Ruby Redfort Take Your Last Breath (6 page)


It was a glittering day, and it seemed that most of Twinford’s glitteringly wealthy were on board Freddie and Marjorie Humbert’s sixty-foot yacht, the
Golden Albatross

“Isn’t this just one hundred percent perfect?” said Sabina Redfort, smiling.

“More than that,” said Brant Redfort. “It’s at least two hundred percent perfect!”

“Perfect is perfect,” said Ambassador Crew. “No more, no less.”

“Exactly,” agreed Sabina. “It’s double perfect.”

Ambassador Crew rolled his eyes. He found the Redforts very agreeable company, but frustratingly dim. Just how Brant Redfort had ever gotten into Stanton University he could not imagine.

It was the invitation of the season: a mini cruise along the Twinford coast, sailing the passengers as far as the Sibling Islands, taking in sights most Twinfordites rarely, if ever, got to see. It had been set up by the Twinford Historical Society, which for the first time in twenty years had had to turn away applicants — its membership having swelled threefold as soon as it was discovered that the trip involved ten days on board the Humberts’ luxury vessel.

“Isn’t it wonderful to see just how many people are actually interested in history?” said Sabina.

“Might have something to do with this million-dollar yacht we’re on,” replied Ambassador Crew. He was a very cynical person.

“Why, is it old?” asked Brant. “Gee, I didn’t know it was of historical interest.”

“Give me strength,” muttered the ambassador.

Dora Shoering was giving a series of lectures on the facts, myths, and legends relating to smuggling, piracy, and long-lost treasure. The facts, it had to be admitted, were few and far between, but no one much minded as it was naturally a glamorous affair and everyone was having an elegant time.

Along with Brant and Sabina Redfort, the guest list included Barbara and Ed Bartholomew, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Gruemeister and their bothersome dog, Pookie. However, Mrs. Crew had declined the invitation due to a horrible problem with seasickness; the Sibling waters were notorious for their restless currents.

Dora Shoering, a self-proclaimed intellectual who had almost attended Berklard as a student, gave a fascinating, if not entirely accurate, series of talks, but it was that Sunday afternoon’s lecture that sparked most chatter.

“Fascinating,” said Sabina. “I just love the story of the lost treasure of Twinford. Of course, much of it I knew already, because you see it was my ancestor’s treasure that was lost. Did you all know that?”

The others did know this, because Sabina had not stopped repeating it all through the lecture — how her great-great-great-grandmother Eliza Fairbank (she wasn’t sure how many greats) had been lost at sea off Twinford on the way to South America along with all her gems; only her little daughter, Martha, survived.

“Utterly gripping,” said Marjorie Humbert. “Wouldn’t it be divine if it were true?”

“But there is every possibility that it is true,” said Dora. “Though it has never been proved one way or the other.”

“Why did no one look for it?” asked Brant.

“Well, of course they did,” Dora replied. “But they never found a thing. Plus, they had a few other concerns.”

“Such as?” asked Ambassador Crew.

“A giant sea monster,” replied Dora. “It was said it guarded the treasure — sat on it, they say, and no one could ever retrieve the gems from its razor-sharp talons.”

“Talons?” spat the ambassador. “You’re saying that this sea creature was an aquatic eagle?”

Dora looked uneasy: she had made up the bit about the talons. “Or crab claws, no one knows,” she said hurriedly.

Ambassador Crew couldn’t help but display his utter pity for anyone who would believe such total garbage, but the rest of the party was electric with excitement.

“We should search for it!” said Brant. “Imagine — Sabina coming face-to-face with her own ancestor’s jewels.”

“Good luck to you,” said Ambassador Crew. “It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. You’d have to search the whole ocean floor just to find the wreck, and in these dangerous waters I wouldn’t fancy your chances.”

“Gracious,” said Sabina. “Sounds like quite a quest.”

“Exactly!” said Dora Shoering. “It’s no surprise no one’s ever found it.”

“A nice fairy tale is what it is,” said Ambassador Crew.

“Hey, look at that boat on the horizon.” Barbara Bartholomew was pointing to the southwest. “Doesn’t it look romantic against the setting sun?”

“Yes,” agreed Sabina, looking at the old-fashioned sailing ship. “One could almost imagine oneself back in pirate times.”

turned the corner of Amster Street, she walked on past the bus stop, crossed the road, and headed for the Double Donut Diner. She figured there was plenty of time to grab a shake and still make the school bus.

It wasn’t that the Double Donut Diner particularly specialized in donuts — it was really because Marla, the owner, thought it was a catchy name, and apparently it was, because everyone in Twinford seemed to know the Double Donut.

The diner was popular with all sorts of locals, and Ruby liked to hang out observing the comings and goings of Twinford folk. It also did particularly good French toast — something Ruby’s mother was very much against due to the quantity of maple syrup her daughter drowned it in.

Del and Mouse looked up as she came in. “Hey, Rube, how you doing?”

“Oh, you know, could complain, can’t be bothered.” She looked around. “Clancy not here?”

“He had to leave early,” said Mouse. “Said he had to go and see Principal Levine, on account of flunking French,
— Madame Loup is

“How come he didn’t tell me about that last night?” asked Ruby.

“He only just found out. Mrs. Bexenheath actually
the Crew household this morning,” said Del. Del was the only person Ruby knew who could speak while at the very same time suck milk shake up a straw.

Ruby winced. “A little trip to the principal’s office, huh? That’s gonna get old Clancy’s dad in a stew.”

“Lucky for Clance his dad’s off sailing the high seas with your folks,” said Mouse.

Ruby nodded. Clancy’s dad wasn’t in the business of bringing up losers: at least that’s what he was constantly telling his children. Ambassador Crew liked to think of himself as a winner, and that meant having children who were winners. Clancy, in this respect, often let him down.

“Poor old Clance,” said Ruby, signaling to the waitress that she was ready to order.

Just then, in stumbled a girl with long copper hair, golden-brown skin, and gray eyes. It was the impossibly pretty but strikingly clumsy Red Monroe.

“Hi, Red. What happened to your leg?” asked Del.

“Oh, yeah,” replied Red, looking down at her scuffed knee. “I tripped over a dog.”

“That reminds me,” said Del. “My uncle Charlie, you know, the one who’s with the coast guard? He was saying how this shipment of dog food ended up in Argentina when it was meant to be delivered to Mexico, and how this shipment of bananas was meant to arrive in San Francisco, but ended up in Chile. I mean how about that!”

“So?” said Mouse. “What’s the big deal? Mix-ups happen.”

“Yeah, but my uncle Charlie was saying it’s been happening a lot, I mean
a lot

Del tried to emphasize what “a lot” was by leaving her mouth hanging open when she had finished speaking.

“Oh, how interesting,” said Ruby, yawning an exaggerated yawn.

“I’m telling you guys, this is a big deal,” Del insisted.

“Give us some examples then,” said Mouse, who was concentrating hard on her milk shake.

“Like a bunch of sneakers that ended up in Antigua instead of Seattle, and a whole load of corn that showed up in Miami.” She paused before adding, “Uncle Charlie told me a troupe of Indian elephants on their way to Baltimore still hasn’t shown up at all.”

Ruby looked at her with a tired expression. Del had quite a reputation for turning fiction into fact, and this just sounded like the usual garbage that she regularly spouted.

“For a start it isn’t a troupe of elephants; it’s a parade or herd,” said Ruby. “And for seconds that has to be untrue.”

“Ask anyone,” said Del.

Ruby turned to Mouse. “So, Mouse, did you hear about the shipment of elephants that went missing between India and Baltimore?”

“Nope,” said Mouse.

Del sighed. She knew when she was beaten. “Hey, how about some French toast? I mean there’s time, right? We just need to eat quick; we can still make the bus.”

Del Lasco could talk a cow into milking itself, and before they knew it they were all sitting eating a Sunday-style breakfast as if school was not even on the menu. When the hands of the clock got dangerously near pointing out eight o’clock, the friends slipped down off their stools and headed in the direction of Twinford Junior High.

The bus had long gone.

! What a
,” said Mrs. Drisco without one chime of surprise in her voice. “So what was it this time — the cat ate my homework?”

“Oh, we don’t have a cat, Mrs. Drisco,” said Ruby.

The teacher pinched her lips together sourly. “Well, that’s a detention then,” she said, writing a
in the register.

“I have a note,” said Ruby.

“Well, unless it’s from the mayor himself, then I really don’t think I’m interested.”

“Oh, it is,” said Ruby.

She reached down to her satchel, opened it, and rifled through her notes and excuses section. There were notes inside for any occasion, arranged alphabetically. She selected the one she needed.

Pulling out a piece of paper from the bag, Ruby handed it to Mrs. Drisco. Mrs. Drisco looked at the piece of paper most carefully. She put her glasses on and took them off again, then sat down. The note was most definitely signed by the mayor himself. It wasn’t a copy.

Just how Ruby Redfort had come by this note is another story, but suffice it to say, Ruby kept a lot of things up her sleeve or, more precisely, in her satchel. Who knew when they might come in handy? The Boy Scouts had it right: be prepared — it was front and center in the Boy Scout handbook, a little bland in its delivery but a good rule. Ruby had chosen it as her

asked an impressed Del Lasco at lunch. “You know, the trick with the note.”

“It’s not a trick,” said Ruby.

“So how’d ya get it?” said Del.

“Ah, I have my sources,” replied Ruby.

“Yeah, well, a truly ‘good’ friend would share those sources with her closest and mostest,” said Del.

“If you need me to get you out of a jam sometime Del, all you gotta do is make it worth my while,” Ruby said with a smile.

Clancy arrived at the lunch table, his tray teetering with high-calorie food. He was looking to put on a little weight, but the effort would no doubt prove fruitless, for it seemed no matter how much he ate, Clancy never got wider than a string bean.

“So, Clance, you gonna watch the swimathon on Saturday?” asked Del.

Clancy shivered. “No siree. I’ve got no interest in watching kids from Twinford Junior High get devoured by oversize fish.”

Del looked at him like he had lost a few marbles. She turned to Ruby.

“What’s with him?” she said, pointing her thumb in his direction.

“You know Clance, a boy with a fearful persecution complex — thinks the whole of marine life’s out to get him,” said Ruby.

Del punched him on the arm. “Get a grip, Crew. Nothin’s gonna bother taking a bite out of your shrimpy body.” She took a big chomp out of her sandwich and continued to talk. “I wish it was
grade taking part in the swimathon; too bad only the kids in ninth grade get to swim.” Del was captain of the eighth-grade swim team, and she relished any chance she got to compete.

The ninth grade had been training for this for the past few months and, as a team-building exercise, Coach Newhart was taking them for a seafood cookout — not that he touched mollusks or crustaceans himself. Coach Newhart only ate “real food” and to him that meant food that walked on all fours on dry land — no fins, no feelers.

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