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Praise for CALENDULA PROOF:

 

“Anyone middle school-aged or above will find something to love about this story…a fun yet heart-racing escape” —US Book Views

 

“CALENDULA PROOF deserves praise for its heart…but the power of truth is its most modern and enduring message.” —IndieReader

Chapter 1

 

“No good!  That’s what they’re up to!” old Mrs. Beckwith declared.  “The mayor can talk all he wants about civic pride and the community of Calendula, but he may as well hang a sign at the city limits that says, come on in, riffraff, and do what you please!  Take away downtown and the marina and the island, and what have you got?”

Astride their bikes in shirts, tank tops, and shorts, Danny, Lola, Gustavo, Matthew, Jeremy, Michael, and Taylor stared at her.  Mrs. Beckwith was a petite woman, with bulbous blue eyes that were too big for her face.  Her smoky voice was rooted in New York City, but she dyed her hair the color of Pacific sand.  She was overdressed, as always—she wore a tweed jacket and skirt today—and was never seen without heels, pearls, and fresh lipstick, even when she was walking her tightly leashed dogs, tiny mix-breeds that were both wearing doggie diapers and clear plastic head cones.

“This!” Mrs. Beckwith exclaimed.  “This is what’s left!  Our city, where we live!  We’re not tourists in town for the day, or stopping to gas up our cars on our way to someplace else!  We live here!  But there are weeds in our garden, children, and it falls to us to dig them out!”

 

Jeremy had short dark hair, and his frown was all eyebrows and eyes—his mouth was usually closed tight, as if there was always something bothering him.  “You want us to help you garden?”

“I want you to tell me why every summer brings such a monumental breakdown of law and order!” Mrs. Beckwith said.  “Left is right, up is down, No Trespassing means Make Yourself at Home!  Am I really the only person not surprised this happened?”

When no one spoke up, Gustavo asked, “What happened, Mrs. Beckwith?”

She threw up her hands, yanking the leashes, and both dogs.  “Summer’s barely started, and already your brains have turned to pudding?  I can’t do everything myself!  I thought you had a club?”

“We do, the Mysterious Adventures Society,” said Gustavo.  He normally introduced them with a bow, his spiky, sandy blond hair dipping low with the flourish of his arm, but today, the introduction was as hesitant as if he was stepping onto a skating rink in tennis shoes.

“There you go,” Mrs. Beckwith said, satisfied.

“But to do what?”  Matthew wore his Oakland A’s hat backward over his shaggy brown hair, and his smile had a gap in his upper teeth.  Both of his elbows and one knee were covered in Band-Aids after he wiped out yesterday doing one of his endless tricks on his

bike.

 

“Find out who broke in there last night!” Mrs. Beckwith said.  “They arrived at dusk, in a white cargo van, which they parked illegally in a loading zone!  So what if it’s not a functioning loading zone anymore, it’s still marked as such!  They were gone this morning.  I was out at dawn, as always, and they weren’t there.  I want action!”

 

The kids turned to look behind them at the building.  It was a brick, two-story forgotten piece of Calendula commerce. None of the glass remained in what had once been the street-level display window, or those in the residential floor above.  They’d all been covered with sheets of plywood, which were warped and stained after so many years exposed to the weather.

“Nobody did anything with the place after Dominic’s Fine Art closed,” Mrs. Beckwith said.  “It just sits there, slowly decaying.  I hoped that when the café opened, it would spur someone to do something with it, but it’s as if they can’t even see it!  I kept telling them, if you don’t do something with it, the riffraff will!  And finally, they have!  I saw light coming from inside last night.”  Mrs. Beckwith lifted one of her dogs partially off the ground as she pointed at a weathered white cottage up the street, with a turret window curving from the front corner of the house.  “I live right there, I see everything from my window.  I know everything and everyone around here, except them!” 

The kids’ attention was up the street at the lively Lemon Café.  At this range, its sweetness was overpowering.  It was hard enough to concentrate on Mrs. Beckwith’s story even without the distraction of smelling the pastries and cookies and cakes being baked fresh, right under their noses.  So close, they could practically taste them.

“Are you listening to me?” Mrs. Beckwith demanded.

Danny cleared his throat, and said, “Yes, ma’am.”  He was the tallest of the group, with reddish-brown hair and a slightly crooked nose.

“Riffraff,” said Matthew.

“I nearly let the air out of their tires last night, literally and figuratively!” said Mrs. Beckwith.  “It’s the easiest thing in the world to do—you just press on the valve with a screwdriver, which is one of the most indispensable tools you can carry!  No Trespassing means exactly that!  So your club, whatever you’re called…?”

“The Mysterious Adventures Society,” Gustavo offered again.  

“Whatever you are, you’re going to ensure that they get their just rewards!” Mrs. Beckwith said.

“What are just rewards?” Taylor asked Danny.  She was African American and was already almost as tall as her older brother Michael.  She had her hair tied back in braids, as she often did.  Everyone but Michael called her Tay-Tay, for “Tag Along Taylor.”  Since their mom worked two jobs, she made Michael look after Taylor, which meant Taylor was often out with him and his friends, instead of her own, where she wanted to be.

Mrs. Beckwith bared her gray teeth, “Punishment!”

“A punishment that someone really deserves,” Danny said to Taylor.

Gustavo angled his bike to depart.  “Okay, well, we’ll get right on it, Mrs. Beckwith.  Thanks for bringing it to our attention.  You have a nice day.”

“Your word is the same as a contract, young man,” Mrs. Beckwith sniffed.

“We’ll do our best, Mrs. Beckwith.”

“What’s the point of doing anything else?” Mrs. Beckwith said, and, tongue clicking, guided her yapping dogs along the sidewalk.

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© 2020 Steve McManus