Authors: Betty Ren Wright
Betty Ren Wright
Copyright Â© 1983 by Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Wright, Betty Ren.
The dollhouse murders.
Summary: A dollhouse filled with a ghostly light in the middle of the night and dolls that have moved from where she last left them lead Amy and her retarded sister to unravel the mystery surrounding grisly murders that took place years ago.
[1. DollhousesâFiction. 2. DollsâFiction.
3. Mystery and detective stories] I. Title.
PZ7.W933Do 1983Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â [Fic]Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 83-6147
, dear friend, talented writer, and dollhouse-lover, and for C
, whose marvelous dollhouses made me want to create an imaginary one of my own
The Dollhouse Murders
Amy Treloar kicked off her shoes and climbed onto a cushioned bench in the middle of Regents Mall. The mall was crowded with Friday-evening shoppers, some of whom turned to stare.
“Can you see her?” Ellen Kramer asked. “You ought to be able to see her. She's soâ”
“Big,” Amy finished and hopped down from the bench. It was true; she should have been able to find Louann's bright blue windbreaker, even in a crowd. At eleven, Louann was two inches taller than twelve-year- old Amy, and she weighed twenty pounds more. She was the biggest girl in her class at the Stadler School for Exceptional Children.
“My mother is going to kill me,” Amy moaned. “She
hangs on to Louann every single minute when they go shopping together.”
“Did she ever wander away before?”
“Only about a million times,” Amy said. It was the first time she'd gone shopping with Ellenâthe first time they'd planned to do something together after school. Ellen was new in Claiborne, and Amy was eager to have her for a friend.
This'll probably finish it
, Amy thought.
We're wasting the whole afternoon. This'll be the shortest friendship on record
“What can we do? Does she know how to make a phone call home?” Ellen was looking at a window display of designer jeans, probably wishing she'd come to the mall alone.
“She gets mixed up,” Amy said. “Besides, my mother isn't home yet. Let's go down to the crosswalk. She might be around the corner where we can't see her.”
As they neared the crosswalk, a squawking sound cut through the piped-in music. A moment passed before Amy realized that the squawking was voices.
“Oh, no,” she groaned. She'd recognized two words:
. There was a ripple of childish laughter.
Amy darted ahead. Around the corner, a thick carpet had been laid down the center of the walk, and a puppet stage was set up at one end. A crowd of small children and their mothers sat on the carpet and looked up at the stage, where a hawk-nosed puppet was shrieking questions at the audience. In the center of the group stood Louann, her face shining with excitement. She was answering
the puppet in a voice as shrill as his own.
Amy felt rather than saw Ellen step back around the corner. If only she could back away, too! But she couldn't. Already some of the mothers were looking annoyed.
“Louann!” Amy worked her way through the audience, trying not to step on small fingers. “I'm sorry. Excuse me, please.” She grasped a sleeve of the blue windbreaker and tugged. “Come on!”
Louann turned, her broad face radiant. “The puppet talks to me, Amy,” she said. “He asks my name.”
“Louann, move! This is for little kids.” She gripped her sister's wrist. Louann let herself be dragged away, but her eyes didn't leave the stage.
“ 'Bye,” she called. “Bye-bye, puppet.”
“ 'Bye, sweetie,” the puppet replied. “Come back soon.” There was laughter and some exasperated sighs from the mothers. “Who else is going to talk to me?” the puppet demanded.
A chorus of little voices sounded behind them as Amy pulled Louann into the main part of the mall. Ellen was several stores away, examining a display of shoes. Her face was carefully blank when they joined her, and she didn't look at Louann at all.
“What shall we do now?” Amy asked quickly. “Do you want to shop for something special, Ellen?”
Ellen shrugged. “We could go to the Casual Shop and check out their sweaters,” she said. “If you think it's all right.” She risked a hasty glance at Louann.
“I want to see the puppets,” Louann said. “Let's go back, Amy. I like the puppets.”
“We're going to the Casual Shop,” Amy snapped. “Come on.” Louann's mouth opened wide in the beginning of a wail. “It's down this way, past the flower shop,” Amy pointed. Her sister loved flowers.
“Where?” Louann broke away and started down the mall.
Amy let her go. There was no reason to hold Louann's hand every minute, as long as she kept her in sight.
“Are you going to buy a sweater?” she asked Ellen. “I wish I could.”
“A rugby shirt, maybe. I want a striped one.” They walked slowly, following the blue windbreaker. “I can't buy it, but if I find exactly the right one”âEllen rolled her eyes and grinnedâ“I can just sort of mention it at home. My birthday's in two weeks.”
“Two weeks? Mine is next FridayâJune fifteenth. The last day of school.”
“Mine's the twenty-second. We're practically twins.”
“Maybe we can have a party or something to celebrate,” Amy suggested. “A double birthday party would be fun.”
She waited for an answer, but Ellen was looking at the flower shop, where Louann had stopped to gaze at a floral display. “Oh-oh,” she said. “That man.Â .Â .Â .”
Amy followed her stare. A tall man had come out of the shop and was shaking his finger in Louann's face. Louann shrank back and looked around for help.
Amy started to run. This time Ellen followed right behind her.
“âand don't ever do that again!” the man shouted as the girls drew close. “You shouldn't be running around aloneâ” He stopped as Amy reached for Louann's hand. “Are you with her?”
Amy nodded. The hand in hers was trembling.
“Then why don't you watch her?” He was furious. “Look what she's done!”
A cluster of yellow tulips in pots stood on a low shelf in front of the store window. One of the blooms was broken and drooped over the edge of its pot.
“That's a nine-dollar item ruined!” the man fumed. “I ought to make your parents pay for it. They shouldn't let this kid out without someone responsible enough to look after her.”
Amy's face burned. “I'm sorry,” she said over Louann's mounting sobs. “We have tulips at home, and she knows it's okay to pick
. She just forgotâI mean, she understands she shouldn't pick other people's flowers, but she likes them so muchâ”
“That helps a whole lot, doesn't it?” the florist said sarcastically. “Somebody'd better teach her how to behave if she's going to wander around in a public place.”
Amy's embarrassment was swallowed up in rage. She had ten dollars in her wallet, the last of her Christmas money from her grandmother. She'd hoped to pick out a bathing suit today and use the ten dollars to put the suit on lay-away until after her birthday. Suddenly,
though, it was more important to make this man regret his rudeness.
“We have money,” she said. “Louann, stop crying. It's okay.” She glared at the florist. “You said nine dollars?”
He glared back. Then his gaze flicked over the people who had stopped to listen and were looking at Louann.
“That poor child,” one woman said. “She's heartbroken. Look how she's crying. She didn't know any better, you can tell.”
Amy took the ten-dollar bill from her wallet and held it out. “I need change,” she said.
Louann stopped crying. The mall became very quiet. The florist started to reach for the bill, then turned away in disgust.
“Forget it,” he snapped. “Just keep that girl away from my stock.” He went back into the shop, muttering under his breath.
The mall came back to life. Spectators moved off, shaking their heads, and the three girls were left by themselves.
“Let's get away from here,” Amy said. “I hate that man! If I were a tulip, I'd fall over and die just having him around.”
“Die?” Louann looked down at the bright yellow flowers. She was ready to cry again. “Flowers die?”
“No, no, no! Not unless you pick them!”
“Maybe we'd better just go home,” Ellen said. “I don't think I feel like shopping today.”
Amy felt sick. “Okay,” she said. “Whatever you
It was just awful
, Ellen would tell her mother when she got home.
Everybody was looking at us. I'll never go shopping with Amy Treloar again
Outside, the sun was low in the sky. An early-evening breeze stirred the banners across the mall's main entrance. Louann lagged a few feet behind Amy and Ellen. “The puppet showÂ .Â .Â .” she murmured sadly as they started across the parking lot. Amy pretended not to hear. She was waiting for Ellen to say something.
“You were fantastic in there, Amy. I loved it when you pulled out the money. I was scared to death of that man. What a beast!”
Amy took a deep breath. Maybe Ellen wasn't completely disgusted after all. “I was scared, too,” she confessed. “But he made me so mad! Louann makes me mad, too, but I still don't like it when people insult her. She can't help the way she is.”
That was something Amy kept telling herself. Lately, though, it hadn't helped much. The only time she could feel sympathy for her sister was when someone else spoke sharply to Louann or made fun of her. Otherwise, resentment was always boiling under the surface.
“I'm sorry Louann spoiled the shopping,” Amy hurried on. “I didn't want to bring her with us, but my mother works, and there's no one at home after school.”
“It's hard for you,” Ellen said. “I don't know if I could do it.”
“You would if you had to.” The words came out tartly, and Amy rushed to change the subject. “About
the picnic tomorrow,” she said. “What time should I pick you up?”
She stressed the
ever so slightly, hoping Ellen would take that as a signal that Louann wouldn't be coming. The two girls had made plans for Saturday earlier in the week, when Amy had mentioned Rainbow Falls north of town, and Ellen had said she'd like to see it. Since they'd be taking their bikes, there was no question of Louann's tagging along. She couldn't ride a bike, though she'd tried at least a hundred times.