Levi Anders and The Gargoyle Mystery Contest

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Chapter 1

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Levi Anders

I puked on the bus once. Actually, I puked on the bus twice, but the second time I didn’t puke on anyone so it only sort of counts. Moving to a new town meant I was the only one who knew that, and I wouldn’t be called Levi the Pukie Pie.

Moving also meant not being able to find my video games, which is bad, but I got my own room. Vanessa didn’t want to move at all, and she’s especially mad at me because she has to share a room with Molly. She says her closet is too small, and a fourteen year-old shouldn’t have to share a room with a seven year-old.

Except she shared a room with Molly at our old house and thought it was fine. She says that was different because Eric and I had to share a room too, but if Eric gets his own room, she should get her own room. Lucky for me, Mom and Dad didn’t agree with her.

The best thing about moving was the tree house in the back yard. Eric says he’s too old for a tree house since he’s sixteen. Vanessa’s refusing to talk to me, but when she forgot she wasn’t talking to me, she told me she wouldn’t be seen dead in a tree house. Molly’s afraid of heights so the tree house is all mine. At least I thought so until Piper showed up.

I know her name’s Piper because our next door neighbors hung a big sign above the garage that said: ‘We missed you Piper! Welcome home!’ They also put balloons on the mailbox and the yard lamp.

Later that day, a girl got dropped off. She was a little taller than me and too skinny. It looked like she’d been gone all summer because she had several big suitcases, probably to a summer camp for high fashion wannabes. She walked from the car to her front door like her sidewalk was a fashion runway.

Fifteen minutes after she got home, the doorbell rang. Molly answered the door. I walked by with a box of stuff for my tree house and stopped to see who it was.

“Hi, I’m Piper from next door,” she said. “Is Jennifer home?” She held out a plate of cookies.

Molly took off yelling for Mom.

Up close I could see that I was exactly right, Piper was a fashion wannabe. She even had a scarf on now and it was hot out.

“Where’d you get home from?” I asked sort of pointing in the general direction of the sign and balloons.

Piper looked me up and down like she was trying to decide if I was worthy of an answer. Then she rolled her eyes. “I spent last week visiting my grandparents. They live across town.”

“Why’d your parents go to all the work of hanging a sign and balloons if you’ve only been across town for a week?”

Piper’s expression changed; now she looked at me like I was a bug or something she’d scraped off her shoe, but I was used to that since Vanessa looked at me like that all the time. “Because they missed me, duh!” She looked past me into the front room. “The polite thing would be to invite me in.”

“Oh, um, come in,” I said, and pushed the door open wide with my elbow; my hands were still loaded with stuff. I caught a whiff of chocolate chip cookies as she walked past and decided I should stick around for another minute or two.

Mom walked in. “Hello, you must be Piper from next door. Your mom told me all about you.”

“Yes, I’m my parents’ pride and joy. I’m an only child.” Piper smiled. “I was so excited when my mom told me that Tom and Jennifer Anders had moved in next door. I just had to come right over and meet you.”

“Well, have a seat,” Mom said, and gestured to the couch.

“Thanks Jennifer,” Piper said.

I could tell Mom thought it was as weird for Piper to call her by her first name, but she didn’t say anything.

“Levi, sit down with us for a minute,” Mom said, and sat in one of the chairs. “Piper’s nine, just like you.”

“I’ll be ten in 68 days,” I said.

“You might end up in the same class,” Mom said.

I didn’t really care if I was in the same class as she was, and I didn’t want to sit down for a minute. But I wanted some of the cookies Piper brought, so I took a chair.

Piper talked about her grandma teaching her to speak French and about a mystery contest at the library and how she doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. The conversation was so boring that after a couple minutes I thought I would die. I decided Piper was weird. Cookies were not worth having to sit through this.

“I gotta go to the bathroom,” I said, picking up my box.

I didn’t really need to use the bathroom, but that’s my best excuse for when I want to leave. Nobody argues with that.

I headed out the back door to my tree house. I looked up at the opening that goes through the floor and tested the ladder that was nailed to the tree trunk. It jiggled a little. I’ll have to fix that. It was sturdy enough that I got up alright, even with the box balanced on my head. I set it down in front of one of the two windows on a big wooden crate and went to the trunk Dad had helped me lift into my tree house yesterday. We used the pulley that was attached to the little balcony on the back of the tree house.

I pulled Dad’s bowling trophy out the box I brought up. Dad gave it to me when he took me to his tournament and I spent the whole time in the bathroom throwing up. I got car sick and Dad didn’t want to drop out. His team won, but I think he felt guilty.

Vanessa calls it my “Puking Trophy.” I don’t care; it’s the only trophy I have. I set it on the crate and adjusted it so it caught the light just right.

“I bet you think the tree house is yours now that you live here,” Piper said, sticking her head through the opening in the floor.

“Of course it’s mine,” I said as Piper climbed in and made herself at home. “It’s in my backyard.” The tree house wasn’t really big, but I got up and followed her around because she kept picking up my stuff including my bowling trophy. She examined everything like she was some kind of art dealer. If she had been my sister, I’d have hit her.

“Mr. and Mrs. Masterson,” Piper picked up a flashlight and clicked it on and off, “lived here before you. Their kids outgrew the tree house so she said I could use it for my club, Club Only. We have a meeting here twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but sometimes we have emergency meetings.”

If I hadn’t already disliked Piper, I would’ve really not liked her at this point. “It’s my tree house,” I said in my best grown-up voice. “You’ll have to have your meetings somewhere else.”

“I asked Jennifer and she said it’s fine.” Piper flipped the flashlight on and shined it under her chin, smiling real sinister.

Mom would say that. I could picture her. “Sure, Levi wouldn’t mind sharing the tree house and here’s one of his video games. You can have it. He hasn’t played with it in weeks.”

Mom was always giving my stuff away or letting someone borrow it. That’s why I was so worried about not being able to find my video games. If she found them first, she might take them to Goodwill.

Piper clicked the flashlight off and set it down. “Just thought you should know, Saturday afternoon you can’t use the tree house because we’ll be having a meeting.”

“A girls’ club is not meeting in my tree house,” I said.

“Club Only isn’t a girls’ club. Blane’s a boy and he’s part of Club Only.” Piper climbed onto the ladder. “And don’t even think about spying on us.” She disappeared through the floor before I could say anything.

I stuck my head down. “You can’t meet here!” But Piper just waved goodbye with a big fat smile on her face. It was a good thing she wasn’t closer because I’d have hit her for sure, even though she’s not my sister.

I decided right then that I had to keep her out. I went to the garage to look for a hammer. Dad walked into the garage while I was digging in one of the boxes marked tools.

“Do you know where the hammer is?” I asked.

“In my sock drawer,” Dad said.

“Your sock drawer?”

Dad shrugged. “Mom tried to sell the hammer and socket wrench at the garage sale before we moved. I swiped them when she wasn’t looking, and I haven’t put them in the garage yet. I also grabbed your collection of Pez dispensers.”

“I was wondering where they were. Have you seen my video games?”

“No. Not since we got here,” Dad said. “What do you need a hammer for?”

“I need to hang up a ‘Do not enter’ sign on my tree house,” I said. “Piper, the girl next door, thinks it’s hers because the people who lived here before said she could use it. She even has a dumb club that meets there.”

“I see.” Dad nodded slowly. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

I swear Dad’s related to Buddha. He’s a bald guy that lived a long time ago. Buddha, not Dad. He sat around thinking with his legs crossed and arms folded. People would ask him for advice and he’d say strange things with hidden meanings that no one could understand until the problem was long over; things like, a jug fills one drop at a time and it is better to travel well, than to arrive. Dad talks just like that and crosses his arms a lot so I’m probably a descendant of Buddha. Actually, Dad’s bald, too.

Dad told me about “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” last summer when my cousins came to visit. Sam, who’s my age, was fun to hang out with—that’s the keep your friends close part.

Sam’s little brother, Cody, ruined one of my video games by trying to eat it. He’s only two. He also ate some of the pieces of my Lego Millennium Falcon that took me two weeks to build. Cody was definitely the enemy and to keep him from destroying everything I owned, I had to follow him around and never let him out of my sight—that’s keep your enemies closer.

The problem was, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” didn’t really apply to the Piper situation. “How’s that supposed to help? I doubt following Piper around will keep her out of my tree house.”

“I meant perhaps it would be easier to be friends with Piper, or at least be civil with her, than to fight.”

Maybe I’m not related to Buddha after all. Dad’s advice made absolutely no sense. I had to keep Piper out of my tree house, and wherever she held her club I was going to spy on her.



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