It was the summer of 2002. A warm sunny August Sunday that could only be spent outside. At least Detective Chef Inspector Derek Ward thought so. He was for once not solving a crime. He smiled as he entered the lounge of his home, Guardian Cottage in Broadland City. He was out of character today, wearing a green and cream striped shirt over black trousers. He never strayed away from his slate grey suits and matching trench coat as a rule. There was his six-year-old granddaughter Holly sat on the mat in front of the fireplace. She looked happy wearing the cutest sky blue pinafore dress. It picked up her icy blue eyes and complemented her shiny pigtails of black hair beautifully. The detective had fondly called her his Treasure from the moment he first held her at her birth and had done so ever since. Young Holly wasn’t playing with toys on the floor. In fact she was helping her grandmother Joanne do some needlepoint sewing. Joanne was Derek’s wife, a geography teacher and career complainer. She was unmissable with her short magenta hair and denim skirts.
“Your granddad thinks we should go out for a trip, Treasure. What do you think?” Derek said with a happiness born of being with his family on a beautiful day.
“I’d like that Granddad. Oh look, look!” Holly bounded up and showed him a little white pony. “I did it, I solved your code on my own!” she went on full of excitement and pride. Derek scooped her into his arms and hugged her proudly. He had always felt she possessed a strong logic and inquisitive nature. Through that, he loved to set her little puzzles and challenges. This one had been a simple little code ‘QGMJ HJARW AK AF LZW LWDWNAKAGF USTAFWL’ he’d presented it to Holly with the clue A=S and let her work on it while he was tending the greenhouse. The first few times he gave her these challenges, she’d grown frustrated at not understanding or being able to break them. Those times Derek fondly set to work teaching her the ropes of simple code breaking and puzzle solving. He taught her to use the frustration to focus herself to the challenge. Now she would relax and go right to work with the desire to please him. With each success came more and more difficult puzzles. Challenges she would always find a way to beat and overcome with just a little coaching from her proud granddad.
“Well done my Treasure. I knew you could do it. We’ll try a Playfair cipher next.” Derek put her down beside Joanne and smiled. “Now how about we go to the car boot sale and get you something nice and an ice cream.” he offered.
“I’d like that Granddad.” Holly beamed.
“Hmm that’ll be nice. We could visit the river and the ducks too.” Joanne replied. “I don’t know why you insist on teaching our granddaughter these codes for though Derek. It’s just not normal for a little girl to do that!” she complained.
“Our Treasure is a bright and clever young lady who deserves the chance to learn as much as possible and I love teaching her.” Derek told her with a fond sparkle in his thoughtful hazel green eyes.
“And it’s fun Nanny.” Holly bounded off the sofa and ran to get her sandals on. “I wish Mummy could come with us too!” she called from the hall.
“We all do sweetheart but she’s doing us proud and earning lots of money at the restaurant.” Joanne replied while putting her needlepoint work in her old popinjay parrot workbox. The art of needlepoint and the old needle work box had been in the family for generations. It came with the tradition of the ladies of the family drinking Earl Grey tea too. Joanne was proud that she was able to pass those traditions on to Holly now. Even if the little girl was better at pricking herself with the needles than sewing at the moment!
Holly’s mother was young Restauranteur Carrie Ward. She had opened the Workhouse Restaurant in two thousand. She’d worked so hard every day since then, to make it a success. With the hiring of Head Chef Timothy O’Brian it was growing stronger by the month now. Unfortunately being at the helm of a busy restaurant left her unable to be with her daughter as often as she’d like. At least she knew young Holly was well looked after with her grandparents. Failing that the Workhouse’s Congolese, barman and Mixologist Masego was a great, nurturing baby sitter. Holly already knew a few Swahili and French words from him. Where was Holly’s father, well in 1999 when she was three he made his greatest mistake. He had become a drunk, the constant inebriation led him to being violent with poor Carrie. One outburst left both her and Holly hurt, leaving Derek no choice but to evict him to protect his precious girls. So now Holly had no Father. That was something both Derek and Masego made up for in her life to some extent and Carrie was grateful for that.
Half an hour later Derek turned his tired old white Citroen onto the Arming Hall Car Booting field. It was a large field that sloped down on to the Yare River and was quite picturesque on any other day. On a Sunday it simply was not. It was filled with rows and rows of cars, caravans and stalls. The cars all had trestle tables that were straining and close to collapse, under mounds of every item that could possibly come out of a car’s boot. Amid them were food stands filling the air with white smoke and delicious smells. Holly glued her eyes to the window and grew excited at the sight of all the people and colours on the field. Derek found a space and swiftly parked up. Coming around the back of his car he watched Joanne unclip Holly from her protective seat. She helped her on with her little blue cloth summer hat and white sunglasses then smiled.
“Now I’m ready!” Holly exclaimed with the urge to get going.
“Yes you are but there’s rules to follow first. We’d like you to hold one of our hands at all times as its busy here, please. You do that all the way around and don’t run off, you’ll get to buy some things and have your ice cream, okay?” Joanne instructed firmly.
“I will Nanny.” Holly immediately took her Granddad’s big hand and smiled at him. He simply beamed back as they set off together. Yes he was a proud man walking with his granddaughter at the car boot sale, for sure.
“Right Treasure, Granddad wants a new spade as he broke his this morning. He also wants a pretty flower or too for the garden. Nanny wants a new clown outfit to match her hair. What does Holly want?” he said through her giggles.
“Nanny isn’t a clown, her hair is lovely. You’re silly Granddad.” she replied. Joanne laughed too having taken Holly’s other hand.
“Thank you sweetheart. Don’t you worry, Nanny will belt Granddad later.” she said as they reached the first busy line of stalls at the bottom of the field. Here Holly could see cows in the field across the sparkling, reedy river.
Starting to look at the stalls this way ended the browsing at the ice cream van, making it the perfect way to do it.
“So what would you like to buy?” Joanne glanced over a sea of board games teddy bears and dolls spread over blankets beside a stall selling mainly action figures.
“Yes is there anything Holly wants today?” Derek asked.
“Holly doesn’t know, she’ll tell you if she see’s anything.” the little girl put her eyes over a series of boxes filled with old books at the next stall. “Ugh not those they’re too dusty!” she commented. Derek had to agree having picked up a little pottery vase to see if it had a maker’s name upon it. If it was Troika he would buy it at once. Joanne wasn’t smiling in fact she was scowling with annoyance at him.
“Oh Derek, now you have Holly speaking in third person!” she grumbled. “Teach her properly please.” she ordered.
“Yes dear.” Derek stopped a tall man flattening him and Holly by not looking where he going. Then made for a gap between a dozen ladies and gentleman browsing at the next set of tables. The lady at this one was selling her home-grown plants leaving the detective quite interested.
“The big yellow flower is pretty Granddad.” Holly commented having freed a hand to stroke a black Labrador that had come to give her a kissy lick. “Hey doggy, you’re lovely.” she told it. The owner, a grey haired gentleman, tipped an imaginary hat to her, smiled and moved on with his dog.
“These are called Dahlias and those are Chrysanthemums.” Derek indicated more trays of yellow and white flowers. “We’ll have some of each, I think.” Derek paid a modest sum and stepped away to put his purchases in the car.
“Come on Holly, well go and look at this table of pretty things while we wait for Granddad.” Joanne decided. She’d seen a large collection of things she was sure the little girl would like.
When Derek returned Joanne had led Holly to a stall with a big table and blanket loaded with dolls, doll houses, furnishings and clothing. Everything a doll could need seemed to be here. Although she looked at them with a smile, Holly never really found interest in these sorts of things. She had always preferred toys that enabled her to make or create something.
“Wow Treasure, there’s some nice dolls here.” Derek remarked having rejoined her. Holly took his hand again at once. “Is there one you’d like here?” he asked. Holly shook her head and led him toward the next stall. She looked up at him causing her pigtails to dance behind her.
“No let’s find your spade Granddad. I don’t want any of those nice dollies.” she said with such sincerity for a six-year-old. “Look, do you want a big spade or a little one, like this?” she questioned having bent to take an eight inch long red spade from a cardboard box.
“Well spotted Treasure but that’s too small. In fact it’s called a trowel.” Derek told her.
“Yes and Granddad has dozens in the greenhouse!” Joanne added while perusing the table of bric-a-brac. It was a basket of coloured cotton spools that interested her. They were all the same brand she always used when doing her needlepoint. “Nanny’s going to get some of these, sweetheart but I need your help. You see I normally pay, one pound twenty for each colour. These are twenty pence each. Can you tell how many I can get for a pound?” she challenged. Holly stretched to look at all the colours in the basket thoughtfully. Then gave a smile and nod.
“Well I know five times, two pennies is ten pence. So five times twenty pence must be a hundred pence. That’s a pound, so you can buy five Nanny.” the little girl gave a thoughtful yet hopeful look with her answer. It dissolved to a pleased smile for Joanne and Derek both applauded with the lady running the stall.
“That was well worked out, Treasure. Well done.” Derek told her with a prideful high-five.
“Yes that was amazing! You know according to Nanny’s curriculum books, you just did a sum for an eight year old.” Joanne selected some colours from the basket. “I’ll take these please.” She said with her purse in hand.
“I always told you, our Treasure was special.” Derek said, winking at Holly.
“I’m not special, I’m just a girl Granddad. I like counting that’s all.” Holly replied full of modesty. She took the pound from her Nanny and handed it to the lady to pay for the cotton.
“Thank you sweetie. Now for your cleverness, why don’t you select two more colours for your Nan as well?” the lady held out the basket. Holly saw a rainbow of colours there. She selected burgundy and a different, lighter blue to that Joanne had already chosen.
“I like these two. Thank you very much.” Holly gave a gracious smile and put them in her Nanny’s handbag with the others.
“My pleasure, you keep counting like that and you’ll be a mathematical genius in no time.” the lady told her leaving Derek beaming at his granddaughter as they headed on again.
The detective led on and the three began working up and down the hot and busy lines of sun-kissed stalls. They saw everything from piles of clothes, tools and drinks glasses to games and consoles and antiques, among hundreds of other things. Most everything was second-hand but serviceable, although a lot of it was also useless junk. There was a fellow or too that he detective felt might be flogging stolen things too. Of course he wasn’t at work so he decided to ignore them for once. At one stall, Joanne helped Holly select a couple of books. Being a teacher she always liked to see her granddaughter reading stories. Detective Derek couldn’t turn a blind eye to everything. He stopped a teenager stealing games from another stall. Soon after that he bought cold drinks from a refreshments stand. Little Holly sipped her blackcurrant juice thirstily. She was sat amid a collection of old, white plastic chairs and tables.
“Phew! It’s hot today!” Derek exclaimed, his eyes scanning above the stalls, taking in the perfect blue sky and scorching, bright sun. He was sweating from simply walking around. Joanne sat down and withdrew a yellow bottle from her bag. She allowed the fragrance of coconut to fill the air having begun applying the suntan lotion to Hollys skin. She concentrated on her blushing cheeks and nose as well as her neck, arms and legs. She’d given her a coating before leaving. However at twenty-seven degrees centigrade another coat of protective lotion was always a good idea.
“There that’ll stop you becoming a lobster.” she remarked having made Holly giggle by poking her nose as she finished.
“Thank you Nanny, Chef Tim cooks yucky lobsters sometimes, I don’t want to be like one of them. Now it’s your turn.” Holly took the bottle and did her arms as well. “We still haven’t found that spade Granddad.” she remarked. Derek nodded to a man he knew to be a fellow police officer then focussed on her.
“You know we might not find one today. These sales are an enigma. You see when you really want something like a spade, you won’t find it here. You’ll buy it elsewhere another day. Then when you go to the very next sale, there will be a million spades filling the whole blooming field!” he told her. Holly giggled at the idea of a field full of spades.
“That’s silly Granddad, we’ll find one.” the little girl took his hand with her carton of juice in the other. “Come on let’s try the next line.” she urged with the desire to help him get his spade here somewhere.
“With that determination we can’t fail.” Derek let her lead on with the biggest smile.
Through the bustle of adult’s children and dogs in the next few aisles they went. The biggest bustle was being created by a stall auctioning off garden ornaments at extraordinarily cheap prices. Guardian Cottage had two gardens full of ornaments and statues. The elder Wards struggled but forced themselves not to buy anymore today. Just two stalls further on Holly let out a delighted squeal and ran to look.
“Granddad, Granddad! There’s some spades. This man has lots!” she exclaimed. The whole stall was filled with rusty and old tools. It looked like the contents of several old sheds. There beside the table was a tarpaulin loaded with bigger tools and ancient lawn mowers. Amid them were a good dozen shovels and spades among forks, hoes and rakes.
“Ahh jackpot, well spotted!” Derek knelt beside Holly and looked at the offerings. He moved a few garden forks and rustier spades aside and selected a good one. “Yes this is an anodised aluminium spade with a good thick wooden handle. It’ll do the job nicely. Thank you for finding these Treasure.” Derek gave her a hug then presented her with the spade he wanted. It was well over a foot taller than she was but she held it strongly with both hands.
“I knew we’d find you one.” she told him happily.
“We weren’t going home until you did find one, were we?” Joanne remarked. Holly shook her pigtails and grinned at that.
“No, Granddad had to get a spade, he broke his this morning.” she confirmed while he negotiated and paid for the spade. Holy had been in the garden when he sunk the old spade into the vegetable patch and snapped the handle clean in two turning the earth. How she giggled when he hurled the handle on the compost heap and jumped about angrily. Happily With four pounds handed over, he had a new spade and the three could carry on again.
Holly walked along like an injured girl, with the spade as an enormous crutch. It was that difficult for her to manage the tall tool. Derek was about to offer to carry it for her when she came to a sudden stop. She was so entranced by something that she let the big tool go. The spade thudded into the grass as she walked away to a table. It was loaded with all kinds of glass, bronze and brass ornaments. Amid them were a few pretty boxes as well. The seller was a Japanese gentleman with a pointed, little beard. He looked upon the little girl with genial smile.
“Good afternoon young lady, welcome to my stall.” he greeted in a strangely strong voice with his palms together before him.
“Thank you.” Holly said. She walked right up to the table and took off her sunglasses. Her eyes taking in every detail of a black and white Zougan-Zaiku carved panda bear. It was inlaid into the top of an ornate wooden box, carved with stunning, striped Yosegi-Zaiku mosaic parquetry panels around the sides. “I love your box. Can I touch it?” she asked politely. The man gave a little bow and beckoned her around the table. Holly followed his direction and smiled when he put the fifteen by ten by five centimetre box in her hands.
“This is a very special box. To open it one must have the secret combination of precise manipulations. Only that one method will open the box. These old boxes are made by old craftsman in Japan and are called Hitsumi-Bako puzzle boxes.” he explained while watching the six-year-old. She was reverently playing her fingers over the intricate little box. Derek and Joanne had followed her, he was leaning on the spade and watching her with intrigue written on his face. He couldn’t help wondering why the box had drawn the six-year-olds attention so much.
“It’s so pretty.” she breathed while turning it about in her hands.
“It’s also far too complicated for a little girl.” remarked Joanne. “You should give it back and thank the man for showing you.” she added while fearing that Holly might break the box somehow.
Holly had other ideas, her fingers had given her a clue in the slightest movement. She had discovered something in the side of the box. With all eye on her, she carefully manipulated the moving part. A strip of the beautiful mosaic slid along the narrow side. The little girl quickly found a second two strips below it too. The Japanese man nodded appreciatively.
“You are a special little one. Use your intuition and you shall solve the puzzle.” he said. Holly glanced at him and then her Granddad. Both nodded and he smiled with full belief in her.
“Go on Treasure, you can do it!” he urged. Holly had found no more movements that side. She turned the box in her hands and focused again. Never did she show sign of growing annoyed, in fact the box seemed to relax her as she worked with it.
Joanne shook her head, little girls shouldn’t be playing with such complicated puzzle boxes, in her mind. Before her Holly found the next manipulations. She slid the panels on wide side open and smiled as her mind buzzed with enjoyment and hunger to open the box. The last narrow side seemed to be next. Again Holly found and carefully manipulated panels. There were three on this side. This time they freed only a small section of the final side panel. Derek was beaming fondly at her, he loved to see his granddaughter defying the odds and enjoying the challenge of solving a puzzle. He knew these boxes were fiendishly difficult and yet six-year-old Holly was slowly opening this one.
“She’ll never open it and get upset Derek. She’ll throw and break the box, I know…” Joanne spluttered to a stop and gasped. Holly had never considered that she couldn’t open the box for a second. As her nanny spoke her little finger nails had probed the half open side of the box. There she found one last movement. A rectangle of mosaic that slid down with some effort. As it reached the bottom of its manipulation, the panda lid popped open. Holly turned and took it off triumphantly. The Japanese man bowed low, his palms together before him respectfully. Rising again he applauded as he straightened his back. Derek cheered in delight and even a stunned Joanne had to clap with him.
“Ha, ha! Look at you! You did it Treasure!” Derek congratulated her with a sparkling smile and a hug. Holly felt victorious as she focussed on the Japanese man and gave him the box back.
“Thank you for letting me open it.” she said. Furrowing her brow she added. “I just knew I could do it somehow.”
“The pleasure was mine. Never have I seen such a young person open one of these boxes. Yet as soon as I saw you look at the box, I knew you would open it before me. I sense a great destiny coming for you. Yes young Holly, I feel you will be a mystery solver, a sleuth when the time is right. Now it pains me for I sold this box an hour ago. If I hadn’t it would have been yours as a prize for opening it. You must be rewarded for your victory over the box and so I present you this.” the man reached into a cardboard box beneath the table and withdrew a varnished 3D birch wood star. “This too is a puzzle. Just like the box had ten manipulations, this becomes ten pieces that must be put back together to complete the star. I feel it will keep you busy until another Hitsumi-Bako box comes your way.” he told her with reverence. Holly accepted the star and couldn’t wait to try and solve it.
“I love it, Thank you Sir.” she said having surprised him with a hug. He beamed and shook Derek’s hand with a charmed look on his face.
“Your granddaughter is a special soul. Nurtured she will without doubt, grow to do magnificent and miraculous things. You are right to call her a treasure. For that she is, with great credit to you good sir.” he told him with a shake of the hands.
“Thank you, I am the proudest grandfather on the planet, I assure you. Thank you for sharing your puzzles and time with her.” Derek took Holly’s hand and set off with her and his stunned wife in tow. He knew then that the little girl would be getting a Hitsumi-Bako box every Christmas at least. It would come where possible with a puzzle to solve to find it.
Even he and young Holly couldn’t know that the Japanese man’s words were in fact a truthful prophesy. Young Holly’s mystery magnet was becoming active. One day a few years from this day, a Depressed Man would walk into the Workhouse Restaurant. His arrival will turn waitress Holly into Sleuth Holly. From that moment her life will become one of mystery, danger and intrigue, for those will be her Workhouse Restaurant Mysteries.
If you enjoyed Reading about young sleuth Holly Ward. Do check out her webpage. www.theworkhousemysteries.wordpress.com and help by getting the word out to agents and publishers you know. Thank you so much, regards Mason Bushell.