On a stormy May day in 1929, William and Maxine arrive on the doorstep of Battersea Manor to spend the summer with a grandfather they barely remember. Whatever the cousins expected, Colonel Battersea isn’t it. Soon after they settle in, Grandpa receives a cryptic telegram and promptly whisks the cousins off to New York City to meet an unknown courier and collect a very important package. Before he can do so, however, Grandpa vanishes without a trace. When the cousins stumble upon Nura, a tenacious girl from Turkey, she promises to help them track down the parcel and rescue Colonel Battersea. But with cold-blooded gangsters and a secret society of assassins all clamoring for the mysterious object, the children soon find themselves in a desperate struggle just to escape the city’s dark streets alive.
“A youthful mystery worthy of John Bellairs, with lyrical language reminiscent of Edith Nesbit; yet it stands on its own, creating a fully realized world with clearly defined lines of good and evil, and just a dash of magic.” —Booklist
“Readers of R. L. LaFevers’s Theodosia Throckmorton series as well as lovers of the Rick Riordan books will enjoy this. A well-crafted adventure with a dash of magic.” —School Library Journal
“Brumbach’s vivid descriptions and terse, to-the-point dialogue keep the action moving and readers constantly engaged and surprised. . . . A fast-paced, action-packed adventure.” —Kirkus Reviews
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||5 MB|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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The Jersey Shore
May 21, 1929
The weather turned dirty that first day, the day the cousins arrived in Hendon, back when the whole business was just at a beginning. A yellow taxicab rolled along under a canopy of dark clouds that blew in off the sea, and soon heavy drops began hammering the windshield, falling from a tombstone sky with such intense ill will it was hard to imagine that the sun could ever shine in this particular corner of the world.
The cab drove on, and the rain fell, and the miles slid past, until at last the car came to a stop, and a young girl no older than thirteen stepped out, ankle-deep, into a puddle. She pulled her suitcase from the back and paid the driver, who left her alone at the bottom of a hill.
Her gaze moved upward, past a formidable flight of steps, to a house atop a grassy perch that met her stare with a humorless frown, looking more like a fortress than a house, really--smooth stone; high, peaked roofs; and gables and towers beyond number. All something less than delightful, to her way of thinking. Not a flower to be seen, no cheerful curtains framing the dark windows, just a great gray edifice against a gray May sky.
She started up the hill, her suitcase bumping along behind her as she climbed the steps. Halfway to the top, she stopped and pushed the wet brown hair from her eyes.
“Just like Anne Boleyn climbing Tower Hill,” she said under her breath, “right before she lost her head.”
The image was tragically romantic, and she raised her chin with an air of somber dignity. Her suitcase had begun to feel like a load of wet sand, and for a moment she contemplated abandoning it there on the steps before finally resigning herself to her plight. Groaning wearily, she hefted the bag and pressed on.
By the time she reached the top of the stairs, she was soaked through. She looked back to the winding road that had brought her here. The taxicab was far away now, a yellow smudge in the distance.
She laid the back of her hand to her forehead and let out a mournful sigh, wondering how she looked.
Like a queen, she hoped. A desolate queen. Desolate but proud. And beautiful. Desolate and proud and beautiful. Watching the car vanish over the horizon, she drew a finger across her throat.
The rain was stinging now, but she no longer made any effort to cover her head. She took one last look up at the house and back down the long staircase, then turned to the great doorway before her, eyeing the bronze plate above the bell.
BATTERSEA MANOR, it read, and below that was a strange medallion figured with a single numeral--an elegantly engraved zero.
“What a strange address,” she muttered to herself. “Welcome to the old family castle, Maxine. Such a lovely place to spend the summer.”
She rang the bell and for a long time stood waiting on the doorstep. There was no answer or footfall within, so she rang again. Then, not knowing what else to do, she tried the knob. The door opened with a heavy groan, and she leaned through the crack, the end of her nose sluicing a steady stream of water onto the black-and-white tiles inside.
“Hello?” called Maxine. “Anybody?”
There was no reply.
The dry entry hall of a house, even a dark and cheerless one, struck Maxine as a vast improvement over a soggy front porch, and since the door was already open, she stepped across the threshold and glanced about.
“Grandpa?” she called. Then, as an afterthought, “Colonel Battersea?”
Her voice echoed down the dim hallway and died somewhere in the distant corners of the manor. The house seemed to be asleep, or perhaps lying in wait. Caesar’s bust stared at her mutely from a pedestal beside the front staircase, and Maxine shivered as the puddle beneath her feet spread slowly across the tiled floor.
On the wall facing her was a tall blue mosaic framed by a pointed stone arch. Judging by the carved basin set at the foot, it must have been a fountain once upon a time, set into a wall along a dusty street in some far-off place like Cairo or Algiers. The basin was dry now, and the exotic blue mosaic work had been fitted with brass hooks for jackets and hats. Maxine peeled off her wool coat and hung it there, where it dripped mournfully into the stone bath, and she decided she might as well have a look around.
The mansion was a labyrinth of winding corridors, and Maxine managed to lose herself several times without even leaving the first floor. She roamed the kitchen and the music room, the billiard room and the parlor, but all were empty and silent. The whole house, in fact, was as quiet as a tomb. The only sound at all came from an enormous grandfather clock in the entry hall--an ominous tick-tock that seemed to follow her from room to room and only served to heighten the stillness. She found herself tiptoeing, afraid to disturb the silence.
At length she came to a pair of double doors. Maxine paused for a moment, then grasped the handles and threw them wide, revealing a long, dark-paneled room inhabited by a great many books. A whole wall of them, in fact, on shelves the length of a train car, the highest of which could be reached only with the help of a wheeled ladder that rolled along on a track.
For some thirteen-year-olds, an afternoon in the library would have been more or less on par with a visit to the tailor’s shop or an hour in the dentist’s chair. Maxine, however, felt her spirits lift for the first time since she had arrived.
Her fingers brushed the spines as she walked the breadth of the room. The titles on the lower shelves were not entirely encouraging . . . Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in fifteen volumes, sandwiched between Disraeli and Milton. Latin dictionaries and German medical books, encyclopedias and botanical folios. She wrinkled her nose at them, as if the pages harbored a colony of creeping parasites. Still, she felt sure there had to be something of interest here, and indeed, as her gaze drifted upward she began to take heart. Huck and Tom, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long John Silver, the good-natured Mr. Toad--her old friends all regarded her from the upper shelves with silent goodwill.
The enormity of the collection presented certain difficulties, however. Maxine considered for a moment the proposition of trying to select a single book from such a broad assortment, then grabbed hold of the wheeled ladder with both hands and dashed madly across the room, trundling it in front of her. When the ladder reached top speed, she promptly jumped aboard and began climbing. Her plan was to wait until she had come to a stop, whereupon she would simply pick the first book she saw in front of her. It was a good plan, and would have worked well, too, if the ladder had not hit a sticky spot just as it was slowing down, catching her in an awkward position and depositing her unceremoniously on the hardwood floor.
When Maxine opened her eyes, she found herself staring up at the ceiling, stunned but unhurt. She turned her head a bit and saw that she had dislodged a single volume, which was lying now in front of her nose. Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills. She dusted herself off and collected the old book, retreating from the shelves to find a spot where she could curl up to read.
The far side of the library was all windows, which would have made it a cheerful room if the rain had not still been pelting down steadily outside. A leather chair was turned toward a cold hearth and grate, and Maxine flopped down here with her legs slung over one arm and her head on the other. For a while she labored over her book, but it had already been too long a day for stories of British soldiering. Her thoughts drifted off--back to her little black terrier, Baron, who would have been on the chair beside her if she were home; back to her mother’s face, pale and gaunt the morning Maxine had boarded the train out of Chicago.
She turned to the window and watched the raindrops, beading and running, wandering aimlessly down the glass like the drowsy visions in her head.
The doorbell chimed, waking Maxine with a start. She heard noises in the entry hall--the front door opening and closing and then a shout.
“Ahoy! Anybody home?”
Maxine sat up straight in her chair and rubbed her eyes. “In here,” she called tentatively.
A moment later the double doors to the library burst open with a bang.
“Hello,” said a boy who looked to be close to her own age. “I figured you must have shown up already. The cabdriver told me this was his second trip out here today.”
He was as thin as a soda straw, with blond hair and enthusiastic blue eyes, and short trousers that showed a pair of skinned knees.
“Do you remember me?” he asked, shaking himself like a waterlogged dog.
“Not really,” said Maxine, which was mostly the truth, though she knew perfectly well whom she was looking at.
“That’s okay. You’re Max, right?”
“Maxine,” she replied coolly.
“I’m your cousin William,” said the boy. “William Battersea. Your family came down from Chicago to visit us in Kansas City a few years ago. You had less freckles back then, though.” He squinted at her closely. “Maybe they’re multiplying,” he added with concern.
Maxine struggled mightily to resist the urge to look at the end of her nose. She considered her freckles to be impolite material for conversation. Not that she was particularly concerned with her cousin’s opinion of her looks, of course. Generally speaking, when she glanced in the mirror, the girl she saw staring back struck her as perfectly ordinary--shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes, limbs and features all roughly where they were expected to be. Nothing to make babies cry or cause pedestrians to cross the street shuddering, certainly, just nothing likely to make anyone notice at all. Except the freckles. People always mentioned her freckles, as if they were the most important thing about her. It was a tiresome topic she had come to despise, and as a result, she had taken to wearing the color red as a kind of misdirection--a single scarlet embellishment on any given day, like the silk ribbon she wore now in her hair. Something that stood out. Something impossible to ignore.
She was about to say a word or two about the rudeness of commenting on other people’s appearances, but William was already galloping on.
“It’s a swell old house, isn’t it?” he said, craning his neck to take in the expansive library.
“I guess so,” she replied. “It’s certainly . . . big.”
“Yeah, and mysterious, too. Think of the fun we’ll have this summer exploring all the dark corners and secret rooms.”
Maxine frowned with disapproval. “I’m sure we don’t have permission to go poking around in every--”
“Say, you don’t suppose this old place is full of hants, do you?” interrupted William.
“You know, spooks, ghosts, murdered people whose souls can have no rest and all that.”
“I think that’s perfectly morbid,” she said, and she was on the verge of changing the subject when William beat her to it.
“Have you seen Grandpa yet?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Really?” said William. “How about a housekeeper or butler or something?”
“Nope. I just let myself in.”
“That’s a little funny, don’t you think?” said William, scratching an eyebrow. “I hope Grandpa’s all right. I mean, I hope he’s not soft in the head, as long as we’re stuck with him for the summer and all. My folks seemed sort of worried about packing me off to stay here while they were traveling. Mom says he was always a strange old bird, even before Grandma died.”
Maxine was lost in reflection for a moment, trying to recapture something from the past. “He used to bounce me on his knee when I was little and pretend I was riding Man o’ War in the Derby. It made me laugh--” She stopped short. She hadn’t meant to say the words aloud, and she glanced at William, expecting to catch him sniggering at her, but he only nodded in a thoroughly genuine sort of way.
“You still remember all that?”
“Not exactly,” she said, cocking her head self-consciously. “It’s a story I heard from my father. I can’t really even picture what Grandpa looks like.”
“It’s kind of odd, isn’t it?” said William. “Meeting your grandpa for the first time, like a perfect stranger?”
“I don’t know,” Maxine replied. “No odder than meeting your own cousin, I guess.”
Which is how William Battersea and Maxine Campbell made each other’s acquaintance on a rainy day in New Jersey in 1929. Because they shared the same grandfather and had both just finished the seventh grade, they might have expected to have a fair amount in common. But as the conversation rambled on, they began to suspect that their respective apples had fallen on opposite sides of the Battersea family tree and had apparently rolled down the hill into entirely different counties.
“You know, if we’re going to be here all summer,” said William at length, “we probably ought to come up with some nicknames for each other.”
“Nicknames?” replied Maxine, using the most patient tone she could manage.
“Sure. Something I can call you that’s short for Maxine.”
“I guess I didn’t realize it needed shortening.”
“You don’t care much for Max, right?” he said, squinting at her like an artist studying a bowl of fruit. “How about I call you M? Like the letter, you know?”
“If you must,” she said tartly. “If you think Maxine is likely to overtax your brain.”
William stared at the ceiling, contemplating the daunting prospect of using multiple syllables to address his cousin for the whole summer.
“Well,” he said, “if you don’t like it, maybe we could think of something else. What do they call you at school?”
“I don’t know, teachers, classmates . . . friends . . .”
Maxine ignored the question and turned toward the window.
“You have friends, right?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, watching the rain patter on the trees outside. “I’m absolutely rolling in them. I mean, does it really matter?”
“Personally, I wouldn’t have any use for school if I didn’t have friends there.”
Maxine glanced at William, wondering if he expected a response. “The truth is,” she said at last, “the kids at school aren’t much interested in me, and I’m not much interested in them. And what difference does it make anyway? The boys are all oafs, and the girls are a pack of silly geese.”