Kelly tiptoed through the kitchen, avoiding places where the floorboards might creak. She opened the basement door and stood at the top of the stairs, listening. The house was deathly quiet. The only thing she heard was the wall clock ticking in the foyer. The basement was empty.
She lightly snapped her fingers. A second later Melissa popped out from behind the kitchen doorjamb. Her dark eyes were alert with the thrill of being a spy in action.
“Are you sure Chris isn’t here?” she whispered, as they started down the stairs.
“Angie took him to the grocery store ten minutes ago. This might be our only chance to find out about his stupid recipe.”
“Where’s Travis? Doesn’t he want in on the action?”
“He’s in the den watching TV. We’d better leave him out of this in case we get caught. I don’t want him to get into trouble since it’s my idea.”
When they got into the basement, Kelly couldn’t believe how neat it was. Except for a small area around the workbench—where Chris was developing his product—there was hardly anything else in the room. In a far corner, he had left a pair of steel utility shelves against the wall that were loaded from floor to ceiling with buckets of paint. Adjacent to the workbench he’d arranged some smaller bookshelves and an old metal desk that was covered with a bed sheet marked with colorful spills from whatever he was trying to invent. Some test tubes, beakers, a mortar and pestle, and an alcohol Bunsen burner were also on the desktop. The rest of the room was empty.
“The last time I was down here, they had junk stacked to the ceiling,” said Kelly. Of course, that now meant her bedroom was the only messy room left in the house. She began to have guilt pangs about not picking up her clothes.
Melissa nudged her. “Let’s see what’s cooking.”
They went to the workbench and found measuring cups, spoons, a blender, more beakers and test tubes, and a dozen tall jars full of strange liquids. Some of the liquids were clear, and some looked like muddy soup. Most contained bright colors, like red, orange, blue, or green. Kelly leaned over a container and sniffed the contents cautiously.
“That smells good. Kind of fruity. This one’s good, too.”
Melissa smelled one. She made a face and backed away. “Whew! That smells like rotten oranges!” She sniffed again. Another face. “That’s even worse! There are fruit flies everywhere.” Melissa pointed at a jar containing a clear, blue liquid that was full of almond-sized, brown objects with legs. “Are those cockroaches? Yuck! This place is gross. What do you think he’s making? A fruit drink?”
“If he is,” said Kelly, “I’m not drinking it!”
“Maybe we should get samples of everything? We could get them chemically analyzed.”
“How much would that cost?”
Melissa shrugged. “Probably too much. Hey, is that a hairbrush? And it’s full of hair, gross! What’s that doing down here?”
“Who cares? Let’s go; I’ve seen enough.” At that moment, Kelly spotted a stack of legal pads at the end of the workbench. “This must be his recipe!” They each took up some of the pads and tried to read the writing on the sheets, but the markings were strange, like some foreign language with a weird-looking alphabet. Even the numbers were difficult to read, though it was clear enough that they were numbers because of their arrangement.
“What language is this?” asked Kelly, unable to decipher the mysterious scribbling. “Is it Greek?”
Melissa shook her head. “I know a few Greek letters. It’s something else.”
“We should take one of the pages and try to figure out what it says later. Maybe the letters are on the internet.” Kelly was about to tear off a page when Melissa grabbed her hand.
“You should take a sheet off one of the bottom pads,” she suggested. “He might notice if something on top is missing.”
“Good point.” They moved all the pads out of the way except for the bottom one, where Kelly tore off one of the sheets from the middle. “This is good. It’s got lots of different symbols on it.” She folded the paper and stuffed it into her pocket. They restacked the pads and stepped back to make sure they looked okay. “Let’s go.”
“We still don’t know what he’s making,” said Melissa. “Let’s take some samples. We can worry about how much it will cost to analyze them later.”
“Well, okay.” Kelly checked the time on her cell phone. “What can we put them in? Test tubes?”
Melissa looked around. “There aren’t any clean ones, but that beaker looks clean. Which jar should we sample?”
“I don’t know, maybe the red one there. It’s pretty and….” Kelly stopped mid-sentence and looked up at the ceiling. Angie was there; she could hear her thoughts. The blood drained from her face.
“What’s wrong?” asked Melissa.
They started for the stairs, but the back door rattled and began to open. Kelly froze with Melissa at her shoulder. They watched the door, eyes wide with fear.
Hide! Kelly shouted it into Melissa’s mind. But where?
The back door swung open. Luckily, Chris was loaded down with bags of groceries and kept his back to them as he tried to close the door with his foot. Melissa ducked under the old desk. Kelly went to join her, but there was only room for one. She was trapped out in the open. Her feet were stuck and wouldn’t move. She would have screamed, but her voice was stuck, too. She saw the tall metal shelves stacked with paint in the far corner of the basement and tiptoed behind one shelf, pressing her body against the wall. A moment later Chris closed the back door and set the shopping bags on Melissa’s desk. Kelly watched it all through a space between paint cans, afraid even to breathe.
Suddenly Chris looked up. “Who’s in here?”
Kelly nearly swallowed her tongue. Her heart pounded so loud she was sure half the neighborhood could hear it.
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