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Authors: Jen Banyard

Riddle Gully Secrets

BOOK: Riddle Gully Secrets
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In memory of my father
Ian Everingham
who taught us to love the bush.

CHAPTER ONE

She darted along the shadowy trail, adrenalin sparking through her limbs. Her eyes scanned for the snatches of white shirt flickering through the trees of the forest ahead; her nostrils twitched for shifting scents; her ears strained for every snap, every cry, every rustle, every …

‘Let's go back now!'

The voice was like a frypan clanging on the head of Pollo di Nozi, Youth Reporter for the
Coast
newspaper. She leapt around to face its owner.

‘You can't be serious, Will!' Pollo hissed. ‘We're chasing the first case we've had in weeks and you want to go back?'

‘The first case
you've
had in weeks,' said Will.

‘I thought you wanted to help.'

‘All I know is it's stinking hot and there are bull
ants everywhere and you won't let me wear these.' Will pointed at the rubber thongs sprouting from his hip pockets. ‘I do want to help but –
ouch
!' He slapped a fat red ant off his foot.

‘You were going to give us away in those things! Flap-flap, flap-flap! Why aren't you wearing runners?'

‘Hang on!' said Will. ‘One minute we're washing windows in the main street of town. Next thing we're tailing someone on Diamond Jack's Trail! How did I know to wear runners?'

‘I've told you a million times, Will Hopkins – a good investigator is always ready for action!'

‘You're the investigator, not me,' muttered Will. Pollo squinted through the haze of dust motes and tiny bugs, the sun bouncing off the eucalypt leaves. The flashes of white were getting harder to spot.

‘Okay,' she whispered, ‘put your thongs back on. But for goodness' sake, try to be quiet! Ash Swift is in some kind of trouble. We don't want to spook her into running away!'

CHAPTER TWO

It had been Will's idea, three hours earlier, to wash windows and earn a bit of cash. Somehow he'd got through the pocket money meant to last to the end of January. Mr Squeaky the window cleaner was holidaying at the coast – and Will saw an opening.

Their first stop was the Riddle Gully Second-Hand Emporium where the owner, Sherri, was an old friend of Pollo and her family. It was only when Will broke the second item in the window that Sherri seemed to get tetchy.

She waved them out the door with the dustpan brush. ‘Okay, here's five bucks each. It's time you skedaddled. I've got a mountain of work to do. Thanks for all your help!'

‘But we're only half-finished,' said Will.

‘Really?' Sherri looked along the glass shopfront with its smears and swirls. ‘Looks great to me!' She shut the shop door firmly, its bell tinkling.

‘I reckon Sherri wanted to get rid of us,' said Will, flopping down on a low wall where the Rotary Gardens met the footpath.

‘She was worried there'd be nothing left to sell if we stayed,' said Pollo, sitting beside him. ‘Put it this way, I think Mr Squeaky's business is safe.' She swatted a fly. ‘Anyway, I should be out finding news stories, not washing windows.'

‘But it's summer holidays!' said Will.

‘Not for much longer. My first column of the year is due next week. My editor emailed me yesterday just in case I'd forgotten. Next week, Will! And I've got zip! Since New Year there's been an outbreak of goodwill and happiness.' She pointed to a large black sedan parked in the shade nearby. ‘Even Mayor Bullock's been behaving himself.'

‘Just 'cos nothing
bad
has happened,' said Will, ‘doesn't mean nothing
newsworthy
has happened. What about the home you and your dad found for those ducklings? There's such a thing as good news, right?'

‘Good news is strictly a last resort.'

‘Maybe you could write about Shorn Connery and
Ear wrecking your back fence and having to be sent off to your cousin's farm while your dad fixes it. You could turn it into some kind of “pets and the funny stuff they do” story.'

‘Sheep push down fences all the time,' said Pollo. ‘It's not enough.' She tossed a woodchip from the garden high in the air and batted it with her palm. It hit Mayor Bullock's car with a soft thud.

‘There's a thought!' said Will. He slid off the wall and picked up an old ballpoint pen from the dirt. He pulled out the inner tube and turned to Pollo, a glint in his eye. ‘Got any paper?'

Pollo drew her notepad from under her T-shirt where it hung with her pencil on a leather thong. She ripped off a page. ‘Here you go. I sure don't need it to take notes on any news.'

Will began tearing the paper into pieces and popping them into his mouth.

‘What are you doing?' said Pollo.

Will, his cheeks puffed out, grinned. He waved for more paper … and then more. After serious mashing he took the gooey greyish-white gob from his mouth and divided it into twelve greyish-white gobettes. These he rolled into balls and lined up on the wall.

He fed one into the barrel of the empty pen,
narrowed his eyes and brought the loaded pen to his lips. ‘Rear-view mirror,' he said. He blew hard and fast.
Thew!
The paper dob hit the mayor's car window, where it clung like a bird dropping.

Pollo swung around to see if anyone had noticed. But the few people on the street all had their heads lowered against the sun, barely looking beyond their feet.

‘Here, give me a go!' She grabbed the pen barrel, loaded it and took aim.
Thew!
Her spitball hit the back passenger door.

They giggled. Will's next one hit the front wheel, then Pollo scored the rear-view mirror at last. Soon they weren't aiming at any part of the mayor's sedan in particular. They were ripping out the pages of Pollo's notebook and chewing them into gobs as fast as they could muster spit.

Will was taking aim for the twentieth time when Pollo grabbed his arm and pulled it down. She pointed to the Federal Hotel across the street. Three people were shaking hands on the top step, the familiar flaxen toupée of one of them gleaming.

Mayor Bullock! Pollo squinted. His companions, Pollo guessed, were both in their late twenties. The man was as broad as Mayor Bullock but far more muscly. His watch looked big enough to direct a NASA space probe.
The woman was elegantly dressed, a floaty scarf at her throat, but when she yawned she didn't bother covering her mouth.

The mayor's friends went back inside. Mayor Bullock clapped his hands, then danced sideways down the steps, splaying his arms as though in a Las Vegas show. He sauntered jauntily towards his car.

Will moved to scarper, but Pollo clamped a hand on his leg. ‘Don't move! If we run we'll look guilty!'

‘We
are
guilty!' said Will.

‘Mayor Bullock doesn't know that! Hold your nerve! Trust me!'

Will thought of the scrapes that trusting Pollo had got him into. But the mayor was approaching – it was too late to run now. He shoved the pen under his thigh and tried to think non-guilty thoughts
. Pancakes … peanuts … prison … No! Start again!

Mayor Bullock was closing in. The spitball-dappled vehicle beeped twice and amber lights flashed as from ten paces away he unlocked it.

‘Whatever you do, don't look at the spitballs!' Pollo hissed.

Mayor Bullock spotted Will and Pollo and saluted. He was as cheery as Pollo had ever seen him.

‘Hail, young citizens of Riddle Gully!' he called.
‘What brings you onto the streets? Not up to any shenanigans, I hope?' He fished a humbug lolly from his pocket, tossed it in the air and caught it in his mouth like a hungry carp. He peered at them expectantly, sliding the sweet from cheek to cheek.

Pollo pointed to their buckets on the footpath. ‘We've been washing windows. What about you, Your Worshipfulness? You don't have any news, do you? Something to do with those people you were with just now, maybe? My column's starting up again soon and you're always so … so … newsworthy!'

‘Newsworthiness is both a privilege and a burden of leadership,' sighed Mayor Bullock. He nodded towards the edge of town. ‘I trust you'll be reporting on the Diamond Jack Experience Tourist Centre – the establishment named for my noteworthy ancestor. It's coming along nicely. I must say, without me, this region's bushranger heritage would dwindle and die. 'Tis I who keeps the flame of history burning bright.'

And lines his pockets along the way
, thought Pollo. ‘Those people at the Federal Hotel,' she persisted, ‘– they looked like the sort of …' Pollo chose her words carefully, ‘…
influential
types who make things happen, like you.'

Will shifted on the wall uneasily, trying to keep his
eyes from flicking to the polka-dotted car panels the mayor couldn't see. Mayor Bullock leaned on the roof of his vehicle. Will prayed the mayor's gaze would stop at the edge.

‘They make things happen, alright,' chuckled the mayor. ‘You don't know the half of it, Miss di Nozi.'

‘What do you mean?' said Pollo, picking up what remained of her notepad. ‘That sounds a bit suspicious to me.'

Will expanded his prayer to include his sudden disappearance.

Mayor Bullock pursed his lips. ‘Let's just say that great riches lie in what history overlooks. You can write
that
down, young lady!' He popped another humbug into his mouth and slurped. ‘I might make it my family motto!'

The mayor suddenly turned his gaze to Will. ‘You're Sergeant Butt's boy, am I correct?'

‘I'm his stepson,' said Will.

‘Quite,' said the mayor. ‘Well, Sergeant Butt's stepson, do me a favour and exterminate those wretched snails there beside you.' He nodded at the wall. ‘They'll be eating my cherry tomatoes by the end of the day.'

Will looked down. Two spitballs were sitting on the wall in full view. A small white snail had ventured from
the garden behind and was sallying forth towards them.

‘Those snails remind me,' the mayor went on, ‘of the spitballs I whipped up as a youngster. Good old-fashioned fun they were – a pastime for which the youth of today lacks the imagination, your brains all fried by computer games, as they are.' He chuckled. ‘My spitball victims always squealed, especially at the old people's home, but there was no harm done.'

BOOK: Riddle Gully Secrets
4.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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