Frankie slammed the paper onto the kitchen table. He grabbed Sherlock’s leash and bounded out the door and down the rickety front stairs. The phone rang inside the house. Frankie ignored it. He knew who was calling. Sherlock met him at the bottom, prancing as though he were a tiny show pony. Frankie clipped the leash to Sherlock’s collar and readjusted his fedora. He pulled his scooter from the garden bed, checking over his shoulder in the hope that his mum would not discover where he’d left it.
Mrs Dupont peeked her head from the window, her top half engulfed in a bright red feather dressing gown. Frankie often wondered how many chickens had died for the cause. His mum reassured him it was “synthetic”. If he weren’t so busy at his dad’s new private investigation agency after school, he might launch an investigation of his own into the matter.
‘Frankie, you forgot your backpack,’ Mrs Dupont called as it came sailing through the air. He caught it with precision, celebrating his efforts with a gymnastics finish. Thunder clapped in the sky, and dark, foreboding clouds rolled in, reminding Frankie of the day that lay ahead. Today he had to be on his game. Today was the INVASION. Sherlock barked, snapping him out of his daydream.
‘Thanks, Mum,’ Frankie called as he scootered along the path with Sherlock trotting beside him. Another thunder cloud clapped and rain came bucketing from the heavens, forcing Frankie and Sherlock to pick up their pace.
Two hundred scooter pushes later, he reached Kat’s house with a deluge of water sleeting from his trench coat. Frankie fist-pumped the air. Two hundred was his personal best. Today he was certainly on a roll. Today he was ready for the INVASION.
Kat waited at the front door with a towel in hand. ‘I just called you.’ Sherlock wasted no time launching himself at Kat. She picked him up, drying him and giving him a doggie cuddle.
‘I know, I know.’ Frankie held his hands up in surrender. ‘You call each morning to remind me to pick you up.’
‘Well, Frankie, what does your dad always say?’ Kat’s brow creased as she popped Sherlock on the ground.
‘Your mum is always right.’
‘Pizza is a totally acceptable breakfast cereal.’
‘Don’t eat yellow snow.’
Kat shook the newspaper at him. ‘Don’t assume anything.’
Frankie breathed in deep. ‘I know. I saw the article ... Maizon Valley Grape factory closes today. How could I forget? It’s the reason we’re now in a combined class with two teachers tripping over each other.’ And the day the INVADERS arrive.
Kat shook her head. ‘Not that article. The one on the second page. You must be so nervous. After all, she is your benefactor’s daughter.’
‘Benefactor’s daughter? What are you talking about?’
Kat presented the paper and Frankie took it, a grumpy look on his face. As he scanned the page and read the headline, his eyebrows connected to become one.
De Carlo Cupcake Magnate Makes the Move on Enderby Manor
‘What?’ His chest tightened and his eyes darted from left to right as he continued with the article.
Merideth De Carlo, the daughter of the recently departed Evelyn De Carlo, has taken up shop in Enderby Manor, doing business as Evelyn’s Everlasting Cupcakes. Ms De Carlo will live and work on site in Enderby Manor, along with her daughters, Sienna and Giselle. Ms De Carlo’s husband, Clarence Ford, will be travelling throughout Europe, checking on the progress of their rapidly growing cupcake chain. He will join the family intermittently.
Frankie swallowed hard. ‘She’s here?’
‘Isn’t that fantastic? You will finally get to meet Evelyn’s daughter. You can thank her for giving you the money Evelyn left you.’ Frankie’s face flushed. He unbuttoned his trench coat and repositioned his fedora.
‘Yeah, I can’t wait.’ He said the words. However, the leftover pizza for breakfast rose in the pit of his stomach. It was bad enough that half his friends had to leave town because their parents worked in the Maizon Valley Grape factory. Now he was gonna have to meet Merideth De Carlo. Frankie’s eyelids prickled as though someone had squirted him with lemon juice. Sherlock jumped and appeared to have sprung out of a jack-in-a-box.
‘Okay, okay boy.’ He scratched Sherlock’s ear. ‘Let’s get this over with.’
‘Oh, don’t be like that. Anyone would think you don’t want me to be in your class. I know you’re calling it the INVASION.’
‘It’s not you.’ Frankie grimaced. He didn’t mind Kat being in his class at all. Although she was his younger cousin, she was one of the few kids who really understood his passion for private investigating. Kat could hold her own amongst the brainiacs. Frankie didn’t feel so comfortable. The Appleby triplets were a couple of years younger than Frankie and had aced every class since they hacked into their own kindergarten main frame, drawing moustaches on all their teachers’ profile pictures.
‘Well, I for one, can’t wait to start in our new class.’ Kat pulled on her bright red raincoat. ‘I hear Mr Mulberry is dreamy, and I know Miss Chestnut is sweet. I had her in first grade. She was wonderful.’
‘Yeah, really.’ Frankie feigned interest. ‘Let’s get this INVASION over with then.’
‘I know you dislike the Appleby triplets, but honestly! They aren’t as smart as they think they are.’
Sometimes Frankie disliked how well Kat had him figured out. Angus and Archie Appleby often poked fun at Frankie, saying he couldn’t solve a mathematical equation if his life depended on it. It was true. Frankie was a dork at maths, however, as his dad always said, “If things don’t add up, a calculator ain’t gonna help. You’ve gotta follow the evidence trail, no matter where it leads you”.
‘I’m not intimidated by them.’ Frankie huffed. ‘What bothers me is that Amy Appleby studies my every move. I suspect she might be a spy, and her work in the office after school is a front.’
‘Amy is harmless ... and you never know, maybe her super observant ways will come in handy one day.’
‘Not likely.’ Frankie rolled his eyes. He was proud of the fact that, at ten-and-three-quarter years of age, he was the first and only kid in the city of Maizon to pass his private investigator’s training exam. No genius nine-year-old was gonna take that from him.
‘Come on, Frankie. If we’re late, they won’t let you show Sherlock for show and tell.’ Sherlock’s ears pricked up at the mention of his name.
‘Let’s go then.’ Frankie jumped on his scooter, securing Sherlock’s leash to the handle bars.
‘Lead on, Holmes.’ Kat giggled, dragging her scooter from the garden bed.
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