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The Rain Dragon Rescue, Page 2

Suzanne Selfors

  Grandpa Abe stood and leaned on his cane. “My toaster’s missing.”

  “I can’t find my spatula,” someone said.

  “And I can’t find my favorite fork.”

  “My watering can is gone.”

  The hall buzzed with voices as everyone began calling out missing items. All the items had one thing in common—they were made of metal. How weird, Ben thought.

  Mrs. Mulberry clapped her hands for silence, then pointed a suspicious finger at the second row. “Pearl Petal? Are you the culprit?” Everyone turned to look at Pearl. She had a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker.

  “Me?” Pearl scrambled onto the bench and stood as tall as she could, towering over the mostly gray- and white-haired audience. That’s when Ben noticed Pearl’s pink shoes. During their last visit to Dr. Woo’s hospital, Pearl and Ben had met a leprechaun who was being treated for a head cold. The leprechaun took a liking to Pearl and gave her the shoes.

  “I didn’t do it,” Pearl said. “I already have a toaster and a spatula and plenty of forks. And why would I want a mailbox and a garbage can? That’s ridiculous.” Her parents, who were sitting in the front row, nodded in agreement. Pearl sat back down with a loud “hmmph.”

  “If it wasn’t Pearl, then who?” Mrs. Mulberry tapped her toe. “It seems odd that we have two new people in Buttonville, and suddenly, things start disappearing. One of those new people is Ben Silverstein. The other is Dr. Woo.” She pointed again. “Do you know anything about this, Ben?”

  “No,” Ben said, swallowing hard. “I don’t know anything. Zero. Zip. Nada.” The back of his neck got all sweaty. “Absolutely nothing.”

  “That’s right,” Pearl said. “Ben knows absolutely nothing about those things disappearing.”

  Mrs. Mulberry cleared her throat. “Then there is only one conclusion to be made. Dr. Woo didn’t bother coming to our emergency meeting because…” She picked up the megaphone and said, “Dr. Woo is a thief. I demand that she be arrested.”

  Ben’s stomach went into a knot. Pearl grabbed his arm.

  “We have to do something,” she said. “We can’t let them arrest Dr. Woo.”


  Gasps of shock echoed throughout the hall. And because many of the gasping people were very old, coughing fits followed. Mr. Mutt had to turn up his oxygen tank. Mrs. Froot had to be slapped on the back. Someone’s dentures flew across the room.

  “Settle down, everyone.” The person issuing this order was Officer Milly. She worked for the Buttonville Police Force. She was also Pearl’s aunt. Her polished black shoes squeaked as she walked onto the stage. Her police badge was so shiny Ben had to squint against the glare. She folded her arms and peered over the rims of her dark glasses at Mrs. Mulberry. “You can’t accuse someone of committing a crime without proof. Do you have proof?”

  “I may not have proof, but I have plenty of questions,” Mrs. Mulberry said, smiling so big her gums showed above her teeth. “Question number one: Why did Dr. Woo move here? Question number two: Why did she open a worm hospital when no one in Buttonville has a pet worm? Question three: Why does she keep the gate to her hospital locked at all times?”

  Ben and Pearl looked at each other. They knew the answers but didn’t dare say anything. They’d signed contracts of secrecy, after all.

  Mrs. Mulberry continued. “I believe Dr. Woo keeps her gate locked because she’s the person who’s stealing our things.”

  “A locked gate is not proof of anything,” Officer Milly pointed out. “Have you been inside the hospital? Have you witnessed suspicious activity?”

  “Ben and Pearl have been inside,” Victoria Mulberry said as she looked up from her book. Her blue braces sparkled with spit. “They work at the hospital, so they’d know if Dr. Woo is stealing.”

  Ben fidgeted on the bench. Things were moving in a bad direction. But at least no one had mentioned a dragon.

  Officer Milly slid her glasses down her nose and looked directly at Ben and Pearl. “Have either of you seen any of the stolen items inside Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital?”

  “No,” Ben and Pearl answered, which was the one hundred percent truth. They’d seen all sorts of other stuff, like a leprechaun with a head cold, a sasquatch with foot fungus, and a redheaded man with a tail. But no missing toaster, spatula, garbage can, mailbox, or fork.

  “Dr. Woo isn’t a thief,” Ben added so loudly that his voice echoed off the walls. He thought Dr. Woo was amazing. She’d given him two certificates of merit, which he’d tucked into his sock drawer. “She’d never steal. She’s a nice person.” Her dragon, however, was another matter entirely.

  Mrs. Mulberry snorted. “How do we know she’s nice? We’ve never met her.”

  “If my grandson says she’s a nice person, then she’s a nice person,” Grandpa Abe said. He took off his canvas hat and pointed his cane at the stage. “You should live so long, Martha Mulberry, to be as nice a person as Dr. Woo.”

  “I want my questions answered,” Mrs. Mulberry said with a stomp of her foot. “There’s a thief on the loose. I demand that Dr. Woo come out of her worm hospital and talk to us. And if she won’t come out, then we’ll force our way in.”

  A few heads nodded. Some people mumbled in agreement. Officer Milly took out a pad of paper and a pen. “There’s no need to force your way into the hospital, Martha. I will handle the investigation. First, I need to make a list of the missing items.”

  As everyone else began to move toward the stage, Pearl motioned to Ben and he followed her up the aisle. “That Mrs. Mulberry is a pain in the rump,” she said as soon as they’d stepped outside.

  “Pearl, there’s something I need to tell you.” Ben closed the Town Hall door. “Last night—”

  But Pearl wasn’t listening. “What if Mrs. Mulberry forces her way into the hospital?”

  “That would be terrible,” Ben said. “If people found out Dr. Woo’s secrets, she might have to leave. And then our apprenticeships would be over.”

  “Well, I’m not letting that happen.” Pearl kicked a red button down the steps. “I’m going to find the thief and—”

  Plop! Something bounced off Pearl’s head. It was a clump of moss that had rolled down the roof. Pearl furrowed her brow. “What was I saying?”

  “You were saying that you were going to find the thief,” Ben said. “But you don’t need to, because—”

  A scratching sound caught his attention. More clumps fell, landing on the ground around Pearl’s and Ben’s feet. “Do you hear that?” he asked. “It sounds like something’s on the roof.”

  Ben hurried down the steps and onto the sidewalk so he could get a better view. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he scanned the moss-covered shingles. He’d expected to find a bird hopping around or a squirrel scurrying about, but there was no sign of anything. Then his gaze traveled up the clock tower. He took a sharp breath.

  A large black shape was perched at the very top.

  “Uh-oh,” Ben said.

  “What’s the matter?” Pearl joined him on the sidewalk. “What do you see? Oh… wow!”

  The dragon’s eyes glowed like red lightbulbs. It gripped the tower’s steeple with all four paws, balancing like an elephant on a circus platform.

  Ben looked around. Luckily, everyone was still inside the hall, talking to Officer Milly. “Hey!” he called, waving. This was no time to be cautious. “Go away. Shoo. Before someone sees you.”

  The dragon ignored Ben. It leaned over and gripped the clock’s rim with its front paws. The tower trembled. Then the dragon bit down on the clock’s shiny minute hand.

  “What’s it doing?” Pearl asked.

  “It’s stealing things that are made of metal,” Ben said.

  With a shake of its head, the dragon ripped the hand free. Nuts and bolts sprang into the air, then bounced down the roof.

  “Hey!” Ben yelled. “You’d better stop doing that!”

  The dragon unfolded its wings and took to the sky, the prize clamped
in its mouth.

  “Wait a minute,” Pearl said. “Does this mean…?”

  “Yep,” Ben said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. The dragon is the thief.”

  “But that’s the dragon that lives on the hospital roof,” Pearl said. “So if it’s stealing things from Buttonville…” She lowered her voice. “That means Mrs. Mulberry is right. Dr. Woo is responsible.”

  “What are you looking at?”

  Both Ben and Pearl cringed. Victoria Mulberry had sneaked up like a silent fart. After squeezing between them, she pushed her thick glasses up her nose and stared at the sky. The dragon was still in view, its wings flapping gracefully.

  “Holy cow,” Victoria said. “That looks like a dragon.”

  Ben laughed nervously. “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything.”

  “Up there.” Victoria pointed. The creature swooped in a circle, then disappeared behind the tall treetops that surrounded Buttonville. “That looked exactly like a dragon.”

  A story formed in Ben’s mind. He was good at making up stories on the spot. It was like a superpower. “That was a helicopter designed to look like a dragon. It’s a top secret project my father’s working on. He’s in military intelligence. You can’t say anything about it or you’ll compromise our nation’s security.” He tried to sound serious.

  Pearl nodded. “Yep, that’s right. Military intelligence.”

  Victoria scratched her freckled nose. “You’re making that up,” she said. “My mom told me your dad’s a lawyer. She said your parents are getting a divorce and that’s why you came to stay with your grandfather.”

  Ben hated that d word. He stuck his hands into his pockets and turned away.

  “That’s a rotten thing to say,” Pearl told Victoria. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

  Victoria frowned. “I’m just repeating what my mom said.”

  Pearl put her hands on her hips. “Maybe your mom should mind her own business.”

  “My mom says the truth is everyone’s business.”

  “The truth? You want to talk about the truth?” Pearl’s cheeks turned red. She stuck her face right up to Victoria’s. “Well, guess what, Victoria? That thing was a dragon. A real fire-breathing dragon, and Ben and I know where it lives and you don’t. So there.” Pearl smiled triumphantly, revealing the big gap between her front teeth. Then her smile collapsed. “Oops.”

  Victoria’s eyes got so wide behind her glasses they looked like they might pop out of her head. She ran up the Town Hall steps and burst through the door. “Mom!” she hollered.

  “Drat,” Pearl mumbled. “Guess I shouldn’t have told her that.”

  “Of course you shouldn’t have!” Ben’s voice cracked. He appreciated the fact that Pearl had stood up for him—they’d only known each other for a few days—but why’d she have to spill one of their secrets? “We’d better go warn the doctor.”


  A tall wrought-iron fence surrounded the old building that had once been the Buttonville Button Factory. The sign hanging from the gate read:

  The entry gate was locked with a padlock, and the fence on either side of it had tips as sharp as swords. But down the sidewalk, behind a clump of trees, Pearl had discovered a section where the tips had rusted away. She and Ben quickly climbed over.

  As they raced across the overgrown lawn, a few buttons crunched beneath Ben’s sneakers. Pearl’s legs were longer, making her a faster runner. Even though Ben was just as eager to tell Dr. Woo that her dragon was stealing things, Pearl reached the front door first.

  A note taped to the door read:

  Pearl pounded so hard the door rattled. Ben might have told her that it was rude to pound on someone’s door, but this was definitely an emergency. “Hello?” she called. “Hello, hello?”

  Ben fidgeted. He looked over his shoulder, fearing that at any moment a police car would drive up and park outside the gate, and Officer Milly would shout, “Attention, Dr. Woo, come out with your hands up. We know everything!”

  Ben knocked. “Hello?” he called. “It’s important. We need to—”

  The sound of a dead bolt sliding open was followed by the sound of another dead bolt and another. Then a couple more. Five? During the last visit, they’d been told that a very dangerous person wanted to get inside the hospital. Five bolts seemed like a good idea, though they sure took a lot of time.

  Finally, the door flew open.

  A gentleman stood inside the hospital’s entryway. The kids knew him as Mr. Tabby, the assistant to Dr. Woo. But on this day he looked different. Instead of his usual pressed trousers and vest, he wore a blue satin bathrobe and matching slippers. His long red hair was wound up in curlers, as was his mustache. “Yes?” he asked in a peevish way, his yellow eyes narrowing. “May I help you?”

  For a moment, Ben forgot why he and Pearl were standing on the hospital’s front stoop. His attention was drawn to the box held in Mr. Tabby’s hand. The label read:

  Mr. Tabby reached into the box and removed a square cracker that appeared to have a long, rubbery tail. Ben cringed as Mr. Tabby popped it into his mouth, slurping the tail like a spaghetti noodle. “Would you like one?” Mr. Tabby asked after licking his lips.

  “No, thank you,” Ben said. What he actually wanted to say was, “Eeew, gross.”

  “I’ll take one.” Pearl reached into the box and pulled out a cracker. She held it by the tail. “Uh, how come it’s furry?”

  Mr. Tabby ignored the question. “Why are you here?”

  Ben was about to explain, but Pearl was quicker. “The dragon is stealing things. Lots and lots of things. Victoria saw it. She told her mom. Dr. Woo will get into trouble and—”

  “What dragon?”

  “The one that lives on the hospital’s roof.” Pearl pointed upward. “We know it lives up there. You don’t have to pretend it doesn’t. We’ve seen it flying around.”

  “Can we come in and talk to Dr. Woo?” Ben asked.

  Mr. Tabby tapped his foot. “Are you aware that today is not a Monday, a Wednesday, or a Friday?”

  “Yes,” Ben said. “It’s Tuesday.”

  “And are you further aware that you are only supposed to be here on a Monday, a Wednesday, or a Friday?”

  Pearl bounced on her toes. “Yeah, we know, but—”

  “Tuesday is my day off. My only day off.” A low growl sounded in Mr. Tabby’s throat. “Therefore, on Tuesday, matters regarding the Known World are not my concern.”

  Ben still wasn’t used to hearing the term Known World. That’s what Dr. Woo and Mr. Tabby called the real world in which Ben and Pearl lived. There was also an Imaginary World, but neither Pearl nor Ben had been there.

  “I bid you good day.” And with that, the door slammed shut. The CLOSED note flapped as the five dead bolts slid back into place.

  “Can’t we talk to Dr. Woo?” Pearl hollered. There was no reply. She sighed. “I guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Unless…” She turned her green eyes upward.

  “Oh no, I’m not climbing that rusty old fire escape,” Ben said. “It’s ten floors. We could fall.” He had yet to brave the rock-climbing wall at his parents’ country club, and it was only four floors high.

  “But if we go up there, we can tell the dragon to stop stealing.”

  “I already tried talking to it, but it ignored me,” Ben said. “I don’t think dragons understand people language.” There was nothing else to be done. They couldn’t tell Dr. Woo about the situation today, so they’d have to wait for tomorrow. “Besides, what if it’s a mean dragon? They breathe fire.”

  “Yeah, okay.” Pearl tossed the furry cracker into the grass. “I don’t have time to climb a building anyway. I have to help my parents at the Dollar Store. We got a new shipment of socks from China.”

  Ben sighed. “Guess I’m stuck playing board games at the senior center.” Though relieved he wouldn’t be scaling the side of a building, he wasn’t looking forward to spending time in th
at stuffy room filled with the scent of mentholated arthritis ointment.

  Once they’d climbed back over the fence and were safely on the sidewalk, Pearl scrunched up her face as if she’d stubbed her toe. “I’m worried about getting into trouble.” She spat her gum into a garbage can. “I told Victoria about the dragon. Does that mean I broke the contract of secrecy?”

  Ben mulled this over. There’d been a lot of writing on the piece of paper they’d both signed. And a lot of very small type. He hadn’t read it all the way through. “I can’t be certain, but I think you’re safe. You didn’t say anything about Dr. Woo, and you didn’t say anything about her taking care of Imaginary creatures.”

  Pearl pulled a pack of Dollar Store gum from her pocket. She unwrapped a piece and popped it in her mouth. Then she handed one to Ben. “Do you think I’ll get fired?”

  “No,” Ben said as he chewed. But the worried look on Pearl’s face didn’t go away. “Guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”


  At seven thirty Wednesday morning, Ben met Pearl in front of the Dollar Store. Pearl and her parents lived above the store, and her great-aunt Gladys lived in the basement apartment. The windows were decorated with all sorts of items you could buy for a dollar, from lightbulbs and lunchboxes to lemons and loofahs. Pearl was munching on a sandwich made from two waffles, scrambled eggs, and bacon. She loved turning her meals into sandwiches. “I’m super tired,” she explained, her mouth half full. “I was up most of the night worrying.”

  “Me too,” Ben said with an air-sucking yawn.

  After leaving Pearl yesterday, Ben had played twenty-three games of checkers at the senior center. He’d purchased a new toaster at the hardware store. He’d eaten a dinner of leftover brisket and mashed potatoes and listened to his grandfather’s stories about the good old days. Then he’d gone to bed. But every sound had drawn him to the window, searching the sky for the dragon. Snooze hadn’t seemed concerned about the dragon’s return. He’d waddled on his wheel and nibbled corn kernels. Barnaby, who’d eaten the dragon’s scale, had slept peacefully. But for Ben, it had been a very long night.