Authors: Matthew Ward
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Copyright Â© 2014 Matthew Ward
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ward, Matthew (Children's writer)
War of the world records : a Fantastic family Whipple novel / Matthew Ward.
Summary: When the rivalry between the Whipples and the Goldwins escalates to an all-out war as the World Record World Championships draw near, recordless Arthur Whipple and his unlikely ally Ruby Goldwin unravel the mystery of the Lyon's Curse and the secrets of their fathers' shared past.
ISBN 978-1-59514-691-5 (hardback)
[1. Families--Fiction. 2. World records--Fiction. 3. Competition (Psychology)--Fiction. 4. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Wendie and Henry & Miles,
whom I'd be proud to have on my side in a blood feud anytime.
What Remains to Be Seen
t was unclear
how the human thigh bone came to be sticking out of the seventeenth turret on the World's Largest Sandcastle. It was, however, looking more and more likely that its builder would be disqualified.
The world-record certifier for the twelfth annual Castle Classic snapped his rulebook shut, then trudged off across the beach to determine just how the bone had entered the sand supply. After examining all the sand-removal sites in view, he followed the builder's wheelbarrow tracks to an opening in the cliffside and disappeared within.
The crowd of sandcastle spectators murmured. There was no doubt the builder, now distraught at the prospect of forfeiting his hard-won record, had scooped up the bone by accident in his frenzy to finish construction in the allotted time. But the bone's origin remained a mystery. The common consensus was that the femur had simply washed ashore after a routine raid on a bone smuggler's boat, as random bones had been known to do in the area.
This theory, however, was quickly proved wrong when the certifier burst from the cave screaming.
The police were promptly called to the scene.
“Coming through!” barked the beak-nosed man in the thick, black overcoat as he pushed past the crowd at the cave opening, hardly glancing at the multispired fortress of sand that towered twenty-five feet over his head between the surf and the cliffside. “Let me see him! Where is he?”
The man charged into the shallow cavern now bustling with police and made his way to the place where three officers crouched over the floor with brushes and small metal implements in their hands.
Embedded in the ground between them lay a human skeleton, completely intact, apart from its right femur bone. On its left index finger, it wore a heavy gold ring.
“Ah yes, Inspector Smudge,” started a policeman with what looked to be a high-ranking hat. “I'mâ”
As Inspector Smudge took in the scene, the hopeful smirk fell from his face like a man from a cliff. “What is the meaning of this?!” he cried. “These aren't the remains of our fugitive. These bones have clearly been here for years, and Mr. Smith only disappeared off the Whipples' boat last night!”
“Yes, Inspector,” said the high-ranking-hatted officer. “I'm afraid the call to you may have been a bit premature. The first officer to arrive thought this may have been your manâthis Sammy âthe Spatula' characterâseeing as how the Whipple shipwreck occurred less than a mile offshore from here. Apparently thought his body might've washed up overnight and provided a bit of a buffet for the local sea life.”
“Ha!” sneered the inspector. “I've seen shore crabs do quite a number on seawater stiffs before, but never anything like this. Looks decades old, this one. Surely just some other would-be gangster who got what was coming to him. Cases usually go unsolved of course. But who am I to stand in the way if these hoodlums want to kill each other off? As much as I'd love to further my record for Most Solved Cases, I shall happily sacrifice if it means a few less criminals in this world.”
A medium-built, spry-looking man in a gray trench coat stepped out from behind Inspector Smudge and pointed at the skeleton's left hand.
“What do you think about the ring, Inspector?” he said brightly. “Interesting markings there, aren't they?”
“Ahh, Greenley,” said the inspector, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. “Interesting though it may be, the ring is a distraction. It'll no doubt aid in the identification of this unlucky individual, but as we have established this is not our man, that information is utterly irrelevant to us. Any other dazzling insights, Detective Sergeant?”
“No, sir,” replied D.S. Greenley, less brightly.
“Well,” the inspector sighed, “this has been a disappointment. I had hoped the tip we got this morning from the man in that coastal cookery shop claiming to see Mr. Smith alive was a mistake, but now it seems we must regard it as a legitimate sighting.” He returned his dark, broad-brimmed hat to his head. “All right, Greenley. Let's leave it to the local police to sort out this mess, shall we? What we need to do is get ourselves back to Saltcliffe Station and wait for Mr. Smith to make his move. If he is indeed alive, that train will be his only way out of the area. We'll catch him there as he attempts to flee, and he'll be back in shackles before teatime.”
Arthur Whipple had the misfortune of being nearest the doorway when the knock came.
He had hardly been able to sleep that night and had crept from his bedroom just prior to sunrise, before anyone else in the house had risen. As he wandered past the entry hall on his way to the kitchen, he was nearly startled out of his slippers by a violent thumping at the front door.
Upon collecting his wits, he decided the knocking sounded far too urgent to wait for Wilhelmâthe Whipples' butler and World's Strongest Germanâto answer it. So he walked to the door and opened it himself.
He immediately wished he hadn't.
It did not seem possible that the man outside the door could look any angrier. But then the man recognized the mousy-haired twelve-year-old boy who had opened the door for him.
“Ah!” cried Inspector Smudge, throwing up his arms in exasperation. “I can't stand to look at him, Greenley! Get him out of my sight!”
“Really sir?” said Greenley with a yawn. The typically wide-eyed detective looked as though he had not slept in some time.
“Out of my sightânow!” ordered Smudge.
“Yes, sir,” said Detective Sergeant Greenley.
Inspector Smudge whirled about and stormed off down the steps.
The sergeant turned to Arthur with an apologetic smile. “Pardon us, Arthurânice to see you again, by the wayâbut would you mind fetching your parents? The inspector would like a word.”
“Of course, D.S. Greenley,” said Arthur. “I believe they're still in bed, butÂ .Â .Â .”
The sergeant sighed. “I'm afraid nothing short of the grave will stop the inspector this morning.”
“Right,” said Arthur.
He returned two minutes later with his mother and father, strategically positioning himself behind his parents as Smudge stamped back up to the doorway.
“Good morning, Inspector,” said Arthur's father, Charles, with half-open eyelids. “A bit early for a friendly visit I'd say. What seems to be the trouble?”
“Oh nothing, Mr. Whipple,” Smudge grumbled. “Just thought I'd stop in to deliver the morning paper in case you'd missed it.” With that, he removed a bulging newspaper from his coat and hurled it at Arthur's father.
Mr. Whipple caught the paper with a grimace, then held it up to the light.
The World Record
's front page was a photograph of Inspector Smudge and a dozen policemen holding spatulas next to a stack of barrels at a train station.
It looked to Arthur like any of the other record-breaking property-seizure photos that typically graced the pages of
âexcept for one small detail. Over Smudge's shoulder in the top left corner, a circular section of the background had been enlarged to show a dark figure suspended in midair, dangling from the handles of what appeared to be a rolling pin. The figure wore an all-black chef's uniformâcomplete with puffy, black chef's hatâlike some sort of culinary cat burglar. The rolling pin in the figure's grasp straddled a taut stretch of rope, which the figure was using as a zip line to glide toward an open door on the side of a steaming freight train.
The headline above screamed:
“Sammy?” gasped Arthur's father.
“Oh, Charles,” cried his mother.
A sudden, relieved smile formed on Arthur's faceâbut he quickly hid it behind his hand.
Luckily, Smudge failed to notice. “Indeed,” the inspector snarled, “it would seem your chef has cheated both death and justice yet again. First, he manages not to have his body wash up in a cave yesterday morning, and then last night he stages a spatula-smuggling operation to divert law enforcement from a brazen train getaway!” Noticing the confused expressions on the Whipples' faces, the inspector threw up his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I hope it makes you happy knowing you and your son have unleashed a dangerous criminal into the world. After his numerous attempts on your lives and now his blatant fleeing of the law, I trust you harbor no further delusions as to Mr. Smith's innocence. But fear not, dear Whipplesâhowever you may hinder her course, Justice shall prevail in the end!”
Arthur's parents stood clutching the newspaper, unable to look away from the photograph.
“Come on, Greenley,” snapped the inspector. “We haven't an hour of daylight to spare.”
“Yes, sir,” yawned the sergeant. He tipped his hat to Arthur and his parents and said, “Morning, Whipples,” then turned to follow the inspector, who had already stormed back down the front steps.
Mr. Whipple closed the door behind the detectives and put his hand on his son's shoulder. “You see, Arthur?” he said, pressing the newspaper into the boy's chest. “Chin up. Sammy may have betrayed us, but at least he's not dead. We must count our blessings. Now go rouse your brothers and sisters. We've got to get on with our lives and get back to work.”
When his parents had left the room, Arthur unfolded the newspaper and stared once more at the grainy blown-up image of Sammy the Spatula. He smiled to himself and started flipping to the section where the story continued. His progress, however, was soon halted by a certain striking photograph on page 2.
There at the top of the page was a picture of a grinning skeleton, half-buried in sand. Below it was a small close-up of the skeleton's bony fingers, one of which wore a distinctive metal ring. The accompanying headline read:
Grim curiosity getting the better of him, Arthur couldn't help but take a peek at the article below:
A human skeleton discovered in a coastal cave by a record certifier at the Castle Classic sandcastle-building competition on Saturday has been identified as the remains of Bartholomew Niven, former treasurer for the Ardmore Association Board of Directors.
Arthur squinted at the last words of the opening sentence. He had heard the Ardmore Association mentioned before, but he had never learned much about the organization beyond its name. He knew it was somehow involved with the publication of the
Amazing Ardmore Almanac of the Ridiculously Remarkable
and the certification of certain world records not listed in
Grazelby's Guide to World Records and Fantastic Feats
, the publication that sponsored his own family's record breaking. But since Mr. Whipple had prohibited any of his children from ever reading it, this knowledge was of little use. Arthur gnawed his lip and continued the article.
There was some preliminary speculation that the skeleton could be the crab-eaten remains of the Whipple family's former chef, escaped convict Sammy “the Spatula” Smith, after he jumped off the family's frigate just before it sank to the sea floor on Friday (in yet another apparent example of the so-called Lyon's Curse that has plagued that family in recent weeks).
Arthur shuddered. It was hard to believe it had been less than two days since the Current Champion had sunk.
They couldn't sink Sammy, though, could they?
Guess that's what Inspector Smudge meant about Sammy's body not washing up in a cave. Seems the Lyon's Curse hasn't completely caught up to us after all then, doesn't it?
He tried to sound confident when he said this in his mind, but he only shuddered again when he thought about just how close the curse had come. He went back to reading.
Smith, however, was quickly ruled out when the coroner determined the man in question had been deceased for over twenty years. (Furthermore, Smith would be seen alive on more than one occasion that day. SEE FRONT PAGE.)
The ring on the skeleton's hand, which features the Ardmore treasurer's seal, ultimately led to the discovery of the man's identity.
Arthur re-examined the photograph of the skeleton's ring. At the center of its broad, rounded face the ring bore the emblem of a jeweled, five-pointed crown. Each of the crown's points, however, ended in a sharp, curving flame, so that the crown appeared to be made of fire.
, Arthur thought,
but certainly not the Most
Piece of Headgear Ever Invented.
He traced the symbol with his finger, then returned to the article.
The evidence of the ring was quickly corroborated by aging dental records, confirming the skeleton to be none other than Bartholomew Niven, the lost Ardmore treasurer. Cause of death has yet to be determined.
Niven was last seen alive some twenty-five years ago, just before he and the rest of the Ardmore Board of Directors seemingly vanished without a trace. The disappearance of the entire board, which had been public at the time, proved something of a mystery. But it seemed to solve itself a month later, when the
appeared on newsstands across the globe just as it always had done before. The public assumed the board had simply gone underground to avoid the pressures of such a highly competitive field. The discovery of Niven, however, suggests there has been a new treasurer on the Ardmore board for some time.
Indeed, with the deep and active treasury the Ardmore Association clearly possesses (evidenced not least by its new, record-breaking contract with the Goldwins, who broke more records at last week's Unsafe Sports Showdown than any other family), a successor to Niven would surely be required for the management of its finances. The identities of any such board members, however, remain a secret. Ardmore's chief legal representative, Malcolm Boyle, gave a brief statement regarding the organization's current governance by this unnamed shadow board: “The Association feels that separating its board of directors from its record-publishing pursuits pulls the spotlight from its leadership and places it on the amazing world-record breakers it sponsors, where the spotlight belongs.”
And so, despite the discovery of Niven's remains, it seems the identity of the current treasurer may never be revealed.