But excitement finds Lexi and Kevin when, while waiting for their aunt in Grand Central in the famous Whispering Gallery, Lexi overhears a conversation about a big jewel heist going down. Once at Aunt Roz's, the siblings meet Kim Ling Levine in the building. Half Chinese, half Jewish, persuasive and all knowing, Kim Ling urges them to ditch day camp and dig into the more exciting mystery Alexi overheard in Grand Central. After several missteps and a run-in with a mischievous runaway can Lexi, Kevin, and Kim find out who's behind the jewel heist without getting into too much trouble themselves?
About the Author
JOHN J. BONK is a former musical comedy performer turned writer who has hung up his tap shoes to devote his time to performing on the page. He is the author of the comic middle-grade novels, Dustin Grubbs: One-Man Show and Dustin Grubbs: Take Two! He lives in a high-rise in the heart of Manhattan with his indefatigable kitty, Dinah Blue.
Read an Excerpt
By John J. Bonk
Walker Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 John J. Bonk
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHISPERING GALLERY
"Woo-hoo, we're finally here. You excited?" Lexi McGill turned to her little brother, who was slumped in the train seat next to her. She yanked the earbuds from his ears but he still didn't budge. This was weird—he was usually as jumpy as a hummingbird on sugar. "C'mon, Kevin, wake up!" she said, rattling him.
His eyes sprang wide open. Then clamped shut.
"Okay, that is so not funny. You scared me half to—" Death got stuck in her throat.
"Not trying to be funny. Just doing one of Dr. Lucy's calming exercises. Picturing yellow tulips. Butterflies. A smiling cow." Kevin opened his big green eyes again and innocently blinked up at Lexi. "So even though we're going to Murderville, my brain thinks we're, like, in some sunny meadow somewhere munching on egg salad sandwiches."
"That explains the drool. Wait—you don't even like egg salad."
At least he had made it through the tunnel okay. Lexi knew for a fact that Kevin was especially terrified of tunnels. And he always clenched up in trains, cars, buses, boats, bumper cars, recreational vehicles, and airplanes. For him, it seemed traveling to a place was much scarier than the place itself. But she wasn't exactly sure what would happen in—
"NEEEW YAWK CITY! GRRR-RAND CENTRAL STATION. FINAL STOP!"
The announcement rang through the train car and everyone gathered their belongings. Lexi felt the weight of Kevin's blinkless stare the whole time she was grabbing their duffel bags from the overhead shelf and squishing through the doors onto the crowded platform. But what did she expect? Coming from the sleepy village of Cold Spring, New York, the big city was like another planet.
"Aunt Roz is supposed to meet us right here at eleven." Lexi checked her watch. "It's two minutes after and I don't see her, do you, Kev?"
"No, and she's hard to miss."
"You think maybe she's waiting at the other end of the platform?" She strained to see through a thicket of people. It was impossible. "Okay, listen. I'm not going to make you hold my hand or anything, but stick close to my side at all times."
Lexi winced at her own words as they hoisted their duffels and melted into a blur of business suits and briefcases. Twelve going on thirteen was way too young to be a mother, but that was how she felt—and she had to admit she was good at it. Too darn good. I might as well start learning how to scrapbook and get grass stains out of corduroy. There was less than three years' difference between Lexi and Kevin, but ever since their mother died almost two years ago, Lexi automatically morphed into the parent and Kevin became the toddler whenever the situation called for it. Like right now!
"Watchit!" She tugged Kevin to her side. Two policemen and a sniffing German shepherd sliced right by and he was off in la-la land. "Stay alert and don't dawdle." Dawdle? Total mom word—from, like, the fifties.
"Who do you think they're tracking, Lex? Serial killer? Drug lord? Jewel thief?"
"You watch too much TV. Just picture yourself back in that sunny meadow."
Kevin's eyelids fluttered shut. "It's not working anymore. Somebody mugged the cow."
After saying she wouldn't, Lexi grabbed his sweaty hand and led him to the platform entrance, where they dropped their duffels and planted themselves. The sight of the gigantic main concourse in Grand Central Terminal alone was almost too much to take in all at once. Hundreds of people were rushing in different directions, their muffled murmurs sounding like a whole summer's worth of bees trapped in a jar.
"Wow," Kevin said, summing it up in a word.
"They don't call it 'Grand' for nothing. This place has everything."
"Except Aunt Roz. Where the heck is she?"
"Stores, restaurants, banks—"
"A psycho guy dressed in a giant milk carton costume, handing out free samples."
"Don't point." Lexi lowered his arm and they both scanned the terminal, looking this way and that like two bobblehead dolls. "Think about it, Kev. You could probably live your whole life in the train station and never have to leave."
He pondered it for a second. "Where would you sleep?" Then his head fell back and his jaw dropped open. "Oooh, check out the ceiling!"
It was a rich greenish blue, stretching farther than a football field. A ram, a scorpion, a crab, and the rest of the zodiac symbols were outlined in yellow, and tiny white lights dotted the constellations. Kevin, who loved all things celestial, reached into his backpack and removed his digital camera, a gift from their new stepmother, Clare—or as Lexi called it, "another desperate attempt to buy our affection."
Lexi checked her cell phone for any messages from Aunt Roz. Nothing. "Well, we might as well wait for her here," she told Kevin. "You don't need to use the bathroom or anything, do you? Any emergencies? Speak now or forever hold your ... pee."
He was going snap-happy taking pictures of the ceiling from every angle and mumbled something about not being a baby.
"I'll take that as a no," Lexi said. She dropped her phone into her backpack, slid out an NYC guidebook, and cracked it open. A brochure fell to the ground.
Kevin stopped snapping and fell to his knees to snatch it up. "Hey, is this the new one?" The cover had a picture of three smiling kids in a swimming pool with a city skyline in the background. "'Camp NYC, offering the best of both worlds,'" he read.
Lexi groaned. Not just because of the summer camp, but the reason they were enrolled. Their dad was leaving that same day for an extended honeymoon in France and Greece with his new, very rich wife. The trip was on her dollar and summer camp was too. A double whammy. When Aunt Roz was asked if she wanted roommates for a few weeks, she said she was only too happy to have the company—but what else could she say, really?
"'A fun-packed three-week program,'" Kevin read out loud, "'offering everything from row boating and rock climbing in magnificent Central Park to world—uh, world-renowned museums and thrilling theatrical productions, Camp NYC provides a broad experience unlike any other.' Just FYI: that rock-climbing thing—not gonna happen. 'Now entering its sixth year, this extraordinary program ...'"
That was the problem—it didn't sound that extraordinary. Not to Lexi anyway. Kevin's voice became a distant buzz as she stared into the endless parade of commuters. It's like they all have fantastically important things to do and can't wait to go do them, she thought, fanning herself with her guidebook. She was wishing something extraordinary would happen to her this summer when a raggedy man wearing a cardboard sign caught her eye. GIVE TO THE NEW YORK WILDLIFE PIZZA FUND. A street person with a sense of humor—Lexi couldn't resist. She tore into her backpack for her wallet, slipped out a dollar, and dropped it into the Easter basket the man was carrying.
"Thank you kindly, young lady. You have a delicious day now!"
"You're wel—I mean, you too."
That was when someone rammed into her. "Ugh!" Hard.
"Sorry," was all the rushing girl said before disappearing behind an archway.
"Uh, no prob!" Lexi called out. She didn't mean it, though. It felt as if she had been hit by a wrecking ball, and sorry, but that klutz did not sound sorry at all!
"You all right?" Kevin asked, looking stunned.
Lexi pushed up her sleeve to check out the damage. "Shoot, I'll bet that leaves a mark." She rubbed her arm, riding a wave of dizziness, but assured Kevin she was okay, that accidents happen. With a sudden gasp, her hand shot up to the pendant of her necklace. It was still there, thank goodness. Her mom had given it to her for her tenth birthday and it was her favorite possession. Genuine opal. She tucked the necklace safely under her shirt and over her wildly beating heart, believing disaster would strike if it ever left her neck. Of course, that bit of strangeness she kept strictly to herself.
Speaking of strange, Aunt Roz was tearing through the crowd at a mad clip, wearing giant sunglasses and a floppy, wide-brim straw hat with a polka-dot bow. Finally! She looked like something out of old Hollywood.
"I'm so sorry I'm late!" Aunt Roz said, fighting for breath as if she had just run the New York City Marathon in her slingbacks. "My lord, you must be panicking. Traffic was atrocious. Some bigwig politician's in town or something and they blocked off Sixth Avenue ... or Avenue of the Americas ... what ever they're calling it these days." She clasped her hand to her chest. "Oh, just look at the two of you! I can't believe how much you've grown. Hugs!"
Aunt Roz scooped them into an embarrassing group hug, rocking them back and forth like some strange stationary ballroom dance. "I hope you kids are hungry," she said as she eventually let them go. She whipped off her sunglasses and dropped them into her giant straw tote with a wink. "I made reservations downstairs at the Oyster Bar and Restaurant. We should vamoose."
"That was nice of you," Lexi said, smiling. "Thanks, Aunt Roz."
"Oh, you can thank the New York Lottery."
"Awesome!" Kevin gushed. "You won the lottery?"
"From your lips to God's ears. No, I did a commercial for them last year." She grabbed one handle strap of Kevin's duffel, he grabbed the other, and Lexi followed them into the endless swirl of commuters. "I'm about to blow my last residual check on our fancy-shmancy lunch, so I hope you guys can survive on mac and cheese for the next few weeks."
Aunt Roz tittered as if that were a joke, but Lexi wondered if she was serious. Kevin probably was wondering too, judging from his twisted face.
"So, kids, how was your train ride in? It's such a lovely trip along the Hudson."
"Fine," Kevin told her. "Until somebody bashed into Lexi, like, a minute ago."
Aunt Roz came to a worried standstill. "Oh, sweetheart! Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Lexi said, shooting Kevin a why'd-you-have-to-open-your-big-mouth glare. "It was no big deal."
"Well, I wouldn't be too concerned, dear." And Aunt Roz took off again. "With eight million– plus people running around this city like chickens with their heads cut off, rumps will be bumped and toes will be stepped on. Right? Right. So why I'm wearing open- toed pumps—well, you tell me."
The conversation skipped from pumps to bunions to the big gold clock that sprouted from the center of the information kiosk in Grand Central. Aunt Roz said it was supposed to be some rare, priceless treasure but passersby were hardly giving it a second glance except maybe to double-check the time. Lexi quickly looked it up in her guidebook. It said the gilded clock was literally priceless, that all four faces were made of precious opal. Opal? But they were a drab, blah white compared to the iridescent luster of her opal pendant.
"Funny," Lexi said, still gazing at the clock, "how you could be staring right at a priceless trea sure and never know it."
"Oh, honey, you just said a mouthful."
Aunt Roz started rattling off a whole list of obscure New York treasures—theaters, monuments, sculptures, herself—as they picked up speed, heading for the split marble staircase that led down to the dining concourse. When they reached the lower level, a burst of delicious aromas greeted them full force, and so did the walking, talking milk carton man.
"C'mon, folks," he said, "gimme a break. I'm dressed like milk and you won't even take my free samples?"
"I think that guy is stalking us." Kevin jackknifed his duffel in an effort to steer clear. "No. Really."
Aunt Roz practically twisted an ankle reaching for a packet of the man's Dairy-Eze Chewables. She probably didn't want to hurt his feelings. Lexi took two samples as well, just to show her brother he was being paranoid, if nothing else. They all took a second to regroup, then journeyed on through an open seating area, which was a symphony of chatting diners, clashing silverware, and smacking lips. When they rounded a corner where the Oyster Bar was in full view, Aunt Roz dropped her end of the duffel and did a kind of trancelike twirl.
"Oh, kids," she puffed. "Do you know where we're standing right now?"
"Um, in front of the restaurant?" Kevin answered.
"No, wisenheimer. Well, yes, but that's not what I mean. We're in the Whispering Gallery."
"The what?" Lexi looked around for signs—or paintings? There were none. Other than the entrance to the restaurant, it was just a darkish bare hallway with a series of large marble archways.
"Savvy New Yorkers know that if someone whispers something facing one of these four corners—say, this one," Aunt Roz said, gesturing to it like a model from The Price Is Right, "another person can hear them in the opposite corner way over there."
"Photo op!" Kevin blurted and took a snapshot of Aunt Roz in her silly pose.
"Fair warning next time," Aunt Roz said, blinking. "Now I'll be seeing spots all through lunch. Anyway, it has something to do with the acoustics—how the sound travels. They say this is where sweethearts used to whisper their fond farewells when the young men were leaving their beloveds to serve in World War Two."
"I don't get it." Kevin scuttled to one of the corners, gazing up at the herringbone pattern of shiny bricks covering the low, rounded ceiling. "So, what do I do? Just talk?"
"No." Lexi dropped her bag in the opposite corner. "Whisper."
"You'll get the hang of it," Aunt Roz said, and breezed toward the door of the Oyster Bar, leaving a perfume trail. "You two have fun while I check on our reservations."
Lexi swept her sweaty curls up the back of her neck and leaned into her corner to give the Whispering Gallery a try. "Hellooo," she sang like a bashful ghost. "How are yooou?"
Kevin squealed. "I heard that!" he cried out over his shoulder, then turned back to the wall. "Testing, testing. Do you read me?"
"Totally!" She heard him as clearly as if he were standing right in front of her. "How amazing is this?"
"Okay, listen," Kevin said, dropping his voice an octave, "I have top-secret information for agent Alexandra McGill. But first you must prove that you're really you—her. Over."
"Huh? Oh. I am prrrepared to answer any and all qvestions," Lexi replied in her best Russian accent, holding in her laugh. "Please to prrroceed."
"Roger. Only the real Alexandra McGill would know her home address. Over."
"Wait, that's not true, but—okay, it's tree-tventy-tree Barrett Pond Rrrroad. Cold Spring, New York, von-o-five-vonsix."
"Roger that. Only the real Alexandra McGill would know—her favorite color. Over."
"Pink. Pale, not hot."
"Only the real—"
"Just get on with it already, bonehead!"
"I'm thinking." Kevin cleared his throat. "Your mission, Miss McGill, should-a you choose-a to accept," he said in an even goofier accent than Lexi's, "is to carry out the original plan—you know, as planned, but—oh, never mind, there's Aunt Roz! Abort. Abort."
Lexi spun around to see their aunt waving from the doorway of the Oyster Bar. She turned to grab her bag and heard another weird voice. British this time?
"Wait, let's settle this first. Where're we hiding the bloody jewels?"
She smirked. "How about next to the body we buried?" was waiting on her lips, but a quick glance over her shoulder told her to hush. Kevin and Aunt Roz were already entering the restaurant, and two men dressed in black were huddled together in the very same spot where Kevin had stood. Lexi's heart skipped a beat. She hooked her hair behind one ear and leaned into the corner as casually as possible to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"There's an abandoned train station here in Grand Central," the other man said, sounding American, "several levels below the East Terminal. Track Sixty-one."
"So, what're you suggesting, burying them down there? Don't be absurd."
"Until things die down and they can be stripped and shipped to Cartagena."
"Are you winding me up, mate? It's too—crazy."
"Or is it genius?"
Omigod! Now Lexi's heart was pounding so hard, her entire body was vibrating. In the smoothest of moves she peeked over the top of her guidebook to spy on the possible criminals—just in case she had to pick them out of a lineup. Please don't make me have to do that! She should at least get a good description. Okay, focus. They were facing each other—tough to see clearly but definitely dressed in black, sipping from steamy cups. Average height and weight. What's average? The one with the British accent was bald with orangish glasses and a funky little goatee. The American was wearing a Yankees cap that shadowed his face.
"Listen, man, there's zero time to plot this out!"
"I know ... bloody brilliant alternative ... right under their noses ... never suspect."
Excerpted from MADHATTAN MYSTERY by John J. Bonk Copyright © 2012 by John J. Bonk. Excerpted by permission of Walker Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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