Alberta is helping her cousin Coco, the Chief of Police, solve a top-secret case. In the beautiful Japanese garden of Buenos Aires, one daffodil will not stop drooping. Is someone trying to destroy the serene beauty of this oriental oasis?
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The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta)
The Dismal Daffodil
By Ursula Dubosarsky, Terry Denton
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2014 Ursula Dubosarsky
All rights reserved.
It was the middle of the day, and Alberta was doing her keep-fit exercises in the living room. She was just touching her toes for the eleventh time when she heard a banging noise under the floor.
She bent down and pulled up the carpet. There was a letter!
'Aha,' she said, nodding her furry head. 'The post!' She looked at the handwriting on the envelope. 'It's from my cousin Coco. I haven't heard from him in a while.'
Alberta's cousin Coco was Chief of Police in the big city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He led a very busy life, tracking down robbers and investigating crimes. From time to time he dropped a line to Alberta, particularly when he was having trouble with a case. She wondered what it could be this time.
Alberta sat on the sofa and opened the letter. This is what it said:
Eek! I hope you are well I am not well at all. That is why I said Eek at the start of this letter.
My nerves are on edge. I can't go on much longer ... I've got a terrible eeking feeling.
Help me, help me! Please! But if you're too busy, never mind.
Abrazos, your cousin Coco.
P.S. it has been very windy lately, so be sure to bring your [??] eani.
'Pobre Coco!' said Alberta. She read the letter a second time, thinking hard about what it could all mean. 'He's so sensitive. I wonder if it is as bad as he says?'
She stood up. She knew from experience that the only way to find out was to go to Buenos Aires and ask him herself. He was her favourite cousin, after all.
'My exercises will just have to wait!' she declared, secretly pleased. She found touching her toes quite boring.
Rapidly she packed some lettuce leaves and a pair of binoculars in her brown-paper bag and tucked her winter beanie tightly behind her ears.
Then she left some birdseed on the windowsill for the pigeons, slammed the door behind her, and headed off for South America.CHAPTER 2
It certainly was breezy when Alberta arrived in the great city of Buenos Aires. She pulled her beanie tightly over her ears, while leaves and petals and hats and umbrellas and all sorts of strange things swirled through the air. It was like being inside a kaleidoscope! At one point, she had to hang on to a lamppost to stop herself getting blown away.
'I'd better get to the Obelisco at once,' she decided. 'No time to stop for a snack today.'
Coco's office was at the top of the Obelisco, the most famous monument in Buenos Aires. It was the perfect place for the Chief of Police, because if you looked out the window it was possible to see everything that was going on in the city below. Well, it was possible, although because Coco's eyesight was not that good, he actually couldn't see very much.
Alberta struggled through the traffic and the twisting and turning wind, until she reached the Obelisco. She rushed in the little metal door at the bottom and then ran swiftly up the 206 steps to the top.
There was the sign outside Coco's office, shiny and splendid:
COCO CARLO MAGNO CHIEF OF POLICE PROTECTOR OF BUENOS AIRES FRUIT OF THE AMERICAS LIGHT OF LIBERTY TIGER OF THE SOUTH Alberta knocked briskly.
'Primo! It's me, Alberta!' she called.
The wind was moaning so loudly she couldn't hear an answer, so she pushed the door open, expecting to see Coco sitting up behind his big desk. But he wasn't there.
'Coco?' said Alberta.
She knew sometimes, if his nerves were on edge, Coco would hide himself in a small dark space. She looked in the wastepaper basket and the coat cupboard and under the bookshelf. But he simply wasn't there.
'Tsk, tsk,' muttered Alberta, with a shake of her whiskers. 'Qué raro! I've come all this way. Where could he be?'
Now she thought about it, there was something altogether very strange about the office. There were so many flowers, all sizes and colours, scattered on his desk, piled up on his shelves, even coming out of the drawers of his filing cabinet.
'I have never known Coco to be fond of flowers,' she said to herself. 'What could it mean?'
In the middle of the desk, under a stack of blossoms piled up like autumn leaves, Alberta found a book. It was titled: ORIGAMI FOR GUINEA PIGS.
PING! went Alberta's brain.
'Origami!' she said. 'Ah yes, the Japanese art of paper folding.'
All the flowers she could see were not real flowers — they were paper flowers! She picked up a large purple one that was sticking out of the telephone. Nothing but paper.
She sat down in Coco's chair and spun herself around, thinking with her enormous brain. Could Coco have folded all these flowers? It didn't seem very likely. Didn't he have enough to do, being the Chief of Police of Buenos Aires?
She flipped curiously through the book. It was extraordinary how many different things could be made from square pieces of coloured paper. Not just flowers, but also lobsters, elephants, even helicopters. Some of the instructions were so complicated, Alberta began to feel faint. The book trembled in her claws.
A blue sheet with something written on it fell out of the book onto the floor.
She knew that handwriting! It was a message from Coco.
CAN YOU HELP ALBERTA WORK OUT AT
WHICH NUMBER ON THE AVENIDA CASARES
COCO IS WAITING FOR HER?
Have a look at the back of the book if you need help.CHAPTER 3
After some quick arithmetic, Alberta discovered the secret number which would lead her to Coco. Down she ran, down all 206 steps of the Obelisco and out onto the street. The wind had died down, so she took off her beanie and consulted the map.
'Yes, I see,' she said to herself. 'That's pretty straightforward. And now that it seems to have turned into a lovely day, I think I might walk instead of taking the bus.'
Poor Alberta! She did not realise what a LONG, LONG way it was. She walked and walked and nearly dropped with exhaustion.
Finally she arrived at the right number. She raised her weary head and looked up at the big sign that hung above the big doors:
'A Japanese garden!' she said, perking up at once. 'Qué suerte!!'
She had always wanted to see a Japanese garden — ever since her Tío Leo got accidentally locked up inside the Japanese garden in Costa Rica one night and had the experience of a lifetime.
With new energy, she scampered to the entrance and inside the garden walls.
Alberta was entranced. There were little green hills that rose and fell, glossy red bridges arching over streamlets, pathways of pale grey rocks and tiny mountains of smooth round pebbles. Bright flowers and blossomy trees bloomed and filled the air with the sweet smell of nectar. And everywhere she looked, contented guinea pigs were wandering about with parasols and cameras.
But where was Coco? Alberta trotted up and down the paths, in and out and round and round, over and under, her eyes peeled for her cousin. Where could he be?
She stopped to rest for a moment in front of a clump of bright yellow flowers.
'These look familiar,' she murmured. 'I wonder what they're called?'
Suddenly a voice boomed out from on high:
About the daffodils;
The moon shines bright!'
Alberta almost fell backwards in shock. What was that? She looked up. There on a rock sat a guinea pig with very springy hair, gazing at her meaningfully.
'Ah, yes, daffodils, that's right, thank you so much,' said Alberta, nonplussed. 'Er, I don't think we've met — I'm —'
The springy-haired guinea pig leapt down from the rock and stood right in front of Alberta.
'Under the shady cherry blossom
There are no
'Hmm?' said Alberta.
She decided to change the subject. 'I wonder if you could help me. I'm looking for my cousin Coco.'
The strange guinea pig took a deep breath, and making a wide gesture with his front claw said:
'Who was in this place
Before I got here?
Now nothing but violets.'
Alberta was quite exasperated. What kind of answer was that? Especially as there were obviously lots of things around apart from violets. She was just about to make a sharp reply when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
She swung around. It was Coco, in his red sash, his whiskers shining.
'Coco! Querido! There you are!'
They embraced, as is the South American way.
'I see you have met Señor Jardinero,' said Coco, pointing at the springy-haired guinea pig. 'He is in charge of this wonderful garden. Señor Jardinero, this is my dearest cousin, Alberta. She has come to help with your — um — problem.'
Señor Jardinero bowed and intoned:
'To the workers in the felds
I bow with deep respect.
Now for a little nap.'
He sprang away and ran to the shade of a nearby cherry blossom tree. There he lay down and promptly fell fast asleep.
'What happened to him?' said Alberta, astonished.
'He's just having a siesta,' explained Coco. 'Señor Jardinero is finding his job very stressful just now.'
'I see,' said Alberta. 'Perhaps that explains the — er — peculiar way he speaks.'
'Oh, that's how he always talks,' said Coco, with a shrug of his furry shoulders. 'It's certainly unusual. I have asked him about it, but all he did was hand me his business card.'
He took a little white card out from under his sash and passed it to Alberta. On it was a photo of Señor Jardinero, with these words:
If Troubled Inside
Sip Hibiscus-water And
Instantly Knots Unravel
'I couldn't make anything of it,' said Coco. 'It seems to be a recipe for indigestion.'
Alberta took the card from Coco, and read it carefully.
'I don't think it's a recipe,' she said, 'but it is certainly informative!'
IS IT A RECIPE?
OR CAN YOU, LIKE ALBERTA,
SEE SOMETHING HIDDEN IN
Don't forget there are some hints at the back of the book that can help you.CHAPTER 4
Alberta returned the card to Coco.
'Interesante,' she said. 'But what I really want to know is — why have you got such a terrible eeking feeling? Surely there is nothing sinister going on in the serene and lovely Japanese garden?'
Coco glanced nervously over at the snoring Señor Jardinero, who was slowly being covered with delicately falling cherry blossoms.
'Well, you see, Alberta, it's a bit complicated,' he began. 'I have a terrible eeking feeling because Señor Jardinero has a terrible eeking feeling. When Señor Jardinero gets an eeking feeling he can't stop folding paper flowers and sending them to me in my office. Day after day. And then I get an eeking feeling. Entendés?'
'I did notice the paper flowers,' said Alberta, who was now herself starting to get an eeking feeling.
'I can't MOVE for paper flowers,' said Coco miserably. 'He's even sent me a book all about how to fold them. As if I didn't have enough troubles already, what with trying to track down the dangerous umbrella-grabbers who are terrifying the city.'
'We'll worry about the umbrella-grabbers later,' said Alberta, firmly. Coco was always going off on tangents. 'The important thing is to find out what is causing Señor Jardinero's eeking feeling in the first place.'
Coco sighed. 'I know what it is, Alberta,' he said. He waved at the huge cluster of bright yellow flowers in front of them. 'You see all these daffodils here?'
'Yes,' nodded Alberta. 'I was looking at them before. Charming!'
Coco shook his head.
'Not so charming,' he said sombrely. 'Take a close look. Take a very close look at every single flower.'
There were so many daffodils and they were so very yellow that Alberta felt dazzled. She rummaged in her brown-paper bag, and pulled out her binoculars. Raising them to her eyes she carefully inspected the daffodils, one by one. As there were several hundreds of them, it took a long time.
CAN YOU SPOT THE DISMAL DAFFODIL?
'It's a bit difficult,' grunted Alberta, 'because the fur over my eyes keeps getting in the way. The only unusual thing I can see is that one daffodil is not standing up straight like the others.'
'That's it!' said Coco. 'That's what's upsetting Señor Jardinero so dreadfully. That one dismal drooping daffodil is sending him into a frenzy!'
Alberta lowered the binoculars.
'He must be quite the perfectionist,' she commented dryly. 'It's only one flower, after all. Anyway, what does he expect you to do, Coco? I mean, it's not really your expertise, is it, sick flowers?'
Coco dropped his voice to a whisper.
'It's not sick, Alberta. Señor Jardinero is convinced that someone is trying to —' he gulped, '— assassinate his daffodil!'
'Goodness!' said Alberta, taken aback. 'You mean —'
'I'm afraid so,' Coco paused dramatically. 'Poison!'
'That is a very unusual crime,' coughed Alberta. 'I mean, why would anyone want to poison a daffodil? Couldn't they just pull it up?'
'Shhhhh!' Coco looked anxiously over at Señor Jardinero, who was still asleep under a pile of cherry blossoms. 'You mustn't say things like that!'
At that moment, a deep rumbling filled the air. Coco stood very still, his whiskers alert.
'The wind is coming back!' he shouted. 'Vamos, everyone! Take cover in the Lovely Lotus Temple!'
Sure enough, up rose a huge wind, and the air filled with leaves and the squealings of panicking guinea pigs. It gathered strength and charged around the garden like a tornado. Coco grabbed hold of Alberta's fur and pulled her along with the dozens of guinea pigs, from babies to grandparents, who were all making a rush for the Lovely Lotus Temple.
It was quite a squash to get everyone in. There were hats and parasols all over the place. Coco and Alberta squeezed themselves up against a wall, alongside a well-dressed elderly lady guinea pig in a pale pink shawl. Outside, the wind wailed and the bamboo walls of the Lovely Lotus Temple leaned back and forth.
'You know, Coco,' said Alberta, trying to make herself heard in the din, 'about that daffodil —'
Coco felt something sharp digging into his leg.
'Che!' he squeaked, turning around. But he couldn't see anything in the dense crowd. 'Sorry, Alberta, what was that?'
Then he heard a low voice, so close it was almost in his ear:
'Nehw I evig eht langis, ll'I pmats no eht dlo s'ydal seot dna uoy barg reh allerbmu! S'ti a ytuaeb — t'nac tiaw ot dda ti ot ruo noitcelloc!
'Yako, doog nalp. Tub eb luferac — ehs skool ytterp naem!' hissed the reply.
'T'nod yrrow, I nac eldnah reh. Thgir, won s'tel od ti!'
Coco rubbed his forehead. He couldn't understand what was being said. Yet there was something, something that was coming back to him, from the old days in the Police Academy ...
'The wind has stopped!'
The cry came from a guinea pig keeping lookout near the door. Helter-skelter the guinea pigs galloped out of the Lovely Lotus Temple as rapidly as they had tumbled in.
'Tard!' said the voice. 'S'ehs enog!'
WHAT DID COCO OVERHEAR?
CAN YOU WORK OUT THE
If you're stuck, look at the back of the book for some clues.CHAPTER 5
Alberta and Coco extricated themselves from the Lovely Lotus Temple and scurried out into the sunshine again. To Alberta's amazement, Señor Jardinero was still fast asleep under the cherry blossom tree without a hair out of place.
'He certainly knows how to relax,' remarked Alberta.
'Please, don't wake him,' begged Coco. 'It's much better this way — at least when he's asleep he can't be folding paper flowers.'
Alberta raised her binoculars to her eyes and approached the cluster of daffodils.
'Now, Coco, there was something about that flower I just wanted to check —'
She stopped. Standing right next to the dismal daffodil were two young guinea pigs. One of them was on tiptoes, reaching inside the cup of the flower with his claw.
'Got it!' the little guinea pig called out happily, extracting something and waving it about.
The other little guinea pig clapped and jumped up and down in excitement. The drooping daffodil suddenly stood up straight and tall, just like the others.
Coco stared at the daffodil. He stared at Alberta. He stared at the little tiptoeing guinea pig. His cheeks blew out and his whole body started to shake.
'YOU!' he bellowed. 'YOU! I can't believe it!'
It was Ernesto! That annoying little guinea pig who had caused Coco many difficulties, headaches and sleepless nights!
'Oh, hola Señor Policeman!' chirped Ernesto, seeing Coco in his magnificent red sash, and skipping over.
Coco took a deep breath and struggled to control himself. 'What were you doing with that daffodil?' he demanded. 'Tell me at once!'
Ernesto ran back and hid behind the other little guinea pig.
Excerpted from The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta) by Ursula Dubosarsky, Terry Denton. Copyright © 2014 Ursula Dubosarsky. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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