Chapter 10

No one had much of an appetite at dinner, and even Petra couldn’t bring herself to push more food onto the glum crew brooding around the table.

“I suppose,” said Michael-Dan, poking his peas into a neat line, “that I can get a job cutting hair.”

“You’re too young to get a job,” Bea pointed out. “We all are. We just have to figure out a way to keep you in college.”

“And in a house,” added Nola.

“Surely there’s something,” said Mr. Professor Flannery, reassuringly. “There are other scholarship funds, and other grants. We’ll just need to explore the options!”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Professor Flannery. “New Stirling University was practically built by the Mervin Frostly Foundation.”

Gordy took a swig of iced tea, landed his glass back on the table with a bit too much force, and said, in a completely new and lackluster tone, “Thanks Mervin Frostly.”


Bea had scarcely made a dent in her waffles the next morning, when the doorbell rang again.

“Oh, yes yes yes!” huffed Petra, rushing to the door, past Michael-Dan making tea, and Nola putting her plate in the sink.

“Hello!” said a perky female reporter. “I’m here from the New Stirling Divulge and Dispatch News, reporting on Alumni Weekend! Am I correct that this building provides housing for a special group of ‘Smart Kids?’”

“You there Miss!” said the reporter, not waiting for an answer to her first question. She barged into the house, past Petra, and into the dining room, waving a recording device in Bea’s general direction. “Just how smart are you? Do you feel this ‘Smart Kid’ group house concept should be reproducible in universities nation-wide?”

The reporter hovered expectantly, waving the recorder toward Bea with her left hand, while fumbling to unwrap a koo-bar with her right.

“Actually, I’m not a particularly smart kid,” replied Bea, as she critically eyed the reporter’s koo-bar, “but I know better than to eat those.”

“Nonsense,” rebutted the reporter. “These are totally nutritious.” She took a large bite, then continued to question Bea, completely unconcerned that her mouth was otherwise occupied.

“Mish,” she said, “How jid’ju ged admidded to da shkool? You mush be aboud…ten?”

“Thirteen,” replied Bea. “And I didn’t.”

“Oh,” said the reporter, pausing to swallow before turning rapidly to Odin, who was fiddling with the connections between his computer and his smartphone.

“How about you? Are you smart?”

“If I succeed in tweaking this phone,” Odin replied, “to manage my music composing software, I shall consider myself at least adequate.”

Bea pointed through the doorway, to the living room, where Gordy was coming down the stairs. “Why don’t you ask the kid with the flaming red hair? He can invent things that fly, and he’s addicted to koo-bars.”

Then she noticed Kitty, coming out of the powder room with her hair doubled over her hand so she wouldn’t step on it. “Or Kitty over there,” Bea continued. “She won a prize in organic chemistry last year, and she’s totally addicted to koo-bars too! You’ll have so much to talk about.”

With the reporter thus distracted, Bea hurried into the kitchen, deposited her plate in the sink, and headed out the front door. So many things were going wrong all at once—her family and friends losing their house, Scalmo trying to sabotage Hortensia’s research, koohoo being illegally exported by Prince Nerl, and half of New Stirling completely hooked on koo-bars. It was getting weirder and weirder.

Bea vaulted over Sherlock the cat, and ran down the marble steps thinking the one thought which had suddenly pushed its way to the forefront of her mind—find Mervin Frostly. If he valued Hort’s research enough to send Dierdre Fidelius to check up on it, why would he cut the money off now? If he cared so much about New Stirling University that he’d build a whole new science building, then why would he suddenly deny scholarship funding to some of the brightest kids in the school?

It made no sense at all. Was Frostly off his rocker? Utterly senile? Was he even a real person?

Bill was leading Bob and a cart full of items chosen especially for Alumni Weekend down Crotchett Street. Bouquets of flowers, fruit for snacking, and…a basket full of koo-bars.

“Bill!” exclaimed Bea, catching sight of what appeared to be full-sized wings folded beneath Bob’s leather harness. “Can you please stop feeding him koo-bars? Look at him!”

Bill shrugged. “I know. I had to move him to the biggest stall in the stable. Room to stretch out and all after being harnessed all day.”

“Oh geesh,” said Bea. “Nevermind for now.” She had to focus on finding Frostly. Where would such a person even be? With Dierdre who works for him, she reminded herself, pulling a slightly crumpled business card out of her jacket pocket.

Frostly Enterprises, it read, Timely Tower, 5th Floor.

Of course! thought Bea. Frostly lives or works…or maybe both, in the clocktower! She’d never heard of its being used for anything else. And someone like Mervin Frostly could probably see the entire campus of New Stirling University from there.

Bea ran across Crotchett Street in front of Tylo’s, then cut through an alley that separated the University’s art building from a grocery store next door. Behind the art building was a small park, furnished with play equipment for children and decorated with a colorful mural created by University art students. On the swingset, a little boy with two fresh and pearly horns on his head was out-pumping a little girl, whose striped tail was zipping back and forth behind her as she swung.

Bea paused, for only a few seconds, to take it in. Children with horns and tails? Well, why not? Bean-Tek had obviously made some very hasty assumptions about koohoo.

The trash can at the edge of the park was nearly full, mostly with bright green koo-bar wrappers, and nearby on a bench, a mom was splitting her attention between the children on the swing, a take-out cup from Tylo’s, and a half-eaten koo-bar.

Bea veered, for a split-second, in the direction of the mom on the bench, thinking to ask her if she was completely out of her mind to keep feeding her children koo-bars now that they were turning into worse freaks than Kitty and Gordy. But then she glanced ahead and caught sight of Timely Tower looming over the buildings across the street. No time to stop now. Frostly had to be confronted.

Bea crossed Heinz Street, then hurried through a brick archway into a mid-campus green where the clock tower—Timely Tower—stood squarely in the center of the University district of New Stirling.

One solitary door provided the entrance to the tower’s square brick base, and above the squat lowest level, the narrower tower rose precariously high, until it was topped with two wider levels, fully surrounded by windows. Finally, an enormous clock sat under a pinnacle, which resembled an upside-down ice cream cone.

The clock struck ten with a deep rich chime. Bea trotted across the open green surrounding the tower, climbed three stairs, and pulled the door open.

She blinked as she entered the dimly lit room. At first she thought she’d walked into someone’s stuffy living room, but soon she noticed that there was a desk, and the desk was topped by a telephone. A heavy, black, rotary dial telephone next to an old-fashioned table lamp, glowing red and gold through its stained-glass shade. Beside the lamp was a name-plate that read “Mrs. Quigg.” In the back of the room, behind the desk, a short, plump lady with feathery gray hair pulled into a top-knot on her head was fussing with an electric tea-kettle and a teacup on a silver tray.

“Hello,” said the lady to Bea. “Did you bring today’s paper? Our usual paperboy comes so late most days.” She heaved a quick sigh and poured hot water into the teacup.

Bea thought quickly. She hadn’t even considered the possibility of a receptionist or a plan for getting to Frostly’s office.

“Yes…” said Bea. “I mean, no. Actually, that’s exactly why I’m here. To discuss Mr. Frostly’s delivery preferences with him.”

Mrs. Quigg cocked her head and pursed her lips.

“And to renew Mr. Frostly’s subscription,” added Bea. “To the newspaper. May I see Mr. Frostly?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Quigg. “I already know the answer to those questions. He prefers it in the morning, and yes, of course he’ll renew.”

Bea was scrambling for a better reason to request seeing Frostly personally, when Mrs. Quigg supplied it for her.

“But would you mind taking Mr. Frostly his tea?” asked Mrs. Quigg. “I’m just in the middle of a cross-stitch row, and I don’t want to lose count. It’s for the office,” she added in a sneaky whisper. “A picture of the clock tower.”

“Sure,” replied Bea, afraid to appear too eager. “but then I’ve got to get going.”

“Thank you dear,” said Mrs. Quigg. “It’s just there, on the tray. You’ll probably want to use the elevator.”

Mrs. Quigg gestured toward the middle of the reception room, where an impossibly narrow spiral staircase wound around an even more impossibly narrow column, at the bottom of which was positioned a skinny elevator door.

“That’s it dear,” she said, as Bea picked up the silver tray and approached the narrow door. “The black button.”

With a push of the black button, the elevator door clanked open like an iron trap, and Bea stepped carefully into a space the size of a phone booth, which was encircled in horizontal metal bars. She felt like a canary in a cage. Beside the door, which now clanked shut with a shudder, was a panel containing three buttons. One labeled “emergency,” one labeled “executive,” and one with nothing but a star embossed above it.

“‘Executive’ then,” said Bea, and pushed the center button. The cage rattled, and chains—visible above her head through the bars—clink-clink-clinked like an old roller coaster as the elevator rose through a long but empty stretch of tower. The spiral staircase was visible, winding around the bars, and you could have grabbed someone on the way up at great risk to your fingers, had there been someone on the stairs, but Bea kept her hands on the tray and waited for the elevator car to jolt to a stop in the center of what was clearly a very elegantly appointed office, outfitted with a sleek computer and a comfortable leather sofa.

Bea stepped out uncertainly as the elevator door clanked open, but there was no one in the office. She took a step toward the desk and saw the name-plate: Dierdre Fidelius.

Not Frostly’s office, Bea said to herself. He must be one higher, at the star.

She stepped back into the elevator, hoping Dierdre was not hiding around any corners, and pushed the star button.

The elevator repeated its clanging and clinking, and this time rose only a bit before opening again.

This room, like the one below, was well lit by windows, but not even a little bit sleek or professional, like Dierdre’s level. But if this was Mervin Frostly’s office, then he sure as heck existed, because the room into which Bea now stepped was chock full of someone’s stuff.

Someone who really liked, among other things, dippy birds. Drinking birds, many of which looked homemade, were swinging perpetually on their axes on shelves which were equally cluttered with Newton’s cradles, assorted scales, and microscopes. In one quadrant of the room, overstuffed bookshelves squeezed between windows through which several telescopes were aimed. And on the floor in the opposite quadrant, scrutinizing a glass-walled ant farm on his hands and knees, was a man.

Mervin Frostly turned so that he was seated on the floor, facing Bea.

“Why Mrs. Quigg,” he said with a grin, “you’re looking fresh today!”

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