THE OBSIDIAN PEBBLE
By: Rhys A. Jones
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2013
Published By: Spencer Hill Press
Goodreads Summary: 11-year old Oz Chambers lives in a haunted house (Penwurt). His mother wants to move, but Oz would rather do double algebra (yuck) every day for twelve months than leave. Where others see spooky, Oz sees wonder and mystery and aching reminders of his deceased dad. When he and his friends hear ghostly footsteps in the boarded-up dorm at Halloween, it leads to an exploration of the old place's eerie reputation. In his Dad's locked study, Oz finds a parcel addressed to him and posted the day before his father died. Inside is the obsidian pebble, the link to all of Penwurt's astonishing secrets. Suddenly Oz begins to change; he goes from maths dunce to A student overnight and has to deal with suspicious teachers and jealous pupils. But the footsteps in the locked rooms don't go away and slowly, Oz begins to knit together the strands of lies and mystery that tie the obsidian pebble, his father and him together. What Oz hasn't bargained for is that he's not alone in that search for understanding and that solving Penwurt's puzzles lead to other, much darker secrets that will test his loyalty and his bravery to the limit.
Award winning author (OMG) Rhys A. Jones writes fantastic, funny, scary mysteries for ages 10 and up. His job is to take you where anything is possible. When he isn't writing he walks the dogs and occasionally practices medicine. He lives in an evergreen valley in West Wales with his very understanding wife.
“You’re sure this is the place?” Oz asked doubtfully.
“Garret and Eldred,” Ellie said, pointing to the sign as she pushed open the door.
An old-fashioned brass bell above the door rang as soon as they entered, but once they were in, the large room fell into a dusty, murky silence. Inside, it was even more jumbled than the shop front had suggested. Over in one corner, behind a hurdy-gurdy machine, lurked a taxidermy array with foxes and weasels piled on top of birds and fish. In another, Oz saw a tower of ornately decorated chamber pots, and in between was a minefield of occasional tables, old chairs, wall clocks and bed heads. But that was only as far as Oz could see, because the shop seemed to stretch back for a considerable way.
“Where do we start?” whispered Ellie.
“Perhaps if you indicated what it is, exactly, you are after, I might be of assistance,” suggested a voice from the shadows.
Ellie, Ruff and Oz all turned at once. Tucked behind a huge mounted moose head sat a wizened old gentleman, immaculately dressed, with a red spotted bow tie and a pair of half-glasses bridging his nose. He perched on a stool at a small workbench lit by a single desk lamp. Spread out on the bench, on a white cloth, was a bewildering array of tiny cogs and springs and shiny metal cases and glistening pearl dials. The man smiled and stood up stiffly. He wore a clean, navy-blue apron with “Garret and Eldred, Watchmakers and Purveyors of Fine Antiques” emblazoned on the breast. He moved towards them with some difficulty, eyebrows arched in enquiry.
“Uh, well, we’re actually looking for a dress clip brooch,” Ellie said.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, my dear. We have a large assortment. Now let me see, do you have a particular style in mind?” He moved past them and Oz smelled a pleasant waft of after-shave, reminding him of cut grass and heather. They followed him deeper into the shop to a bank of glass cases. The shopkeeper ran a bony finger along the brass mouldings on one of the cases and peered at the faded label stuck to the glass. “Dress clips, yes. Here we are.” He looked up. “A gift, is it?”
Ellie and Oz replied at the same time. Unfortunately, Oz said, “No,” while Ellie said, “Yes.”
Ruff made eyes to the ceiling and said, “Sort of.”
“I see,” said the shopkeeper, amused. He seemed well-used to muddled shoppers. “Well, there’s more than enough choice here. I’m sure you will find something suitable. We have six trays of dress clips in this case.” He beamed up at them. “My name is George Eldred, by the way, and I am familiar with where most things are in the shop. Just ask if you need any help.”
“We do,” Oz said, deciding to take the bull by the horns. “We saw something advertised online—”
“On the interweb?” asked Mr Eldred. “My nephew has been helping me, you know. Amazing what you can do these days.”
“We saw a black scarab brooch.”
“We have quite a few of those,” said Mr Eldred knowingly.
“But this one had a missing clip.”
“Ah.” The shopkeeper held up a finger. ”That would be in the imperfect tray.” He leaned over very slowly and pulled out a tray from the very bottom of the glass cabinet, while alarming popping sounds emanated from his knees and back. He straightened gingerly, his face a grinning mask of effort, and laid the tray on top of the cabinet. It was completely full of black, scarab-like shapes.
“Do you mind if we look?”
“Help yourselves,” said Mr Eldred.
It took them ten minutes to find it, mainly because everything was covered in dust. But when Ellie held it up and gave it a quick polish, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was the exact same item pictured on Oz’s laptop. Oz peered at the tiny label attached to it.
“How much?” Ruff asked in a whisper.
“Five pounds,” said Oz, pleasantly surprised.
“You can have it for four,” said Mr Eldred magnanimously from the workbench, where he’d gone back to sit.
Ruff, who had seemed a little on edge even before coming into Garret and Eldred’s, said, “Right, I saw a secondhand game shop on Gavel Lane. There were some real bargains in the window. I’ll meet you outside in about ten, okay?”
“Him and his bloomin’ Xbox,” Ellie said huffily as Ruff hurried away.
“Mr Eldred,” Oz said as he watched the shopkeeper carefully wrap the dor in some tissue paper, “have you any idea where this came from?”
“I know exactly where it came from. I know where everything in this shop came from. But I need to know who I’m talking to before I divulge that sort of information. Can’t be too careful, you know,” he said sternly, but his eyes twinkled as he spoke.
“Oz Chambers,” Oz said, holding out his hand, “and this is Ellie Messenger.”
“Delighted to meet you, Oz and Ellie,” said Mr Eldred. “The curse of working here for sixty years is that I remember every purchase and sale.” He held up the scarab brooch. “This came to us from a spinster who had recently inherited a property in Seabourne. The previous owner had been a collector and had not catalogued things very well. I remember going up to the house to evaluate.” He looked off into the distance. “Such a lovely property. Her name was Miss Millichamp, and the address was…now, what was it? I can see it now, used to be an orphanage at one time…”
“Penwurt, Number 2 Magnus Street,” Oz said in a flat voice. “And the lady was Bessie Millichamp.”
“Exactly right,” said Mr Eldred, smiling with delight. “Do you know it, by any chance? Not long ago, I sold a clock to a very nice man who lived there; it was also part of Miss Millichamp’s clear-out. I always felt the clock belonged there, myself. Now, what was the man’s name?”
“Chambers,” said Oz, feeling a knot of excitement tighten in his stomach.
“Chambers, that’s it. Nice chap. Very knowledgeable. Is he an acquaintance of yours?”
“Sort of,” Oz said truthfully.
“May I ask why it is that you want this particular brooch? Professional interest, you understand. I mean, it is of an unusual design, I’ll admit. But we have far nicer ones for the money. And they might even have a clip attached.”
“It’s exactly the right—”
“Colour,” said Ellie quickly. “It’ll match her shoes exactly.”
“Ah, an accessory. I see,” Mr Eldred’s smile was indulgent.
“Did great aunt Bessy sell you anything else?” Asked Oz, trying to sound as casual as he could.
“Oh, let me see,” Mr Eldred massaged his chin in concentration. “Of course, we were not the only valuers she contacted, but I think there were a couple of bracelets and four pairs of earrings, some of them really quite nice. One of them pink pearl if I recollect. Then there were a handful of brooches, not valuabe, but of some interest to collectors of the unusual, like you two clearly are.” His eyes twinkled.
“But you don’t remember her selling you a pendant?” Oz persisted.
“A pendant? No, I don’t recall anything of that nature, why do you ask?”
The little bell above the door tinkled. Oz looked around to see a man in an overcoat enter the shop. He turned towards the collection of stuffed animals immediately so that Oz didn’t see his face.
“My, my, turning into quite the busy afternoon,” Mr Eldred chuckled, his eyes crinkling. “If it’s pendants you’re after, of course, we have a splendid collection.”
"No, it’s okay,” Oz said quickly. “I was just curious.” He was suddenly very conscious of the fact that the person who had come into the shop, who still had his back to them, would be able to hear, quite clearly, everything that was being said.
“Ah, yes, understandably so. Well, there you are.” Mr Eldred handed over the tiny parcel and gave Oz his change.
Outside, Ellie and Oz headed back the way they’d come.
“So this definitely comes from Penwurt. Do you think Morsman found it somewhere?” Ellie asked.
“He must have. Maybe Great Aunt Bessie didn’t know what it was. If Morsman died suddenly, perhaps he hadn’t had time to sort things out, or leave a will or something. Shame someone came into the shop. I could have asked more questions.”
“Let’s have a look at it in daylight,” Ellie said, pointing at the parcel.
Oz stopped and was about to undo Mr Eldred’s wrapping, when they looked up and were surprised to see Ruff coming back to meet them, walking quickly.
“Shut, was it?” Ellie asked.
Ruff shook his head, making large eyes at them. “You should see that place,” he said, with loud and exaggerated delight. “It’s brilliant.” And then, without moving his mouth, he added in a low voice. “Do not open that parcel. Just shut up and follow me, no questions asked.”
He turned and began describing just how brilliant the game shop was again as he hurried up the street. “It’s got a copy of Wolf Ripper 1. I loved that game.”
Three minutes later, they stood in the sparsely stocked shop. It looked run-down and almost about to close.
“Are you completely mad?” said Ellie, looking about her with obvious distaste. “This place is rubbish.”
“Just hang on,” Ruff said as he positioned himself so that he was half-hidden behind a rack of tacky birthday cards near the window. He picked one up and moved his head so that he could look out into the street through the gap the card left in the stack. When he was happy, he pulled Oz and Ellie around behind him. “Look,” he said, pointing out to the almost empty street.
“Lovely,” Oz said. “Does that fish and chip shop do curry sauce?”
“Next door to it, you buzzard,” hissed Ruff. “The charity shop. Red and black coat.”
Oz and Ellie peered through the space in the card rack and as they did, the door to the charity shop opened and a familiar figure emerged and looked up and down before staring directly across to where Oz, Ellie and Ruff were hidden.
Oz gasped. “Lucy Bishop?”
“Almost bumped into her when I left Garret and thingy’s,” Ruff explained quickly. “She pretended not to see me and veered off. But I’ve been watching her. She’s just hanging about, waiting.”
“For us?” Ellie said.
“I’d put a cheese and ham nine-inch baguette on it,” Ruff said, ducking back down as Lucy Bishop sent a glance across towards the shop.
“You think she knows we went to Garret and Eldred’s?” Oz asked, perturbed.
“Must have seen us go in.” Ruff nodded.
“Bet she goes in and asks him what we bought,” Ellie said.
“I told you she’d been acting funny around me,” Oz said, his mind now racing. ”But why is she following us?”
“Obvious, I’d have thought,” Ellie said. “She’s probably after the artefacts, too.”
Oz wanted to scoff at this suggestion, but there didn’t seem to be any other explanation that fit. “I’ll have to hide the trinket box and the dor,” he said suddenly. “Soon as we get back to Penwurt.”
“Why don’t we split up and meet later? Try and throw her off the scent,” Ellie suggested.
They stood in the run-down shop discussing their options. It was Oz who finally came up with the plan. He realised that it was likely to be him, more than anyone else, Lucy Bishop would follow. He quickly gave the dor to Ellie and, in hushed tones, explained what he had in mind.
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