/ Language: English / Genre:thriller / Series: Young Repairman Jack

Secret Histories

F. Wilson

Ever come across a situation that simply wasn’t right—where someone was getting the dirty end of the stick and you wished you could make things right but didn’t know how? Fourteen-year-old Jack knows how. Or rather he’s learning how. He’s discovering that he has a knack for fixing things. Not bikes or toys or appliances—situations….  It all starts when Jack and his best friends, Weezy and Eddie, discover a rotting corpse—the victim of ritual murder—in the fabled New Jersey Pine Barrens. Beside the body is an ancient artifact carved with strange designs. What is its secret? What is the secret of the corpse? What other mysteries hide in the dark, timeless Pine Barrens? And who doesn’t want them revealed?  Jack’s town, the surrounding Barrens, his friends, even Jack himself…they all have…Secret Histories.

F. PAUL WILSON

JACK: SECRET HISTORIES

Young Repairman Jack-1

They discovered the body on a rainy afternoon.

1

“Aren’t we there yet?”Eddie said, puffing behind him.

Jack glanced over his shoulder to where Eddie Connel labored through the sandy

soil on his bike. His face was red and beaded with perspiration;

sweat soaked through his red Police T-shirt, darkening Sting’s face. Chunky

Eddie wasn’t built for speed. He wore his sandy hair shorter than most, which tended to make him look even heavier than he was. Eddie’s idea of exercise was

a day on the couch playing PolePositionon his new Atari 5200. Jack

envied that machine. He was stuck with a 2600.

“Only Weezy knows,” Jack said.

He wasn’t sweating like Eddie, but he felt clammy al over. With good reason. The

August heat was stifling here in the Pine Barrens, and the humidity

made it worse. Whatever breeze existed out there couldn’t penetrate the

close-packed, spindly trees.

They were fol owing Eddie’s older sister, Weezy—real y Louise, but no one ever

cal ed her that. She liked to remind people that she’d been “Weezy”

long before TheJeffersonsever showed up on the tube.

She was pedaling her banana-seat Schwinn along one of the firebreak trails that

crisscrossed the mil ion-plus acres of mostly uninhabited woodland

known as the Jersey Pine Barrens. A potential y dangerous place if you didn’t

know what you were doing or where you were going. Every year hunters wandered in, looking for deer, and were never seen again. Locals would wink

and say the Jersey Devil snagged another one. But Jack knew the JD was just a folktale. Wel , he was pretty sure. Truth was, the missing hunters were

usual y amateurs who came il equipped and got lost, wandering around in circles until they died of thirst and starvation.

At least that was what people said. Though that didn’t explain why so few of the

bodies were ever found.

But the Barrens didn’t scare Jack and Eddie and Weezy. At least not during the

day. They’d grown up on the edge of the pinelands and knew this

section of it like the backs of their hands. Couldn’t know al of it, of course. The

Barrens hid places no human eye had ever seen.

Yet as familiar as he was with the area, Jack stil got a creepy sensation when

riding into the trees and seeing the forty-foot scrub pines get thicker and thicker, crowding the edges of the path, and then leaning over with their

crooked, scraggly branches seeming to reach for him. He could almost believe they were shuffling off the path ahead of him and then moving back in to close it

off behind.

“See that sign?” Eddie said, pointing to a tree they passed. “Maybe we should

listen.”

Jack glanced at the orange letters blaring from glossy black tin:

NO FISHING

NO HUNTING

NO TRAPPING

NO TRESPASSING

No big deal. The signs dotted just about every other tree on Old Man Foster’s

land, so common they became part of the scenery.

“Wel ,” he said, “we’re not doing the first three.”

“But we’re doing the fourth.”

“Criminals is what we are!” Jack raised a fist. “Criminals!”

“Easy with that.” Eddie looked around. “Old Man Foster might hear you.” Jack cal ed to the girl riding twenty feet ahead of them. “Hey, Weez! When do

we get there?”

She usual y kept her shoulder-length dark hair down but she’d tied it back in a

ponytail for the trip. She wore a black-and-white—mostly black

—Bauhaus T-shirt and black jeans. Jack and Eddie wore jeans too, but theirs

were faded blue and cut off above the knees. Weezy’s were ful length. Jack couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen her bare legs. Probably white as snow. “Not much farther now,” she cal ed without looking around.

“Sounds like Papa Smurf,” Eddie grumbled. “This is stupidacious.” Jack turned back to Eddie. “Want to trade bikes?”

Jack rode his BMX. He’d let some air out of the tires for better grip in the sand

and they were doing pretty wel .

“Nah.” Eddie patted the handlebars of his slim-tired English street bike. “I’m al

right.”

“Whoa!” Jack heard Weezy say.

He looked around and saw she’d stopped. He had to jam on his brakes to keep

from running into her. Eddie flew past both of them and stopped ahead of his sister.

“Is this it, Smurfette?” he said.

Weezy shook her head. “Almost.”

She had eyes almost as dark as her hair, and a round face, normal y milk pale,

made paler by the dark eyeliner she wore. But she was flushed now with heat and excitement. The color looked good on her. Made her look almost …

healthy, a look Weezy did not pursue.

Jack liked Weezy. She was only four months older, but his January birthday had

landed him a year behind her in school. Come next month they’d both

be in Southern Burlington County Regional High, just a couple of miles away. But

she’d be a soph and he a lowly frosh. Maybe they’d be able to spend

more time together. And then again, maybe not. Did sophs hang with freshmen?

Were they al owed?

She wasn’t pretty by most standards. Skinny, almost boyish, although her hips

seemed to be flaring a little now. Back in grammar school a lot of the kids had cal ed her “Wednesday Addams” because of her round face and perpetual y

dark clothes. If she ever decided to wear her hair in pigtails, the

resemblance would be scary.

But whatever her looks, Jack thought she was the most interesting girl—no,

make that most interesting personhe’d ever met. She read things no one else read, and viewed the world in a light different from anyone else. She pointed to their right. “What on Earth’s going on there?”

Jack saw a smal clearing with a low wet spot known in these parts as a spong.

But around the rim of the spong stood about a dozen sticks of odd

shapes and sizes, leaning this way and that.

“Who cares?” Eddie said. “If this isn’t what you dragged us out here to see, let’s

keep going.”

After hopping off her bike, she leaned it against a tree and started for the

clearing.

“Just give me a minute.”

His curiosity piqued, Jack leaned his bike against hers and fol owed. The

knee-high grass slapped against his sweaty lower legs, making them itch. A glance back showed Eddie sitting on the sand in the shade of a pine. Jack caught

up to Weezy as they neared the spong.

“They just look like dead branches someone’s stuck in the sand.” “But why?” Weezy said.

“For nothing better to do?”

She looked at him with that tolerant smile—the smile she showed a world that just didn’t get it. At least not in her terms.

“Everything that happens out here happens for a reason,” she said in the ooh-spookytone she used whenever she talked about the Barrens.

He knew Weezy loved the Barrens. She studied them, knew everything about them, and had been delighted back in 1979, at the tender age of eleven,

when the state passed a conservation act to preserve them.

She gestured at the sticks, not a dozen feet away now. “Can you imagine anyone coming out here just to poke sticks into the ground for no reason at

al ? I don’t—” She stopped, grabbed Jack’s arm, and pointed. “Look! What’d I tel you?”

Jack kind of liked the feel of her fingers gripping his forearm, but he fol owed her point. When he saw what she was talking about, he broke free and

hurried forward.

“Traps! A whole mess of traps.”

“Yeah,” Weezy said, coming up behind him. “The nasty leg-hold type. Some dirty, rotten …”

As her voice trailed off Jack glanced at her and flinched at her enraged expression. She looked a little scary.

“But they’ve al been sprung.” He started walking around the spong. “Every single one of them.”

“Whoever did this is my hero,” she said, fol owing close behind. “Didn’t I tel you that everything that happens out here—”

“—happens for a reason,” Jack said, finishing for her.

Clear as day that someone had set up a slew of traps around the perimeter of the spong, planning to trap any animals that stopped by to drink from the

water in its basin.

And just as clear, someone else had come by with a bunch of dead branches and used them to tap the trigger plates, springing the traps and making

them harmless. In some cases the steel jaws had snapped right through the dead wood; in others it had only dented it, leaving the branch upright.

“Got to be at least a couple dozen along here,” Jack said.

“Not anymore.”

She bent, grabbed one of the trap chains, and started working its anchor loose from the sand.

“What are you doing?”

“Watch.”

As the coiled anchor came free, Weezy grabbed it and the trap itself, then hurled the whole assembly into the spong. The two ends swung around on

their chain like a boomerang before splashing into the shal ow water and disappearing beneath the surface.

She turned to him, brushing the sand from her hands.

“Come on, Jack. We’ve got work to do.”

He stared at her, surprised by the wild look in her eyes …

“But—”

“These rats don’t check their traps for three or four days at a time.”

“How do you know al this?”

“I read, Jack.”

“So do I.”

“Yeah, but you read fifty-year-old magazines. I read about what’s real y going on in the world.” She pointed to a trap. “Three days in one of those. Think

about it.”

He did, imagining himself a fox or possum or raccoon with a broken leg caught in the steel jaws, hungry and thirsty, with water just a couple of dozen

feet away but unable to get to it. It made his gut crawl.

Without a word, he bent and worked an anchor free of the ground, then fol owed Weezy’s example and tossed the trap into the water.

“Two down. How many more to go?”

He found her staring at him with a strange light in her eyes.

“About thirty.”

“Then we’re gonna need help.” He turned and waved to Eddie. “Over here! You gotta see this!”

As Eddie made his way toward them, Jack and Weezy bent again to the task of ripping out the traps and hurling them into the drink.

Eddie arrived and gawked at what they were doing. “Are you guys crazy?You can’t do that!”

Jack held up a trap. “Real y? Watch.”

He tossed it into the water.

Eddie slapped his hands against the side of his head. “What if Old Man Foster comes along and catches us?”

Weezy said, “Wel , his signs do say, ‘No Trapping.’ We’re just helping him out.”

“That means no trapping by anybody else.We could be in hel acious big trouble.”

Jack doubted that. Old Man Foster was just a name. No one had ever seen the guy. Everyone knew he owned this big piece of the Barrens and that

was about it. Though nobody saw them go up, fresh NoTrespassingsigns appeared every year. Sometimes poachers would take them down, but before

you knew it they’d be back up again.

Another mystery of the Pine Barrens. A very minor one.

As for Eddie, Jack wasn’t sure if he was acting as the voice of good sense, or trying to duck the work of pul ing out the traps. He hated anything more

strenuous than working a joystick.

“Look,” Jack told him. “The sooner we get this done and get on our way, the less chance we’l have of being caught. So come on. Get to it.”

Eddie obeyed, but not without his trademark grumbling.

“Okay, okay. But I don’t have to ask whose idea this was. It’s got my crazy sister written al over it.”

In a flash Weezy was in his face. “What did you say?”

Eddie gave her a sheepish look. “Nothing.”

“You did! I heard you! Hasn’t this been talked about a mil ion times?” Eddie nodded without looking at her. “Right,” she said. “So you keep your mouth

shut or someone’s going to hear about this.”

Eddie sighed, saying, “Okay, okay,” and returned to working on a trap.

Baffled, Jack caught Weezy’s eye as she turned from her brother. “What—?”

“Family matter, Jack.” She turned away. “Don’t worry about it.”

Jack wasn’t worried. But he couldn’t help but wonder. He’d known these two al his life. What was this al about?

2

“Okay,” Weezy said, stopping her bike. “Here we are.”

After sinking al the traps, they’d pedaled like mad away from the spong. Along the way, Jack had wished for a few clouds to hide the sun and cool the

air, but the sky ignored him. At least now they’d arrived at their original destination.

Jack fol owed her gaze. “It’s just some burned-out patch.”

Fires were common in the Barrens during the summer. Tourists and nature lovers came to camp and sometimes got careless with their campfires or

Coleman stoves or cigarettes. Same with poachers. And many times Nature herself took the blame, setting a tree ablaze with a bolt of lightning.

Usual y a ranger in a fire tower, like the one on Apple Pie Hil , would spot the smoke and send out an alarm. Then the local and county volunteer fire

companies would go racing to the scene along the fire trails. But the smal er fires started during a storm often would burn only an acre or two before being

doused by the rain.

“Not just any burned-out patch.” She motioned Jack and Eddie to fol ow. “Come on. I’m going to show you something no one else—except for me—has

seen in a long, long time.”

Eddie said, “Aw, come on, Smurfette—”

She stopped and turned to him. “And you can cut the Smurfette bit. Unless you like ‘Pugsley.’”

“Okay, okay. But what about the firemen who put out the fire? They must have seen it.”

“No firemen for this one.”

Eddie snorted. “You psychic now?”

“Check it out.” She gestured around them. “What’s missing?”

Eddie and Jack did ful turns.

“Green trees?” Jack said.

Weezy shook her head. “Litter. There’s no litter. Firefighters always leave coffee cups, candy wrappers, Coke cans, Gatorade bottles, al sorts of stuff.

But not here. Ergo …”

Jack knew from his father that ergowas Latin for “therefore,” but a glance at Eddie showed he hadn’t a clue.

He checked the ground again. Not even a gum wrapper. Weezy didn’t miss a trick.

As they fol owed her into the burned-out area, Jack noticed how the pine trunks had been charred coal black. The remaining needles high up were a

dead brown, and the usual spindly little branches sticking out here and there lower down the trunks had been burned off. But the trees weren’t dead. Every

single trunk was sprouting new little branchlets, pushing them through the scorched crust of the bark and sporting baby needles of bright green. Everyone

had heard of the Sears DieHard battery. These were nature’s die-hard trees.

As she’d done al day, Weezy led the way, winding through the blackened trunks until she came to a break in the trees.

“Here’s where the mound begins.”

“Mound?” Eddie said. “Where?”

But Jack saw what she meant. They stood at the tip of where two linear mounds, each a couple of feet high and maybe a yard wide, converged to a

point. Both ran off at angles between the blackened trees.

“Like some giant gopher,” Eddie said.

Weezy shook her head. “Except look how smooth they are. And how straight. Nobody knows it’s here, and I never would have noticed it if the fire hadn’t

cleared al the undergrowth. I haven’t explored the whole thing, so I—”

“You were out here alone?” Jack said.

She nodded. “You know me. I like to explore. Who else is going to come along? You?”

His two part-time jobs didn’t leave Jack much time to explore the Barrens, especial y not to the extent Weezy did. She’d spend hours digging for

arrowheads or other artifacts. The only reason he was out here today was because Mr. Rosen closed his store on Mondays.

He smiled and shrugged. “Beautiful teenage girl alone in the woods … might meet a Big Bad Wolf.”

She grinned and punched him on the shoulder. “Get out! Now you’re making fun of me.”

“Maybe a little, but you’ve got to be careful, Weez.”

She sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. But they’ve got to find me first.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I got a little spooked here before I could explore the rest of the

mound, so that’s—”

“You? Spooked?” Eddie laughed. “You area spook. Nothing spooks you.”

“Wel , this place does.” She pointed along the lengths of the two ridges to where they faded into the trees. “See how nothing grows on the mounds? I

mean, isn’t that weird?”

Jack saw what she meant. Low-lying scrub—most of it scorched and blackened—crowded around the trees and spread across every square inch of

sand between them. Everywhere except on the mounds.

Yeah. Weird, al right. Sand was sand. What made the mounds different?

Or was it a single mound, angling in different directions?

“Feel it,” she said, patting the surface. “It’s stil sand, but it’s hard. Like it hasn’t been disturbed for so long it’s formed some kind of crust.”

Jack ran his fingers along the surface, then pressed. The sand wouldn’t yield. But something else … an unpleasant tingle in his fingertips. He pul ed

them away and looked at them. The tingling stopped. He glanced at Weezy and found her staring at him.

“So it isn’t just me. You feel it too.”

“Feel what?” Eddie said, rubbing his hands over the hard surface. “I don’t feel anything.”

Weezy was stil staring at Jack. “Now you know what spooked me.”

She reached around to a rear pocket and pul ed out the smal spiral notebook and pencil she never went anywhere without.

“I’l bet somebody designed this in a special shape. Let’s see if we can figure it out.”

“What do you mean, ‘special shape’?”

“A lot of these mounds are ancient—thousands of years old.”

“You mean, like, burial mounds?”

Jack had heard of those. The Lenape Indians used to inhabit the pines.

Weezy shook her head. “Some of the most mysterious mounds have nothing to do with burials. Take the Serpent Mound in Ohio. It curves back and

forth like a snake for over a quarter mile. And get this—nobody knows how old it is. This could be something like that.” Her face brightened as she smiled.

“And Idiscovered it. I’ve gotto get this diagrammed.”

Wondering how she knew al this stuff, Jack watched her draw a few lines on her pad, then move off, weaving through the trees as she fol owed the

mound to the right. Jack and Eddie fol owed close behind through air heavy with the smel of burned wood. This was Weezy’s show, but Jack was getting

into it. Something about these mounds and the way nothing grew on them gave him a funny feeling in his gut, but he had to admit he was fascinated.

into it. Something about these mounds and the way nothing grew on them gave him a funny feeling in his gut, but he had to admit he was fascinated.

“Oh, look at this,” she said after she’d gone maybe twenty feet. “Another mound crosses here.” She drew some more lines. “This is getting confusing.”

“Hey,” Eddie said.

Jack turned and saw him standing atop the mound with his arms spread.

“Eddie—” Weezy began

“You want to map these mounds, right? Wel , instead of ducking through al those trees, doesn’t it make more sense to fol ow the mounds themselves?

It’l be a lot less boracious.”

Jack to turned to Weezy. “You know, that’s a great idea.”

Weezy hesitated, then shrugged. “I guess everybody has a good idea in them,” she muttered. “Even Eddie.”

Jack bowed and made a flourish toward the mound. “Ladies first.”

She smiled and faked a curtsy. “Why, thank you, kind sir.”

As the three of them began walking the mound, the sky darkened. Jack looked up and saw a menacing pile of clouds scudding in from the west,

blotting out the sun. Weezy shaded her eyes as she stared skyward.

“Shoot. We’ve got trouble.”

“Looks like a thunderhead,” Eddie said.

She nodded. “Cumulonimbus—piled high. Going to be a bad one.”

“‘Cumulonimbus’?” Jack had to laugh. Weezy never ceased to amaze him. “How do you knowthis stuff?”

She frowned. “I’m not sure.”

“Do you sit down and memorize everything you read?”

She shook her head. “I don’t have to. If I read something once, it’s there.I never forget it. Ever. At least not so far.”

No wonder she got straight A’s. Jack would give anything— anything—for that power.

Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Hurry,” she said. “I want to get this done before the downpour.”

She started quick-walking along the mound until she came to another intersection. As she stopped to mark in her notebook, Jack looked around for

Eddie and spotted him a couple of dozen feet back. He was down on one knee, fiddling with his sneaker lace.

“Come on, Eddie. Don’t want the Jersey Devil to catch you.”

He grinned. “You kidding? I have JD sausages for breakfast every morning.”

He jumped up and started trotting toward them. When he neared he jumped and landed inches in front of Jack.

“Boo!”

More thunder then, but another sound too. As Eddie’s feet thumped onto the surface of the mound, they kept on going, breaking through the outer shel

with a crunch.

Jack looked down and saw Eddie’s sneakers sunk ankle deep in the softer sand within.

“Jeez, man! What’d you do?”

He heard Weezy hurry up behind him and gasp. “Oh, Eddie! How couldyou?”

Eddie’s face reddened—whether with anger or embarrassment, Jack couldn’t tel .

“Hey, I didn’t—”

“You are the most unbelievable klutz! This mound’s sat here undisturbed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and you’re here, what, ten minutes,

and already you’ve desecrated it!”

“It was a soft spot! How could I know?”

Lightning flashed, fol owed quickly by a roar of thunder that rattled Jack’s fil ings. He looked up at a sky completely lidded with dark clouds looking

ready to burst. Jeez, this storm was coming fast.

“Time to take cover, guys,” he said.

He grabbed Weezy’s arm and started pul ing her back toward the bikes. He knew if he didn’t she’d probably stay in the open, storm or no storm,

drawing her diagram. She didn’t fight him. Eddie fol owed.

Just as they reached the bikes, the sky opened like a bursting dam. They huddled in the center of a thick copse of young pines.

“Under a tree,” Weezy said. “The worst place to be in a storm.”

Jack knew that, but didn’t see as they had much choice. Even under the trees they were getting soaked.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Weez,” Jack said, “we’re in the middle of the Pine Barrens. If you know of a place without trees, I’m al ears.”

Weezy said nothing more, just crouched on her haunches, her eyes closed and her fingers in her ears. Eddie too. They both jumped with every

thunderclap.

Jack didn’t get that. He lovedthunderstorms—their fury, their unpredictability, their deafening light shows fascinated him. Same with his father. Many a

summer night they’d sit together on the front porch and watch a storm approach, peak, and move on. Sometimes Dad would drive him over to Old Town

where they’d park within sight of the Lightning Tree. For some reason no one could figure, the long-dead tree took a hit from every storm that passed

overhead.

The thunder grew louder, the lightning flashed brighter, the rain fel harder. The world funneled down to the copse and little else. Nothing was visible

beyond their clump of trees. Water cascaded through the branches and swirled around their feet. Might as wel have been in the shower—except Jack

wished he could have cranked up the hot water handle.

He felt his Converse Al -Stars fil ing with water.

Swel .

3

After a couple of forevers, the storm tapered off. When the rain final y stopped they stepped out of the copse and shook themselves off.

Jack took off his T-shirt and wrung the water out of it. Eddie fol owed suit. Weezy didn’t have that luxury. Her Bauhaus shirt was plastered to her; she

pul ed it free of her skin as best she could. Her soaked hair looked almost black, her bangs were plastered to her forehead, and her ponytail had become

a rattail.

“Look at us,” she said. “Three drowned mice.”

“At least we didn’t get hit by lightning,” Eddie said. “Let’s get home. I need to dry off.”

“But I haven’t mapped the mound yet.”

Eddie rol ed his eyes. “You’ve gotta be kidding! You can come back any time—”

“Just give me a few minutes.”

“Come on, Eddie,” Jack said, nudging him with an elbow. “What difference is a few more minutes going to make?”

“Okay, okay. I’l stay with the bikes.”

She pul ed out her notepad and regarded it with dismay. “Soaked!”

But that didn’t stop her. She hurried ahead, hopped on the mound, and began retracing her steps. The sun popped out as Jack fol owed. Now he

welcomed it.

Weezy stopped where Eddie had broken through the crust and pointed to the edges.

“See this? I was so mad at him I didn’t notice before, but it’s real y weird.”

Jack saw what she meant. Eddie had shattered a four-or five-foot length of the crust into about a zil ion irregular pieces, but the edges of the broken

area—the near, the far, and both sides near ground level—were perfectly straight. Could have been cut by an electric saw.

The rain had done a number on the soft sand within the mound, washing it out and fanning it around the break like a cloud. Jack didn’t know what kind

of cloud it resembled, but he was sure Weezy could tel him.

He kicked over a random shard of crust and spotted something shiny and black beneath it. Before he could react, Weezy was on her knees and al over

it.

“What’s this?”

She started scooping away the surrounding wet sand, gradual y revealing a black cube the size of a softbal . Gently, cautiously, she wriggled her fingers

beneath it.

“Why don’t you just pick it up?” Jack said.

“Because it may be attached to something.” Her fingers must have met on its underside because suddenly she lifted it free and held it up. “Heavy!”

She laid it on the ground between them and began to examine it, tilting it a little this way and a little that.

Jack knelt opposite her. “What do you think it is?”

She shook her head, looking as baffled as he felt. “I don’t know. Some kind of stone—onyx, maybe? It’s got no writing on it, but I get this feeling it’s …

old.” She looked up at him. “Know what I mean?”

Jack couldn’t say why, but he knew exactly what she meant.

“Yeah. Very old.”

“And where there’s one there’s probably others.” Her eyes were wide with wonder and excitement. “Help me, Jack?”

He laughed. “Try and stop me.”

He wanted one of those cubes for himself.

So they started digging—not easy in the wet sand. But they kept coming up empty. Frustration was beginning to nibble at Jack when his fingertips

scraped against a hard surface.

“Got something!”

He dug his fingers down on each side of whatever it was and pul ed it up.

And found himself looking into the empty eye sockets of a rotting human head.

He stared in mute, openmouthed, grossed-out shock. Beside him, Weezy screamed.

4

Jack spotted a sheriff’s patrol car rol ing down Quakerton Road, Johnson’s main drag, just as he, Weezy, and Eddie raced into town. Johnson—often

confused with Johnson Place, fifteen miles northeast of here—wasn’t big enough to rate its own police force, so the Burlington County Sheriff’s

Department patrol ed the streets.

Trouble was, the cruiser was moving away.

Jack threw extra muscle behind the pedals and started waving an arm and yel ing as he chased it. Whoever was behind the wheel must have spotted

him because the cruiser pul ed over and waited.

He skidded to a halt beside the driver’s window and saw Deputy Tim Davis behind the wheel. Jack knew him from when Davis used to date his sister,

Kate, back in their high school days. He looked up at Jack through super-dark aviator sunglasses.

“Hey, Jack. How’s that beautiful sister of yours?”

Jack had pedaled so hard on his way back from the mound that it took him a second or two to catch enough breath to reply.

“Greatwefoundadeadbodyinthepines!”

He laughed. “Did you say ‘deadbody’? What? As opposed to a live one?”

“I’m not kidding, Tim.” He might be “Deputy” to everybody else, but he’d been “Tim” to eight-year-old Jack back when he’d gone out with Kate and so

he’d always be “Tim” in Jack’s mind.

“It’s true!” Weezy puffed as she pul ed up beside him. “I saw it too!”

Tim’s smile vanished as he stared at Jack. “This had better not be one of your practical jokes.”

Jack gave him a wounded look. “Who, me?”

He’d pul ed a couple of pranks on Tim and Kate when they were dating—innocent little tricks like resetting Tim’s watch and his car clock ahead so

they’d get home an hour early. Truth was, even though he’d liked Tim, he hadn’t wanted Kate dating anyone.

“Look at us.” Jack pointed to his face, then Weezy’s. “Do we look like we’re joking?”

People were discovering bodies al the time in the mystery-thril er-adventure stories Jack devoured. He’d always thought he’d be pretty cool if ever in

that situation.

Uh-uh.

He could stil feel the dry, rotted flesh against his fingers, see those empty eye sockets, the grinning teeth, the matted hair. Ugh. It made him queasy to

think about it. He tried to push it from his mind but it kept slithering back.

He wasn’t sure but he thought he might have screamed right along with Weezy. If so, he hoped she hadn’t heard him. That would be majorly

embarrassing.

Tim got on his radio. “This is A-seventeen requesting backup. I have a report of a corpse in the Pines near Johnson.”

A burst of static fol owed, choking a voice saying “Rogerthat”or “Ten-four”or whatever.

Tim opened his door, unfolding a map as he stepped out. He spread it on the hood of his car.

“Where exactly did you find this body?”

Jack looked at the angled lines of the fire lanes and the winding old Piney roads and didn’t know where to begin. He’d been fol owing Weezy’s lead and

hadn’t been paying attention.

Weezy stepped forward and jabbed her finger onto the map. “Right about here.”

Tim looked at her. “That’s Zeb Foster’s land.”

Weezy went al wide-eyed and innocent. “Is it? Oh, my goodness. We had no idea. We were just fol owing this fire trail, then we took the right fork here,

and the left fork here …”

Jack spotted Eddie standing by the rear bumper, leaning on his bike and looking annoyed. Jack wheeled over to him.

“You guys weren’t kidding, were you,” he said. “Al the way home I half thought you were putting me on. Wouldn’t be the first time you sucked me in.”

“But we wouldn’t be putting on the sheriff’s department, right?”

He shook his head. “I guess not. So if it was real, why didn’t you let me see?”

“Nobody stopped you. You could’ve gone over.”

“Yeah, but I thought you were kidding and you’d laugh at me.”

“We’re a little old for ‘made-you-look’ stuff, don’t you think?”

Jack hadn’t pul ed anything on Eddie since this past winter when he’d pul ed the ancient trick of rubbing some black grease around the edges of the

eyepieces of a pair of old binoculars. After Eddie had taken a look, he’d wandered around his house for hours with two black eyes. Hadn’t a clue until

Weezy came home and cracked up at the sight of him.

Eddie pounded a fist on his handlebar. “Man, some people have al the luck.”

“Trust me, if you’d seen it, you’d be thinking ‘yuck’ instead of luck.”

Eddie’s eyes took on a faraway look. “Yeah, but a deadbody.Awesomacious.”

Jack turned back to Tim and Weezy.

He heard her saying, “You fol ow those trails and look for a burned-out area on your right. That’l be the place.”

Tim was nodding. “Sounds easy enough. Anything else you can tel me?”

Jack caught Weezy’s eye and nodded to the black box in the bike basket. She returned a frantic No-please-don’t!look. So he said nothing.

Tim looked at Jack. “We’l probably need a statement from you three sometime tomorrow.”

Another sheriff’s car pul ed up then. Tim and the newcomer talked for a minute, then the two of them roared off toward the Pines.

Jack, Weezy, and Eddie stood there, looking at each other.

“Now what?” Eddie said.

Weezy pul ed the black box from her basket. “We go back to my place and see if we can open this.”

Jack said, “What makes you think it opens?”

She handed it to him. “Check the edges. Don’t those look like seams? This could be some kind of ancient puzzle box.”

Yeah, the edges did look seamed … or creased.

“Sounds like fun but …” Jack handed it back. “I promised Mister Courtland I’d mow his lawn today.”

“You can mow it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow I’m at the store. Besides, I promised him today.”

Weezy sighed. “Okay. Stop by later and see what we found.” She looked at the box, turning it over in her hands, then back at Jack. “Thanks for not

mentioning it to Deputy Dog.” “Tim’s okay.”

“Yeah, but he would’ve wanted it for evidence or something.” Her expression was fierce as she clutched it against her chest. “This is mine.”

Jack dramatical y cleared his throat. “Um, if I remember, we found it together.”

Her expression faltered. “Yeah. Okay. I guess we did. You want it?” Her eyes said, Pleasedon’tsayyes.

“Nah. You keep it.”

She grinned her relief. “You’re a good friend, Jack. The best.”

She leaned close and touched his arm, and for an instant he feared she might kiss him. Not that it would be so bad in itself, but jeez, not in front of

Eddie. He’d never hear the end of it.

He said, “Just let me know if you discover any ancient secrets—like eternal life, or how to turn lead into gold. I get an equal share.”

“Deal. As for secrets …” She stared again at the box. “… the world is fullof secrets.”

Eddie rol ed his eyes. “Here we go again. ‘The Secret History of the World.’”

“Stop it, Eddie. There isa secret history. And who knows? This just might hold one of those secrets.”

She replaced it in her basket, then waved and started pedaling off.

“See ya.”

Eddie fol owed. “Later, Jack.”

As Jack watched them go, Weezy’s words echoed in his head.

You’reagoodfriend,Jack.Thebest.

Am I? he thought as he hopped on his bike and headed home.

Was anyone real y his friend? Sure, he hung out with kids. Not very many. Just a few, in fact. Mostly Weezy and Eddie, and lately Steve Brussard. But he

didn’t feel they were true friends. More like acquaintances. The only one he felt any connection to was Weezy, and she was a girl. And even that wasn’t a

real connection.He simply found her unique. No one he knew looked at the world the way she did. She was always finding weird links between seemingly

unrelated things or occurrences.

He saw himself, on the other hand, as pretty dul . Whatever he liked to do tended to be something done alone. Like reading. Like mowing lawns. Like

swimming—he was on the Johnson swim team, and yeah it was cal ed a team, but he couldn’t think of many things more isolated than stroking back and

forth the length of a pool where the only thing to hear was the splash of his arms and legs, and the only thing to see was the black lane strip on the bottom.

Except maybe cross-country running, which he also liked.

Where did he fit? Where did he belong?

Maybe high school would be different. Dread tinged his anticipation. Meeting new kids. Being at the bottom of the pecking order. SBC Regional had

kids from al over the area. Maybe he’d find a bunch he could connect with. And maybe he’d fol ow the same pattern as he had in middle school. The difference between loner and loser was one letter.

Which was he?

5

“Oh, Jackie!” his mother said as she hugged him for the umpteenth time since he’d dropped the bomb about finding the body. “Wil my miracle boy be

able to sleep tonight?”

“It’s Jack, Mom. Jack,okay. Please?”

He’d been cal ed Jackie—at least at home—for most of his life. But he was heading for high school now where he wanted to be Jack.His mother was

proving the hardest to break of the habit.

As for “miracle boy”—forget about it. He’d come along when she’d thought she was through with having children, thus the name. She’d no doubt cal him

that on her deathbed.

Mom dying … he brushed the thought away. He couldn’t imagine it. He expected her and Dad to live forever.

He had her brown hair and brown eyes, and her love of music, although their tastes were nothing alike. She listened to the same Broadway albums over

and over— SouthPacificwas playing now—while Jack was firmly into rock. His current faves were Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and the eerie

“Synchronicity” off the new Police album.

She used to be thin but now complained about putting on weight these past couple of years. He’d heard her blame it on “the changes.”

“Okay, yes,” she said smiling at him. “Jack.I’m trying, honey, but old habits are hard to break, you know.”

“Just think: Whenever you’re about to say ‘Jackie,’ cut it in half.”

She laughed. “I’l try, I’l try.”

She turned on the dishwasher and headed for the living room to read. She loved novels and belonged to both the Literary Guild and the Book-of-the

Month Club. He’d noticed she was reading something cal ed MasteroftheGame by Sidney Sheldon.

Jack had the kitchen with its dark cabinets, Formica counters, and Congoleum floor to himself. The house had started as a three-bedroom ranch and

probably would have remained so if not for Jack. Not so many years after his arrival, his folks had added dormers and finished off the attic into a master

bedroom suite. They moved upstairs, leaving the downstairs bedrooms to the kids.

He retrieved a bag of pink pistachios from a cabinet and sat down at the kitchen counter to shel them. Rather than eating one at a time, he liked to

col ect a pile of twenty or so and gobble them al at once. As he shel ed, he thought about dinner, just recently finished.

The hot topic of conversation around the table had been—no surprise—the body. Tons of speculation on who it was, how old it was, whether it was an

ancient Lenape Indian mummy or the victim of a mob hit transported down here from New York in a trunk and buried where they thought it would never be

found. Or that maybe it was Marcie Kurek, the sophomore who’d disappeared from SBC Regional last year and never been heard from since. That idea

had silenced the table.

Otherwise it had been kind of fun listening to al the theories. One of those increasingly rare family dinners when everybody was present. What with Tom

back and forth to Seton Hal law school and Kate getting ready to start med school at UMDNJ in Stratford, that hardly ever happened anymore. Most

nights lately it had been just Mom, Dad, and Jack.

Of course the event wouldn’t have been complete without the inevitable lecture from Dad about the dangers of kids wandering through the Pine Barrens

without adults. Jack had listened patiently, trying to look interested, but he’d heard it so many times he could recite it by heart. Dad was a good guy, but he

just didn’t get it.

Yeah, the Barrens had its dangers. Some of the Pineys were what they cal ed inbreds—what his brother Tom liked to cal “the result of brothers and

sisters getting too frisky with each other”—and maybe a little unpredictable. And you could come upon a copperhead or timber rattler, or lose some toes

to a snapping turtle if you dangled a bare foot in the wrong pond. But you learned to keep your eyes open … you became Pine-wise.

Old Man Foster might have a deed that said he owned a whole lot of acres and the state conservation agency might pass al sorts of regulations, but as

far as Jack was concerned, the Pine Barrens were an extension of his backyard, and no one was keeping him out of his own backyard.

Kate came in then. Slim with pale blue eyes, a faint splash of freckles across her cheeks and nose, and a strong jawline. Her long blond hair, which she

worked at keeping straight, had gone wavy in the humidity. Jack warmed at the sight of her. Eight years older and a natural nurturer, she’d practical y

raised him. She’d been his best friend growing up and had broken his heart when she left for col ege. Last year, when she’d spent her junior year abroad

in France, had been the worst. He didn’t know what went on over there, but it had changed her. Nothing he could put his finger on, but no denying the

feeling that she’d come back just a tiny bit … different.

“Just got off the phone with Tim,” she said.

Tom came in behind her, smirking. “Rekindling the old flame?”

He was ten years older with a bulging middle; his brown eyes and brown hair were the exact same shade as Jack’s. They’d never got along wel .

Though Tom had never said it, Jack knew he saw him as a fifth wheel on the family car.

Kate gave Tom a tolerant smile. “Not likely. He’s engaged. But he gave me what information he could on the body.”

Jack was al ears. He licked his fingertips, red from opening the pistachios. He had seventeen of the little nuts piled before him—three more to go

before gobbling time.

“Do they know who it is?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. They think it’s maybe two years old.”

“Aaaaw,” Jack said as he popped open another shel . “There goes the Indian mummy idea.”

Kate smiled. “Afraid so.” Her smile faded as she glanced at Tom. “Tim says it was a murder.”

Jack froze, feeling creeped out. The three of them stood silent around the counter. Even big-mouth Tom seemed to have lost his voice.

Final y Jack regained his. “R-real y?”

She nodded. “Yeah, his skul is cracked. But more than that, he says it was some sort of ritual kil ing.”

Jack’s mouth felt a little dry. A ritual murder … images of an Aztec priest cutting out a stil -beating heart flashed through his head. Definitely gross … but

kind of cool.

“Did he say what kindof ritual?”

Kate shook her head. “I asked, but he said that’s al he’s heard.”

Tom gave a low whistle and grinned at Jack. “And to think, this heinous crime would have remained undiscovered, maybe forever, if not for our own

miracle boy.”

Jack was about to say something when Dad popped his head through the door. He looked excited.

“Hey, kids. Come here. You’ve got to see this.”

Jack left his pistachios behind as the three of them trooped into Dad’s study. They found him seated before his brand-new home computer. It looked

like little more than a beige electric typewriter with a couple of oblong boxes atop it, crowned with a six-inch black-and-white monitor. On the table next to

it lay copies of a magazine cal ed inCider.

Years ago Dad had built an Apple I from a kit, but it never worked right. This one he’d bought ful y assembled. Unlike the Apple I, which used tape

cassettes to store programs, this baby used things cal ed disk drives.

General y pretty quiet, Dad seemed fired up. He worked as a CPA, recently moving from Arthur Anderson in Phil y—for some reason, he hadn’t been

getting along with them—to Price Waterhouse in Cherry Hil , which meant a shorter commute. His two loves, outside of his family, were tennis and this

contraption, his Apple. Unlike Jack, Tom, and Mom, his eyes were blue, and he wore steel-rimmed glasses for reading. His formerly ful head of hair had

begun to thin on top.

“I just wrote this little program,” he said, pointing to the screen. “Watch.”

Jack caught a glimpse of a short column of text with lines like “N=N+1” and “Print N” and “GOTO” before Dad hit a key. Suddenly numbers began cascading down the left side of the screen:

1

2

3

4 …

And on and on, progressing from one-digit, to two-digit, and eventual y three-digit numbers.

“Neat!” Jack said. “When wil it stop?”

“Never—unless I tel it to.”

“You mean it’l count to infinity?”

“If I let it.”

“That’s great, Dad,” Tom said, his voice dripping sarcasm. “But what’s it good for?”

“Nothing. I’m teaching myself BASIC, and this is a demonstration of a program cal ed an infinite loop.” He patted his Apple. “Here’s the future, kids. I’ve

got forty-eight K of RAM—could have gotten sixty-four, but I can’t imagine ever needing thatmuch memory.”

Jack had some idea of what he was talking about—he’d been helping Steve Brussard build a Heathkit H-89 computer—but he had a lot to learn.

As Tom, Kate, and Jack returned to the kitchen, Tom whispered, “The future of what?Maybe if you’re a math geek, but for us normal folks?” He shook

his head. “Dad’s gone off the deep end.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kate said. “Like you’d know a thing about it.”

“Remember when he said Betamax would last and VHS would fade away? This is the same thing—a dead end.”

The crossing topics of computers and VCRs brought to mind the tape Jack had rented last month: Tron.Much of the film took place inside a computer.

The story was kind of boring but cool to watch.

“I think it’s neat,” he said.

Tom pointed to Jack. “Hear that? Miracle boy thinks it’s neat. I guess I’l have to revise my opinion.”

Then, with one swift motion, Tom swept Jack’s shel ed pistachios off the counter and popped them into his mouth.

“Hey!”

“What?” Tom said, chewing. “Were those yours?”

“You know they were!”

Jack raised a fist and started toward him—Tom was bigger but Jack didn’t care. Anger had taken control.

Kate stepped between them. “That was pretty lame.”

“What? They were just lying there.” He grinned at Jack over Kate’s shoulder. “Want ‘em back?”

Jack started for him again, but Kate held him back. He could have pushed her aside but no way he’d do that to Kate.

As Tom sauntered out, Jack said, “Bastard.”

“Don’t let Mom hear that,” Kate said.

“Wel , he is.”

“Immature is more like it.” She ruffled Jack’s hair. “You rocked his world when you were born. He was cock of the walk around here for ten years, and

then Mom’s ‘miracle boy’ arrived. I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it. A bad case of arrested development.”

“How about you?”

She laughed. “Are you kidding? You were a baby, a real, live baby. Suddenly I didn’t have to play make-believe with dol s anymore, I had the real thing to

care for. I was in heaven.” She hugged him. “I thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me. I stil do, Jackie.”

“Jack, Kate. Jack.”

6

Jack lay in bed reading a copy of TheSpider,a 1939 magazine with yel owed, flaking pages. Mr. Rosen at USED, where Jack worked part-time, had

stacks of old magazines and let Jack take home a couple at a time to read—”As long as you return them in the condition you received them.”

Jack had already read the half-dozen copies of TheShadowin the stacks. Lately he’d moved on to TheSpider—MasterofMen!,obviously a Shadow

rip-off, copying the slouch hat and the bil owing black cape, but a different kind of guy. Jack had thought the Shadow was cool, but the Spider was even

cooler. The Shadow fought mostly regular crooks while the Spider dealt with threats to the world. Like this issue: “King of the Fleshless Legion,” with al

sorts of skeletons on the cover and the Spider rushing in to save a woman locked alive in a coffin.

Neat.

He wished he could buy posters of these covers. Some of the posters he had now—especial y the one of Devo in their flowerpot hats—were getting

ratty. Besides, he hardly listened to Devo anymore. He certainly wasn’t going to replace his Phil ies pennant, not when they looked like they had a shot at

the World Series this year.

His beloved Eagles, however …

After that stupid footbal players’ strike last season they went a whopping three and six. Wasn’t easy being an Eagles’ fan these days. Maybe with

Vermeil out and that new coach—

He jumped as he heard a single knock on his door. He looked up and saw his father enter.

“How’s it going, Jack?”

“Fine.”

He sat on the edge of the bed. “You sure? Finding that … body today isn’t bothering you?”

Jack realized this was a side Dad didn’t show much. He tended to be the stiff-upper-lip sort: If you fal down you pick yourself up and keep going without whining or complaining.

“Real y, I’m fine.”

In fact, what the bad guys were doing to the Spider and what he was giving right back to them had pretty much wiped the body from his mind.

“You going to be able to sleep okay?”

“Think so. I’m not scared, if that’s what you mean. It was gross, but I won’t be dreaming about him coming for me or anything like that.”

At least he didn’t think so. He figured if anything kept him awake it would be questions about who was dead and who had done it and why he was kil ed

and what sort of ritual was used. The last time he’d been too scared to sleep had been a couple of years ago, right after reading ‘Salem’sLot—afraid to

look at his window for fear he’d see Eddie floating outside it.

Dad patted Jack’s leg. “Good. But if you have any problems during the night, don’t be afraid to give a hol er.” His gaze drifted to the magazine. “Good

God, where’d you get that?”

Jack handed it to him. “Mister Rosen’s got a bunch.”

Dad stared at the cover, a smile hovering about his lips. “I used to read these as a kid.”

Jack did a quick calculation: They’d celebrated Dad’s fifty-third birthday last month, which meant he’d been born in 1930. So he would have been nine

when this issue was printed. Nine might have been kind of young, but yeah, he could have read this very copy. Jack knew his father had been a kid once,

but this made his childhood … real.He suddenly saw Dad in a new light.

“Did you like them?”

“You kidding? Doc Savage, the Shadow, and this guy … I loved them.” He flipped through the yel owed pages. “Can I borrow this?”

Jack was only halfway through the story and didn’t want to give it up. He reached into his nightstand drawer and pul ed out another issue he’d already

finished.

“How about this one?”

Dad grinned at the cover: High atop the George Washington Bridge, the Spider battled with a guy in some sort of diving suit over a girl in a shredded

red dress.

“‘Slaves of the Laughing Death.’ I love it.” He rose and slapped Jack on the leg. “Thanks. This’l bring back old memories. And I think you’l be just fine

tonight.”

Jack thought so too. But he was concerned about the magazine. Mr. Rosen would have his hide if it came back damaged.

“Just return it in the condition you got it.”

1

“No matter what I do, I can’t get it open.”

Jack could sense Weezy’s frustration. It fil ed her bedroom like a storm cloud. He and Eddie knelt on the floor with the black cube from the mound between

them. Weezy sat on the edge of her bed, rubbing her hands together. Jack had told them about the ritual murder story from the sheriff’s office. Usual y that

kind of thing would grab Weezy’s attention like one of those leg-hold traps they’d seen yesterday, but she seemed completely focused on the cube. The Cure’s Pornographywas running in her eight-track player and, as usual, the

whiny voice was grating on Jack’s nerves.

“Can’t you play something else?”

Her smile had no humor in it. “You’d like Siouxsie and the Banshees better? Or

how about Bauhaus?” Her taste in music matched her taste in clothes

and posters.

He found the black-and-white Bauhaus poster of some shirtless guy hanging by

his hands a little too weird. Give Jack the Spider plugging hot lead into mad vil ains any day.

Jack winked at Eddie. “I know she’s got Flashdancehidden around here

somewhere.”

Eddie picked up right away. “She must. I’ve heard it through the wal .” He began

to sing. Badly. “‘She’s a maniac, maaaaaniac—’”

Weezy tossed a pil ow at him. “You lie!And what have you been told about

that?”

Eddie looked puzzled. “What?” Then a light seemed to go on. “Oh, hey, I wasn’t

thinking.”

Weezy only glared at him.

Jack didn’t know what was going on between these two, but doubted it had

anything to do with Flashdance.He tried to bring the talk back to music. “Bauhaus, then,” he said. “Anything but this.”

As she popped out the Cure cassette—thank you, God—he picked up the cube

and turned it over in his hands.

“Can’t open it, eh? What’ve you tried?”

Eddie said, “Anything toolacious. Knife, fork, screwdriver, razor blade,

chisel—you name it. Even a hammer. I’m ready to get my dad’s electric dril .” “Real y?” The glossy black surface looked unmarred. “How come it’s not al

scratched up?”

“Because it doesn’t scratch,” Weezy said, returning to the edge of her bed. “No

matter what we do to it.”

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” began to play. Jack kind of liked this song. “Maybe it doesn’t open. Maybe it’s just a solid cube of—what did you cal it

yesterday?” “Onyx.”

“What’s onyx?” Eddie said.

“A kind of black stone.”

Eddie snorted. “Black, huh? Figures you’d know about it.”

Weezy gave him a gentle kick. But Eddie had a point. Weezy was into dark—dark

clothes, dark music, dark books. She even kept her shades drawn to

make her room dark. The bright morning sun outside had been locked out. At

least she didn’t have black sheets, although her bedspread was dark

purple. Half a dozen gargoyles peered down at them from her shelves. “It’s not solid,” she said. “Give it a shake.” Jack did just that—and felt something

shift within. Not much. Just the slightest bit, but enough to tel it was

hol ow.

For no particular reason, he dug his thumbnails into the faint groove along one

of the edges and—

The sides of the cube fel open and it tumbled to the floor where it flattened out

in a crosslike configuration.

But what captured and held his attention in an icy grip was the black pyramid

inside—but not like any pyramid Jack had ever seen.

Weezy was off the bed and on the thing like a cat on a mouse. She grabbed it

and held it up, turning it over and over.

“I knew it—I knewit!” Then she looked at Jack, frowning. “How’d you get it

open?”

He shrugged. “I just—”

“Doesn’t matter. What’s important is it’s open.”

But it mattered to Jack. He hadn’t done anything special, just edged his

thumbnails into the—

“Some kind of pyramid,” Eddie said. “Maybe it’s Egyptian.”

“No, the Egyptian pyramids are four-sided. This has six. And it’s engraved with

these weird-looking symbols.”

“Let’s have a look,” Jack said. When Weezy hesitated, he added, “What? Afraid

I’l steal it?”

She flashed a nervous smile as she handed it over. “Don’t be sil y.” But Jack could tel she didn’t want to let it go.

The pyramid felt cold against his skin, and Weezy was right: The symbols, a

different one carved into each face, were kind of weird. Not exactly

hieroglyphics, but not like any letters he’d ever seen either. He upended it and

checked the base. Yep. Another symbol there too.

“Maybe there’s something in this as wel . Maybe it’s like one of those Russian dol

s, you know—”

“Matryoshka,” Weezy said. “A nesting dol .” How did she knowthis stuff? Jack searched the surface for a seam but came up empty.

“Looks like this is it.”

“Check this out,” Eddie said, pointing to the flattened box. “There’s something

carved on this too.”

Jack looked and saw what he meant. Some sort of grid had been carved inside

the crosspiece of the T.

Eddie echoed Jack’s sentiments when he said, “What’s al this mean?” Jack looked at Weezy, who had retrieved the pyramid and was studying it like a

jeweler grading a diamond. Al she needed was that little magnifying

eyepiece. What was it cal ed? A loupe. Right.

“Ever see anything like this in any of your secret histories?” He waved at her

sagging bookshelf. “One of those books hasto—”

She was shaking her head. “Nothing like this at al . Trust me. I know those

books by heart.”

“Then we’ve got to ask somebody.”

“No-no-no!” She clutched the pyramid to her chest. “They’l say it’s evidence and

take it from us.”

“We don’t have to mention it’s got anything to do with the body. We’l just say we

found it somewhere in the Pines and leave it at that.”

“Okaaaay,” she said slowly. “Let’s say we do that. Who can we show it to?”

A name popped into Jack’s mind immediately. “Mister Rosen.”

Weezy made a face. “He’s just a junk dealer.”

“Yeah, but it’s oldjunk. He knows everythingabout old stuff. You even got some

of your weirdo books from him, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but—”

“No buts. If he can’t help us, he’l know someone who can.”

“Okay. But first …”

She jumped up and hurried from the room, taking the pyramid with her. “Hey, look,” said Eddie, holding up a reassembled black cube. “I got her back

together. The sides just clicked into place. Simplacious.” He started

prying at the edges. “But I can’t seem to get her open again.”

Jack showed him where to position his thumbnails but, try as he might, Eddie

couldn’t get it open.

“Here. Let me have that.”

He took the cube, positioned his thumbnails the way he’d shown Eddie, and

pried.

The box popped open.

“How do you dothat?” Eddie said. Jack had no idea.

2

Weezy returned carrying the family Polaroid camera.

“Before we do anything, I’m getting some photos.”

She set the pyramid on her desk, knelt before it, and snapped a picture from

about two feet away. The flash lit the room.

Probably more light than this room’s seen in a long time, Jack thought. The camera whirred and spit out the photo. As expected, it came out blank.

Weezy put it aside to let it develop as she rotated the pyramid and— flash, whir—photographed the other side. Then she turned to Jack.

“Lay that on the floor, okay?” she said, pointing to the unfolded box in his hand. He did, then watched as she snapped another picture.

“Okay,” she said, stepping back to her desk. She picked up the first photo and

frowned. “Damn.”

Jack stepped closer and peered over her shoulder. “What’s wrong?” “I was too close.”

Jack wasn’t so sure. “Maybe. But funny how that pen lying right next to it is in

perfect focus.”

Weezy picked up the second photo: Same thing. And then the one of the unfolded box, where she hadn’t been close at al . The box pieces were blurred

but the rug around it was in perfect focus.

“Al blurred.”

Eddie came over and took a look.

“I don’t know about you guys,” he said, “but that’s creepitacious.”

Jack agreed, but didn’t say so. There had to be an explanation.

“Let’s try this,” he said, grabbing the pyramid and stepping back. He held it waist-high before him. “Take a shot of me holding it.”

Weezy did just that. The three of them clustered and watched as the image slowly took shape. There stood Jack, his head cut off by the top of the photo

frame. The Phil ies logo on his T-shirt was perfectly legible, but resting in his hand was a …

Blur.

He felt a chil run over his skin.

Beside him, Eddie said, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.”

Jack couldn’t have agreed more.

But Weezy … she looked like she’d just found the Holy Grail. Her eyes shone as she clutched the photo and stared at it.

“We’ve found one!” she whispered.

“One what?”

“A secret … a secret object.”

Eddie groaned. “Your Secret History of the World again?”

She turned on him. “You like to make fun of me and that’s okay. Why should you be different from anybody else? But there isa secret history. We think

we know what’s happened in the past but we don’t. Most history books don’t even get the eventsright, and they haven’t a clueas to what was going on behindthose events.”

Eddie snorted. “Oh, and you do?”

“I wish I did. But I know something’sbeen going on. Secret societies and mysterious forces are out there pul ing strings and manipulating people and

events and everyone wants to believe they’re in charge of their lives but they’re not because we’re al being pushed this way and that for secret reasons

and we don’t even know it.”

She was talking a hundred miles an hour, like she’d had a box of Cocoa Puffs and a couple of quarts of Mountain Dew for breakfast. She took a breath

and continued.

“There’s too many coincidences out there. Something’s going on— hasbeen going on throughout human history. And this—” She held up the pyramid.

“We weren’t supposed to find this. We’re not supposed to have it. Because it’s proof that not everything is as it seems. I mean, why can’t we photograph

it? Answer me that.”

Eddie shrugged. He looked a little cowed by Weezy’s outburst. “I dunno. Maybe the camera’s broken.”

Weezy tilted back her head and screeched at the ceiling. “Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Look at those pictures!

It’s staring you in the face but you don’t see it because you don’t wantto see what you can’t explain because it wil upset yours and everybody else’s

comfortable little worldview that we’re in control. Wel , we aren’t!”

She stopped, breathing hard. Eddie didn’t speak. Neither did Jack. He’d never seen Weezy like this. Sure, she got hyper at times and had al sorts of

strange theories about everything from the Kennedy assassination to Charles Manson, but this was kind of scary. Someone had pushed her hyperdrive

button.

She turned to him. “What about you, Jack? What do you say?” She held up the pyramid. “Something wrong with the camera or something wrong with

this?”

He remembered how clearly he could read his T-shirt in the last photo, yet how blurred the pyramid was, even though he’d been holding it against his

chest.

“The pyramid.” He quickly held up his hand to cut off another speech. “I’m not saying it has anything to do with secret histories—could be it’s made of

something that does tricks with light—but I don’t think it’s the camera.”

She sighed and fixed him with her big dark eyes. “Thank you, Jack. That means a lot.”

Even though he’d witnessed her mood changes before, her sudden calm jarred him. She’d dropped from pedal-to-the-metal to cruising speed in the

blink of an eye.

“I want to know what it is,” he said.

She nodded. “I’ve gotto know what it is.”

“Wel , we won’t find out sitting here.”

“Right,” she said, her voice barely audible. “Let’s go see Mister Rosen.”

3

Eddie had decided that defending the Earth in MissileCommandwould be more interesting than listening to whatever Mr. Rosen might have to say. He

talked of beating the world-champion score of eighty mil ion points. Fat chance.

Jack and Weezy could have walked but figured bikes were faster. Neither wanted to wait any longer than necessary. Jack led the way as they pedaled

west, the morning sun warm on their backs.

Funny, he thought as they rode, how he’d lead the way around town, but Weezy tended to take the point whenever they entered the Barrens. Almost as if

something in Jack knew the Barrens were her turf and made him take a step back when the pines closed in.

As they headed for downtown, Jack noticed people in passing cars slowing to stare and point at them.

Thosearethekidswhofoundthebody.

Cal ing it “downtown” was kind of a local joke. It consisted of eight stores clustered around the traffic signal at the intersection of Quakerton Road and

Route 206, a rutted, patched stretch of two-lane blacktop running from Trenton to the Atlantic City Expressway. Johnson didn’t rate a ful traffic light, just a

blinker.

As Jack had heard it, Quakerton was the town’s name until 1868, when President Andrew Johnson, maybe trying to get away from the impeachment

proceedings in Washington, spent three nights in the town’s one and only inn, now long gone. Seemed no one had liked the name Quakerton—after al ,

not a single Quaker had ever lived there—so they changed the name to Johnsonvil e. By 1900 it had been shortened to Johnson.

The traffic-light cluster consisted of a Krauszer’s convenience store, a used-car lot, and Joe Burdett’s Esso station—the company had changed its

name to Exxon better than ten years ago, but old Joe had never changed the sign. Back east along Quakerton sat Spurlin’s Hardware, Hunningshake’s

pharmacy, gift, and sweet shoppe, the VFW post, and Mr. Rosen’s place, USED. The sign used to say USED GOODS, but the nor’easter of 1962 ripped

off the right side and Mr. Rosen never replaced it.

The store had two large display windows on either side of the front door. Mr. Rosen had told Jack they’d been peopled with naked mannequins when

he’d bought it back in the 1950s from a wedding shop that had gone out of business. Now they were ful of what some people cal ed junk but Jack had

come to see as treasures from the past. USED was his personal time machine.

A bel atop the screen door tinkled as they entered. One step inside and the odors hit him—old wood, old cushioned furniture, old paper, a little dry rot,

a little rust, and a lot of dust. He loved the smel of this place.

“Mister Rosen?” he cal ed. “Mister Rosen?”

A painful y thin, elderly man with a stooped posture, pale skin, and gray hair wandered into view from the rear.

“Al right, already,” he said with a thick accent that sometimes sounded German and sometimes didn’t. “I’m coming, I’m—” He stopped when he saw

Jack. “Wel , if it isn’t the Finder of Corpses.”

“You’ve heard?”

“Heard? Who hasn’t? Probably al over town before you got home.” He studied Jack. “You okay? You want the day off maybe?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Good. They know who it is yet?”

“Not that I’ve heard.”

The old man glanced at the gold-and-glass Jefferson mystery clock on a nearby shelf. “At noon you’re due.”

“I know.” Jack stepped up to the counter and motioned Weezy forward. “But we’ve got something we’d like you to see.”

Mr. Rosen slipped on a pair of glasses as he moved behind the counter. “Something maybe to sel ?”

“No way,” Weezy blurted. “I mean, we’d just like your expert opinion.”

“Expert, shmexpert, I’l tel you what I know.”

Before leaving Weezy’s they’d reassembled the cube with the pyramid inside. Now she unfolded the bath towel she’d wrapped it in for transport, and

placed the cube on the counter.

Mr. Rosen adjusted his glasses for a closer look. “You bring me a box, a black box, and want to know what it is? In my expert opinion, it’s a black box.

Anything inside?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “That’s what we real y want to know about.” She stepped aside. “But it’l open only for Jack.”

Jack didn’t understand why Weezy and Eddie couldn’t do it. He’d shown them, they’d fol owed his directions perfectly, yet it refused to open for anyone

but him.

Which only increased the thing’s creep factor.

He did his thing to make it pop open, and then the three of them stood there at the counter, staring.

Final y Mr. Rosen reached for the pyramid. “May I?”

“Sure,” Jack said as Weezy gave a barely perceptible nod.

Mr. Rosen lifted it, but instead of examining it he set it aside and picked up the unfolded cube. He wiggled it in the air and watched as the six panels

flapped back and forth.

“Fascinating,” he said.

Jack was baffled. “Why?”

“No hinges. The squares appear to be made of thin sheets of some sort of material I’ve never seen. That’s strange enough, but they move back and

forth without any sort of hinge. Just … creases. Odd. Very, very odd.” “Tel me about it,” Jack said.

Mr. Rosen looked at them. “This I’d be wil ing to buy.”

Weezy gave her head an emphatic shake. “Uh-uh. It’s not for sale. Sorry.”

Mr. Rosen nodded as he put it down and picked up the pyramid. He turned it over and over in his hands, making little humming and grunting noises as

he held it up to the light and checked it with a magnifying glass. His sleeve slipped back revealing a string of numbers tattooed on his forearm. Jack had

seen them before but had hesitated to ask about them.

“Let me tel you, I’ve seen many strange objects in my day—you wouldn’t believe the things people bring in to try to sel me—but the likes of this I’ve

never seen. I couldn’t even guess what it is.”

“Oh,” Weezy said, her voice thick with frustration.

Jack hid his own disappointment. “Too bad.” Mr. Rosen had seemed to know a little bit about everything. “We were hoping—”

“But I know someone who might be able to help you.”

“Who?”

Jack half expected him to say, TheGreatandPowerfulOz!But instead …

“Professor Nakamura. He’s a maven of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.”

Weezy looked at Jack. “U of P? How are we going to get to Philadelphia?”

Weezy looked at Jack. “U of P? How are we going to get to Philadelphia?” “You don’t have to. He lives right here in town.”

Jack frowned. He thought he knew pretty much everyone in Johnson. “Never

heard of him.”

“Moved in about a year ago. Keeps to himself, I think, but he’s been in here a

few times. Interesting fel ow. His grandfather ran a laundry in San

Francisco but was driven out in the twenties by the Jap haters—al fired up by Wil

iam Randolph Hearst who hated Jews as wel —and fled back to Japan. Now his grandson has returned as an Ivy League professor. For al we know he

might be teaching the greatgrandchildren of the bigots who drove his

ancestors out. What sweet irony that would be.”

Jack didn’t remember any Oriental customers.

“Have I—?”

Mr. Rosen shook his head. “Hasn’t been in since you started. Col ects Carnival

Glass, of al things.”

“What’s Carnival Glass?”

“Iridescent kitsch is what it is. But he loves it. Bought every piece I had last

spring.”

That explained why Jack had never seen any—he hadn’t started here until late

June.

Mr. Rosen was fishing under the counter. “He left his number to cal as soon as

any new items came in.” Final y he came up with a card. “Here it is. Let me give it a try. I got the impression his schedule at the university isn’t too heavy, so who knows? You may get lucky.”

4

They didn’t. Professor Nakamura wasn’t home but Mr. Rosen left a message to cal him back. Jack and Weezy headed back to her place. He didn’t have

long before he was due at work.

“What do we do now?” he said as they coasted along Quakerton Road.

“Wait and see if this Professor Nakamura can help us, I guess.”

“And if he can’t?”

Weezy shrugged. “I don’t know. Don’t you wish the TV had a channel where you could, say, ask a question and it would search every library in the world

and pop the answer onto the screen? Wouldn’t that be great?”

“Yeah.” Then he thought about it a little more. “Or maybe not so great. You’d have to make TVs two-way before that could happen. I mean, it’s just oneway now—we can watch it and that’s that. But if it became two-way … it might start watching us.”

Weezy looked at him and smiled, something she didn’t do often enough. “And you cal meparanoid?”

“Hey, less than five months til Big Brother starts watching.”

NineteenEighty-Fourwas on his high school summer reading list and he’d found it majorly disturbing.

“Yeah, but—” She braked and pointed. “Aw, no!”

Jack looked and saw two guys pushing around a third near the rickety one-lane bridge over Quaker Lake. The pushers were Teddy Bishop and a blond

guy Jack didn’t recognize. Teddy, with long greasy hair and a blubbery body, was sort of the town bul y. His father was a lawyer and that seemed to make

Teddy feel he could get away with anything.

The beard and olive-drab fatigue jacket on the guy getting pushed around identified him as the town’s only Vietnam vet, Walter Erskine—or, as he was

more commonly known, Weird Walt. It looked like Teddy and his friend were trying to grab the brown paper grocery bag Walt had clutched against his

chest.

Before Jack knew it, Weezy was pedaling toward the scene, yel ing, “Hey! Stop that!”

Jack wasn’t surprised. Though young enough to be his daughter, Weezy had a thing for Walt. If she met him on the street she’d walk with him;

sometimes they’d sit on one of the benches down by the lake and talk—about what, Jack had no idea.

No use trying to stop her, so he fol owed. Couldn’t let her face those two creeps alone. He watched her jump off her bike and quickly set the kickstand

—Walt or no Walt, she wasn’t going to let that cube fal . Then she ran over, stepped in front of Teddy, and pushed him back. Not that she had much effect.

Teddy was an ox. But Weezy was fearless.

“Leave him alone!”

“Yeah, lay off!” Walt said, raising a gloved hand. He alwayswore gloves.

Walt had a hippieish look with a gray-streaked beard and long, dark hair. His voice sounded a little slurred. No surprise there. Jack didn’t know of

anyone who’d ever seen him completely sober.

Teddy laughed. “Look at this! Weird Weezy and Weird Walt together. How about that?”

Jack lay his bike on the grass and looked around. Last time Mom had taken him for a checkup he’d been five-five and one-hundred-two pounds. Teddy

had two years, two inches, and maybe fifty lardy pounds over him. He’d need an equalizer. He looked for a weapon, a rock, maybe, but found nothing.

Swel .

He approached the group empty-handed.

“What do you wantwith him?” Weezy was saying. “He’s not bothering you!”

“We just think he should share some of his hooch. We ain’t greedy. We don’t want it al , just a little. So get outta the way.”

Teddy’s friend’s hands moved toward Weezy, as if to shove her aside.

“Don’t touch her!” Jack shouted.

Teddy spun, looked surprised, then grinned. Jack saw now that he was wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt.

“Wel , look who it is. What is it with you two—you find a dead body and suddenly you’re Guardians of the Universe?”

“Just let her take him home.”

Teddy, his expression menacing, took a step closer. “And if I don’t?”

Jack felt his heart racing, but with more anger than fear. And the anger was growing, quickly overtaking the fear, blotting it out.

“You lay one finger on her and I wil kil you.”

The cold way the words came out startled Jack. He sounded like he meant it. And at the moment, he did.

Teddy stopped and stared, then smiled. Jack wondered at that smile until he felt a pair of arms wrap around him, pinning his arms at his sides.

“Gotcha, squirt!” said Teddy’s friend.

Jack had been so intent on Teddy and Weezy he’d forgotten the friend.

Teddy’s grin widened as he cocked a fist back to his ear. “Let’s see who’s gonna kil who.”

Jack lowered his head as he struggled wildly to get free. This was going to hurt. He heard Weezy scream, quickly fol owed by a cry of pain from Teddy,

and another from the guy holding him. Suddenly he was free. He leaped to the side, raising his fist, ready to swing, but stopped.

Teddy and his friend were cowering and rubbing their heads. Between them stood a heavyset old woman brandishing a silver-headed cane. She wore

a long black dress that reached the sidewalk and had a black scarf wrapped around her neck. Like Walt’s gloves, she wore that scarf no matter what the

weather. Beside her stood a three-legged dog.

Mrs. Elizabeth Clevenger.

But where had she come from? Jack was sure she hadn’t been in sight when he’d come over here. How—?

“Damn you!” Teddy shouted.

He took a step toward her but stopped when the dog bared its teeth and growled. A thick-bodied, big-jawed, floppy-eared mutt—Jack thought he

detected some Lab and some rottweiler along with miscel aneous other breeds—it seemed al muscle under its short, mud-brown coat. He’d seen it lots

of times; the missing leg didn’t slow it down at al .

“That dog bites me my dad’l sue you for every penny you’ve got.”

“If I let him at you it won’t be for a bite—he’l have you for lunch. Al of you.”

One look at the dog’s cold eyes and big jaws and Jack believed her. So did Teddy, apparently, because he backed off.

Jack felt his heartbeat slowing but his hands felt cold, sweaty, shaky. He’d been awful close to getting his face rearranged. Too close.

“Bitch!” Teddy said.

“Don’t you dare speak to your mother like that!”

“You ain’t my mother!”

“Sadly, I am. But only because I cannot pick and choose my children. Now be gone.” She brandished her cane. “Off before I cast a spel on you!”

That seemed to do it. Teddy jammed his hands into his jeans pockets and started to move away.

“C’mon, Joey. Let’s go,” Teddy said to his friend.

“Wait,” Joey said, his eyes wide with disbelief. “‘Cast a spel on you’? Is she kidding?”

“Shut up, Joey. You don’t know nothin’.”

The two of them walked off, arguing, Teddy looking over his shoulder from time to time.

Clearly Joey wasn’t from Johnson. Otherwise he’d have known that old Mrs. Clevenger was a witch.

5

“Are you al right, Walter?” Mrs. Clevenger said, rubbing her hand along his upper arm.

He nodded. “Yeah. They just pushed me around some. I’ve been through worse.”

“I know,” she said. “Much worse.” Then she turned to Weezy. “That was a brave thing you did, child.”

“Not so brave.” She seemed to have trouble meeting Mrs. Clevenger’s eyes. “I was scared half to death.”

“The brave are always scared.” She turned to Jack. “I know why she helped Walter—he’s her friend. But why did you?”

Jack figured the reason was obvious. “Because she’s myfriend.”

The old woman gave him a long stare, her green eyes boring into his, then nodded. “Friendship … there is nothing better, is there?”

“Nothing,” Weezy said, beaming at Jack.

The lady said, “Walter is myfriend. I’m going to walk him home now, but first …” She looked past them to Weezy’s bike. “That box … put it back in the

ground where you found it.”

Jack spun and stared at Weezy’s bike. Only a little bit of the towel wrapping the box was visible in the basket, nothing more.

Weezy’s mouth dropped open. “H-how do you know about that?” Her brow furrowed. “Did Mister Rosen—?”

Mrs. Clevenger smiled, which added more lines to her already wrinkled face. “I know more than I should and less than I’d like to.” The smile

disappeared. “But hear me wel . That thing is an il wind that wil blow nobody good. It was hidden from the light of day for good reason. Return it to its

resting place.” With that she started to turn away. “Besides, you wil never get it open.”

“But we did,” Weezy said.

Mrs. Clevenger’s turn came to an abrupt halt, then she swiveled back to fix Weezy with her stare.

“We?Who is we?”

Weezy looked flustered. “Wel , not ‘we,’ real y. Just Jack. He’s the only one who can do it.”

She turned her gaze on him. “Not such a surprise, I suppose. But that does not change anything. Put it back where it belongs.”

Jack wanted to ask her why that wasn’t a surprise but she’d turned away again. She took Walter’s arm and the two of them began walking, her dog

close behind. Jack heard bottles clinking in Walter’s paper bag.

“Now, Walter,” Jack heard her say, “you’re overdoing the drinking. You must learn to pace yourself, otherwise you won’t survive to complete your

mission.”

Walter shook his shaggy head. “Not surviving … that doesn’t sound so bad. I hate this …” He glanced back at Jack. “Do you think he might be the one?”

“I can understand why you might feel that way. But no, he’s not the one you seek …”

And then their voices faded.

What were they talking about? Why was Walt seeking someone, and why could Mrs. Clevenger understand why he might think Jack was the one? Jack

wanted to trail after them and hear more, then realized that they were both sort of crazy. He couldn’t expect to make sense out of a conversation between

those two.

Weezy too was watching them go, but she had her own questions.

“How could she know about the box?”

Jack shrugged. “And where did she come from? Did you see?”

Weezy shook her head. “No. Al of a sudden she was there, swinging her cane.”

Jack looked at the Old Town bridge that spanned the narrow midsection of the figure-eight-shaped lake. On the far side of that creaky one-lane span lay

the easternmost end of Johnson, where it backed up to the Pine Barrens. The area included the six square blocks of the original Quakerton settlement,

cal ed Old Town for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody knew for sure when it had first been settled. Most said before the revolutionary war— long

before the war.

Mrs. Clevenger lived in Old Town. She must have come from there.

Jack reconstructed the chain of events: Johnson didn’t have a liquor store, so Walt must have been stocking up in Old Town. Some of the Pineys had

stil s, but instead of using corn they made their moonshine from apples. Every Wednesday and Saturday one or two of them would come in from the

woods; they’d park their pickups at the end of Quakerton Road where it dead-ended at the edge of the Pines and sel their applejack. They transported it

in big jugs and customers had to bring their own bottle—or in Walt’s case, bottles—to be fil ed.

Nearly everybody in Johnson had at least one bottle of applejack in the house, and it was an ongoing argument as to who made the best—Gus Sooy or

Lester Appleton.

Walt must have gone over to get his bottles fil ed and run into Teddy and Joey on the way back. Mrs. Clevenger must have been close behind him.

Wel , wherever she came from, Jack was glad she’d arrived when she did.

He looked back and saw the pair turning the corner onto the block where Walt lived with his sister and brother-in-law.

“There goes an odd couple,” he said.

Weezy nodded. “Way odder than Oscar and Felix. She wears that same scarf day in and day out, and he wears gloves no matter how hot it gets.”

“You believe she’s a witch?” Jack said as they headed back to their bikes, and immediately realized Weezy was probably the wrong person to ask.

“Could be. She’s hard to explain. I mean, how did she know about the box?”

Remembering that caused a trickle of uneasiness to go down Jack’s spine.

“I don’t know, but should we fol ow her advice?”

Weezy looked at him as if he’d suddenly grown a second nose and a third eye. “Are you kidding me? Go back and bury it? No way! Even if she isa

witch.”

Obviously he’d struck a nerve. No surprise, though.

“Wel , I don’t believe in witches, but did you hear her threaten Teddy with a spel ?”

“So? I can threaten youwith a spel , Jack. Doesn’t mean I can cast one.”

“Yeah, wel , maybe she just pretends to be a witch. She’s already got the Clevenger name. Maybe letting the more superstitious folks around here think

she’s the Witch of the Pines come back from the dead works for her somehow.”

She and her dog had moved into Old Town a dozen or so years ago. Her mysterious ways—disappearing for months at a time and then suddenly

around every day, wandering through the Pines at night—had started some folks whispering that she was real y Peggy Clevenger, the famous Witch of the

Pines. But how could that be? Everybody knew how the real Peggy Clevenger’s decapitated body had been found in her burned-out cabin back in the

1800s.

Weezy shrugged. “Could be.” She gave Jack a sidelong look. “You know they say Peggy’s body wanders the Barrens at night looking for her head. But

I’m just wondering …”

“Wondering what?”

“What if she found it and put it back on?”

Jack laughed. “Come on! Even you don’t believe that.”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But how do you explain Mrs. Clevenger’s

ever-present scarf? Why would she wear it on a hot day like this?” Weezy dropped into her ooh-spookyvoice. “Unless she’s hiding the seam where she

reattached her head.”

Jack picked up his bike and waited for Weezy to knock back her kickstand. “You gotta be kidding me.”

She looked at him with those big, dark, black-rimmed eyes. “Okay, fine. Your

turn then: Give me another explanation for the scarf.”

Jack couldn’t come up with one. Not for lack of trying. He real y wanted another

explanation. Because he didn’t like Weezy’s one bit.

6

Jack spent the afternoon at USED.

The best thing about the job was he hardly ever did the same thing two days in

a row. One day he’d spend dusting al the antiques and just plain junk; the next he’d supply a third or fourth hand to help Mr. Rosen fix an old clock;

another he’d wind al the clocks and watches—not too far—and make sure they were set to the right time. Today he was helping Mr. Rosen pretty up some

antique oak furniture he’d just bought—a rol top desk and a round table with cool lion paws at the ends of its legs.

The old man’s fingers weren’t as steady as he’d have liked, so he oversaw Jack

as he used a stain-soaked Q-tip to darken scratches in the old wood.

After the stain dried, Jack would polish the surface.

For his time and effort he was paid $3.50 an hour—not a princely sum, but

fifteen cents above minimum wage. Mr. Rosen had offered him the extra if Jack would save him al the government paperwork by taking cash. Fine with

Jack, because that in turn saved him the trouble of finding his birth certificate and applying for a Social Security number.

He supplemented the USED money by mowing lawns, but that was always

subject to the whims of weather—not enough rain and the grass didn’t grow, which meant no mowing; too much rain and the wet grass clogged the mower.

He liked the reliability of the weekly cash from USED.

Not that he had much in the way of expenses. He’d go to the movies—he

planned on seeing ReturnoftheJedifor a fourth time this weekend—or rent sci-fi or horror films on videocassette. He liked to keep up with certain comics

like Cerebusand Roninand SwampThing,but he’d lost interest in most of the titles he used to love—especial y ones with characters in tights. Occasional y

he’d buy a record album if he liked it enough. His latest had been

Prince’s 1999;he’d probably buy Synchronicityby the Police next. Dad had insisted he find a part-time job that would, in his words, “al ow you

enough time to enjoy the summer but help you learn the value of a dol ar.” Wel , fine. But Jack would have found one anyway because he wasn’t

comfortable with an al owance —givenmoney didn’t feel like it was real y his. But the money he earned—that belonged to him and him alone.

The phone rang and Jack hustled over to pick it up.

“USED.”

“Yes, hel o,” said an accented voice. “This is Professor Nakamura. May I speak to

Mister Rosen, please?”

He handed over the phone and listened while Mr. Rosen talked about Carnival

Glass, then moved the conversation to the “artifact” he and Weezy had found.

“You say you’l be around tomorrow morning?” he said into the phone, then

pointed to Jack, who nodded vigorously.

Yeah, they could make it.

“Fine. I’l send them over around ten o’clock.”

Yes! Now they’d get some answers.

He hoped.

7

Jack kept a careful watch for his brother as he sat at the kitchen counter and shel ed his pistachios. He had a pile of sixteen. Four to go. No sign of Tom,

but he had this strange sensation of being watched. He looked around and saw no one. Was he getting paranoid?

Mom had MyFairLadyplaying on the stereo. Of al the soundtracks, that was probably his favorite. He loved the melodies, but the lyrics were

outstanding.

He was thinking about the meeting with this professor tomorrow, and about what he might say, when he knocked half a dozen unshel ed pistachios off

the counter. As he squatted to gather them up he saw a shadow swoop by. Before he could react, Tom had scooped up the shel ed pistachios and tossed

them into his mouth. Without breaking stride or even looking around, he hit the back door and was outside before Jack could get over his shock and

react.

Rage blazed. He looked at the cutlery drawer and imagined himself grabbing one of the Ginsu knives his father had bought from the TV last year and

chasing after Tom. But what would he do when he caught him—cut off his hands?

Nice fantasy, but …

Calming himself, Jack sat and stared at the spot where his pistachios had sat. How’d that expression go? Foolmeonce,shameonyou…foolme

twice,shameonme.

Yeah, he thought. Shame on me for leaving those out there. But that didn’t mean Tom wasn’t due a little payback.

He was calm now, calm enough to remember another old saying: Revengeisa dishbestservedcold.

Cold … he’d have to think on this.

Relax, Tom. Enjoy the moment. Rest easy that you’re home free. But your time is coming. Soon you’re going to regret messing with me.

Kate rushed into the room then, with Mom and Dad close behind.

“Jack, they’ve identified the body you found!”

He held his breath.

Dad said, “Anyone we know?”

Mom’s hands folded under her chin. “It’s not that Kurek girl, is it?”

“No. Dental records identified him as Anton Boruff, a jeweler from Mount Hol y who disappeared two years ago. It’l be in the papers tomorrow.” She

lowered her voice. “But what won’t be in the papers is that the police have suspected him of being a fugitive.”

“Real y?” Jack said. This was getting better and better. “From the law?”

Kate nodded. “Seemed he’d been ripping people off, sel ing fake diamonds as investment grade. The police thought he’d absconded with the money,

but I guess one of his victims got to him before he made his getaway.”

“At least he’s not a local,” Mom said. “I mean, it’s a shame he’s dead, of course, rest his soul. Just that I was afraid it was someone we knew. The

thought of having a kil er among us …” She shuddered. “But if he’s from Mount Hol y—”

“Wel ,” Kate said, “he must have been in and out of here a lot because he was some sort of pooh-bah in the Lodge.”

“Oh, dear,” Mom said. “I’ve never liked those people. They’re so sneaky. I wish they’d find someplace else to meet.”

Everybody cal ed it simply “the Lodge” but Jack had heard it was a branch of something cal ed the Ancient Septimus Fraternal Order. The Lodge

building had been in Old Town forever. The Order was secretive about its activities and purposes and membership. One thing everybody knew: It was

veryselective about who it accepted. Every once in a while a newcomer to town would try to join, only to learn that membership was by invitation only

—you had to be asked.Nobody knew what the qualifications were. Rumor had it the membership included some of the state’s most influential and

powerful people.

“How do they know he was with the Lodge?” Jack said.

“Because he had some unrotted skin left on his back and the Septimus Lodge’s seal had been branded into it.”

Mom gasped, Dad winced.

Everyone knew that seal: an intricate starlike design that made you a little dizzy if you looked too close. A huge model of it hung above the Lodge’s front

door.

Smiling, Kate raised a hand before Jack could speak.

“I know how your mind works, Jack, and the answer is no: He wasn’t tortured with the brand or anything like that. The medical examiner said it was

many years old. Probably some sort of rite they go through.”

Jack hesitated to ask his next question. He didn’t want to seem too morbid, but he had to know.

Final y he cleared his throat and said, “What about the ritual?”

Kate shook her head. “I asked Tim about that and he says they’re holding the details back for now.” She smiled. “But don’t worry. I’l find out. Jenny

Styles from Cherry Hil —you’ve met her, Mom. She’s a year ahead of me at med school, but guess where she’s externing.”

Jack and his mother shrugged.

“The ME’s office. She’s been assisting with the autopsies. I know I’l be able to get it out of her. She lovesto talk.”

“Cool.” Jack could always depend on Kate. “I wonder if they stuffed his mouth with the fake diamonds.”

Mom said, “Jack!”

“Wel , the Mafia stuffs a dead bird in a stoolie’s mouth, so I just thought—”

“That’s not exactly a ritual,” Kate said.

A ritual … Jack figured the possibilities would haunt his dreams tonight.

“Any other news?”

She laughed. “Isn’t that enough? Don’t worry, I’m on the case.” She lowered her voice to a mock announcer’s tone, like Walter Cronkite’s. “News

bul etins wil be reported as soon as they’re received.”

“Great.”

He scooped up the unshel ed pistachios and dropped them back into the bag. Tom’s theft had stolen his appetite for them.

“I’m heading over to Steve’s.”

Steve had been cal ing al day, saying Jack had to come over tonight because his father had something to show him.

Dad said, “How’s that computer coming along?”

“Okay, I guess. The instructions aren’t very clear.”

“Wel , my hat’s off to you for trying. I know what I went through with that Apple One.”

Jack wondered if they’d ever get finished, what with Steve Brussard getting half smashed every night.

8

“So you saw only the head?” Mr. Brussard said.

He and Jack and Steve sat around the kitchen table—the boys drinking Pepsi,

Steve’s father sipping some sort of mixed drink. He’d started quizzing

Jack the instant he arrived.

Steve’s expression was avid. “Was it gross?”

“Majorly.”

Steve was a reduced Xerox copy of his father—same round face, same hazel

eyes, same thick, curly reddish hair that clung to the scalp like a bad

toupee.

“So that was it?” Mr. Brussard said, leaning closer. “You didn’t see the rest of the

body?”

“No, and maybe I’m glad I didn’t. I mean, what with it being a ritual murder and

al .”

Steve slammed his palm on the table. “What?No way! You’re putting me on!” His father had his eyes squeezed shut and was rubbing them with a thumb and

forefinger. “What sort of ritual?”

Me and my big mouth, Jack thought.

He’d forgotten that no one was supposed to know about that. At least not yet. “I don’t know. They’re … they’re keeping that secret.”

“Have they identified him yet?”

With a start Jack wondered how Mr. Brussard knew it was a him,and then

realized he’d been thinking of the corpse as a “him” as wel .

“Maybe it’s Marcie Kurek,” Steve said.

Marcie again. Wel , no surprise. For a while last year her disappearance had

been al anyone talked about.

Jack figured he could tel them the identity since it would be in tomorrow’s

papers. But he couldn’t remember the man’s name.

“A jeweler from Mount Hol y.”

“Anton Boruff,” Mr. B said in a low voice.

Steve’s eyes were wide. “Dad, you knewhim?”

His father said, “Heard of him. It was in al the papers a few years ago. Vanished

without a trace. Some people thought he’d left his wife and run off with another woman, but …” He shrugged.

Jack couldn’t mention the diamonds, and anyway he was tired of talking about

the body. Looking for a way off it, he remembered Steve’s cal s.

“Steve said you had something you wanted to show me, Mister Brussard.” The man looked confused for a couple of seconds. “What? Oh, right. But it’s not

something to see. More like hear. We’l have to go into the living room.” They rose and fol owed him until he turned and pointed to the middle of the

family den floor.

“Al right, boys, sit yourselves down right there—that’s what we cal the sweet

spot.” Jack had no idea what was going on, but complied. Sipping from their Pepsis, he

and Steve situated themselves cross-legged on the shag carpet

while Mr. Brussard fiddled with a bunch of electronic components racked on a

shelf at the far end of the room.

“Now I know you’ve heard parts, or maybe even al of this before, but you’ve

never heard it like this.”

He seemed to be trying to sound cheerful when he real y wasn’t. If that was the

case, he was doing a lousy job.

“Heard what?” Steve said.

“Tchaikovsky’s 1812Overture.”

Steve groaned. “Aw, man! Classical music?”

Jack was no fan himself. The only thing he liked less was opera. Listening to

some of those fat ladies’ wailing voices was like fingernails on a

blackboard.

“Wait. Just wait. It’s a long piece, but I’m going to get you to the good part. This

was digital y recorded and they used realcannonsfor the finale. You’ve got to hear it to believe it.”

Jack didn’t know what “digital y recorded” meant, but real cannons … that might

be cool.

Mr. B fiddled with some buttons. “Let me advance it to the sixteen-minute mark

so as not to strain your short attention spans. There. Now … listen.”

With a flourish he hit a button and instantly the living room fil ed with an

orchestra playing a familiar tune Jack had heard a mil ion times on commercials and TV shows. But loud.And so clear. No hiss, no static, no pops … just pure

music.

And then the cannons started blasting. Jack jumped and almost dropped his

Pepsi can. He looked at Steve who was looking back al wide-eyed and

amazed. The explosions were so real and so loud Jack could feel them vibrating

through the floor into his butt. He started laughing with the pure excess of the sound.

When the cannons stopped, Steve’s father turned off the music and hit a button

that popped a little drawer out of one of the components. Then he turned to them.

“Ever hear anything like that? You’ve just experienced state-of-the-art tweeters

and mid-range speaks plus a sixteen-inch subwoofer.” He held up a

silvery plastic disk. “Al playing this.”

“What’s that?” Steve said.

“It’s cal ed a compact disc, or CD, for short. It’s the latest thing in music.” Steve’s father was known as a gadget freak. As soon as anything new came out,

especial y in electronics, he’d be on it.

Jack had never heard of a CD, but he wanted to hear more. The sound quality,

the bone-rattling bass … the possibilities …

“Do any of these CDs have real music—I mean, rock music?” He looked at Steve.

“Just think what Def Leppard would sound like.”

Steve grinned. “‘Foolin’!’ Yeah. That would be awesome!”

“Sorry, guys. Not much available yet, and it’s mostly classical. But in the future …

who knows?”

“Can you play that again, Dad?”

He popped the disc back in the tray, slid it closed, and did his thing with the

buttons.

“You listen. I’l be right back.”

As soon as his father left the room, Steve hopped up and rushed to the nearby

liquor cabinet. While the cannons boomed and shook the room, he

pul ed an unlabeled bottle from within and poured a long shot into his Pepsi. He

replaced the bottle, closed the door, and was back at Jack’s side just as the music began to wind down.

From upstairs he heard Mrs. Brussard yel ing, “Would you pleaseturn that noise

down?”

“Okay, guys,” Mr. B said as he hurried back into the room. “I’ve got some cal s

to make, so why don’t you two hit the basement and get to work on that computer.”

Steve jumped up. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

As Jack fol owed Steve toward the basement door he glanced back and saw Mr. Brussard standing by his rack of stereo equipment, staring off into

space with a worried expression.

Though the music had been awesome, he wondered if Mr. Brussard had used this new CD player as an excuse to get him over so he could quiz him

about the body.

9

“Are you tryingto get caught?” Jack said when they reached the finished basement.

Steve grinned at him. “Don’t worry about it. Besides, that just makes it more fun.” He offered his Pepsi to Jack. “Sip?”

Jack hesitated, then took the can and swigged.

Awful.

“You do know how to ruin a good Pepsi,” he said, handing it back. “What’s in there this time?”

Steve tended to grab whatever was available from the liquor cabinet. He didn’t seem to care.

“Applejack.”

Jack shook his head. Dad had given him a taste once—”To take the mystery out of it,” he’d said—and he’d hated it. Burned his tongue and nose and

made him cough. Same with Scotch, although that tasted more mediciney. And beer … he didn’t know about other brands, but Dad’s Carling Black Label was bitter. He couldn’t imagine ever liking beer.

Give him Pepsi any day.

“Let’s get to work.”

They had al the pieces to the Heathkit H-89 laid out on a card table. The company had been bought and had stopped making the kits, but Steve’s

father had picked up this 1979 model for a bargain price. Jack couldn’t wait to get it assembled and up and running. It looked so much cooler than Dad’s

Apple because it was al one piece: keyboard, monitor, and floppy drive al in the same casing.

According to the instructions they were almost halfway there. They’d have been further along if Steve had been more help. But he’d developed this thing

for liquor.

He hadn’t always been like this. In fact he’d never been like this before he went away to that Pennsylvania soccer camp last month. He was a great

soccer player, and because of that he tended to get teamed up with older players. Jack had a feeling some of those older players had introduced Steve to

hard liquor and it had flipped some sort of switch in his head.

“Why don’t you put off your cocktail or whatever until we’ve got the CPU instal ed.”

The Heathkit came with a Z-80 processor, whatever that was, which was the heart and brain of the computer. If they didn’t instal it correctly, nothing

would work.

“Okay, okay.”

He took a long swig before placing the can on the far corner of the table, then he moved up beside Jack to study the diagram. Jack was a little worried

about him.

“Stil don’t know why you want to ruin the taste of a Pepsi.”

“Wel , the booze tastes too bad to drink straight.”

“Then why—?”

“Because maybe I like the way it makes me feel, okay?” he said with an edge in his voice.

Obviously Steve didn’t like talking about it. Maybe he knew he had a problem. Jack tried warning him off another way.

“Sooner or later your dad’s going to notice his bottles getting empty, and since they can’t be emptying themselves …”

Steve gave a dismissive wave. “My dad’s too busy at the Lodge to notice.”

Jack couldn’t hide his surprise. “The Lodge? Your father’s a member of the Lodge?”

Steve shrugged. “Yeah. Like forever. Why?”

“Nothing.”

But Jack’s mind whirled. Just a little while ago when Steve had asked if his father had known the dead man, Mr. Brussard had said he’d “heard of him.”

But if they were both members of the Lodge, wouldn’t he have more than heard of him?

1

Professor Nakamura lived on the other side of Route 206 in the wel -to-do area of Johnson—the most recently developed section, where they had real

sidewalks and curbs and where homes tended to be bigger and more lavish than regular folks’. Since it occupied the westernmost end of town, as far as

possible from Old Town on the east, its residents had started cal ing their neighborhood “New Town.” The name never caught on with anyone else.

A little after nine-thirty, Weezy swung by Jack’s place with the cube and the two of them biked down Quakerton Road. They had plenty of time so they

rode slowly, weaving back and forth as they talked.

Jack told her what Kate had said about the identity of the corpse and how he had the Lodge’s seal branded on his back.

“The Ancient Septimus Fraternal Order,” Weezy said, shaking her head. “Should have known.”

“Why should you have known?”

“Al right, I should have guessedwhen you said ritual murder.”

Jack’s stomach did a flip. “They kil people?”

Weezy shrugged. “Who knows what they do? They’re rumored to have al sorts of rituals. I’ve tried to read up on the order but there’s almost no hard

facts. Lots of theories, but it’s so secretive no one seems to know much for sure. One thing that’s certain is the Ancient Septimus Order is real y and truly

ancient.Lots older than the Masons.”

“The masons? You mean bricklayers?”

Weezy rol ed her eyes. “No, another secret society. The order has lodges al over the world and they cal the shots in many places. Like New Jersey, for

instance. It’s said nothing gets done in this state unless the Lodge approves. Everybody chalks it up to corruption, but it’s the Lodge.”

Jack had to laugh. “C’mon, Weez! We’re talking about Johnson, New Jersey, here. The butt end of nowhere. If this order is oh-so-powerful, don’t you

think it’d set up in Trenton or Newark? I mean, anywhere but Johnson.”

Weezy gave him that tolerant smile she used when she was about to tel someone what she thought everyone should already know.

“The Lodge wasn’t built in Johnson … Johnson—or Quakerton, as it was cal ed back then—was built around the Lodge.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Lodge was here first. Some say it was here even before Columbus came to the Americas, but no one can prove that.”

“How can that be? Look at the building. It can’t be that old.”

Another eye rol . “Ever hear of rebuilding and remodeling? Anyway, some accounts—and I can’t say how reliable they are—say that members had

settled themselves around the Lodge in what they cal ed Quakerton—what we now cal Old Town—long before the Pilgrims arrived.”

“How is that possible?”

“Wel , it’s pretty wel accepted that the Norse and even Irish had settlements in North America in the eleventh century. Who’s to say who else was

around? But here’s what’s real y interesting: If the Lodge’s settlement was already here when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, how could they have cal ed it

Quakerton when the first Quakers didn’t even exist until 1647?”

Jack said, “I don’t know about you, but that sounds like pretty good proof that somebody”—his turn to give a look—”has her dates screwed up.”

“Maybe it meant something else. Maybe their idea of a Quaker wasn’t our idea of a Quaker.”

Jack found that unsettling, but couldn’t say why.

“And another thing—” She stopped and pointed. “Look!”

They’d reached the light at the highway, and Jack saw what had caught her attention. The flashing lights of a pair of cop cars and an ambulance were

spinning like mad at Sumter’s used cars across 206.

He looked at Weezy, she at him, and they both nodded.

Jack led the way across the highway and into the car lot where they stopped behind two deputies. Both were watching a guy and a woman from the

volunteer first-aid squad work on an unconscious man who lay spread-eagled on the pavement. They’d torn open his shirt and slipped some kind of

plastic board under his back. The first-aid guy was on his knees, thumping on the man’s chest while the woman held a face mask over his nose and

mouth and squeezed a footbal -shaped bag to pump air into his lungs.

Jack wondered who it could be. He noticed one of the deputies was Tim but didn’t dare ask him. He’d shoo them away for sure.

The first-aid guy was bathed in sweat. He stopped thumping and listened to the chest while pressing two fingers against the man’s throat. Then he

leaned back and looked at his watch.

“Twenty minutes of CPR and nothing. He’s a goner.” Another look at his watch. “I’m pronouncing him at nine-forty-seven.”

The deputies pul ed out pads and pens and made notes as the woman first-aider removed the mask. The dead man’s face was white, his mouth hung

open, and his glassy eyes stared at nothing.

Jack and Weezy gasped in unison when they recognized Mr. Sumter. Tim must have heard, because he turned and saw them.

“Okay, you two. Move on. Nothing to see here.”

Jack said, “What happened?”

“Looks like a heart attack.” He waved them off. “Come on, now. Get going. Clear the area. Haven’t you two seen enough dead bodies this week?”

That startled Jack. It hadn’t occurred to him. Come to think of it, he and Weezy had seen two dead people in less than forty-eight hours.

Wow.

As they were wheeling away he glanced back just as the first-aiders were rol ing Mr. Sumter onto his side to remove the plastic board from under him.

His shirt had ridden up, revealing a symbol scarred into his back.

The seal of the Ancient Septimus Fraternal Order.

Two dead men … both Lodgers. But they couldn’t possibly be connected.

Could they?

2

Jack led the way to Professor Nakamura’s place.

He lived on Emerson Lane, home to Johnson’s biggest houses, and the only

street in town that ended in a cul-de-sac. The so-cal ed New Town used to be Eppinger’s sod farm, and so it had no native trees. Any oaks and maples in

sight had been trucked in and planted by the homeowners. A cornfield

stretched to the north, the leaves on the green stalks waving gently in the

breeze. To the south lay an orchard, its trees sagging with fruit.

The professor answered the door and welcomed them in. A chubby little man

with a round face, gold-rimmed glasses, short black hair graying at the temples, he led them to a library. Al sorts of stone heads and statuettes vied for

space with the books crammed on the shelves. A big window overlooked a sand garden in his backyard. Three big lava stones of varying sizes had been

set at odd intervals, and the sand had been raked into curving patterns around them. Jack liked the effect. Very peaceful.

“Now, what have you brought me?” the professor said in a soft, accented voice

as he seated himself behind a mahogany desk. Jack recognized it as

mahogany because Mr. Rosen had been teaching him about the different kinds

of wood that went into the old furniture in his store. “Mister Rosen says I wil find it very interesting.”

Weezy handed Jack the cube. He placed it on the desk blotter and opened it. The professor stared at the pyramid for a moment, then ran his hands over its

surface. He removed a magnifying glass from a drawer and gave it a

quick once-over.

“You found this in the woods?” He spoke without looking up.

“Yes.” Weezy glanced at Jack. “We dug it out of something that might be a burial

mound.”

He grunted and continued his examination. “Real y. And you think it is … what?

Some sort of ancient artifact?”

“We don’t know,” Jack said. “That’s why we brought it to you.” Professor Nakamura grunted again, then put down the pyramid, took off his

glasses, and looked at them. His lips were pursed like he’d just bitten into a lemon.

“Are you trying to hoax me?”

The question took Jack by surprise. “Hoax? No way! We real y dug that up

and—”

“If that is true, then someone is hoaxing you.”

“Impossible!” Weezy said. She looked majorly upset. “Nobody knew where we’d

be digging, not even us!”

The professor raised a hand and smiled. “No-no. Not you purposely. Anyone.

Hoaxers like to find a mound—burial or otherwise—and plant phony

artifacts in them, then wait until they’re found.”

“But—”

“A tablet with Phoenician writing ‘discovered’ in Grave Creek mound in West

Virginia in eighteen hundreds— fake.Piltdown man— fake.Ica stones from Peru— fake.”

“I don’t know about that stuff,” Jack said. “But I can tel you, if someone buried

that cube and hoped someone else would find it, he must have been

ready to wait a long, long time. Because it was buried in an area of the Barrens

where hardly anyone goes.”

Professor Nakamura frowned. “But you said it was a mound. Someone must

have told you about it.”

“Uh-uh.” Jack jerked his thumb at Weezy. “Shefound it.”

The professor stared at her. “This is true?”

She nodded.

He picked up the pyramid again, tracing his pinkie finger along the symbols. “These symbols look pre-Sumerian, which would make them six or seven

thousand years old. But on this pyramid … notice how cleanly they have been etched into its surface? Back then, scratching quil s on wet clay tablets was state

of the art. So it is obviously a hoax.”

“It’s not a hoax,” Weezy said. “Can’t you feel it? It feels old.”

The professor offered half a smile. “Archaeology and anthropology cannot

operate on feelings, young miss.”

Weezy looked ready to explode, so Jack jumped in. “Isn’t there some

carbon-dating test you can do to see how old it is?”

His smile broadened. “Carbon-fourteen dating is not a test one does in one’s

basement. And besides, carbon-fourteen can date only organic material, like wood or bone.” He tapped the pyramid. “This is not organic.” “There must be someway,” Jack said.

The professor sat silent, as if thinking. Final y he said, “I suppose we can try

potassium argon dating. It can date nonorganic material—”

“Great! Let’s do it.”

“I must take this to the university then—”

“No!” Weezy cried. “You can’t take it away!”

He spread his hands. “Then I cannot help you.”

Jack touched her arm. “Come on, Weez. Otherwise we’l never know.” “I’l never see it again. I just know it.”

She looked at him with glistening eyes—were those tears? He hoped she wasn’t

going to cry. He’d never seen Weezy cry and didn’t want to now.

“Look—”

“I final y found one, Jack,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I final y

got my hands on one of the secrets. I can’t just let it go.”

He had a sudden idea.

“Hey, why don’t we compromise? Keep the box and let the professor take the

pyramid.”

She opened her mouth as if to say no without even thinking, but stopped. After a

moment’s thought she said, “Look, if we’ve got to give him something, let him take the box. I want the pyramid.”

“The pyramid wil work out better,” the professor said. “Its engravings might be

the easiest to date most accurately.”

Weezy chewed her lip, her gaze locked on the pyramid. Final y she said, “Okay.

But you promise I’l get it back? You promise?”

“I promise,” the professor said. “My department handles artifacts and specimens

al the time. We are experts. You have nothing to fear.”

“I hope not. But there’s something I’ve got to do before you take it.” She looked

around. “Can I have a pencil and a piece of paper?”

“Of course.”

The professor produced them immediately from the top drawer of his desk.

Weezy grabbed the pyramid and laid the paper over one of its sides. Then she began rubbing the pencil over it. The engraved symbol appeared. She did

this with al six sides.

“Don’t forget the bottom,” Jack said.

Weezy nodded and finished up with that. She put down the pyramid and held up

the paper to look over her work.

“Got it.”

Jack peered over her shoulder at the strange symbols. What could they mean?

He gathered up the flattened panels and snapped them back into a cube while the professor lifted a hard-sided briefcase from the floor. He laid it on

the desk, opened it, and placed the pyramid inside.

As he snapped it closed, Jack glanced at Weezy. She looked like some of those mothers he’d see at the bus stop every fal when they sent their child

off to school for the first time.

3

Moments later they were standing outside, blinking in the bright summer sunshine. Weezy looked downhearted.

“It’l be al right, Weez,” he said as they got back on their bikes.

She looked at him. “Wil it? What if they lose it?”

“Come on. He’s an archaeologist. He does this sort of thing al the time.”

She sighed. “I know, but …” She let the word hang.

“At least we’l know how old it is. That’s important, don’t you think?”

She shrugged. “I guess so. But on the other hand, I don’t care how old they say it is, I knowit’s old and I knowit’s important.”

Jack felt a growing impatience. “But that’s just it, Weez—you don’tknow. You feel, you wish, you believe, you hope, but that’s not knowing. To know

you’ve got to have some facts.”

She looked at him and shook her head. “You just don’t get it, Jack. I don’t think you’l ever get it.”

He was about to ask her just what she meant by that when he heard a car horn toot-toot.He looked around to see a new, light blue Mustang GLX

convertible with the top down. They were stil in the professor’s driveway and the car had pul ed to the curb a few feet away. He instantly recognized the

driver.

Carson Toliver.

Everybody knew Carson Toliver. Son of Edward Toliver, the rich, big-shot real estate developer who lived in the biggest house in town at the far end of

the cul-de-sac. Local boy hero who’d enter his senior year as captain and quarterback of the Burlington Badgers, the high school footbal team. Probably

wind up captain of the basketbal team too. He had the tanned skin, long blond hair, and good looks of a California surfer dude.

And he was looking at Weezy.

“You’re Weezy Connel , aren’t you.”

Weezy nodded but said nothing. She looked like a deer in headlights.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you around. Heard you found a body in the Pines.”

She may have found a body but she hadn’t found her voice yet.

“We both did,” Jack said.

He looked at Jack for the first time. “And you are?”

“Just Jack,” Weezy said, her voice sounding thick. “He’s a friend. Just a friend. He’s going to be starting as a freshman next month.”

Carson had already lost interest in Jack and was refocused on Weezy.

“So … this body. Was finding it gross or cool?”

“A little bit of both, I guess.”

“I’l bet it was. I’d offer you a ride but I see you’ve got your bike. Maybe we can get together sometime and talk about it.”

“W-with me?” Weezy said.

“Sure. I’d love to hear al about it.” He put the car in gear and waved. “Later, Weezy.”

She waved, then stood with her jaw hanging open as she watched him go.

“Close your mouth before you start catching flies.”

She turned to him, mouth stil open. “Do you believe that? He spoke to me. He actual y stopped and spoke to me.”She closed her eyes and tilted her

head back. “I can’t believeit!”

“Am I missing something here?”

“Carson Toliver wants to get together with me!” She was talking to the air. Jack could have been miles away.

“So?”

Final y she came back to Earth—or at least into shal ow orbit—and looked at Jack as if he’d just told her he was from the Crab Nebula.

“‘So’? He’s a hunk!He’s more than a hunk, he’s thehunk! And he … he asked me out. Wel , kind of. How cool is that?”

“Too cool for words,” Jack said, letting the sarcasm drip. “Let’s ride.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. She was tugging on her ponytail. “Look at my hair! And how I’m dressed! Lame!And I’m on a bike! A bike!I must look like

a total dweeb!”

“Wel , it’s not as if you can drive yet. You’re only fourteen.”

“I’l be fifteen next month!”

“Stil …”

“If I’d been walking he’d have given me a ride.”

Jack had about al he could take. He started riding back toward 206. If Weezy wanted to come that was up to her, but he wasn’t going to stand there

and listen to any more of her burbling babble.

He didn’t know why he was feeling ticked off. Okay, maybe he did. To see Weezy go al gaga just because some guy stopped and said hel o … it

shouldn’t bother him, but it did. That wasn’t his Weezy—or rather, not the Weezy Jack knew. His Weezy wasn’t like other girls. She was different. Special.

Carson Toliver should be gaga because she’d spoken to him.

“Hey, Jack!” he heard her cal behind him. “Wait up!”

He was tempted to say, Don’tyoumean,‘justJack’?but didn’t want to let her know how that had bothered him, or that he’d even noticed. Talk about

getting dropped like a hot potato.

She’d probably wanted to let Carson know they weren’t going out or anything like that. And … wel … they weren’t. So why had it bothered him?

He didn’t know.

He slowed to let her catch up.

“What’s the hurry?” she said.

“Got an errand to run.”

“Oh. Want me to come along?”

“That’s okay.”

No traffic in sight when they came to 206 so they buzzed straight across. “Is something wrong?” she said when they reached the other side. “No, why?”

“You’re acting weird.”

Yeah, he probably was. He needed a cover.

“My brother’s been hassling me. I want to teach him a lesson and I need a special ingredient for that.”

“And that’s the errand?”

He nodded.

She said, “Anything I can do to help?”

He glanced at her. “This is gonna be pretty much a one-man show, but if I need

a hand, I’l let you know.”

She smiled. “If you need me, I’m there.”

Jack didn’t know why, but suddenly he felt a change. Like a weight had lifted

from his shoulders.

Weird.

4

Mr. Vito Canel i lived on a corner up the street from Jack and was known for having the best lawn in town. An older, retired, white-haired widower, he

wouldn’t let anyone else touch his lawn. He cut it twice a week, watered it by hand every other day, and trimmed its edges so neatly it looked like he’d

used scissors.

Although his lawn was off-limits, he would hire Jack to shovel his walks and driveway in winter.

His front yard was open but he kept his back fenced in to protect his vegetable gardens from rabbits and the Pinelands deer that wandered through

town. Except for the paths between the beds, almost every square inch of his backyard was planted with tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, and half a dozen

varieties of peppers.

Toward the end of summer—like now—he’d set up a table in the shade and sel the excess from his garden. Jack’s mom was a regular customer for his

huge Jersey beefsteak tomatoes.

But Jack wasn’t in the market for tomatoes.

He leaned his bike against a tree and waved to where Mr. Canel i sat in the middle of his lawn pul ing crabgrass by hand.

Jack inspected the peppers on the table. He saw green, red, and yel ow bel s, and pale green frying peppers. Not what he was looking for.

“Do you have any hot peppers?” he said, walking up to the old man.

Mr. Canel i looked up from under a broad-brimmed straw hat.

“Of course,” he said in his Italian accent. “But I keep for myself. They much too hot for people around here.”

“I’d like to buy the hottest you’ve got.”

He shook his head. “You won’t be able to eat. I can eat habañeros like they candy, but my hottest—no-no-no. I use a tiny, tiny amount in soup or gravy.”

“It’s not for me. This person wil eat them.”

He gave Jack a long stare, then raised his hand. “Help me up and I show you what I got.”

Jack helped pul him to his feet, then fol owed him into the backyard.

“These are jalapeños,” he said, pointing at some dark green oblong peppers maybe two inches long. “They hot.” He moved on and pointed to a shorter

orange pepper. “Even more hot habañeros.” And then he stopped at a bushy plant with little berry-size peppers. “And here the king. The smal est of the lot,

but the most hot. A special breed of tepin I cross with habañero.”

“Tay-peen?” Jack had never heard of it. But then, what did he know about peppers? “How much apiece?”

Mr. Canel i shook his head. “I don’t sel . Too hot.”

“Please? Just a couple?”

The old man stared at him, smiling. “You up to no good, eh?”

Jack fought to keep his expression innocent. How did he know?

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. But you a good kid. I see you with the lawn mower, I watch you shovel snow. You work hard. I give you some.”

“I can pay.”

“I have dried one inside. You wait.”

While Mr. Canel i went inside, Jack wandered through the garden, marveling at the size of the tomatoes and zucchinis. The old guy definitely had a

green thumb.

When he returned a few minutes later he handed Jack a smal white envelope.

“You take.”

Jack peeked inside and saw half a dozen little red peppers.

“Hey, thanks.”

“You be careful. You wash you hands after you touch. Never rub you eyes. If you burn you mouth, take milk. Or maybe butter. Water only make worse.”

“Got it,” Jack said. “Thanks a mil ion.”

He hopped on his bike and stifled himself until he was wel down the street. Then he did the mwah-ha-ha-halaugh the rest of the way home.

5

As Jack was biking to USED at midday, he heard someone cal his name. He looked around and saw a long-haired, bearded man waving to him from the

front porch of the Bainbridge house.

Weird Walt.

“Hey, Jack! Got a minute?”

Jack had a few. He swung the bike around and coasted into the driveway. Walt was rocking in the shade of the porch. He pointed a gloved hand at an empty rocker beside him.

“C’mon up and set a spel .”

“I gotta get to work.”

“Just a coupla minutes.”

Jack shrugged. “Okay.”

He laid his bike down on the dry lawn that badly needed watering. Walt lived here with his sister and her husband. He took care of the yard, but wasn’t

very good at it.

As Jack hopped up the steps to the porch, Walt patted the seat of the rocker again.

“Here. Sit.”

He noticed his gloves were leather. His hands had to be majorly hot and sweaty in those. As Jack seated himself, Walt leaned close and stared, his

gaze boring into him. It made Jack uncomfortable.

“What?”

“Just checking.”

“Checking what?”

“I thought you might be him, but you’re not.”

“What made you think—?”

“Don’t worry. I’l know him when I meet him.”

With that Walt scooted his rocker a foot farther away, as if afraid to stay too close.

Wel , he wasn’t cal ed Weird Walt for nothing.

Jack leaned back and started rocking. Not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon.

“What’s up, Mister Erskine?”

He laughed. “They cal ed my father ‘Mister Erskine.’ Cal me Walt. I wanna thang you for comin’ to my aid yesterday.”

Jack gave him a closer look. Barely lunchtime and already he had red eyes and slurred words. Jack felt a mixture of sorrow and distaste. And worry …

Steve Brussard could end up like this if he didn’t get a grip.

“I didn’t do anything,” Jack said. “Mrs. Clevenger did al the work.”

“Yeah, but you were there and you were on my side. Would’ve been just as easy for you and Weezy to join the crowd against me. But you two aren’t

herd members.”

“Yeah, wel …”

“Don’t minimize it, Jack. Look, I know what people think of me. I know I’m the town weirdo and the town drunk—I know I’m ‘Weird Walt.’ I’m a lot of

things, Jack, but I ain’t stupid.”

“I … I never thought you were.” Where was this going?

“An’ I’m not crazy. I know I act crazy, but I have very good reasons for what I do. Like these gloves.” He held up his hands. “I wear them so’s I don’t touch

anyone.”

“Yeah. Okay.” This was getting weird.

“An’ I don’t drink ‘cause I want to, I drink ‘cause I have to. I drink to survive.” Jack couldn’t help saying, “I don’t understand.”

“You wouldn’t. You couldn’t. Nobody can. Not even my buddies in ‘Nam.” “Is it something that happened in the war?”

Walt stared at him with a strange look in his eyes. Jack tried to identify it. The only word he could come up with was … lost.

“Yeah.”

“What?”

“I don’t talk about it. I used to, but I don’t anymore. It landed me in a mental hospital once. I don’t want to go back again.”

“My dad was in the Korean War. He won’t talk about that either.”

Walt looked away. “Lotta people like that. War changes you. Sometimes it’s something you did, sometimes it’s something that was done to you. Either

way, you don’t come back the same.”

Jack was thinking his dad seemed pretty normal—except for never talking about it. Jack would have loved to hear some war stories.

He thought of something he needed to know.

“You know, um, Walt. If you were a soldier and al , why’d you let a couple of punks like Teddy and his friend push you around?”

He shrugged. “I’m nonviolent.”

“But—”

“When I got drafted I said I wouldn’t fight but I’d be a medic.”

“So you spent the war fixing people up instead of shooting them down?”

“I don’t know about the fixing-up part. Mostly I just shot ‘em up with morphine so they could stand the pain and maybe stop screaming until dust-off.”

“Dust-off?”

“That was what we cal ed a medevac mission—when a chopper would come in and carry off the wounded.” He shook his head. “The things I saw … the

things I saw …” His voice became choked. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been a medic. If I’d been just a grunt back in sixty-eight, my life would be different now.

But it got ruined.”

Al this was making Jack a little uncomfortable. He wished he’d worn a watch so he could look at it.

“Um, I gotta run.”

Walt swal owed and smiled. “I know you do. Thanks for stoppin’ and listenin’ to me ramble. I just needed to talk to you. You did the right thing yesterday

and I wanted you to know that you didn’t do it for some useless, drunken lump of human protoplasm. That the guy you see on the outside is not the same

as the guy on the inside. Did I get that across?”

“Yeah, Walt,” he said, going down the porch steps. “Yeah, you did.”

He smiled through his beard. “Good. Because I owe you one, man. And don’t you forget it. Because I won’t.”

Jack hoped he’d never need to col ect.

6

After putting in his hours at USED, Jack stopped at the Connel house on the way home. He and Eddie were battling for high score in DonkeyKong.

Weezy came in just as Jack was handing the joystick back to Eddie.

“Hey, Weez. I need to borrow the cube tonight.”

She stopped in midstride and frowned. “Why?”

“Want to show Steve. He’s handy with gadgets. I want to see if he can open it. I can’t be the onlyone.”

“Gee … I don’t know.”

Jack felt a flash of irritation. “Don’t know what? You think I’m going to lose it or something?”

“No, I mean I don’t know if it’s a good idea to let it get around too much that we have it.”

“If that pyramid is as special as you think it is, I’l bet word of it is al around U of P by now.”

She sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She looked deep into his eyes. “You’l take good care of it, right?”

Jack put his hand over his heart. “Guard it with my life.”

“And you won’t tel anybody we found it with the body, right? ‘Cause they’l take it away.”

He held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

“I’m serious, Jack.”

“So am I. You’l have it back tomorrow.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

“Okay, come upstairs. I need you to open it for me first.”

He fol owed her up to her room where he opened the cube and laid it on her desk. He watched her pul out a sheet of paper and trace the design on the

inside of the panels.

“Why are you doing that?”

“Just in case.”

“You’re acting like you might not get it back.”

“You think so?” she said without looking up.

When she was finished she snapped the cube back together, then wrapped it in a towel and put it in a shopping bag. She handed it to him.

“Don’t let it out of your sight.”

Jack shook his head as walked back downstairs. You’d think he was borrowing her first-born child.

7

After dinner, Jack took the bag of pistachios to his room but didn’t bother shel ing them right away. He needed to do something else first.

He put on Journey’s Escape—loud—and played a few runs of air bass to “Don’t Stop Believing.” Nodding his head in time, he placed the dried tepin

peppers in a cereal bowl and crushed them into flakes. Then, making sure no one was in sight, he crossed to the hal bathroom and added an ounce or

two of tap water.

Back in his room he mixed everything wel , then set it aside and started shel ing the pistachios. He’d done about ten when he heard a knock. Knowing it

wasn’t Tom—he never knocked—Jack placed the latest issue of Cerebusover the pepper bowl and left the pistachios on his desk.

“C’mon in.”

He turned down the music as Kate stepped through the door. Her gaze flicked to his desk where she spotted the pistachios.

She smiled. “Figure it’s safer to eat them in here, huh?”

“At least tonight. What’s up?”

Kate’s smile faded and she bit her lip. “I know I promised to find out for you, but I’m not sure I should tel you.”

“You mean about the murder ritual?” Jack felt his heart rate kick up. He’d been dying to hear this. “Go ahead. You can tel me.”

“It’s real y bizarre.”

Even better.

“Tel -me-tel -me-tel -me!”

“Okay. Wel … Jenny told me that it seems whoever kil ed the man cut off his forearms at the elbows and crudely sewed them into his armpits.”

“What?”

Kate nodded. “Truth, I swear.”

Jack tried to envision it but had trouble. “Oh man, that’s so weird.Was he …?”

“Alive when they did it?” Kate smiled as she gave him a gentle slap on the back of his head. “Mister Morbid … I knew you’d ask.”

“Wel ?”

“Was he alive when they cut off his forearms? No.”

That was a relief—in a way.

“But what does the arm thing mean?” He snapped his fingers as an idea hit. “Maybe it has something to do with stealing.”

“Traditional y thieves lose their right hand—and it’s not sewn into their armpit. I asked Jenny about it and she says the medical examiner’s going to

make some cal s, but he’s never heard of anything like it.”

“Maybe it had nothing to do with the diamond scam.” Jack lowered his voice into an imitation of Weezy’s ooh-spookytone: “Maybe it’s an ancient,

secret cult, living unseen in the Pinelands for thousands of years, kil ing and mutilating unwary victims who cross their path! Mwah-ha-ha-ha!”

She laughed and ruffled his brown hair. “Stop it. You read too many of the wrong books and watch too many crummy movies.”

The crummy part was sure true. He’d seen Jaws3-Dlast month and what a waste of money—crummy 3-D and crummier story.

Kate pointed to the pistachios. “May I have one?”

He cupped his palm around the pile and pushed it toward her. “Youcan have them al .”

And he meant it. Anything Kate wanted she could have, no questions asked.

She took just one, picking it up between a dainty thumb and forefinger. “This’l do.” She popped it into her mouth and stepped to the door. “You want this

closed?”

He nodded. “Definitely.”

“You’re not going to have nightmares tonight about being chased by short-armed men, are you?”

He laughed. “As if.”

On the other hand, that might be kind of cool—as long as it was only a dream.

As soon as the door closed he went to work shel ing another half dozen pistachios. When he was done he dropped the whole pile into the tepin bowl

and swirled the mixture around and over them. Satisfied they were al nicely coated, he picked them out one by one and lined them up on his windowsil to

dry.

When he was finished, without thinking, he licked his two wet fingertips and instantly his tongue and lips were on fire. Fire!Like he’d licked the sun.

He jumped up and dashed across the hal to the bathroom for water, but remembered Mr. Canel i’s words just in time: Wateronlymakeworse.

His mouth was kil ing him, making his eyes tear. What had the old guy said to use instead? Ifyouburnyoumouth,takemilk.Ormaybebutter.

Jack dashed for the kitchen, yanked open the refrigerator. On the door he spotted an open stick of Land O’Lakes butter. He gouged a piece off the end

and shoved it into his mouth, running it al over the burning area. Slowly, the heat eased—didn’t leave entirely but at least became bearable.

He hurried back to his room and stared at the drying pistachios. He’d touched just a drop—less than a drop—to his tongue and look what happened. If

Tom ate that whole pile …

Jack didn’t want to think about how that would feel. Might be toomuch payback, even for Tom.

But on the other hand, Jack wasn’t handing them to his brother. Tom would have to steal them to taste them.

The decision would be Tom’s, the outcome entirely up to him.

8

Steve couldn’t open the cube either.

They’d been sitting at the Brussards’ kitchen table where Jack had demonstrated

the technique at least a dozen times.

He wondered if Steve had already been drinking. His fingers seemed kind of clumsy.

“Hey, Dad!” Steve cal ed. “Come check this out!”

Mr. Brussard strol ed in from the living room where Jack could hear some sort of

classical music playing.

“What’s—?” He froze in the doorway like he’d been hit with a paralyzer ray. His

eyes were locked on the cube. “Where did you get that?”

Remembering Weezy’s warning, Jack told a vague story of the two of them

digging it up in the Barrens a while back.

He concluded with, “I’m not even sure I could find my way back there.” Not true, of course, but his promise to Weezy overrode Mr. Brussard’s nosiness. “Get this, Dad. It’s impossible to open—at least for me.”

Mr. Brussard frowned. “What makes you think it opens?”

“Jack showed me how but I can’t do it.”

Mr. Brussard stared at Jack. “You can open it?”

Jack wondered why he looked so surprised. “Yeah. Kind of weird that I’m the

only one.”

“Yes … yes, it is.”

Jack picked it up. “You ever seen anything like it before?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s very strange looking, isn’t it.”

Jack wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling Steve’s father wasn’t being total y honest. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Open it for me,” Mr. Brussard said. “Let me see you do it.”

Jack showed where he placed his thumbnails, then popped it open. Mr.

Brussard’s eyes popped too.

“But it’s empty!”

Obviously. But he was acting as if he’d expected to see something. Jack told him about the pyramid. No point in keeping that a secret. Mr. Rosen

and Professor Nakamura already knew about it, along with a bunch of

people at U of P, no doubt. So why not?

When Jack finished, Mr. Brussard looked like he had an upset stomach. “It’s at U

of P? For dating?”

“Yeah. Can’t wait for the results.”

“Neither can I,” he said in a flat tone. “Be sure to tel me.”

“Hey, Dad,” Steve said, clicking the cube back together and handing it to him.

“See if you can open it.”

Jack showed him, placing the man’s thumbnails in the seam as he’d done for

everyone else who’d tried.

“Now … pul them apart.”

Mr. B did just that—

And the box popped open.

“You did it!” Steve cried.

Mr. B didn’t seem surprised, but Jack certainly was. He didn’t know if he felt

relieved or disappointed that he was no longer the only one. He’d belonged to an exclusive club, with a membership of one. Now …

“Cool!” Steve said, snapping it back together again. “Let me give it another

shot.” Just then the doorbel rang. When Mr. B opened it, Jack saw a worried looking

man who seemed vaguely familiar. They shook hands in a funny sort of way, then Jack heard the newcomer say, “Gordon, we’ve gotto talk. Sumter—” Mr. Brussard shushed him. “Wait here.” He returned to he kitchen and said,

“Okay, boys. Got some business to discuss. Why don’t you two get back to work on the computer?”

“Okay,” Steve said. “We’re almost done.”

His father pointed to the cube. “You can leave that here.”

Jack remembered Weezy’s warning: Don’tletitoutofyoursight.But he didn’t

have to say anything. Steve did it for him.

“Uh-uh,” he said, stil fiddling with it. “I’m gonna get this yet.”

Jack took another look at the nervous man and suddenly knew why he was

familiar: Every few years he plastered his face al over the county during the freeholder elections. The freeholders ran the county, and Winston Haskins was

one of them.

The funny handshake, Steve’s remark about how his father was so involved in

the Lodge … did this have anything to do with the Lodge? Or the corpse? The freeholder had mentioned Mr. Sumter.

Jack burned with curiosity. He didn’t know what was going on, but things were

connecting in the strangest ways, and Steve’s dad seemed to be in the middle of it al .

He even could open the cube.

9

When they reached the basement, Steve put down the cube and produced two little bottles from his pocket.

“Look what I found.” He grinned as he waggled them in the air. “Airline bottles. My dad’s got a drawer ful of them.”

Jack took a closer look. Booze. The labels said one was Jack Daniel’s and the other Dewar’s Scotch.

Swel .

“Which one you want?”

Jack shook his head. “Maybe later. Hey, your father know Mister Sumter, the guy who died?”

“Sure. Didn’t everybody? Matter of fact, he was here last night, right after you left.”

“Here? What for?”

Steve shrugged and Jack realized he probably hadn’t been very alert at the time.

He could contain his curiosity no longer.

“Hey, I gotta go tap a kidney. Be right back.”

“Hurry up.” He twisted off the cap on the Jack Daniel’s and started pouring it into a Pepsi. “You’l miss al the fun.”

Jack padded up the basement stairs and paused at the top. The kitchen looked empty so he stepped out and peeked down the hal . He heard voices

coming from the den. The guest bathroom lay halfway between the kitchen and the den. Holding his breath, he made it to the bathroom and closed the

door behind him without latching it. Leaving the light off, he stood with his ear to the opening and listened.

Mr. Haskins was talking.

“Damn it, Gordon, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Wel , it is and it did. So we deal with it.”

Jack wished he’d arrived sooner. Then he might know what “it” was.

Mr. Haskins sighed. “Poor Sumter. Why now? What lousy timing.”

“Timing had nothing to do with it,” Mr. Brussard said. “He was brought down.”

“Brought down by whom? No … the High Council can’t know.”

“They don’t have to. I’m certain they’ve sent out a klazen.”

A klazen? Jack thought as he heard Mr. Haskins gasp. What’s that?

“That’s a myth,” the freeholder said. “An old wives’ tale. There’s no such thing.”

“You’re so sure? I’m the Lodge lore master, remember, and I’m tel ing you a klazen can sniff out those responsible. And when it finds them … wel ,

Sumter was healthy as a horse but now where is he?”

Responsible? For what?

“B-but he had a heart attack.”

“Did he? Maybe his heart simply stopped. That’s not a heart attack, but it’s the way a klazen works.”

“Oh, God!” Haskins moaned. “What do we do?”

“The Compendiumoffers protection.”

“The Compendium?But that’s a myth too.”

Mr. B sounded ticked off. “This is getting tiring, Winston. We have partial transcripts in the vault.”

“What do they say?”

“To use this. Not now … tomorrow at dawn, face your back to the sun, and use it.”

“‘Back to the sun’? Oh, come on!”

Jack could imagine Mr. Brussard shrugging. “It’s up to you, Winston. I did it. I’m protected. If you want to risk going without it, be my guest. I’ve

discharged my responsibility. What happens now is on your own head.”

“Al right, al right. God, I’m scared. This had better work.”

“It wil . A klazen can run for only a week. At the end of that time, it wil vanish and the Council wil assume it’s done what needed to be done. We’l be

home free.”

“Five more days … if we can just last …”

“The key to doing that rests in your palm.”

“What about Chal is?”

“Out in L.A.—some insurance brokers’ convention, his wife said. But who knows? I don’t know about you, but Bert Chal is worries me.”

Bert Chal is? Jack thought. The insurance guy?

He had his office up in Marlton but insured most of the houses and people in Johnson. Jack remembered him coming to the house last year with a life

insurance policy for Dad to sign.

Mr. Haskins nodded. “I know what you mean. He’s a loose cannon. No tel ing what he’l do.”

“Wel , if you see Bert or hear from him, tel him to get in touch wil me immediately. His life wil depend on it. Same with Vasquez.”

“Yes. Sure. Of course.”

Jack heard footsteps enter the hal way and felt a flicker of panic. What if they caught him in here? If he’d put the light on it would look like he’d simply

been using the bathroom. But standing here with the light off … how would he explain that?

He didn’t see much choice but to stay hidden and hope neither of them needed a bathroom break.

He peeked through the slit opening and saw Mr. Haskins standing by the front door. In his left hand he held a funny-shaped red box, maybe two inches

across. Mr. B stood there holding something that looked like a cross between a cookie jar and a cigar humidor. Since Jack had never seen a black

ceramic cookie jar, he assumed it was a humidor.

“Good luck to us both, Gordon.”

Mr. B nodded. “We’l need it.”

They shared that strange handshake again, and then the freeholder left.

Mr. Brussard looked unhappy as he closed the door. With a sigh he returned to his den.

As soon as he was out of sight, Jack darted from the bathroom and headed back to the basement.

His mind whirled as he descended the stairs. What was this “klazen” they’d been talking about? From what he’d just heard, it kil ed people. But not just

any people … “those responsible.”

Responsible for what?

It sounded crazy, but here were two grown men, one of them a freeholder, both frightened by this thing Jack had never heard of.

1

Despite previous worries about NineteenEighty-Four’sBig Brother, Weezy’s idea about a two-way TV that could search al the libraries in the world was starting to sound pretty good to Jack.

No one in his family had heard of a “klazen” and, try as he might, he couldn’t find a word about it anywhere. The big problem was not knowing how to spel it. So he’d tried every variation he could think of: clazen,klazen,clayzen, klazin,and on and on, but found nothing in the family’sEncyclopedia Britannica or its unabridged dictionary.

So he cal ed up the source of al weird knowledge—at least in his world.

“Please tel me the cube’s al right,” Weezy said as soon as she came on the phone. “It is, isn’t it? You didn’t lose it or anything, did you?”

“And a good morning to you too,” he said.

“Please, Jack. I’m serious. You’re not cal ing me to tel me—”

“Everything’s fine, Weez. I’ve got it right here. And guess what? Mister Brussard can open it too. But Steve can’t. Isn’t that weird?”

A pause, then, “Yeah, I guess so. Is that what you cal ed to tel me?”

“No. I heard a strange word last night: klazen. Ring a bel ?”

“No. How do you spel it?”

He read off al the variations he’d written down.

“Nope,” she said. “Never heard of it. What’s it supposed to be?”

“I’l tel you later. I’m going to ask Mister Rosen if he’s ever heard of it. Want to come along? I can explain on the way.”

“Okay. But stop here first. And bring the cube.”

He laughed. “You sound like Linus and his blanket.”

“Ja-ack!” She made it a two-syl able word.

“Okay, okay. Wil do.”

Before leaving he returned to his room and checked the tepin-treated pistachios on the windowsil . Nice and dry. Great. He opened the envelope Mr. Canel i had used for the peppers and scooped them into it, then placed that in the top drawer of his desk.

He rubbed his hands together. Later today, if Tom stayed true to form, big brother would get his. Oh, yes. In spades.

Mwah-ha-ha-ha!

2

On the way from Weezy’s to USED, Jack noticed that she looked different. Her hair was down and her clothes were a little dressier than usual. Stil al

black, though.

He explained what he’d overheard about the klazen.

Weezy shook her head. “I don’t get it. What’s it supposed to do? Kil you?”

Jack remembered Mr. Brussard’s words: Maybehisheartsimplystopped…it’s thewayaklazenworks.

“I think so. He said it can ‘sniff out those responsible.’”

Weezy looked at him. “Responsible for what?”

“That’s what I’d like to know. I’m pretty sure it’s a Lodge thing.” “Which means it could have something to do with that body we found.” That would be cool, but too coincidental.

“Oh, that reminds me,” he said, realizing he should have told her earlier. “Kate

learned something about how he was kil ed.”

He told her about the arms being cut off at the elbows and sewn into the armpits.

Weezy looked shocked, then annoyed. “And when were you going to tel me about this?”

Jack gave a sheepish shrug. “This klazen thing sort of knocked it out of my head.”

“Forearms cut off … sewn into his armpits …” She visibly shuddered. “I’ve never heard of anything like that. It’s gross.” Then she smiled at him. “But

kind of cool that we found it.”

Jack hesitated, then decided to go ahead. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“Something elseyou haven’t told me?”

“It’s about Steve.”

“Brussard? What’s up?”

“He’s drinking. Like every night.”

“You mean alcohol?”

“No, Gatorade.” When she looked puzzled, he said, “Yes, alcohol. I’m afraid he’s going to wind up like Weird Walt. But I don’t know what to do. Any

ideas?”

“Tel his folks.”

Was she kidding?

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not? He’s your friend, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“So what are you going to do, stand by and watch him go down the tubes?”

“No, but I can’t rat him out. He’l never speak to me again.”

“At least he’l stil be able to speak.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Then make an anonymous cal to his dad. Disguise your voice—”

“He’l know it’s me.”

“Wel , if he’s your friend, then you’ve got to do something.” She threw up her hands. “I don’t believe this. You ask me what to do, and then you shoot

down every suggestion I make.”

Jack shook his head. “Probably shouldn’t have said anything. Girls just don’t understand.”

“Wel , I’ve given you my solution.” She sounded annoyed. “You don’t like it, come up with your own.”

“I wil .”

But just what that would be, he didn’t know.

They arrived at USED then. Jack led the way inside and found Mr. Rosen behind the counter. He looked up with a surprised expression.

“You’re clairvoyant, maybe?”

Jack stopped and felt Weezy bump into his back. “What do you mean?”

“I was just looking up your number to cal you. I heard from Professor Nakamura and he wants to tel you something about that pyramid you brought him.”

Weezy grabbed Jack’s upper arm and squeezed. “He’s found out something?”

Mr. Rosen shrugged. “He didn’t say, just that he needed to talk to you.”

In a blink Weezy was out the door, heading for the bikes.

“Let’s go!”

“Be right there,” Jack said as he stepped closer to the counter. “Mister Rosen? You ever heard of something cal ed a klazen?”

“A klazen?” The old man shook his head. “Never. What is it?”

Jack hid his disappointment. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. Okay, see you later.”

When he stepped outside, Weezy was already on her bike, wheeling in tight circles.

“Come on, Jack! What are we waiting for? He’s found out what it is!”

“Don’t get al worked up. Mister Rosen said he just wants to tel us something. That something could be anything—like it was made in Japan two weeks

ago.”

She gave him a hard look. “Why are you always trying to rain on my parade?”

Jack couldn’t help but hear Barbra Streisand belting out those lyrics from Mom’s FunnyGirlalbum. Not his favorite.

“I’m not, Weez. You know better that that.”

She sighed. “Yeah, I guess I do. Sorry.”

“I just don’t want you disappointed. I mean, you know, sometimes your parades march right off a cliff. And then you know how you get.”

She tended to get herself so worked up in anticipation, only to crash and burn when it fel through. He’d seen an up mood change to down in a

heartbeat. It wasn’t pretty.

“I’l be fine. Because I knowhe’s found al sorts of strange things about it, keys to a secret. Who knows? It might open the door to the hidden truths of al

history!”

There she goes, Jack thought as she headed toward the highway—off on her bike and off on a bubble of expectation. He hoped the professor wouldn’t

burst it, but he sensed it coming. He didn’t want to be there when she fel , but someone had to catch her.

3

The professor took them to the library and pul ed up an extra chair so both Jack and Weezy could sit, then seated himself behind the desk.

“What is it?” Weezy said, squirming in her seat. She couldn’t seem to sit stil .

Looked like she was going to vibrate herself into another dimension.

“What did you find?”

“Nothing useful, I am afraid. Most sorry. Almost everything points to your artifact

as of modern origin.”

Uh-oh, Jack thought, glancing at Weezy. Here it comes.

“That can’t be,” she said softly—too softly. “Your tests are wrong. They’ve got to

be.”

He shook his head slowly. “I fear not. We did electron-micro scanning of the symbols and found they have the fineness and sharp edges that only a laser

can do. Actual y, sharper than most lasers.”

“‘Sharper than most lasers,’” she said, her voice rising. “Doesn’t that tel you something right there?”

“It tel s me it is a hoax. Those engraved characters are meant to lead us to believe your object is pre-Sumerian, but no pre-Sumerian culture had such

technology. As I told you yesterday, they scraped their writings, their pictograms and ideograms, onto clay tablets.”

“But what if there was an advanced civilization before Sumer? One that was wiped out by the Great Flood?”

The professor smiled. “That is the stuff of fantasy. No record of such a culture or civilization exists.”

“Al right then,” she said. “What’s the pyramid made of? Did you figure that out?”

He shook his head—a bit uncertainly, Jack thought. “No. But we know it is some kind of al oy.”

Weezy leaned back. “An al oy that can’t be scratched—or at least I couldn’t scratch it. Could you?”

Professor Nakamura looked even less certain. “We did not try. It is not our property—it is yours.”

“That’s right. And I’d like it back now.”

Jack said, “We’re forgetting about the most important test. What about that argon dating you mentioned?”

“Yes-yes. Potassium argon. We did that.”

Jack waited to hear the results but the professor did not go on.

“And?” Weezy said.

Now the professor looked reallyuncomfortable. “The results were … how shal I say it?… inconclusive.”

Weezy shook her head, “I don’t understand what you mean. I understand what ‘inconclusive’ means, but what kind of inconclusive results are you talking

about?”

“You couldn’t date it?” Jack said.

“Oh, yes, we got a date, but an impossible date.”

Jack felt a fleeting tingle up his spine. Impossible?What kind of date would be impossible? He glanced over at Weezy and saw her sitting rigid in her

chair.

“W-what was the date?” she said.

The professor waved his hands. “I hesitate to tel you because it wil only fuel groundless speculation.”

Weezy looked ready to explode. She spoke through her teeth. “What … was … the … date?”

Professor Nakamura folded his hands on his desk and stared at them. He spoke in a low voice.

“Fourteen thousand years.”

In a flash Weezy was out of her seat and on her feet, leaning over the desk.

“Did I hear you right? Fourteen thousand years? Fourteen?”

“Yes.” The professor looked up at her. “And if you know anything about human history, you wil know that is impossible.”

“I know there’s a lot we don’tknow about human history.”

The professor nodded. “This is true, and there are arguments about which human civilization was first. It appears to be Sumer, but that can be traced

back only to five thousand B.C.—seven thousand years ago. The test says your pyramid is twice as old. Clearly that is impossible.”

“Not if it belonged to an advanced civilization that was wiped out by the Great Flood.”

Jack glanced at her, not sure if she was kidding or not. But she looked dead serious.

“You mean like in the Bible?” he said. “Noah’s flood?”

Weezy kept her eyes on the professor. “The Sumerians had exactly the same legend, long before the Bible was written. Al the ancient civilizations of

that region had a story about a great flood that cleansed the land. Am I right, professor?”

He stared at her. “How old are you?”

“I’l be fifteen next month.”

“Fifteen … you know much for fifteen.”

“I read a lot. But back to the Great Flood. Maybe a flood was only part of it. Maybe it was much more severe. Maybe it wiped out the civilization that

made that little pyramid and forced human beings to start al over again from scratch.”

The professor rol ed his eyes. “Next you wil be quoting Immanuel Velikovsky.”

“I know the name,” she said, “but I’ve never read him. I’ve heard he’s a kook.” She smiled. “But then, some people think I’ma kook, so maybe I should

look him up.” She held out her hand. “May I have my

fourteen-thousand-year-old ‘hoax’ back now?”

“I am afraid I do not have it with me.”

Weezy frowned. “You’re going to run more tests?”

“Yes, but not me, personal y. I took the liberty of sending it to the Smithsonian Institution for dating.”

“You what?Without asking me?” She glanced quickly at Jack. “I mean, us?”

Jack didn’t care al that much that she’d added the “us.” He too was ticked that the professor had taken it upon himself to send their pyramid al the way

to Washington, D.C.

“Now just a minute, young lady. You gave that over to me for investigation and that is precisely what I am doing. The Smithsonian Institution has access

to equipment I do not. They wil find an accurate date of origin. Is that not what you wanted from me?”

Jack thought about that. He’d been to the Smithsonian on his eighth-grade trip just this past spring and had been wowed by the sheer size of the place

—al the buildings, al the exhibits. Too many to see on just one trip.

Weezy’s lower lip showed just a trace of a quiver. “But you should have asked first.”

The professor nodded. “Yes, I suppose I should have. But I thought you would be happy to know that some of the greatest experts in the field wil be

studying your artifact.”

“Wel ,” she said slowly, “I guess I am. But what if something happens to it along the way? Or what if it gets lost? Things get lost in the mail, you know.”

“Oh, no. I did not send it by mail. I used overnight delivery. Federal Express. And I packed it very careful y in a box. It wil be fine. The Smithsonian

Institution handles valuable artifacts al the time. They wil take good care of it.” “They’d better,” she said.

Jack didn’t see much point in hanging around here any longer so he rose and

stood next to Weezy.

“Wil you cal us as soon as you hear anything?”

The professor slid a sheet of paper and a pencil across the desk. “Leave me your phone numbers. As soon as I hear from the Smithsonian, you wil

hear from me.”

As Weezy wrote down their numbers, Jack said, “Professor, have you ever heard of a klazen?”

Weezy stopped writing but did not look up.

The professor frowned. “An unfamiliar term. What does it refer to?”

“I’m not sure. A creature, maybe? A spirit?”

“No. Most sorry. I have never heard of such a thing.”

Swel , Jack thought. I’m batting zero today.

4

“Wel ,” he said, squinting at Weezy outside Professor Nakamura’s house, “what do you think?”

Her expression was grim. “I think I wish I had the pyramid back. I’ve got a bad feeling …”

Jack tried to look on the bright side. “Yeah, but you’ve got to admit, if anyone can find out what that thing is, it’s the Smithsonian.”

“I suppose.” Suddenly she perked up and looked at him with bright eyes. “What if they come back with the same age? Fourteen thousand years! Do

you know what that means?”

“It means Professor Nakamura wil have to eat a big plate of fricasseed crow.”

She gave his arm a gentle slap. “Who cares about that. It means we’l have to start rewriting human history!”

Jack thought about that and found it kind of scary.

“Yeah, I guess we wil .”

Just then a blue Mustang convertible pul ed up with a grinning Carson Toliver behind the wheel. He pointed to Weezy.

“Hey, you fol owing me?”

She reddened. “No, I, no, I mean, no, we were just visiting Professor Nakamura.”

This guy had just turned the smartest girl Jack knew into a babbling boob.

“Aw, too bad,” he said, dramatical y snapping his fingers. “I was hoping you were. A guy likes to have a pretty girl fol owing him.”

Weezy said nothing, just stared.

“Hey,” Carson added, “I bet you like the Sex Pistols.”

Weezy hesitated, then said, “Yeah. They’re cool.”

“Knew it! I could tel by the way you dress. I love to blast them as I tool down the road.”

You area tool, Jack thought.

“Want to try that sometime?”

“Yeah.” She swal owed. “Sure.”

“Great. I’l cal you up sometime and we’l go for a spin.”

He waved and roared off. Weezy watched him go, then grabbed Jack’s arm.

“Did you hear that? Carson Toliver just asked me out.”

“Yeah, to listen to the Sex Pistols—which you hate by the way. Or did you forget?”

“I didn’t forget. They’re awful.”

“Then why’d you tel him they were cool?”

“I couldn’t insult him.”

“If you ask me, he’sfol owing you.”

“Don’t be sil y. He lives right on this street.” She beamed. “And he thinks I’m pretty.”

Weezy had said she had a bad feeling about the pyramid going to the Smithsonian. Wel , Jack had the same sort of feeling about Weezy getting into

Carson Toliver’s car.

5

Jack sat by the living room window, pretending to read but real y watching the driveway.

Mom had the annoying Oklahoma! score playing, and he was forced to listen to “The Surry with the Fringe on Top” as he stood watch. Stupid, lame-o

song.

She was in the kitchen fixing dinner and Kate was helping. Dad wouldn’t be home from work for another half hour or so. Only Tom was unaccounted for.

He’d been gone most of the day but Mom said she expected him for dinner.

Jack wanted to know when he arrived so he’d have time to set up his sting.

When he saw Tom’s ‘79 Malibu pul ing into the driveway, he jumped up and hurried to the kitchen. He pul ed out the bag of pistachios and, while Kate

and Mom weren’t looking, emptied the envelope with the tepin-treated nuts on the counter. He’d just tucked the envelope into his back pocket when Kate

turned and saw the pile.

She frowned. “I’d eat those right now, Jack. You-know-who just arrived.”

Good old Kate, always looking out for him.

Jack shrugged. “They’l be okay.”

She shook her head. “You’re a glutton for punishment, aren’t you.”

“Trust me, Kate,” he said with a smile. “I’m anything but a glutton for punishment.”

But, he thought, I’ve arranged some punishment for the glutton.

He started shel ing pistachios but ate them instead of adding them to the pile. He tensed as he heard the frontdoor screen slam. This was it. Tom stil

had a chance. He could turn Jack’s plan into wasted effort by walking past and leaving the pistachios where they were. His fate was in his own hands.

Jack pretended to be looking the other way as his big brother breezed into the kitchen. Without breaking stride and without the slightest hesitation, Tom

swept the nuts off the counter and into his hand, then popped them al into his mouth.

Jack yel ed, “Hey!”

Kate said, “Tom!”

Mom hadn’t noticed and Tom said nothing as he opened the refrigerator and reached for a beer. He never made it. He froze in mid-reach, then

coughed and spat the nuts into his palm.

“What the—?” As he turned toward Jack, his face started to redden. “What did you—?” Then the redness darkened. “Oh, my God!”

As Tom dove for the sink, Jack remembered what Mr. Canel i had said about water making the burning worse. He felt it only fair to warn Tom, but he

lowered his voice, Wil y Wonka style.

“Stop. Don’t. Come back.”

“Dear Lord!” Mom cried as Tom dumped the partial y chewed nuts in the sink and turned on the water.

He didn’t wait to get a glass, simply tilted his head under the faucet and let the water run into his mouth.

“Tom?” Kate said. “What on Earth are you doing?”

Tom lifted his head—his face was almost purple now—and pointed to Jack. “That little bastard—!”

Mom whipped him with her dish towel. “Thomas! I wil not have that kind of language in this house. Now you—”

Tom wailed and stuck his mouth under the faucet again.

“The burning!” he croaked between gulps. “I can’t stop the burning!”

Jack watched him, trying to keep from smiling. He felt like going over there and dancing around him, chanting, Gotcha-gotcha-gotcha!

Kate turned to Jack. “What did you do?”

Jack raised his hands, palms up, and shrugged. “Nothing much. Just spiced them up a little.”

She smiled. “With what? Pepper?”

Jack nodded.

“What kind? Jalapeño? Habañero?”

“Hotter.”

She began to laugh. “Oh, this is rich—this is too rich!”

“It’s not funny!” Tom yel ed, his voice echoing from down in the sink.

Mom was clueless. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong with him?”

“He poisoned me!” Tom cried, then went back to drinking.

Mom obviously knew that wasn’t true, because she was half smiling as she turned to Jack.

“Why did you poison your brother, Jackie?”

Kate was stil laughing. “Tom stole his pistachios, but they had pepper on them!”

Mom hit Tom again with the towel. “Noware you going to stop stealing from him? Have you learned your lesson?”

“I’m going to kil him!”

“You’l do no such thing. And drink some milk. Water makes it worse.”

Tom lifted his dripping face. “What?”

Kate grinned at him. “The stuff that burns is an oil. Water spreads it around.”

“Oh, no!” Tom leaped for the fridge.

“And don’t you dare drink from the carton!” Mom told him.

6

Jack stood by while Kate told Dad what had happened.

“Serves him right.” He laughed, then settled down to watch the evening news

before dinner.

Though the burning from the tepin juice had been intense, it hadn’t lasted long.

Tom recovered and had retreated to his room in embarrassment. Jack was heading back to the kitchen when he heard a knock. He reversed direction

and arrived in time to see his dad opening the front door for Mr.

Bainbridge.

They shook hands, then Mr. Bainbridge pointed at Jack and smiled. “There’s the man I want to see.”

Jack looked around. Man? Me? Was he in trouble?

“Jack?” Dad said. “What for?”

“Seems he stood up for my brother-in-law the other day when that Bishop punk

was hassling him.”

Dad tilted his head down and looked at Jack over the top of his reading glasses. “That so?”

Embarrassed, Jack shrugged. “Not real y. Weezy’s the one who—” “Yeah. Walt’s not always reliable in what he says, but he told me you and the

Connel girl took his back against two guys a lot bigger.” Mr. Bainbridge looked at Dad. “Sound like your boy’s not afraid of anything—just like his old

man.”

Dad gave him a sharp look, then turned to Jack. “Grab us a couple of beers, wil

you?”

“Sure.”

As he left the room he heard Dad say, “No Korea talk, Kurt. You know how I feel

about that. Save it for the VFW.”

Yeah, Dad never wanted to talk about the war. He and Mr. Bainbridge had met

in Korea. Then, seven years ago, when his company transferred him

from Kansas City to Trenton, he looked up Dad. He loved to fish, and when he

learned how plentiful the trout and bass were in these parts, he decided Johnson was the ideal place to live. So he moved in with his wife, Evelyn, and

her brother, Weird Walt.

Jack pul ed out a couple of Carlings, red cans with a black label, and brought

them back to the living room. On the way in, he heard Mr. Bainbridge

speaking in a low voice.

“Yeah, Walt’s al right. Keeps to himself. Mostly we don’t know he’s there. But the

drinking … man, the guy’s always half lit. He says it’s because of

‘Nam, but come on—he couldn’t have seen any worse than we did above the

thirty-eighth. We—”

He cut off when Jack arrived with the beers.

“Ah, here’s the man we’ve been waiting for.” He laughed as he took the can from

Jack. “‘Mabel! Black Label!’ I see you’re stil stocking the Canuck stuff,

Tom.”

“They know their beer.”

They popped their tops, clinked cans, and drank.

Jack hesitated, then had to ask: “What did you mean by ‘above the

thirty-eighth’?”

Dad shot Mr. Bainbridge an annoyed look, then said, “North Korea and South

Korea are divided along the line of latitude thirty-eight degrees north of the equator. It’s cal ed the thirty-eighth paral el. When the commies in North

Korea tried to take over the south, we were sent in to kick their butts back above the thirty-eighth.”

Mr. Bainbridge wiped his mouth. “Which we did pretty easily, and that should

have been that. But some REMF ordered us above the thirty-eighth, and that’s when it got ugly. I remember—”

“Hold on there, Kurt,” Dad said, raising a hand. Then he turned to Jack. “What

you’ve just heard is a history lesson. Let’s leave it at that.”

Before Jack could protest, or ask what a REMF was, Mr. Bainbridge said, “Hey,

you hear what happened at Al Sumter’s wake?”

With no prospect of war stories, Jack had been about to retreat to his room. But

now he was al ears.

“I thought that was tonight,” Dad said.

“They had a viewing this afternoon. That freeholder, what’s his name?” He

snapped his fingers. “God, you see his name everywhere—”

Jack’s mouth felt as dry as pine needles. Final y he managed to say, “Mister

Haskins?”

He pointed to Jack. “You nailed it!” He smiled at Dad. “Good citizen you’ve got

there. Knows his civics.”

Jack decided to let him go on thinking that. No way could he tel him about

eavesdropping on Haskins and Steve’s father.

“But tel me,” Mr. Bainbridge went on, grinning. “Do you have any idea what the

hel a freeholder does?”

Jack shook his head. “Not real y.”

Mr. Bainbridge laughed. “Neither does anybody else!”

Jack wasn’t interested in what freeholders did. Who cared? He was interested in

the fate of just one of them. He had a premonition he needed

confirmed.

“What happened to him?”

“Keeled over dead, just like Sumter. Couldn’t bring him back. Seems like his

heart just stopped cold.”

Stopped cold … that was how Jack felt. Could it have been the klazen? Was there

real y such a thing?

“Wonder who’l be next?” Mr. Bainbridge said.

“What do you mean?” Jack asked.

“They say deaths come in threes. We’ve had Sumter, and now Haskins. Who’s

going to be the third?”

Jack must have looked as upset as he felt because his dad reached out and gave

his shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“That’s just an old wives’ tale, Jack. And don’t worry, if there’s a third, it won’t be

anyone from this house.”

Jack hadn’t been worrying about that—the idea of anyone in his family dying

was, wel , unthinkable. He’d been worrying about Mr. Brussard. He didn’t want Steve to lose his father. But he couldn’t say that to Dad. How could he

explain something he didn’t understand himself?

He turned to Mr. Bainbridge. “Can I ask you something?”

Both Dad and Mr. Bainbridge looked at him expectantly.

“Go ahead,” Mr. Bainbridge said.

“Have you ever heard of a klazen?”

Both frowned. Dad shook his head. “You asked me about that this morning.” He

glanced at Mr. Bainbridge. “Kurt?”

Mr. Bainbridge shrugged. “Doesn’t ring a bel . What is it?”

“Wel … I heard the word and just wanted to know—”

“Hey, wait,” Mr. Bainbridge added. “I knew a Hans Klazen back in Mizzoo.

Dutchman. But that’s the only time I’ve heard the word.” He glanced at his watch. “Oops. Ev’l have dinner ready. Gotta go.”

He polished off his beer and handed Jack the empty. “Thanks for the brew,

sport.” Turning to Dad, he said, “You coming down to the VFW tonight for the

smoker?”

Jack knew that was a code word for the one night each month the VFW showed dirty movies.

Dad shook his head. “Not my thing.”

Mr. Bainbridge laughed. “Deadeye, you amaze me. After al we went through, how can you stil be a prude?”

Dad didn’t smile. “Just the way it is, I guess.”

Jack barely heard him. Deadeye? Mr. Bainbridge cal ed him Deadeye.Wasn’t that what they cal ed marksmen?

7

After their guest was gone, Dad headed upstairs to change out of his suit into something cooler. Jack fol owed.

“Why’d he cal you ‘Deadeye’?” he asked as his father unbuttoned his shirt.

“Did he?”

“Yeah. Does that mean you were a good shot in the army?”

He slipped out of his suit pants and hung them on a hanger. He was wearing light blue boxer shorts beneath.

“We don’t discuss the army or the war, remember?”

“Yes, but—”

“No buts.”

“Walt told me he was in a mental hospital once.”

Dad gave him a sharp look. “When?”

“After the war.”

“No, I mean, when did he tel you?”

“Yesterday afternoon. Why was he in?”

“From what Kurt tel s me, he came home from ‘Nam saying he could heal people with a touch. The VA hospital in Northport diagnosed him as a

paranoid schizophrenic, but harmless. He joined a faith-healing tent show in the South, and Kurt was told some wild story about him real y curing people

until his drinking got him kicked off the tour. They say he’s harmless, but stil … keep your distance.”

Heal with a touch … was that why he wore gloves al the time?

As Jack watched his father hang up his pants, he spotted the metal box on the top shelf of the closet. He’d seen it a mil ion times but now it took on

special significance.

“What’s in the box?” He’d asked before but it never hurt to try again. “Nothing important.”

“You always say that.”

He pul ed off his undershirt and Jack spotted the scar where he’d had his appendix removed.

“That’s because the contents don’t change.”

Jack was sure now that Dad kept his marksman medals and other cool army stuff hidden there.

First chance he got, he was going to sneak a peek.

8

After dinner, Jack turned on the living room television and started switching through the channels. Cable TV had arrived in Johnson during the winter, and

Jack’s family had signed up the instant their street was wired. For as long as he could remember, Dad had been complaining about the poor reception

from their aerial. At last he had a cure.

The real y neat thing about cable TV was the remote that came with the box. Their living room set was an older model where you had to get up and

cross the room if you wanted to change the channel. Al he had to do now was stand back and press a button. He loved it.

An al -news channel cal ed CNN was on, showing some comments by President Reagan fol owed by a story on Hurricane Alicia. Tom stopped to watch

on his way out the door. Jack kept an eye on him in case he had some sort of vengeance in mind for the pistachio episode.

After a few minutes his brother said, “An al -news channel? Whose stupid idea was that? Won’t last a year—I guarantee it.” Then he turned to Jack.

“And don’t think you’re home free, numbnuts. I never forget. Reprisal is on the way. It’l hit when Miracle Boy least expects it.”

Jack waggled his hand. “Ooooh, I’m shaking.”

Tom’s mouth tightened into a thin line. He looked like he wanted to throw a punch. Jack readied himself for evasive maneuvers.

But Tom only pointed a finger and said, “It’s coming. Get ready.”

As he slammed out the front door, Jack resumed switching channels. He’d decided to skip Steve’s tonight and catch some TV—maybe Cheersand

Taxi.They were always good for a laugh.

“Hold it,” Dad said.

Jack jumped and looked around. He hadn’t heard him come in.

His father pointed to the set. “Go back one.”

Jack did and saw a man in a blue blazer, a light blue shirt, and a patterned yel ow tie sitting at a desk and talking to the camera. His hair looked funny:

He’d parted it just above his right ear and combed it al the way across the top of his balding scalp to end above his left year.

“Who’s that?”

“Ed Toliver,” Dad said, snorting. “Mister Big Shot, tel ing everyone the surefire way to get rich in real estate.”

Carson’s father … that was why he looked familiar.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“According to him, the only sure way is to give him your money and have him invest it for you—and then let him take a hefty cut of the profits.”

Jack stared at the screen. “Wel , he must do pretty wel if they’ve got him on TV.”

Another snort from Dad. “That’s a public access channel run by the local cable company. Toliver gets a weekly slot because he claims his show is

educational. My eye.”

“You want to listen?” Jack prayed his father would say no.

“You kidding? See what else is on.”

As Jack’s thumb moved toward the channel button, he heard Mr. Toliver say, “I’d liketoclosetonight’sinstallmentalittledifferentlythanusual—witha

fewimportantremarksabouttheSeptimusLodge.”

He paused to listen.

“Iknowthiswillsoundstrangecomingfromabroadcastaboutrealestate,butI feelitmydutytospeakout.Thisweekhaspresenteduswiththree

deadmembersoftheSeptimusLodge.Onewasmurderedyearsago,andthe pasttwodayshavewitnessedthesuddendeathsoftwomore.”

Jack spun to face his father. “Was Mister Haskins in the Lodge?”

When his dad nodded, Jack turned back to the screen. Haskins was a member too! And he’d visited another Lodger last night—Mr. Brussard.

“Ithinkwe’relongoverdueforanswersfromtheSeptimusLodge.Diditorany ofitsmembershaveanythingtodowiththemurderofAntonBoruff?

AlthoughthecauseofdeathofmembersSumterandHaskinsappearsnatural,it seemsoddthattheycoincidesocloselywiththediscoveryof

AntonBoruff’scorpse.Idon’tknowaboutyou,butIhavequestions—questions thatwillnotbeansweredifIaloneaskthem.ThatiswhyIamcalling

forapublicinquiryintotheSeptimusLodge.”

“He should know better than that,” Dad muttered.

“Why?” Jack asked.

“Because he’s not going to get anywhere.”

“Inthisdayandageofafreeandopensociety,thereisnoplaceforexclusive andelitistsecretbrotherhoodsliketheSeptimusLodge.Haven’twe

learnedanylessonsfromWatergate?Orarewedoomedforevertogoon repeatingthesamemistakes?ThatiswhyIamcallingontheSeptimus

Lodgetoopenitsrecordstothepublic.Andiftheywillnotdosovoluntarily, thenIamcallingontheBurlingtonCountyDAandthestateattorney

generaltoinitiatelegalactiontoforcethemtodoso.Whathavetheygotto hide?”

Jack turned to his father. “Do you real y think the Lodge has anything to do with—?”

Dad shrugged. “How can I answer that? Nobody except its members knows anything about the Lodge—and there, I believe, lies the crux of Toliver’s

little tirade.”

“He doesn’t like secrecy?”

“No. I think he’d love the Lodge’s secrecy if he was in on it, but he’s not. They gave him a thumbs-down when he tried to join and I don’t think he’s ever

forgiven them.”

That surprised Jack. “But, like you said, he’s a big-shot real estate guy. I’d think they’d wanthim.”

Dad shrugged again. “Everything about that Lodge crew is odd. Membership is by invitation only. But they’re not like some exclusive country club that

admits only folks of a certain religion and a certain color with a bank account of a certain size. They’ve got whites, blacks, yel ows, Jews, Catholics—you

name it. Rich, poor, and everything between.”

“Then what was wrong with Mister Toliver?”

“Who knows?” Dad smiled. “Maybe they don’t like his comb-over.”

Jack wasn’t sure if asking might embarrass his dad, but he needed to know.

“Did you ever try to join?”

“Me? Nah! They tried to rope me in back in the early seventies—used a ful -court press—but I wasn’t interested.”

Jack stared at his father in shock. “They asked you?”

Dad laughed. “What? You say that like you think there’s something wrong with me.”

“No … I just … I don’t know … you never said anything.”

“What for? We went ‘round and ‘round for about a year, them asking, giving me tours of the Lodge—”

“You’ve been inside? What’s it like?”

“A lot of old furniture, odd paintings, and that strange sigil everywhere you look.”

“What’s a sigil?”

“Their seal—the thing over their front door. They must love it because it’s on everything.”

Jack shuddered. “Yeah, even its members.”

“Oh, so you heard about that.”

“Yeah. That dead body we found had one, and I saw it on Mister Sumter’s back after they gave up trying to revive him. Burned into their backs—ugh!”

“If that’s part of being a Lodge member, they didn’t mention it to me. But let me tel you, even if I’d wanted in, that would have changed my mind. That

would have been a deal-breaker.”

“I can’t believe you turned them down. They say anybody who’s somebody is a member.”

Dad smiled. “Wel , maybe I’m as much a somebody as I want to be. Besides, it’s easy to say anybody who’s somebody is a Lodger because no one

knows their membership. They’re secretive as al hel about that and everything else. I mean, if an individual member wants it known that he belongs, he’s

free to tel anybody who’l listen. But if not, it remains a secret guarded like Fort Knox.”

Jack shook his head. “But I stil don’t see why you didn’t join.”

Dad shrugged and headed back toward the kitchen.

“It’s a secret society. Too many secrets can wear you down.”

Wearyoudown?Jack thought after he was gone. Did that mean hehad secrets? How many?

9

“That’s gotta be the suckiest game ever made,” Steve said as they walked through the growing darkness.

“I thought the Pac-ManI got last year was bad,” Jack said, shaking his head, “but this was even worse.”

He and Steve had spent the last couple of hours on Eddie’s Atari trying to make sense of his ET:TheExtra-Terrestrialgame.

Steve waved his arms. “How do you take such a great movie and make a boring game out of it. Boooooring!”

This was the Steve Brussard Jack had grown to like over the past few years—funny, kind of loud, and very opinionated.

“And who designed ET? He looked like a pile of green Legos.”

Steve shook his head. “Enough to drive you to drink.”

Uh-oh.

Jack landed a friendly punch on his shoulder. “Come on. We had laughs without any of that.”

“Yeah, but we’d’ve had more with a toot or two. But it turns out you were right.”

“About what?”

“The booze. My old man asked me today if I’d been ‘sampling’ any of it.”

“What’d you tel him?”

He grinned. “‘Who, me?’”

“Which means you need to stay away from it—unless you’re looking to get busted.”

Jack hated sounding like Steve’s conscience, but he didn’t mean it that way. He was talking common sense here. When you see someone heading for

the edge of a cliff, you warn him.

“I amstaying away. Got no choice. He locked the liquor cabinet.”

“But what if he hadn’t?”

Steve grinned. “Wel then—different story.”

“Wel , then, maybe it’s a good thing it’s locked.”

“Wait,” Steve said, stopping and looking at him. “You think I’ve got some kind of drinking problem?”

Jack hesitated, then went ahead. “Wel , you’ve been hitting it pretty hard.” “There’s no problem, Jack. I just like it, is al . I can stop anytime I want.” Jack decided to back off. He wasn’t getting through anyway.

They resumed their journey toward Steve’s house—maybe tonight they’d make some real progress on the Heathkit—and were just crossing Quakerton

Road when Steve pointed off to their left.

“You see that?”

Jack fol owed his point but saw nothing.

“What?”

“A guy walking toward the lake. Looked like my dad.”

Real y …?

Jack looked again. Streetlights were few and far between in Johnson so it might be a while before whoever it was passed under another.

“Does he go out for walks much?”

“Hardly ever.”

“Probably not him then. But just for the heck of it, why don’t we fol ow and see?”

Because if it was Mr. Brussard, Jack wanted to know what he was up to.

His stomach tingled as they hung a left and hurried along. Tracking an unsuspecting man … kind of cool.

Then a strol ing figure passed under a light ahead.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Steve said. “Let’s catch up.”

Jack spotted a light in Steve’s eyes. He seemed to real y like his dad.

Jack felt a growing sense of disappointment. Mr. B wasn’t doing anything other than walking. Looked like he was heading for Old Town, most likely to

the Lodge.

They were getting closer as he came to the Old Town bridge, but instead of crossing over he veered right.

Interesting.

Quaker Lake was real y a pond, but “lake” sounded better with Quaker. It had a sort of dumbbel shape with the bridge crossing the narrow point. Mr.

Brussard stood on the bank of the south section, staring across at the Lodge on the far side.

As they approached Jack saw him reach into a pants pocket, pul something out, and throw it into the lake.

Whoa! What was that al about?

Jack mental y marked the location of the splash. He might want to come back sometime.

After another moment or two of staring—watching the ripples fade?—Mr. B turned and looked around and spotted them. He looked surprised and

concerned, but his tone was pleasant.

“Hey! What are you two doing here?”

“We were on our way home and saw you,” Steve said.

Before Mr. B could answer, a stocky man with longish black hair strol ed up. They shook hands and Mr. B introduced him as Assemblyman Vasquez.

Vasquez … Mr. B had mentioned him last night. Jack had the impression this was a prearranged meeting because neither seemed surprised to see

the other.

“Mr. Vasquez and I have things to discuss back at the house. What are you boys up to?”

“We’re gonna work on the computer,” Steve said.

“I think I’l take a rain check on that,” Jack blurted. “I’ve got a couple of lawns to do early tomorrow.”

True, but not why he was begging off.

“Later,” he said, and trotted away.

But instead of heading home he began running through the shadows. Sure as night fol ows day they’d be walking back along Quakerton Road. To avoid

it he cut through backyards, setting more than one family dog to barking. Jack wanted to reach the Brussard house first.

10

Now I amacting like a boy detective, he thought as he crouched in the shadows of the Brussards’ yard. How lame is this?

But so what? He had nothing better to do. TV offered only summer reruns anyway.

The man he’d seen with Mr. Brussard last night had dropped dead, and now this Vasquez guy they’d mentioned shows up. He sensed something going

on, but couldn’t say what.

No way he could talk to his folks about it—they’d think he was crazy.

Hey,Dad,there’sthisthingcalledaklazenthat’skillingmembersoftheLodge andMisterBrussardthinkshecanprotectpeopleagainstitbuthe’s

notdoingtoowell.

Right. That would fly—right out the window. They’d be rubberizing his bedroom.

He knew he should mind his own business, but he couldn’t. He told himself he wasn’t out to solve a crime or anything—wasn’t trying to be the Hardy

Boys—he simply wanted to know.

He had a good view of the front of the house from here. He’d watched the three of them enter, and now he saw the two men step into the den. After a

moment or two of hesitation—what if he got caught?—he steeled himself and crept forward to peek through the open window.

Mr. B and Vasquez stood facing each other. Steve’s father cradled an open humidor in one arm and was placing a little red box in Vasquez’s hand.

He heard Mr. B saying, “Wel , here it is, Julio. I tried to help Sumter and Haskins, but I don’t think they believed the klazen was such a real threat. Don’t

you make the same mistake.”

Some of what fol owed was garbled as they turned away from the window—then he heard him say, “… tomorrow at dawn, face your back to the sun,

and use it.”

Use what? Was the “it” in one of those little red boxes? Jack was dying to know.

The rest was garbled as wel . Next thing he knew, Mr. Brussard was leading the assemblyman out of the room. Jack darted back into the shadows and

watched the front door. He saw that strange handshake fol owed by good-luck wishes, and then they parted.

When Vasquez was gone, Jack crept back to the window and stared at the humidor.

What was in it? More little red boxes? And what was in them?

Not knowing was making him crazy.

11

When Jack got home he found his folks sitting side by side on the couch watching HillStreetBlues.After a little smal talk, he pretended to head to the

kitchen for a snack, but instead he sneaked upstairs to their bedroom. He went straight to his father’s closet, stood on tiptoe, and grabbed the box. As he

pul ed it down he heard things clink and thunk within.

Marksmanship medals and what else? Maybe some bul ets or other souvenirs from Korea. He reached for the latch, but stopped.

This didn’t feel right.

Since when was he so nosy, he wondered, feeling the cool metal against his palms. He’d gone from eavesdropping on Mr. Brussard to poking through

his father’s private belongings.

No … the reason this didn’t feel right was because it wasn’tright.

But something inside was pushing him, egging him on to pop the lid and take a look. Just one look—how much could it hurt? He pressed the lid release

and—

Nothing happened.

He pressed again but the lid wouldn’t budge. He fingered the tiny keyhole: locked.

Just his luck.

But the key had to be somewhere. He went to Dad’s dresser and searched the top. No luck. He pul ed open the top drawer, the sock drawer, where

Dad kept a shal ow bowl for odds and ends. Jack found spare change and rubber bands and paper clips, but no key.

And then an idea hit—he knew exactly what to do.

Replacing the box on the shelf, he closed the closet door and padded downstairs to the kitchen. He went straight to the cutlery drawer and pul ed out

one of the black-handled steak knives. It had a slim blade and a sharp point.

Perfect.

He slipped it into his pocket and sneaked upstairs again. Kneeling by the closet with the box cradled in his lap, he worked the knife point into the

keyhole, twisting it this way and that. He did it gently to avoid scratching the metal, but no matter how he angled or wiggled or twisted the blade, the lock

refused to turn. He fought the temptation to give a quick, hard twist—that might bend the blade or, even worse, break the lock. How would he explain that?

Disappointed, he stared at the knife, then at the lock. They made it look so easy on TV.

Wel , no use in sitting here like he was waiting to get caught.

Quickly he replaced the box, angling it just the way he’d found it, then made his way back downstairs as quietly as possible.

Two boxes—Mr. Brussard’s and his father’s—and no idea of what they held. Maybe he’d never know.

Bummer.

12

He didn’t feel like watching HillStreetBlues—for a cop show it was mostly talk—so he headed for his bedroom. He stil had that issue of TheSpiderto

finish. He passed Kate’s room—empty. Same with Tom’s. Both were out. He didn’t know where they’d gone, but he knew it had to be far from Johnson.

Nothing happening here. Ever.

He stopped when he came to his room and noticed the closed door. He always closed it when he was in it, but left it open when he was out. Could have

blown shut, but it was a heavy old hunk of wood and he hadn’t noticed much of a breeze tonight, if any.

Only one possibility: Tom.

Anddon’tthinkyou’rehomefree,numbnuts.Ineverforget.Reprisalisonthe way.It’llhitwhenMiracleBoyleastexpectsit.

Wel , Jack hadn’t been expecting anything tonight. Was this it? Had Tom left a booby trap of some sort before going out?

Jack inspected the doorknob. Nothing on it. He turned it and eased the door open an inch or so. He checked the space above the inside of the door

just in case Tom had set that corny old bucket-of-water-over-the-door trick. He couldn’t see Tom coming up with anything original.

But no—no bucket poised above. He pushed the door open the rest of the way and stood on the threshold, examining his room from a distance.

Finding nothing obvious, he stepped in and looked around.

At first everything seemed fine, but then a strange sensation began to creep over him, a feeling that something was wrong.He couldn’t put his finger on

exactly why or how, but he was sure someone had been in here, poking through his stuff.

Things weren’t quite as he’d left them. At first glance TheSpidermagazine looked right, but then he noticed how its back cover was partial y bent under

it. He’d never leave it like that—not after Mr. Rosen’s warning. He picked it up and smoothed it out. A least it hadn’t left a crease.

He took another look around. He was sure it hadn’t been his mom. Because if she’d messed with TheSpidershe’d have left it in a nice neat pile with

his comic books. She was a neatnik. When she came into his room—or any room, for that matter—she couldn’t help straightening and neatening things

up. Nothing here had been straightened. Touched, yes, but not straightened.

That left Tom.

Careful y, Jack opened his closet door. No problem. He pul ed the string to light the bulb in the ceiling. He was wearing his Vans today, and his black

Converse Al -Stars lay where he’d kicked them off Monday. Or did they? He couldn’t be sure. He picked them up and looked inside to see if Tom had left

him a little surprise. They were stil damp from Monday’s rain, and didn’t smel al that great, but he found nothing hidden inside. The clothes on the

hangers looked pretty much the same, but the top shelf …

Someone definitely had been messing around up there.

He stepped out and dragged his desk chair over for a better look. His comic book col ection was arranged in the usual way, but he could swear he’d left

his Hulksstacked against the left wal . They angled out now. He checked for his jar of leftover pepper juice. Yep. Stil sealed and as red as he’d left it. If

Tom had been up here he’d have taken it for sure and tried to figure out a way to use it on Jack.

But if it hadn’t been Tom, then who?

No. Had to be Tom.

He jumped down and pul ed the chair back. But why hadn’t he taken anything, or left anything?

Maybe whatever he was up to was stil in the planning stage.

As Jack pushed his chair into the desk’s knee hole he noticed how the screen in the window to the right wasn’t seated square in the frame. Never

noticed that before.

Why not?

Because I’m paranoid now, that’s why.

Maybe that was what Tom was up to. What did they cal it? Gaslighting.Right. Do weird little things to someone to make them think they’re crazy, like in

that movie.

But that wasn’t Tom’s style. A bucket of water over the door was more his speed.

Wel then, what was the story with the screen?

Jack stepped over to it and saw that the old-fashioned hook-and-eye latch had popped free. He grabbed the hook, pul ed the screen al the way in, then

latched it.

He looked out into the darkened yard. Their property lay on the north flank of Johnson and backed up to a neighboring cornfield. He couldn’t see the

moon itself, but its light played off the stalks.

Had somebody come in through the window? That somebody could be out there now, watching him. In fact he almost felt as if someone was.

He shook off a chil . Nah. Nothing like that. He was just reading too many weird books and magazines. Why on Earth would any stranger want to sneak into his room? Not as if he kept a fortune in his desk.

Desk—his money from USED and mowing.

He pul ed open his middle drawer and found his neat stack of bil s. Whew!

Get a grip, Jack.

13

A little later he flopped back on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Somebody—a somebody named Tom—had been in his closet tonight. And the

only reason for that would be that he was planning something.

Since the best defense was a good offense, Jack figured it might be smart to do some planning of his own. But not something completely different. He

didn’t want to waste a second idea on Tom. Besides, he had al that pepper juice left.

He lay there thinking, scheming, and after a while he felt a smile stretching his lips: the exact same trick, only this time with a new wrinkle.

He went to the kitchen and searched through Mom’s junk drawer—where she kept everything she had no other place for—and found an old eyedropper

he’d seen some time ago. He grabbed that and the pistachios and headed back to his room.

He set up at his desk with the pepper juice and the eyedropper. This time he wouldn’t shel the nuts. Instead, he’d dose them while they were stil inside.

He picked out fifteen good-size nuts with wide-open shel s. Using the dropper, he added a generous amount of juice into each opening. When he was

finished, he placed the nuts on the windowsil to dry—and couldn’t resist taking a quick look outside to make sure no one was there.

Back in the kitchen he replaced the bag of pistachios in the cabinet. Then he wrapped a paper towel around the eyedropper, crushed it under his heel,

and threw the pieces into the trash. No way he wanted anyone—not even Tom—to use that on their eyes.

He returned to his room and dropped back on his bed, thinking about Tom sneaking through his room, just as he’d been in Dad’s. He didn’t like the

idea, just as Dad wouldn’t.

Maybe he should just forget about that box. He couldn’t get it open anyway.

Then he remembered something he’d seen at USED and suddenly the world seemed a little brighter.

1

“Hi, Mister Rosen!” he cal ed as he strol ed into USED. “It’s me, Jack.” “I can hear you,” the old man said as he ambled from the rear. “In China they

can hear you.” He glanced at the clock. “And it’s just after nine. What are you doing here three hours early?”

Jack held up the issue of TheSpiderhe’d finished last night. “I wanted to bring