Vanishing Acts, page 1
Phillip M. Margolin
Ami Margolin Rome
This book is dedicated to Doreen Stamm Margolin,
a fantastic wife and fabulous mother. We miss her.
Chapter 1 - “I Want to Report a Murder!”
Chapter 2 - A Midnight Call
Chapter 3 - The Bully
Chapter 4 - A Nightmare at Soccer Tryouts
Chapter 5 - The Shelby Case
Chapter 6 - “He’s Cute”
Chapter 7 - Payback
Chapter 8 - The Mystery Woman
Chapter 9 - The Getaway
Chapter 10 - Madison Finds a Clue
Chapter 11 - The File
Chapter 12 - Madison visits a Murder Suspect
Chapter 13 - Spying
Chapter 14 - Madison Sees a Ghost
Chapter 15 - The Outcast
Chapter 16 - Madison Survives
Chapter 17 - Found!
Chapter 18 - A Break in the Shelby Case
Chapter 19 - Back from the Dead
Chapter 20 - The Truth Comes Out
Chapter 21 - Not Bad for a Seventh Grader
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Madison Kincaid could smell victory—she could taste it, she could even see it on the scoreboard where Lewis and Clark Elementary School, the Multnomah County champion, was beating its archrival, Prescott-Mather Prep, Washington County’s best.
In less than two minutes, Lewis and Clark would be state champs for the third year in a row, thanks to Madison and her best friend, Ann Beck, the terrors of the elementary school soccer field since first grade.
There were two minutes left in this game, and the Prescott-Mather players were racing toward the Lewis and Clark goal to make a last-ditch effort to tie the score. Only that was not going to happen. Lewis and Clark had a top goalie in the net and Madison Kincaid in front of it. Best of all, Prescott-Mather had given the ball to Betsy Flint. Madison had played against Betsy many times, and Betsy knew that she was no match for Madison. Reading the uncertainty on Betsy’s face, Madison foresaw exactly what was going to happen. Betsy would panic when the two girls closed and she’d take a desperation shot on goal. Madison would step in front of the shot, control it, then boom a kick to the other side of the field. And that would be that.
The play went almost exactly the way Madison thought it would. Betsy’s eyes began shifting from side to side as Madison closed on her. Then Betsy hesitated. Betsy looked to pass, but all of her teammates were covered. She stared at the right side of the goal and kicked the ball exactly where Madison had predicted.
Madison had foreseen everything except the wet spot.
It had rained all morning, but the field had dried out by game time . . . except for one patch that was in shadow. One second Madison was racing toward the ball, and the next her feet shot out from under her and she was flying through space, her arms and legs shooting in all directions. Worst of all, the toe of Madison’s right shoe connected with the soccer ball with such force that it sped like a bullet train into the left side of the Lewis and Clark goal.
Hitting the ground with a thud, Madison felt the air rush out of her. Her eyes squeezed shut. She couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t see. But she could definitely hear the screams and shrieks of the Prescott-Mather team, which was now playing in a tie game, thanks to Madison Kincaid. Her heart sank.
Madison’s eyes opened. Staring down at her was Ann Beck’s smiling face, rimmed by her unruly mop of frizzy blond hair. Ann always found something to smile about in the worst of circumstances. She held out her hand and pulled Madison to her feet.
“After the game, I’ll explain why you’re supposed to kick the ball into the other guy’s goal, not your own,” Ann said as they trotted up the field to taunts of “Wrong Way Kincaid.”
“That’s sort of catchy,” Ann added.
Madison groaned. “We were so close to victory. I can’t believe I did something so stupid.” She felt embarrassed from the tips of her toes to her beet-red face.
“You just slipped. It could have happened to anyone.”
“I let everyone down.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Ann said. She gave her best friend a muddy hug. “We’re still going to win.”
As soon as the Lewis and Clark players were together, Ann called them into a huddle.
“These preppies think they’ve got us on the run, but they don’t know who they’re dealing with. We beat Prescott-Mather last year and we’re going to do it again. We have a little over one minute to win the state championship, and ‘Wrong Way Kincaid’ is going to show Prescott-Mather the right way to do it.”
Madison’s teammates pumped their fists and shouted “Wrong Way, Wrong Way,” to the great surprise of Prescott-Mather. Then the clock was ticking and Madison suddenly found herself with the ball, headed toward the Prescott-Mather goal.
The goalie focused on Madison, certain that she would keep the ball for a final shot so she could redeem herself. Three Prescott-Mather players formed up in front of Madison to stop her attack. The clock continued to tick.
Madison hid her hand by her side and gave Ann a thumbs-up. Anyone on Prescott-Mather who saw the sign would think Madison was signaling that she felt okay to take the shot, but this signal had been developed by Ann and Madison when they were in third grade.
Out of the corner of her eye, Madison saw Ann drift to the other side of the goal. When Ann was in position, Madison set herself to score. The Prescott-Mather players charged. At the last moment, Madison swiveled and kicked the ball toward Ann’s head. Ann snapped her head forward, powering the ball into the net just as time ran out.
Screaming with joy, Madison raced over to Ann. They hugged and jumped in place as their teammates mobbed them.
“I can’t wait for seventh grade!” Madison shrieked.
“We are going to rule Pettygrove Junior High!” Ann shouted back.
At that moment, Madison felt invincible.
“I Want to Report a Murder!”
I want to report a murder!” Thelma Bauer told the two policemen as soon as she opened the door.
Officer Jerry Kwong unsnapped his holster so he could get to his gun quickly. He looked like he expected a machete-wielding maniac to leap out at him. Officer Barry Jensen sighed. He’d forgotten to warn his rookie colleague about Thelma. Normally an order to investigate a murder had the effect of a double shot of espresso, but when Thelma Bauer was the complaining witness he reacted as if he was responding to a report about a missing cat.
Thelma Bauer was a sixty-nine-year-old retired bookkeeper who watched too many crime shows on TV. Unfortunately, they gave her a view of the world in which everyone was a suspect, and she was constantly reporting suspicious behavior. Over the years, Thelma had reported several “criminals” who turned out to be gardeners, salesmen, and delivery boys.
“Tell us what you saw, ma’am,” Kwong said.
After calling 911, Thelma had combed her short gray hair, applied makeup, and put on her nicest dress. She always made it a point to dress up when she phoned 911 in case television reporters followed the police. Thelma smiled at the handsome young policeman. Then she remembered why he was there and cast a nervous look at the house next door.
“We’d better go inside, in case he comes back,” she said.
“In case who comes back?”
“Mark Shelby, the killer,” Thelma whispered.
Kwong and Thelma went inside. Officer Jensen hitched up his gun belt and pulled pants fabric out of his butt before following them.
The drapes were closed, but an old-fashioned floor lamp illuminated a floral couch covered in plastic; shelves full of snow globes, ceramic cats, and other knickknacks; and a forty-six-inch plasma TV that looked out of place among the dowdy furnishings.
“What makes you think Mr. Shelby is a killer?” Jensen asked.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about that,” Thelma answered with a confident smile. “Would you two like some coffee cake and tea?”
Kwong was about to accept when Jensen laid a hand on his forearm. The first time he’d answered one of Thelma’s 911 calls, he’d made the mistake of accepting and had almost choked on the worst cake he’d ever tasted.
“Thanks, but we’ll have to turn you down,” Jensen said. “If a murder’s been committed, time is of the essence.”
“I understand completely. If a homicide isn’t solved in the first forty-eight hours, the chances of it ever being solved begin to disappear,” Thelma said, repeating the words of a wise detective from her favorite mystery drama.
“Exactly, Miss Bauer. So, why do you think a murder has been committed?” Jensen asked. Kwong whipped out a notebook and pen so he could take down Thelma’s statement.
“I saw the killer getting rid of the body.”
“Really?” Jensen said, fighting hard to keep the skepticism out of his voice. “Do you remember reporting a mob hit last year?”
Thelma blushed. “That was very embarrassing, but I was certain that Mr. Bellini had been murdered by gangsters. In an episode of Crime Busters, the villain’s henchmen rolled up a corpse in a rug when they were disposing of a snitch they’d bumped off.”
“In real life, Miss Bauer, a pipe burst in Mr. Bellini’s living room and the ‘hit men’ turned out to be carpet cleaners.”
“This was no carpet, I assure you. I saw Mark Shelby put his wife’s body in the back of his station wagon and drive away at high speed. Why would he peel out if he wasn’t trying to get away from the scene of a crime?”
“You saw the body?” Jensen pressed.
“Not clearly, but he was carrying something that was the same size as Mrs. Shelby and I’d heard her scream just moments before.”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Kwong suggested. “When did you first suspect foul play?”
“When their screams woke me up. And it wasn’t the first time. This neighborhood was very peaceful until they moved in. The Shelbys fight all the time. Sometimes it’s late at night, sometimes it’s at dinner time. Today, they picked five o’clock in the morning and they woke me out of a sound sleep.
“My bedroom window faces their kitchen and there’s only a thin strip of lawn to separate us. It was a warm evening and I kept my window open. I couldn’t see much, but I could certainly hear those two shouting at each other.”
“What did they say?” Kwong asked.
“I’m not sure. The kitchen window was closed. But they were both very angry. I did hear Ruth Shelby scream and I think I heard glass shatter. I thought he must be killing her. Then I heard the Shelbys’ front door slam. I went into this room as fast as I could.”
Thelma walked to the wall closest to the Shelbys’ house and pulled back the drapes. Jensen could see the Shelbys’ front lawn. At the side of the house farthest from them was a driveway.
“Their station wagon was parked facing out from the garage. The gate in the back of the car was down. Mark Shelby had his back to me. Ruth is a small woman and Mark is very big. I believe he played football. I could see he had something in his arms, and he was bent forward, like you would be if you were carrying a body. Then he heaved the corpse into the trunk, slammed the gate shut, and drove away at a high rate of speed, as if he was making a getaway. That’s when I called 911.”
“Did you check to see if Mrs. Shelby was home before you called 911?”
“Of course. I was afraid to go over there in case he came back, but I called their house.” Thelma paused dramatically. “Ruth didn’t answer, but I’d heard her scream just minutes before. All I got was the answering machine.”
“We’d better go over and see what’s what,” Jensen said. He was certain that Mrs. Shelby would answer the door and he and Kwong could investigate real crimes or, better yet, go for donuts and coffee.
The policemen left Thelma’s house and crossed the lawn. Jensen looked back and saw Thelma watching them. He rang the Shelbys’ doorbell and waited patiently. When no one responded, he rang the bell again and knocked loudly.
“Police,” he shouted after waiting for a response. When there was still no answer, Jensen tried the knob and was surprised when the door opened. Jensen frowned. This was suspicious. Why would the Shelbys leave the front door open if they were out?
“Cover me,” he whispered to Kwong as he edged into the house with his gun drawn. He paused in the front room and listened for any signs of life, but the house was dead silent. Jensen looked around. The living room was clean and filled with expensive modern furniture.
“Bauer said the argument was in the kitchen,” Jensen whispered. Kwong nodded. They moved down the hall in a crouch. Jensen felt butterflies flitting inside his stomach. He was too old for gunfights, and it was too early in the day to stumble on a corpse. Jensen loved to eat, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to handle a greasy barbecue sandwich slathered with spicy red sauce if they discovered a dead body.
Jensen put his back to the wall on one side of the kitchen door, paused with his gun pointing up, and ducked into the room. Kwong followed. They lowered their weapons and stared.
“Something definitely happened in here,” Kwong said. Jensen didn’t disagree. The pieces of a shattered coffee pot were strewn in and around a puddle of dark brown liquid that covered a good part of the floor. There was another liquid on the counter that had seeped under the corner of a loaf of bread. Only this liquid wasn’t coffee. There were also traces of blood spattered on the floor, and a fine spray decorated the ivory-white refrigerator door.
“Look at that,” Kwong said, drawing Jensen’s attention to the blood on the blade of a large knife that lay on the kitchen counter.
“Let’s check the house,” Jensen said.
Most of the Shelbys’ home was as neat as the living room, but the bedroom was a mess. The bed wasn’t made, and the covers had been thrown back as if someone had gotten out of bed in a hurry. The closet doors were open, too, and several items of clothing lay on the closet floor as if they’d been knocked down when someone was dressing.
“What do you think happened?” Kwong asked.
“I don’t know, but I think we’d better find out what type of car Mark Shelby drives and its license number and have the dispatcher broadcast an all-points bulletin. I don’t like all that blood in the kitchen, and I definitely don’t like the fact that so much of it was on that knife.”
A Midnight Call
Madison was sleeping soundly in a soft, warm place when someone started burrowing into her head with a dentist’s drill. Aargh! She rolled onto her stomach and wrapped her pillow around her head and over her ears, but the terrible sound wouldn’t stop.
Madison used every ounce of her strength to raise an eyelid. The bright red numbers on her digital clock read 12:16. Groaning, she let her eyelid drop back in place. Last night she had been so excited about starting her first day of seventh grade that she hadn’t fallen asleep until late, which meant she’d only been asleep for . . . Madison was so tired she didn’t have the energy to subtract.
Brrrng! Madison struggled to a sitting position. She was pretty certain she knew why someone was calling the Kincaid house after midnight. As much as she wanted to stay under her soft blankets, her curiosity wouldn’t let her rest until she’d confirmed her deduction. Dragging herself o
Madison’s mother had died when Madison was in first grade, and she’d been raised by her father, Hamilton Kincaid. He was a top criminal defense attorney and a total workaholic. Once he got a case it became his life. It wasn’t unusual for Madison’s dad to work on a case deep into the night, and it definitely wasn’t unusual for a new client to call after midnight.
The second-floor landing was across from her father’s first-floor study. Peering through the railing, Madison saw that the door to the study was open.
“I’ll be at the jail in half an hour, Mr. Shelby,” her father said.
She ducked back from the railing just as Hamilton walked out of his den. Without looking up, he said, “I know you’re listening, Madison. I have to go to the jail. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
Most of her friends’ parents would never leave a twelve-year-old alone in the middle of the night, but Hamilton was absentminded, and Madison had grown used to taking care of herself. Double-checking that her dad had locked the door behind him, Madison, though curious, went back up to bed.
Madison’s alarm went off at 7:15. She sat up right away. She was bleary eyed from her restless night, but if she hit snooze she wouldn’t have time to blow-dry. Looking put together on her first day at a new school was seriously important.
By the second or third day, the snooze button would probably be in heavy use again. But today she couldn’t afford to go back to sleep.
Grabbing her cell phone from her bedside stand, she speed-dialed Ann. Madison and Ann had met on the first day of soccer practice when they were both five and had been best friends and teammates ever since.
Madison often thought it was cool that two such different girls could be best friends. Madison was orderly, strong willed, and liked a plan, while Ann was happy-go-lucky and ready for anything. Madison loved school, though she knew it sounded dorky. She was a straight-A student and often read books that weren’t required reading. She wanted to be the world’s greatest crime-solving attorney, so she was always on the lookout for information that could someday come in handy. Sherlock Holmes, for example, could identify 140 different types of tobacco ash and had such a great knowledge of different kinds of soil that he could tell where a person had been by examining the dirt on the sole of a suspect’s shoe. Those were just a few of the things Madison would have to know if she wanted to defend the innocent against unjust accusations in court.