The Case of the Reformed Songbird
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction

by HA
        12,400 words

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 1

"...and that's it for tonight, folks," Stink Patterson addressed the audience at the Quazar Cafe, closing his comedy routine. The audience applauded him.

"Thanks for stopping by. You come back now, you hear?"

The audience continued to clap as Stink rejoined his friends at one of the tables.

"Good routine, Stink," Shirley Holmes said.

"Yeah, you were great," Bo Sawchuk added.

"You really made them laugh," Blake Hewitt observed.

Alicia Gianelli, who was taking a break from taking people's orders, offered her input.

"It wasn't bad," she said without excitement.

Stink's jaw dropped. "Wasn't bad?" he said with mock amazement. "I totally slayed these people."

"You sure did," Bo said.

"Not everyone," Alicia said, pointing to a nearby table. "Those two guys didn't even chuckle."

There, two men were not applauding. Shirley looked at them closely.

One was dressed in a tan business suit and had spiked black hair. He was also quite thin. He looked like he was waiting for someone to perform; he kept looking at the stage, then at his wrist watch.

The other man was scowling and he was looking around the room. He had his right eye covered by a black patch and he wore a black business suit over his muscular frame. His blond hair was cut into a buzzcut.

"Hmmmm..." Shirley took another look at the two men.

Stink noticed the two men. "Some people have no sense of humor."

"Especially that guy," Bo said, pointing to the one-eyed man. "He hasn't cracked a smile throughout the whole show."

"Yeah, that is unusual," Blake agreed.

"Indeed," Shirley said.

"Well, that was Stink Patterson, an up-and-coming comic," the master of ceremonies said.

"Our final performer for tonight's Amateur Night has never performed in public before, but she is very talented.

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Madelyn Clifton!"

As the audience applauded, a short black girl in a white blouse and a black skirt walked onto the stage.

She took the microphone from the emcee. "Hi, everyone," she said, sounding a little nervous.

"I'm new to all this, so please bear with me." She smiled at the audience.

"I wrote this little number myself. I hope you like it."

Madelyn motioned to someone off-stage, and an audio tape with her accompanying music was played.

She sang the following:

Sometimes when things just look bleak (look bleak),

You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't sur-render! Take a chance!
Take a look a-round you; the world is beau-tiful.
The sun is out and shi-ning, and the sky is nice and blue.
Your family and your friends are always there for you and there's no sign of trou-ble.
Happiness surrounds you like a blan-ket.
But, lurking in the shadows, evil and misery watch our every move,
Plotting to destroy our eternal happiness.
Sometimes when you're down, you just wanna give up.
Sometimes you just want to give up hope.
Well, resist the darkness, and stand up proud and tall!
Sometimes when things just look bleak,

You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't give up hope! Don't ever quit!
Stand up to the darkness now!
Sometimes when things just look bleak,
You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't surrender! Take a chance!

The crowd listened to Madelyn's singing as if they were mesmerized. When Madelyn was done, the crowd gave a standing ovation. Applause was mixed with cheers.

Shirley and her friends joined in.

"Whoa," Bo said.

Madelyn took everything by bowing silently.

"She's not bad," Stink said.

"Not bad? That was the best singing I've ever heard!" Alicia exclaimed.

"I have to agree," Blake said. "She has a beautiful voice."

"The lyrics were very inspirational," Shirley noted. She looked at the two men at the nearby table.

The spiky-haired man looked concerned. The one-eyed man simply scowled.

A little later, in the dressing room, Madelyn was getting ready to go home. She was just about to leave when she heard a knock on the door.

"Come in," she said. The door opened, and Alicia entered, followed by Shirley, Bo, Blake, and Stink, who closed the door behind him.

"Hi," Alicia greeted with a smile. "Are we bothering you?"

"No, not at all. I was just getting ready to go. My mom's picking me up soon," Madelyn said. "Do you need anything?"

"My friends and I just wanted to tell you how great you were out there," Alicia answered. "I'm Alicia Gianelli, and these are my friends Shirley Holmes, Bo Sawchuk, Blake Hewitt, and Stink Patterson."

"Hi, guys," Madelyn said, then she looked at Stink. "You did a good job out there."

"Thanks," Stink said. "You too."

"The emcee said that this is your first time singing in public," Blake said. "It didn't sound like it a while ago."

"Oh, I sing to myself," Madelyn said. "Especially in the shower," she added with a laugh. She looked at the others. "Say, I haven't seen you guys before..."

"We go to Sussex Academy," Bo explained.

"Oh, you mean the rich kids' school?" Madelyn asked with a grin.

"You could say that," Blake said.

"You're a good songwriter as well as a good singer," Shirley commented.

"Thanks," Madelyn said. "I got it from my mom. She's the choir director for our church when she's not working."

"I suppose that was you doing the music on that tape," Stink said.

"Not really. That was my mom," Madelyn admitted. "I'm not very good at playing instruments. In fact, I'm not good at writing music, although my mom's been teaching me."

"Then how...?" Alicia began.

"I usually come up with the tune first. I pretty much take it from there," Madelyn explained. "My mom translates the tune into notes and stuff."

"That song of yours was pretty uplifting," Bo noted.

"I hope it was. It was supposed to be," Madelyn said.

"You've been through a lot, haven't you?" Shirley asked Madelyn. Madelyn looked at Shirley. "What makes you think that?"

"The way you sang," Shirley answered. "You sang that song like you really meant it."

"Oh." Madelyn was silent for a moment. "Well, we don't exactly have it made in our neighborhood."

She sounded a little angry.

Shirley realized what she had done. "I'm sorry if I offended you."

Madelyn waved her hand. "No, no, it's okay. It's nothing personal against you guys. It's just that I wish that me and my mom had a better life. We're not really poor, but my mom works as a waitress at a diner. The pay's not big, but it's enough to get by."

"You know, there's a city-wide talent contest for kids that's going to be held at the Landmark Theater next Saturday," Alicia recalled.

"Yeah," Stink said. "I entered it."

"There are three categories: musical, dance, and variety. Each top finisher in each category will get $5000 and a chance to be on TV," Alicia explained. "I think the runners-up get $1000 and $500 each."

Bo let out a whistle.

"I know about the contest," Madelyn said. "I got the news from my music teacher. He told me to go for it. So did my mom."

"Are you officially in it?" Bo asked.

"I sent in my application yesterday," Madelyn said, smiling. "I got a call today saying that I'm in."

"Congratulations," Blake said.

"Thanks. It would be so good to win." Madelyn sighed. "The money would really help us out."

"Not to mention the exposure," Alicia said. "There's going to be some big-time music producers and talent agents in the audience that night. Even if you don't win, maybe someone could offer you a contract."

"Really?" Madelyn's eyes lit up. "Wow!"

"It's lucky for you that we're in different categories," Stink said with a grin. "I'm sure to win in mine."

"In your dreams, Stink." Alicia rolled her eyes.

"Don't be sure about that $5000 just yet," Madelyn said. "One of my classmates is doing a ventriliquist act. He's very good. You really can't see his lips move."

"You're a definite shoo-in for the musical category," Bo told Madelyn.

"I sure hope so," Madelyn said. As they left the dressing room, Shirley noticed that the two men were standing outside. The spiky-haired man was on a cellular phone talking to someone; he sounded urgent. The one-eyed man watched as Shirley and the others left. Shirley heard him snarl a little.

I have a bad feeling about those two, Shirley thought.

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 2

"So, do you think Madelyn has a chance of winning?" Bo asked Shirley as they carried their lunch trays outside.

It was Monday and that meant one thing: school.

"It all depends on how many people are in the musical category," Shirley stated matter-of-factly. "The more there are, the less chance Madelyn has of winning. Simple statistics."

"Gee, you're such an optimist," Bo said dryly. Blake waved Shirley and Bo over from one of the tables. They walked over there and joined him.

Shirley sat next to Blake, who was sitting on the edge of the bench. They smiled at each other.

Bo looked at Blake, then sat on Shirley's left. They began to eat lunch.

"So, Blake, do you think Madelyn has a chance of winning in the talent contest?" Bo asked.

"Well, she's got an excellent singing voice..." Blake began. Bo looked smugly at Shirley.

"It all depends, however, on her competition. The quantity and the quality of it, actually," Blake finished.

Bo looked at Blake suspiciously, then at Shirley. "Did you guys talk about this earlier?"

"Well, it did come up while we were talking on our way to school," Shirley recalled.

"You walked to school together?" Bo sounded surprised.

"You were running late," Shirley pointed out. "I was considering waiting for you, but if I did, I would be late as well." Bo looked at Blake. "And I suppose you just came to the house?"

"Well, no. I ran into Shirley while she was walking to school," Blake said. "Coincidence."

"Right," Bo muttered under his breath as he ate his lunch.

"You know, Bo. You might be right," Shirley said. "She really does sound good."

"Who sounds good?" a familiar voice asked from behind.

Shirley turned her head to see Molly Hardy standing behind her.

"Well, Holmes? Are you going to answer my question?" the tall blond girl asked, placing her hands on her hips.

"We were just talking about someone who will be singing in the youth talent contest this Saturday," Shirley replied.

"Oh? Do I know this person?" Molly asked.

"No," Blake said.

"Then there's no way she can beat me," Molly said snobbily, smiling.

"You're in the contest? Gee, are you going to sing too?" Bo asked.

"Please. I'll be playing the piano. One of Beethoven's symphonies, I believe," Molly announced proudly.

"You all know how good I am on the piano. I'm sure to win."

"You've got a lot of money. Why bother being in the contest?" Blake asked.

Molly flashed a smile at Blake. "Why, for the chance to perform on television, my dear Blake. The chance to show my talent to the world. The chance to be noticed."

"Typical," Bo said under his breath.

Molly shot Bo an icy stare, then looked at Blake. "So, will you be there to see me win?"

"Sure," Blake said in a friendly manner.

"Don't be too sure of your upcoming victory, Molly," Shirley said crossly.

"If you're talking about that someone who's singing, she'll lose." Molly grinned. "I guarantee it."

With that remark, she left.

Once Molly was out of earshot, Blake spoke. "So, she's really a sociopath?"

"Yep," Bo answered.

"It's been confirmed," Shirley stated.

"Do you think she's up to something?" Blake asked Shirley.

"I don't think. I know," Shirley said.

"How?" Bo asked. "She knows about Madelyn," Shirley said matter-of-factly. "I said that we were talking about someone. I never mentioned what sex the person was, but Molly said it was a 'she.'" She recalled last Saturday. "Do you remember those two men at Amateur Night? The ones who weren't enjoying themselves?"

"You mean the Bart Simpson wannabe and the one-eyed sourpuss?" Bo said. "Why?"

"I believe that they were working for Molly," Shirley said.

"To scout out the competition," Blake said, understanding what Shirley was driving at.

"Looks like Little Miss Perfect is a little scared," Bo commented.

"Yes." Shirley cupped her chin in her hand. "You do know what happens when Molly feels threatened."

"Oh boy." Bo understood.

Shirley looked at Bo and Blake. "We'd better see Madelyn afterschool."

"You think Molly will do something to Madelyn to make her drop out of the talent contest?" Blake asked Shirley.

After changing into regular clothes and meeting up with Bo, they were on their way to

Madelyn's apartment building.

"Short of killing, Molly will do anything to achieve her goals," Shirley said, knowing from experience.

"She's a real sweetheart," Bo said sarcastically.

They found themselves in front of a run-down apartment building. "Are you sure this is the right place? There were quite a lot of Cliftons in the phone book," Bo said, concerned.

"Once I took into account the addresses located in the most unpleasant parts of Redington, the long list of Cliftons is reduced to a few," Shirley explained. "Throw in the factor that we're looking for a female Clifton and we have to search only one place."

"Why a female Clifton?" Blake asked.

"Remember when we talked to Madelyn? She mentioned her mom only," Shirley pointed out.

"Well, there could be a dad," Bo said. "There obviously has to be a dad."

"Either deceased or divorced," Shirley countered. "Madelyn spoke like her mom was the only parent she had. No mention of the father at all." She looked around. "Besides, even two low incomes could get a better home than this."

"Good point," Bo said in agreement.

A thin, tall, and bald man wearing a T-shirt and jeans with one hole on one knee exited the building. He walked with a slight limp. "I'll ask him where the Cliftons live," Blake told the others.

Blake approached the bald man. "Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me where Madelyn Clifton lives?" he asked in a friendly manner.

The bald man thought for a moment and scratched his head. "Madelyn Clif...oh, you mean Geraldine's little girl?" he said with a slight trace of an accent.

"That's her," Blake said.

The bald man looked at Blake and the others. "Are you friends of hers?" he asked them.

"You could say that," Shirley said.

The bald man took another look at them. "Well, I can tell you're good kids anyway. The Cliftons live on the third floor, room 307."

"Thank you, sir," Blake said. The bald man nodded and limped off to wherever he was going.

"Let's get going." Shirley entered the building, followed by Bo, then Blake.

Finding that the elevator was out of service, they took the stairs. As they went up the stairs, they noticed how some spots on the walls were covered with unsightly cracks. Spiderwebs were located in some of the corners of the walls. Some contained spiders and the bodies of their previous meals.

"Gee, how can Madelyn live here?" Bo commented.

Once on the third floor, they easily found room 307. Shirley knocked on the door. They heard three locks unlock and the door opened. In the doorway stood Madelyn.

"Hi. Remember us?" Bo greeted.

"Yes, I do. From the Quazar Cafe last Saturday," Madelyn said. "Come on in. My mom went to work, so it's just me."

They all entered the apartment. Shirley, Bo, and Blake looked around.

The living room consisted mainly of a small TV on a stand, a coffee table, and a worn-out couch. The coffee table had school textbooks and a pile of papers and magazines on it. The kitchen was small with a fold-up table for dining and an old-looking refrigerator. A hallway led to three bedrooms and a bathroom. The apartment was cleaner than the rest of the building.

Seeing that everyone was looking around the apartment, Madelyn said, "It isn't much, but it's home." She sighed. "So, what brings you to my neck of the woods?"

"We wanted to tell you about someone else who's also in the talent contest," Blake explained.

"The talent contest?" Madelyn asked.

"We believe that one of your competitors wants to do some harm to you," Shirley stated.

Madelyn sat down on the couch. "Actually, that won't be a problem."

"Why not?" Bo asked.

Madelyn bent her head down, looking defeated. "I'm going to withdraw from the contest."

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 3

Bo was shocked. "You're going to withdraw?"

"That's right," Madelyn announced. "I'm quitting. I made up my mind today."

"You can't do that," Blake said. He remembered how enthusiastic Madelyn was about being in the talent contest.

"Why are you quitting?" Shirley asked, her curiosity aroused.

"Because..." Madelyn hesitated. "Because I haven't been feeling well."

Shirley saw how Madelyn was looking at the table. She spotted a piece of paper on top of Madelyn's school stuff.

"Hey!" Madelyn exclaimed as Shirley reached for the paper. She tried to stop her, but Shirley was too quick for her.

Shirley pulled out the paper from underneath the magazines and looked at it. It was a note with words composed of cut-out letters pasted on the paper.

"Give it back!" Madelyn demanded angrily.

Shirley read out the note. "'If you stay in the contest, I'll tell Y about what you did. I have the proof.'"

She looked at Madelyn. "When did you get this?"

Madelyn rose out of the couch quickly and snatched the note off Shirley's hand. "It's none of your business!"

"But we're trying to help," Blake pleaded.

"You can help by leaving now!" Madelyn, still clutching the note, pointed to the door.

"Look, we can help you," Bo said.

"GET OUT!" Madelyn shouted, still pointing to the door.

Seeing that it was a losing battle, Shirley went out the door, followed by Bo and Blake. Madelyn slammed the door hard behind them.

"Okay, now what?" Bo asked Shirley.

"Now we go to the source of the problem," Shirley said.

In her dorm room at Sussex Academy, Molly Hardy smiled with pleasure at her computer. She was almost done with putting in the daily gossip on her web site.

"Spreading more lies, Molly?"

Molly spun around to see Shirley standing in her room. "The door was locked! How did you...?"

Shirley showed her Swiss Army knife to Molly. "Simple enough to pick," she said, putting away the knife.

"It's a good thing you were too preoccupied with the computer."

"I had to take that retina camera to the repair shop yesterday," Molly muttered. She narrowed her eyes at Shirley. "What do you want?" she demanded.

"To lay off Madelyn Clifton," Shirley answered, meeting Molly's gaze.

Molly leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. She smiled wickedly.

"And why would I want to do that, Holmes?"

"Madelyn never did anything to you," Shirley said.

"But she has. She's in my way, Holmes." Molly's wicked smile grew. "I don't like it when people get in my way."

"She doesn't deserve this," Shirley argued.

"Oh, but she does," Molly said. "Madelyn was such a bad girl once. Really bad."

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

"You mean you didn't ask her?" Molly said with mock innocence.

"Well, I'm not going to tell you, Holmes. I'm not going to lose" She grinned again, looking even more fiendish.

Shirley walked up to Molly and stood before her. "I will stop you, Molly."

Molly stood up and looked at Shirley coldly. "Oh, I wouldn't do that, Holmes. You do remember my little cyber alter ego Y?"

Shirley met Molly's stare. "I haven't forgotten."

"Well, if you try to get Madelyn back into the contest, I'll make you pay," Molly said menacingly.

"I'll put your picture on the World Wide Web, and your career as a detective will be over, just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Oh, and Bo's parents would find out that they owe more to the bank than usual. Maybe their savings would be wiped out."

"You wouldn't dare," Shirley said, her eyes narrowing.

"Oh, I would, plus so much more," Molly said icily. "Anything to protect my interests."

Shirley walked to the door. "You won't get away with this, Molly."

She looked at Molly, then left quickly and closed the door.

Molly shook her head. "Always the defiant one, Holmes." She reached for her phone and dialed.

She waited until she heard someone answer.

"Hello? Yes, it's me. I need your services again..."

Outside the dormitory, Bo and Blake waited for Shirley. She met up with them.

They left Sussex Academy and went to Shirley's house. They settled down in the attic.

"Well?" Bo asked.

"It's Molly, all right," Shirley said. "She's blackmailing Madelyn to keep her out of the contest."

"With what?" Blake asked.

"I'm not sure," Shirley answered. "It has to do with Madelyn's past, though."

"Typical Molly," Bo commented. "She's such a control freak."

"She made a few threats to me if I helped Madelyn," Shirley revealed.

"Like what?" Bo asked, concerned.

"If I help Madelyn, Y will put my picture on the Net," Shirley said.

"But that'll ruin you!" Blake exclaimed.

"That's not the only threat she made." Shirley looked at Bo. "She threatened to tamper with your parents' bank records."

Bo raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"Apparently she's desperate," Blake noted. "She knows we're a threat."

Bo formed his hands into fists at his sides. "We can't let Molly get away with this." "She won't, Bo," Shirley said reassuringly.

"Just how are we going to stop her?" Bo asked, frustrated. "We help Madelyn, Molly will ruin our lives.

We don't help Madelyn, Molly ruins her life. Doomed if we do, doomed if we don't." Shirley looked at Blake. "Think you can handle Y?"

Blake beamed. "I think I can handle her. No sweat."

"Excellent," Shirley said, pleased.

"How?" Bo asked.

"The first thing to do is to see Madelyn again," Shirley said. "We need to know what Molly has on her."

"Not today, Shirley," Bo said. "I need to go back to the fish store.

I promised my parents to help clean up in exchange for hanging out with you guys."

"And I need to work on this Y problem," Blake said. "I'd like to stay..."

"I bet you would," Bo muttered.

"But the stuff I need is all on my computer," Blake finished.

"I guess we'll go see Madelyn again tomorrow," Shirley said. "I'll see you later."

Bo and Blake said their good-byes, then left Shirley's house. They were about to go their separate ways when Blake stopped Bo for a moment. "Hold on there, Bo."

"What do you want?" Bo eyed Blake.

"I thought that the problem between us was settled," Blake said.

"It is. You like Shirley. She likes you. It's settled." Bo started on his way.

"Is it?" Blake moved into Bo's way. "Are you okay with it?"

"Yeah," Bo said, not looking at Blake.

"Bo, I don't like coming between you and Shirley..." Blake began.

"We're just friends," Bo said. "That's all, Blake. We're just friends."

Blake saw that Bo was not going to discuss the matter any further.

"Take care, Bo. I'll see you tomorrow." He started on his way home.

Bo watched as Blake left, then started walking away from Shirley's house. He stopped for a moment and looked at where the attic was, wondering what Shirley was doing. He sighed. "We're just friends," he said to himself sadly.

Unknown to Bo, he was being watched. In fact, someone had witnessed the brief discussion between Bo and Blake. Hiding behind a tree, the one-eyed man watched as Bo left the area. He smiled briefly, then looked at Shirley's house for a few minutes as if studying it.

"But I swear it's true!" Stink pleaded to Alicia in the outside eating area. "It wasn't me!"

"Who else could it be?" Alicia showed Stink a fake eyeball. "I found this in my dorm room after I cleaned it up. You came in through the window and messed up my room. Admit it!"

"It wasn't me!" Stink proclaimed his innocence. "It was the falcon. It came through my window, looked around my room, and took my fake eyeball from my desk. I saw it."

"A falcon?" Alicia said disbelievingly. "Right, Stink. How'd it get into your room? Did it open the window with its beak?"

"No," Stink answered. "With its claw."

Alicia looked upward, exasperated. "I don't believe this..."

Shirley, Bo, and Blake watched as Alicia continued to accuse Stink of causing the mess in her room and Stink trying to say that a falcon did it.

"Boy, that's lame, even for Stink," Bo remarked.

"He's not the only one," Bart James said.

"You saw a falcon too?" Blake asked.

"No, but something weird did happen to me last Saturday. My room was ransacked," Bart said.

"Whoa," Bo said.

"Why didn't you call the police?" Shirley asked.

"Well, nothing was stolen," Bart answered. "My stuff was just scattered around the room."

Shirley pursed her lips and thought for a moment. She spotted Molly with some other girls at another table. The girls were obviously sucking up to Molly, telling her how great she looked. Shirley shook her head and returned to her lunch.

Alicia marched up to Shirley, still steamed about her room. "Shirley, can you check out my room? Can you find something that proves Stink was the one who messed up my room?"

Stink joined them. "Shirley, can you help me out here?"

Shirley shook her head. "I'll do both. I'll stop by the dorms later and take a look at both of your rooms. Stink's first."

"Thanks, Shirley." Alicia went off followed by Stink. They resumed arguing as they left.

"You're actually going to look into this?" Bo asked, dumbfounded.

"What about Madelyn?" Blake said, keeping his voice low. "We were supposed to find out what Molly has on her."

"We're still going to," Shirley whispered. "While I look into this little matter, you take care of Y."

"Gotcha," Blake said.

"I'll tag along with you, Shirley," Bo declared. "Maybe I can help prevent some bloodshed." Blake smiled mysteriously at Bo.

"What?" Bo said.

"Okay. We'll all meet at Madelyn's after we're all done," Shirley said, closing the discussion.

She returned to her lunch while still keeping an eye on Molly.

Suddenly, Shirley caught a glimpse of someone watching her from one of the nearby buildings. She thought she recognized the one-eyed man, but when she tried to get a better look, the man was gone.

"Hmmmm." Shirley examined Stink's window through her magnifying glass while Bo, Stink, and Alicia watched her. She then focused her attention to Stink's desk.

"Be thankful I didn't tell Ms. Stratmann about this," Alicia told Stink.

"For the umpteenth time, I didn't do it," Stink said defensively.

"He's right," Shirley announced, stepping away from the desk.

"What?!!" Alicia exclaimed in disbelief.

"I saw some marks that match a large bird's talons on both the bottom of the window and the edge of the desk," Shirley said.

"The window lock is broken."

"Must have been a strong bird if it used its claw to open the window," Bo said.

"Told you," Stink said to Alicia.

"But that's impossible," Alicia said.

"Let's look at your room," Shirley told Alicia.

They all went to Alicia's room. There, Shirley examined the window and the desk.

"Same as Stink's," Shirley concluded. "I'd say the falcon, or whatever type of bird it was, somehow got into Stink's room through the window. It perched on his desk and looked around before leaving out the window with the fake eyeball. The bird went to Alicia's, did the same, made a mess, and left the eyeball behind."

"Shirley, did you just hear yourself?" Bo asked, still trying to take it all in.

"Sounds a little too weird if you ask me," Alicia commented.

"I have to agree," Stink said.

"Well, since Stink's been exonerated, I'll be going now," Shirley said, heading for the door.

"I have a more important matter to deal with."

"I'll go home and change," Bo said. "I'll see you later, Shirley."

Shirley nodded and left.

Shirley stood outside Madelyn's apartment building waiting for Bo and Blake. She checked the time on her watch. Where could they be? she thought.

A few minutes later, she saw Bo and Blake heading her way. They were running.

"What took you so long?" she asked them.

After catching his breath, Bo answered, "Someone broke into our place."

"What?" Shirley was concerned.

"Yeah. Someone broke into our place and made a mess of things. Nothing was stolen, though," Bo reported.

"I helped my parents tidy up a little." He remembered something. "I think I saw the one-eyed man from the Quazar Cafe"

"Are you sure it was him?" Shirley asked.

"I'm positive," Bo replied. "I saw him watching from a distance. I also think he did it."

"Why?" Blake asked.

"He was wearing gloves," Bo answered.

"And you?" Shirley asked Blake.

"Well, just as I arrived home, I found a police car outside my house. I hurried inside and I found my dad and a policewoman trying to comfort Rosa in the living room," Blake said.

"Rosa kept going on about some bird flying in."

"A falcon?" Bo guessed.

"Yeah, Rosa did say it was a falcon." Blake looked at Bo, surprised. "How did you...?"

"I'll explain later. What did the bird do?" Shirley asked.

"According to Rosa, it just flew around the house and looked around in all of the rooms. Rosa swears that it even perched in front of my computer and sat there staring at it for a minute. It eventually left through the door after Rosa chased it out with a broom," Blake recalled.

"This day is just getting weirder and weirder," Bo commented.

"Molly's definitely outdone herself this time."

They went upstairs to Madelyn's apartment and Shirley knocked on the door. Madelyn answered the door.

"Not you again," Madelyn said upon seeing Shirley. She started to close the door, but Bo reached out and grabbed it, holding it open.

"We need to talk," Shirley said seriously. "We won't leave until we do."

Madelyn sensed Shirley's determination. "You're very persistent."

"It's a gift," Shirley replied.

Madelyn gave in and opened the door. "Come on in," she said with a sigh. "I'll explain everything."

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 4

WARNING: This part may contain content that may be unsettling to some, especially younger readers. Please read responsibly.

Once everyone was settled in, Shirley said, "We know who your blackmailer is. She's a student at Sussex Academy named Molly Hardy." Madelyn listened with interest as Shirley continued. "Molly will do anything to get her way, no matter how many people she has to step on."

"She sounds dangerous," Madelyn said.

"Believe me, she is," Bo said. "We know from experience."

"So what does Molly have on you?" Blake asked.

Madelyn sighed. "My old juvenile hall file."

"Juvenile hall?" Bo looked at Madelyn. She did not look like a typical juvenile offender.

"Yeah. It's something I'm not proud of, but I did spend time in juvenile hall." Madelyn shook her head. "I lived in Vancouver before my mom and I came here. Back then, I was out of control. It probably started after my dad just up and left us."

Madelyn was quiet for a brief moment.

"Anyway, I joined a gang when I was ten. We did drugs and raised hell just for the fun of it. I smoked a little pot as well as regular cigarettes. My mom didn't notice; she was too busy working the graveyard shift at a convenience mart. I managed to stay out of trouble for a while."

"What happened to change all that?" Shirley asked.

Madelyn resumed telling her story. "It was a Friday night, I think. I was with my gang spraying graffiti on some walls. We were having the time of our lives. Then, one of the guys pulled me over and asked me to act as lookout. I was given a gun and told to shoot first and ask questions later. I nodded, but I secretly hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"Well, I saw a beat cop heading our way. He spotted us and started to call in for backup. The guy who gave me the gun ordered me to shoot him. I froze for a moment, but I finally pulled out the gun and pointed it at the cop, hoping he'd just go away. He didn't."

Madelyn hesitated for a moment. She looked down, her lip trembling.

"What happened next?" Shirley pressed.

After a moment of silence, Madelyn brought her head up. "The cop started to reach for his gun. The others started cheering me on, telling me to shoot. I felt like I was in a Western or something like that. I also felt afraid; the cop looked like he was going to shoot. Suddenly, a voice in my head told me to shoot; better him than me.

"The cop had his gun pointed at me, but I fired first. Everything happened so fast. The cop fell back with a bullet wound in his chest and a surprised look on his face. I later learned that I hit him in the heart. Seeing the cop on the ground and assuming he was dead, the others started to take off. I frozen in my spot, still looking at the fallen cop. I felt my heartbeat go faster. I had just shot a person. Someone called for me to hurry up. I looked at the gun in my hand briefly, then I threw it into an alley and got the hell out of there.

"By pure luck, I got home before my mom did. I changed into my pajamas and got ready for bed. I started scrubbing my hands, but it didn't help; I still felt unclean. I didn't sleep easily that night. I still saw the look on that cop's face.

"The next day, the news shows and the papers reported the murder of a local cop. The others assured me that I wouldn't get caught. They told me that it was too dark for anyone to recognize me. Besides, they pointed out, there were no witnesses.

"They were wrong. That night, while my mom was getting ready for work, the police came. They said that they were investigating the cop's murder and that a shopkeeper spotted us around the area where the cop was killed. They wanted to take me in for questioning. My mom tried to say that I wasn't involved, but they still wanted to bring me down to the station for questioning. My mom came along, still proclaiming my innocence.

"When I got to the station, I found the others there. Unfortunately for me, the police had found the gun and had dusted it for fingerprints. The others were questioned already; they came clean about the graffiti, but they passed the fingerprint check. Despite my mom's protests, my fingerprints were taken and checked. I still remember the look on my mom's face when she was told my prints matched the ones on the gun. Her eyes were wide open and her mouth hung open. She cried soon after.

"As the preparations for my hearing were being made, I heard that most of my fellow gangsters had agreed to plead guilty to the graffiti and testify against me in exchange for leniency. They told the cops how violent I was and how I loved to smoke pot. I felt like I was stabbed in the back. My court-appointed lawyer, a really slimy guy, wanted to try to create reasonable doubt in the prosecution's witnesses, but I knew I was guilty. That was my official plea. For it I got four years with a slim chance of early release in juvenile hall. My mom cried in the courtroom. The paper said I was stone-faced as I was sentenced because I had no regret. It was half-right; I was still angry that my homies tried to betray me.

"In juvi, I was still thinking about how the others were planning to sell me out if I had a trial. I felt that I had no hope. I was afraid that my mom would never take me back after what I did. I felt lost.

"One day, I remembered something my mom told me when I was little. Whenever she felt down, she sang. She taught me some songs, mostly church hymns. So, whenever I felt miserable, I sang to myself. My voice was terrible at first, but I gradually got better. Some of the other inmates thought I was nuts. Some actually joined me.

"Soon I got the attention of the place's director. He asked me if I was willing to join the newly formed choir as a way to get out early. I said 'yes,' but not because I wanted to leave, but because I wanted to sing just for the fun of it.

"In the choir, I sang my heart out. I admit that last Saturday's Amateur Night at the Quazar Cafe was not my first public performance. We sang mainly at special ceremonies and we got good publicity. I even got my picture in the local paper on a few occasions; my mom keeps a scrapbook. I'm not identified in any of them, though.

"Thanks to my community service, I was out in two years. My mom was so happy to see me. She felt, however, that we needed a fresh start somewhere else. So, we end up here, and I've been keeping my nose out of trouble ever since. Heck, I've even done very well in school."

"And now Molly wants to ruin you," Shirley said. Madelyn looked at her guests. "I don't expect you guys to understand me. You all had it easy. Me, I had to learn the hard way."

"I understand," Bo said seriously. "I was in a gang once. I got caught and I was given a scholarship to Sussex as an alternative to reform school. I've kept out of trouble ever since." He gave a sideways glance at Shirley and grinned.

"Well, most of the time."

"I see," Madelyn said.

"When did your troubles with Molly begin?" Shirley asked.

"It actually started after you guys left me last Saturday," Madelyn recalled.

"A few minutes after you guys left, this guy with major hair problems came in."

"A guy with spiky hair?" Blake asked.

"Exactly." Madelyn continued. "He asked me if I was going to be in the upcoming contest. I told him I was. Then he just left.

"The next day, after church, I got a phone call from the same guy; I recognized his voice. He told me to drop out or else. I just hung up on him. I didn't really take him seriously until Monday."

"What happened on Monday?" Shirley asked.

Madelyn took out the note Shirley discovered the previous day and another piece of paper from a folder. "These were in a manila envelope attached to my door yesterday morning."

Shirley looked at the note, then she examined the other paper. "It's a computer printout of one of the pages of your file."

"I got another call right when I opened that envelope. The guy said that if I didn't drop out, copies of my file would be given to the people in charge of the contest, not to mention it'll get posted on the Web," Madelyn said glumly.

"I'd guess that Molly would give away the bad parts of your file," Blake said.

"Why are you so worried about having this part of your past revealed?" Bo asked. Madelyn looked down and sighed. "None of my friends here know about what I did in Vancouver. I've done my best to keep my past past. If word gets out that I killed somebody, it'll ruin everything I've worked for."

"You're afraid that people will not treat you the same if they knew about what you did," Shirley said.

"Here, I'm a great kid, Shirley. Some of my schoolmates look up to me." Madelyn tried to hold back her tears. "If word got out that I killed someone..."

"It won't," Bo said boldly.

"Not while we're around," Blake joined in. "What's the plan,Shirley?"

Shirley thought for a moment. "As far as I see it, we have to take Y out of the equation."

"My friends have access on-line. They've told me about Y," Madelyn said.

"Y can make or break someone's career. He's that influential."

"Actually, she's that influential. Y and Molly are the same person," Shirley revealed.

"Well, how are you going to stop her?" Madelyn asked, concerned. Blake raised his hand. "Leave that to me."

"You know, something else has been bugging me," Madelyn remembered.

"I think someone's been watching me."

"A feeling?" Bo asked.

"Nope. It's the spiky-haired guy. I saw him watching me today," Madelyn said. "On Monday, there was this big muscular guy with a patch."

"Looks like Molly's not taking any chances," Bo said.

"Just out of curiosity, have you officially withdrawn from the contest yet?" Shirley asked Madelyn.

"No, actually," Madelyn answered. "I was about to call them when you guys came in."

"Keep it that way," Shirley advised.

"But my file..." Madelyn began.

"'Well, don't surrender! Take a chance!'" Shirley quoted from memory. "Remember that, Madelyn?"

"I should," Madelyn replied. "That's from my song." She paused.

"Maybe I should follow my own advice, huh?"

"Good idea, and don't worry. I have a plan," Shirley said reassuringly.

"You have to follow my instructions to the letter," she told Madelyn seriously.

"I'm all ears," Madelyn said eagerly.

"Are you sure your plan will work?" Bo asked Shirley as they left for Shirley's house.

"I'm sure it'll work, Bo," Shirley answered.

"We can count on Blake, right?"

"Yes, Bo. We can count on Blake, but he needs to get ready. Why do you think he went straight home after we talked to Madelyn?"

They continued to walk. "Bo, do you hate Blake?" Shirley asked.

"Me? Hate Blake? I don't hate Blake," Bo denied. "He's a cool and decent guy."

"You sometimes look uncomfortable whenever he's with us," Shirley pointed out. She looked with concern at Bo.

"Bo, what is bothering you? You can tell me."

Bo was hesitant to tell Shirley the truth. A part of him wanted to say how he felt. Another part of him wanted to keep the truth hidden. In his mind, he wondered which he should do, afraid of the consequences of both.

"Bo?" Shirley's voice brought Bo back to reality. "Bo, are you going to answer me?"

"Uh..." Bo was about to say something when Shirley suddenly grabbed his hand and pulled him into a nearby alley.

"Shirley, what...?"

"We're being followed." Shirley peeked out and saw, in the distance, the one-eyed man. He was among a number of other pedestrians. "It's the one-eyed man from the Quazar Cafe."

"Great," Bo said.

Shirley watched as the one-eyed man stood among the crowd, looking around the area as people passed by him. He seemed to be looking for her and Bo. The one-eyed man finally stopped looking and started to walk the other way. "He's going the other way," Shirley reported to Bo.

"That was too close, Shirley," Bo said, relieved. He looked down and realized that he was still holding Shirley's hand. Shirley also noticed. "Bo?"

They looked at each other quietly and blushed. At that moment, Bo felt like he had butterflies in his stomach. He noted how Shirley's hand felt so soft. He quickly let go of Shirley's hand.

"W-we'd better get going," he said finally.

"Of course," Shirley said, trying not to sound awkward.

They left the alley quietly and continued on their way to Shirley's house. From a distance, the one-eyed man watched them. He smiled to himself and wondered how Shirley would react to his little surprise when she got home, then he went on his way.

Shirley and Bo were almost at the Holmes residence. "Molly must really want to win that contest," Shirley stated.

"Here's how I think it works. The spiky-haired man's job is to keep track of Madelyn and deliver threats to her."

"What's One-Eye's job?" Bo asked. "I would guess to make sure we don't interfere," Shirley said. "He is apparently the one behind these strange break-ins."

"But why?" Bo asked as they walked up to Shirley's house.

Shirley reached into her pocket for her housekey. "Perhaps to keep us busy or as intimidation," she concluded.

"You know Molly. She'll do anything to get her way."

"What about the falcon Stink and Blake mentioned?" Bo asked as Shirley took out her housekey.

"I can't explain that one, but I'm sure Molly has something to do with it." Shirley put her housekey into the keyhole and turned it. She looked puzzled. "That's strange. The door's unlocked."

"Maybe you forgot to lock it before you left," Bo said.

"I never forget," Shirley said sternly. She opened the door and rushed inside with Bo behind her.

Shirley looked around. Everything seemed okay. Then she noticed that the bookcase that hid the entrance to the attic was open.

"Oh no," she gasped.

Shirley and Bo raced up the stairs to the attic. They looked around and saw that nothing was out of place. The chemistry set was intact. The makeshift darkroom was undisturbed.

"Well, looks like everything's okay," Bo concluded.

"Not quite." Shirley pointed to her computer, which was on. She walked up to it and found eleven lines typed on the screen.

All of them were the same and they each simply read, "YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR INTERFERENCE, HOLMES."

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 5

Saturday finally came, and the Landmark Theater was packed for the youth talent contest. The seats were filled with proud parents, friends, and some well-known talent scouts, agents, and music producers. All awaited the start of the contest.

Backstage, the young performers were getting ready for their big night. Shirley and her friends, all dressed in formal wear, watched as the kids checked their appearance, practiced their routines, and tried not to be nervous.

"Man, you can feel the nervousness in here," Bo commented.

"Not from everyone," Blake said, pointing to Molly. Dressed in a long, black dress, Molly walked around with a confident stride, studying the other participants.

"I've heard that Molly's been practicing six hours each day after school," Alicia said.

"Is that so?" Shirley raised an eyebrow.

Molly walked up to Shirley and the others. She flashed a smile at Blake.

"Blake, I'm so glad you could make it," she said in a friendly manner, looking him over. "You look great in that suit."

"Gee, thanks," Blake said, trying to sound sincere.

Stink, dressed in a tan checkered suit, straightened out his red bow tie and joined the others.

"People, you are looking at the winner of the variety category," he said proudly, pointing to himself.

Molly studied Stink's attire. "Stink, if your act is as bad as your suit, you're in big trouble," she said snidely.

"Oh, please. I know you like it," Stink said, grinning at Molly.

Molly rolled her eyes. "Get help, Stink."

"Some people never learn," Bo whispered to Shirley.

"Well, I've looked at my competition, and quite frankly, I'm not impressed. I'm sure to win the musical category," Molly said confidently.

Alicia looked around. "I wouldn't be too sure, Molly. Madelyn's not here yet."

"Who?" Molly thought for a moment. "Oh, you mean this wonderful singer I've been hearing about? I've heard that she dropped out due to some...personal problems."

"Gee, where did you hear that from?"

Molly turned around to see Madelyn standing behind her with a boy of Japanese descent. She was wearing a light blue dress. Shirley smiled to herself as she saw the surprised look on Molly's face.

"Madelyn! You made it!" Alicia exclaimed.

"Thanks to Hiroshi here," Madelyn said, gesturing toward the boy, who was hiding something behind his back.

"Since my mom's working tonight, he and his dad dropped me off here." She looked at Hiroshi. "Hiroshi, say 'hi' to everybody."

Hiroshi pulled out a ventriliquist's dummy dressed like a samurai from behind him. "Hi, everybody," he said through the dummy.

"Whoa." Bo looked at Hiroshi. "His lips didn't even move."

Hiroshi made the dummy look at Stink. "Boy, who picked out your suit? Blech!"

"Hmph. Everyone's a critic," Stink said.

Hiroshi laughed to himself and went to a corner to practice. Molly looked at Madelyn suspiciously. "So, you're Madelyn Clifton, huh?"

"That's right," Madelyn answered. "And you're Molly Hardy." "Correct." Molly tried not to lose her temper. "It's nice to see that you made it. Now, if you excuse me..."

Molly brushed past Madelyn and left the backstage area for a moment.

Alicia checked the time on her watch. "It's almost time for the contest to start. We'd better get to our seats."

"Go ahead, Alicia," Shirley said. "We'll catch up." After Alicia left, Shirley talked to Madelyn. "Well?"

"Well, your plan worked," Madelyn acknowledged. "I just kept a low profile for the rest of the week. I didn't mention the contest, and I put on that sad look like you told me to. That spiky-haired guy must've given Molly the wrong idea."

"Looks like Molly should really get some good stooges next time," Bo joked.

"Well, she had at least one good flunky." Blake looked at Shirley.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked with concern. "Nothing was taken?"

"What happened?" Madelyn asked.

Shirley shook her head. "I'm fine. I believe our one-eyed friend left us a little warning." She motioned to Bo, who took out a computer print-out of the message found on Shirley's computer and handed it to Madelyn.

"'You will pay for your interference, Holmes,'" Madelyn read out loud.

"For emphasis, it was copied ten more times," Bo remarked.

Madelyn handed back the paper. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused," she said apologetically.

"Don't worry about it." Shirley looked at Blake. "We have a way to deal with Y. Just don't forget the other part of the plan."

"Are you sure I have to do it?" Madelyn asked nervously.

"You must if you don't want this to happen again," Shirley said.

Madelyn nodded in agreement, knowing that Shirley was right. "It'll be difficult, but I'll do it."

The stage manager called for all the performers to get ready. "That's my cue," Madelyn said. "Wish me luck."

"Good luck," Shirley said.

"You can do it," Blake said encouragingly.

"Break a leg," Bo said, beaming.

Madelyn smiled back and joined the other performers.

"Did you spot any of Molly's accomplices?" Shirley asked Bo and Blake as they made their way to their seats, which were located next to the aisle.

"I did see Mr. Bad Hair Day," Bo said. "No sign of the one-eyed grouch."

They found Alicia and sat next to her. The show started with the emcee introducing the three judges and explaining the contest to the audience.

The dance category was first. The audience was treated to various numbers of tap, stomping, ballroom, and ballet accompanied by pop rock, rap, jazz, and classical music. Next came the variety category. The first act was a boy who belched out the entire alphabet.

Alicia, as well as the judges and most of the audience, winced.

"Thank goodness it's over," Alicia commented when the burping boy was done.

"I thought he was cool," Bo whispered.

Alicia glared at Bo. Blake covered his mouth to stop himself from laughing.

Unfortunately, his face shook as he tried unsuccessfully to control himself.

Shirley looked at them and simply smiled. Before anyone noticed her, she took on a serious look and returned her attention to the contest.

After the belching boy was a girl with a juggling act. As a boy tossed her items, including oranges, rubber balls, and bowling pins, she flawlessly juggled them. When she was done, the audience rewarded her with a standing ovation.

During the next act, which was a magic act, Shirley felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked up and saw a tall black woman in a brown coat. Shirley noticed the waitress uniform the woman was wearing.

"Excuse me, but is this seat taken?" the woman asked Shirley, pointing to the empty seat next to her.

"Why, no, it isn't, Mrs. Clifton," Shirley replied.

The woman looked surprised. She sat down in the seat. "How did you...?"

"Madelyn told me a little about you," Shirley explained. Mrs. Clifton settled down and looked at the stage. "Has Madelyn been on yet?" she asked anxiously.

"Actually, the musical category starts after this category," Shirley replied. "You haven't missed her yet."

Mrs. Clifton let out a sigh of relief and wiped her forehead. "I asked my boss if I could take the night off to watch Madelyn. He was rather willing. Nothing's gonna stop me from watching my baby girl sing. Nothing."

"You really must be proud of your daughter," Shirley said.

"You bet," Mrs. Clifton responded. "Madelyn's made me so proud. She's got a God-given gift and tonight, she's going to share it with everyone in this room."

"I have a feeling she's going to make you more proud," Shirley said.

During the talk between Shirley and Mrs. Clifton, the magic act turned into a disaster. The poor magician tried at the beginning to pull a rabbit out of his top hat. The rabbit leapt out of the hat and the magician spent the rest of his stage time trying to catch it as it hopped around the stage. The next act was an even bigger disaster. A girl dragged out a table with little bicycles, a tightrope, and a little pool complete with diving board and a cage full of pigeons. The pigeons were trained to do the tasks on the table. When the cage was finally opened, the pigeons quickly flew out and started flying around the room, occasionally diving into the audience. People ducked in their seats to avoid the pigeons. Eventually someone opened the doors and chased the pigeons out. The girl made a quick exit during the chaos. The next acts in the variety category were much better. Stink's comedy routine had the same effect on the audience as it did at the Quazar Cafe. A clown act, in which tow girls beat each other up with pillows and oversized styrofoam clubs, blasted each other with seltzer bottles, and had an old-fashioned cream pie fight, got the same reaction. After the stage was cleaned up, Hiroshi closed out the variety competition; the audience laughed as he held a humorous conversation with his samurai dummy.

The musical category started off with a girl singing opera. Bo covered his ears whenever she reached a high note, which was frequent.

When she was done, Bo breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't think my ears could've taken anymore," he whispered to Shirley, rubbing his ears.

After a guitar player, hip-hop artist, country singer, and a rock band, Molly was next. A grand piano was pushed on stage for her. The emcee introduced her, and she walked on stage, taking in the applause of the audience with a smile. Shirley could not help but notice that Molly seemed to be looking for somebody in the crowd. Molly's search was fruitless; she sat down and started to play her piece.

The audience was awed by Molly's playing. "You know, Molly may be a sociopath, but she's a great piano player," Bo whispered to Shirley.

Shirley nodded. "It's the only good thing about her."

"Definitely," Blake whispered.

When Molly was finished, the audience applauded loudly. Some people gave her a standing ovation. Molly stood and bowed, searching the audience again. Finding nothing, she left the stage.

"Hmmm..." Shirley started to think.

The emcee stepped onto the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now close to the end of our musical category and the contest as a whole. Our final act hails from George Edison Junior High. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Madelyn Clifton!"

The audience applauded loudly. Mrs. Clifton clapped enthusiastically. "My baby's coming up! My baby's coming up!" she cried out, smiling and almost in tears.

Madelyn did not show up on the stage. The emcee, puzzled, called out her name a second time. When she did not come out, the emcee called out her name a third time. Madelyn still did not come out.

The audience was confused. Mrs. Clifton could not believe it.

"Where's my Madelyn? Where's my baby?"

"Alicia, take care of Mrs. Clifton," Shirley ordered as she got out of her seat.

As Alicia tried to comfort Mrs. Clifton, Shirley walked out of the room. Bo and Blake followed her.

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 6

Backstage, the stage manager was asking some of the performers where Madelyn was.

"Do any of you know where Madelyn Clifton is?" The performers all shook their heads. Shirley, Bo, and Blake entered the backstage area.

"This isn't good," the stage manager said. "Not good at all."

The emcee came from the stage. "What's going on here? Where's Madelyn Clifton?" he asked the stage manager.

"I'm not sure," the stage manager answered. "So far, no one's seen her."

"I hope she didn't get cold feet," Molly remarked innocently.

Shirley walked up to Molly. "What have you done with Madelyn?" she demanded.

Molly looked innocent. "Who? Little old me?" She smiled at Shirley, then walked away.

Shirley eyed Molly. "She's done something with Madelyn," she told Bo and Blake.

"I've seen Madelyn," someone said. Shirley saw that it was the girl whose pigeon act went awry.

"Where is she?" the stage manager asked urgently.

"She said she was going to the bathroom," the girl replied. "She hasn't come back since."

The stage manager groaned. "Perfect time to get nervous."

Shirley walked up to Stink and Hiroshi. "Can you guys keep the audience busy?"

"Sure," Stink said.

"No problem," Hiroshi said, making the head of his dummy nod.

"Good." Shirley dashed out of the backstage area.

"Here we go," Bo said, following Shirley. Blake followed suit.

The emcee returned to the stage. "Uh, ladies and gentlemen, until we find Madelyn Clifton, Sterling Patterson and Hiroshi Fujiyama will entertain you."

The emcee made way for Stink and Hiroshi, who came out and ad-libbed a routine.

"You know, Hiroshi, your little friend has some weird fashion sense," Stink said, pointing to the dummy.

"Well, at least I have fashion sense," Hiroshi said through the dummy.

"Who picked out your outfit?"

The audience laughed. Stink sighed. It was not his night.

Shirley stepped out of the ladies' bathroom. "She's not in there," she told Bo and Blake. "Great," Bo said. "She just went up and left."

"I doubt it," Shirley said seriously. "I had to turn off a faucet."

"So?" Bo asked.

"Someone must have grabbed Madelyn while she was washing her hands," Shirley said. She looked down.

"What are you looking for?" Blake asked.

"That." Shirley pointed to a trail of water drips. "Let's go."

They followed the drips down the hallway and eventually ended up at a storage closet. They heard banging and yelling from inside.

"We've got to get her out of there," Shirley said. Bo rushed forward and tried to open the door. "Locked," he said infrustration.

"Hang on, Madelyn!" Blake shouted.

"Like that's gonna help."

All three turned around and saw the spiky-haired man behind them.

"Can't do much without this," he said, smiling and dangling a key before them. The key was chained to his wrist.

"You're not going to leave her in there, are you?" Bo asked.

"Oh no," the spiky-haired man replied. "Only until the contest is over."

"A last resort?" Shirley asked.

"Yeah. Your friend had me fooled; I actually thought that she gave up." The spiky-haired man looked angry. "I got a lot of flak because of that." He saw Bo inching his way towards him. "What are you going to do, tough guy? Beat the snot out of me and get the key? Uh uh. Not so simple. This key's chained to my wrist and...AAAGH!"

Blake had managed to sneak behind the spiky-haired man and put an arm twist on him. The spiky-haired man screamed in agony, the key dangling from his free hand. He struggled to get out of the hold, but it was hopeless.

"You know, we really don't have much time," Blake told his captive.

"Unlock the door or you lose the use of one arm." For further emphasis, he tightened his grip.

The spiky-haired man nodded and walked toward the closet door, still in Blake's grip. Shirley snatched the key and pulled it close to the doorknob. She fit it into the keyhole and unlocked the door. She threw open the door, revealing a frightened Madelyn. "Are you okay?"

"Barely, but I'll live," Madelyn managed to reply as Shirley helped her out of the closet. "This creep grabbed me in the bathroom and locked me in here."

Blake released the spiky-haired man, who immediately ran out of there.

"He's getting away!" Bo exclaimed.

"Forget him," Shirley said. She looked at Madelyn. "We've got to make sure this songbird sings."

The emcee looked at the audience. Stink and Hiroshi had just finished their impromptu routine, and now the audience was getting restless. He looked at his watch and shook his head. Backstage, Molly was thrilled. She knew that if Madelyn did not show up, she would be disqualified. Without Madelyn to challenge her, Molly would be a shoo-in to win the musical category.

The emcee sighed. He could wait no longer. "Ladies and gentlemen, since Miss Clifton has not shown up yet, I'm afraid the judges have no choice but to..."

"Oh, don't say the 'd' word just yet."

The voice came from behind the curtain. The emcee and the audience were surprised to see Madelyn with a microphone emerge from the emcee's right. "I didn't hear any fat lady sing yet," Madelyn said.

Molly was shocked. "But how...?" Then, she realized who was behind Madelyn's reappearance. "Holmes," she hissed, clinching her teeth and her fists.

Mrs. Clifton was so happy. "My baby! My baby's here!"

Shirley looked at Mrs. Clifton and smiled. She and the others had returned to their seats.

"Do you think Madelyn will do it?" Blake whispered to Shirley.

"I hope so," Shirley replied.

Madelyn looked at the audience. "Sorry I'm late, folks, but I had some problems in the bathroom."

The audience laughed a little. Once the laughter subsided, Madelyn resumed talking. "Well, before I start singing, I've got a confession to make. A while back, I did something stupid. I was in a gang, and we did stupid things. Then one night, I went and shot a cop." She paused. "He died instantly."

Madelyn studied the audience's reaction before continuing. "Yeah, that's right. I killed a man. You look at me and think, 'No way Madelyn could've done something so horrible.' Well, guess what, I did.

Got sent to juvi because of it. I thought my life was over." Madelyn wiped away a tear. "Then, I remembered my mom telling me when I was young to sing whenever I felt down. From there, my life got better." She cleared her throat. "I wrote this number for you, Mom. I wish you were here." She started to sing.

Mrs. Clifton smiled and wiped away some tears. Shirley looked at Bo and Blake. "See?" The emcee looked at the audience. All of the performers were onstage with him. They were anxious to hear who won in each category, especially Molly. The stage manager was also onstage with the prize money and medals.

In the dance category, a stomping number won first place. In the variety category, Stink managed to beat the juggling girl, but Hiroshi won first place. After they had gotten their envelope containing their prize money checks and medals from the stage manager, Stink shook Hiroshi's hand. "Congratulations," he said.

"Thanks," Hiroshi replied. "To be honest, I thought we tied. You were that good."

"Yeah, well..." Stink thought for a moment. "Say, can you teach me how to throw my voice?"

The emcee spoke. "Well, folks, we are now at our final category, the musical category. Our judges have made their final decisions, and here they are." He waved a little envelope in the air, then opened it and took out a piece of paper. "Ladies and gentlemen, third place goes to...Marie Olsen!"

The audience clapped and the guitar player claimed her prize and medal from the stage manager. Shirley heard Mrs. Clifton beg to herself.

"Please, oh please, let my baby girl place," she pleaded, crossing her fingers. "Second place goes to...Molly Hardy!"

The audience clapped as Molly got her prize and medal. She smiled to everyone, but she was steamed. She did not come to place second.

"Here we go," Blake whispered.

Mrs. Clifton closed her eyes as the emcee read out the name of the first place winner.

"Tonight's winner in the musical category is...Madelyn Clifton!" Mrs. Clifton opened her eyes. "My baby!" she cried out.

Madelyn was genuinely surprised. The audience gave her a standing ovation. Mrs. Clifton, Shirley, and her friends joined in. The other performers also applauded Madelyn as she tearfully accepted her prize and medal. Only one person did not clap for Madelyn. Molly simply gave her a look that could freeze water.

Later, in the lobby, parents and friends congratulated the participants. Madelyn was joined by Shirley and her friends.

"Congratulations!" Alicia said to Madelyn.

Madelyn smiled. "Thanks. I still can't believe I won."

"We had faith in you," Bo said.

Madelyn looked at Shirley. "Thanks for your help. I owe you one."

Shirley raised her hand. "Don't mention it."

"It's what she does," Blake said.

Madelyn sighed. "It's too bad my mom couldn't make it."

"But I did."

Madelyn turned around to see her mother standing behind her. "Mom!" she exclaimed before giving Mrs. Clifton a big hug.

"I thought you couldn't make it."

Mrs. Clifton hugged her daughter back tightly. "I wanted to surprise you, baby. There ain't nothing that's gonna keep me from watching my Madelyn sing."

Shirley felt someone tap her on her shoulder. She looked behind her and faced a large-framed black man in a business suit.

"Excuse me, young lady, but is Madelyn Clifton around here?" he asked in a jovial voice.

"That's her," Bo answered, pointing to Madelyn.

"Thank you." The large man walked up to Madelyn and her mother. "

Madelyn Clifton?" "That's me," Madelyn answered. "Can I help you?"

"My name is Charles Brown , but many people call me Big Daddy Brown," the large man said.

"Big Daddy Brown?" Alicia was awestruck. "You're Big Daddy Brown, the owner of Hype Records?"

"That's me," Big Daddy Brown said with a laugh. He looked at Mrs. Clifton. "I take it this lovely lady is your mother, Madelyn?"

Mrs. Clifton blushed. "Geraldine Clifton," she introduced herself.

"How can we help you, Mr. Brown?"

Big Daddy Brown grinned. "Well, I managed to get here just in time for the musical competition. My limo got a flat on my way here." He cleared his throat before continuing. "I absolutely loved your singing, Madelyn. I was wondering if you'd be interested in signing with my company."

"Whoa," Alicia said.

Madelyn was shaking nervously. She looked at her mother. "Mom?" Mrs. Clifton smiled. "It's up to you, baby."

"Now, I'm not saying you should sign up with me right now," Big Daddy Brown said reassuringly. "I'll still be in Redington for a while. In fact, I'll be on that show you'll be performing on in three days. You can give me your answer then." He reached into his pocket. "If you decide earlier than that, here's my business card. It's got my cell phone number on it." He took out a business card and handed it to Madelyn.

Madelyn took the card, looked at it, and handed it to her mother. "I...I don't know what to say, Mr. Brown..."

Big Daddy Brown waved his hand and smiled. "Don't worry about it, Madelyn." He checked his watch. "I'd better get going. I have a meeting to go to. It was nice meeting you, Madelyn. Congratulations on winning." He held out his large hand to Madelyn.

"Thank you, Mr. Brown," Madelyn said, shaking Big Daddy Brown's hand.

"For the record, even if you lost, I still would've made you the offer," Big Daddy admitted. "You've got a God-given talent, Madelyn."

He looked at Mrs. Clifton. "You've raised quite a singer, Mrs. Clifton. You must be very proud of her tonight."

"Very, Mr. Brown," Mrs. Clifton said with pride.

After saying his good-byes, Big Daddy Brown left. While her friends talked with Madelyn about her good fortune and admired her medal, Shirley spotted Molly, who was looking at her with hatred. Shirley watched as Molly quickly left the Landmark Theater.

Blake walked up to Shirley. "Well, this case is closed."

"Not yet," Shirley said. "There are still some loose ends left to tie up."

The Case of the Reformed Songbird : Chapter 7

In her dorm room, Molly tried to access her web site on her computer. She could not believe the message on the screen that read "Access denied."

"What is going on here?" Molly wondered out loud.

"A little of our own cyber trickery." Molly saw Shirley and Bo standing in her room. "You really should lock your door, Molly," Bo remarked.

Molly muttered something about the repair shop being too slow with her retina camera.

"What do you do to my site, Holmes?" she demanded angrily.

"Our friend Sherlock blocked your access to it," Shirley answered.

"Sherlock?" Molly asked.

"He's like you, Molly. An expert hacker," Shirley explained. "He's also made sure you won't be hacking into the Sawchuks' bank account either."

Molly's blood started to boil. "What do you want, Holmes?"

"We want Madelyn's file," Bo answered.

"If you please," Shirley added. "Otherwise, Y ceases to exist tonight." Molly grumbled and reached into her disk holder. She finally pulled out a blue disk and threw it to Shirley, who caught it. "Here. Thanks to Madelyn's confession at the contest, it's worthless to me."

Molly stood up. "You'll never be able to prove what I did, Holmes," she said smugly. "I can't ruin Bo's life, but once I get my site back..."

"Try anything and Sherlock will give you a virus that'll wipe out your entire hard drive," Shirley countered.

Molly gave Shirley a contemptible stare. "Very well, Holmes, but I'll find some way to get you for this. Mark my words," she said menacingly.

"We'll be ready for you, Molly," Shirley said. Shirley noticed a fax on Molly's bed. Before Molly could stop her, Shirley snatched it off the bed.

"Give that back, Holmes!" Molly demanded.

Shirley read the fax out loud. "'Dear Molly, I'm sorry we were unable to come to your youth talent contest performance. The business dinner was longer than we expected. Let us know how you did. Love, Mom and Dad.'" She looked at Molly.

"So that's who you were looking for at the contest." To Shirley, it seemed that Molly was about to cry. Instead, Molly stiffened.

"You have what you came for, Holmes. Get out," she said vehemently.

"Not yet, Molly. I'd like to know more about your one-eyed accomplice," Shirley said.

"Who?" Molly was confused.

"You know," Bo said. "Big muscular guy with a patch over his right eye and a buzzcut. Never smiles."

"He left this little message of yours at my house," Shirley said, handing Molly the paper with the eleven lines of

"YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR INTERFERENCE, HOLMES." Molly skimmed the paper. "I never sent this message, and I don't know about any one-eyed man."

"What about the trained falcon?" Bo asked.

"A falcon? Have you two lost it?" Molly had no idea what Shirley and Bo were talking about.

"I've never employed a one-eyed man nor a trained falcon in my life." Shirley and Bo looked at each other.

Shirley and Bo met Blake outside the Sussex Academy grounds. "So how did it go?" Blake asked them.

Shirley showed Blake the disk. "Mission accomplished...Sherlock," Bo said with a smile.

Blake shrugged. "The kids at my old school called me that because I liked mystery stories." He looked at Shirley.

"Do I have to give Molly back access to her Y site?"

"I'm afraid so, but I think you can handle her if she tries something," Shirley replied.

"No sweat," Blake said with a grin. "I take it this case is closed?"

"Not quite," Bo said. "There seems to be one little problem."

"What would that be?" Blake asked.

"Molly wasn't employing the one-eyed man or the falcon," Shirley revealed.

"What?" Blake was puzzled. "But if Molly didn't send them, then who did?"

Shirley was quiet. She honestly had no idea.

"Do you find my report satisfactory, my leader?" the one-eyed man asked with a trace of a German accent in his voice. He was standing at attention before his superior. On his left shoulder was a large falcon, which he occasionally petted on the head.

Behind his desk, Mr. E smiled evilly, holding up briefly the folder containing all the data the one-eyed man had collected in Redington.

"It is more than satisfactory, my friend. It is excellent, just like your other work."

The one-eyed man bowed his head, with the falcon doing the same.

"Thank you, my leader. It is an honor and a privilege to serve you and ENIGMA."

"What is our next move, sir?" the ever-present Nigel asked his master.

Mr. E took out a picture of Shirley taken by the one-eyed man from the folder and looked at it. "We simply watch and wait, my dear Nigel."

He continued to study the picture and chuckled evilly. "We simply watch...and wait," he repeated with a malevolent tone.