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The Rampart City docks covered several square miles. Everything from fishing boats to freighters to cruise ships used the port. That meant it took them nearly an hour to find the right ship.
The good part was that the Coast Guard had thoughtfully laid everything out for them on the dock. It was far less of a haul than Dr. Dan Dreyfus had hoped for. Still, anything they recovered from the icy Atlantic was better than nothing.
|Dr. Dan Dreyfus|
For two months Dan had been on the edge of panic. The artifacts, most of which he had excavated from the Egyptian sands, had been lost at sea on their way to the Plaine Museum for the exhibition. The expedition had taken four years and cost quite a lot of money, the director had told him often enough. To lose everything because the captain went nutty and sank the ship was beyond Dan’s comprehension. Had it been some kind of political statement? A religious beef? There would be no way to find out since the captain had gone down with the ship and none of the sailors seemed to have any idea.
Then came the call three days ago from the Coast Guard. Against all odds, some of the crates had washed up in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod. The labels on some of the crates had listed the Plaine Museum as the destination, so the Coast Guard wanted someone from the museum to identify the objects and whether they belonged to the museum or not.
For that, Dan and his assistant Gregg had rented a U-Haul truck and wandered around the docks to find where the Coast Guard had unloaded the items. The officer Dan had talked to waited for them on the dock, with the items spread out on a black tarp. They shook hands and introduced themselves. Then the officer got down to business. “This is all the stuff we could find. Just tell me what you think is yours and then fill out the papers.”
“Not a problem,” Dan said. He motioned to Gregg. “My assistant has a list of the items for the exhibit. Shouldn’t be too hard to find them.”
Dan had taken most of the items from the ground himself, so he didn’t need a list to identify everything. He got down on his knees on the tarp and picked up a clay jar. Miraculously, the jar had survived intact. “They don’t make ‘em like these anymore,” he mumbled. He handed the jar to Gregg to check off their list.
There were more items: arrowheads, bridles, and the like. The most important item was still in its crate; the lid had stayed on throughout the ordeal. “Do you have a crowbar or something?” Dan asked the officer. The Coast Guard officer sent an aide off to look for one. The aide returned a few minutes later with a claw hammer. “I guess that’ll have to work.”
Dan worked at the crate’s lid until he finally got the claws under a nail so that he could prop it open. The lid finally came free and Dan tossed it aside. He whooped with joy to see the contents of the crate still intact. He reached into the crate, and then ran his hands along the smooth stone of the sarcophagus for Karlak II. It wasn’t as elaborate as the ones for the later pharaohs, but it was even more special than those. This was the first real Egyptian king, the first to unite the various factions to form what would later become the Old Kingdom.
Dan needed the help of Gregg, the officer, and three sturdy sailors to get the lid of the sarcophagus off. Karlak II had not been mummified like the pharaohs; Karlak II’s ancestors would perfect those rituals. The Coast Guard officers gagged at the smell from the sarcophagus, but Dan had smelled a lot worse in the field. He peered into the sarcophagus; the skeleton seemed undisturbed by the seawater. Dan let out a sigh of relief.
“Looks like he’s safe,” Gregg said.
“It sure does. I thought for sure the old boy was going to be buried at sea.” Obviously Karlak II’s sarcophagus had been the center of the exhibit; no Karlak, no exhibit the director had told him. Now that they had the ancient king, they could revive the exhibit.
Dan squinted at something almost camouflaged by the black tarp. “What is that thing?” he asked and pointed at a rectangular object that was entirely a glossy black.
Gregg looked down at the list and then shook his head. “I don’t see anything like it on the list.”
Dan crawled over to the object on all fours. He put a hand to the black surface, but pulled it away a moment later at the coldness of it. Well, he supposed it had probably floated around the cold Atlantic for a while. He leaned closer to search for any kind of markings that might identify it as Egyptian in origin. There was nothing, just a black surface that reflected the light. It seemed to be made of some kind of crystal. Ebony? Jet?
“It gives me the creeps,” Gregg said. “It looks like the monolith in 2001.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Dan said. He touched it again, this time prepared for the cold. He ran his hands over the surface to search for any seams or levers or anything that might indicate its purpose. He turned to the officer. “Can your guys help me turn this thing over?”
“Hold on, Boss,” Gregg said. He sprinted back to the truck. He returned with a handcart. Between that and some old-fashioned muscle power, they managed to get the thing turned over. Dan found nothing on that side either. It was just a glossy black box. Not even really a box, since it didn’t seem to have any kind of storage compartment. Maybe it was a marker of some sort, like a tombstone. It certainly had the ominous quality of one.
“Was this in a crate?” Dan asked the officer.
The man shook his head. “It was just like that, sitting on the beach with some of the other stuff. It’s not yours?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then we’ll have to put it back in the hold.”
“Why? So you can put it in a government warehouse to be examined by ‘top men?’” Dan said. He had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark a hundred times when he was a kid. Even if the government didn’t put it in a warehouse, Dan doubted they would be able to figure it out. He stood up to face the officer. “Look, we have people who can give this a proper scientific analysis. Then maybe we can figure out what it is.”
“I don’t know. I could get into trouble—”
Dan leaned close to the officer to whisper, “Come on, what kind of trouble can you get into? No one knows who this belongs to, right?”
“So let us take it off your hands. If anyone asks, you’ll have my name on the report.”
“You’ve probably got a lot better things to do than schlep this around, am I right? Drug dealers and lost fishermen and all that.”
The officer nodded. “All right, you can have it. Gets it out of my hair.”
It took nearly another hour to get everything loaded into the truck. Dan was grateful for the help of the Coast Guard sailors, especially the one who drove down a forklift for the Karlak II sarcophagus. When it was done, they had everything aboard the truck, which included the mysterious black box.
Gregg looked in the rearview mirror and frowned. “What do you think that thing is?”
“I don’t have any idea. It looks like it’s made out of some kind of rock, so I guess we should let the boys in Geology take a crack at it.”
It took half of her first day for Emma to get the mess in the office cleaned up. She created a new filing system—replacing the old system of just throwing the files any old place—and stacked the books in the storage closet. She located some Post-It notes and pens to write herself a note to dispose of the old books later.
She had just finished when the door opened. Ian stuck his head inside and then smiled at her. “I see you’ve got things under control,” he said.
“For the most part,” Emma said.
“Good. Have you taken your lunch yet?”
“Not yet. I was hoping to finish some things up first.”
“I understand. Just don’t forget. We don’t want our employees starving.”
Ian turned to go, but then quickly changed direction again to look towards Dr. Brighton’s office. “Has he given you any trouble?”
“No, he’s been fine.” She had put her ear to his door about a half hour earlier and heard Dr. Brighton’s snores.
“Good. I’m sure he’ll take a shine to you soon enough.”
Ian checked his watch. “I best be going. Meetings all afternoon. Keep your chin up, lass.”
“I will. Thank you.”
With that he closed the door and she was alone again. Now that she had cleaned up the office, she could finally get to work on some research. There was a microscope and some other equipment on a worktable; she supposed she should check to make sure these worked. In a file cabinet she found some old slides prepared by one of her predecessors.
She was engrossed in this slide when she heard the door open again. She expected to see Ian; maybe he had forgotten something from the last time. “Is there something else—” she stopped when she saw it was not Ian at the door.
This was another man entirely, one with curly brown hair, brown eyes, and a warm smile. She felt her face warm and willed herself to stop so she wouldn’t embarrass herself in front of him. “Are you Dr. Earl?” the man asked.
“Yes,” she squeaked.
The man’s smile widened. “I’m Dr. Dreyfus, from Anthropology. Actually, I’m an Egyptologist. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I came into possession of an artifact. I’m not sure exactly what it is. I took it to Dr. Lemieux in Gemstones and he said I should bring it down here to you.”
“I see,” she stammered. “What is it?”
Dr. Dreyfus took a step back so another man could wheel in a glossy black object. It looked like a box, but as Emma leaned close to it, she couldn’t see any seams on it. Dr. Dreyfus knelt down beside her, and ran a hand over the object’s surface. “There aren’t any markings on it at all. Dr. Lemieux thought maybe you would know.”
“It looks like a natural mineral, maybe jet or ebony,” she said, grateful that she could look away from Dr. Dreyfus to study the object, “but it’s not.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Well, I’d have to run some tests to be sure, but I’m pretty confident.”
“About how long would those tests take to run?”
Emma blushed again, but this time it wasn’t from Dr. Dreyfus’s presence. “I’m not sure. I just started today and I haven’t really had a chance to try out the equipment.” She swallowed and then forced herself to look at him. “I might have something preliminary by the end of the day.”
“That’s great.” He held out a hand for her to shake; she did so timidly, her hands sweaty and limp. “And welcome aboard. This is a great place to work.”
“Thank you. I really like it here so far.”
Dr. Dreyfus stood up while she still squatted next to the mysterious object, afraid that if she stood, she might faint. “Well, I’d better let you get to it,” he said. “Thanks for your help.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she said.
After he had gone, she looked around the office for a chisel and hammer she could use for taking a sample from the case. These she found in the bottom drawer of the desk, under a pair of men’s socks. She tossed the socks into the trash and then went over to the object. She placed the chisel on the top of the object; she felt a shiver along her spine as she did so. There was definitely something strange about this thing, though she couldn’t put her finger on it.
A piece chipped away easily enough, so that she could mount it into a slide—once she found the slides. When she looked into the microscope, she saw Dr. Dreyfus’s face in the glass. She closed her eyes and shook her head to focus on the task at hand. With a deep breath she felt some of the heat in her face drain away. I’m a scientist, she told herself, not a schoolgirl. Still, as she looked into the microscope again, she couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be at the end of the day to see him again.
It soon became clear, though, that she wouldn’t be able to tell him very much. As she’d feared, nothing besides the microscope still worked. This didn’t come as a surprise given the state of the office. It seemed unlikely anyone had done any real work here in years.
She needed a few deep breaths before she knocked on Dr. Brighton’s door. A bout of coughing replaced his snoring. After this subsided, she opened the door to the office. Dr. Brighton looked worse than before, his hair even messier and a spot of drool at one corner of his mouth. “Who the devil are you?” he asked.
“Dr. Emma Earl. Your new researcher. Dr. MacGregor introduced us earlier.”
This seemed to jog his memory. “Oh, right, the girl scientist. What is it you want?”
“I’d like to requisition some new equipment.”
“Is that a fact? What we have isn’t good enough for you? It was good enough for Dr. Winton. You think you’re better than him?”
“No, sir, but—”
“Then you make do with what we have. Now run along, young lady. And shut the damned door on your way out.”
Every muscle in Emma’s body wanted to turn around and walk away. She forced herself to remain there and glare at Dr. Brighton. “You shouldn’t talk to me like that. I’ve published a half-dozen papers already in some of the most distinguished scientific journals in the country. I graduated at the top of my class.” Her voice was little more than a whisper as she said this. “I’m not a ‘girl’ or a ‘young lady.’ I’m a scientist and I expect you to treat me as such.”
“Is that a fact?” Dr. Brighton’s eyes narrowed at her.
“Yes, sir, it is. And furthermore, if you don’t let me fill out a requisition for some new equipment, I’ll take the matter up with Dr. MacGregor.”
“This is extortion! I won’t have it! You’re fired!”
Emma grabbed the doorknob for support. She couldn’t lose her dream job, not like this. “Excuse me, sir, but if that’s the case then I might have to speak with the director about your conduct.”
“My conduct? What do you know of my conduct, you impudent child?”
“I know that according to Page 42 of the Plaine Museum Rules and Regulations it’s improper for an employee to drink or sleep on the job. Any employee caught doing so can be immediately discharged.”
They glared at each other for a moment. Emma forced herself to meet Dr. Brighton’s gaze. The old man grumbled something unintelligible as he bent down to open his bottom drawer. From this he took out a sheet of paper, which he slammed down onto his desk. “There’s your damned requisition. Order yourself a goddamned Jacuzzi for all I care.”
Emma took the sheet of paper from him. She clutched it to her chest like a life preserver “Thank you, sir.” She scurried out of the room before Dr. Brighton changed his mind.
Dr. Dreyfus came around at four-thirty, by which point Emma still hadn’t been able to do much with the sample from the object. “I’m sorry,” she told him. She looked down at her feet. “The equipment here isn’t in very good shape. I’ve got some on order now, but it might take some time.”
She hated to fail him like this, wished she could have something more to tell him. He seemed to take this disappointment in stride. “It’s all right. There’s no hurry.”
She motioned him over to the microscope, where she still had the slide under the glass. “I did get a look at it with the microscope. I can tell you it’s definitely not jet or ebony.” She shook her head. “It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. Dreyfus bent down to look in the microscope, though she doubted he would understand what he saw. “You think it could be something else? Something alien?”
“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to jump to a conclusion like that until I get a better look.”
He turned from the microscope and favored her with a smile. “Well, at least we can be pretty sure what it isn’t. That gets us closer to knowing what it is, right?”
“I suppose so,” she said.
He held out his hand for her to shake again. “Thanks for doing this, Dr. Earl. I mean it.”
“I’m glad to help.”
She still looked down at the floor as he left the room. When the door opened a few minutes later, her heart leaped at the thought that he might have come back. But it wasn’t Dr. Dreyfus. Ian sauntered in, his smile not quite as warm as Dr. Dreyfus’s. “Well, looks like you managed to survive the first day,” he said.
“I got your equipment requisition. I’ll put it through straightaway.”
“You’re welcome lass.” He glanced at Dr. Brighton’s door. “Any problems with him?”
Her face turned warm as she thought of their showdown earlier. Dr. Brighton hadn’t emerged from his office since then; she had heard him snoring before Dr. Dreyfus came in. She shook her head. “No, we’re getting along fine.”
“Excellent.” Ian held out his hand for her to shake. “Congratulations on your first day. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Before he left, Ian stopped and looked down at the black object. “What is that?”
“Dr. Dreyfus brought it in. He wanted me to find out what it is. I haven’t made much headway on it yet.”
“I see. Quite an odd-looking thing, isn’t it?” He bent down in front of the object. “Any idea what it does?”
“From what I can tell so far, it doesn’t seem to do anything.”
Ian ran his hand along the object, but pulled it back a moment later. “Bugger sure is cold.”
“It shouldn’t be that cold still,” Emma said. “It’s been sitting here most of the day.”
“Very odd.” He shook his head and then stood up. “Well, I had better let you get home. Goodnight, Emma.”
“Goodnight, Ian.” Before she left, she locked the object into the storage closet. She didn’t want to risk someone might think it valuable and try to make off with it. That its surface was still ice cold was something she would have to remember later when she continued her analysis. That would have to wait until tomorrow; she had something to do tonight.
|Emma at 14|
On Emma’s first holiday break from Northwestern, she had flown back to Rampart City. Aunt Gladys had been found in the supermarket clad in only her underwear. After a few days of tests, the diagnosis came back: Aunt Gladys had Alzheimer’s.
This came as a surprise to Emma because Aunt Gladys was only fifty-three at the time and she had always been very healthy. Aunt Gladys had visited every continent except Antarctica, scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, run with the bulls in Pamplona, and sailed down the length of the Amazon. Despite all of this, she had never fallen ill. Emma’s mother said that even as a child, her older sister had never missed a day of school with colds, flus, or other childhood ailments. Emma had assumed her aunt would go on being healthy forever.
Having to talk with Aunt Gladys about assisted living facilities at such a young age was as hard for Emma as when she lost her parents. At the time Emma was just fourteen years old; she couldn’t possibly care for a mentally ill woman on her own. They didn’t have any other close family; it had just been the two of them after Emma’s parents died.
In the end Aunt Gladys had voluntarily checked herself into the Park Glen Rest Home. She had hugged Emma and told her, “It’ll be all right. They’ll take good care of me. You go back to school.”
“I should stay here,” Emma said. “I should stay with you.”
“There’s nothing you can do, Emma.” Aunt Gladys smiled at her. “Not even with that big brain of yours.”
“But I should at least be here.”
“To do what? Sit here and hold my hand?” She brushed hair away from Emma’s face to look her in the eye. “You go and get a good education. That’s what your mother wanted.”
“I don’t have to go back to Northwestern. I could go somewhere closer.”
“Don’t be silly, Emma. We’ll still be able to see each other. And you can call me on the phone.” Aunt Gladys smiled again. “I’m not dying. Not yet.”
Emma had gone back to Northwestern, though she called every weekend to check on her aunt. The calls became more difficult; Aunt Gladys would sometimes forget who was on the phone. Sometimes she wandered off, the phone still on.
They had one final lucid conversation, this shortly after Emma graduated from Northwestern at the age of sixteen. She had offers from a number of schools about her doctoral work, which included a prestigious fellowship at Berkeley, the downside being that the school was across the country from Rampart City. She didn’t mention this to Aunt Gladys; Emma had no intention of going so far away.
But her aunt had found out from Becky. Aunt Gladys put a hand on Emma’s cheek and said, “It’s a good school, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s too far away. I want to be here, with you.”
“Now, sweetheart, there’s no need for that.”
“We’ve been over this before, haven’t we? There’s nothing you can do for me. I don’t want you to throw away your future to sit around here and watch me lose my marbles.”
She took Emma’s hand hard enough that Emma winced. “Please, Emma, just go. I couldn’t live with myself if I held you back.” She shook her head. “You have so much potential, my little genius. Don’t squander it on me.”
In the end Emma had heeded her aunt’s wishes and left for California. She had tried to call a few times, but as the Alzheimer’s became worse, the conversations became almost impossible. Now that she was back, she promised herself she would visit Aunt Gladys no matter how bad the Alzheimer’s got.
To get there required Emma to take a bus back to Parkdale, the suburb where she had spent the first fourteen years of her life. As she sat on the bus, she tried to read, but couldn’t focus on the words. She gave up on this and looked out the window. She recognized the Kmart where she had used to shop for clothes with her mother and the elementary school she and Becky had attended. The bus mercifully avoided the old house, or else Emma would have burst into tears.
The Park Glen Rest Home from the outside looked like a misplaced ski lodge with its faux-Alpine exterior. Emma shivered as she walked up the sidewalk; she wondered what she would find when she got inside. At the front door she paused, and looked back towards the bus stop. It would be easy enough to turn around and go to her new home in the city. Becky wouldn’t know; not even Aunt Gladys would know. I would know, Emma thought.
She opened the door and then proceeded to the front desk. The chubby nurse on duty looked up at her. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Gladys Cabot.”
“And your name?”
“Dr. Emma Earl. I’m her niece.”
The nurse checked something on the computer and then nodded. “Go on in, Dr. Earl.”
Down a short hallway, Emma opened the door to the rec room. Despite the name, there wasn’t much recreation in the room. Mostly the patients—or “residents” as the rest home called them—stared at the television or the walls.
Aunt Gladys sat in a chair in the corner and stared out the window. Emma wondered what she saw out there: the Amazon rainforest, African savannah, or her old neighborhood in Rampart City? There was no way to tell, not anymore.
When Aunt Gladys had first come to Parkdale to care for Emma, people had usually confused them for mother and daughter. They had looked so much alike, with the same copper hair, blue eyes, and rangy frame, even more alike than Emma and her mother. Now people would probably think Aunt Gladys was her grandmother, her hair gray except for a few rusty strands and deep wrinkles that creased her face. Her hands shook as she sat in the chair, those hands just as wrinkled as her face, with even a few liver spots now.
Emma pulled up a chair next to her aunt and then gently put a hand on Aunt Gladys’s arm. “Aunt Gladys, it’s me. It’s Emma.”
Her aunt turned, her blue eyes rheumy and unfocused. When she smiled, she revealed teeth that had gone yellow and crooked. “Hello, sweetheart.” Any hopes for a normal conversation became dashed when Aunt Gladys added, “Look at how big you’re getting! Soon I won’t even be able to pick you up.”
“How are you feeling?”
“That’s good.” Emma looked down at the floor, not sure what else she could say. She had read every article she could on Alzheimer’s, but none of it seemed to help. There didn’t seem to be any way to stop it.
“So what did you learn in school today?”
“I wouldn’t think so. You’re too smart for that school. That’s what I keep telling your mother. You should be in one of those gifted schools.”
“Mom and Dad can’t afford that,” Emma said. This had been the subject of a couple of very rare late night arguments between her parents. Mom had wanted Emma to go to a school for gifted children while Dad—a CPA—pointed out they couldn’t afford it. They might have been able to afford it if Mom had gone back to work, but she hadn’t. She had stayed home to care for Emma.
“I’m sure we could work something out. Any school would kill to have a girl as smart as you.”
“I’m not that smart,” Emma said. She wasn’t smart enough to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, to have saved her parents, or even to figure out what that thing in the office was.
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. You’re much smarter than I was at your age.”
“No maybe about it. You could probably be teaching the class.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
One of Aunt Gladys’s wrinkled hands reached out to touch Emma’s hair. “You shouldn’t be so modest,” she said. “You should be proud of who you are. I know I am.”
“Thanks, Aunt Gladys.”
“Now, you give me a kiss and then you go run along and play.”
Emma leaned forward to kiss her aunt on the cheek, something she hadn’t done since she was fourteen. She noted how cold Aunt Gladys’s skin felt now, as if she were already dead. “I love you, Aunt Gladys.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. Tell your mom to come see me sometime.”
By the time Emma stood up to leave, her aunt already looked out the window again; she had forgotten Emma was still there.
Emma didn’t get far before she heard another voice from the past. A distinctly English voice said, “Why as I live and breathe, is that the famous Dr. Earl?”
She turned to see an old man sitting in an easy chair, a newspaper on his lap and a cane beside him. Despite the thin gray hair and probably twenty extra pounds, she still recognized Percival Graves. “Mr. Graves! What are you doing here?”
“Oh, that bastard son of mine finally got tired of me.”
“That boy’s never been any good. Just like his father,” Mr. Graves said with a wink. He motioned for her to sit down. “Come closer and let me get a good look at you. Last time I saw you, you were just a wee thing. Now you’re all grown up.”
“I guess so,” she said. She looked down at her feet while her cheeks burned from embarrassment. “How have you been?”
“The leg still gives me trouble,” he said. He tapped his left leg. “But I always know when it’s going to rain. You might want to bring an umbrella with you tomorrow.”
She chuckled at this. “I will.”
“I hear you’re a big shot geologist now at the Plaine Museum. Congratulations.”
“I’m sure before long you’ll be running the place.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come now, love, you’re smarter than anyone there.”
“I almost got fired. My supervisor hates me. He thinks I’m just a girl.”
Mr. Graves shook his head. “If I weren’t locked up in here I’d go and knock his block off for you. Imagine him saying that. Man obviously don’t know his elbow from his ass.”
Coming from someone else, Emma might have frowned at such language, but it was part of Mr. Graves’s charm. He had been the closest to a grandparent she had ever known, all of her real grandparents being dead before she was born. If not for him, she might never have become interested in science.
She had first met Mr. Graves on her third birthday. As a treat, her parents took her into the city to the Plaine Museum. Daddy scooped her up to carry her on his back as they climbed up the marble stairs. “It’s so big,” she said.
“It sure is, kiddo,” he said.
He carried her through the gallery, over to the skeleton of Alex the mastodon. They waited there while Mom went off to use the bathroom. “Do you know what that is?” he asked her.
“A mastodon,” Emma said. “It’s wike an ewephant.”
|Alex the Mastodon|
She stared at the mastodon’s polished tusks, to try and touch them, but her arms were too short. “Can I touch him, Daddy?” she asked.
“Afraid not, kiddo. It’s against the rules.”
It was then that Mr. Graves came onto the scene. He was thinner and had more of his hair, but he still moved around with a limp as he pushed his broom across the floor. “’Scuse me, sir. I’ll just be needing to get over here for a moment,” he said.
Mr. Graves unhooked the velvet rope that separated them from Alex. Mr. Graves turned his back to them and began to hum loudly. Daddy understood and stepped across where the rope had been. “Go on, honey,” he said. “Touch him.”
“But you said—”
Mr. Graves turned around and smiled at her. “It’s all right, lass. No harm in touching this old beast. He’s just a bunch of old bones, isn’t he?”
|Emma at 3|
“Yes,” Emma said. She looked down at her father, just to make sure it was all right. When he smiled at her as well, she took this as a sign that it was okay. She reached out with her right hand to touch Alex’s tusk. She pulled her hand back and giggled. “Daddy, he’s so cold!”
That day at the Plaine Museum had cemented her love of science for the rest of her life. She had Percival Graves to thank for it, for bending the rules to let a little girl touch the mastodon. As her father carried her away from Alex, she turned around to wave to Mr. Graves. He waved back, and gave her a wink. He put a finger to his lips to indicate this should be their secret.
“It’s all right,” she said. Her mind returned to the present. “I can handle it.”
“I’m sure you can,” Mr. Graves said. “You’re a bright girl—or woman, I should say.”
“You can still call me a girl.”
They talked a little about her moving in with Becky. Mr. Graves said, “You’d best be careful on those streets. That’s the kind of place not even the old Scarlet Knight would visit.”
Besides serving as her tour guide around the museum, Mr. Graves had always regaled her with tales of the Scarlet Knight, a vigilante who had once fought crime on the city’s streets. That had been long before she was born, when her parents had been young. According to Mr. Graves, the Scarlet Knight wore armor that could deflect bullets and a magic cape that allowed him to turn invisible. With his golden Sword of Justice, he defended the city from evil.
|Sword of Justice|
“You never told me what happened to him,” she said.
“Well, honestly, no one knows. He disappeared. He might have died or he might have gotten tired of it and walked away.”
“We could use him around, couldn’t we?” she said. She thought of her parents; if the Scarlet Knight had been around, he could have saved them.
“I’m sure when we really need him the most, that’s when he’ll appear again.” Mr. Graves looked down at his watch. “It’s getting late. You best go on home. Just don’t get so caught up in life in the big city that you forget about a poor old man.”
“I won’t.” She leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek the same as she had Aunt Gladys. Then she stood up to leave.
Before she did, Mr. Graves tapped her leg with his cane. “You just mind what I said about looking after yourself. Those streets aren’t a safe place for a beautiful girl like you.”
“I’ll be careful,” she said.
As she sat at the bus stop a few minutes later, she looked down the road, towards where her former house still waited for her. She should go back to face those old ghosts. Not tonight, she thought and then took out her book to read as she waited.
In two weeks you can read Chapter 3!