Tick couldn’t believe how weird this whole conversation had become. “Never.”
The man slammed his window shut without saying another word, leaving Tick to wonder if this Norbert guy really had gone bonkers like the old postal worker had suggested.
The front door popped open and Norbert stuck his head out, smoothing his thin gray hair. “Come on in,” he said in a quick, tight voice, looking around the yard again. “I’ve got something for you.”
Frazier had pulled to the side of the road two houses down from the one at the end of the street, curious as to what Tick and his dad would learn from the man who lived there. It seemed they merely wanted to discover if the postal workers knew who had mailed the letter they had received, but something about the whole thing seemed fishy.
With his spy equipment—conical sound trapper, thermo-magnetically heightened microphones, and molded earpieces—Frazier had heard every word exchanged in the post office and had found it quite interesting.
Norbert Johnson. The name didn’t ring a bell, but Mistress Jane certainly didn’t tell him about every person she came across in her travels. Maybe she’d interrogated Johnson about the whole affair. That would have been enough to drive any man crazy. The way Norbert had acted at his own house—all nervous and paranoid before finally letting the two strangers in—sure seemed to support the “crazy” theory.
Frazier picked up his eavesdropping gadget and pointed it at the house, then reinserted his earpieces. It took a few seconds to pinpoint the murmurs of the conversation before he locked it in place as best he could, settling back to have a listen. The first thing he heard made his eyes widen. It was the voice of the man named Norbert.
“Here you go. The big lady told me it’s called the sixth clue.”
Bonding with Norbert
Big lady?” Tick asked, holding the yellow envelope like his life depended on it. “Who gave this to you?”
They sat in a messy living room, not a single piece of furniture matching any of the others. At least it’s warm, Tick thought. He and his dad sat on a frumpy couch that leaned toward the middle, facing Norbert on his rickety old chair, where he wrung his hands and rocked back and forth.
“Big ol’ tall woman. Looked like ugly on a stick,” Norbert answered in almost a whisper. “Just about scared me out of my pants, what with her a-coming out of the old graveyard behind my house.”
The mention of a cemetery made Tick’s ears perk up. It can’t be a coincidence . . . It must be related somehow to the fourth clue and where he was supposed to go on May sixth.
“Did she say anything else to you?” Dad asked. “Talk to you at all?”
“Not much.” Norbert’s fidgeting made Tick’s head dizzy. “Told me some real smart kids would come a-looking for me, and I should give that there letter to ’em. Gave me several copies. Don’t know about you fellas, but when an eight-foot monster lady tells me to do something, I’m gonna pretty much do it. So there you go.”
Tick inserted his thumb under the flap and started ripping open the envelope as Norbert kept talking.
“Since that piece of parcel looked just like the ones from the British fella, and since I figured the British fella was an enemy of the Banana Lady, I reckoned I’d be a-doing a good task.”
Tick stopped just before pulling out the white cardstock of the sixth clue. “British? Who was British?”
His dad leaned forward, a surprisingly difficult task that made the pitiful couch groan like a captured wolverine. “Mr. Johnson, I’m more confused than the Easter Bunny at a Christmas party. Could you please tell us everything you know about the letter we got from Alaska and who sent it? Maybe start from the beginning?”
“The Easter Bunny at a—” Tick began, a questioning smirk on his face.
Norbert finally settled back in his chair and began his story, seemingly relieved that he’d been given direction on how to go about this conversation. Though Tick desperately wanted to read the next clue, he slipped it inside his journal and listened to the strange man from Alaska.
“I’d worked there at the post office in Macadamia for twenty-plus years, and I was just as happy as can be. Well, as happy as a single man in his fifties who smells a little like boiled cabbage can be.” Tick involuntarily sniffed at this point, then tried to cover it up by scratching his nose. Norbert continued without noticing.
“Then they had to come along and ruin my life. It was a cold day in November—of course, every day is cold in November when you live up here, if you know what I mean. Anyway, first this busy little British gent named Master George, dressed all fancy-like, comes walking into my shop holding a box of letters that looked just like the one I gave you.” He pointed at the journal in Tick’s lap. “Goes off about how they need to get out right away, do-da, do-da.”
Tick decided that last part was Norbert’s way of saying “etcetera” and held in a laugh.
“I assured the fella I’d take care of it and he left. Wasn’t a half-hour later when the scariest woman I’ve ever laid eyes upon came a-stomping in, dressed from head to toe in nothing but yellow. And she was bald—not a hair on her noggin to be found. Called herself Mistress Jane, and she was mean. I’m telling you, mean. You could feel it coming off her in waves.” Norbert shivered.
“What did she want?” Dad asked.
“She was a-looking for Master George, which told me right away that the British gent must be a good guy, because Lemony Jane surely wasn’t.”
Tick felt like the final mystery of a great book had been revealed to him. The source of the letters suddenly had a name, a description. He was no longer a couple of initials and a blurred image. M.G. had become Master George. From England. And he was the good guy.
“She threatened me,” Norbert continued. “She was cruel. And I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Still can’t. She’s been in my dreams ever since, telling me she’s gonna find out I lied to her.”
“Lied to her?” Dad repeated.
“Yes, sir. Told her I’d never met anybody named Master George, and I hid the letters under the counter before she could see them. Flat out lied to her, and she told me bad things would happen if she ever found I’d a-done it. And done it, I did.”