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PETER BLACK AND THE DEADLY LETTERS by Simon Halliday
1. Peter’s Letters
Peter woke up and jumped out of bed. He’d seen the time – 8:30, and thought he was going to be late for school. He put his trousers on the wrong way round and got his shirt stuck on his head, and then he tripped over and bashed one of his arms on his desk. It wasn’t a good start to the day and when he finally staggered out to the landing his mum was amazed to see him.
“You’re up early for a Saturday” she said, “and dressed in your school uniform, too. Strange way for an international hero to go on.”
Peter wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry when he realised what a fool he’d been. He was wide awake by now, so he changed into some other clothes and went downstairs for breakfast. He noticed the front page of the newspaper, which his mum had left on the table for everyone to see:
Schoolboy Foils International Crime Ring
Peter read through the article and was amazed at some of the mistakes. They’d called James ‘John’ and they’d written that there had been two hundred statues hidden in Mr. Craven’s lake – there had been nowhere near that many. ‘That’s journalists for you’, he thought, but he was pleased at the way they’d described his ‘brave and heroic work.’
“What do you think?” asked Mrs. Black as she entered the kitchen. “A good article, isn’t it?”
“Not bad” said Peter. “It’s nice to be recognised for going through all that stuff with Mr. Craven.”
“Well, we won’t be seeing him for a long time – fifteen years in prison they’ve given him.”
“Mum” said Peter, looking up from the kitchen table. “When you asked me to go and spy on him, did you know he was up to something like that?”
“Goodness, no!” shrieked Mrs. Black. “If I’d known he was such a bad one I’d never have sent you, but I did think there was something not quite right about him. As you know, I like to know everything that’s going on around here.”
“Yes, we all know that” agreed Peter.
“Oh, that reminds me Peter. You haven’t finished your English homework. You had an essay to write for Monday, didn’t you?”
Peter sighed and nodded – his mum was too aware of what was going on, so that nobody got away with anything.
“I’ll do it today” said Peter, leaving the table. “A fine way for an international hero to be treated” he muttered as he left. Walking towards the living-room he met James in the hallway, who looked as if he was quite ill.
“What’s the matter?” asked Peter. “Have you got flu?”
“No” said James. “I didn’t sleep at all – I’ll tell you later.” He went towards the kitchen and Peter was left wondering what was going on – it wasn’t like James not to sleep. Peter went into the living-room and was surprised to see Lucy was there, playing with her dolls house.
“You’re up early” said Peter.
“Morning’s the best part of the day” she replied, smiling up at him.
“Well, if you say so Lucy. Are you going to play with those dolls all day?”
Lucy glanced angrily across at him and refused to answer. She continued to play, moving the little people around the various rooms of the house.
“Very well” said Peter, “but if you could learn to read, then you’d get on better.”
“I can read!” snapped Lucy without looking up. “Leave me alone” she added. She was nearly seven now and was getting quite confident.
Peter decided he’d do as Lucy asked, for he knew what it was like when she got upset and started bawling. He made his way upstairs, looking for a book about computers – he’d decided that the essay he’d write would be about the way computers were changing people’s lives. He’d noticed that most of his friends at school were spending a lot of time on computers, mostly just playing games. He wanted to find out why people enjoyed doing that so much and had been wondering if it was doing them any good.
As Peter sat in his room, reading a book which claimed computers had minds of their own and were planning world domination, James appeared at the door. Peter didn’t notice him there – he was too absorbed in his book. James coughed loudly to get his attention – Peter glanced up.
“Sorry to interrupt” said James. “I want to talk.”
“Go on” said Peter, looking up from his desk. “What happened last night? You weren’t having nightmares about Mr. Craven’s cellar and those rats, were you?”
“I wish I was” said James, “because I know that’s all behind us.”
Peter was interested – he could see how intensely his brother was thinking, trying to make sense of whatever was on his mind.
“So what was the nightmare about?” asked Peter.
“No, it wasn’t a nightmare. I meant what I said – I really didn’t sleep at all.”
“Why not?” asked Peter. “What were you thinking about?”
“That strange letter which Mark Bradshaw received” said James. “I’ve got a bad feeling about it, Peter.”
Peter knew what his brother was talking about. Soon after their last adventure, a mysterious envelope had appeared which contained indecipherable symbols and had no explanation. “I know” he replied, “but it doesn’t make much sense to anyone yet. I’m sorry, but I can’t shed any more light on it at this stage. In fact, Mr. Lever the physics teacher has got it at the moment. He said he would run some tests on it to try and identify where it might have come from, but he didn’t promise anything.”
“I’ve not seen it yet!” complained James. “When are you getting it back?”
“I don’t know” replied Peter, “but probably in a couple of days.”
James looked sulky and tired.
“Never mind James” added Peter. “We’ll have to talk about this later. The postman’s coming.”
James groaned and nodded in resignation, for he knew what was going to happen next. For the past few days since Mr. Craven and his friends were arrested and put into prison, Peter had started receiving fan mail. James watched him head for the door as a great ‘thud’ came from the hallway.
Peter returned with an armful of mail. “Here’s the post” he said brightly, and James was getting a bit sick of it. He was about to start complaining about it and reminding Peter that his faithful little brother had also been stuck in a rat-infested cellar for days and threatened by Mr. Craven’s gang, but Peter spoke first as he thumbed through the mail: “Ah, here’s one for you!” he announced, handing over a small blue envelope.
James took the letter and looked down in dismay – ‘John Black’ it said, in scrawly handwriting. “Thanks” said James.
“Er… yes, that’s it” said Peter. “These are mine”, and he went upstairs to open them.
James followed him; as he went, he opened his letter and found that it was almost fan-mail: ‘Dear John Black’ it read, ‘Since you are Peter’s brother I thought I should write to you as well. I had to ask Peter for help with something as he seems so clever; I couldn’t think of much to say to you, but well done for being Peter’s brother – best wishes for your future adventures, Louise Walsh.’
“Who’s it from?” called Peter after a few moments.
“Oh, just some girl called Louise” said James. “She said she’s sent you something as well.” He wandered into Peter’s bedroom and saw him there surrounded by ripped envelopes along with piles of letters and gifts.
“Fame’s a fickle thing” said Peter. “If this ever happens to you then just be warned – they love me today but tomorrow I’ll be just another nobody.”
“If this ever happens to me?” asked James, amazed. “Look at this!” He threw his letter across to Peter who opened it, read for a few moments then laughed.
“Yeah I see what you mean” agreed Peter. “It’s a bit harsh – too bad, but you know this Louise sounds quite intriguing.”
“She sounds quite cheeky.”
“Hold on a moment. She’s sent me this one…” Peter handed across the ten-page letter which he’d received from Miss Walsh and James took it. “I’ll have to read it later” continued Peter. “I just skimmed through it and I think it’s worth looking at.”
James had gone quiet as he began to read the letter to himself:
‘Dear Peter Black, I heard of your amazing adventures and I just wanted to tell you I love you very very much. It must be so exciting to be in the middle of an international crime ring, and then to defeat it. You are the bravest and best person I know, and the way you took care of your little brother and saw that he didn’t come to any harm was wonderful. I think you’re great…’
James snorted and looked up at Peter who was grinning across.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” asked Peter.
“Peter, this makes me want to throw up. Are all your letters like this?”
“Well…” Peter was wondering how to put it. “Yes, I suppose they are. But James, forget all that – read on from page five.”
James flicked over the next few pages and found that it really was all the same until page five. On page five there was something different – Louise had drawn a diagram, a little picture of a computer. “Hey, that’s a pretty good drawing” said James. “I didn’t think girls knew about computers.”
“This one does. She’s in the computer club at school. Just read it, James!”
As James continued to read, he was beginning to realise that there was actually something more to this. By the end of the letter, Louise was practically begging for help – it seemed that she and her brother had become mixed up with some very unpleasant people and she needed help to get away from them.
“Do you see what’s happening?” asked Peter as he watched James stare down at the letter. “It’s clear that we should follow this one up. There are some very dark forces at work; she’s not making that stuff up.”
“I can see that” agreed James. “In this bit she writes of a computer virus. What’s that about, do you think?”
“Like she says” explained Peter. “There’s obviously a small group of kids who are trying to cause trouble and it sounds as though she’s become involved. They’ve tricked her into working with them.”
“How could she know all that technical stuff about computers?” asked James.
“Good question. They must be feeding her all this and keeping her interested. And you’ll notice that some of the details aren’t quite correct.” Peter was pointing at the diagrams Louise had drawn. “The way she’s shown the internet connections is totally wrong, and look at these contacts she’s made through her computer – she doesn’t even know who most of them are. Yet she’s doing what they’re telling her to do. Can you see how it works? It reminds me of the internet chat rooms people go to – all the time she’s spent on her computer has got her mixed up in big trouble. It’s time we went to see her.”
“What kind of trouble?” asked James, feeling worried for her.
“I don’t know yet” said Peter, “but you can tell by the way she’s written this letter – there are some very dangerous people behind this.”
James looked lost for a few moments, and then suddenly remembered something: “What about that black envelope which Mark received? You know, the one Rowan brought to us at Mr. Craven’s lake…?”
“Yes, I know which one you mean” said Peter quickly, with a very dark expression on his face. “All I can say about that is what I first thought – it looks like complete nonsense and it’s not even signed from anybody; but now I’ve read Louise’s letter I’m beginning to wonder if they’re connected. Computers were mentioned in that one as well…”
“Can’t I see Mark’s letter?” asked James, impatiently.
“Later” decided Peter. “For now, let’s go straight over to see Louise. We need to let her know she’s got our help.”
“Alright” said James. “Don’t forget, will you?”
“Of course I won’t forget! Quick, get ready. It’s nearly ten o’clock already and we’ve got work to do this afternoon.”
“Have we?” asked James, but seeing Peter’s face he decided to get ready first and ask questions later.
2. Louise’s Secret
“What did you mean?” asked James, as he and Peter walked out of the house into a warm but cloudy day. “What work have we got today?”
“I’ll tell you later” said Peter. “It’s important. I hope you haven’t got any other plans.”
“No, I haven’t” admitted James, “But I might have had! What’s got into you today? I’m feeling more like an assistant all the time. You’re being very secretive with me recently.”
“I’m sorry” said Peter, stopping on the pavement. He looked at his brother, wondering what to say. “I’ll explain a lot more this afternoon” said Peter, “To be honest with you I’ve got a really bad feeling about these letters – especially the one which Mark received.”
“I know what you mean” agreed James. “I’m not too happy about it either. I didn’t sleep, remember?”
“Come on” said Peter. “Louise should be able to give us some more information about what’s going on.”
About fifteen minutes later, they arrived at a large grey house. It had a lovely front garden with a swimming pool and lots of children’s toys scattered everywhere. Louise had two little brothers and a three-year-old sister, and they were a very lively family.
“Brace yourself” said Peter as he reached to press the doorbell.
“What do you mean?” asked James, but then his face fell in horror as he heard the approaching noise.
“Slow down!” yelled Louise’s mum as she rushed to get to the front door before all her children. “Get out of the way – I need to answer the door!”
“Mum, who is it?” shouted Henry, Louise’s ten-year-old brother.
“I don’t know until I answer it!” yelled his mum. “Get out of the way!”
Peter and James grinned at each other as they stood on the doorstep. It promised to be an interesting morning. Finally the nicely-carved wooden door swung open and they saw Louise’s mum standing in front of them looking tired and fed up. She was a tall, thin woman with short hair and a friendly smile; but having to deal with her family sometimes left her worse for wear.
“Peter Black” she said, “and James. What brings you two around here on a Saturday?” Her two young children were staring up, and Henry was excited to see who it was.
“I saw you in the paper!” shouted Henry. “Everyone’s talking about you at school.”
“Thanks Henry” said Peter.
“What was Mr. Craven like? How did you escape from his secret store rooms? The article didn’t explain that. How long were you stuck down there…?”
“Henry, that’s enough” said his mum, as Peter and James stared across at him.
“It’s alright” said Peter. “I’ll explain another time. Today we need to see Louise – is she in?”
At the mention of her name, Louise’s mum went quite pale. She looked as if all the life had been drained from her and she was full of anxiety. “Louise is in” she said. “I knew there was something wrong. What’s she been up to? Are you two here to help her?”
“We hope so” said Peter, becoming more concerned now.
“What do you know?”
“Nothing yet. We need to talk to her before we can have a proper idea of what’s going on. All we know is there’s something she needs help with.”
“I’m sure there is” agreed her mum. “In you come, I’ll go and get her.”
As Peter and James stood in the enormous hallway, James couldn’t help but talk about the furniture. There were clocks and cabinets, tables and pictures all over the place.
“Isn’t this a great place?” he said. “Look at this grandfather clock. It must be worth a fortune.”
“Yes” said Peter. “It’s a nice house.”
The other three children had been told to play in the garden, so apart from the steady ticking from the various clocks, the house was quiet. Finally Peter and James heard slow and steady footsteps from upstairs, and Louise appeared on the landing. She stared down and smiled when she saw the brothers.
“Oh, thank God you’ve come!” she said. “Please come up, I’ll make you some tea.”
“Is the kitchen not down here?” asked James, but Peter looked disappointed in him and Louise had vanished back into her room.
Peter led the way upstairs and into Louise’s room, which was vast and beautiful.
“Wow” said James, “this is brilliant!”
“Yes, I’m very lucky” said Louise, looking very sad but also very pretty. “Come and sit down, these chairs are comfortable.”
The brothers sat, and looked around. There was a large bed, a bathroom at the far end and a whole little kitchen all to herself in one corner. The kettle was already heating up as Louise began sorting out the cups and teabags. She was dressed in black tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt; her hair was unwashed and tangled.
“You look very nice” said James, and again Peter looked disappointed in him.
“Thank you” said Louise, “but I know it’s not true. I look awful.”
“Yes” said James, “you’re right, I was just trying to…”
“James, can we talk about the matter in hand?” cut in Peter.
“Sorry” said James.
Louise was busy, not looking around as Peter began to speak.
“Louise, thank you very much for the letter you sent us. As you know, we won’t ignore anything which comes our way – especially a cry for help.”
“I see that” she said, looking a bit brighter. “You’ve been very quick to respond. Thank you.”
“Not at all” said Peter, trying to remain business-like. “You know, James and myself will try the best we can to help you. I must admit, this situation sounds very strange indeed.”
“You’re not wrong” said Louise. “In fact, I’m really not sure where to begin.” She let her head fall down to face the floor, looking very forlorn once again.
Just as James and Peter glanced across to each other, wondering what to say next, the kettle clicked off as it began to boil fiercely.
“Ah, I’ll make the tea” continued Louise, suddenly springing back to life.
“Milk, two sugars please” said James, a bit too quickly. Again Peter glared across, and James couldn’t take any more. “What?” he asked. “That’s how I like my tea!” Peter shook his head sadly, for James obviously didn’t know how to talk to a girl.
“Thank you very much” said Peter. “I hope we don’t seem too blunt, it’s just that we need all the facts – and sometimes we come across a touch impatient. Don’t we, James…?” He glanced across with a meaningful scowl, and James quickly nodded and agreed.
Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed, and Louise started to laugh. She turned back around from the little kitchen and looked at the two brothers as they sat awkwardly in their chairs. “You two are so funny!” she shouted across, suddenly a completely different character. “I feel much better just for meeting you.” As she brought the drinks over to the brothers, James’s face lit up:
“Well…” he began.
“James, don’t say a word.”
“The thing is, I do know where to begin really” continued Louise. It was a friend of mine, someone called Graham Sullivan. Have you heard of him?”
“Yes” said Peter, “we know Graham.”
“Doesn’t he hold the school record for the most number of consecutive burps?” asked James, brightly.
“That’s right! You do know him. He’s so cute, and he’s always kind to me. In fact, I used to think I’d marry him one day.”
“You sure know how to pick them.”
“James, will you please leave the talking to me?” Peter was getting quite angry now.
“Oh, that’s alright” said Louise, still quite happy. “He does seem like a strange choice, but we’ve always got on well. The only thing is, I’ve learned something new about him.”
“What’s that?” asked Peter, taking out a notebook.
“Oh… you mustn’t tell anybody this” said Louise, glancing down at the pad. “Please keep it to yourselves.”
“Louise, we assure you of total confidence” said Peter, seriously. “Anything you say is absolutely between the three of us. We have many ways of finding the truth, but breaking this confidence is not one of them.”
“Thank you” said Louise. “You’re very kind.”
“It’s our job” said Peter plainly. “Now tell us, what have you learned about Graham Sullivan?”
Louise looked awkward for a few moments, sitting in silence and trying to make sure she got all the details right. “It was very odd the way it happened” she began. “I was just thinking about Graham one day, about a week ago.”
“Can you tell us what day?” asked Peter. “Was it in the morning?”
“Peter, can you not just let her talk?” interrupted James.
“James, can you please keep quiet? The details are very important.” Then Peter turned back to Louise. “I’m sorry, Louise. Our methods are strange, but they always work in the end. We just like to keep each other on our toes, it keeps the investigation fresh.”
“I see” said Louise, but she knew what Peter said was just a cover – it was obvious he was irritated by James. “I can tell you it was last Monday morning” she said. “I’d just come out of my art lesson, and I was thinking about Graham. Then suddenly, he appeared behind me. He tapped me on the shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my skin.”
“That sounds horrible” pointed out James.
“It was, I was so scared.”
“No, I mean – imagine if you really jumped out of your skin. It would look so…”
“James, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room the next time you go on like this.”
“Sorry Peter. Go on, Louise.”
“Er… right. Well, I spun around to see Graham and he laughed when he realised he’d scared me. Then he started talking about all sorts of things, there in the corridor. He was saying that something bad was going to happen that night, and that I’d have a terrible dream.”
“He sounds like a really nice guy” said James, sarcastically.
“James, please leave.”
“Sorry Peter.” James left.
“Alright Louise, now what else was he saying?”
“All sorts of things about computers” said Louise. “He was talking about how powerful they can be when you have control of them. I remember now… he said – ‘Whoever controls the computers controls the people.’”
“Hmmm” said Peter, scribbling down some notes. “And did he seem to want to be the person who controls everything?”
“Yes, most definitely” she confirmed, shivering as she thought of how Graham was. “I’ve never known him to be like that. He’s usually just perfect – he’s lovely.”
“Yes, alright. So did he want you to join him in this?”
“That’s right – you seem to know everything.” Louise looked deeply into Peter’s eyes, and he looked down to write some more notes.
“Louise, did you get involved with his little computer project?”
“I did” she said, and her face fell once again. She looked as sad as when they’d first arrived. “It seemed so much fun at first – I was learning all about the computers, and also about people. Everyone in the group was really friendly, and always sharing knowledge and information.”
“What kind of knowledge and information?”
“Well… actually, all about the people in the school. It wasn’t very good, really.”
“No, it doesn’t sound like it” agreed Peter. He looked up and realised that Louise looked quite sorry for having been involved, then suddenly the door burst open. James came rushing in.
“James, what are you doing?”
“Sorry, but I have to let you know – there’s some terrible news. Mark’s dead.”
“What?” gasped Peter. “You don’t mean Rowan’s friend Mark?”
“Yes. The one who received that black envelope – Mark Bradshaw. I just overheard it on the news. He’s been found in the school grounds. You’ve not told me what was in the black envelope yet. Surely that’s something to do with what’s happened?” Peter and Louise could only sit there in silence and a state of shock.
3. A Chaotic Morning
Monday was a very sad day, for everybody had heard the news of Mark Bradshaw’s death. Mr. Hopkins the headmaster led a special assembly for him, talking about what a bright pupil he’d been. Lots of people cried, for Mark had been very popular.
By Tuesday morning, nothing more had been heard about the mystery. The police were investigating but they hadn’t called Peter and James yet – Peter was a little irritated that they hadn’t thought they might be helpful. In the meantime they had to go to school as normal. Their mum was in a terrible mood.
“Oh, would you look at that!” complained Mrs. Black, already annoyed that the boys were so late. She was driving them to school, trying not to speed in her powerful new silver car, but suddenly there were lots of terrible road works blocking the way. At first she beeped the horn and shouted angrily, much to Peter and James’s embarrassment. Rowan, the youngest brother, sat quietly in the back seat.
“Mum, we’ve got to go another way” said James quickly.
“I can see that!” shouted Mrs. Black, “It’s pathetic. Why can’t they do this work overnight and leave the road clear in the daytime?”
The two brothers looked across at the scene, where nearly twenty men were digging and laying new tarmac on a large stretch of road. It looked as if it would take about six months to complete.
“Perhaps they work through the night as well” suggested James.
“Right!” yelled Mrs. Black, ignoring him. “I don’t know what we’re going to tell your teachers this time, but we’re going to have to go another way and we’ll be later than ever!”
“I just said…” began James, but Peter was looking across at him as if to say ‘don’t say anything more.’
The rest of the journey seemed like it would pass in complete silence, until they drove past the diamond shop.
“Hey, look” said James. “Diamonds Forever. That’s where Grace Hopkins works.”
“Yes” said Peter, thinking back over their adventures with Mr. Craven and his crimes.
“Now you two just concentrate on your schoolwork” said Mrs. Black, worried in case all the recent excitement was affecting their study. She felt quite responsible for it, because it was her who’d asked Peter to go and spy on Mr. Craven in the first place.
As she drove down Juniper Grove, the sun was beginning to warm them all up. For autumn, the weather had remained quite mild – it was nearly the end of September and there hadn’t been any rain at all.
The three brothers arrived at school about fifteen minutes late and rushed into their classrooms. Peter had to get to his English class, and as he burst into the room Mrs. Jackson was in a terrible mood.
“Peter Black!” she yelled. “Good afternoon. So glad you could make it.”
“Sorry miss” said Peter. “There were road works; we had to go another way.”
“So the international hero can’t even get to school on time. Oh well, sit down then. I don’t suppose it’s worth giving you a detention – you’ve probably got some global terrorists to track down and disarm.”
Nobody laughed, because everyone liked Peter and they knew that Mrs. Jackson was quite a mean and sarcastic woman. Peter sat down, ignoring her comments just as everyone else did.
“For the benefit of those who arrived late” said Mrs. Jackson, “I’ll remind you what we’re discussing. Today is National Hedgehog Day. It’s a national event that we can all take part in and it’s been brought in by the government to make us more aware of these beautiful creatures, including how we can protect them. Every year thousands of hedgehogs are killed on our roads – I’d like you to think of ways we can stop this from happening. You have twenty minutes. Off you go!” Mrs. Jackson sat down at her desk and picked up a novel, leaving her class to sort themselves out. Most people in the school thought that English was the worst subject, which was a shame because not all English teachers are that bad.
“This is stupid” said Chloe, who was sitting next to Peter. “This lesson is such a waste of time!”
“I know what you mean” said Peter. “Hedgehogs might be very interesting, but time is short. There are much more important things I could be doing.”
“I’ll bet there are” said Chloe, laughing at him. “Have you got another crime to solve?”
“Yes” said Peter. “Over the weekend some very strange things were taking place – and I think they’re connected to the Mark Bradshaw mystery.”
“Oh, yes” said Chloe, shaking her head with sorrow. “It’s terrible. Do you think he was murdered?”
The class had been fairly noisy as they were talking, with people organising themselves into groups and beginning to discuss hedgehogs – but as Chloe said this, the noise suddenly dropped. It seemed that everyone was listening now.
“I don’t know” said Peter. “Which group shall we join?”
Half an hour later Mrs. Jackson was still engrossed in her novel. Most of the class were talking about whatever they wanted, and Peter had managed to join a group with Matthew Walsh. Matthew was Louise’s brother, and Peter knew he’d already been involved with this mysterious ‘computer club’. Matthew seemed to be quite interested in the topic Mrs. Jackson had set. He came up with all sorts of ideas like hedgehog tunnels under the roads and hedgehog warning signals. The group wrote down what he said, wondering if Mrs. Jackson really cared about it.
“Time’s up!” cried Mrs. Jackson, slamming down her book and leaping up out of her seat. “Come on now, what ideas have you got to share with us all? Peter Black, you’re the famous one – you can go first.”
“Thanks” said Peter, standing up reluctantly. “We’ve got quite a lot of ideas” he began, “and most of them came from Matthew.” He glanced up to see Graham Sullivan walking down the corridor – it looked as if he’d been in Mr. Brown’s chemistry class next door. Graham was one of the oldest kids in the school and very well-built – he was tall and quite intimidating to most of the other children. ‘Perhaps he’s delivering a message’ thought Peter.
“Go ahead, then” said Mrs. Jackson, impatiently. The class was silent, and Peter waited for a few moments to create a dramatic effect; but just as he opened his mouth to speak there was a terrible shriek. It came from the next classroom, and Mrs. Jackson was horrified. “Oh my goodness!” she yelled. “Peter, this will have to wait. We must find out what’s occurring in Mr. Brown’s chemistry class.”
“Alright” said Peter, not too surprised to hear a shriek even though he was interested. After what he and James had been through this was nothing, but the rest of the class were quite nervous.
“Wait there” said the English teacher. “I’ll be back in five minutes”, but the whole class were beginning to leave their seats – ready to follow Mrs. Jackson out of the room.
“Oh Mrs. Jackson, it’s terrible” said Mr. Brown, meeting her in the corridor. “There’s been a very nasty accident. Please go and call an ambulance.”
Mrs. Jackson noticed a strange yellow substance on Mr. Brown’s suit and face. “What? What accident? What’s happened?” she asked, as her entire class were filing past her towards Mr. Brown’s science room.
Peter was one of the first to get there, and what he saw was quite horrible. The whole of the chemistry class had been covered in a fine film of yellow powder, and they were scratching and coughing nastily. It looked as if an experiment had gone very badly wrong. Mrs. Jackson glanced into the room and her class thought she was going to become hysterical.
“Nobody goes in there!” shouted Mr. Brown, coughing roughly and barricading the room off with tables and chairs. “Mrs. Jackson – call an ambulance, quickly. I need to start trying to clear this up.”
“Yes” said Mrs. Jackson, struggling to be calm. “I’ll do that. What is that stuff?”
“It’s yellow phosphorous” said Peter, “and it can be deadly.”
Mr. Brown looked quite impressed. “Peter’s right” he said. “Well done, boy. I see why you’re getting so popular recently.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” yelled Mrs. Jackson, beginning to go mad with worry. “What are you two going on about? I’m going to call an ambulance – there are children dying in there!” She ran off down the corridor as Mr. Brown cornered off the classroom more securely.
“All of you, get back to your class immediately!” shouted Mr. Brown. “My class will be alright”, but his class were still coughing and scratching their skin. He was quite worried about what might happen to them all.
“I must say” said Peter, “I’m surprised you would even bring that stuff into the classroom – it’s very dangerous, and should be stored underwater.”
“It was underwater” said Mr. Brown. “I don’t know who unlocked the container, but this should never have happened.”
“Hmmm” said Peter, scratching his head. “So it seems that this was a bit more than an accident.”
“Yes” said Mr. Brown. “Most definitely.”
“Both Mr. Hopkins and the ambulance are on their way!” cried Mrs. Jackson as she returned to her classroom. “Come on now class, back to English. We’ve got some Shakespeare reading to do today.”
‘At last something interesting’ thought Peter, but most of the others weren’t thinking that.
“Come on!” repeated their teacher. Finally the class returned to normal, but just as they were picking up copies of ‘Twelfth Night’ there was the approaching sound of an ambulance siren. Everyone put their books down and ran to the window!
“This is intolerable!” shrieked Mrs. Jackson, putting her book down and rubbing her head. She eventually gave up and sat back down, much to Peter’s disappointment. He’d seen plenty of ambulances before, but he’d never read ‘Twelfth Night’ and he thought it sounded quite good. Of course he couldn’t concentrate with all the noise going on; whilst Mrs. Jackson sat with her head in her hands at her desk, Peter went over to Matthew Walsh and tried to draw him away from the crowd. He was a skinny boy with freckles and blonde hair. He had a thick pair of glasses and a scruffy appearance.
“Matthew” hissed Peter, trying not to get anyone else’s attention.
Matthew spun around quickly and frowned. “What do you want?” he asked, annoyed that Peter was distracting him from the excitement of the ambulance arriving.
“It’s important” said Peter. “Please come with me – I’ve got to ask you some questions for my latest investigation.”
Matthew thought about this, and then his eyes lit up as he remembered how famous Peter had become. “Oh!” he said. “Of course, if it’s important then lead the way.” He followed Peter out to the corridor and over towards the common room which was likely to be empty at this time as everyone was in lessons.
“Don’t you know what I’m going to ask you about?” began Peter, carefully watching Matthew’s expression.
“Of course not!” stated Matthew. “How could I?”
“Let’s get in here” said Peter, walking into the common room. He was right – there was nobody else there. They sat down on comfortable settees at opposite sides of a table, and Peter was looking straight across at him. “You know about Mark Bradshaw?” he asked.
Matthew said nothing for a few moments, just stared silently back at Peter. “Yes” he finally admitted. “I know all about it.”
“What? You know what happened?” Peter was astonished at the way Matthew had spoken.
“I know about Carley Banks and the way she tricked him, also about the way Louise tried to stop Mark from getting drawn in…”
Peter was writing everything down quickly, wondering what it all meant. “Who’s Carley Banks?” he asked, looking blank.
“You don’t know?” asked Matthew, shocked. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. I thought you’d know about her.”
“I know very little at this stage” admitted Peter. “These are the most interesting things I’ve heard so far. So tell me about Carley Banks.”
Matthew sighed and stared down at the green carpet on the common room floor. “It’s a long story” he said.
“Then start straight away” demanded Peter, his pen ready to write. He glanced up. “This is strictly confidential” he explained. “Nobody will know what you’ve told me.”
Matthew nodded and thought for a few moments, then stared directly into Peter’s eyes. “You might be surprised and perhaps a bit shocked” he said. “I’m warning you.”
“Matthew” began Peter, reassuringly. “I’m quite used to dealing with criminal activity. I know that anything’s possible – now please, go ahead.”
“You know about Rowan being in the computer club?”
“What?” Peter did look slightly shocked. “You mean my brother Rowan?”
Matthew nodded, and Peter slowly put down his pen as he looked across.
“I’ll get you a drink” said Matthew, heading for a vending machine. “There’s a lot to talk about.”
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