For the last four days, I have been forced to finish correcting my second galley to my second book, ‘The Doll in the Wall’. So, for 14 hours every day, starting at 6 a.m. I would wedge my backside into a booth at Panera, dose myself up on 100,000 calorie frozen mochas, and settle in for the long haul . . . a very, very long haul . . . and I’ve decided that I’m taking you all down with me . . .
THE DOLL IN THE WALL
“Checkmate to the black king…” begins the eerie missive found by Bella. It had been hidden in a pub’s wall along with a cache of toys, a child’s clothes, and a century-old photograph of two children, one of whom is a little boy holding the same doll found in the wall with the note.
Who, or what, is the black king, and why is the writer of the message frightened for their life? Who are the children in the photograph? What is the link between the hidden items and a chess game? And most puzzling of all, how is it possible that the abandoned hundred-year-old doll is familiar to members of Bella’s family?
Using forgotten photographs, memories, and the game of chess, Bella and her friend Tamsin learn the secrets of the doll in the wall.
The Doll in the Wall, Chapter 1, page 1 . . .
It all started that Saturday morning when we found the doll.
The doll in the wall.
That phrase has a disturbing and sinister Hitchcockian ring to it. The note that came with the doll was even more worthy of Alfred. But the subsequent events that came from our eerie discovery were more Danny Kaye than anything else – the doll in the wall meets the chalice in the palace.
The drama began unfolding that Saturday. The mystery began, traveling from the past to the present like a clog that runs backwards until it surfaces in the tub like a regurgitated toupee while you’re shaving your legs. I should have known that I was heading toward mystery, adventure, terror, and, of course, hilarity, not to mention hanging by the seat of my pants over the black void of death while my two great-aunts toddled away on their very first crime spree.
It was that kind of morning.
It started when we got lost in service.
When I speak of ‘going in service,’ I’m talking about my volunteer teaching career, or ‘regular pioneering,’ as it is referred to. And when I say ‘lost,’ I’m not talking about missing the lane you were supposed to turn on. I’m talking about the kind of lost where you take the wrong road to your return visit and end up in some forsaken Welsh coastal village with a one-eyed seagull, a tarp covered dinghy, and a name like Glynnfyddynych, or Orr. This would take some doing since we were making return visits in the tiny, forsaken Cornish fishing village of Halfmoon, England. And when I speak about a ‘return visit,’ I’m referring to visiting a Bible student.
That’s what I teach – the Bible. That amazing book made up of 66 little books, written by 40 different men over a period of 1,600 years. The Bible, not the world’s religions, which are two completely different things.
It was Saturday and we were finishing our meeting for service. We were just getting ready to organize ourselves into our respective groups. As was usual, we were meeting in our upper chamber. And, also as usual, the only one utterly confused that morning was eighty-one-year-old Elsie Schnitzler from Vienna. She was digging in her capacious book bag like a terrier in a compost bin and muttering loudly to herself. Elsie is nearly deaf and speaks in thickly accented shouts that sound as if she is coughing up wet fishhooks.
“Du bist mein…”
Michael caught my eye and grinned, folding his arms across his chest as he continued to watch Elsie paw her literature in a vain attempt to locate whatever it was she was looking for.
“Elsie, dear, maybe I can help,” warbled elderly Chloe O’Rourke, soon to be elderly Mrs. Jasper Penhallow.
Okay, most of our group is elderly. We have sixty-seven publishers – or volunteer teachers – and roughly forty of them cannot shift their arthritic hips well enough to climb stairs on stormy nights. Or on foggy nights. Or in January. Or in February, either, for that matter. This is not good since the upper chamber we meet in is a rented room over The Drown’d Man, a pub off of the village’s High Street.
“Ach!. . .” Elsie gave up in frustration. “I cannot find it!”
“Find what?” my brother asked.
Elsie shifted her bright blue gaze to his. “My return visit book!” she shouted in her usual hard-of-hearing voice. “I haff a return visit I needed to make today! I know the way, but not the exact lane!”
“Do you think you can find it if someone went with you?”
“Maybe!” she boomed guardedly.
“Bella?” My brother fixed his eyes on me. “Would you and Tamsin like to go with her?”
Tamsin Hugo, my pioneer partner, is twenty years old, being six months older than I am, and is Welsh in spite of her French surname. I looked at her as she nodded.
“We can take my car,” she spoke up. Tamsin has a sweet little red Mini Cooper that looks like a maraschino cherry on steroids. I pictured Elsie’s ample haunches wedged painfully in the back seat, and hastily leaned over to Tamsin.
“I’ll help you wedge Elsie in the front, and I’ll sit in back,” I volunteered in a whisper. Elsie’s haunches wedged in the nonexistent backseat of the Mini boggled the mind. Elsie wedged in the front seat pressed up against the windscreen was better. Only marginally better. At least it was do-able. I could always lie horizontally in a fetal position in the back with my book bag resting on my shins. Chloe O’Rourke raised her hand.
“I’ll go with them,” she announced.
Which was how we got lost.