‘Hooray!’ shouted Logan from the back of the bus. ‘Let’s go, go, go!’
It was the last day of term before the Easter holidays and a group of children from Princethorpe Juniors was setting off on a trip to Cadbury World. And this wasn’t just any old group. These were the thirty keen writers who had entered the school’s adventure story competition. Logan’s story, The Quest – as he enjoyed telling anyone who would listen- had been the Year Six winner and the overall winner. ‘That makes me a V.I.P.’ he joked to his friends. ‘Everyone must bow before speaking to me.’
But they weren’t quite ready to go yet. Mr Dawson was still walking down the aisle of the bus counting heads. He lost count as he passed a group of Year Three boys having a lively discussion about who was going to scoff the most chocolate at Cadbury World. ‘I’m going to eat a tonne of creme eggs!’ said one. ‘I’m going to eat a hundred tonnes,’ bragged a second. ‘I’m going to eat a bazillion tonnes!’ bellowed a third boy. ‘And then I’ll do a spell with my Harry Potter wand and make another bazillion eggs appear.’
Logan grinned. That was Vinnie. The kid had a great imagination. No wonder his story had been the Year Three winner.
Lexie in Year Five was standing up waving a piece of paper. ‘It’s like when Charlie Bucket goes to Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory,’ she giggled. ‘Look, Mr Davis, I’ve made a golden ticket with pictures on and everything.’
‘Great work, Lexie,’ said Mr Dawson with a smile, but he looked a little worried as he started the count for the third time. Perhaps, thought Logan, Mr Dawson was hoping that their trip wouldn’t be quite as eventful as Charlie And the Chocolate Factory. Logan had read the book and seen the film. One kid got sucked up into a pipe and another girl turned into a giant blueberry . . . not the kind of thing the school would want to explain to parents when they got back!
At last, Mr Dawson finished the headcount. He looked at his watch ‘We’re just waiting for Mrs Kareem to join us. Hmm, she should be here by now.’
The children groaned with impatience. A few began to sing, why are we waiting?
Near the front, Fatoumata sat quietly. She was thrilled to be the Year Four winner, and excited about the trip, but she did wish the bus wasn’t quite so noisy. She swung her feet and gazed out of the window. A woman was running across the car park towards the bus. But it wasn’t Mrs Kareem, the Year Five teacher who was meant to be coming with them. This was a younger lady, with curly blonde hair. She wore a long coat and a bright red scarf and matching red handbag and red boots with red sparkly stars down the side. Fatoumata looked down at her own boots – her favourite comfy black ones with studs on. She really liked those red ones the lady was wearing . . .
The Red Boot Lady climbed up the steps of the bus and started a long, whispered conversation with Mr Dawson and the other teachers. Finally, Mr Dawon made an announcement. ‘It seems that Mrs Kareem has been taken ill and can’t come with us.’ Lexie gasped and dropped her golden ticket. She was worried about Mrs Kareem, of course. She was her favourite teacher. But, on top of that, if they didn’t have enough adults, their trip to Cadbury World would be cancelled.
The chatter level on the bus reached fever pitch. Mr Dawson held up his hands for quiet. ‘Don’t worry!’ he shouted. ‘This is Miss Henley. She’s a supply teacher. She’s kindly stepped in at short notice, so the trip will go ahead.’
‘Everyone cheered. ‘Hooray for Miss Henley.’
Miss Henley blushed almost as red as her boots. The bus driver started the engine. Vroom! At last, they were off.
If this were a Roald Dahl story, thought Logan, there would be all kinds of crazy adventures ahead. But this is real life, not a book, he reminded himself. Vinnie making himself sick on creme eggs will probably be the major incident of the day . . .
Little did he know how wrong he was!
Cadbury World was not far away. The children were soon streaming out of the bus and into the huge building. Vinnie looked around the reception area hoping to see where they actually made the chocolate. He wasn’t a baby; he knew it wasn’t going to be like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with massive waterfalls of chocolate and lollipop trees and Oompa Loompas bursting into song, but he had been expecting to see some sort of complicated machines and big vats of chocolate bubbling away – maybe like the potions lab in Harry Potter. The reception area of Cadbury World was all about bright glass and glossy purple walls - more like a fancy office or hotel.
A young man with round glasses and a pointy beard ushered them all into a big room especially for school groups. He introduced himself as Sam and explained that he was their guide for the day. They’d be watching a 4D film, he said, and having a talk about the history of chocolate, and exploring a rainforest where cocoa was grown, and doing a workshop with a chance to create their own chocolates. It all sounded very exciting. Everyone was wriggling in their chairs with impatience to get started, when a giant green frog peeped around the door. It was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with the letter F on the front. ‘Ooh look!’ the children whispered to each other. ‘It’s Freddo Frog – from the chocolate bar . . .’
Sam was still talking about the visit. All of a sudden, Freddo Frog bounced up behind him and croaked in his ear.
Sam jumped out of his skin.
‘Don’t worry, Sam!’ Fatoumata cried out. ‘It’s just a person in a costume.’
Logan was sitting behind her. ‘Phew! Thanks for clearing that up,’ he said. ‘I thought for a minute we were really being attacked by giant mutant reptiles!’
Everyone laughed. Fatoumata felt a bit silly. She had just been trying to help. She really had thought that Sam was scared of Freddo. But, of course, she could see now that it had been an act. Sam and Freddo were just clowning around.
And now they had been joined by another costumed character – an Easter Bunny this time. ‘As it is Easter time,’ said the bunny in a funny high voice, ‘you have an egg-stra treat in store. This afternoon you will see our special display called World of Easter Eggs.’
‘Easter Eggs from every corner of the planet,’ Sam chipped in. ‘Egg-straordinary eggs of every flavour, from dragonfruit to doughnut, baked bean to blueberry!’
‘And, the centrepiece of it all,’ trilled the Easter Bunny, ‘is The Royal Egg – a priceless gift, which will be presented to the Queen on her birthday. It is made from the most egg-spensive chocolate in the world, coated in real gold and encrusted with precious jewels! It’s so valuable, a special guard watches over it twenty-four hours a day!’
Freddo Frog hopped up and down. ‘This is so egg-citing! Come one everyone. Let’s scramble!’
Logan made a face at his friends. ‘Do you think they’re having a competition to see who can make the cheesiest egg jokes?’ Then he grinned. ‘Or should I say, egg yolks?’
But secretly he couldn’t wait to see The Royal Egg. Anything that had its own round-the-clock security guard had to be pretty cool!
Cadbury World was so much fun that Fatoumata soon forgot her embarrassment about telling Sam that Freddo was just a person dressed up! The film was amazing, and the rainforest was just like being in a real jungle, full of animal noises and strange, exotic plants. By the time they came to the chocolate-making workshop her head was spinning with new information. She couldn’t wait to get home and write a story about it.
The workshop took place in a big white room, like a cross between a high-tech kitchen and a space station. The lady in charge did a demonstration, pouring liquid chocolate into different shaped moulds and decorating them by swirling in melted chocolate of other colours. ‘Now, it’s your turn to give it a try!’ she said. ‘Find a partner to work with . . .’
Since only a few children from each class were on the trip, Fatoumata was paired with Lexie. That made her a bit shy at first. She didn’t know Lexie very well; she was in Year Five, super sporty, and always in a big group of friends. But Fatoumata needn’t have worried. Lexie was really nice. She was also arty and creative, and showed Fatoumata how to make beautiful patterns of flowers and stars . . .
CRASH! CLATTER! AGGHH!
The two girls were so engrossed in their work that they almost fell off their chairs. They whisked round to see what the uproar was about.
A metal tray had flipped up from one of the workbenches. Jugs and bowls of liquid chocolate were flying through the air.
‘Vinnie!’ exclaimed Miss Henley. ‘I told you to be careful with that tray!’
Vinnie stared in horror at the mess. Okay, so he had been goofing around a tiny bit, sneakily scoffing scraps of chocolate creations that had gone wrong, but he was sure he hadn’t tipped the tray up. One moment he was showing Miss Henley, the nice, friendly supply teacher, the magic wand pattern he was making. The next minute, his tray was taking off and firing chocolate in all directions – mainly, all over Freddo Frog, who was hopping about nearby. The large green figure was now spray-painted with rainbow- coloured chocolate.
Vinnie often wished he was Harry Potter, but never more than at this moment. He would put on his invisibility cloak and disappear . . . ‘Sorry, Freddo,’ he stammered. ‘I didn’t mean to . . .’
Freddo’s face was hidden by the costume, of course, but from the way he was stamping his foot and shaking his head, he was not a happy frog.
‘Never mind!’ said Miss Henley kindly, wiping a blob of chocolate from her scarf. ‘It was just an accident. Come along, Freddo, I’ll help you get cleaned up.’ With that, she picked up her handbag, grasped the giant frog by the arm and bundled him out of the room.
The workshop was over. The children stacked their chocolates in the fridge to set. Then the lady in charge told them all to go to the cloakrooms next door to hang up their aprons and wash their hands.
‘That was fun,’ said Lexie, making space for Fatoumata next to her at the wash basin. ‘I can’t wait to see how our chocolates turn out.’ Fatoumata smiled. She was a quiet girl – the opposite of me really, Lexie thought, - but Lexie had enjoyed working with her. And she admired the way that Fatoumata had spoken up earlier to tell Sam that Freddo wasn’t a real giant frog - even though everyone had laughed at her. It showed that she was kind. Lexie always tried to be kind too. ‘I think those unicorn shapes you made will be the best,’ she said.
‘And your butterfly ones,’ said Fatoumata.
Still happily chatting about their chocolate designs the two new friends realised that everyone else had already left the cloakroom. They quickly dried their hands and hurried back to the workshop.
‘Hang on!’ said Lexie as she threw open the door. ‘This isn’t the room we were in before.’
‘We must have turned the wrong way out of the cloakroom,’ whispered Fatoumata. Instead of a workshop full of children, they were in a meeting room, with chairs and a big round table. An important-looking lady in a pinstripe business suit was sitting hunched over a lap top. The girls swiftly backed out through the door before he looked up and noticed them.
Lexie opened another door. But that didn’t lead into the workshop room either. Nor did the next one.
Fatoumata was getting worried. What if they never found the others? They could be wandering the corridors of Cadbury World for ever. They’d be found in a hundred years’ time, as ghosts . . .
‘Thank goodness!’ breathed Lexie. ‘Look! There’s Freddo.’
To Fatamouta’s relief, the familiar green figure was standing at the end of the corridor. She wasn’t going to be a ghost after all . . .
‘Come on,’ said Lexie. ‘We’ll ask him the way.’
But before the girls could approach Freddo, a security guard came out of the door behind him – a door that was marked; WORLD OF EASTER EGGS - SPECIAL EXHIBITION.
The guard was as big as an American footballer, dressed in a police-type uniform. He began talking with Freddo – in that way that adults do when they don’t want anyone to hear their argument – sort of half-whispering, half-shouting. Lexie couldn’t hear what they were saying, but something told her that she and Fatoumata could be in big trouble if they were spotted lurking in the corridor. They’ll think we’re spying on them or something, she thought, pulling Fatoumata back into the shadows.
Luckily at that moment, rescue arrived. ‘Ah there you are!’ came a voice from behind them. The girls turned to see Mr Dawson. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Come on, it’s lunchtime now.’
As they followed Mr Dawson towards the cafeteria, Lexie and Fatoumata both glanced back.
The security guard was hurrying away from the door, along the corridor in the other direction.
And Freddo Frog was nowhere to be seen.
Lunch passed quietly - if a cafeteria packed full of thirty over-excited, slightly-sticky-with-chocolate children can ever be called quiet! Some people were having a hot meal, while others had brought packed lunches. Logan was in the packed lunch group. He was almost regretting that decision when everyone started coming back from the serving hatch with delicious-smelling chicken and sweetcorn and cheese and tomato pizzas. He unzipped his lunchbox. ‘Oh yeah!’ he crowed. ‘Result!’ Wrapped in film was a big slice of nan’s special lasagne saved from last night’s dinner.
That was even better than pizza!
Logan took a big bite and a swig of water and looked across to the teachers’ table to see what they were eating. Mainly cakes and biscuits from what he could see. And gallons of tea and coffee, of course.
The only excitement was when Miss Henley came rushing in, her red scarf flapping behind her. Logan strained his ears to hear what she said to Mr Dawson. He wasn’t nosy, just interested in stuff. He wanted to be an author (or play for Birmingham City; he hadn’t quite decided yet) and he’d heard you had to keep your eyes and ears open to write good stories.
But Miss Henley wasn’t saying anything interesting; just something about why it had taken her so long to get back from helping Freddo Frog to clean Vinnie’s chocolate volcano off his costume. She’d been flagged down by one of the Cadbury World people to say that they would have to cut their visit to the World of Easter Eggs exhibition a bit short because of cleaning work or something . . . Logan sighed. If only there was something a bit more eggstra-ordinary going on, he thought. Like aliens landing on the roof, to take all the Cadbury supplies back to their own chocolate-starved planet. Or an ancient time-travel portal opening up in the middle of the cafeteria . . .
He had been planning to write a story about this trip. But how was he meant to weave an action-packed blockbuster around a minor scheduling change?
At this rate he was going to have to make something up!
Vinnie was almost bursting with excitement. They had looked round all the other eggs in the World of Easter Eggs exhibition, and now it was time for the grand finale. They were about to see The Royal Egg, at last!
The children and teachers crowded around a fancy metal stand. On top, was a shiny gold box with a purple velvet curtain covering the front. A massive, fierce-looking security guard stood right next to it, making sure no one got too close, and glaring a bit at the Easter Bunny, who was hopping about in ‘egg-citement’.
Sam, the guide, launched into a long speech. The Royal Egg was going to be presented to the Queen on her birthday on April 21st at Buckingham Palace. It was bejewelled with ninety-three precious gems, he explained – one for each year of the Queen’s life. Decorated with the finest gold leaf by master craftsmen, the chocolate was made from cocoa beans that only grow on a single tree in the heart of the Ghanaian rainforest . . .
Vinnie shivered. Not just with anticipation. The display room (as Sam had explained at length) was kept cold and dimly lit to stop the chocolate eggs from melting.
‘And now,’ announced the Easter Bunny, cutting Sam off in mid-sentence. ‘The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The Big Reveal! A little bird tells me that you’ve had a story competition lately. So, would the winner like to come up and do the honours?’
Grinning from ear to ear, Logan stepped up. The guard handed him a gold rope with a tassel. With a dramatic flourish, Logan pulled the rope.
Slowly, slowly, the purple curtain slid open.
Nestling on a purple cushion was the most fabulous object Vinnie had ever seen. Rubies, emeralds and sapphires sparkled in the light. Intricate swirls of gold embellished the surface, the chocolate as smooth and glossy as a black racing car. It looked, he thought, like a magical dragon’s egg. Something that would be kept in a special casket at Hogwarts, with secret powers that only Harry would know how to harness.
But wait! Something was wrong. The security guard was shaking his head and peering at the jewels. ‘This is a . . . fake!’ he stammered. ‘Those jewels are just coloured glass. The real Royal Egg has . . . gone . . . someone has stolen it!’
A stunned silence filled the room. The only sound was the hum of the air conditioner.
Lexie craned her next to see over the shoulder of an annoyingly tall Year Six boy in front of her. The egg looked real enough. Shiny and fancy and totally bling-tastic! Had the guard gone crazy? she wondered.
But then the Easter Bunny pulled down the mask part of his costume – revealing a rather hot and bothered looking plump grey-haired lady - and sniffed at the Royal Egg. ‘It’s true!’ she cried. ‘This egg’s not made of rare single-source Ghanaian cocoa bean chocolate. I’d know the aroma anywhere! It’s cheap stuff.’ She wrinkled her nose in horror. ‘It’s not even Cadburys!’
Chaos broke out.
The guard shouted into his radio for back-up. Cadburys World staff swarmed into the room, herding the children and the teachers back into the cafeteria. ‘You must all stay in here while we carry out an investigation,’ boomed a tall lady in a pinstripe suit. Lexie recognised her as the one with the laptop from their accidental detour to the meeting room. ‘This is an extremely serious incident.’ Suit Lady’s eyes swept laser-like from child to child, as if she suspected every last one of them of being criminal masterminds.
‘Does she think that we have lessons on stealing priceless jewelled eggs at our school?’ joked Logan.
‘Dream on!’ laughed the annoyingly tall Year Six boy. ‘They don’t teach us anything that interesting.’
Everyone began talking at once, trying to make sense of what just happened. Lexie sat down next to Fatoumata. ‘Wow!’ said Fatoumata, her dark eyes as wide as Frisbees. ‘Who could have stolen it?’
Behind them, Logan and Vinnie were discussing the same question. ‘I bet it was the security guard,’ said Logan. ‘He’d have the perfect cover story. You pretend to be looking after the thing, but you steal it yourself . . .’
Lexie couldn’t resist turning around to join the conversation. ‘No way! It was the guard who told everyone that it was a fake egg. Why would he do that if he was the one who stole the real egg and put the replacement there? He’d have kept quiet about it.’
Logan nodded slowly. ‘Fair point.’
‘I think it was Sam, the guide?’ said Vinnie. ‘He’s an evil genius in disguise. He’s wearing a false beard and nose – he’s like Voldermort underneath.’
Lexie giggled. ‘You’re a total Harry Potter superfan aren’t you? Me too.’
Fatoumata cleared her throat. ‘Erm, getting back to reality. It couldn’t have been Sam. He’s been with us the whole time.’
‘Yeah,’ said Logan. ‘That’s true. And anyway, how could anyone have got their hands on that egg when there was a massive great security guard stuck to it like super-glue, watching over it every minute—'
Suddenly Lexie jumped up from her chair. ‘Oooh!’ she cried. ‘Oooh!’
Logan grinned at Vinnie. ‘Definitely too much Harry Potter. She’s turning into an owl . . .’
Lexie waved her hands to shush him. ‘The guard hasn’t been with the egg every minute.’ She turned to Fatoumata. ‘Remember when we got lost? We saw the guard leave the World of Easter Eggs,’ she whispered. ‘With. Our. Very. Own. Eyes,’ she added, for dramatic effect.
Fatoumata’s hand flew to her mouth. ‘Oh yes. We did see the guard leave. He was talking to Freddo Frog by the door. Then he rushed off down the corridor. And Freddo just . . . vanished.’
Logan whistled under his breath. ‘Wow! So Freddo’s our egg thief. I bet he made up a fake reason to get the guard to leave. Then he sneaked in and nicked The Royal Egg. This is serious. I’m going to tell the teachers.’
Logan began to get up, but Fatoumata pulled him back by the arm. ‘We need to be careful,’ she whispered. ‘If Freddo really is the thief, and he realises we’re on to him, he could make a run for it and get away.’ She smiled shyly. ‘The person inside the Freddo costume, that is. I do know he’s not real.’
Fatoumata glanced around the cafeteria in search of Freddo. She couldn’t quite believe that he had really stolen the egg. It made a good story. And she and Lexie had seen him talking to the guard near the door of the exhibition. But that could have been perfectly innocent. Then again, where was Freddo? A giant green frog was hard to miss, but she couldn’t spot him anywhere. That was pretty suspicious. And then it occurred to her. ‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Has anyone even seen Freddo this whole afternoon?’
The others shook their heads. ‘Not since he left the workshop with Miss Henley to get the chocolate off his costume,’ said Logan.
‘And then, a few minutes after that, we saw him talking to the guard,’ said Lexie. ‘So . . .’ she said, scrunching her eyebrows in thought, ‘he must have got cleaned up, parted from Miss Henley, and then dashed straight off to the World of Easter Eggs to get the guard out of the way and steal the egg.’ Lexie looked at her watch. ‘And that was nearly two hours ago. We’ve not seen him since.’
‘We can’t let him get away with this,’ said Logan. ‘Especially not when that boss lady in the business suit seems to suspect that we all have something to do with it! I say we should track Freddo down ourselves and protect the honour of our school! Who’s with me?’
‘But what can we do, stuck in here?’ asked Lexie.
All four looked blank. No one spoke. What could they do?
Vinnie burped. ‘Oops. sorry. I ate too much chocolate in the workshop this morning.’
‘Brilliant!’ said Logan. ‘You’ve just given me an idea.’
Logan put his hand up and called out to the nearest adult. ‘Miss Henley. I think Vinnie’s about to throw up.’
Vinnie got the message and clutched his tummy and make a gurgling noise.
‘Shall I take him to the bathroom?’ Miss Henley glanced around, fiddling with her handbag. She looked a bit flustered. Not really surprising, thought Logan. This was the first day she’d worked at Princethorpe School and she was caught up in a major crime scene.
‘Er, yes thank you, Logan, isn’t it?’ Miss Henley replied vaguely. ‘That’s kind of you.’
Logan nudged Lexie, but she already knew what to do. She shot her hand up. ‘Fatoumata’s feeling sick as well, miss. It must be the shock. I’d better take her to the loo too.’
And before Miss Henley could ask any questions, Lexie was steering Fatoumata out of the cafeteria, hot on the heels of Logan and Vinnie.
They hurried a few paces along the corridor. Logan checked that there was no one around. ‘Good work, team,’ he said. ‘Now, start looking for clues.’
Fatoumata wasn’t a hundred percent sure they should be doing this. ‘What sort of clues?’ she asked nervously.
It was a perfectly reasonable question. Now he thought about it, Logan didn’t know either. But someone had to take the lead. ‘Just use your eyes.’ The words came out a little more sharply than he meant them to. ‘Listen for suspicious croaking noises or something,’ he added with a grin.
Suddenly Vinnie bent over and dropped to his knees.
‘Oh no! You’re not really going to barf, are you?’ groaned Logan. ‘Not on my trainers. Please. They’re new!’
‘No! Look!’ Vinnie. was pointing to a brown smudge on the floor. The others gathered round. The brown was chocolate. And, stuck in the middle, was a little tuft of green fluff.
‘It’s a froggy footprint,’ whispered Lexie in amazement. She took a step. ‘And there’s another one here. And here!’ She beamed at Vinnie. ‘Well spotted.’
Fatoumata forgot her worries. Footprints! This was just like the Famous Five stories she loved to read. ‘They must have been left by Freddo after he got splattered with chocolate,’ she whispered. ‘The fluff is from his costume.’
Logan clapped Vinnie on the shoulder. ‘Genius, my man! By firing that tray of chocolate all over him, you’ve made that fiendish frog leave a trail for us.’
Vinnie still didn’t think he’d knocked the tray over, but he decided to keep quiet and take the credit. Following the others, he took off down the corridor on the trail of the chocolatey frog.
The froggy footprints led straight to a door. Not, as the children had expected, to the door of the World of Easter Eggs exhibition, but to an ordinary wooden door with a sign that said: BATHROOM SUPPLIES. STAFF ONLY.
‘The trail stops here,’ said Lexie, with a small kick at the door. ‘No more footprints. We’ll have to think of something else.’
Fatoumata reached out and tried the handle. She’d expected it to be locked, but the door swung open.
‘There’s no point looking in there,’ said Logan. “Freddo probably just went in to get some paper towels. He’ll be long gone by now . . .’
Fatoumata was about to close the door and follow the others when something caught her eye. Sticking out from behind a big pile of toilet rolls was a foot.
It wasn’t a frog’s foot.
It was a human foot, wearing a blue Converse baseball boot. ‘Wait!’ She called after the others. Her heart was beating double-time, and was now trying to climb out through her mouth. She couldn’t get another word out. All she could do was hold the door open and point inside.
Logan, Lexie and Vinnie looked in.
Slowly they entered.
The door clicked shut, plunging them into total darkness. ‘Aggh!’ squeaked Lexie, grabbing Fatoumata’s arm.
‘Ooof!’ gasped Vinnie, backing into the toilet paper mountain. Rolls started tumbling down on their heads, buffeting them with cushiony softness.
Logan found the light switch. Blinking in the sudden brightness and hardly daring to look, they crept towards the foot. Gradually, another foot, legs, body, head – a whole person - came into view. Slumped in a corner was a young, skinny man, little more than a teenager. As well as the baseball boots, he wore a Minecraft t-shirt and surfer shorts.
His hands and wrists were tied with bungee cords.
‘Is he… d…d…dead?’ gulped Fatoumata.
Lexie knelt at the man’s side and checked his pulse and breathing. ‘No,’ she said, looking up. ‘He’s just knocked out. We learned all about First Aid at tennis camp.’
Fatoumata’s knees wobbled with relief. ‘What do you think happened to him?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Logan, ‘but I think this may have had something to do with it.’ He pointed at a tiny dart sticking out above the neck of the man’s t-shirt.
‘Ooh,’ breathed Vinnie. ‘A tranquiliser dart.’
As Lexie stood up, she brushed something from her hands. She stared down at her palms. ‘I’ve got some of that green fluff on me.’ Then she looked at the man again. ‘It’s from this guy’s arm. He’s got green fluff all over him. Oh! Hang on! That means this must be . . .’
‘Freddo Frog!’ said all four voices at once.
Logan grinned. ‘Yep. That explains why he’s in shorts. It must be boiling inside that heavy costume.’ He looked around. ‘Which leads us to our next question. Where is his costume? I can’t see it in here.’
Vinnie shrugged. ‘Obvious, isn’t it? The bad guy took it. He crept up behind Freddo, knocked him out with the tranquiliser dart, tied him up, took his costume and put it on, and then – in the perfect disguise - zoomed off to steal the Royal Egg. Simples!’
Logan whistled. ‘For a Year Three, you have a disturbingly advanced concept of criminal methods!’
Lexie giggled. ‘Vinnie’s right though. Which means that the Freddo that me and Fatoumata saw talking to the guard was actually was the thief – not the original guy.’ She glanced down at the young man in the corner. ‘And look,’ Lexie added, pointing to a pile of. chocolate-smeared paper towels. ‘Our baddie even used those to wipe the chocolate off the costume. That’s why there are no footprints leading out of this storeroom again. The frog feet were clean again.’
Logan frowned and slowly tapped his chin. ‘So, we know how the thief did it. What we don’t know is who he is.’
‘Or she,’ murmured Fatoumata.
Logan did a double take at Fatoumata. While they were talking, she’d been busily gathering up a pile of toilet rolls and making them into a pillow for the poor guy on the floor. ‘Yes, OK,’ he said. ‘In theory, it could be a male or female thief. He or she.’
But Fatoumata just stared back at him, a strange expression of shock on her face, Held between her finger and thumb was something small and red and sparkly. When she spoke, her voice was so quiet the others had to lean down to hear.
‘Not in theory,’ she said. ‘It’s definitely a she. I know who stole The Royal Egg.’
‘It was Miss Henley,’ whispered Fatoumata, looking over her shoulder, as if she expected the supply teacher to walk in at any moment.
‘Miss Henley?’ gasped Lexie. ‘No way! She’s a teacher.’
Vinnie stared at her. ‘Miss Henley is a baddie? Like Bellatrix Lestrange? How do you know?’
Fatoumata placed the little red sparkly star on her palm and held it out to show her friends. ‘It was on the floor near the man’s head. It must have fallen off those red boots Miss Henley is wearing, when she was tying him up.’ She looked down at her own studded boots. ‘I like boots. I noticed them as soon as she got on the bus.’
Logan narrowed his eyes, deep in thought. ‘I can’t believe it.’ But then his expression changed. The pieces were falling into place. Of course! Miss Henley had leaped on the chance to take Freddo to get cleaned up. She must have followed him into this storeroom to get paper towels. She could easily have shot the dart into his neck while he was busy wiping the spilled chocolate off the costume. She must have been carrying the tranquiliser gun in her handbag. And the bungee cords too . . .
‘I told you I didn’t knock that tray of chocolate over,’ said Vinnie, punching the air with both fists. ‘Miss Henley was standing right by me. She did it on purpose and made out it was me. She tipped it all over Freddo so she could get him alone and nick his costume.’
Logan grinned. ‘Yeah, okay, we’ll believe you.’ He turned to Lexie and Fatoumata.’ So, when you two saw Freddo talking to the guard, that was Miss Henley in the costume. She must have been tricking him into leaving his post by saying there was an emergency phone call or something. After she stole The Royal Egg, she must have quickly taken the costume off and hidden it, before running back to join us in the cafeteria again.’ Logan suddenly remembered how Miss Henley had hurried up to the teachers’ lunch table, saying she’d been talking to the Cadbury World people about the schedule. No doubt that was a fib too – she just made it up to explain why she’d taken so long to get back.
Lexie’s thoughts were in a whirl. ‘But how would a random supply teacher even know about tranquiliser guns and stealing jewelled eggs and . . . ‘
‘Because,’ said Logan. ‘Miss Henley is not a supply teacher. It’s obvious now. She must have arranged for Mrs Kareem to be off work today somehow, so that she could turn up and pretend that the supply agency had sent her – all so she could come to Cadbury World with us while The Royal Egg is on display.’
That makes sense, thought Lexie. Mrs Kareem was never ill, and she’d been really looking forward to this trip. Miss Henley must have tricked her into phoning in sick today.
‘Oh yes,’ said Logan. He was starting to really enjoy himself now. This was better even than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Who needed aliens? This was going to make the best story ever. ‘This was all carefully planned,’ he said. ‘For a start Miss Henley must have been carrying the fake egg in her handbag, ready to switch with the real one.’
Lexie nodded. ‘But she made one big mistake. She didn’t expect the guard to notice that she’d replaced the real egg with the fake straight away. She probably thought that she had ages before anyone spotted the difference – by which time we’d have all gone home. And she could be making her getaway.’
‘In her helicopter,’ said Vinnie. ‘Evil baddies always have helicopters.’
Meanwhile, Fatoumata had carefully wrapped the red sparkly star in toilet paper. She gave it to Logan – as the oldest - to look after. She felt just like one of the Famous Five or the Scooby Doo gang, working with her team to solve the mystery. It had been a bit scary - but exciting too.
‘Sorry I made fun of you about Freddo being a person in a costume earlier,’ said Logan as he put the evidence in his pocket. ‘I didn’t mean to make you look stupid or anything. It was just so funny.’
Fatoumata smiled. ‘That’s OK. It was funny.’
‘And,’ added Lexie. ‘It turns out that Fatoumata was making a very important point. The person inside the costume is the key to this mystery!’ She stood up. ‘Now, we need to stop sleuthing and go and tell an adult and get a doctor to help this guy.’
Vinnie was already heading for the door. ‘And fetch the police to arrest Miss Henley.’
‘Wait!’ Fatoumata grabbed him by the jumper. She could just imagine Vinnie and Logan bursting into the cafeteria, yelling Freeze, punk! and Hands up, villain! ‘We still need to be careful. We can’t let Miss Henley escape in all the confusion, while the adults figure out that we’re telling the truth.’
‘Good point,’ said Logan. ‘OK. Here’s what we’ll do.’
Moments later, Lexie was walking back into the cafeteria, her arm around Fatoumata’s shoulders. Fatoumata kept her head down and dragged her feet as pathetically as she could.
Nervously, Lexie glanced across at Logan and Vinnie who were sitting near the door. They had come back in a few moments earlier; if all four of them had got back from the loos at the same time it would have looked suspicious. Then, even more nervously, Lexie glanced at Miss Henley. She was sitting with the other teachers, her big red handbag on her lap. A handbag full of priceless Royal Easter Egg, no doubt!
Lexie took a deep breath and walked up to Mr Dawson. She had to tell him what they had found out, without Miss Henley hearing. She glanced at Logan and Vinnie. They gave a secret nod. They were on standby to jump up and block the door if Miss Henley made a run for it.
‘Mr Dawson!’ said Lexie. ‘I think Fatoumata is really poorly.’
‘Oh dear, what’s the matter?’ he asked.
Fatoumata mumbled something in a voice quieter than a mouse-whisper.
‘Sorry, I can’t hear you.’ Mr Dawson scooted his chair away from the table of chattering teachers. ‘It’s quieter here.’ He leaned down and put his hand behind his ear. ‘Do you have tummy ache?’
Fatoumata shook her head. ‘We have something urgent to tell you,’ she muttered.
Mr Dawson looked serious. ‘What’s wrong?”
‘Don’t look now,’ said Lexie through her teeth. ‘But Miss Henley stole The Royal Egg.’
Mr Dawson did his best. But he was taken by surprise. He did what everyone does when they are told not to look. He looked. Not in an obvious way. Just a quick double-take. But it was enough. Miss Henley had been watching them. She saw that look. Her face changed. The smile slipped. She leaped up, her blonde curls bouncing, and bolted for the door.
The boys ran to stop her, but she was too fast. She swung her handbag at Vinnie and pushed a chair over in front of Logan. Vinnie staggered back. Logan tripped over. But they didn’t give up. Both were on their feet in seconds and running after her with a cry of ‘Stop! Villainous egg-thief!’
‘What on earth is going on?’ spluttered Mr Dawson.
Fatoumata and Lexie looked at each other, then took off across the cafeteria to join the chase.
To be continued . . . .