Last week we announced that Mike Feazell’s The Irregular Ones of Luemenor is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category: over 250 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Mike Feazell
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
THE Irregular Ones of Luemenor
Chapter 1: A Curious Envelope
Max Fletcher lay flat under a thick boxwood hedge in front of his house and peered at the creepy gray van with tinted windows sitting across the street. He didn’t know whether to be worried or mad.
“Those two know your every move.” Vic McKenzie, Max’s best friend, eased further under the hedge to get a better look.
Max had already seen enough. The skinny teen swore softly and scooted backward and sat up next to his bike, which lay on the lawn next to Vic’s where they’d dropped them. Winter vacation always sucked. It brought back memories of his mom’s death ten years earlier when he’d been only four. It was bad enough having only one parent. It was worse always worrying about losing the other one. He swiped fragments of dead leaves out of his wavy brown hair.
“Simple as the case seems now, there may be something deeper underlying it,” Vic muttered, still on his belly under the hedge.
Max stared at the back of Vic’s head, wondering what might be churning in his genius pal’s brain, and noticed that Vic’s thick black hair had picked up a light coating of hedge debris. “What are you talking about?”
“I was quoting Sherlock Holmes,” Vic said.
Max grunted. “Shoulda guessed.”
“It’s in The Sign of Four. Holmes intended it as a warning about overconfidence.”
“If you haven’t noticed, overconfidence is exactly what I don’t have right now. Got anything about underconfidence? And why is my dad such a jerk, anyway? Why can’t he get a job that lets him be home once in a while?”
Vic fixed his almond eyes on the van and continued, unfazed. “We know that van started following you on Monday, we know your dad was due home on Monday, and we think the two things are connected. But Holmes’s point is, there may be a lot more to it than that—a complex web of events, of which these are only single fibers.”
Webs and fibers, Max thought. That’s about right. Webs and fibers of deceit. Would it be some major disaster for a kid to know where his dad is – and that he’s all right?
“The van driver and his passenger have made no effort to contact you,” Vic continued, easing out from under the hedge and brushing stray ants and dirt off his faded jeans and navy blue jacket. “That would indicate they’re simply keeping you under surveillance.”
Max studied his friend. Vic was just as rail thin as Max, with thick black hair that hung straight across his forehead, just above his equally black eyebrows. There weren’t many Korean Americans in the little northern California city of Lafayette, and Vic and his twin sister, Meredith, were the only adopted ones in Fourth Avenue High School.
Max pulled an asthma inhaler out of his jacket pocket. “My dad really pisses me off, Vic. It’s already Friday. He should’ve been home Monday and he hasn’t even called. I think he might be in trouble and nobody tells me a damn thing. And you’ve got sticks and crap in your hair.”
Vic leaned forward and scrambled his hair with both hands. When he was finished it all fell neatly back into place like the liquid metal terminator after a Schwartzenneger shotgun blast. “Your aunt doesn’t seem all that worried.”
Max snorted. “Yeah. Aunt Maggie’s always covering for Dad with some lame excuse. But there’s no way he’d forget to call for five days.” Max squeezed the inhaler and drew the soothing mist deep into his lungs. “And she knows that.”
Max ducked as something loud zinged by his head. He wondered if he was being dive-bombed by a model airplane. Instead, he found himself gazing up at a brilliant, iridescent green hummingbird hovering above him and Vic like a miniature news-channel helicopter. Its shiny black eyes studied them for several seconds before it shot off over the hedge.
“Strange,” Vic said.
“What’s so strange about a hummingbird?”
“There’s nothing strange about a hummingbird,” Vic said. “But I’ll bet you won’t find that species in your bird book. Solid iridescent green? I’d have said there was no such thing if I hadn’t seen it myself.”
“Whatever,” Max said. “C’mon, let’s ditch that van. Meredith’s waiting at Wally’s.”
The boys jumped on their bikes and sprinted out of Max’s driveway with a skidding right turn. Pedaling hard, they made a quick left at the corner, left again at the next street, and then a right into the alley. Avoiding muddy potholes, they flew across the hard-packed gravel for five blocks and made a final left on Lafayette Avenue before racing the block and a half to Wally’s Market. Coasting into the gravel parking lot behind the little neighborhood store, they skidded to a stop next to Meredith’s bike.
“Go ahead,” Max panted, struggling to catch his breath. “I’ll be a second.”
The market’s screen door slapped shut behind Vic while Max rummaged through his backpack and pulled out a new asthma inhaler. Just as he slid it into his jacket pocket, the green flash buzzed him again and hung in the air above Wally’s back door, eyeing him. Then the creature zipped behind a pine branch and was gone.
Max went in the store, gave Meredith a grin, and pulled a plastic bottle of orange juice off the cooler rack. He glanced again at Meredith. She was five feet, seven inches tall, same as he and Vic. Her straight black hair hung to her shoulders, cradling her thin, oval face, with its inquisitive black eyes and relaxed smile.
Max set the juice on the counter with a bag of peanuts and laid out the exact change. A tall, pimple-faced boy handed him a receipt and jerked a thumb toward Vic and Meredith. “Chinese invasion,” he whispered.
Max stiffened. He leaned close to the clerk and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “They’re American. Lived here all their lives. My friends. Does Wally know you insult his customers?”
The boy flushed. “Hey, man, I didn’t mean anything.” He leaned closer to Max. “You’re not gonna tell Wally, are you?”
Max let his breath out—he didn’t even know if there was a Wally. He glanced at Vic, who looked up from the new issue of Scientific Journey and said, “Korean. Not Chinese. No, he won’t tell Wally.” Then Vic poured some sunflower seeds into his mouth and went on reading.
Meredith McKenzie didn’t look up from the Sacramento Register. “We’re adopted, too, if you need more to whisper about.”
A strange warmth spread down Max’s spine. Meredith was as cool as ever. Two inches taller than Vic and Max, she carried herself with an air of class that in Max’s eyes only added to her charm.
The clerk looked miserable. “Hey, I’m sorry. It was a dumb thing to say.”
Vic shrugged. “Apology accepted. Life goes on.”
Max walked past the twins to the front window and looked out while he opened his orange juice and peanuts. The gray van was nowhere in sight. He studied Lafayette Avenue. Holly wreaths hung from the streetlights, and the storefronts blazed with red, green, gold, and silver trimmings. A sign in front of the hardware store said “Only Five Shopping Days Left till Christmas.” The last time he’d seen his mom alive was a Christmas, ten years earlier. He’d been four, and Liz had just turned six. They’d all been sitting around the fireplace—his dad on the sofa with his arm around his mom, and Liz and Max on the floor rolling a toy spaceship back and forth. He remembered how his mom had watched him and smiled. But then her face had suddenly contorted in pain, and she’d gulped for air and grabbed her arm. Everything after that was a blur in Max’s memory. He didn’t remember the funeral, only the shiny dark wood box going down into the hole and how his insides felt like big invisible hands were squeezing them.
Still, sometimes it felt as though his mom had never really left him, as though she’d never stopped watching him and never stopped smiling. Liz felt it too. His sister had crept out of bed and told him so that night, so many years ago, when Aunt Maggie had moved in to take care of them. Max wished Liz were home right now. But she was in Switzerland on a tenth-grade cultural exchange trip and wouldn’t be back until Sunday. His fist suddenly tightened around the bag of peanuts. Dad, you just don’t get it, he thought. Mom can’t help being gone. You can.
Max tossed the half-full orange juice bottle and the rest of the peanuts into the trash can and turned from the window. Vic was replacing his magazine on the rack, and Meredith still seemed engrossed in the front page of the Register. Max read the headline over her shoulder.
Tensions Rise in Sahara Water Crisis
Shokasa Claims Nuclear Capability
Shokasa. How could a two-bit dictator of a tiny country half the world away be so important to everybody? Max left Meredith to the Register and read the headline of the Lafayette Daily News:
Truck Hijackings continue
FBI mum on case
The FBI mum—no news there, Max thought. Probably the case his dad is working on – another case that was more important than his own kid. Another dark web of secrets, another wall between them. Max stepped back to the window and took another look at the street…still no gray van. Maybe they’d finally lost it for good.
Vic nudged him. “Max,” he whispered. “Guess what followed us in.”
An emerald flash buzzed past Max’s face. He jumped, heart racing, then grinned when he looked up. Vic tapped Meredith, and all three teens gazed at the glittering, solid green hummingbird as it studied them from above the bread rack. Suddenly, spikes of emerald light burst from the bird’s whirring wings until everything in the little store—racks, counter, even the young clerk—melted into a soft sea of cool green light. By the time Max’s eyes adjusted, the bird was gone, and a young teenage boy stood before him, holding out a brilliant emerald-green envelope.
“Max Fletcher…Vic McKenzie…Meredith McKenzie…” The boy sounded as if he were calling roll.
The three dumbfounded friends nodded weakly.
Max swallowed hard. “Who…who are you?”
“My name is Pete. This is for you.”
Max reached out numbly and took the shimmering envelope.
“Follow the instructions,” the strange visitor said, “and work together. There is little time.”
Max looked at Vic and Meredith, then down at the envelope. He slid his fingers across its smooth surface. It looked translucent like a polished jewel, maybe an emerald, but it was thin and flexible like ordinary paper. He gazed deep into the envelope’s jewellike facets. Something moved: a faint image, something with wings. Max looked up for some explanation, but the strange boy was gone. The store had returned to normal, except for the envelope.
“Merry Christmas, you guys,” the clerk said. “Sorry about earlier.” The clerk was arranging bags of chips on the counter as if nothing had happened.
“S-sure…no problem.” Max held the envelope behind him and backed toward the door with Vic and Meredith. “Merry Christmas.”
Before they could exit, the front door swung open, and a thin man with a cropped white beard, sharp nose, and blue eyes walked in. Max froze. “Uh, hi, Dr. Alchor,” he said.
“Max, how good to see you,” the man said. “And Vic and Meredith, what a pleasant surprise!”
“We’re, uh, surprised, too,” Max stammered. “We’re just—on our way home.”
“Have you heard from your sister? Ordinarily I’d be giving her a physics lesson right now.”
Max felt conspicuous with one hand behind his back. He shoved the envelope into his waistband and stuck his hands in his pockets. “She’ll be home on Sunday.”
“Yes,” Alchor said. “This trip is a wonderful experience for her. I hope the three of you will make it to Switzerland one day. Well, go on; don’t let me keep you.”
Max, Vic, and Meredith stumbled through the back door and regrouped at their bikes. Max held the glowing envelope in trembling hands.
“What’s in it, Max?” Vic’s voice shook.
Max’s heart raced. He ignored his tightening chest and pulled up a corner of the flap.
“No.” He stuffed the envelope in his jacket pocket with his inhaler. “Not here—somebody might see us.”
Chapter 2: A Riddle
Max, Vic, and Meredith dropped their bikes behind the Fletchers’ house and pounded up the stairs to Max’s room. Throwing their jackets onto the coat hooks on either side of the Spiderman poster, the twins plunked down beside Max on the edge of his bed, eyes transfixed on the shimmering envelope in his hands. Gingerly Max peeled back the flap and withdrew the folded sheet of emerald stationery, letting the envelope fall to the floor. He read aloud the handwritten words:
Once the halls the frame of knowledge,
Now the cells the guards of silence.
Once the pit the realm of fire,
Now conceals the glowing chamber.
Once the worlds the artist’s magic,
Now the skies the veil of secrets.
The turning earth will rend the mask,
The turning leaves will show the way.
Max scowled. “What are we supposed to do with this?” He stepped over to the little table by the window and pushed the plastic chessmen to the far edge, then pressed the letter down on the chessboard, smoothing the creases. The twins joined him.
“It’s obviously a set of directions.” Vic pointed at the last line. “‘The turning leaves will show the way’—a sort of treasure map in the form of a poem.”
“Hmm…” Meredith slid her fingers down the page. “Chamber…mask… secrets… Well, guys, Pete said we don’t have much time. Let’s see what we can do with this.”
Max stiffened. Pete? She’d barely met the guy, this bird-boy, and already he was Pete? Did that mean she liked him? Well, he was kind of good-looking, Max had to admit—if you liked that kind of look.
Max’s eyes met Meredith’s, and he quickly shifted his gaze to the paper in his hand. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. What a jerk! He had a hunch, no more than that, a strong sense, that this paper had something to do with his dad. And he wasn’t going to help his dad by worrying about who Meredith liked. Anyway, Meredith was a friend—a good friend, yeah, but not a girlfriend. At least, he’d never thought of her that way as far as he knew. It was better that way. She was awfully smart and pretty and could have anybody she wanted for a boyfriend. So what if she had a crush on this Pete? Inwardly Max rolled his eyes at himself. This was ridiculous. Why was he suddenly thinking like a stupid jealous boyfriend? Let it go, he told himself.
“What do you make of the first line?” Vic asked. “What do you suppose once had halls that were the frame of knowledge?”
Meredith liberated a white knight from the little crowd of chessmen and traced its muzzle with her forefinger. “What about a former library?”
“Not bad.” Vic pressed his fingertips together. “A library has halls, and it’s chock-full of knowledge.”
Max stared at the deep-green page, as if the answer might leap out at him. “Man, how are we supposed to know where something used to be?”
“Doesn’t really matter what it used to be.” Meredith tapped the letter with the knight. “Look at the second line. ‘Now the cells the guards of silence.’ Whatever this place used to be, now it has cells that guard silence.”
“So what’s that mean?” Max said drily. “A former library in a prison?”
Vic grunted. “There’s no prison around here. Cells can be any small, closed-off part of something bigger. In a building they could just be rooms.”
“So—rooms in a silent building?” Meredith asked.
“Could be,” said Vic. “Maybe it’s an abandoned building.”
Max perked up. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. We know every abandoned building in town. There’s the old lumber mill on Lafayette Road, that brick government building downtown with the groaty yellow bricks…”
“And what about the old middle school on Baxter?” put in Vic.
“A school! Halls and knowledge.” Meredith slapped the knight onto the table and grabbed her jacket off the coat hook.
“Works for me!” Max quickly folded the green paper and slid it into the back pocket of his jeans. “Let’s roll!” He hit the light switch and bounded down the stairs, Vic and Meredith on his heels. Rounding the end of the hall, he ran into the kitchen, grabbed three flashlights from a bottom drawer, and handed one to Meredith. “Where’s Vic?”
Meredith looked around. “Don’t know…he was right there.”
“The Baker Street Irregulars to the rescue!” Vic shouted, dashing into the kitchen.
“The what?” Meredith asked as they all hurried into the living room.
“You two really should read Sherlock Holmes,” Vic said. “The Baker Street Irregulars were neighborhood kids who helped Holmes and Dr. Watson solve mysteries.”
Meredith shook her head. “Whatever blows your skirt up.”
“Hey, I don’t knock your obsession with geopolitics,” Vic grumped.
Max pulled open the front door and handed Vic the other flashlight. “What made them ‘Irregulars’?”
“They only helped out when Holmes needed them.”
Meredith’s face froze. With a start, Max followed her gaze to the end of the block, where the gray van was rolling to a stop at the curb.
Chapter 3: The Realm of Fire
“Back in the house—hurry!” Max hissed, and they ducked back inside and locked the door. Max eased the blinds apart with two fingers and peered down the street. No one was getting out of the van.
“They’re probably just sitting there watching the house,” he murmured, still watching. Like you said, Vic, just surveillance.”
“Back door?” said Meredith.
“Yeah, follow me.”
They dashed through the kitchen and out the back door to the side fence. Max lifted out the loose bottom nails from two boards, swung the boards aside to make a gap, and crawled into the McKenzies’ yard, the twins right behind him. Vic eased the boards back into place, and three yards, two fences, and a Great Dane later they were walking at a fast clip down Baxter Road.
Max tightened the drawstring collar of his jacket and surveyed the former Lafayette Middle School building through the chain-link fence. The message that led them here hadn’t bothered to include a clue on how they were supposed to get in. He cringed at the sight of the razor wire looping along the top of the fence.
“We’d better find a way in soon,” he said, “or somebody’s going to wonder what we’re doing here. I’ve never seen so many No Trespassing signs.”
“We should just keep walking until we see a weak spot,” Vic said. “Act natural…just three kids walking to a friends’ house. Talk about something interesting.”
“Black holes,” said Vic.
“Again?” Meredith groaned.
Vic ignored her. “You already know that they swallow matter, energy, even light and time.”
“I guess,” said Max.
“Which means that if we could go in, we couldn’t come out.”
“Yeah, I s’pose.”
“Well, suppose this: there could be other worlds past the event horizon.”
“Event horizon?” Max asked.
“The point of no return,” Meredith said. “The point where gravity becomes so intense that nothing can come back out—not even light.”
Vic’s techno-speak was bad enough, but now Meredith had caught it, too. Max wasn’t too surprised—Meredith usually knew what Vic was going to say at about the same time Vic did. Max had known for a long time that the twins could sense each other’s thoughts—they were almost as good at it as Max and his sister, Liz.
“So what makes you think there are other worlds in a black hole?”
Vic snorted. “I didn’t say I thought there were. I said suppose there were.” A station wagon passed, and after pausing to look at it, he continued, “If there were other worlds past the event horizon, and those worlds supported life, the question is whether any of those life forms would be similar to us.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” said Max. “What’s the answer?”
Vic bent over to pick up a marooned earthworm from the sidewalk and drop it into the grass. “There is no answer—not unless someone finds a way to get swallowed by a black hole and then comes back to tell about it.”
Meredith jabbed her brother in the ribs. “And you’d like nothing better than to be that someone.”
They moved on, looking for a gap in the chain-link fence where they might make enough of an opening to squeeze through. An elderly couple walking an overweight, jowly bulldog passed on the other side of the street. A furniture truck crawled by spewing gray exhaust, followed by a monstrous SUV.
They turned the corner, still with no sign of a way through the fence. Max was determined to act nonchalant, but the thought of sneaking into the off-limits area creeped him out. He wondered whether he looked as stressed as he felt. How did Vic always manage to look so calm? And Meredith—his heart skipped a little. She glanced at him and smiled, and he felt his face grew hot.
“I keep expecting to see that van,” Max said, scrambling for something ordinary to say. “Maybe we really lost ’em this time.”
Turning the second corner, they started down the sidewalk that bordered the old school’s parking lot. About mid block, Vic ran ahead and dropped to his knees by the fence.
“It’s been cut!” Vic fingered the ragged ends of the severed links. “And recently—these cuts show no sign of corrosion.” He looked up at Max. “I have a feeling somebody’s helping us.”
Max wriggled through the opening after the twins. They dashed across the cracked, weedy asphalt to the back wall of the old building and ducked for cover down a narrow concrete stairwell that led to a steel door.
Max tried the knob. “Locked! If somebody was helping us, they shoulda’ left a key.” He slapped the door. “Now what?”
“At least we’re out of sight here.” Vic pulled a screwdriver out of his jacket pocket. “From your basement…I didn’t think your dad would mind.”
Max grinned in approval. “So that’s where you went. You’re a lifesaver! Let me try it.”
Meredith kept watch at the top of the stairs while Max jammed the screwdriver shaft into the keyhole and try to rotate it. When that failed, he wrenched it back and forth, twisting until his wrists ached.
“This thing is impossible!” he muttered.
“Here, let me try,” said Vic.
“Have at it.” Max had just handed him the screwdriver when Meredith leaped down the steps, waving her arms frantically.
“The van! It’s coming down the street!”
“No problem,” Vic said. “We’re in!” The heavy door creaked and swung open.
Chapter 4: The Glowing Chamber
Max slammed the door behind them and pushed the button lock on the knob. With flashlights beaming down the dusty corridor, the teens made their way past four classroom doors to an intersecting hallway.
Max pulled the emerald paper with its strange message out of his back pocket. “Okay, Sherlock, Here’s the next part: ‘Once the pit the realm of fire, Now conceals the glowing chamber.’”
Vic paced the corridor floor. “All right, a pit is simply a hole in the ground. What pit would a middle school have?”
“Could be the basement,” Meredith offered.
“Of course!” Vic clapped his hands. “The basement—and the fire would be the furnace! That’s good, Mer!”
“So, the basement is what conceals the glowing chamber?” Max asked.
“More specifically, it would be the furnace room that conceals the glowing chamber.” Vic bent over the note. “At least, that’s our best hypothesis so far. What’s the next part?”
Meredith read, “‘Once the worlds the artist’s magic, Now the skies the veil of secrets.’”
“Wow.” Max shook his head. “That’s really cryptic.”
“Don’t let it throw you,” Vic said. “Just think it through. The secrets are what we’re trying to find out. The skies are what’s keeping them hidden.”
“Okay, makes sense,” said Max, “but what about the furnace room? How does it all fit?”
Vic pressed his fingertips together. “I say we have a look in the furnace room and see what turns up.”
Scrambling down one corridor and up another, the young investigators ran their flashlight beams across a dozen classroom doors, a concrete stairwell leading up, a door labeled “Custodian,” another door with large orange letters reading, “Danger: High Voltage: Do Not Enter,” and a fire hose box. Finally their lights rested on a small metal sign with “Furnace” stenciled in black.
Max and Meredith held their beams on the doorknob while Vic tried jimmying the lock with the screwdriver. After several seconds of twisting, turning, and prying, he said, “This isn’t working.”
“Let me try,” Max said. “Maybe I can pop out the hinges.”
Positioning the flat tip under the edge of the top hinge pin, he pounded with the heel of his hand. After the fourth blow he dropped the screwdriver and clutched his hurting hand. “It’s too gummed up with paint.”
“We need a way to apply greater force,” said Vic, looking around.
Meredith was one step ahead. “The fire hose box!” she said, and sprinted back down the hall. The boys heard the crash and tinkle of broken glass, and seconds later she was back with the fire ax.
Ax in hand, Vic took careful aim at the head of the upper hinge pin and swung, but instead of driving the pin out of the hinge, the blow knocked the pin’s head off.
“Huh,” he said, “I obviously misjudged the tensile strength of the hinge.”
“Wait…It’s wood,” said Meredith.
“I’m sure it’s metal, Mer.” Vic fingered the broken hinge.
“No, dummy, the door.” She gave a meaningful look at the ax in Vic’s hands.
Half a minute later the three were standing on the rough concrete floor of the furnace room. Max winced at the dank smell of mold, hoping it wouldn’t kick up his asthma. The old coal furnace’s rusted cast-iron door hung askew by one hinge. A stack of old wooden pop-bottle crates lay next to the furnace, and against the wall opposite the door was a workbench. The flashlight beams lingered on the wall across from the furnace.
“Absolutely astounding!” Vic brushed his fingers across an enormous mural of thousands of stars, covering the wall from floor to ceiling. “The summer sky…It’s beautiful!”
Max recited the lines again: “Once the worlds the artist’s magic, Now the skies the veil of secrets.”
“This is artist’s magic for sure,” Vic said. “Although a furnace room is a strange setting for something so exquisite.”
“So how are these stars a veil of secrets?” Meredith asked.
“A hidden pattern, maybe?” Vic stepped closer to the mural. “Unh! What…?” He flicked his flashlight beam at a hole in the floor. “Watch out for this broken grate—looks like a drain cover.”
Max smoothed the emerald paper. “Let me read the next part: ‘The turning earth will rend the mask…’” He looked up at his friends. “So where’s the turning earth?”
They stared at the mural, pondering the strange instructions. Frustrated, Max turned and ran his beam all around the room.
“What else is in here? The answer can’t be that hard. Whoever wrote that note must have intended us to find it!” His light flew across the furnace, past the crates, and came to rest on the long wooden workbench. Some junk was piled on it: the handle of a large pipe wrench along with several pieces of pipe of varying widths and lengths, a couple of folded paper grocery bags, and a grimy cloth draped over something they couldn’t see—all of it under a thick layer of dust and cobwebs.
“Where’s the screwdriver?” Max asked. Vic handed it to him, and Max gingerly approached the workbench. With the screwdriver he lifted the edge of the grimy cloth, jerking it away in a puff of dust to reveal a globe of the earth.
“Ha!” Vic said. “There’s our turning earth.”
Max held his breath to avoid inhaling the dust he had stirred up, and while Vic and Meredith held their beams on the globe, he wiped away the cobwebs and gave it a gentle spin…Nothing happened. He turned it in the other direction…still nothing. He picked it up. But for its unusually heavy pedestal, it was an ordinary classroom globe. He turned it over.
“There’s something written here on the bottom.” He rubbed dirt off the inscription and read aloud:
“In here is your key, you’ll be there soon,
Now take what you see to Ursa’s great spoon.”
Max frowned. “In where is our key?” He planted the heel of his hand on the heavy, felt-covered pedestal bottom and twisted and pushed, but nothing gave way. Examining the pedestal more closely, he traced its outer edge with his fingers until he found a small indentation just above the flat base. He pulled on that spot, and the base snapped free from the pedestal.
“Excellent!” cried Vic.
“Hold the light.” Max felt inside the base and carefully removed, from a bedding of tightly packed purple velvet, a heavy yellow disk about six inches in diameter and not quite an inch thick.
“Is it…gold?” Meredith asked.
“Must be,” Max replied. “It’s really heavy, and it sure looks like gold.”
Vic whistled softly. “Well, assuming it’s the key from the inscription, we need to put it in ‘Ursa’s great spoon.’ That would be the Big Dipper on the mural—Ursa Major.”
“Can you find it?” Max asked.
“Naturally.” Vic returned to the mural and, in the glow of Meredith’s flashlight, slid his fingers along the painted constellation. “Hello,” he said under his breath, “what’s this?”
Max and Meredith watched him trace the outline of a circle of tiny five-pointed stars inside the bowl of the Big Dipper.
“See if the key fits over this pattern,” Vic said.
Max hoisted the gold disk and positioned it against the wall, directly over the pinprick stars. Then, under his straining fingers, right before his unbelieving eyes, the heavy disk began to vibrate with a soft hum, then vanished into the circle of stars. In the same moment, a doorway appeared in the wall, revealing a lighted chamber behind the mural.
Before Max could react, a man’s voice echoed from the main hallway, shouting, “That door is down!” Footsteps clattered down the hallway, and flashlight beams cut through the darkness.
Max lunged for the opening, only to sprawl onto the concrete floor, his foot trapped in the broken grate Vic had warned him about. He struggled to free himself, but his shoe was jammed fast under the jagged bars.