Marti gazed down at them from her perch on the shed. The shoes dangled from her stubby fingers, just out of reach. “A man walks into his brother’s painting studio to find three paintings on three easels, one in a gold frame, one in a bronze frame, and one in a copper frame. In the gold frame is an oil pastel of the man’s feet, complete with a scar on the right toe that he got when he was twenty-three. In the bronze frame is an acrylic of the man’s face. Finally, in the copper frame is a water-colour of the man’s back as he looks over a bridge. But which painting could not possible be his?”
Olivia crossed her arms. “Please, Miss, just give us back the shoes. We don’t want any trouble; we’re just trying to get out of here.”
Laughing, Marti twirled the shoes by their laces. “Aren’t we all, sweetheart? Do you know what I was before this mess?”
“An artist?” Noah guessed.
She snorted. “No, sweetie. I was a pediatrician. I drove a Lamborghini and had a private chef.” She flipped her matted, dirt-smeared hair. “So, smarties, you think you’ve got this sickness figured out. So which painting couldn’t have been painted by the man?”
Isabella glanced at her friends, sighed and shrugged. Mason tapped his chin. “Well, it would be hard to paint either the self-portrait or the bridge one. But I suppose the bridge one would be the hardest. So, the one in the copper frame?”
Cassandra held up her hands. “Wait, wait. You said the first one was an oil pastel, right? That’s not paint! So, the one in the gold frame couldn’t possibly be his.” She looked pleased with herself.
“Oh, I guess I wasn’t listening. That’s a pretty obvious riddle, I guess,” Mason admitted. “Okay, the one in the gold frame. Give us back the shoes.”
Marti gazed at them and then laughed. It was a disturbingly beautiful sound, completely at odds with her dishevelled, bloodied, ragged appearance. “You’re both wrong!”
“What do you mean? You specifically said which painting couldn’t be his,” Harvey said.
“Good point. And I specifically said it was his brother’s studio.”
The kids stared at her.
“Come on, it’s hilarious!” She clutched her stomach. A group of old women gazed curiously at Marti on the shed as they passed. “Alright, my darlings, the point I wanted to make is that you shouldn’t let details distract you. Keep your wits about you. These politicians and wartime big wigs make a living out of playing with words and sometimes outright lying. And if you don’t stay on top of their games, you could lose more than a pair of shoes.” Nimbly, Marti leapt over the shed.
Mason yelled and scrambled up after her, but when he got to the top of the shed, she was nowhere in sight. “Well, sorry Harvey, she’s gone. And I doubt anyone will be so kind as to lend us a pair of shoes.”
“Mason!” Isabella snapped. “Half the people here don’t have any shoes. Harvey, be honoured you got to help that poor lady out.”
Harvey twisted his lips. “Yea, sure. I’m sure Phellipe will give us shoes when we get to HQ. And hopefully some of that Swiss hot chocolate.” He grinned. “Come on guys, my cousin is waiting. Onward!”