.

"Well, if you're happy. Good luck, Bart."

Arthur nodded as Bart tried to find the right words to say. "Ah, now that this matter is settled, I shall move on to the second reason for my visit." He turned to Shirley, who noticed the manila envelope under his arm.

"That's for me?" Shirley asked.

"It is," Arthur said, handing the envelope to the junior detective.

"What is it?" Blake asked as Shirley examined the envelope.

"It's a little copy of something from the police investigation I managed to

obtain a while ago," Arthur whispered to Shirley. "I thought you might be interested."

Shirley looked over the envelope. "Why are you giving it to me?"

"Because it'll tell you something very important about last night," Arthur

answered.

"Which would be?" Bo asked.

"I'll leave its discovery to you. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise,"

Arthur said, flashing a grin.

Frustrated with the unanswered questions that Arthur generated, Bo shot out of his seat and faced the president of the Strangers' Club. "Who are you?" he asked, staring into his eyes.

Arthur looked calmly into Bo's intense eyes, then smiled mysteriously.

"Sometimes I ask myself the same question, Bo."

Seeing that he was not going to get any answers, Bo sat back down. Shirley wondered if there was more to Arthur Kingston.

Arthur leaned in closer. "By the way, we rejected Molly Hardy's application to the Knight Foundation Scholarship program. She didn't exactly pass the written part, and her multiple choice didn't click with the examiner," he whispered to Shirley. "Sussex Academy might have had the chance for a break if she was accepted, but I think you can handle her." He stepped away from the table. "Well, I must go home now. Once again, my congratulations to you, Bart. Shirley, I'm sure my group and I will see you again in the near future." With a civil nod, Arthur left them, his umbrella tapping on the floor as he walked.

Alicia came up to Shirley's table. "That guy has the weirdest fashion sense," she commented as she watched Arthur walk out the door. "Those colors are way too loud."

Hiroshi shrugged. "You get used to it after a while."

"So, can I get you anything?" Alicia asked the three Strangers.

"Actually, we were about to leave," Lucy replied.

"I can stay a while and have something," Susan said suddenly.

"Gee, I wonder what that can be," Hiroshi remarked, eyeing Bart. He got an

elbow in the chest by Lucy for that. "Ow," he winced. Nearby, Bo stifled a laugh.

"We'll see you later then, Susan. Just call us if you need a ride," Lucy told her friend as she left, dragging Hiroshi with her. "'Till next time, Shirley."

As Lucy and Hiroshi left the Quazar Cafe, Bart got up from his seat and picked up his food. "Shall we continue at another table?" he asked Susan, pointing to an empty one with his free hand.

"Let's shall," Susan said. Bart took her hand and escorted her there.

"I can't believe our Bart actually has a girlfriend," Alicia said as she

watched them settle down at the new table.

"Stranger things have happened," Bo said knowingly.

"Hey, change is the only constant in life," Blake pointed out.

"I'm going to find out what she wants to have," Alicia said. "Plus, I'd

like to make an up-close evaluation and find out what Bart has gotten himself into," she added with a grin.

As Alicia walked over to Bart's table, Bo leaned over to Blake and whispered, "You know, I can't tell which is weirder, the Strangers' Club or Bart having a girlfriend."

Bo laughed a little while Blake had an amused smile on his face, but Shirley was not paying attention. She was too busy looking over the envelope and wondering what could be inside.

* * * * *

Later, Shirley was in her attic examining the contents of the envelope, which were printouts of the blueprints of the Harrison house. She examined the symbols marked on the blueprint and noticed they were mainly on the upstairs floor, the top of the stairs, the back, and the porch. Next to them was the dismantled dragon and the handkerchief with the smudges of the green slime. Using her microscope, she found out that the slime was made up of various chemicals, some unknown to her.

Shirley heard her cell phone ring and she answered it. "Hello?"

"Shirley, it's me, Blake. I've accessed the file the police have on the

Harrison house..."

"I know, Blake. Arthur gave me the blueprints to the house."

"Okay. So you're seeing what I'm seeing."

Shirley looked at the printouts. "Exactly. The police drew markings where

Number Eight's devices were. For the hologram emitters, they drew lines and circles that denoted the range of the holograms."

Blake paused for a moment. "Did you see the center of the parlor?"

"I did. There's no hologram emitter there, and none of the emitters in the

upstairs area have that kind of range." Shirley rubbed her chin and thought for a moment. "That means two things."

"Well, one is that the little girl in the white dress was really the ghost of Clarissa Harrison," Blake said.

"The other is that we've made some powerful adversaries." Shirley looked at the dismantled dragon. "Very powerful adversaries."

"Makes you wonder what we've got ourselves into, huh, Shirley?" Blake asked.

"Indeed," Shirley said, still gazing at the dragon and the handkerchief. As she did, she imagined Katrina asking her, "Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?"

* * * * *

At ENIGMA headquarters, Number Eight was finishing his report to his superior. He held his mask in his metal claws, revealing a round wizened face with a bulbous nose and a thin, curved, white mustache. Furry white eyebrows similar to his mask's were above his eyes. His cap sat on top of his bald dome. "I'm sorry that my plan did not succeed, sir," he apologized, trying to cover up his worrying.

Behind his immense desk, Mr. E leaned back in his chair and scrutinized his subordinate through his dark glasses. At his side was Nigel, his thin, elderly manservant. "You didn't anticipate outside interference, Number Eight," the ENIGMA leader said calmly, which frightened Number Eight even more.

Number Eight bowed his head. "I underestimated Miss Holmes and her friends. We will succeed next time."

"Yes." Mr. E tapped his armrest. "Tell me, Number Eight. What is your perception of Holmes?"

"I sense determination in her," Number Eight answered. "Determination to solve any mystery and to stop crime, including us."

"Well, then you think my issuing of an execution order on her pretty little head isn't overkill?" Mr. E inquired.

"It isn't," Number Eight answered. "She is a threat to our very existence as long as she lives and continues to aid Interpol indirectly. Barring any other reason, your execution order is justified."

"What do the others think?" Mr. E asked.

"They all support your decision, of course, especially Number Two," Number

Eight answered. "Some of them have their doubts about the threat the girl poses, but they have taken a 'wait-and-see' attitude on the matter."

"I see." Mr. E thought for a moment. "Any more information on these children you saw helping Holmes?"

"Only what I've reported to you. I'm currently running a check on them, but I've been running into difficulties," Number Eight answered. "Don't worry, sir. I'll find out who they are."

"Do that. I want to know as soon as possible." The ENIGMA leader thought for a moment. "Anything else to report?"

"No, sir," Number Eight answered, shaking his head.

"Very well. You are excused." Mr. E then recalled something. "Oh, Number

Eight?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Next time, present your report to me in person," Mr. E said with a little

sigh. "This astral projection trick of yours is really annoying."

"If you say so, sir." Number Eight bowed to him and vanished in flames.

"I wish he'd stop doing that, Nigel," Mr. E said with a groan when the

astral image of Number Eight was gone.

"Your grandfather and the other Mr. E's have also told him the same thing," Nigel informed his master. "Can you blame him for not following that simple order?"

"A valid point, Nigel." Mr. E leaned forward and placed his shoulders on his desk.

"You're taking this defeat rather well, sir," Nigel observed. "With his special abilities, Number Eight was capable of eliminating the Holmes girl easily."

"Well, he was trying to make her death look like an accident. Plus, I've learned something. Also, Number Eight is getting old and his powers have faded a little, Nigel," Mr. E reminded his butler. "He's been with the organization ever since its creation. The man's almost a hundred years old or even more than that, yet he's still fit as a fiddle."

"It's perhaps his daily meditation and diet, sir," Nigel suggested.

"I'll settle for that and genetics," Mr. E said. "On a related note, these

psychic kids give Holmes a bit of an edge, don't you think?"

"It appears so, sir," Nigel answered. "Judging by Number Eight's report, they are powerful."

"Ah, but they don't know what I have," Mr. E said, putting his gloved hands together. "Hmmmmm, one card down, so that leaves seven in my hand."

"That is correct, sir," Nigel answered with a nod.

"All of them have been briefed about Holmes and her do-gooder friends?"

"They have, sir."

"Good. The next time ENIGMA has a presence in the Red Zone, I want to hear

of Holmes' untimely demise," Mr. E said, his mouth forming an evil grin.

"As you wish, sir," Nigel said, bowing slightly towards his master.

"She is a worthy adversary despite her youth. Too bad I have to crush her

like a bug." Mr. E leaned back in his chair. "Ah, Holmes. You cannot begin to fathom the power I have at my command," he mused to himself. "Our little game has begun, and you've successfully countered my move this time. Next time, you won't be so fortunate."

The office doors opened, and Number One entered the room carrying a small white box with holes in it. Mr. E's second-in-command looked the worst for wear. His uniform was slashed badly and he sported several scratches and bandages on his face.

"What's this, Number One? No salute for your leader?" Mr. E said, chuckling wickedly.

Number One walked over to Mr. E's desk. "ENIGMA forever," he groaned as he placed the box before his leader.

"Ah, what I've been waiting for," Mr. E said, sounding a little excited. He lifted the lid off the box and reached inside. Nigel and Number One watched as Mr. E pulled out a black cat with piercing yellow eyes. Number One gulped as the cat looked at him with those eyes.

"Oh, she's simply wonderful, Number One," Mr. E said as he stroked the cat's back and heard her purr with contentment. "Excellent work."

"Thank you, sir," Number One said nervously, eyeing the cat with fear. She hissed at him, which made him even more afraid.

After petting his new cat, Mr. E looked over Number One. "Hmmmm. You don't look too well, Number One."

"I was the lucky one, sir," Number One answered nervously, still watching the cat.

"Well, I have something for you to play with, my pretty," Mr. E said to the cat as he opened a desk drawer. Reaching into it, he pulled out a catnip-stuffed cloth doll and showed it to the cat. "Here's my first gift to you. A little something to amuse you," he said as he set it on the desk before the cat.

The cat sniffed at the doll and looked at it. The doll had a tiny beret. Under it was a head topped with dark brown yarn and had two blue dots for eyes. "Rrrrreeeeeowwwww!" the cat cried out as she slashed at the doll with her sharp claws, knocking it off the desk with one swipe and sending it to the floor.

"Good girl," Mr. E said, pleased. He stroked the cat's head and listened to her appreciative purring. "Welcome to ENIGMA, Chimera," he said to the cat, then he smiled evilly and chuckled at the fallen doll, which leaked a little catnip from one of the cat's slash marks.

THE END