Vanishing Acts, page 1
Also by Leslie Margolis
For Lucy and Leo
Life imitates art far more often
than art imitates life.
Everything started in October on what I thought would be a typical Tuesday morning. It was cold. Not teeth-chattering, I-can’t-feel-my-toes-and-my-nose-is-an-icicle cold, more like I-wish-I’d-already-broken-out-my-winter-coat-because-this-flimsy-fleece-isn’t-doing-the-trick cold. Not even paired with my thick wool scarf—striped and hand-knit by my best friend, Lucy Phan.
Cool wind whistled through bare trees. Dried leaves danced at our feet as my twin brother, Finn, and I raced to school—running fast and running late because he’d pressed the snooze button on our alarm clock one too many times. (It was the third time that month, and I was totally counting!)
We were still a block from school when suddenly, out of nowhere, I got clobbered by a bloated guy in a top hat. He plowed right into me, making me scream, more from shock than any actual pain.
“What the . . .” I didn’t finish my sentence because I don’t like to swear. Not out loud, anyway.
As I blinked, he bounced to the ground, then rolled past a parked car, and, wait a second . . . People don’t bounce—at least not more than once or twice. But this guy ricocheted across the sidewalk like a beach ball.
Then things got weird. Finn chased after the dude and picked him up with one hand and no obvious sign of struggle.
Once I got closer I realized why. He wasn’t a bloated guy in a top hat at all. He was a life-size blow-up doll. Balloon-like and puffy, with eerily realistic-looking features: black mustache, rosy cheeks, thin lips, and tiny, pale pink ears. Someone had dressed him in a black suit with a matching tie. He looked like a chubby Charlie Chaplin, minus the derby cap and cane.
“You okay?” asked Finn.
“Fine.” I brushed myself off. “Just surprised. And kinda creeped out.”
“Just kinda?” Finn teased.
The two of us gazed at the doll, both thinking the same thing. Not because we’re twins and we have super telepathic powers—we don’t. Only because there’s merely one possible reaction to this situation: extreme confusion.
“Where did he come from, do you think?”
“Don’t know.” Finn shook his head. “Nor do I know where he’s going.”
“Probably with those two.” I pointed to two more blow-up dolls that tumbled by. These ones were made up to look like women, with long hair and long skirts trailing behind them as they drifted into oncoming traffic.
Someone in a Smart Car slammed on the brakes. Tires skidded to a loud angry stop and horns blared. Passersby on the sidewalk stopped passing by to stare as the pair continued down the street. They bounced buoyantly, totally oblivious to the hazards they caused.
Finn turned back to the doll in his hand. “Uh, think we should keep him?”
“It’s not like we can bring him to school,” I replied.
“Right. Good point.” Finn let go.
The doll began to drift, but before it got very far I grabbed it and was surprised at how light it really was. “We can’t just let him sail away. He could cause an accident. His friends almost did.”
“So what do we do?” asked Finn. “We’re totally gonna be late, and Ms. Murphy would never believe us if we told her why.”
I looked around, noticed the empty trash can on the corner, and stuffed him in. “There!” I said.
The doll filled up the entire barrel. He peered straight at me with dull brown eyes. For someone with plastic features, he seemed surprisingly unhappy about his fate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His mustache drooped with disappointment. But what could I do?
“Sorry, dude, but it could’ve been worse. We could’ve deflated you,” I said, before turning to Finn and calling, “Hurry up or we’ll get detention!”
We ran the rest of the way. Missed the late bell, but managed to sneak into homeroom without anyone noticing.
“Plenty of time,” Finn whispered as we slid into our seats.
“We got lucky,” I replied as I retied my ponytail. “And tonight the alarm clock is moving to my side of the room.”
Yes, Finn and I share a room but it’s not as weird as it sounds. A giant bookcase divides his side from mine, and it offers plenty of privacy. Case in point—I didn’t even notice him pressing the snooze button.
Finn shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
After homeroom, I breezed through math, English, and social studies, almost like the wind propelled my schedule, too. So before I knew it, it was time for lunch.
Lucy was already waiting for me at my locker. She wore her long dark hair in a single braid, which told me she had music after school. (Her teacher is way strict and makes her wear her hair back so it doesn’t get in the way.) And if I couldn’t tell by her hair, she was also carrying her violin, because it doesn’t fit in her locker.
“Hey, what’s up?” she asked.
“Did you happen to run into any giant plastic dolls on the way to school this morning? Or, more to the point, did any giant plastic dolls happen to run into you?”
Lucy frowned and raised her hand to my forehead. “You feeling okay, Maggie?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Just—never mind.” It seemed too complicated to explain—at least at the moment, while I was starving. “Let’s eat. Are you carrying or buying?”
“Like you have to ask,” she replied, holding up her lunch sack. “I’m packing spaghetti, but I’ll come with you.”
We headed outside with a swarm of other Fiske Street Junior High School seventh and eighth graders. Sixth graders aren’t allowed to leave campus for lunch. And being a fairly new seventh grader, I still enjoyed the novelty of leaving school in the middle of the day.
We headed to Henry’s so I could pick up a banh mi, which is a delicious Vietnamese sandwich that Lucy finds disgusting, even though she’s half Vietnamese.
“I’ll wait outside,” she said once we got there. “I don’t even like the smell.”
“Someday you’re going to want to eat more than spaghetti,” I said.
“Ugh, you sound just like my mother!” said Lucy. “Last night she tried to get me to eat rice with clams in it, claiming it’s my great-grandmother’s long-lost recipe and that a single, mystically infused bowl will cause good luck. Can you think of a more obvious ploy?”
“You have no idea how good you have it!” I said. “My parents are working so much these days, they never cook. Finn and I have had pizza three nights in a row.”
“That sounds so much better than having to eat leftovers from my parents’ restaurant,” said Lucy. “And I don’t even like pizza.”
After I got my sandwich, we
She wasn’t just any eighth grader, either. Her name was Charlotte Ginsburg, and she’s totally popular. Not mean-girl, tease-you-to-your-face-or-trash-talk-you-behind-your-back popular—I don’t think. She’s just your standard, eighth grade, run-of-the-mill, pretty, cheerful kind of girl.
I looked up but didn’t speak. I just didn’t know what to say. Last time I saw Charlotte, she was walking down Sixth Avenue with her three best friends—girly girls with bright smiles and shiny hair—their arms linked, taking up the whole sidewalk. They were so focused on one another that they didn’t even notice me approach. No one moved over to make room, and I had to jump into the gutter to avoid running into them. And they weren’t even being mean—just oblivious, because they could be. They’re so used to people getting out of their way.
So obviously I couldn’t figure out why she’d ventured to my table. For one thing, I’m in the seventh grade. Also, there’s way less hair flipping, giggling, and gossiping on my side of the cafeteria.
Maybe she tripped and fell and hit her head this morning and now had amnesia. It was the only logical explanation, considering we were over a month into the new school year. Space at the cafeteria had been mapped out, invisible but powerful lines drawn. If you wanted to switch tables at this point, forget it. It was too late. Your friends were your friends, and there was nothing you could do about it for the rest of the semester—probably the rest of the year.
But it’s not like I needed to explain this to Charlotte, who stood over me, puzzled and waiting for a response.
A response other than a confused, silent gaze, I mean.
“Yes, I’m Maggie Brooklyn,” I said finally.
“The dog-walking detective?” she asked, her tone all business.
Suddenly everything became clear. I recently found some missing dogs. And not just some—Finn says I need to quit being so modest. I rescued seven dogs from an evil dognapper posing as an identical-twin veterinarian, and lots of people found out about it, which made me legitimately popular for an entire week, then just semipopular the week after that.
Three weeks later everything went back to normal, meaning most people didn’t really notice me. Which is not just okay by me—I actually prefer it. I love solving mysteries, and being inconspicuous helps in a major way.
I’m tall, but not too tall, with long, dark, wavy hair and eyes that are green or hazel, depending on who you ask. Basically, I’m your average twelve-year-old girl, and no one expects that an average twelve-year-old girl could be capable of serious detective work.
“I’m not a professional or anything,” I told Charlotte. “I don’t even have business cards. But I do walk a few dogs after school, and I have solved some mysteries.” (By “some” I meant two, because besides finding the missing dogs, I’d also tracked down my landlady’s long-lost fortune.)
“That’s good, because I need some help, and my dog does, too,” said Charlotte.
“I’m not allowed to walk any more dogs,” I said. “I already have four clients, and that barely gives me enough time for homework.”
“I don’t need you to walk Mister Fru Fru,” said Charlotte. “I do that. I just need you to figure out who egged him this morning!”
“Wait, your dog got egged?” I asked.
“Your dog’s name is ‘Mister Fru Fru’?” Lucy marveled.
I kicked her under the table.
“What?” she asked with a shrug. “It’s a legitimate question.”
As Charlotte glared, her pink lips formed into one thin glossy line of impatience. “Yeah, I named my dog Mister Fru Fru. You want to make something of it?”
“Nope.” Lucy looked down at her spaghetti and twirled another forkful.
“Tell me what happened,” I said. “Like, step by step.” I pulled out my brand-new dog-walking/crime-fighting notepad. It reads “Doggie Deets” across the top, so it’s multipurpose.
Charlotte huffed out a small breath. “We were walking into the park before school, as usual, when this small white blur whizzed past me, and the next thing I knew, Mister Fru Fru was whimpering and covered in egg.”
“That’s horrible,” I said.
“No kidding,” she replied. “And guess what else—Mister Fru Fru isn’t the only victim. I asked around, and it turns out that lots of dogs got egged in the park last weekend. It’s, like, an epidemic or something.” She pulled her hair up into a loose bun and then changed her mind and dropped it down again. “So, can you figure out who’s behind it?”
“I can try,” I said. “Where in the park were you, exactly?”
“I entered at Ninth Street, near where I live.”
“And what time were you there?”
“Seven thirty, I think. No, I had to wait for my manicure to dry before I left the house, so it was probably closer to seven forty-five.” Charlotte looked down at her lavender-with-a-hint-of-sparkle nails. “Although a couple got smudged, so I must have left too early. Maybe at seven forty?”
I appreciated how seriously she was taking this.
“Do you know any of the other victims?” I asked. “Because I’d like to speak to them.”
“To the dogs?” asked Charlotte. She tilted her head and looked at me with wide green eyes. “You can do that?”
I stared at her hard, trying to figure out if she was making fun of me. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to be.
“I mean the owners,” I replied, as delicately as possible.
“Oh, yeah, of course. No, I don’t. But go to the park and ask around. Everybody’s talking about it.”
Charlotte walked away without thanking me. Not that I’d done anything yet, except take notes. I stared down at them, trying to figure out where to begin.
Before I could make sense of anything, Sonya ran over and sat across from me with an excited thump. “We’ve got news.”
“Big news,” Beatrix added, sliding in right next to her.
“They’re filming a Seth Ryan movie here!” yelled Sonya, tapping her hands on the table, drumroll style. “And we’re going to be in it!”
If I were the type to travel in a pack, like a wolf or one of those girls with a bunch of best friends, Sonya and Beatrix would be in it, no question. They’re in the seventh grade, too, and just as sweet and funny as Lucy. But since I am a one-best-friend type of girl, they’re the next best thing.
And that’s okay, because I don’t think they’d want to be best, best friends with me, either, since I’m not obsessed with Seth Ryan.
Like most kids I know, he’s my favorite movie star, for the obvious reasons: cute, a great actor, and he donated the proceeds of his last movie to the ASPCA. In other words, he’s a puppy lover with puppy-dog eyes.
I’ve seen most of his movies. The last two I even went to on opening night.
But it’s not like I’d start a Seth Ryan fan club.
Or launch a website devoted to his life and work.
Or design T-shirts with his face on them.
Or have meetings after school twice a week to plan even more Seth Ryan superfan–related activities.
Yet that’s exactly what Beatrix and Sonya have been doing.
Beatrix has been into Seth Ryan for over a year. For Sonya, he’s a new obsession. She’d only just recently replaced the unicorn posters on her bedroom walls with pinups of him.
“Who’s Seth Ryan?” I asked with a straight face.
“Not funny, Maggie,” said Beatrix. “You can’t joke about the most famous movie star in the world. He’s off-limits!”
“How are you guys going to be in his movie?” asked Lucy.
“Not just Sonya and me,” said Beatrix. “All of us. They’re filming in the neighborhood and they need extras, immediately.”
“That sounds amazing,” Lucy said.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Sonya. “But I know it’s true, because it’s all over the Internet.”
“Isn’t that where you read they were tearing down our school to put in a giant cupcake factory?” I asked.
“It wasn’t a giant cupcake factory,” Sonya replied. “It was a regular-size factory that specialized in baking giant cupcakes.”
“Obviously,” said Lucy, smiling at me.
“You guys, this is totally legit,” said Sonya as she unpacked her lunch. “I promise. I walked by Second Street on my way to school, and it’s already closed to regular traffic. This giant truck rolled up and unloaded six humongous trailers. You know—the kind movie stars use as dressing rooms. And then another truck came, and it was filled with giant lights and movie cameras.”
This wasn’t hugely shocking. People film stuff in our neighborhood all the time. Especially on Second Street. In the past six months, they’d roped off the street for a Tom Cruise movie and a Trident gum commercial. But as for the rest of it? It seemed too good to be true.
“If they really needed extras, don’t you think they would’ve figured it out before today?” I asked.
“They had,” said Beatrix. “Or at least they thought they had. They were going to use a crowd in a box.”
“What’s that?” asked Lucy.
“It’s an inflatable crowd,” Beatrix explained. “It’s when they use blow-up people to save money so they don’t have to deal with real extras.”
“Inflatable extras are much less complicated,” said Sonya. “Except on days with high winds.”
“They all blew away,” Beatrix said. “And there’s no time to get new plastic.”
Suddenly everything clicked into place. “So that explains that puffy dude that plowed into me this morning.”
“Huh?” asked my friends.
I told them about my run-in with the blow-up doll. “We saw a few, but I had no idea they were part of a whole gang.”
“There were thirty, apparently,” said Beatrix. “Kind of an expensive mistake.”
“So where’s the doll?” asked Lucy.
Other author's books:
- Vanishing ActsIf I Were YouWe Are Party PeopleBoys Are DogsSecrets at the Chocolate Mansion
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