Minerva Clark Gives Up the Ghost

MINERVA CLARK
gives up the ghost

by KAREN KARBO

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Also by Karen Karbo

For Fiona

1

The day Angus Paine called, I was at the mall with my mother—known to the rest of the world as Mrs. Dagnitz—shopping for something to wear to her wedding reception. We were in Claire's, searching for the perfect necklace to go with my perfect new halter dress. My mom's favorite word is “perfect.” My new halter dress was a dark chocolate brown with big, pale pink polka dots. My oldest older brother, Mark Clark, who was normally in charge of me, would never have bought me this dress. He would have thought it was too grown-up and expensive. But Mrs. Dagnitz was trying to suck up to me because she left our family and moved to Santa Fe. Of course, I let her. What else was I supposed to do?

I wandered around Claire's. The place was crowded with pairs of chirpy girlfriends, girls and their bored
boyfriends, and a little girl sitting in a high white-leather chair, kicking her legs, too young to be afraid of the ear-piercing coming her way.

I refused to look at the necklaces. I was in a moody freak mood. Mrs. Dagnitz and Mr. Dagnitz had already had one wedding reception for their yoga vegetarian friends in Santa Fe, but they could not just leave it at that. She needed to drag Mr. Dagnitz all the way to where we lived in Portland, Oregon, for a second wedding reception. She had told Mark Clark that she thought it was time we all began bonding. When Mr. Dagnitz was just plain old Weird Rolando, with his man braid and yoga pants, my brothers and I weren't required to bond. Now it was a whole new deal. Now, on her side of the family, we were blended, and she needed to organize an extra wedding reception to rub it in.

I looked at the rubber glow-in-the-dark MP3 cases. They felt strange, like what I imagine a corpse would feel like. I've never touched a corpse and I don't have an MP3 player. I used to like that I didn't have one, thought it made me deep. Now I wanted one. I wanted to
have
one, right that minute. I didn't want to wait for my birthday, which was coming up in exactly twenty-three days.

“How about this?” said Mrs. Dagnitz. She stood in front of the necklace wall at the back of the store, fingering a gold chain. “Now that's cute—it's a guitar pick. On a chain. It's fourteen-karat gold … isn't that sweet?
Isn't that sort of perfect? A guitar-pick necklace. They have them in tortoiseshell and black. Should we get one of each?”

Mrs. Dagnitz's other hand rested on her skinny waist. I used to love that she was a trim, athletic mom. Now I think it wouldn't kill her to act her age, which is old. There should be a rule that when a girl becomes a teen, her mom has to stop shopping in the Junior section. Mrs. Dagnitz was wearing a pair of white shorts, a tank top, and some ancient blue leather Birkenstocks she used to garden in, back when she was still married to my dad and had the last name of Clark, like the rest of us. Her toenails were painted mint green.

“Minnow?” she called out as she looked around for me.

I hated it when my mother called me Minnow. I am three inches taller than her with about ten times as much hair. She was the minnow.

“These necklaces—aren't they just adorable?” she called out in a louder voice. Like I hadn't heard her the first time.

“I don't play the guitar,” I said.

“I don't think that really matters. It's sassy, don't you think?”

Sassy?
Was Mrs. Dagnitz
trying
to make my head explode from pure irritation?

Mrs. Dagnitz fished the necklace off the hook where it was hanging and checked the price. “It'd look cute
with your little halter dress. I love what that dress does for your hair. It really brings the red out. You should always consider dark brown to be your black. The way other girls have little black dresses? You should have little dark brown dresses.”

I thought,
Yeah, I'll get right on that
.

To be fair, Mrs. Dagnitz was doing her best to be nice.

I shuffled toward the necklace wall, stopping to gaze with fake interest at a twirling rack that displayed nothing but headbands. Then at some bracelets made of plastic beads that looked like green grapes. Then a rhinestone tiara.

Mrs. Dagnitz stood in front of the necklace wall and waited. She didn't even tap her foot. She was really trying. I gave it another twelve hours, and that was if the heat wave broke. By ten A.M., according to the radio, it was already a hundred out. I stuck the tiara on my head.

“Look, I'm a princess,” I said.

Mrs. Dagnitz threw her head back and laughed. I sighed. It wasn't that funny. It wasn't funny at all, in fact. I was hoping to lure her into saying something so lame I could get away with rolling my eyes. But no. What was going on? Why was she being so patient and weird? Maybe it was because she was in love (with Mr. Dagnitz). I was also in love (with Kevin), but I wasn't in such a bombdiggity great mood.

Suddenly, from behind the cash register the counter
girl called out, “I gotta ask—aren't you Minerva Clark?”

“Uh … I am. How did you know?” I snatched the tiara off my head and slung it back on its hook. I walked over to where she was rearranging some rings inside a plastic case. She kept moving them around long after they looked as if they were in order. I could tell she was nervous.

“You're famous, girlfriend!” she said. The cashier was tall, with short, dyed-orange hair. She had a gold ring dangling from beneath her button nose. Her name tag said “Scarecrow.”

“Famous?”

“Well, not like Brad Pitt. But famous around here.” Scarecrow giggled. She
was
nervous.

The only thing I could imagine is that she'd read the story about my last mystery in the Sunday newspaper.

“Check it out.” She waved me around the counter. Her perfume smelled like lemon pie. Sure enough, taped to the side of the cash register was a copy of the story. The headline said something dorky about Portland's Own Nancy Drew. There was a color picture of me standing in my driveway in front of my bike, attempting to cuddle Jupiter beneath my chin. I tried to tell the photographer that ferrets were many things, but cuddlers they were not. He didn't care. He snapped away as Jupiter snaked around and tried to bite my thumb.

In the story, the reporter called me “a unique 'tween with a flair for solving mysteries,” and told how I'd
cracked an identity-theft ring, caught a murderer, and then gone on to help esteemed local jeweler Louis de Guzman recover a rare red diamond, stolen during his return to Portland from London.

Don't believe everything you read. The reporter got it all wrong. I solved the mystery of who stole the diamond, but the gem was gone for good. Also, I am thirteen, which is not a 'tween but a full-blooded teenager.

The story also talked about the electric shock that nearly killed me. Also not true. An electric shock had not nearly killed me, but it had done some weird things with my mind. Like just about every teenage girl, I used to despise myself. Now, for a reason that no one could explain, I thought I was okay just the way I was. Because I wasn't thinking about how I appeared to people all the time, I was more perceptive than the average kid. I could see what was going on with people. They quoted Dr. Lozano, the children's brain expert who examined me after my accident, about how unusual I was, about how she'd had only one other patient like me, ever.

“We have been totally swamped since this story came out,” said Scarecrow.

She pointed to a sentence someone had highlighted with neon-green highlighter. It said how Louis de Guzman had replaced the glass center stone in his daughter's ring with the red diamond, for purposes of
transporting it into the country from London, and that the ring had come from Claire's.

“At least once a day I get someone asking if we have that same ring. What's with that?”

“They probably think there might just be a million-dollar diamond accidentally stuck in the middle of it.” My other idea was that people were basically crazy.

“What's going on?” said Mrs. Dagnitz, suddenly appearing at my shoulder. She wore the same clean-sheets-smelling perfume she'd worn since I was a little girl. For some reason, I found this annoying.

“Nothing,” I said.

Scarecrow opened her mouth, probably to tell Mrs. Dagnitz the same thing she'd just told me, but before she could speak, my cell rang—
Oooo-oooo-oooo-ahhnn!
Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa.
Oooo-oooo-oooo-ahhnn!
Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa.

“Good Lord!” said Mrs. Dagnitz. She was so startled by my new ring tone—a wild gorilla beating her chest—that she hopped back and clean out of one of her Birkenstocks. She fell sideways and grabbed my arm. I rolled my eyes. I got the ring tone from my best friend, Reggie, who got it from a guy he knows who works at some world-famous zoo.

“It's just a gorilla, Mom. Jeez!”

“You about gave me a heart attack,” Mrs. Dagnitz said, rolling
her
eyes. “There isn't a nice little tune you could use for a ring tone?”

No, Mommie dearest, there is no nice little tune.
I flipped open my phone.

Scarecrow smiled at my mother's total lameness and asked if she could ring up the guitar-pick necklace.

“Is this Minerva Clark?” asked the quiet voice on my phone. It was halting and soft. I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl until it flew up and squeaked at the end of the sentence. It was a boy, about my age.

“What?” I asked. “I can't hear you.”

The caller cleared his throat. “I'm looking for Minerva Clark.”

“This is Minerva. But you're going to have to talk louder.”

“I need a mystery solved.”

Excitement whirled in my stomach. Could this be the beginning of my real sleuthing career? I had stumbled upon my first mystery by accident, and my second mystery involved helping Louis de Guzman's daughter, Chelsea, who was in my class at school. To be a real sleuth I needed strangers to call me up and seek my help.

“Who is it?” said Mrs. Dagnitz, pawing through her huge purse in search of her wallet. Mrs. Dagnitz carried the biggest purse in the nation. You could lose a ham in that purse. I turned away from the counter and strolled back across the store, stopping in front of a rack of beaded bracelets.

“Do I know you?” I asked the caller. I stood with my back to my mother, my finger pressed to my nonphone
ear, just so I could hear. Mark Clark would have nailed me to the floor for being rude.

“I don't think we've ever met,” said the voice. “My name is Angus Paine. Have you ever been to Corbett Street Grocery? It's my family's store.”

“Sounds familiar,” I said.

“We're one of the stops on Cryptkeeper Ron's Tour of Haunted Portland. Have you been on the tour or heard of it?”

“Sure,” I said. “My brothers took me on it around Halloween a couple of years ago.” I didn't remember any haunted grocery stores. There were about six stops on the tour, but the one that stuck with me most was the haunted elementary school, where the boys' bathroom was haunted by a kid who'd drowned when a group of older boys had stuck his head in the toilet.

“Our ghost lives in the walk-in freezer,” said Angus Paine.

“Cool,” I said. “Ha ha.”

Either Angus Paine didn't get the pun, or else he wasn't in a laughing mood.

“Or she did, anyway,” he said. “We're not sure she's even there anymore.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking,
Please tell me that Angus Paine is not going to ask me to use my Ouija board to find his lost ghost
.

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