Chapter 11

Bea stifled an urge to reply “Thanks, Mervin Frostly!” as she held out the tea tray to the little man on the floor.

He was bald except for a fringe of red and silvery curls that started above one sticking-out ear, and ran around his head to the other. He wore heavy brown plastic-framed glasses, and was dressed in blue trousers and a short-sleeved, button-down shirt with a bow-tie clipped neatly at the neck.

“I brought your tea,” said Bea helpfully, “and…Mrs. Quigg thinks I’m the paper girl. But I’m not.”

“Ah,” said Frostly. He stood up to take the tray, which he then set down on top of a tank full of seahorses. “But you’re actually just the tea-tray girl. Very tricky! Quite duplicitous!”

Bea knew that now was the moment to summon up her righteous indignation over Dierdre’s announcement, but this room full of gadgets, and the funny little man who presided over it, mostly made her feel like laughing.

“Actually, I’m the about to lose her house girl,” said Bea, trying to look as serious as she could. “And the about to watch her friends lose their scholarships girl. And the I’d really like to know why girl.”

Frostly picked up a small Newton’s cradle from the shelf behind the couch, and began to swing the balls lightly back and forth.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” he said. “those sorts of problems are always a darned nuisance, I’ve found.”

Suddenly he brightened, and stood up, causing the pile of books on the other side of him to topple off the couch.

“That’s exactly what my smart-kids house is for!” he said. “Come here! Look, you can almost see it—just over there, beyond my science building…107 Crotchett Street! Neat little concept if I do say so myself…give the brightest young minds a place at the University, and a safe place to live while they’re here!”

“Right,” said Bea, “right! That’s my house! I live there!”

“You’re a smart kid!” said Frostly.

“No!” replied Bea. “Actually, I’m not really very smart at all. But my parents are the Flannerys—the professors who serve as house-parents…and the smart kids are my friends…so I’d really like to know—why are you ending the funding? Especially if you’re so proud of it?”

“Oh, no no my dear,” protested Frostly. He stuck his finger in his teacup to check the temperature, then stirred in two spoonfuls of sugar. “You’ve apparently gotten some wrong information somehow or other. The smart-kid scholarships are my favorite project. It’s exactly what I needed but didn’t have when I was a lad.”
Frostly drained half his cup with one large swallow, then looked at Bea.

“Gracious, would you like some tea?” he asked.

“No thank you,” she replied. “The person who gave me the information—that our house is going to be sold, and the scholarships are over—is Dierdre Fidelius.”

Frostly put down his cup and set about attempting to untangle the Newton’s cradle on the sofa beside him.

“She is so organized,” he said. “So organized. I don’t know what I’d do these days without Dierdre…she told you what?”

Bea looked at Frostly who was hopelessly fiddling with his tangled gadget, then she reached for it. Frostly shrugged, then handed it over, and Bea began to detangle it herself.

“Dierdre Fidelius,” Bea said, “came to my house—your smart-kid house—last night, and told us that the Frostly Foundation, you in other words, is ending my friends’ scholarships and selling our house in three weeks.”

Frostly did look a bit scattered, Bea thought. Maybe he’d completely forgotten about making that decision. Or maybe he was just denying it because she was in the room. But he didn’t seem at all like any liars Bea knew, and if his befuddlement was all an act, it was fooling her.

“Maybe you misunderstood what Dierdre said, my dear,” said Frostly. “The Foundation is weighing so many opportunities these days…what was that latest can’t-miss investment scheme some character was waving in my face the other day? Something about beans…”


“Oh yes, beans! It was beans indeed!” said Frostly. “‘Support an underdeveloped nation…bring nutrition to the masses…all kinds of gobbledygook and persuasive falderal…but something seemed fishy to me.”

“It was fishy,” said Bea as she teased apart the last two balls on the Newton’s cradle and handed it back to Frostly. “Very, very fishy. Bean-Tek is not an honest company.”

Mervin Frostly gazed at the detangled contraption in admiration.

“Delightful!” he said. “How clever! We should ring Mrs. Quigg for some cookies to go with the tea! You will stay, won’t you?” His face flashed hopeful, then excited. “My ants have a new queen! Come and see!”

Frostly jumped from the sofa and hurried over to the ant farm, where he squatted to get a good view of a network of interlaced tunnels running through sand, all held in place between two pieces of glass, like a very narrow terrarium.

“See there?” said Frostly, as Bea crouched next to him so she could see the queen ant. “So efficient. So organized. They’ve got it all under control. Exactly unlike me. Which is why I need…”

“Mr. Frostly!” called a sleek and familiar voice from the direction of the elevator.

Bea turned. Dierdre Fidelius did not look a bit pleased to see her there on the floor, ant-gazing with Mervin Frostly.

“Mr. Frostly,” repeated Dierdre, in a tone that clearly conveyed control and composure, “I was not aware that you and Miss Flannery were acquainted.”

“Oh yes, we met just now!” replied Frostly. “Lovely girl…she brought me my tea!” He hopped up to offer Dierdre a cup, which she declined with a quick hand in the air.

Bea looked from Dierdre to Frostly, with a sneaking hunch that, regardless of what Mr. Frostly thought, Ms. Fidelius was up to much more than keeping his business organized. Something just didn’t add up.

Bea smiled the most winsome smile she could muster at Dierdre. “Mr. Frostly was just helping me clear some stuff up,” she said. “Like, apparently I completely misunderstood you when you came by the house! We all thought you were telling us the scholarships were being revoked and the house was being sold!”

Dierdre looked straight past Bea and spoke directly to Mervin Frostly.

“Mr. Frostly,” she said, “this stack of paperwork needs reviewing, and it isn’t getting any smaller. Could you meet with me privately, in my office?”

“Business, business, always business,” said Mervin Frostly with an apologetic shrug at Bea. “I’m so lucky that Dierdre keeps me organized.”

“So, as you can see,” said Dierdre sweeping past Bea to collect some folders from Frostly’s messy desk over which a mobile of the solar system was dangling, “Mr. Frostly has work to do. I wonder if you’d take this tea tray down to Mrs. Quigg.”

It clearly was not something Dierdre was really wondering, realized Bea. It was an expectation. But as Dierdre scooped up the paperwork and swept back toward the elevator, the click of her high heels and a lingering scent of cloves wafting through the air caused two loose ends to connect in Bea’s head. She had heard those heels, and smelled those cloves before, somewhere unexpected. And now she remembered exactly where. By the elevator at Bean-Tek headquarters.

“You work for Bean-Tek!” accused Bea. “You’re a spy for Hiram Scalmo.”

Dierdre froze in place, and stared at Bea. It was clear that behind the cool exterior she was calculating just how to proceed.

Frostly put down his teacup, and looked back and forth—first at Bea, then at Dierdre, as if he’d just sat up in bed and was adjusting to the light.

“I saw you there,” said Bea. “When I went to Scalmo’s office with my sister Hortensia.”

Bea realized this was not quite true. She had not exactly seen Dierdre, but she had smelled her. And heard her. But the expression on Dierdre’s face—a slight crack in the cool confidence—told Bea she was definitely barking up the right tree this time.

“Mr. Frostly,” said Bea. She knew she had a foot in the door now, and she was going to try her hardest to push it all the way open. “Remember that time you sent Dierdre to check on Hortensia’s koohoo plant samples? To make sure they’d arrived safely and everything?”

“Oh no,” said Frostly, looking utterly perplexed. “I never meddle in research…I only fund people whom I can rely on in the first place. Heavens, I have enough to do without that kind of meddling.”

“Now look here…” said Dierdre to Bea, her finger poised to emphasize a point.

“That’s what I thought,” interrupted Bea. “Mr. Frostly didn’t send you. Because Hiram Scalmo sent you!”

Frostly rubbed his chin, and turned to Dierdre with an incisive look Bea had not yet seen cross his face.

“Dierdre?” he said. “That shifty, shady bean man? You work with him?”

“Sir!” said Dierdre, making one last stab at control before the false composure in her eyes gave way to panic, “I…”

But instead of finishing the thought, she tossed the stack of folders on a table, made a beeline for the elevator and disappeared behind its closing door.

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