Read The House of Puzzles Online

Authors: Richard Newsome

The House of Puzzles

PRAISE FOR
THE BILLIONAIRE SERIES

‘A rip-roaring romp.’
Listener

‘A great whodunit which is almost as engrossing for
adults as it is for children.’
Books+Publishing

‘Pure escapism…Magical writing, sharp dialogue
and a plot with more twists and turns than a
politican’s speech.’
Dominion Post

‘Filled with secret passageways and deadly booby traps…
you’ll be on the edge of your seat!’
K-Zone

‘Weird dreams, kidnapping, attacks by bandits, hectic
chases and eerie explorations in archaeological sites…
slapstick humour, verbal wit and a pervasive spirit of
youthful exuberance.’
Magpies

‘An irresistibly fun-tastic tale that’s virtually guaranteed
to keep youngsters reading, chuckling and desperately
waiting for the next book in the series.’
Independent Weekly

‘From Roman emperors to murderous cults,
Indian dynasties to secret fraternities, the adventures
of Gerald and his friends will keep young readers
turning the pages at lightning speed.’
Fiction Focus

‘A rollicking good yarn.’
Weekend Herald

T
HE
B
ILLIONAIRE
S
ERIES
Book I
The Billionaire’s Curse
Book II
The Emerald Casket
Book III
The Mask of Destiny
Book IV
The Crystal Code
Book V
The House of Puzzles

Richard Newsome lives in Brisbane with his family. He won the inaugural Text Prize
for Young Adult and Children’s Writing for
The Billionaire’s Curse
, the first book
in The Billionaire Series.

richardnewsome.com

textpublishing.com.au
richardnewsome.com

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia

Copyright © Richard Newsome 2014

The moral right of Richard Newsome to be identified as the author of this work has
been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of
this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner
and the publisher of this book.

First published by The Text Publishing Company, 2014

Cover and page design by W. H. Chong
Cover illustration by Simon Barnard
Typeset by J & M Typesetting

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Author:  Newsome, Richard. 1964–
Title:   The house of puzzles / Richard Newsome.
ISBN:  9781922147301 (pbk.)
ISBN:  9781922148346 (ebook)
Series:  Newsome, Richard 1964– Billionaire series; book 5.
Subjects: Detective and mystery stories.
Dewey Number:  A823.4

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia
Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

For Ella, whose story will be epic

Prologue

The man pulled a box of matches from his back pocket and struck one against the
sole of his boot. The match head flared orange and red; the flame danced in the breeze
that rolled off the River Seine. He cupped a hand and lit the unfiltered cigarette
that dangled from his bottom lip. The tip glowed against the biting cold of the afternoon.
Alphonse filled his lungs with the foul smoke and savoured the heat in his chest.
It was good to be back in Paris.

He would have preferred the south of France (for the more pleasant weather) but winter
in the city of lights was where the job had brought him. And when Sir Mason Green
phones through an order, it takes a braver man than Alphonse Poulet to say no.

Alphonse took another drag. He rubbed one hand across his round belly and the other
over his stubbled chin, then pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket to study
it for the umpteenth time. Mason Green’s order was quite specific. Alphonse never
queried the motives of his clients. In the world of international art theft it was
wise not to ask too many questions. But even by the eccentric standards of his usual
clients, this request was way out there.

Alphonse stroked his belly again, as if for luck. He took a final puff, tossed the
cigarette butt to the gutter and crushed it under his boot. Then he joined the stream
of people flowing into the courtyard of the Palais du Louvre and down an escalator
to the main entrance of the most famous museum in the world.

Alphonse breezed through the metal detectors, brushed past clusters of tour groups
and made his way to the second floor of the Denon wing. He entered a crowded, high-ceilinged
gallery. Hanging on three of the walls were portraits and scenes from the Italian
Renaissance—the works of masters, rich in colour and life.

No one was paying them the least attention.

More than three hundred people were crammed into the space and all of them were crowding
around a single painting. It was the only piece that graced the gallery’s fourth
wall and it was no bigger than a large scrapbook.

The Mona Lisa: the most valuable painting in the world.

Alphonse elbowed his way to the front of the crowd where tourists pressed against
a wooden barrier, trying to catch a glimpse of the portrait that hung behind a panel
of bulletproof glass.

La Gioconda
—the lady with the enigmatic smirk. Smiling. Beguiling.

Alphonse Poulet was entranced. There were times when his life as the Falcon—the greatest
art thief of all time—was very good indeed. He checked through the corners of his
eyes. A security guard the size of a small truck was parked by the door to the left
of the Mona Lisa. Another guard, only slightly smaller and poured into his uniform
like concrete into a mould, stood by the exit to the right.

Alphonse swivelled his gaze upwards. Security cameras were mounted along the length
of the ceiling. More guards hovered at the rear of the room, watching every movement.
If he was going to pull off this heist, everything was going to have to go exactly
to plan.

Alphonse melted back into the crowd. He unbuttoned his coat, slid a hand inside
the false belly strapped to his front and pulled out five ceramic cylinders, each
one about the size of a torch battery. He looked left, then right, and dropped one
of the cylinders into a woman’s unzipped shoulder bag.

Alphonse ducked, then reappeared in the middle of the crush of people. He placed
another cylinder into the drooping hoodie of a teenage girl. Seconds later he was
at the rear of the room. He bent to tie his bootlace and placed two cylinders against
the wall.

Alphonse squeezed his way through to the adjoining gallery and slipped the final
cylinder into the truck-sized security guard’s gaping trouser pocket.

Then he turned through an arched doorway and into a long room. Dull winter light
seeped through glass panels in the ceiling high above. The blood-red walls were adorned
with enormous paintings depicting scenes from French history. Alphonse strolled the
wooden floor and stopped halfway along the room in front of an arresting image: a
beautiful woman striding across the barricades of revolutionary Paris, her dress
torn from her shoulders, a French tricolour flag clutched in one hand, a musket in
the other. A messenger boy with a satchel over his shoulder stood to her left and
a band of fallen fighters at her feet.

Alphonse scanned the massive canvas—three metres across and almost the same in height.
Eugène Delacroix’s
Liberty Leading the People.

So beautiful. So much energy in its form. Such vitality in the golden light.

‘Pity I have to destroy it,’ Alphonse muttered. His right hand slipped inside his
pocket. His fingers wrapped around a small remote control, and he pressed the button.

Sixty metres away, in the Mona Lisa gallery, five compact smoke flares detonated,
breaking the museum silence like muffled fireworks.

Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop.

Then the alarms started. Great whooping sirens pierced the air. And all madness broke
loose.

Alphonse took his eyes from the face of Liberty and glanced back towards the other
gallery. Grey smoke billowed from the door. People stumbled through the haze, hands
over their mouths, coughing and wheezing. The few tourists around Alphonse took one
look at the mayhem and bolted for the far exit. Then what seemed like every security
guard in the Louvre descended on the Mona Lisa gallery. They sprinted straight past
Alphonse, boots clattering over the smooth parquetry.

Alphonse stood his ground. The sirens and screams wailed on. Within seconds he was
alone, while all security focused on the priceless Mona Lisa. Again, Alphonse reached
into the false belly beneath his coat. This time he pulled out two canisters, each
about the size of a soft-drink can.

He popped the tab on one and rolled it across the floor towards the door on his left,
then popped the other and sent it skittering to the exit on his right.

Both canisters sprang to life, spinning wildly and spraying a fine mist across the
floor.

Alphonse observed his handiwork with a tight nod, then took hold of the bottom of
the Delacroix painting. He lifted the ornate frame away from the wall and heaved.
A shout came from the arched doorway. The truck-sized security guard was screaming
at Alphonse in
French. Smoke poured from the man’s pocket as if there was a clogged
chimney in his pants. Alphonse barely glanced at him, then turned back to the painting.
It was heavier than he had expected.

The security guard rushed into the gallery, still shouting. His foot hit the floorboards
and the contents of the canister did its work. The man slammed onto his backside
and skidded like a polar bear on a melting ice floe. He went to stand but his feet
zipped out from under him. He scrambled onto his hands and knees, but that was as
far as he could get.

Alphonse grinned. ‘The Falcon comes prepared,’ he said. The soles of his specially
treated boots gripped firm on the slickened floor. He turned back to his task.

More security guards appeared in the doorway, flinging themselves into the gallery.
They all ended up stranded on their backs with their legs waggling in the air like
expiring cockroaches. Each time they tried to get up they fell, coating themselves
in the lubricant from the canisters—slippery as soap in a sauna.

Alphonse knelt to gain better leverage and tugged again at the frame—this time the
painting launched free from the wall. Like a giant kite, it caught the air and sailed
out. Alphonse looked up at the inky underside of the canvas, seemingly floating in
space.

Then it dropped.

The painting split over the top of Alphonse’s skull with a shredding tear and came
to rest on his shoulders,
his head sticking through the hole. He blinked and looked
down to find Liberty’s bare breasts poking out in front of him, as if they had just
sprouted from his shirt.

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