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Authors: Suzanne Harper

A Mischief of Mermaids

BOOK: A Mischief of Mermaids
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Dedication

For all the mischief makers

Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Epilogue

About the Author

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter
ONE

“I
have one very important question to ask you.” Professor Oliver Asquith's searching gaze swept over the Malone family. He lowered his voice.
“Are you afraid?”

Poppy sighed. Her eyes slid sideways to meet Will's. She raised one eyebrow. He wrinkled his nose.

Maybe it was because they were twins (both counting down the days until their tenth birthday), but they each knew exactly what the other was thinking:

It was too good to last
.

It had been nice of Oliver Asquith to invite them to spend the day on the houseboat that a television network had rented for him. They had had fun swimming in the lake, sunning themselves on the deck, and eating the delicious food served by the private catering staff that came with the boat. But the best part, Poppy thought, was that no one had talked about anything weird or spooky all day.

This was highly unusual, because Oliver Asquith, like her parents, was a paranormal investigator. When they got together, all they could talk about was vampires, werewolves, fairies, and dozens of other creatures that most sensible people didn't believe in.

But today, for a few brief, blessed hours, the conversation had actually been normal, thanks to Mrs. Malone.

As they were getting ready to go on board earlier that day, she had said to Mr. Malone, “Now, let's not spoil what could be a lovely day by arguing.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” he had said. “Oliver and I never argue. You can't call an honest, open exchange of ideas an argument. And we have always followed the rules of civil debate. Always.”

Poppy and Will had rolled their eyes at each other. Over the years, they had heard quite a few of those “honest, open exchanges of ideas.” They usually ended with raised voices, slammed doors, and fists thumping on tables, which was sometimes interesting and always entertaining, but hardly civil.

The problem was that Oliver Asquith made a much better living than their parents and was much, much more famous.

Mr. and Mrs. Malone had spent years scraping by with grants and short-term teaching jobs. When the grants ended and the teaching contracts were over, they would often have to move across the country in search of more money. Oliver Asquith, on the other hand, had managed to turn his search for vampires, zombies, and werewolves into both fortune and fame. He wrote best-selling books, starred in TV specials, and had even created a paranormal kit with his picture on it that was sold in drugstores nationwide.

Mr. Malone tried to take all this in stride, but it was a struggle.

Now he said with some heat, “The only time I argue with Oliver Asquith is when he's wrong. I'll admit that's most of the time—”

“This is exactly what I'm talking about,” said Mrs. Malone severely. “He is our host, Emerson. We must all try to be polite.”

“Well, I can't help it if he insists on saying ridiculous things,” said Mr. Malone. “Did you hear him last night? Claiming that he saw water nymphs frolicking in a spring on his last visit to Greece? He either had a bad case of sunstroke or he's started hallucinating again—”

Mrs. Malone sighed. “Just change the subject, dear, to something you can agree on. That's all I ask.”

Mr. Malone had grumpily agreed. He had been sorely tested when they arrived at the boat, however.

“Welcome to the
Siren de Mer
!” Oliver Asquith had said. “Come, let me give you a tour.”

The Malones had dutifully followed him. Oliver Asquith had told them about the houseboat when he invited them, of course, so they were ready to be impressed. But even so, their eyes were wide by the time they were walking around the deck to admire the barbecue grill and hot tub. When Oliver pointed out the waterslide that stretched from the crow's nest to the water—or the kayaks and Jet Skis nestled in cradles on deck—Poppy thought she could hear Mr. Malone's teeth grinding.

They trailed after him as he led them below deck. “Four bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, and a fifty-inch flat-screen TV! With surround sound, of course—” Oliver Asquith stopped walking and turned to face them, his eyes bright. “Oh, and did I mention the satellite cable?”

“I think it's come up once or twice,” muttered Mr. Malone. “If memory serves.”

“And of course there's the Jacuzzi,” Oliver added.

“But no bathtub,” said Poppy's older sister, Franny. “You'd think a boat this big would have at least one bathtub.”

“Who cares?” said Will. “There's a
waterslide
!”

“It's true, there's no bathtub,” admitted Oliver, with a smile that managed to seem weary but brave. “Traveling around the world to host top-rated TV specials is a grueling life. One must be willing to rough it a bit.”

Mr. Malone made a small sound in the back of his throat. From where Poppy stood, it sounded like a stifled groan.

Still, Mr. Malone recovered enough to follow Mrs. Malone's directive. After the tour, Poppy and Will swam in the lake and Franny sunned herself on the deck and their younger brother, Rolly, stood moodily in the bow, dropping pieces of gravel he had been collecting from neighbors' driveways into the water. For several hours, they all enjoyed themselves while Mr. and Mrs. Malone and Oliver Asquith talked in a most civil fashion.

They had discussed the best sunblock to use while traveling in the Amazon rain forest in search of Mapinguari. They had debated whether it was better to take cheese sandwiches or corned beef on a Sasquatch stakeout. They had traded tips on the best insect repellent to use in the South China Sea.

It had all been remarkably boring, and Poppy couldn't have been happier. Boredom, she thought, was highly underrated. Boredom gave you lots of time to think and wonder and dream up inventions. And boredom was relaxing.

Then Oliver Asquith had ruined it all by deciding to show off.

“I must practice the opening for my new TV special,” he said. “Would you mind . . . would it be too much trouble . . . could I ask an enormous favor—?”

“Say no more,” said Mrs. Malone brightly. “We'd love to be your audience!”

“Thank you, that's most generous of you. And of course I'd like to hear any feedback about how I can spruce things up a bit,” said Oliver Asquith, smiling modestly. “That's the downside of having filmed more than a dozen immensely popular shows, I'm afraid. There are millions of people around the world who are expecting me to top myself.”

“Count me as one of the ones who wants to see that,” muttered Mr. Malone.
“Ow.”

Mrs. Malone whipped off her sunglasses, the better to glare at him. “We are all most interested in hearing you, Oliver,” she said. “Aren't we, Emerson?”

“Of course,” he said, rubbing his ankle where she had kicked him. “In fact, we're on the edge of our seats.”

Poppy could tell Mr. Malone was being sarcastic. If Oliver Asquith noticed Mr. Malone's tone, however, he ignored it.

Instead, he leaned casually against the railing. A breeze ruffled his wavy hair and his blue eyes sparkled as he addressed an unseen camera.

He cleared his throat and said again, “I have a very important question to ask you. Are you afraid? Because if you aren't afraid”—he paused dramatically as Mr. Malone rolled his eyes—“you should be.”

Oliver Asquith knew how to read an audience's reactions. In this case, it ranged from unimpressed (Poppy) to amused (Will) to adoring (thirteen-year-old Franny) to disgruntled (Mr. Malone) to encouraging (Mrs. Malone) to baleful (five-year-old Rolly).

Oliver Asquith rightly decided to focus on Franny and Mrs. Malone.

“You should be
very
afraid. Because”—he lowered his voice ominously—“Here There Be Monsters!”

There was a short pause. In the silence, Poppy could hear the distant roar of a Jet Ski. When that faded away, the only sound left was water lapping against the side of the boat.

Then Mr. Malone could no longer restrain himself. “Lake monsters?” he said. “Really, Oliver? That's what you've sold to a national TV network? No one cares about lake monsters these days—
oof!

Mr. Malone was interrupted—knocked out of his deck chair, as a matter of fact—by his younger son, Rolly, who had run over to the railing and leaned perilously over the side.

“Where are they?” he demanded, his beady black eyes scanning the lake. “Where are the monsters?”

“Well,” said Oliver Asquith in a gloating voice, “it looks as if at least one potential viewer is still enthralled by the subject.”

Mr. Malone gingerly got to his feet and righted his deck chair. “Yes,” he said through gritted teeth. “And if you're hoping for an audience of five-year-olds, I'll admit you've got a chance. But otherwise—”

“Rolly, dear, be careful!” said Mrs. Malone, grabbing him by the back of his shirt and pulling him away from the railing. “You might fall in the water.”

Rolly wrested himself out of her grasp. “I don't care! I want to see the monster!”

“Yes, and so will everyone else who tunes in,” said Mr. Malone. “How about it, Oliver? Have you managed to shoot any footage of this lake monster yet? Any
usable
footage, I should say?”

Oliver Asquith smiled blandly. “My investigation is still in its infancy, but the early signs are quite promising,” he said. “And, of course, there is still so much to discover—”

“No, in other words.” Mr. Malone sat down again, smiling with satisfaction.

“I would not say ‘no,'” Oliver Asquith said. “I would say ‘not yet.'”

Rolly turned around and fixed his eyes accusingly on Oliver Asquith. “You
said
there was a monster,” said Rolly. His lower lip began to stick out in a dangerous way that everyone in his family was familiar with. “You
said
there was one in this lake—”

“There's no such thing as lake monsters, Rolly,” Poppy said. “Professor Asquith was just having a little fun.”

“I wouldn't dismiss the idea too quickly, dear,” warned Mrs. Malone, even as she tightened her grip on Rolly's arm. “After all, there have been documented sightings of lake monsters all around the world, going back for centuries! There's Memprhe in Canada—”

“Brosnie in Russia,” added Oliver Asquith.

“The Hucho taimen in China,” continued Mrs. Malone. “Over the centuries, people have reported seeing all kinds of strange beasts in lakes and ponds and oceans. They've seen creatures that looked like dinosaurs or giant snakes or even horses!”

“They were probably just giant catfish,” said Poppy. “Or submerged logs. Or unusual wave patterns.”

“Still the skeptic, I see, Poppy,” said Oliver Asquith in an amused voice that made Poppy want to push him over the railing.

“Still the scientist,” she corrected him.

He smiled a flashing smile at her, completely unruffled. “Fortunately,” he said in a voice as rich as cream, “others are not as rational as you. That's why I was able to sign a very lucrative contract for my new TV special. That's why the network was willing to rent a houseboat that offers every comfort so that I could really concentrate on my work. That's why I have not one, not two, but three assistants at my beck and call.”

BOOK: A Mischief of Mermaids
3.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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