“So, Dr. Brighthead,” asked Mr. Snowbers nervously, “Is Mr. Goodheart…agreeable?”
“He doesn’t feel, at his age, that he is qualified to run a multinational company. We are also worried about what will happen if it is publicized that a teenager is running such an extensive business.”
Snowbers sighed. “According to Mr. Wilson’s will, I was to run the company until I found a guardian for the girls; only if I couldn’t would the girls have become my wards and the company mine. Once custody is legally established, all authority will transfer to Mr. Goodheart. I can’t offer any advice; it must be his decision.”
“And your honesty is why Mr. Goodheart wishes to retain you to look after the legal interests of Wilson Co. And even though, as you said, all authority is his, he wishes your input in choosing a… Board of Directors to run the company. He will stay in the background, and his actual ownership will be kept on a need-to-know basis. Since, however, he is my foster son, the Institute of Science will have to have a say as well. Security concerns. You understand.”
“Of course. I have some people in mind who should be excellent candidates.”
“And now that that’s settled, when can Ace meet the children?”
“Whoa,” gawked Pewee.
Ryu whistled. “Some house!”
Dirk cocked his head. “If this is what those kids are used to, you are definitely going to have to rebuild that shack at your airfield.”
Ace shook his head. “I was thinking of having them in permanent residence at the Institute. Safer that way.”
“What?” yelled Aggie. “You can’t do that to three ten-year-olds!”
“Can’t handle three little girls?” Dirk smirked.
“Where are the children?” Dr. Brighthead asked.
“Where are all the servants? A house this big should have lots,” Pewee said.
“The servants were well remembered in the will, and most chose to retire or pursue other career paths,” said Mr. Snowbers, motioning them up the path. “The children should be on the grounds. The bodyguards –four of them- have been with the family for years. They and the nanny have strict orders to keep the girls on the grounds for now.”
“What about school?” asked Pewee.
“Between Kasey’s congenital illness and Emily, er, her, er…well, they have private tutors.”
Ace held up his hand. “Questions: One, why more than one tutor? Two, what’s the deal with Emily? You haven’t answered a single question about her with anything resembling a straight answer. All we know is she’s the eldest.”
Snowbers grimaced and reminded himself the papers were all signed and sealed; the boy couldn’t back out now. “Well, Kasey and Mary are rather bright, a couple years ahead of grade level. Gentle, sweet, and remarkably cheerful, especially considering how dehabilitating Kasey’s weakness of the lungs can be at times. But Emily…Emily.” He shook his head.
“She’s… really indescribable. But ‘mischief-making genius’ comes close. She respects her tutor, her senseis, and the bodyguards, but the rest of the staff…Wilson knew how to keep her in line.”
“So the staff took their money and ran,” Dirk said.
“What do you mean by ‘genius’?” asked Dr. Brighthead.
“Her IQ is off any known scale, and she possesses a photographic memory. She passed a high-school equivalency exam six months ago, just after she turned ten. She taking college courses now, some of them online. Her tutors are from the local college, and she’s burning through the material at an incredible rate. Part of the reason Wilson got her started on martial arts five years ago was so she wouldn’t spend so much time at her desk. I don’t even know what belt level she’s at.
“Unfortunately, she combines these incredible traits with an absolute flair for fiendish pranks. Wilson’s been dead for less than two months, and we’re on nanny number five.”
Ace winced. Dr. Brighthead looked thoughtful.
Led by Snowbers, the team and Brighthead dashed through the house and out back. They were greeted by what was left of a lovely statue (Artemis?), a rig of metal bars and pulleys, a pile of goop, and a graceful fountain (with dolphins), with a middle-aged woman climbing out of it. She wiped the water from her eyes, then spotted Snowbers.
“Mr. Snowbers, I want my severance check.”
“Right now. That girl is impossible. I’m quitting. Now.”
Snowbers sighed. “All right. I’ll have it ready after you’ve changed and packed.”
She hmmphed and stomped into the house.
Giggles and a howl of laughter attracted their attention. On a low wall, two girls sat. One had very dark brown hair and deep blue eyes. The other was a very pale blond with eyes of summer-sky blue. They were focused on a third girl rolling on the grass.
“Oh my,” whispered Aggie.
The girl’s hair was a shade lighter than Ace’s, and her eyes –when they could see them- were a shade darker. But the resemblance between her and Ace was incredible.
The girl sat up and wiped her eyes. “Oh, man!” she gasped. “That was the best yet!”
“Oh. Hi. Who’re these guys, Mr. Snowbers?”
“Emily, that’s the fifth-“
“I’m Dr. Brighthead. These are Dirk Daring, Agatha June, her brother Pewee, and Hoot Owl. And this is Ace Goodheart.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed, her expression becoming far too old for her as she looked Ace up and down. “We’ll see.” She pointed to the pair on the wall. “Brown hair is Mary. Blondie is Kasey.”
“Pleased to meet all of you,” Aggie said pleasantly. The girls nodded shyly.
“Mr. Snowbers!” The ex-nanny came out of the house.
“Right here.” He held out a check. “Have a nice day, Mrs.-“
She grabbed it and stormed off. After a few minutes, they heard a car screeching down the driveway.
“Mr. Wilson left an account for expenses such as this,” explained Snowbers. “Hopefully the amount I added to her severance pay will keep her from suing. Two of the others nearly did.”
Pewee had been examining the rig. “So you used the statue as anchorage and this thing as leverage to accelerate the slippage caused by the goo to toss her in the fountain?”
Emily looked surprised. “Ye-es. She weighed a bit more than I thought, and apparently there was a flaw or crack in the statue –it wasn’t supposed to break!”
What have I gotten myself into? Ace thought desperately.