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, especially the little light show she added."
"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, Bartman," 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 light 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?"
"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."
"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.