Forgotten But Not Gone
©2005 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2005 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: The statue of a bearded man stands in Lawndale’s Village Green, but no one in town knows who he is. When Daria is reluctantly goaded into discovering the bearded man’s his identity, she and Jane uncover a bizarre ninety-year-old mystery leading them into extraordinary danger. This (slightly AU) Daria fanfic is set in the “lost summer” between Daria’s sophomore and junior year at Lawndale High School.
Author’s Notes: This story appeared in serial form on SFMB and PPMB in April-May 2005, though some of the tale was lost on PPMB during the Great PPMB Crash in April (but recovered later from my own files). Readers are assumed to be familiar with the characters of the Daria show, so introductions are not given. To avoid spoiling the story, further details are given at the end.
And “Schloß” (schloss) is German for “castle,” as in “Schloß Morgendorffer.” Thanks to atimnie for that correction from SFMB, in an unrelated thread.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go out to Brandon League, Renfield1969, E. A. Smith, Scissors MacGillicutty, Steven Galloway, Richard Lobinske, Brother Grimace, Gregor Samsa, Roentgen, and Lawndale Stalker for catching assorted misspellings and story glitches and little buried fun things. Thanks!
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Summer Lucky, Summer Not
Chapter Two: “Elementary, My Dear Morgendorffer”
Chapter Three: Mission Preposterous
Chapter Four: Books, Art, Guns, and Women
Chapter Five: Down to the Core
Chapter Six: Chasing Nancy Drew
Chapter Seven: “You’re No Fun Anymore”
Chapter Eight: The Dark Side of the Moon
Chapter Nine: Where Angels Fear to Tread
Chapter Ten: Why Did It Have To Be—?
Chapter Eleven: A Pause to Reflect
Chapter Twelve: The Earth and the Moon in the Palm of Your Hand
Chapter Thirteen: Like a Bullet from a Gun
Chapter Fourteen: All’s Well That Ends? Well . . .
Chapter One: Summer Lucky, Summer Not
The last day of public school in Lawndale that year was on the first Wednesday in June. At eleven in the morning on the first Thursday in June, sixteen-year-old Daria Morgendorffer knocked on the door of the last house on the right on Howard Drive: a run-down, canary-yellow two-story with an overgrown lawn and a rusted metal sculpture of a tree—or possibly a model of the solar system—in the yard near the front door. It was a beautiful day, but Daria’s heart was heavy for one who had a whole summer ahead of her to waste in idleness, for she knew she wouldn’t be to be allowed to waste it.
Footsteps heralded the opening of the door. “Hey, amiga!” said her best and only friend, Jane Lane. “Good thing I woke up and showered before you got here. Or woke up, anyway. So tell me, how does it feel to graduate tenth grade?”
“It would feel a lot better if I didn’t have eleventh and twelfth grade left to work through,” said Daria in a tired monotone. “Um, are you doing anything today?”
“Thought about picking up a box of doughnuts at the gas station. Are you available to help me eat them?”
“Let me check my schedule. Mmm, that would be a yes.”
“Good.” Lanky Jane stepped out of the house and pulled the door to without locking it. “I wouldn’t mind the company. You’ll be glad to know that Trent’s not in. He and his band are off on a tour of Baltimore’s trendiest bars for the weekend, so you don’t have to worry about acquiring that deep rosy blush you get when he’s around. You can relax and act naturally, unless the band runs out of cash and has to come home early.”
Daria’s cheeks began to color. “Thanks loads,” she growled, looking away. “Your concern touches me. Maybe ‘touch’ is too strong a word, though.”
They started down the sidewalk together for the street, with Daria’s face burning all the way. Jane’s twenty-something brother Trent, a guitar player and song writer, had a weird effect on Daria, making her knees grow weak and wobbly whenever he was near. Jane seemed to telepathically know this and enjoyed tweaking Daria about her crush when the opportunity arose.
“How shall we schedule the day after the doughnuts?” said Jane, her jet-black bangs swishing around her head. “Take in a movie? Visit the park? Or go watch television and eat junk food until we fall asleep sometime after four in the morning?”
Daria gave the world a sour look. “None of the above, at least for now.”
“I was thinking you seemed a little down when you showed up at the door,” said Jane, “but then I figured, hey, it’s Daria! She’s always like that! C’mon, you can open up to me. Why the long face, amiga?”
Once over the street, they made their way through an overgrown woodlot along a well-worn dirt path. A locomotive horn sounded in the distance behind them. “Oh, my mom’s making me do a summer project.” Daria exhaled heavily as she walked through the tall weeds. “We have an argument every year about my doing something useful with the only free time I ever get, and I always lose. This year, after a marathon bargaining session at the kitchen table after dinner last night, we finally agreed that in lieu of volunteer work or violating any child-labor laws, I would further my education by finding something noteworthy about Lawndale and writing up a five-page report about it for her.” She sighed again. “I have to turn it in to her by Sunday night.”
“Something noteworthy about Lawndale,” said Jane. “That’s a bit of a stretch.” They left the woodlot and crossed the back lot of a gas station, heading around the side. “So, how much did she say she’d pay you to do it?”
“Nothing,” said Daria glumly. “Instead, she agreed to pay for my food and shelter for the rest of the week, instead of making me pay for it. We have to negotiate our contract Sunday after the report is turned over, to determine what I have to do next week to keep from paying for my upkeep then.”
“The nerve!” Jane exclaimed. “I’m going to call child welfare about this. How can anyone possibly expect anything educational to happen while school is out, much less while it’s still in session?”
“Especially in this intellectual wasteland of a county.”
They pushed open the doors to the convenience store attached to the gas station and went inside, migrating immediately to the pastry display. “Given the argument between you and your mom,” said Jane, grabbing a box of a dozen assorted doughnuts, “I’m kind of glad now I had to help Trent get packed and couldn’t come over last night.”
“I’m kind of sorry you weren’t there. Mom might have put off our traditional argument for another few days.” Daria picked two cold Ultra-Colas from a refrigerated shelf. “So, you’re a lifelong native of this quaint foreign land. Do you know of any noteworthy things about Lawndale worth writing five pages about?”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Jane shook her head as they got in line for the cashier. “Unless you’re talking about the big strawberry by Cranberry Commons.”
“My pulse is pounding in my ears. However, I’m not sure I can fill five pages of type about that particular attraction, even if I triple spaced the lines.”
They paid for their food and wandered out, digging into the doughnuts. A freight train thundered past two blocks behind them on the town’s southwest side. Jane turned to watch it for a moment. “There’s that abandoned rock quarry on the other side of the tracks,” she said after she swallowed. “That might be interesting. Eh, no, it wouldn’t. Forget it. There’s ‘Lovers Lane’ overlooking the quarry, and . . . nah, forget that, too, unless you want to detail the sexual activities of your peer group to your mom.”
“I’ll keep it in mind, though I have the feeling a report like that might backfire. My mom is a little paranoid about my sex life.”
At that, Jane snorted, spitting out part of the doughnut she’d just bitten into. She then began laughing so hard that she stopped dead on the sidewalk, almost doubled over.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about that,” Daria said with a frosty glare.
Helpless to answer, Jane could only point to Daria before dissolving into laughter again and sinking to her knees on the sidewalk. She bent over, one arm clutched around her abdomen as part of her Ultra-Cola spilled over her shaking hand.
“Fine,” said Daria darkly. “The doughnuts and I are going somewhere in this lousy little ‘burb where we’re wanted.” Thoroughly toasted, she turned on her boot heels and headed off, the doughnut box under one arm.
Jane caught up with her fifteen seconds later. “Hey, Daria!” she cried, falling in step beside her friend. “What are you doing here? Ooo, are those doughnuts? Can I have one, please? Pleeease?”
Daria handed the box over. “Don’t ever speak to me again,” she grumbled.
“Okay. Hey, what about Pizza Place? You could get five pages of single-spaced type just talking about the extra ingredients. Ten kinds of cheese, twelve different meats, fourteen different vegetables—”
“Won’t work. Mom said whatever I write about can’t be fun.”
“Aaah!” Jane cried in alarm. “I am going to call child welfare about this! Or I would if I didn’t think they might take me away instead of you.”
“Don’t your parents make you do stuff like this over the summer?”
Jane finished off a double-chocolate doughnut and sucked on her fingers. “Daria, I’m lucky if I see my parents over the summer. Mom’s off learning about native pottery glazes in Arizona, and Dad’s in the Rockies somewhere taking pictures of goats or things that look like goats. It’s amazing they’re even on the same continent at the same time.”
“I wish I had your problems.”
“Hmmm.” Jane gave Daria a sidelong glance. “Careful what you wish for. Remember all the fun we had trying to keep the bank from foreclosing on the house because my folks forgot to pay the mortgage, right after you got here?”
“Yeah.” Daria nodded. She almost smiled. “Good times.”
“Good times,” Jane agreed. “H’okay, you can’t write about restaurants, then. What about the Zon? Or maybe it’s the Zone this week, or the Zen. I don’t know. Alternative music hangout. Trent’s band plays there sometimes.”
“Is it fun?”
“Yeah, it’s . . . oh. No fun places.”
“If I write about something that’s really fun, she might not let me go there at all.”
By this point in their travels, the two girls had walked past the cathedral-like city hall building on their right and a light factory on their left. Daria pointed with her half-empty soft-drink bottle at the small park in front of city hall, across the street and ahead on the right. “I was curious,” she said. “We keep passing that statue when we drive around town, and I have no idea who it’s of. I could write that guy up in no time, if I could find a webpage about him on the Internet that I could cut and paste.”
“The beard guy?” said Jane. They stopped, waited for traffic to pass, then crossed to the other side. Ahead was an open park with scattered trees, surrounded by roads on three sides. In the middle of the park was a tall, freestanding statue on a circular, stone-step pedestal. “There’s a story about him,” Jane went on, “and it’s not a pretty one.”
“Oh?” Daria felt a stir of genuine interest. “Infamous crime lord? Crooked politician? Incompetent Civil War general? All of the above?”
“Nope,” said Jane. They crossed a huge circular sidewalk that ran around the park’s perimeter, walked through manicured grass, then came up to the round base on which the stone statue stood. They continued around the base until they could see the statue’s face. Daria guessed the bearded gentleman in old-fashioned clothing was about twelve feet high. The workmanship was impressive despite the stains left by roosting birds. The man held what looked like a fountain pen in one hand and a pill in the palm of the other, his chin raised so he looked above the trees into the clear blue sky.
“So?” prompted Daria. “Who was he?”
“Don’t know,” said Jane, and she drank down the last of her Ultra-Cola.
Daria turned. “Say what?”
“I don’t know who it is,” said Jane, tossing the empty bottle into a nearby garbage can. “And that’s the problem. No one else in town knows who this guy is, either.”
Chapter Two: “Elementary, My Dear Morgendorffer”
“You’re kidding me,” said Daria.
“Not at all.” Jane pointed to the statue’s circular, stair-step base. “No name, no date, no inscription, no nothing. Someone had this statue put up a long time ago and didn’t tell anyone who it was. On purpose, I think.”
Daria was incredulous. “You dragged me all the way out here to look at a statue of someone that no one knows and no one remembers anything about?”
“Mmm, yep.” Jane took a bite out of another doughnut and got powdered sugar all over the front of her ash-gray T-shirt.
Daria turned to look the statue over once more. After careful consideration, she nodded and said, “It’ll do.” She turned to Jane, who now had powdered sugar sprinkled from her nose to her boots. “What’s this park called?”
“‘The Statue at Village Green,’” said Daria. “It’s a little lame as a title.”
“You should call it: ‘Daria Enslaved, The True Story of a Suburban Teen Forced to Do Something Educational on Her Summer Vacation.’” Jane shrugged and dusted the sugar from her clothing. “Better you than me, though.”
“Thank you for your concern, Mother Theresa.” Daria turned back to the statue. “What can I say about it? Hmmm. It appears to be made of white marble and stands, um, ten or twelve feet tall—”
“Heroic proportions,” said Jane. She was examining the statue with her left arm extended, thumb raised, right eye shut. “Eight heads high, maybe a little more.”
Daria glanced at her friend with one eyebrow raised. “What does that mean?”
“It’s kind of standard for statues, but whoever this guy was, the sculptor liked him and probably thought he was a great man. Or maybe the guy who commissioned it thought so.” Jane lowered her arm. “Anyway, this guy was a hero to someone.”
Daria blinked. “Um, okay, heroic proportions. What else do your artistic sensibilities tell you about it?”
“Whoever did this was really good.” Jane began walking around the statue’s base. “It wasn’t anyone from this dump. His face is soft and real, and the clothing looks like the wind should blow it around. Look at his pants, how they hang, and up under his arm where the jacket wrinkles. See?” She paused and squinted. “White marble isn’t cheap, either, especially this type. It’s unveined and has a kind of translucent quality to it, almost pure white. I’m certain this is Italian marble. I looked it up a long time ago.”
Daria followed Jane as she walked, straining to catch her words.
“His suit is a standard mid- to late-nineteenth century style: frock coat, button-down vest, collared shirt, hand-tied bow tie, trousers . . .” Jane’s gaze drifted downward. “Nice shoes, too. He was well-to-do, probably upper class. Could be American, could be Canadian, could be European. All the styles from that time were semi-British. He might have been a businessman, though he doesn’t . . . I don’t know, there’s something else about him, and I can’t put my finger on it. He’s dignified, but there’s something else . . .”
Jane looked behind her, then stepped back and stared at the face, shielding her eyes from the sun. “You can almost pick out the strands of hair in his beard. Look at the way his hair gets wavy and almost tangled, where it’s brushed back on his head. And even though he’s standing, there’s a sense of motion in his arms and legs, like he’s about to step forward.” She lowered her hand. “This guy was important. My secret theory is that this statue is a major work and not a copy. I used to come over here after school and try to figure out who did it. I had some theories, but they were just too bizarre.”
“By Jove,” said Daria with a touch of awe. “Good show, Lane.”
“Elementary, my dear Morgendorffer. Ticks me off that I never could make anyone believe this thing was special. People think he was just the founder of Lawndale or the first mayor or some nonsense like that, even if they don’t know his name.” She shook her head and said in a scathing tone, “Lawndale.”
“You said there was an un-pretty story about this guy.”
“The main un-pretty part is that this damn town is too cheap to clean this statue on a regular basis, which is probably why no one recognizes it as special. It’s got dirt and bird crap all over it, and the acid rain’s not helped it any, either. Look at the stains. I bet it used to be beautiful.” Jane grimaced. “And over there, someone’s stuck chewing gum to the boot on that side. Philistines. They’re going to have to refinish it, top to bottom, and that’ll cost even more than it would have cost to wipe it off now and then.”
“I . . .” Daria hesitated.
“I, um . . . this will sound stupid, but he looks like Rutherford B. Hayes. I think.”
“He was a president, right?”
“After Lincoln. We should get a book of presidents and compare them to this.”
Jane nodded, though she seemed dubious. “There are some other stories about this statue. I was really into it once, long ago. Someone at the library might know about it. I think there was a contest once to figure out who this was. I don’t remember how it came out, but I don’t think anyone won it.”
“When was that?”
“Dunno. Kept meaning to go over to the library and look it up, but when I’m there I keep forgetting, and . . . well, we can go do it now.”
“I’m good, if you’re up for the walk.”
“Want the last doughnut?” Jane held out the box.
“Sure,” said Daria, taking it. The box felt unusually light in her hand.
“Too bad,” said Jane. “I just ate it. Let’s go.”
Daria muttered something under her breath as she threw out the box.
“Did you say you had an itch?” asked Jane as they set off
The Alfred Joyce Kilmer Public Library was a few blocks farther away than the high school, down the same highway through town. Daria guessed it would be a good half-hour walk. Jane’s company made the exercise welcome, though Daria had never minded a walk to the library, which was a particularly good one in her experience.
“What I don’t get,” said Jane, “is why you don’t blow this paper off until the last minute and then pull an all-nighter to finish it, like I would.”
“My mom set up project milestones. She has a page full of them. Today’s milestone is to find something worth writing about, then report back to her during dinner tonight for approval.”
“So, technically, you’ve already reached your milestone for the day.”
“Correct, but it won’t hurt to get a leg up on the milestones for the next few days. All the more time I’ll have with you to do more important things.”
“I wasn’t planning on doing anything important.”
“Is there a penalty for missing a milestone?”
“The phrase ‘do it or else’ is understood to be part of the agreement, but we haven’t discussed the consequences in detail. I think it’s best if I don’t find out, judging from the smoldering look Mom gave me when I asked the same question about penalties and the way she said, ‘What do you think?’”
“I feel for you,” said Jane.
“I feel for me, too,” said Daria. “And that and a quarter will get me a gumball.”
The talk drifted to a discussion of things they each wanted to do over the summer. Their plans mostly centered around sleepovers, watching TV together in their rooms, eating out, and avoiding Daria’s family and everyone else they knew, except—predictably—Jane’s brother, Trent. Once Lawndale High School came into view on the left, detailed analyses of the school’s staff and classmates took over the conversation.
“You think any of the teachers would be of help?” Daria asked abruptly in the middle of Jane’s theorizing on what animal, vegetable, or mineral forms their fellow students would take if they were all reincarnated.
“You mean, would they be any help teaching us anything?” said Jane. “I dunno. I never paid any attention in class.”
“No, I meant, any help in identifying the statue. Would any of them know anything about it?”
“What about Ms. Defoe, the art teacher? Wouldn’t she know?”
Jane sighed. “This is kind of cruel to say, but if that statue was a wind chime, Ms. Defoe could tell you everything about it. If I asked anyone else, they’d pat me on the head and tell me how sweet it was I was finally taking an interest in the community, and why the hell didn’t I do that two years ago when I was a freshman.”
“You said you had a big interest in the statue when you were younger. Did you ever talk with anyone about it?”
“Well, I told Trent, but he told me it was just a statue of someone who probably didn’t understand art, and trying to understand his statue wasn’t going to balance out cosmic karma, so I should go back to watching television. I didn’t bother asking anyone else after that, except my art teacher in middle school.”
“What did that teacher say?”
“He patted me on the head and said it was nice I was finally getting interested in the community, so why the hell didn’t I get interested in it when I was in sixth grade.”
The conversation stayed on various teachers they had known until the ultramodern library was in view at the end of a short drive, sitting on a grassy knoll at the north end of High Hills Park. They pushed through the glass doors and walked into the bright, open, air-conditioned lobby, at which point Jane followed Daria’s lead to the reference section. Minutes later, they had several volumes of an encyclopedia open on a table and were poring over illustrations of the presidents of the United States.
“I was wrong,” said Daria. “The statue guy’s beard is kind of broad and squarish at the bottom, but Rutherford’s beard is narrow and pointed. Wrong outfit, too.”
“Statue guy didn’t look like a president,” said Jane.
“Not enough special-interest money sticking out of his pockets?”
“I dunno, he just . . . didn’t look like a president. He looked smarter than that.”
Daria looked over the low shelves of the reference area and turned in place. Her gaze skimmed over the computer carrels, the children’s section, the fiction stacks, the—
“Bingo,” she said. She put away the encyclopedia volumes and led the way to the glassed-in section with the words “Special Collections” written on the doorway.
At a desk on the other side of the door was a twenty-something woman chewing gum, staring hard at a computer monitor and clicking on her mouse. She looked up, saw the two girls, and shook her head no. She pointed to a sign on the desk: YOU MUST BE 18 OR OLDER, OR ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT, TO ENTER SPECIAL COLLECTIONS.
Daria muttered a very rude word and leaned close to the door. “We have a question,” she said loudly.
The young woman shook her head, then studiously ignored the girls as she stared at her monitor.
“I’d like to take that solitaire game she’s playing,” said Daria under her breath, “plus the computer she’s playing it on, and jam it right up—”
“May I help you?” came a voice from behind them.
Daria and Jane jumped and turned around. A small, white-haired old woman with glasses and a friendly smile looked at them expectantly.
“Um, yes, ma’am,” said Daria, recovering. “My friend and I were interested in that statue in Village Green, downtown, and—”
“You were trying to figure out who it is?” the little old lady interjected.
“Uh, yeah,” said Daria, taken aback.
“We think it’s someone important,” said Jane. “We’re doing a little detective work to find out.”
“Oh!” said the old woman brightly. “Are you after the reward, then?”
Chapter Three: Mission Preposterous
There was a stunned silence as the girls digested this news with large, round eyes.
“Reward?” said Daria at last.
“Why, yes. There was a reward offered to anyone who could identify the statue and prove who it was. The reward is still being offered, but I don’t believe anyone’s been interested in going after it in some years.”
“How much was it?” Jane asked.
“Oh, mercy. I’d have to go look. It’s been so long. Are you interested?”
“Yes!” said Daria and Jane at the same moment. They looked guiltily at each other before Daria added, “Sorry for shouting in the library.”
“Quite all right this time. My, that’s wonderful. It’s so good these days to see young people who are motivated. So many young folks your age would rather sit around all summer and rot their brains watching television until the wee hours of the morning, can you believe that?”
“They’re nuts,” said Jane in a heartfelt voice. “Thank heaven Daria and I aren’t like that.”
Daria stared at Jane in disbelief, but she held her tongue. Jane ignored her and gave the old lady a cheerful, innocent smile.
“Well, then,” said the lady, “did you need help getting started on your research?”
“We’ll take anything you’ve got,” said Daria.
“Make that everything you’ve got,” Jane put in.
The lady nodded. “Mmm-hmm,” she said. “We don’t have much, but what we have is back here.” She went to the Special Collections door, fished a key from a pocket in her long skirt, and unlocked and opened the door, waving the girls in ahead of her. The young woman at the desk looked up, shrugged, and went back to her computer game.
“Just follow me,” said the old woman, and she set off with remarkable speed to a second glass door, which she unlocked and held open. The door led into a room filled with the musty smell of ancient paper, its shelves were piled high with ragged old books, rolled maps, file boxes, oversized tomes, and rows and rows of binders. After closing and locking the door behind her, the woman set off with Daria and Jane in tow.
In moments, the old woman stopped at the end of one long shelf and said, “Ah! Here we go!” Picking up two oversized pages from a short stack, she handed them to the girls, who took them eagerly. Each page was an 11-inch-by-18-inch photocopy of an old, long newspaper article running over several columns, with a pen sketch of the statue on its pedestal, looking exactly as it did at present. “This is all we have to give you,” she said. “It’s from the Sun-Herald in its early days. This article talks about the unveiling of the statue and some of its background, though a lot of it was kept secret. We don’t even know who the sculptor was. We actually had a bit more about the statue at one time, but the old library building suffered a fire in nineteen fifty-seven and we lost most of the archive of older newspapers and magazines. The newspaper offices in town don’t have any old issues in storage, as they gave those to us for safekeeping.” She shook her head with a sad expression. “Such an awful shame.”
“I agree,” said Daria with feeling. Her gaze went to the bottom of the page. “Wow,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware the Sun-Herald had been in business that long.”
“Nineteen ten?” said Jane, looking at the same spot on her page. “The statue went up in nineteen ten?”
The old lady nodded. “Mmm-hmmm, shortly before the First World War began. Quite a while ago, wasn’t it?”
Jane blinked and lowered her photocopy, looking stunned. Daria could tell at once that the news had made a great impact on her friend. She made a mental note to interrogate Jane about it later. First things first, though. “Does this article mention the reward?” Daria asked, hoping she sounded interested but not too mercenary.
“Oh, yes,” the woman chuckled, and she carefully pointed to a spot on the photocopy.
Daria moved her face close to the paper, blinked, then raised her glasses with her fingers and brought the page within inches of her eyes, the focal distance for her myopia. “A thousand dollars?” she exclaimed, squinting at the tiny type. “Who’s paying a thousand dollars to find out who that statue’s of, almost ninety years after it went up?”
“Oh,” said the old woman, still laughing. “Why, I am.”
Daria and Jane jerked their heads up, eyes wide.
“Oh, yes,” the old woman said, “it’s me. And the offer is authentic, I assure you.” She tapped the photocopy Daria held in her hands. “The gentleman who commissioned the statue, Mister Edwin Barrington, was my father. He made the original offer when he donated the statue to the city, but I’m afraid no one at the time was up to the task. It was all the rage for a while, the contest he started to guess the name of the man for whom the statue was made, but then the war came and people lost interest. And after the war was the Depression, and then that awful second war, and that was the end of the contest’s hold on the public mind. Too much else to worry about.”
She looked reflectively at the photocopied story. “We still get people who are interested in the search, though. They eventually find their way here to the library and find me, and I give them the same information you have received.” She shook her head. “It’s been a while since the last person asked about it here. No one is that curious anymore. I think it’s all the moving around people do these days, you know? All the hustle and bustle, coming and going, and no one cares anymore where they are or what’s special about that place. Oh, well. At least there are two more today.” She tilted her head in the direction of the cynical duo.
“A thousand dollars?” repeated Jane. “Each, or split between us?”
“Split between you, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t bring anyone else into your search if I were you, though that’s your choice, of course.”
“We’re a team,” said Daria solemnly. “We don’t need anyone else.”
“We share everything except underwear,” Jane added.
Daria closed her eyes and groaned. “Forgive my friend,” she said to the old woman. “She hasn’t taken her medication today.”
“What?” Jane said in an injured tone. “Was I supposed to say we did share our underwear?”
“Hmmm,” said the old woman. Her eyes twinkled. “As long as you’re not sharing boyfriends. Young people do the strangest things these days.”
Daria and Jane looked at each other and simultaneously rolled their eyes.
“Never happen,” said Daria with finality.
“We’d share the flu before we’d do that,” Jane agreed. “And a really bad flu, too.”
“Very well,” said the old woman. “If you get to a point where you believe you know the identity of the statue’s subject, please come back and let me know. You must have evidence to back up your claims, however, and it must be good evidence, the kind that will stand up under close examination. If it passes muster, as they say, then I will pay you your reward, however you wish it. Oh—” She stopped and reached into her pocket again, pulling out two small cards “—here is my address and phone number, when I’m not here. That gentleman at the bottom is my attorney, who can vouch for me and everything I’ve said, including the reward money, which is held in trust.”
Daria looked at the card. “Mrs. Olivia Barrington?”
Daria nodded and glanced at the card again. “This street is in Crewe Neck, right?”
“Yes. A lovely neighborhood. I wish the kids weren’t so loud, but what can you do.” The old woman gave Daria and Jane a warm smile. “So proud to have met the both of you, young people who are bright and not afraid of a little hard work.”
“Mrs. Barrington,” said Daria, lowering her card, “can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, dear! What is it?”
A look of perplexity filled Daria’s face. “If you already know who the statue guy is, why are you still running the contest?”
“Oh, but I don’t, dear.” Mrs. Barrington appeared both sad and irritated. “I have no idea at all who it’s of. My father was very closed-mouthed about the contest. He let nothing slip to the family. I’m afraid he died during the influenza epidemic in nineteen eighteen, when I was younger than you are. I was quite sick myself. No one thought I would make it. The family business passed to my uncles, but they looked after us quite well, and I even went to work for them in time, before I took an interest in library science and came to work here. I used to be the head librarian until I retired a few years ago, but I didn’t really have to work. I just liked staying busy, and I volunteer now just to get out of the house. I’ve lacked for nothing all these years . . . except an answer to this one question. That’s why I keep the contest going.”
“Why don’t you put it in the papers or on TV?” said Jane, who rethought her words and hurriedly added, “I mean, don’t do it right now, of course, while we’re looking, but maybe a few years from now or something, you might—”
“Ah, no.” Mrs. Barrington waved the question off. “We tried having a big public contest the first time, and it didn’t work at all. It was complete chaos, just a nightmare to deal with, to hear my mother talk about it. I’d rather work with people who come upon this quest on their own, and I suppose it is a quest at that. At any rate, I don’t have any other answers. I once had my suspicions, but those never panned out, as they say. So, you have a clean slate to start with, and my best wishes. Any further questions?”
Daria and Jane shook their heads, and Mrs. Barrington escorted them from the Special Collections office. They shook hands, waved goodbye, and walked in a daze toward the lobby and front doors.
“Emergency conference outside,” whispered Daria.
“Sure,” said Jane, who still had a stunned expression on her face.
They pushed through the doors and into the sunlight. At Daria’s suggestion, they turned left and walked down a sidewalk along the huge glass wall outside the lobby. Their goal was a set of park benches under a lone spreading maple tree at the center of a small courtyard. Here they sat together on one bench, their backs to the library wall, able to watch for signs of anyone approaching them from any direction.
“Holy cow,” said Daria, though “cow” was not the word she used.
“Oh, man,” said Jane. “Oh, man. I can’t believe it.”
Daria looked at the card Mrs. Barrington had given her. “She lives on Deer View Court,” said Daria. “She has that giant mansion next to Brittany Taylor’s place, the one that makes the Taylors’ look like an outhouse.”
“Figures,” said Jane in a low voice. “It makes sense, now that I think of it.”
“What makes sense?”
Jane turned to her friend, her face blank. “How she can afford to throw away a thousand bucks like this, even to high-school kids, and she doesn’t even blink. It makes sense.” She looked away again, her gaze passing over the great grassy lawn that surrounded the library on its hilltop. “It also makes sense why she’d want to do it. Hell, if I was her, I’d want to know who that statue was of, too. And I’d have an army of lawyers all over the place, trying to find a way to get that damn thing back from the city, even if I had to steal it back.”
Daria frowned. “What are you raving about now?”
By way of an answer, Jane got to her feet. “Wait here,” she said, and headed back into the library. Daria almost got up, but Jane had hurried off and was gone in moments. She seemed quite focused in a way she usually wasn’t. To pass the time, Daria began to read the copy of the old newspaper article. It was easy to tell that it was actually a photocopy of a photocopy, the original photocopy carefully trimmed to eliminate all trace of adjacent articles. The printing was not very good. Daria had made up her mind to go back inside the library and have enlarged copies made when she looked up and saw Jane coming back out of the library with a heavy, oversized book under one arm.
Jane walked over and sat down beside Daria, handing the book to her friend with both hands as she did. Daria crossed her legs and set the book in her lap, just as her gaze fell on the book’s cover: a large, sepia-tint photograph of a bearded man in nineteenth-century clothing. She gasped aloud. “Is this him?” she said, trying to keep her voice level. “Is this the guy who posed for the statue?”
“No!” hissed Jane. She pointed to the book’s title: RODIN.
After a second, Daria’s eyes became impossibly large.
“This is the guy who made that statue,” Jane finished.
Chapter Four: Books, Art, Guns, and Women
The emergency conference was moved to Daria’s house, where the two girls flipped through Jane’s book in the kitchen while awaiting delivery of the giant Cheese-Wiz Special they ordered from Pizza Express.
“Damn.” Daria shook her head as she examined a page in the book showing various photos taken of a statue called “John the Baptist Preaching.”
“Same style as the statue in Village Green, isn’t it?” said Jane. “Just like all the other statues we’ve been looking at.”
“Looks kinda like it.”
“Kinda, nothing.” Jane pointed to a close-up of the figure’s head. “See how the hair curls around in his beard in that lifelike way, same as with the park statue? Not all the detail is in there, but you think you can see it anyway, it’s so realistic.” She flipped a couple of pages, then stopped and pointed again. “Here, in ‘The Eternal Idol,’ look at the back of the head of the man. You have that fine detail, the curls and everything, and the man’s pose, so natural, caught in the midst of a movement, just like the statue.” Jane paused, admiring the sculpture, then looked at Daria. “Wow,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve seen you blush that much since the last time Trent was around.”
“I’m not blushing,” growled Daria, who was beet-red from her forehead down to her neck and taking quick, shallow breaths through her nose.
“Is it the statue?” Jane looked at “The Eternal Idol” again. “Oh, yeah, there are two naked people there, and the guy’s kissing the woman right below her—”
“Okay!” said Daria as she slammed the book shut. “You’ve convinced me that there’s adequate evidence that the statue is a Rodin handmade original.”
“Actually,” said Jane, affecting an aristocratic tone, “François Auguste René Rodin did not sculpt marble himself. He preferred bronze. The marble statues credited to him were designed by him, and he oversaw the work, but he had his assistants and protégés do the actual marble sculpting.”
Daria looked incredulous. “You’re kidding.”
“No, it’s true. He’d make a little clay or bronze model of the figure he wanted to do, give it to the real sculptor, then drop by now and then to see how things were progressing, tweaking the direction of the work. I’d like a job like that. The little models were called maquettes. The art museum in town has some on display, but none by Rodin or any other big names. The sculptors had to follow Rodin’s general style, but they had their own styles, too.”
“But how can they still call them Rodin’s, then?”
“Beats me. See, what tipped me off to this was the date of the statue’s unveiling. Rodin died in nineteen seventeen. He could still have overseeing sculpting work a few years before then. I always thought Lawndale’s statue was newer than that, maybe about the twenties or thirties. That lady in the library almost shocked my boots off.”
“You sure know a lot about this Rodin guy. You know almost as much about him as you do about Rodan, the Flying Monster.”
“Hey, like I told you, I was really into this statue mystery for a while when I was a kid. I’ve forgotten a lot that I read about him, Rodin I mean, but I did come away with a deeper appreciation for his work.” She sighed. “I can’t believe that a plastic-moron town like this has a real Rodin statue. It just . . . I dunno, it’s just too much to believe.”
“Too much to believe that the guy who sculpted ‘The Thinker’ would have anything to do with this place, especially ‘way back in nineteen ten.”
“Yeah.” Jane’s face fell. “The sheer unreality of it sort of blows holes in my Rodin theory, but—”
“Not necessarily,” said Daria. “Remember, the guy who commissioned it was responsible for bringing it here, not Rodin himself. And we’re talking about the Barrington family, who could buy this whole subdivision with the spare change in their pockets.”
“I think Olivia Barrington’s the last of the line around here,” said Jane. “I used to hear about her when I was a kid, but I’d never met her before. And I knew she had a big place, but I never connected it to the one next to Brittany’s house. My sister Penny used to call the Barringtons ‘the plutocratic puppet masters of warmongering capitalism run amok,’ or words to that effect.”
“Huh.” Daria was in deep thought, but her reverie was broken up by the sound of the doorbell. The pizza had arrived. When all but two slices of it had been consumed and the girls were feeling too sluggish to walk back to the statue, they took the Rodin book, the photocopies from Mrs. Barrington, and the pizza box to Daria’s room.
“I’d like to check something,” Daria said, turning her computer on and taking a seat at her desk.
“There’s nothing much about the statue online,” said Jane, lying on her back on Daria’s bed. “I’ve checked a dozen times. Because it doesn’t have a real name, it isn’t referenced anywhere. It’s not even shown on the city map on the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce website. Sucks.”
“I wasn’t looking up the statue,” said Daria. She went to a search engine when the system was ready, typed in a name, and waited. “Ah.”
“Ah?” Jane repeated.
“Ah. The Barringtons are a Baltimore family, actually, which sort of figures, Lawndale being a suburb and all. Old money, from the Civil War.” She read a little further. “They made their fortune in munitions.”
Jane turned her head. “Guns?”
“Big guns. Gunpowder, shells, explosives, and big cannons like on ships and forts. They must have believed in doing things in a big way. Seems to have paid off. They did a lot of government work in both World Wars, especially making naval guns. It was the Civil War that made them rich, and all the other wars just made them richer.”
“Every tornado has a silver lining.”
“You could say that. Ah.”
“What’s with the ah’s?”
“The Barringtons’ munitions company was bought out after the Second World War by an even bigger company. Wow, an undisclosed amount in the hundreds of millions. All the family members who owned stock in the company or ran things were paid off hugely. Probably invested it afterward. Now I see how Mrs. Barrington can afford to live in that shack of hers in the Crewe Neck trailer park. A thousand bucks to her is chicken feed.”
“That’s what I said earlier.”
“Yes, but it was my turn to say it.”
“Okay, so, what can we deduce from this, Morgendorffer? You know my methods.”
“Your methods involve sleeping twenty hours a day and eating for the other four.”
“That’s so unfair a thing to say.” Jane reached down and handed the pizza box to Daria. “Want the last slice?”
“Sure.” Daria took the box, which seemed rather light. She opened it, then jammed it in a wastebasket. “I can’t believe I fell for that a second time,” she growled.
“I can. So, do your logic thing. I’ve told you about everything I know on the subject. My brain’s tired.”
“The logic thing . . . Mrs. Barrington’s doing this because she’s really curious about that statue. She wants this last stray thread in her life puzzled out, her dad’s big secret. She isn’t lacking for money, so I don’t think she’s expecting this will make her any richer than she is. I think she can be trusted, given all the charities she’s supporting, according to the websites I’ve been looking at. She paid almost half the cost of the Lawndale Art Museum.”
Jane rolled on her side to see Daria better. “She what? The art museum?”
“Damn. We’ve got to help this rich, rich nice lady.”
“For altruistic reasons only, of course.”
“Exactly. Five hundred dollars each, pffft! What’s that, anyway? One hundred pizzas? Art supplies for a whole summer?”
“Photos,” said Daria. She became thoughtful again. “We could use some photos of the statue to help us out. Maybe there’s something about it that—”
“You have a camera with a telephoto, right? I vaguely remember you taking pictures of me one Monday morning at school when I wasn’t ready for it.”
“I had a camera, but Quinn borrowed it for a Fashion Club event and dropped it.”
“Ah. There are plenty of cameras at my house, castoffs from my dad’s freelance assignments. Some of them still work.”
“I used to do photography for the school paper back in Highland, Texas, before we moved here.”
“Really? What’d you shoot?”
“Um, we could also use a little more research on the—”
“Hey, whoa. What did you used to shoot when you were with the paper?”
“Nothing.” Daria turned around and began typing at her computer keyboard.
Jane rolled off the bed and sauntered up behind Daria’s chair. “Daria? Oh, Daaa-ria! Spill it! What did you use your camera for back in Highland?”
“You can’t make me talk,” said Daria, clicking the mouse.
“Mmm,” said Jane, moving up to bump the back of Daria’s chair. “I feel a burp coming on. Only it’s not really a burp. It’s going in the opposite direction, and—”
“I was the fashion photographer for the school newspaper, and get out of my room before you stink it up.”
Jane made no response. Daria waited, then turned around and looked up. The radiant, speechless delight on Jane’s face could have illuminated a planet.
“Breathe a word of that to anyone,” Daria said with a red face and a killing glare, “and you’ll be a shark yummy.”
“You were a fashion photographer?” Jane’s manic grin was wide enough to rival the Grand Canyon. “Our little Daria was a fashion—”
“My mother made me do it, okay? It wasn’t like I actually wanted to do it!”
“No wonder you worked out so well taking pictures for the yearbook staff, for the week that it lasted.” Though she still smiled, Jane shook her head in true sympathy. “Don’t be offended if I say this, but your mom is a real piece of work.”
Daria exhaled heavily, turning to stare at her monitor again. “She is at that. She is at that. Please don’t tell anyone about that. I couldn’t stand it if—”
“Your secret is safe with me and Trent,” said Jane, heading back to Daria’s bed.
“Oh, fine, be that way. It stays with me alone.” Jane got comfortable on the bed while Daria ran through another search engine’s results.
“Well,” Daria said after a minute of silent reading, “Mister Edwin Barrington did die during the Spanish flu epidemic, like she said. He was an interesting guy. He donated money to libraries in the Baltimore area, collected books and art, read a lot. Studied abroad in Europe. Kind of a progressive thinker, for a warmonger. He was into women’s suffrage as much as he was into blowing things up.”
“I could go for a guy like that.”
“This website says he almost coined the phrase, ‘arsenal of democracy’ when he talked about making Baltimore the ‘arsenal of freedom.’ He collected guns as well as books, historical ones like from the Revolutionary War. Apparently he didn’t like to hunt, though, just liked collecting weapons. Huh. Says that he was fond of big guns, too, which sort of figures. He had a howitzer in his front yard once.”
“Boys and their toys. He’s the guy who commissioned the statue, right?”
Daria picked up the enlarged photocopy she’d made of Mrs. Barrington’s copy, three sheets of large paper taped together and carefully folded. The printing was barely legible, but adequate. “Yeah. It was rumored he’d been trying to get some kind of statue made for years. Very secretive about it, wouldn’t say what he wanted to do.” She read the article through again.
“We’re getting a time frame here for the statue’s subject,” said Jane. “The cutoff is before nineteen ten, when the statue was finished. The fastest time possible to make it would be maybe two years, if everything was in place, so the subject could have been alive as late as nineteen oh eight, and—”
“Earlier,” said Daria. “Just found something in the news story. I think Edwin had some kind of complex about the statue guy. He actually designed the Village Green, that circular sidewalk and everything, even how the statue was positioned so it faces east. The trees have probably changed since then, but from the description, the rest of the park is the same. City hall was a Catholic church at the time, too. Lawndale bought it later and converted it. Still looks like a church. Oh, and here’s a quote here from Edwin, something he said to the reporter who did the story about the statue’s unveiling: ‘I’ve waited for this day since I was a boy.’ Edwin was, um, forty-one in nineteen ten, so . . . eighteen sixty-nine, that was about when he was born. If he thought of himself as a man after age sixteen, then, um, eighteen eighty-five or before, that was when he knew the statue guy.”
“That style of dress the statue’s wearing, I’d say that came into effect about, oh, Civil War or after. After, I think. Frock coats were generally longer before the war. I had a summer class in historical costuming once. Thought it’d help my art. Eh.”
“So, eighteen sixty-five to eighteen eighty-five—that’s a twenty-year window for statue guy.”
“And Edwin liked books, art, guns, and women. Damn it, I can’t believe I missed him by over a century.”
“You and your hormones.”
“Mmm, they do moan.”
“I don’t want to hear about it.” Daria picked up the enlarged article, frowning. “Let me think for a little. Something’s bothering me.”
She shook her head, still frowning, as she read the article one more time. When she finished, she put aside the papers and stared at the screen saver on her computer monitor.
“This is weird,” she finally said, watching animated monsters walk across the screen. “I keep wondering if there’s something else about this search that we don’t know. Mrs. Barrington’s a sweet person, but she could be using her diplomatic side, showing us only what she felt we needed to know. Some people are like that, pleasant but with an extra agenda and the social graces to keep everyone moving toward that goal. I’m not very trusting, I guess, but I know people too well.
“I keep thinking, too, about what she said about running a low-key contest to avoid a lot of public exposure. She’s placed herself in a public library as a volunteer, shepherding the quest, keeping tabs on the people following that line of interest as best she could in the one place that questing people would start first: a library. Everyone needs a hobby, but she’s really glued to this one. And that was an interesting word she chose, calling this a quest. Maybe it’s been a lifelong quest for her, too. The name of a statue, what good is that? Is she after something more? She’s been messing around with this project for a long time, leaving it to amateurs . . . maybe because anyone more skilled and determined would be less naïve, more likely to take advantage somewhere along the line. So, maybe the name of the statue isn’t the end of the line. Maybe there’s another stop there, somewhere beyond . . . but what? And the most disturbing thing is, I can’t help but wonder if someone hasn’t already discovered—”
Daria broke off, hearing a snore. She turned. Jane lay on her back, arms out, sound asleep on the bed.
“I like to keep my audience riveted,” she said. She turned back to her computer with a sigh, lost in thought again. Could someone have already discovered the statue guy’s name? It hardly seems likely that someone hasn’t by now. Why is the quest still going on, if someone by chance did find out who the statue was?
And if someone did . . . where is that person now?
Chapter Five: Down to the Core
The following morning, a Friday, the girls met at the Village Green statue at ten o’clock, per the previous evening’s agreement. Jane brought two cameras from her home. “You’ve used one of these before?” she asked, handing over a black camera with a telephoto lens and neck strap.
“Highland High had one like it, but they gave me the dorky camera,” said Daria, putting the strap over her head before examining the camera closely. She was startled to realize it was an advanced and expensive model, only a couple of years old at most. The camera even had autofocus. “You’re kidding me. This is a castoff from your dad?”
“Yeah, nothing but the best garbage at our house, where art is concerned.” Jane thumbed a few controls on her camera, took an experimental sighting on the statue, then let it dangle against her T-shirt on its neck strap. “I hope I was a help last night.”
“You were, thanks. Things are a lot more settled with you over for dinner, and Quinn leaves the table faster. I’m glad we didn’t say anything more to Mom than telling her I was going to write about the statue, though.” Daria examined the camera in more detail. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t even have reminded Mom about the paper. I think she forgot about it when that power-line lawsuit came up at her office.”
“There’s always a chance she’ll forget about it tonight and the rest of the week, too.” Jane rubbed her chin and looked around the central plaza of the little park. “Here’s my thought: we shoot the statue separately, looking for anything at all that we think might help identify it. We’ve each got a fresh roll of thirty-six, and I’ve got two more rolls if we need them. We can drop the film off at Foto Freak downtown when we’re through. My dad said they do good work, and they’re pretty fast. We can get the pix back in less than an hour if they aren’t too busy.” She eyed the monument. “Look for any odd marks or engravings, weird symbols, codes, pictograms, secret hand gestures, UFO-carved crop signs, the White House’s hot line phone number, instructions for how to break into Fort Knox, that kind of stuff. But don’t be afraid to just shoot. Something might turn up.”
“Got it.” They split up, with Daria walking around to the statue’s front as Jane went to the back. Daria took a minute to get a good overall first shot of the statue, then began clicking away as she walked in a large clockwise circle around the pedestal. At first, nothing in particular jumped out at her about the figure. Jane was right, though: the statue guy really did seem to be in the act of stepping forward, caught at the start of the movement in an amazingly lifelike way. She took five full-figure shots at various angles, then found herself back at the statue’s front again as Jane took telephoto close-ups of the man’s face and profile.
Daria raised her camera and sighted on the figure, narrowing the field. She had positioned herself directly in front of the statue’s face, in the line of sight from its eyes. Though the statue faced more-or-less eastward, the sun’s rays came at it from the southeast. The resulting glare wiped out the details on the white marble figure, which Daria found irritating. She let the camera dangle for a moment, thinking, then reached into a pocket of her jacket and took out a Swiss army knife with a tiny compass on it, checking the compass for a reading.
“East-northeast,” she said, often in the habit of talking to herself. “The statue’s facing east-northeast, not really to the east.” She put the knife away and looked the figure over again. Her attention was drawn to the man’s hands, his right one loosely clutching what seemed to be a fountain pen, his left one held open, palm up but tilted down toward the viewer. A small pill-like object rested in the open hand. She tried unsuccessfully to recall when fountain pens were invented, then shrugged, raised the camera, and sighted on the right hand. The upper half of the “pen” was all that was visible, the rest hidden in the figure’s fist. The object was held in a level, horizontal position, not tilted upward at an angle like pens usually were. Oddly, the “pen” was shaped like a straight rod, with parallel sides and a flat, circular end. It wasn’t like most pens she remembered seeing.
Daria then turned slightly to get the open hand in the viewfinder. The glare from the sun against the man’s suit made seeing difficult, so she lowered the camera and moved in closer and to one side, out of the glare. When she raised the camera again for a new sighting, the view was much improved. The actual outline of the pill was clear, too.
“Weird,” she said, squinting through the viewfinder. “That pill looks like a bullet.” It reminded her of the copper head of a .22-caliber bullet, flat on the bottom and pointed on the end. Puzzled, she took a shot, changed her position to get a slightly better view, and shot again. On impulse, she looked over at the “pen” and snapped off a quick shot. She was looking at the cylinder’s flat end, which had a shallow, circular hole in the middle, making the rod look like a—
“Gun barrel,” said Daria in surprise. She looked back at the bullet. It had the same diameter as the hole in the end of the rod. “Damn,” she exclaimed softly, “that’s a gun.” She snapped a picture and moved around to get another view of the hand holding the cylinder. Strangely, the hand was not positioned as if holding a pistol grip, and no trigger was visible. The wrist was tilted down, and the fingers were curled up in an even row, exactly as if holding a long, straight rod. Is that the upper end of a rifle barrel, sawed off? Mister Barrington was into munitions, after all. Kind of phallic, but what the hell. She shot a few more times, getting the best close-ups she could of the hands and their contents before lowering the camera and backing off a step. What else? What else is there to find? The camera came up, and she focused on the statue’s face.
“You a tourist?” asked a voice behind her. She gasped and jumped, turning around. A middle-aged man in a business suit was ten feet behind her. He was balding, wore thick glasses, and had a round, mild, clean-shaven face that reminded Daria of a pumpkin. “Sorry to startle you,” he said. “I work in town. Running an errand for the boss.” He gestured at the statue, looking up at the bearded face. “That’s the man with no name,” he said cheerfully. “Statue’s got no name. That’s the truth.”
“Uh,” said Daria, lowering the camera and eyeing him warily. He did not look like anyone she knew, but she had lived in Lawndale less than a year and did not get out much. “I . . . just thought it was interesting,” she finished. Saying anything more struck her as a bad idea, though he appeared harmless.
“It is,” he said, still smiling up at the statue and not at her. “It was made a long time ago. People say it’s supposed to lead to a treasure. I can’t see how. I think it’s a joke, but . . . eh, you never know. Nobody ever figured it out, who the man was or what he’s doing here.” He shrugged and waved, drifting off toward one of the sidewalks leading away from the central plaza around the statue. “Sorry to bother you!”
She nodded and smiled gamely, but she didn’t wave. People who walked up behind her gave her the creeps. She wondered if he’d been attracted to the camera; it was probably worth many hundreds of dollars, even used. The thought went through her head to take a picture of him, but she shook it off and went back to photographing the sculpture—throwing nervous looks over her shoulder more often than she did before.
Jane wandered over a couple of minutes later, looking off in the direction the man had gone. “Who was that guy?” she asked without preamble.
“I don’t know. He was out running errands.” Daria looked around, but there was no sign of him now. “He talked about the statue and left.”
“He say anything of interest?”
“Uh, sort of. He said it was supposed to lead to a treasure, but he sounded like he thought it was an urban legend or something.”
“Hmmm. I got a few shots of him anyway, just in case. I saw him coming, but I didn’t think he was going to bother you.”
“He didn’t, really.” Daria looked up at the statue’s bearded face, then raised her camera again and sighted on him. “Looks like a nice guy. The statue, I mean, not that other guy. Makes me think he was kind of like a favorite uncle, the fun kind who takes you places just for the heck of it. Wish I had one of those.”
“I’ve got uncles,” said Jane, “but they don’t come around, and they’re no fun anyway.” She looked around the plaza. “Are we about done here?”
The sun went behind a cloud. The glare on the white marble statue faded. On impulse, Daria raised the camera again and centered the statue’s face in the viewfinder.
Something inside her head clicked. She hesitated, looking at the bearded man’s face. Had she seen him before? He almost looked familiar. She looked behind her, then stepped back and shot off a few more pictures, moving left and right. Jane’s camera was running, too.
When the sun came out again, Daria gave up. “That was weird,” she said, relaxing again. “I thought for a moment I’d seen this guy before.”
“Maybe you did.” Jane popped off a last shot, then let the camera dangle and ran both hands through her hair. “I’ve got three shots left on this roll.”
Daria checked. “I’ve got ten.” She looked around the plaza, then spotted the city hall building and the high steeple in the front. Large clock faces, each one story high, looked out from the northwest, northeast, and southeast faces of the tower, under the dome on the top. On either side of the northeast clock, facing Village Green, was a small window near the bottom. Daria pointed. “Hey, that’s about six or seven stories up. Can we get up there and shoot pictures of the whole park?”
Jane looked up at the steeple. “Don’t see why not. Our tax dollars paid for it.”
“We don’t pay taxes yet, and that used to be a church.”
“You just love to quibble, don’t you?”
They entered city hall through the main door and quickly found the elevator for the old steeple. The elevator was shared by several office workers who asked if the girls were tourists. Jane began speaking rapidly in Spanish, pointing to her camera as if asking a question about it. This caused the office workers to hastily shake their heads and wave their hands, saying, “¡No hablo español!” All of them fled down a hall when the elevator doors opened on the second floor.
“Good speech, Evita,” said Daria blandly. “The revolution lives.”
“I asked them if they knew where I could take a picture of a group of pathetic-looking American wage slaves,” said Jane with a deadpan look. “Guess they didn’t.”
The girls rode the elevator the rest of the way to the top, exiting the elevator into a small room just under the tower’s giant clockworks. Ignoring the informative posters and decorative photos on the walls, Daria and Jane walked to the northeast windows, Daria on the left and Jane on the right. After a struggle, they each opened their respective windows and took their last few camera shots down at the park.
“It’s funny,” said Daria, pulling back as her camera rewound its film. “I just realized that the sidewalks in the park make a symbol.”
“What kind of symbol?” Jane looked out her window again, frowning downward. “Is it dirty?”
“Alas, no, it’s the astrological symbol for the earth,” said Daria, walking over to her friend. She pointed out the window. “See, there’s a big circle around the perimeter of the park, with the cross on the inside and the statue in the center. Earth.”
“The center of the earth,” said Jane. She snorted. “We took a journey to the center of the earth.”
“Kind of disappointing, wasn’t it?” said Daria.
“Yeah. Not as much lava around as I’d been led to believe. Damn those eggheads, anyway.”
They walked back to the elevator and were waiting for it to arrive at their floor when Daria turned back to the windows with a stunned look on her face. She walked away from Jane and looked out the right window again.
“Cute guy alert?” Jane called. The elevator door opened, but after a moment Jane walked away from it, coming up to Daria’s side. “What’s up? Trying to get vertigo?”
“It can’t be,” Daria whispered. She was staring wide-eyed down at the statue. “It just can’t be.”
“Do you see Trent?” Jane shaded her eyes, peering down at the people wandering through the park. “Want me to yell at him?”
“It’s not that,” said Daria. She pulled back from the window and stared at Jane in amazement. “A journey to the center of the earth,” she said. “Don’t you get it?”
“A journey to the center of the earth!” Daria cried, pointing downward.
Thoroughly confused, Jane looked out again. “That was a movie, wasn’t it? The one based on that old novel by . . . bloody hell!”
The elevator was summoned a second time, and the girls punched the first floor button repeatedly in near hysteria. They raced out of the building, almost knocking down five people, and reached the statue with cameras banging and bouncing around everywhere. There they stopped at the statue’s feet, fighting for breath.
“It is,” gasped Daria, looking up at the bearded face. “Oh, my God, it is. It’s him. I remember now. I saw an old photo of him in—”
“Don’t say it!” hissed Jane, clamping a hand over her friend’s mouth. After a whispered conference, they hurried from the park at a trot, looking back a dozen times on their way to Foto Freak. They drew curious stares all the way out.
And a long, solemn stare from a bald, clean-shaven businessman wearing thick glasses, who got into a car and quietly pulled out into traffic to follow them.
Chapter Six: Chasing Nancy Drew
Film turnaround was normally an hour minimum, explained the store clerk, but everyone in Foto Freak knew Jane’s photographer father and would do whatever they could to speed things along for her—especially when she paid for express service up front. With nerves frayed and nothing else to do, Daria and Jane wandered aimlessly out of the shop and down the block, planning to return in a half hour. Within minutes, they found themselves in front of Lawndale’s former family grocery-turn-cybercafé-turn-teenage coffeehouse-turn-Seattle Coffee mega-store, which was essentially all the store’s previous incarnations rolled into one. The lunch rush was just starting.
“I’m broke after paying for the photo order,” said Jane, peering through the windows. “I couldn’t eat anything anyway ‘cause I’m so nervous, but a large cup of java might calm me down. That and a doughnut, one of those big chocolate—”
“Fine, okay, my treat.” Daria dragged Jane into the shop, which took little effort. She handed her friend a twenty to get something for them both, then headed for the computer terminals lined up on a countertop against a wall, for the use of the store’s patrons. After she found a computer that didn’t have coffee stains all over the keyboard, she called up a search engine and pecked in two words. Her suspicions were confirmed in seconds when the picture of a pleasant-faced bearded man with wavy hair, a bow tie, and twinkling eyes appeared on the monitor.
Jules Verne. The statue guy.
“What in the hell are you doing in this dump?” Daria whispered. It made no sense at all, so she began reading the webpage with Verne’s biography and thumbnail sketches of his major works, then tracked down a few other bits of information. By the time Jane came over with two cups of coffee and an extra-large chocolate-covered doughnut stuck in her mouth, however, it all made perfect sense . . . almost.
“We can’t talk in here,” Daria said, shutting down the computer and taking one of the coffees. “We have to go somewhere we can be alone.”
“Urr?” said Jane. She took the doughnut out of her mouth. “Urr?” she repeated.
“I know, I know, we can’t go too far. We have to find a spot where no one else will bother us, someplace no one would ever—wait a minute.”
Two minutes later, they were sitting in a booth in the back of Tofu Hut, the restaurant next to the Seattle Coffee shop. The diminutive proprietor did not awaken when they walked in, sound asleep on a stool behind the cash register with his head tilted forward, a red fez perched on his shiny bald crown. Aside from the three of them, no one else was around.
“I suppose it’s a little late in the game for me to mention that Rodin’s sculptures often revolved around subjects that related to France,” Jane murmured. “Balzac, sex, the Burghers of Calais, sex, Victor Hugo, sex, Claude Lorrain—”
“Only a wee bit late,” Daria interrupted, looking into her coffee cup. She took a sip. “There were clues all over the place, but they weren’t the kind that would make you yell, ‘Eureka’ and jump out of your bathtub. That ‘center of the earth’ thing, getting that was a total fluke. I never thought about the way the park’s sidewalks were laid out like that, as an earth symbol, but that was only the start of the clues.
“I thought the statue had a pen and a pill in its hands at first, but when I was taking pictures I noticed the pill looked like a bullet head, and the pen looked like a gun barrel. I didn’t even think about Verne’s novel, From the Earth to the Moon, which he wrote right after the Civil War. In it, the Americans decide to build a gigantic cannon and launch a huge bullet-shaped spacecraft with several men aboard to the Moon. That ‘pen’ the statue’s holding is the cannon, and the pill is the spaceship, in exactly the same shape as it was in the illustrations in the original version of the book. Those illustrations get reprinted a lot in later editions, like the one I read a few years ago.
“And there’s more. Edwin Barrington was a gun collector from Baltimore who liked really big guns, like his pet howitzer. In Verne’s book about the Moon trip, the men who build the giant cannon are from—get this—the Baltimore Gun Club. Verne made up the group, but Barrington couldn’t possibly miss the connection with his own interests and family business. And he was a progressive guy and liked forward-thinking things. He read science fiction, for Pete’s sake! He was a closet Verne nut! I bet he read everything Jules Verne ever did, all that stuff about underground cities and castaways and Atlantis and submarines and racing around the world and balloon voyages and flying machines and sea monsters and people exploring Antarctica and people exploring the solar system while riding on a comet, every crazy thing there is. He was as out there as you can get.
“So Edwin’s got this mountain of money and wants to honor his all-time favorite author and inspiration, so he goes back to France, one of the countries he studied in when he was younger, and he looks up Rodin and makes him an offer. And what’s Rodin going to do, turn down millions of dollars to build a statue to honor the most popular writer in the world, another Frenchman, which will be placed in the suburb of a city that’s key to one of Verne’s most popular books ever? Of course he does it! That statue’s priceless, on a par with any of Rodin’s greatest works—and no one knows it but us!”
Jane’s hands were shaking so much she was about to spill her coffee. Daria’s coffee sat forgotten, growing cold. Neither girl noticed.
“Jules Verne’s stuff always had the element of discovery in it,” Daria went on. “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon—so Edwin wants to duplicate that, too. He swears Rodin to secrecy and dreams up this contest for people to discover the name of the person that this statue honors. He won’t even tell his own daughter the secret, the bastard, but I guess I can forgive him for that.
“So he adds in all these clues, stuff I would never have thought of in a million years if I didn’t have access to computers and you. Jules Verne was a Catholic, and Edwin admired him so much that even though he was a Protestant, he put up Verne’s statue next to a Catholic church, never imagining Lawndale’s government would take over the building a few decades later when the congregation built a bigger cathedral. And the year the statue was unveiled, nineteen ten? Edwin set the unveiling date for May eighteenth, a Wednesday. What’s so special about a Wednesday? It didn’t look important enough to me on the original article to mention, but I just looked up the date on a search engine, and that was the day astronomers predicted Earth would pass through the tail of Halley’s Comet, which came by that year and made a really big show. That was Edwin’s clever nod to Verne’s novel, Off on a Comet. And the statue faces east-northeast, the direction of France from Lawndale! He thought of everything! There are—”
Daria stopped, peering closely at her friend. “Jane? What’s wrong?”
Tears ran in twin streams down Jane’s cheeks. She was on the verge of sobbing. Daria reached for her hands, taking the coffee cup away and calming the shaking in her friend’s fingers.
Jane struggled for words. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, lower lip trembling, “but I keep thinking of that poor statue. All my life I knew it was something important, I knew it was a masterwork and I thought it might be Rodin’s, but I’ve watched it decay and get dirty and stained and painted on and chipped and spit on, every day I watched it sink into nothingness and ruin, and I can’t believe . . . I just can’t believe it’s really—” She bowed her head and wept, her shoulders shaking.
Daria fought her own emotions as she held Jane’s hands in her own. “We’re going to save it,” she said urgently. “We’re going to save that statue, Jane. We’ll get the photos, write this up, go see Mrs. Barrington tomorrow, and she can kick the mayor’s butt and the town council’s collective butts and make them do something about it. You and I don’t have the power or the pull that Mrs. Barrington does, and once she drops this little asteroid on Lawndale, the town government will move heaven and earth to get that statue fixed up again. Trust me on this. Everything will come out all right.”
Jane nodded, looking down and still sobbing. Daria felt her own tears surface. Think of something else, damn it! Don’t you start crying! Oh, for heaven’s sake, now you’re doing it, too! Cut it out, Daria! Think of anything! Um, um, we’re not done with the quest yet! That’s right, we’re not, we have a lot of stuff to do, get photos and type out a report and give it to Mrs. Barrington and . . . and why do I keep thinking there’s something else to the quest? What else could there be? Why has Mrs. Barrington hung on to this quest for so long? What’s her cut? The statue belongs to the city, not her. Her dad gave it to Lawndale, the idiot, instead of putting it in a museum where it belongs, so what’s she getting out of this? What’s she really going to do when we march in and tell her what we know? Why hasn’t anyone come forward before now with an answer? This quest isn’t anywhere near over! What’s the key? What’s the key? What’s—
The scene replayed in Daria’s mind: She and Jane were talking to Mrs. Barrington in the library’s special collections room, the door closed, no one else around. If you get to a point where you believe you know the identity of the statue’s subject, said Mrs. Barrington, please come back and let me know. You must have evidence to back up your claims, however, and it must be good evidence, the kind that will stand up under close examination. If it passes muster, as they say, then I will pay you your reward, however you wish it.
Daria blinked. All they had so far was circumstantial proof—pretty good on the surface, but lacking in depth. Mrs. Barrington wanted hard-core proof, the kind a lawyer like Daria’s mother would want, the kind that a doubtful public would have to see in order to believe in the miracle of having a statue worth uncounted millions of dollars sitting right out in front of them after all these years.
That geek who talked to me in the park this morning said the statue was supposed to lead people to a treasure. What if the treasure is really there? So much else fantastic has happened, why not that, too? Could the treasure have the proof that Mrs. Barrington needs? Assuming for a moment there is a treasure, how would we find it? Where do we start? Where is Nancy Drew when you really need her?
Jane had recovered by this time. With a last squeeze, Daria released Jane’s hands to let her friend wipe her eyes on her red jacket sleeves. Jane smiled, and Daria smiled back. “Sorry, amiga. It kind of got to me all at once.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“What? Oh, I don’t care. If you did, it would probably add to my legend: world-famous artist Jane Lane, who wept for a Rodin sculpture. That could go over big in the art community. I might get a French boyfriend or three over it. We should put it on the Internet when we get home and get things started.”
“Speaking of getting started,” Daria said, glancing at her wristwatch, “we’d better go get our pictures.” Jane nodded, wiped her eyes a last time, and they left the restaurant, again without disturbing the store’s snoozing owner. On the way to Foto Freak, Daria explained her conclusions in low tones.
“So, we need to dig up more proof than we already have?” Jane snorted as she shook her head. “Man, it never ends.”
“We just need to figure out where to start looking for any other evidence. It would probably have been just like Edwin to have stuck some kind of clue into the sculpture if he was the actual artist, but he wasn’t. I just don’t know where to begin.”
“Beats me, too.” Jane scanned the street just before she followed Daria into the photo shop. The grinning clerk waved two packages in the air, then handed them over.
“Can we look at these here, somewhere private?” Daria asked. “We’re kind of desperate to check on something.”
“Uh, wait a minute.” The clerk disappeared into the back of the store, then returned. “We have a little room down the hall. If you won’t be long, you can use it.”
“Do you have a couple of loupe magnifiers, too?” Jane asked. The clerk said they did, and shortly the duo was seated in folding chairs around a cloth-draped card table, pouring over their photos. Almost all the shots came out exceptionally well, though glare on the marble spoiled a few. Daria pointed out what she thought were the cannon and spaceship in the statue’s hands. Jane studied the bullet-shaped object with her magnifier.
“There’s a little square etched into it, right here,” she said, pointing with a finger. “It’s just barely visible.” She pushed the photo over for Daria to see with her own loupe.
“That’s one of the doors on Verne’s moon ship!” Daria exclaimed. “It’s exactly where it was in the original illustrations, high up near the point! It really is Jules Verne!”
“This is too weird,” said Jane, starting to look exhausted. “Way too weird.” She pulled over a photo Daria had taken of the cannon barrel and peered at it. “Huh,” she said after a moment. “That’s weird, too.”
“The cannon doesn’t look right. It’s like it isn’t made of the same kind of stone as the rest of the statue. Here, check it out. See how it’s not the same shade? And it’s got veining in it, there and there, which the rest of the statue doesn’t. It isn’t Luna marble.”
Daria paused, then slowly raised her head from the magnifier to stare at Jane. “What did you say?” she whispered.
Daria tried to swallow, but her throat was bone dry. “About Luna marble.”
“Oh.” Jane tapped the photo on which Daria was resting her loupe. “The statue’s made of Luna marble. It’s a really fine unveined white marble from northern Italy. The place is called Carrara, now, and they export some of the best—”
“‘Luna’ is Latin for ‘moon,’” Daria interrupted.
Jane nodded but looked puzzled. “So? You’ve already figured out the moon thing with the little spaceship, right?”
“You’re positive the cannon isn’t of the same marble as the rest of the statue?” The words poured out of Daria in a torrent. “Could it have been added later? Could the statue have been made without the cannon in Verne’s hand, and someone stuck it in his hand later on? Could—”
“Waitwaitwaitwait wait! I can’t keep up with you!” Jane took back the photo of the statue’s right hand, then found a few other shots of it and examined them quickly. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said, leaning over the photo and examining it with the loupe, one eye closed. “The cannon thing could have been added later. I wonder why they did that. The hand isn’t fully closed around the barrel, and the fingers are kind of open. It’s almost like the right hand is in the process of gesturing to the other hand, to show everyone what’s in it, that little spaceship. Too too weird.”
Daria put a hand over her mouth, staring off at a wall. Jane set the photos aside and skimmed a few others, content to wait for Daria to say what was on her mind. After a moment, she picked up one photo and held it close to her eyes, then checked it again with her magnifier. She checked the negatives, then looked at the picture once more.
“Daria,” said Jane in a flat voice. When her friend didn’t answer, Jane leaned forward and waved the photo in Daria’s face. “Hey, amiga, did you ever see the movie, Blow-up?”
“What?” Daria came out of her trance, looking wildly at Jane. “Do I what?”
“You took this picture this morning,” said Jane, waving the photo a last time before handing it over. “You were standing behind the statue and it was your third shot. Look down at the bottom, over here.”
Her thoughts in a jumble, Daria did as she was asked. She squinted at the tiny human figure standing in the background to one side of the statue, then picked up the loupe and took a closer look.
It was the balding, glasses-wearing businessman, standing by a tree and looking directly at the camera, ten or fifteen minutes before he walked over to Daria and mentioned the treasure. He did not appear to be on an errand for his boss at all.
“I saw him again across the street as we were coming in,” said Jane. “He was window shopping, watching us in the glass.” She leaned closer, her voice a whisper. “Our way-too-curious friend is following us.”
Chapter Seven: “You’re No Fun Anymore”
Foto Freak had a back door that led to a narrow alley, which in turn led to a parking lot that filled the center of the block. The lot was surrounded by stores on almost every side, forming the core of downtown Lawndale’s shopping district. Once they hit the alley, Jane and Daria bolted across the lot to the street entrance, crossing streets between traffic as they gripped their cameras and photo sets. Daria kept looking back for signs that they were being pursued by the creepy businessman who had accosted her earlier in the park.
They hurried past city hall minutes later, running through a small park behind the ex-cathedral. By the time Daria staggered past the Greek-style columned pavilion in the park’s center, she was perspiring rivers and panting for air, her legs gone to rubber. Jane, who had barely worked up a sweat, slowed down to stay with her.
Daria soon stopped looking back. She gamely kept up a slow, clumsy jog until they reached the gas station near the Lane home. By this time, she was so winded she could only point to the station to indicate her need to stop. Jane guided her by the arm around to the back, where Daria leaned against the wall beside a pile of old tires, her lungs full of needles and her brain incapable of rational thought. Large wet spots showed through her green jacket under her armpits, down the front of her T-shirt, and across her back. Her thick brown hair was plastered to her face and neck, her glasses were steamed up, and she thought she was moments away from dropping dead.
“That was great!” said Jane, looking excited. “Wanna go do it again?”
Daria raised her head and gave Jane a look that could have maimed a rhinoceros.
“Running’s good for you, amiga,” Jane continued, bending down to stretch her legs. “It builds character. You could use more character, you know. Everyone says so.”
It was difficult to enunciate clearly in her condition, so Daria relied instead on sign language.
“What’s this, a vision test?” Jane squinted at Daria’s upraised hand. “Okay, you’re holding up one finger. Do I pass?”
Shaking her head in annoyance, Daria pushed away from the wall, gesturing at the path leading through the woods to Jane’s house. Two minutes later, Daria staggered into the Lane home, went straight into the living room, and collapsed flat on her back on the sofa, still clutching her camera and a large envelope of photos. Jane walked in behind her, wiped her face on the sleeves of her red shirt, then took Daria’s camera and her own and put them on a coffee table overflowing with items ranging from old socks and bread crusts to dried-out paint jars and used tissues.
“I have to say that guy is pretty creepy, following us around like that,” Jane said, taking Daria’s photo packet and flopping down in a nearby chair. “But maybe he’s not as bad as we’re making him out to be. Maybe he is after us because of the statue, although I can’t imagine why. Or maybe he’s a dirty old man, though if he was hitting on you, I think he would have been more direct about it. He could have drooled a little more, for one thing.”
“No,” Daria huffed from the couch. “No, he . . . he was trying to . . . to get information. He wanted . . . to see what I knew . . . about the statue.” She took a deep breath, held it, then let it slowly out. “I bet . . . he thought I might . . . open up . . . about the treasure.”
“You sound pretty sure of that, given that we don’t even know if there is a treasure.” Jane took out all the photos from both packets, then began sorting them according to each photo’s subject. “Maybe he was just being friendly. Nah, skip that. He wouldn’t be following us if he was. He’s got issues. You’re sure he wasn’t trying to pick you up?”
“He wasn’t hitting on me. He seemed . . . sort of friendly at first, but . . . but all that following us around, that was . . . too much.” She sat up on the couch and took off her green jacket, examining the sweat stains on it before laying it aside. “I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast. Not even for Ms. Morris in gym class. Must have been the caffeine.”
“If he was trying to pump you for information, he’s not very good at the spy business,” said Jane, frowning at a photograph. “He was way too obvious with that reference to hidden treasure. He’s leading you and not being overly subtle about it.”
“Agreed.” Daria set her jacket aside, then scooted forward on the couch and sat with her arms crossed on her knees, head down. “I had the sense that he was nervous when he was talking to me, like he’s not very good with people or wasn’t sure of how he should talk to me. I can’t believe he said anything about a treasure. That worries me.”
“That he mentioned a treasure?”
Daria took off her glasses to clean them. “No, that his people skills are bad, and he might get frustrated pretty quickly and decide next time to use a faster and messier way of getting information out of me—or out of you.”
“Hmmm. Your logic has a disturbingly reasonable quality to it.”
“Trent’s not home, is he?” Daria asked. “And don’t be silly about this. I don’t want to kid around.”
“You’re no fun. He would have dropped something in the foyer by the door if he’d come home by now. I’m sure he won’t be back for a few more days, even if he did run out of money.”
“I think you’d better stay at my house tonight,” said Daria, putting her glasses back on and looking up. “And every night for as long as Trent’s not here.”
“What, you think Trent would be of any help if somebody broke in while he was here? Do you know how hard he sleeps when he crashes? Do you know how many times people have broken into this house while he was dozing? Oh, right, I guess you wouldn’t yet. Well, one day when you wake up next to him, you’ll find out. You could even—”
“Stop it.” Daria fell back on the sofa again. “Seriously, you need to stay over. I don’t want you here by yourself.”
Jane shrugged, still looking through the photos. “You’re the boss. Not to change the topic, but now that we’ve had our big thrills for the day and solved the mystery of the mysterious statue, mind if I ask what you were talking about back at the photo shop, about the little cannon that our buddy Jules is holding?”
“I was thinking it might be a clue. I thought it might point to something.”
“I don’t know. In Verne’s book about the Moon trip, the cannon was sunk into the ground pointing straight up. The statue guy’s holding it horizontally. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything, but when you said the cannon wasn’t even the same kind of marble as the rest of the statue, and it might have been added on in secret, it sounded like there was an extra little mystery there.” Daria flapped her T-shirt to cool herself off. “I’ve had this idea for a while that Mrs. Barrington might be looking for something more than just who that statue is. She’s stuck with this quest of hers for far too long. If nothing else, she needs strong proof of who the guy is. We can give her all the photos we want comparing the statue to Jules Verne, but that’s not conclusive. There has to be better evidence around than that. Unless something turns up in those pictures, like that cannon, I don’t know where we can look next.”
“The evidence she needs might not be in the United States, you know,” said Jane. “It might be locked in an underground vault of the Louvre in Paris. Not that I wouldn’t mind going to Paris to look for it over the summer.”
“Me, too, but we’re going to come up short when we try to buy plane tickets. Actually, I wonder if there isn’t something around here that would help us, not all that far away. Edwin’s left so many clues about the statue’s identity, I’d be amazed if there weren’t more. It would be like him to keep the mystery going as long as he could.”
“He is quite the tease, isn’t he?” Jane turned the photo she was looking at on its side, turning her head that way as well. “As best as I can tell, if the statue faces east-northeast, as you said, his little popgun points even further north, but I wouldn’t say past north, into the northwest.” She put away the photo and flipped through the stack until she picked out another one and examined it. “We could use a map, I suppose.”
“All the really good maps are at the library, but I’d rather not go back and face Mrs. Barrington again right now. That creepy guy might still be looking for us, too.” Daria mulled over her options. “We have Lawndale maps in Dad’s car and Mom’s SUV, but they won’t be home until tonight. There might be another map or two around the house, in one of the bookshelves or out in the garage.” She stood up—and cried out in pain, reaching down immediately to massage her aching legs. “Damn it! Maybe if I got into a wheelbarrow and you pushed me home, that would work.”
“You want to wait here a while until you work out your cramps?”
“Do you have a lock on your front door?”
“We used to, but it kept jamming, so I took it off.”
“Then let’s go to my house now, but keep our eyes peeled. A walk won’t kill me.”
“Hey, can I have your computer if it does?”
They made it to Schloß Morgendorffer fifteen minutes later, walking at a steady pace. Daria’s legs began to cramp on the way, but Jane helped her stretch and keep moving. By the time they got into the house with a key Daria kept in her left boot, she was walking almost normally. They checked the locks on all the doors, pulled down the shades on the windows, and were able to locate a map of Lawndale in the garage after several minutes of searching. They took this into the kitchen and pored over it, their concentration assisted by soft drinks from the refrigerator. Using photos of the statue, they were able to figure out that the cannon pointed in the general direction of north-northeast.
“Great,” grumbled Daria. “Baltimore. The damn gun’s pointing to Baltimore. That’s a big help.”
“Hey, it’s pointing to Pizza Forest, too. Maybe we need to do some research there. Is it time for lunch already? Sure feels like it.”
Daria sat back in her chair, looking glum. “Maybe there’s something else on the statue that’s pointing somewhere or indicating a direction.”
“You said Jules is facing France, right? That goes back to my secret-thing-in-the-basement-of-the-Louvre theory.”
“What else is east-northeast of here?” Daria studied the map, then groaned. “The high school. That’s a big help, too.”
“The library,” said Jane, pointing. “High Hills Park. Crewe Neck subdivision.”
“Mrs. Barrington’s house.” Daria considered this. “I don’t know if I’m up to breaking and entering, really, especially if the person whose house I’m breaking into could afford to have me disappear and later turn up sold as transplant parts over the Internet. She’s not mean enough for that, though. Wait—how old is Crewe Neck? When was it built?”
“They started it about ten years ago. Before then, it was a strawberry farm. Kid you not.”
“So, Mrs. Barrington’s mansion wasn’t there, right?”
“Right. I remember hearing she had an estate to the south, farther out of town. She donated it to Lawndale State University, but Penny said she only did it for tax purposes.”
“I’m not thinking very clearly today,” Daria said with a groan. “We need to look for places that were around when the statue was erected, not stuff that’s around today. Almost none of this stuff on the map was around back then—certainly not the current high school, the parks, the new library, and all of that. Almost ninety years have gone by since that statue went up. Everything’s changed. Almost everything.”
“Maybe Edwin buried his treasure in the old strawberry field. We can take a couple of shovels over to Crewe Neck and dig around in everybody’s yards at night. There’s always a chance that we’ll find something.”
“We’ll find ourselves in juvenile hall with my mother outside my cell, waiting to get her hands on me. We could really use a turn-of-the-century map of Lawndale. Since we’re not going to the library, maybe the Internet has something.”
Twenty-five minutes later, Daria was in her room, fuming at her computer monitor. “Ten billion webpages, and nothing’s on,” she growled, pecking at her keyboard. “Nobody has any good maps of Lawndale online anywhere, old or new. Information superhighway, my butt. Information snipe hunt’s more like it. Damn Bill Gates, anyway.”
“Blasphemy will get you nowhere,” said Jane, again lying on Daria’s bed, but this time with her head at the bed’s foot, hanging off just enough for her to see the room upside down.
“The map has a hundred things to the north-northeast of the statue, and a hundred things to the east-northeast. I can’t sit here and look all of them up. The only thing that’s in detail is the downtown part, on the Chamber of Commerce website—and there, they’ve got the park laid out, but not the statue. Idiots. Dolts. Morons. Cretins.”
“Told you so. Hey, that’s a really weird crack you have in your ceiling.”
Daria began to do percussive maintenance on her computer screen. “Show me an old map of Lawndale!” she snapped, slapping the side of the monitor. “Something from nineteen-ten! Do it now, if you know what’s good for you!”
Jane sighed and rolled off Daria’s bed to the floor. “Emergency psychotherapy is called for,” she said, going through the collection of books, CDs, magazines, videotapes, and dust bunnies under the bed. “Hey, cool dog slippers. Do you ever wear these?”
“No. What are you doing?”
“Giving you a mental health break. You’re no fun anymore.”
“Thanks a lot.”
Jane pulled a dusty videotape from under the bed. “No, that’s the name of the episode on this tape, the one you borrowed from me. ‘You’re No Fun Anymore.’”
With Jane’s encouragement, they sat together on the bed five minutes later, watching a Monty Python’s Flying Circus tape. “This is one of my favorites,” said Jane. “It’s the one with the Scotsmen from outer space.”
“Stupid Internet,” muttered Daria. “It’s like surfing in a kiddie pool.”
“Oh, look! There it is!” Jane pointed to the screen with glee. “It’s the ‘Science Fiction Sketch’! Cool!”
“Six thousand webpages devoted to breast enhancements, but is there anything useful about Lawndale’s history? Nooooooo. . . .”
“Shhh! Oh, there, that’s ‘Harold Potter’! And the flying saucer turned him into a Scotsman! They can sue J. K. Rowling for copyright!”
Daria’s complaining subsided. The skit was pretty funny. Jane began to laugh hysterically when the blancmange ate Mrs. Podgorny, and Daria was forced to smile. She relaxed. Her thoughts began to drift.
Lawndale’s probably changed completely since the turn of the century, she thought. I hope I don’t have to get up on the statue and sight along the cannon to see exactly where it’s pointing—as if anyone will let me put a ladder up there to begin with. Plus, if the statue was pointing at anything built before nineteen-ten, the building might not be there today. And all we have is a direction. If I knew how far away the damn thing was the cannon was pointing at, I’d have a complete radial coordinate and I could do something with it—but the statue has no numbers on it. It’s just sitting there in the park without any identification on it whatsoever.
Worse, what if I’m way off the mark with the cannon thing? Maybe Edwin just wanted the statue to hold a cannon, so he stuck one in Jules Verne’s hand. Maybe that “journey to the center of the earth” thing was right. Maybe the treasure’s buried below the statue, “in the center of the earth,” but then we’d never be able to get to it. Maybe the treasure’s buried in Village Green. The circular sidewalk forms an old earth symbol. Maybe there’s something hidden within it. What am I thinking? I don’t even have proof there’s more to this whole mess than what we’ve seen. I give up. I should pick something else in town to write about for that damn paper for Mom. Why can’t I have a real summer vacation like everyone else, like my sister? Why doesn’t Quinn have to write a paper? Why does she get to go out on dates and see her friends like she wants? She always gets her way, and I never do. I go on wild goose chases and get followed by nut cases. Well, true, finding out about the statue was fun—but we’ll never get any reward for it.
Jane’s right. I’m no fun anymore. The hell with everything.
On the TV screen, Angus Podgorny was playing tennis against the giant alien blancmange at Wimbledon—and losing badly. Jane was laughing so hard that tears ran down her cheeks as she pounded the bed with her fists.
At least I have Jane, Daria thought. As long as she’s around, no matter how bad everything gets, I’ll never be alone again.
And at that her smile returned.
The earth symbol in the park. Jules is at the center. He’s holding a cannon aimed in a certain direction, and a spacecraft. He’s made of Luna marble.
Mr. and Mrs. Brainsample appeared on the tennis court and chased after the alien blancmange, trying to eat it. Jane fell off the bed, unable to breathe from laughing.
“So the world was saved!” cried the voice over on the TV.
And it came to her.
She jumped off the bed and filled her lungs and screamed, “EUREKA!”
Chapter Eight: The Dark Side of the Moon
“You’re really tearing into this,” Jane commented a half-hour later, looking over Daria’s shoulder as her friend entered numbers into a pocket calculator and scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad. From the moment Daria jumped off the bed, their Friday afternoon had become a fevered frenzy of calculations, wadded sheets of paper, and drawing circles and lines on the Lawndale map with a compass and ruler. Jane noted the equations, geometric shapes, and rows of numbers Daria was jotting down as fast as she could. “You want another Ultra-Cola,” she asked, “or are you closing in on the speed of light just fine on your own?”
“Just a minute,” said Daria in distraction. It was the fifth time she’d said this in response to a question.
“No problemo. Let me know when that hot little idea you’re working on is ready to pop out of the toaster.”
“Just a minute,” Daria repeated.
Jane sighed. Finding a comfy spot on the bed, she was settling back to watch the rest of Daria’s videotaped copy of “When Animals Hold a Grudge,” which was finally getting to the part where the vengeful parakeet used its neglectful owner’s ice-cream sundae as an impromptu outhouse, when Daria put down her pencil and turned around in the chair, looking tired, solemn, and very pleased with herself.
“If it was a snake, it would have bitten me,” said Daria.
“Buckaroo Banzai,” said Jane, watching the TV.
Daria held her mouth open for a beat, on the verge of saying something else, and then said, “What?”
“That’s what Buckaroo Banzai said when he figured out that Penny Priddy was his dead wife’s long-long twin sister. He and Perfect Tommy were at this jail, and—”
“Let me start over,” Daria interrupted, looking a bit cross. “The cannon that the statue of Jules Verne is holding points to a specific spot north-northeast of Village Green that is almost exactly thirty times the diameter of the circular sidewalk around the statue. And the spot has exactly the right name to be another clue in our puzzle.”
Jane looked away from the TV. “Okay. Continue.”
“I was trying to figure out earlier what was missing. And what was missing was the Moon.”
“Mmm . . . not following you, keep going.”
“See, Jules Verne is standing on a giant astrological earth symbol. He’s holding the things that people used to get to the Moon in his novel, From the Earth to the Moon. What’s missing? The clue is what the statue’s made of, Luna marble. All that’s missing from this freestanding tribute to his novel is the Moon.”
Jane nodded slowly. “You said thirty times something—”
“The average distance to the Moon is thirty times the diameter of the Earth. I got the diameter of the big circular sidewalk out of that old article about the statue’s unveiling, because it also talked about the park in which the statue was being placed, the park that Edwin Barrington himself designed. All I had to do was multiply that diameter by thirty, because the circle represents the Earth, then draw out that scale distance on the map with a compass, draw a line from the statue to the north-northeast, approximately where the cannon is pointing, and there it was.”
“There what was? The Moon?”
Jane’s eyes widened and her mouth made a perfect “o” shape.
“That has to be the place Edwin Barrington was trying to indicate,” Daria went on. “I don’t know what’s there, but it has to be something important. Maybe it’s a treasure, maybe it’s the place where he went on his first date. I don’t know.” She picked up the city map. “The hill’s near the executive park, not far from Pizza Forest.”
Jane reached for the map, and Daria got up and gave it to her. “Oh,” Jane said after a moment of peering at the map. “The old observatory.”
Daria’s eyes opened very wide. “Observatory? There’s an observatory there?”
“Used to be, but they closed it before I was born.”
Spinning around in her chair, Daria called up a search engine on her computer and pecked in a topic, then hit return. She clicked on one of the results and read the screen, which showed a color photo of a dome-topped observatory several stories high, sitting on a forested hilltop. The header on the page read: “Famous Telescopes of the Past.”
Daria slumped back in her chair as she summarized what she was reading. “Some astronomy nut put together a webpage of extinct observatories, places that burned down, were moved, or had to close for some other reason. The Lawndale Observatory used to be pretty well known. It had a thirty-inch reflector and was operated by Lawndale State University’s physics department until it was closed twenty years ago, because the light pollution from Lawndale made it functionally useless. It says they sold the telescope to another observatory in Arizona and then stripped the building. It’s now a four-story shell, with empty first-floor offices, the observation deck above, the telescope mount, the forty-foot diameter dome, and that’s about it. The museum in town got a few things. The doors on the dome don’t even work because the motors rusted and were taken out.”
She continued reading, then sat up and leaned close to the monitor. “The observatory was built in nineteen-oh-eight with a grant from Edwin Barrington. The polished metal hemisphere of the dome was so shiny, it was nicknamed the Half-Moon. Bingo. Well, there’s our Mecca, unless they’ve torn it down.”
“It’s still there, what’s left of it,” said Jane. “I’ve heard that students used to sneak inside of it to make out and smoke pot, until the police locked it up better. It might make a cool art studio one day.”
Daria checked her watch. “Crap. It’s way too far to walk before everyone gets home for dinner tonight, and I don’t want my parents involved in this in any manner.”
“And our friend Darth Stalker is probably looking around for the two little fishies that escaped from his net earlier today.”
Daria groaned. “Well, Trent has a car, right? He could . . . do nothing to help since he’s not here and I forgot he was gone, damn it.”
Jane put down the map. “He left his car behind when he went with the band into Baltimore.”
“So? How’s that going to help us?”
“I can drive.”
“You—” Daria stared at Jane in shock. “Don’t you need an adult with you? I thought you only had a learner’s permit. How can you—”
“Provisional license,” said Jane, leaning over to pull a small card out of the back pocket of her shorts. She held it up for Daria to see. “I can drive unsupervised until midnight. State law, God bless ‘em.”
Daria was dumbfounded. “Then why don’t you drive? How come I never see you drive anywhere?”
“Have you seen Trent’s car? If it wasn’t for duct tape and superglue, it’d fall apart into a pile of parts not even a junkyard would touch.”
“But why didn’t you tell me you could drive?”
Jane looked uncomfortable. “I knew you were having trouble with your driving lessons, and I didn’t want to rub it in.”
“Oh. Well, you’ve rubbed it in anyway. Somehow I’ll forgive you. Maybe if you drove us over to the observatory, that would help.”
“If I must. You want to go now?”
“Uh, tomorrow. I’m a little nervous about going out right now. Maybe our stalker sleeps late on Saturdays.”
“I was thinking we might get this whole sordid affair wrapped up by Sunday morning, things are moving along so well. We could give Mrs. Barrington the proof she needs, we’ll get a wheelbarrow full of money, and then you could write up the story for your mom and be done with it, until she hands down another Herculean task. Have you ever cleaned stables before?”
Dinner went well that evening. Daria’s annoying younger sister Quinn was on a sleepover with her friends in the Fashion Club, and her mother had to work late at the office, preparing a brief due on Monday for a major court case involving the effects of power lines on the local woodchuck population. Only Daria’s father was present when she queried him about her plans for the night.
“You want Jane to stay over?” he said. “Sure thing, kiddo! Just get the leftover lasagna out of the fridge and nuke it in the microwave!”
“Nothing would please me more,” said Daria without inflection, “but Jane was only yesterday diagnosed with a serious tomato-sauce allergy and can only eat vegetable-free foods during the weekend. If I had some money, I could order a specially prepared pizza from—”
“Oh! Wait—here’s a fifty. Will that cover it?”
“Thanks, Dad. If anyone ever tells me that fatherhood is a lost art, they’ll get an earful from me.”
Beaming, her father left to watch TV in the family room. Daria heard coughing and turned to look at Jane. “Is something wrong?”
“Sorry,” said Jane, clearing her throat. “I had a little trouble swallowing what just happened.”
“You think I should give him his fifty back?”
“I think you should call Pizza King and order a giant Triple-Layer Cheese Wasteland Special before your dad wises up and sends you to reform school.”
“Anything to get me out of this town.”
The girls took a break from their research to spend some time wasting time. They turned off the TV long after midnight, too tired to continue watching and commenting on The Shining even though it was about to get to the good part where Wendy Torrance found out what her husband had been typing for the past few weeks at his desk. Before she drifted off to sleep, Daria yawned and said, “Do you think we’ll actually get paid if we solve this mystery? I keep wondering if Mrs. Barrington’s on the level.”
“Call her attorney, like it says on the card,” said Jane after yawning back. “What’s the harm?”
“Should have done it during the week. He’s probably off tomorrow since it’s Saturday.”
“Your mom’s a lawyer, and she works on Saturdays.”
“I’m assuming Mrs. Barrington’s lawyer is normal.”
“Doesn’t it bother you that your mom is a workaholic?”
“Under normal circumstances I would be disturbed by it, but our family has never functioned under normal circumstances. The less interference we have from parental units in this matter, the better.”
“Mmm-hmmm. Don’t have to split the reward money.”
“Precisely.” Daria sniffed. “I wonder what we’ll find at the observatory.”
“Not much, I bet. I was wondering if there was anything left worth seeing.”
“We could go to the museum in town first, see what was donated from it.”
“That makes sense. Take cameras. Look for clues. Avoid being stalked.”
“Thanks ever so much for mentioning that before I go to sleep.”
“That’s my job.” Jane’s eyes closed. “We’ll solve it. We’ll be rich. Go to Paris.”
“Dead on target.”
“Dead on . . .” Jane’s voice trailed off. Daria closed her eyes but did not remember doing it.
Daria was at an observatory on a hilltop. The sun was setting, and the dome doors were open. She could see the end of a giant telescope peering out. If I could look through that telescope, she thought, I’d see what the treasure was. She hurried up to the open door of the observatory and ran inside into the dark.
A man who looked like Jack Nicholson was in a giant room with a dirt floor, the inside of the bare observatory. At his feet was the blood-soaked body of a teenage girl. It looked like Jane.
The man held a long two-handed axe bathed in red from one end to the other. He looked up, saw Daria, and grinned. “You a tourist?” he asked, and he took a step toward her and his face became round and full like a pumpkin’s. “All work and no play, eh?” he said. “You looking for the statue’s treasure?” Now he sounded like someone else Daria had met, like a businessman with a nervous smile.
Her legs tangled and she fell when she tried to run. Her mouth did not work when she tried to scream. The man walked toward her with the red axe coming up in his hands. Blood was splattered across his wife-beater T-shirt.
“All work and no play!” he cried. “Sorry to bother you!” The axe came down.
Chapter Nine: Where Angels Fear to Tread
“All I’m saying,” said Jane the next morning, as she backed her brother’s old sedan out of the Lane family’s driveway, “is that we could make a killing if we recorded one of your screams and used it in an alarm clock. You could wake someone out of a coma. What in the world were you dreaming about, anyway?”
“The federal deficit,” Daria grumbled, looking out the side window. “Monica Lewinsky. Serial hamster abusers.”
“All right, all right. I dreamed Quinn was my older sister.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Just drive.”
“Okay.” Jane craned her neck, looking in the rear-view mirror and around both sides of the car as she sped off down Howard Drive. “No one’s watching us, far as I can tell. Looks like our stalker didn’t see us sneak over to my place. We’re in the clear.” Jane took one hand off the steering wheel and twisted her little finger back and forth in her right ear. “I think my hearing’s back to normal. The ringing’s almost gone.”
“I didn’t scream that loud,” Daria said irritably.
“Really? Your mom fell out of bed, your dad had a panic attack, and two neighbors called nine one one.” Jane sighed. “Too bad Quinn wasn’t home.”
“I bet I could scream like that again if this topic doesn’t change immediately.”
“Hey, what were we talking about? I forgot. It’s Saturday morning, and we’re on the way to the Lawndale Historical Society Museum! Yeee-haaaw!”
The museum was not very large, which prompted Jane to remark that that was because Lawndale had so little history worth putting on display. A few photographs of the old observatory and some of its staff graced a corner of the first floor, along with a life-size white marble bust perched on a polished granite pedestal. The bust immediately caught the girls’ attention.
“Luna marble,” said Jane, looking it over. “Not Rodin, though. Not bad, but not Rodin. This guy looks Greek or Roman.”
“It’s Plato,” said Daria, reading the inscription on a large bronze plate fixed to the pedestal. “It has a quote from The Republic, a book on government he wrote: ‘Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.’” She glanced at the exhibit’s identification card on the wall behind the bust. “It was carved in nineteen oh seven, paid for by Edwin Barrington. He had it placed next to the big telescope mount on the observation deck.”
“You think there’s a connection here with the big statue? A Luna marble statue pointing to a Luna marble bust?”
“Could be, with Barrington involved. That last part of the saying, about leading from this world to another, sounds good.” She frowned. “I don’t see what this clue is leading to, though, if this really is a clue. You’ve got all the art smarts here. Do you see anything unusual about this thing?”
Jane shook her head as she examined the bust. “The style is straightforward. No secret hiding spots, codes, or arrows pointing anywhere, that I can tell. I think someone would have noticed anything unusual about it when they moved it to the museum. Did Plato have anything to do with the Moon?”
“Maybe he mentioned it in one of his science writings, but there’s nothing about that here. There must be a connection of some kind, but I don’t get it.” Daria shrugged, stepping back from the bust and reading the quote from Plato once more before looking around. “Okay, that was big fun. Want to go to Half-Moon Hill?”
“Sure,” said Jane as they turned to go. “We have to go through Seven Corners to get to the observatory road, though. Pay attention when we get there. You’ll probably have to drive through it one day by yourself.”
Daria rolled her eyes. “That is the worst intersection in existence. I should have written about that instead of the statue. What were they thinking when they created it?”
Jane gave Daria a wry smile. “Thinking?”
Negotiating Seven Corners took all of ten minutes between the traffic, the stop signs, and the unpredictable actions of aggressive or frightened drivers. Daria let out her breath and released her death grip on the door handle once Jane pulled the car into the drive leading up the densely forested hill to the observatory. “Once again I beat the odds and live to tell about it,” she said. “Is there any particular reason why they don’t put traffic lights there?”
“The auto body repair shops have a powerful lobby.”
The road wound around the side of the hill, passing through the woods as it rose toward the summit. They passed two gates on the way up, both consisting of a single heavy bar designed to swing across the road and be locked in place at a post on the other side of the road; however, both gates had been left unlocked and open. After a minute, the car broke out of the woods to finish the climb up a grassy slope.
The observatory building dominated the treeless hilltop. Daria estimated it to be four or five stories high, a round building made of tan stone with a great steel dome about forty feet in diameter. It wasn’t the largest observatory by far, but it was impressive.
Jane pulled the car into an empty parking lot, stopping in a space near a flight of concrete steps leading up to the observatory’s front doors. Weeds poked through cracks in the asphalt. Daria got out of the car and looked around, noting the thistle- and dandelion-choked condition of the grounds around the building. It was apparent that someone had mowed the area within the last week, probably with a large commercial mower. Whoever was here last probably also left the gates open, Daria thought. I bet this parking lot gets crowded at night when Lovers Lane at the quarry is full. She looked up at the observatory. Her initial reaction of muted awe was tainted with anxiety as bits of her nightmare came back to her. She shook off her nervousness with a frown. Dreams are nothing. It’s reality that I have to worry about.
The observatory building had ivy and weeds growing up its outer walls, half-covering spray-painted gang symbols, names, high-school graduation years, and rude greetings. The metallic dome had no luster and was marred by patches of brown rust on its thin ribs. The huge dome doors were almost closed. The defaced double doors at the front were chained shut. How the mighty have fallen, Daria thought, and a wave of depression swept over her. I bet this city used to be an intellectual hot spot. Now it’s worse than Antarctica. “Lovely,” she said in a dejected tone, forgetting her bad dream for the moment.
“Kicks ass for the statement it makes about this community,” said Jane, still sitting in the driver’s seat with her car door open, looking the building over. She reached into the back seat and got the two cameras there, then climbed out of the car and shut the door. After handing one camera to Daria, she began taking pictures of the observatory with quiet animation.
Daria put the strap for her camera around her neck and checked the camera over, but she made no move to take any photos. Instead, she walked up the steps toward the front doors of the building, where she tested them (locked) and the chain (solid and padlocked) before examining the doorway itself. It did not strike her as unusual in any way, so she walked down the steps to a halfway point, looked over the building once more, then began walking around its perimeter in a counterclockwise direction, keeping watch for rocks, nettles, or unpleasant wildlife like snakes or skunks. She saw none of the latter, though she stepped in a groundhog hole when she wasn’t paying attention and almost wrenched her ankle.
The lowest floor of the observatory had a number of windows set around it, all boarded over and nailed shut. Someone had spray-painted occult signs like upside-down pentacles or “666” on some of the boards along with obscene words. Halfway around the building’s forty-foot diameter, Daria spotted a back door that had a gate with vertical bars mounted over it. Painted beside the doorway in large letters was the legend: I AM THE QB! KEVIN RULES!
“Why am I not surprised?” Daria said aloud, recognizing the handiwork of a fellow student in her grade, an idiotic football player. Shaking her head in disgust, she walked over to the gated door and tried it, but the gate was locked. She then walked over to examine the nearest window to her right and noticed that the nailed-down board there had been pulled away and was merely leaning against the window frame. Bookmarking this in her mind, she continued her journey around the building until she came to the front and found Jane, still taking pictures of the observatory’s front from various angles.
“Find your future dream home?” Daria asked.
“Future photo essay topic,” Jane replied, shooting a picture while kneeling before standing up again. “The condition of this place speaks volumes. It’s the epitome of the Lawndalian mind, anti-intellectualism with a capital ‘anti.’ I bet these pictures make Ms. Defoe break down in tears when I turn this over as a special project this fall. I should get the Sun-Herald to publish these. Maybe I’ll get a Pulitzer.”
“Maybe we can win a Better Homes and Gardens award for interior decorating shots, too.” She told Jane about the opened window around back. The two set off at once, examined the spot, and put down their cameras. Lacking a ladder, Jane let Daria climb on her back (“Ow! The boots, Daria! Watch the boots!”) and remove the board, tossing it onto the grass. The window behind it was unlocked and ajar. Daria pushed it fully open and peered inside. Beyond was a dimly lit room that had probably once been an office, with wood-paneled walls and wood-slat floor decorated with the same graffiti as outside. No furniture was visible, only cobwebs, dust, and the smell of rot. The door was missing on the opposite side of the room, revealing a dark hallway running to either side.
“Go on in!” Jane snapped. “Hurry! I’ll climb in after you!”
Daria found herself overcome with a renewed sense of dread. She could not shake the thought that a Jack Nicholson look-alike lurked in the hall just out of view. Twisting her head, she looked at the ceiling to see if any bats were there. None were, but it was hardly a comfort. “Why don’t you go in first?” she said with a quavering voice.
“I will if you let me stand on your back in my boots!” Jane said testily. “Move it!”
Thus urged, Daria crawled onto the window ledge, managed to turn around, and dropped into the room, falling only four feet to the floor. She stumbled but caught herself, then looked at the dark doorway in fright. Nothing was waiting there to snatch at her.
“Get the cameras!” Jane called. Daria grabbed them as Jane handed them over, and moments later Jane vaulted herself up into the windowsill and came in as well. They spent a minute picking debris and webs out of each other’s hair, then got their cameras, charged the flashes, looked at the doorway, and . . . stopped.
“You want to go first?” Jane asked.
“No, it’s okay, you can.”
“You can go first if you want to. It’s fine with me.”
“No, I don’t mind, really.”
“Well, then, go ahead.”
Daria looked at the dark doorway, her expression miserable. “You win. I’m a coward. If I was any more chicken, I’d be sitting in a family-size bucket from KFC.”
Jane rolled her eyes. With an exaggerated show of bravery, she strolled to the doorway, peered down the corridor both ways, and looked back. “Bigfoot wants to know if you mind being deep fried,” she said. “Your comment about the bucket gave him the munchies.” She squinted to make out Daria’s response. “You’re giving me that one-finger eye test again. Do you think I need glasses?”
Jane grinned and led the way out of the room, taking the hall to the left. She pulled a miniature high-intensity flashlight from a pocket of her red jacket and snapped it on. The floor creaked and groaned under their boots. Daria saw that the graffiti-covered hallway was curved, which made sense given the cylindrical shape of the building’s lowest levels. They found the back door was chained shut from the inside. All other doors into offices along the outer wall of the building had been removed as well. The air smelled of mold, mildew, dirt, decay, and animal feces. Skittering and scurrying sounds in the ceiling proved the building wasn’t uninhabited. Empty beer cans, whiskey and vodka bottles, cigarette butts, and plastic bags with bits of marijuana inside were scattered everywhere, mixed with nastier things that Daria avoided touching even with her heavy boots.
Jane stopped now and then to take a photo. “Where are we heading, by the way?” she asked after a minute of slow travel, swinging the flashlight’s narrow beam down the hallway ahead of her.
“We should go upstairs if possible,” said Daria, checking to see if an axe murderer was creeping up on her from behind. “I’d like to see the place where the telescope used to be. Maybe there’s something there worth seeing.”
To their surprise, a staircase appeared shortly after that, leading upward to a large, partly lit open space. “I bet this is it,” said Jane. “Tell Bigfoot to cover the rear while we go up and explore.”
“I hope the real Bigfoot kidnaps you and makes you his love monkey,” Daria growled. “I hope you have a set of hairy, gorilla-faced quintuplets and have to diaper and potty-train every one of them.”
“Wouldn’t be any different from dealing with my big sister Summer’s kids,” Jane said, starting up the stairs. “I’ll name them all after you, too. Hey, the ceiling up here curves over. It’s the dome! We found the dome!”
Indeed, when Daria emerged from the stairs, she found herself in a wide circular space with a wooden floor and an enormous curved dome above. Rectangular patches of discolored varnish on the floor indicated where furniture and scientific equipment once stood before being removed when the observatory was closed. Daria guessed that the top of the dome was at least three stories above her, possibly four. The big doors on the dome were open a few inches, illuminating the vast room with indirect light. A steady wind could be heard blowing against the outside of the curved metal roof. Scattered beer cans and other trash indicated that they were far from being the first explorers in this strange territory.
“Wow,” said Jane. She rotated in place, looking around in awe.
“Yeah,” said Daria, less awed because of her heightened anxiety. She spotted a black-painted metallic structure in the center of the room and headed for it, trying not to notice how the floor squeaked eerily when she walked across it.
The object was, as she suspected, a large telescope mount. She tried to imagine what it must have been like to have worked here when the observatory was in better shape, but the sorry state of the area stole the energy from her daydream. Sighing, she looked down at her boots. A square spot of pale wood on the floor attracted her attention. After some thought, she recalled the bust of Plato in the Lawndale Historical Society Museum. Was that where the marble head of the philosopher once stood? She examined the floor near the mount and confirmed that only that spot matched the approximate size of the granite pedestal’s base. Curious, she stepped onto the spot itself, where Plato’s bust had once rested. Part of Plato’s quotation came to mind: Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards. . . .
Moved by impulse, Daria tilted her head back and looked straight up.
The top of the dome had something mounted on it, a disk that Daria guessed was about three or four feet across. Though it was darkened by decades of tarnish, it was still possible to tell that the object was a silvered mirror. She could see herself, if barely.
“How odd,” she said aloud. Is that supposed to be the Moon? She stepped from side to side and was soon able to tell that the mirror was tilted so that it reflected exactly back down to the spot where Plato’s bust had once stood. A person standing next to the bust could look up into the mirror, too. If the person stood anywhere else, however, he could not see his reflection. What the hell is this all about? What does it mean? Am I supposed to climb up there and look at the mirror? How could I do that?
“Hey, Daria!” said Jane in a sharp voice. “Listen!”
Daria turned. Jane was holding a hand out in her direction, palm toward her as if motioning her to stop. They listened.
The sound of an approaching car engine rose over the rustling of the wind on the dome. In moments, the car had pulled up outside the building. The engine shut off a moment later, and a car door opened.
Daria and Jane looked at each other in fright, exchanging an unspoken question.
What do we do now?
Chapter Ten: Why Did It Have To Be—?
Daria did not dare move an inch, fearing she would make a noise that would alert the visitor outside the observatory to their presence. For a few moments after the car door slammed, nothing else happened. Then another car door opened with a characteristic squeaking of hinges. Daria immediately recognized it as the front passenger door of Trent’s car, which squealed like that every time she opened it. Someone’s checking out Jane’s car! Is it the police? We could be in serious trouble if we’re caught up here—and once the police get done with me in juvenile detention, then it’s Mom’s turn and I’m grounded until I’m thirty!
After a pause, the car door softly shut, obviously in an effort to keep it from being heard. The hinges still whined a complaint. Moments later came the measured, clacking tread of hard-soled shoes on concrete, walking up the steps toward the observatory’s front door on the floor below. The footsteps stopped very close below, then the rattling of a chain was heard, followed by keys rattling and a clicking sound—and the chains clattered and banged, striking the wooden front doors as they swung free. There again came the sound of keys jangling, the popping of locks, and then the loud groans of two doors opening on tortured hinges. Daria’s jaw dropped. It’s either the cops or the owner of the observatory! They’re going to find us!
Aware of their peril, Jane pointed to the staircase, motioning Daria toward it. Holding her camera steady, Daria complied and walked as softly and quickly as she could in her hard boots, but the floorboards creaked and set her nerves on edge. Jane took the lead down the stairs to the first floor, snapping her flashlight on again, but then stopped in the curved corridor and motioned Daria to silence behind her. They waited for several long seconds, looking down the hallway in one direction and then the other, trying to judge in which direction the visitor would be coming.
A creaking noise came from the right, the direction leading back to the open window through which the two had entered the building. The creak was immediately followed by the loud clatter of lumber or furniture falling over. Cursing under her breath, Jane took off to the left with Daria behind her, heading into new territory around the corridor. Their flight lasted only moments before they came to a doorway that abruptly ended the hall. Daria guessed they had to be near the observatory’s front entrance.
Putting one hand on the doorknob, Jane turned to Daria. “We’ll go out the front while he’s going around the other way,” she whispered. “Get in the car as fast as you can, and we’ll get out of here!”
Daria nodded, too nervous to come up with a clever retort. Jane turned the knob but found the door was stuck. With an effort, she jerked the door open, swung her flashlight beam into the room, and began to hurry through the doorway—but then inhaled sharply and went into instant reverse, backing into Daria and almost knocking her down.
“Hey!” Daria hissed. “Watch it!” She was about to say more but stopped short. Jane’s face was alive with horror. Still trying to back up into Daria, Jane stared into the room with white showing all around her blue eyes, making rapid gasping cries that sounded like oh oh oh oh oh! Daria swiftly looked where the flashlight beam pointed.
The black room before her had a wooden floor that had rotted through and collapsed in the middle at some point in the past, revealing a foot-high earthen crawlspace under the observatory dotted with rodent burrows. Scattered around the hole in the floor, all the way up to the open door, were coiled the largest snakes Daria had ever seen, their thick bodies painted in wavy, alternating bands of black and yellow or tan and brown. As the jittery light played over the assemblage, the startled snakes tensed and turned in their direction. Castanet noises came from the vibrating tails of the black-and-yellow ones, the rattles moving so fast they were nearly invisible. A thick-bodied tan-and-brown snake over a yard long swung its broad triangular head toward the girls, flicked a narrow tongue at the quivering light, and uncoiled. It happened to be in front of the open door.
With piercing shrieks, the girls turned and ran, cameras jumping and banging against them on their neck straps. The wildly swinging flashlight in Jane’s hand was barely able to reveal where they were heading. More light suddenly flickered in the corridor ahead, accompanied by the sound of heavy, approaching footsteps. The girls skidded to a stop before reaching the source. Daria then felt Jane grab her arm and drag her sideways in through an open door, into a musty, barren room that had likely been a study decades earlier. They pressed themselves into the corner next to the doorway and clutched each other in fright as someone with a brilliant flashlight pounded down the hallway past them.
It was after the figure ran by that Daria heard the rattling noise from the floor, very close to her feet. She looked down. Jane’s flashlight was still on, though aimed at the ceiling, so it wasn’t too hard to see the five-foot-long gray-and-ochre rattlesnake, as thick across as her wrists, strike at her legs and attempt to sink its fangs into the thick leather of her left boot. The next few seconds were a blur of shrill noises and violent movement that ended with the girls on the opposite side of the room in another corner, clutching each other and shrieking as they faced the dazed rattler in the center of the floor, illuminated by Jane’s wiggling flashlight while recovering from being solidly kicked in the head with Daria’s boot. Whatever would have happened next turned out to be anyone’s guess, as a brilliant light appeared in the hall outside, shining down on the rattler. The rattler turned in the direction of the light, tail buzzing.
A sharp, muffled noise went through the room. The snake’s head disappeared, splattered across the floor at the same moment the wooden floor under the rattlesnake burst into splinters and dust around a wide hole. The headless snake writhed and coiled and uncoiled as the light approached it. Then a man’s shoe, a polished brown oxford that glinted in the light, kicked the body aside.
The bright light rose and gave the two girls a good look-over.
“Well!” a man said. He sounded like he was smiling when he said it. “We meet again!”
The bright light lowered to the floor. Daria blinked as her eyes adjusted to the change in illumination.
A grinning, clean-shaven, pumpkin-headed man wearing thick glasses stood in the doorway of the room. He wore a well tailored brown business suit complete with jacket and tie. In his left hand was a high-beam flashlight. In his right was a large pistol with an extraordinarily long barrel that resembled a narrow pipe, which Daria recognized as a silencer.
The stalker. Daria’s thoughts knotted up into a speechless state beyond terror.
“Are either of you hurt?” asked the man.
It took a long moment to form a reply. “N-n-n-no,” said Daria, her voice several octaves higher than usual. “We’re okay. Kind of.”
“Good.” The man seemed pleased. “I got rid of our little copper-headed friend down the hall and shut the door again. The rest of them won’t bother us. You don’t usually find so many timber rattlesnakes and copperheads in the eastern part of this state, but out-of-the-way abandoned places like here tend to attract them, if there are enough field mice, little rabbits, and chipmunks around. Rats, too, probably.”
Daria realized she and Jane were still gripping each other’s clothing as if hanging on to life preservers in a rough sea. She forced her aching fingers to let go of Jane’s red jacket, then adjusted her camera and straightened her outfit, glancing at the floor to make sure no other snakes were around. Her knees trembled so badly she wondered if she would be able to stand up even a minute longer. She was also vaguely aware that part of her nightmare was coming true, but she did not want to dwell on that, not at all.
Say something nice so he doesn’t shoot us. “Um . . . thank you,” Daria said unsteadily, then cleared her throat. “We were . . . having a few problems, or something.”
The man chuckled. The silenced pistol hung down at his side. “I see,” he said. “We’d better go outside and talk. Would you follow me?”
The girls said “Sure” and “Yes” at the same time, several times each. Avoiding the splatter of blood and the bullet hole in the floor where the rattler had been, they walked out of the room after the stalker, having absolutely nowhere else to go. He led them down the hallway to the right, his high-beam light throwing the features of the long corridor into sharp relief. Daria glanced into the room where she and Jane had entered, but she knew neither of them would make it out the window in time to escape the man or his weapon.
“The front door’s a lot easier to use,” said the grinning stalker, as if he’d read her mind. He barely glanced back before continuing to lead the way out. Daria looked at the silenced pistol he held and tried to guess how long she and Jane had left to live. Jane’s face was tight with fear, but she stayed at Daria’s side.
They passed through a room piled high with short lengths of lumber, some of which had been knocked over when the door on the far side was opened. Beyond the door, Daria saw daylight, and shortly she and Jane were shielding their eyes against the midday brightness, stopped at the top of the steps leading down to the parking lot.
“You’re here about that statue, right?” asked the man. He raised the pistol—
—and began to unscrew the silencer, aiming the muzzle at the ground well away from the girls.
Daria and Jane nodded their heads. A sarcastic remark seemed like a bad move at this juncture. The man put his pistol into a shoulder holster hidden under his suit jacket. Still carrying the silencer, he reached into a breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small white card and handed it over to the girls. Jane hesitantly took it, and they looked at it together.
“I’m Mrs. Barrington’s attorney, William Marston,” said the man. “You can call me Bill. I think we got off on the wrong foot the other day. Mrs. Barrington called to let me know two new people were working on the contest, and I was taking a break in the park when I noticed you taking pictures of the statue. You looked just like Olivia described you. I apologize if I bothered you. I’m afraid I got a little curious about how your research was going. We haven’t had any interest in the contest in several years. You’ve figured out who it is already, right? The statue?”
The name on the card matched the name on the card Mrs. Barrington had given her, so Daria saw no reason to doubt him. She pocketed the card and relaxed a little, but the man had a disturbing quality about him she couldn’t identify, something beyond the obvious. “We . . . we have an idea who it is.” She glanced at Jane and continued. “We wanted to write it up and surprise Mrs. Barrington with it, maybe tomorrow at the library. We . . . we’re kind of keeping it a secret for now, if that’s okay.”
Mr. Marston—Daria couldn’t bring herself to call him Bill just yet—gave a nod and turned around in place, admiring the view of the surrounding trees and distant horizon from the hilltop. He tapped the silencer against his pants leg. “If you can prove you know who that statue is, Olivia would be just tickled. She told you about the reward, right? A thousand dollars? That would get you through a lot of movies over the summer.”
“We were thinking maybe pizza, movies, other things,” said Jane, starting to relax herself. She pointed to his chest. “Do you always carry a gun around with you like that?”
Daria flinched and wondered if she should start running about then, but Mr. Marston merely grinned, not upset in the least. “I do when I come up here,” he said. “The snakes can be a problem.”
“Aren’t silencers illegal?”
“Oh!” He raised the dull black tube and looked it over. “Not in this state. Believe me, I’m a lawyer, and I’d know. I had it made for my forty-five. You shoot a snake, you want to stop it dead, but I don’t like drawing attention to my shooting. It gets everyone too uptight. Not good for business. You can imagine.”
Daria swallowed, deciding to ask a brave question of her own. “Are you following us around?”
Mr. Marston sighed, his grin fading. “Well, I was the other day, but that wasn’t very smart of me, I suppose. I got too curious. Today I just wanted to come up here and look around, and I saw the car here. I figured it was just teenagers doing drugs. Didn’t think it was you two. If you came up here because of the contest, I can tell you that you’re on the right track—only I don’t know what track that is. We’ve had several people come to the observatory over the years, but none of them get any further than this. The trail peters out, turns cold. At least you made it this far.”
This was news. Daria had suspected that someone else before her had figured out the identity of the statue, but she wasn’t aware anyone else had gotten the same ideas she had, to the point of making it all the way to Half-Moon Hill. “No one figured out where to go from here?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Mrs. Barrington’s pretty much given up hope of ever figuring this out, but you know how some people get. They like to keep a little hope going.”
Daria’s mouth opened and the words came out before she thought the consequences through. “Are you looking for the treasure, too?”
Mr. Marston’s face changed at he looked at Daria. The grin disappeared. For a moment, she had the impression that a mask had fallen away and for a moment she saw the person underneath it, but she couldn’t tell who that person was. The grin reappeared a second later. He chuckled, looking away. “I do have to admit that I have tried looking for it. I’m not eligible to collect the reward, of course, but Mrs. Barrington’s an old friend of mine—family, actually—and I’d love to put this puzzle behind her. So, yeah, I have looked for it, but—” He shrugged and spread his hands.
“Family?” said Daria. “She’s family?”
“Oh, certainly. Not close family, something like third cousins. My side of the family wasn’t into the guns-and-bombs business like hers was. We were the ne’er-do-wells, the folks from the other side of the railroad tracks.” The grin came back in full bloom. “But even rich people need lawyers, and that’s where I come in!”
to laugh, just to keep Mr. Marston off guard, but she couldn’t. She frowned
instead. Something about this picture bothered her. “Where did this whole story
about a treasure come from?” she asked. “I never heard that there was any
treasure associated with the statue.”
“Well, you just said it yourself when you asked me if I was looking for it.”
“Yes, but I got that from you, not from Mrs. Barrington or anyone else. How did you hear about a treasure?”
There was another moment when a mask seemed to slip off Mr. Marston’s face, but it lasted only a fraction of a second. He rubbed his chin and looked around at the landscape before turning back to her. “It’s been a local legend, the treasure, something the old-timers around here talk about. I don’t know how it got started. Probably one of those urban legends, like that hitchhiker ghost. People who’ve lived around here a long time know about it. You can ask around, maybe at the retirement home—what’s it called, um, Better Days, the Better Days Retirement Home. You could ask there, someone might have heard of it.”
“Okay, great,” said Jane. She put a hand on Daria’s shoulder. “I think after our little escapade here, we’re going to go home and scream into our pillows for a few hours. Thanks again for showing up like the cavalry.”
“My pleasure,” said Mr. Marston with a wave. “Go do something fun for a change. You know what they say, all work and no play makes Jack a—”
“Thank you again!” Daria interrupted, completely unnerved. She turned away from the attorney and trotted down the steps for Trent’s car, half expecting to feel a bullet punch through her spine and out of her chest at any second. She reached the car in an undamaged condition and jumped in, slamming the door as Jane got in on the other side. Jane started the engine after buckling in and gave an extra wave goodbye to Mr. Marston, who saluted in return.
“Get us the hell out of here,” whispered Daria, fumbling with her seat belt.
“We’re gone,” said Jane, and she backed the car out of the lot and headed off. When they stopped at the bottom of Half-Moon Hill, about to enter the turmoil of Seven Corners, Daria shivered violently over every part of her body and swore aloud. She had a perfectly clear vision of the rattlesnake coming for her leg again.
“I’m really sorry now that I don’t do drugs,” said Jane, hitting the gas to pull into traffic. She gave Daria a sympathetic glance. “I could use a big hit of something right about now, something to scrub my memory clean of the last hour.”
“He’s lying,” said Daria, still shivering. “He’s lying about coming up here just to look around. He is after the treasure. And he knows there’s a treasure. No one else said anything about it, but he knows. And he’s Mrs. Barrington’s lawyer, so of course he knows everything there is to know about this mess. She called him, probably just as she always calls him when someone shows up trying to identify the statue, so he’ll always know when someone’s poking around.” She took off her glasses and covered her face with her hands, shaking all over.
Jane looked over in concern. “Amiga?”
“I’ll be okay. I’m just . . . I’ll be fine.”
“You want to stop somewhere for lunch?”
“Not right now. Let’s go home. Either home, I don’t care.”
Daria put her glasses back on. “And the keys,” she said, looking out the windshield at the traffic but seeing nothing. “He had keys to the building. The observatory belongs to Lawndale State, not to Mrs. Barrington. Why should he have keys to the front door so he can unlock it whenever he wants? Is he supposed to be a caretaker or something, or did he get the keys illegally?”
“My parents have lived in Lawndale for almost thirty years,” said Jane, “but we never heard anything about a treasure connected to that statue. Nice gun he's got, too. I don’t know anything about guns, but he’s good with it. Makes me wonder if we were better off with just the snake in the room, before he showed up.”
“He knows too much about this. He’s even more curious about this quest than Mrs. Barrington is. This whole thing is all wrong.”
“You want to ask your mom about this guy, Buffalo Bill? She’s a lawyer, too. Maybe she knows something about him.”
looked at Jane. “Buffalo Bill?”
“Yeah, like in Silence of the Lambs. You know, the guy who was shooting girls and then skinning them to make—”
“Warning—you are not helping me. You are not helping me at all. And I don’t want to ask Mom anything about this. Not now, not ever.”
Jane sighed. “You know what pisses me off the most about this whole day?” she said, turning onto a street that ran past their high school.
Jane reached down and held up her camera, wiggling it briefly before putting it back in her lap. “I didn’t get a single picture after we got inside the observatory. Not one. We’ll have to go back.” She glanced at Daria and smirked. “What, the eye test again? Okay, I see two fingers pointing up, one on each hand. Do I win something? No! Ouch! Ouch! Daria, stop it! That—ouch!”
Chapter Eleven: A Pause to Reflect
The woman’s voice was so pressured that her words ran together with no space between as she spoke. “Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, Helen Morgendorffer speaking.”
Doing a little caffeine tonight, are we? “Hello, Mom?”
“Who is this? Qui—uh, Daria?”
“If you choose the correct one, you can go for our grand prize behind the curtain.”
“Daria, I know it’s late and I haven’t made supper yet, but I’m very busy right now trying to prepare for that preliminary hearing Monday morning in Silver Spring about that big power-line lawsuit that the Friends of Wildlife League is pressing. Can’t you ask your father for money to order a pizza for everyone?”
“Dad’s asleep, and this isn’t about dinner, Mom.”
“Well, if Quinn and her Fashion Club friends are bothering you, can’t you go to the library or the movies or something? Isn’t Jane there with you, too? Can’t you go for a walk until the other girls go to bed?”
“Mom, Quinn’s out on a date, but this—”
“I mean, it’s enough to drive a person to distraction with everyone on the planet calling me while I’m working overtime on a Saturday evening on a critical case to defend our state’s power companies who toil ceaselessly for our right to have low-cost electric current so we can run our dishwashers and stereos and giant-screen televisions and salad shooters and turnip twaddlers and God knows what else, and then these wacko eco-terrorist tree-huggers come along and claim that high-tension power lines interfere with the ability of the black-tailed woodchuck to breed, as if anyone actually cared that there was such an animal or that those damn magnetic fields prevent it from having sex anymore when I’m doing everything I personally can to keep the spice in my marriage no matter how many times he says he’s got a headache—”
“—and if the black-tailed woodchuck’s on the endangered list because he can’t get it up anymore because there’s a power line running a hundred feet over his damn burrow, then he can either move to another state or else he’s going to have to suck it up and die off like all the other extinct animals, and you never heard them complain about having a headache or having a golf game tomorrow—”
“—and why is it always me who has to suck it up and wait and wait and wait until he’s in the mood when I have little enough time for intimacy in my life already, and if those damn woodchucks think they’ve got problems with big nasty power lines running over their burrows, how would they like it if we just ran those big nasty power lines underground right into their little woodchuck bedrooms and right up their furry little butts and put a little spark into their sex lives that way, and if he thinks that headache excuse is going to get him off the hook next time, oh, boy, has he got—”
With a sigh, Daria thumbed off the cordless phone and set it aside on the kitchen table. Her best friend eyed her over the remains of a delivered pizza, drinks, and a mountain of appetizers, purchased with money from Daria’s father right before he dozed off on the living room sofa with the TV on. “What did your mom say about you not finishing the statue report yet?” Jane asked before stuffing another slice of a Carnivore’s Special (with extra pepperoni) in her mouth.
“We never got that far. She drank too much coffee and said a lot of things that, with any luck at all, she won’t remember in five minutes. And, with any luck left over, neither will I.”
Jane swallowed her food. “So, you don’t have to do the paper after all. You’re completely off the hook.”
“For writing the paper.”
“But not finishing the last chapter of The Secret Adventure of the Mysterious Statue.”
Nodding, Daria raised a foot and scratched her shin with her bare toes. Her boots sat in the garage, awaiting a thorough cleaning after Daria returned home to discover two broken-off rattlesnake fangs imbedded in the leather one inch below the top of the left boot. “I’m stuck,” she admitted. “I’ve thought about this all afternoon when I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and I can’t figure out what to do next. Maybe there’s something to be said for alcoholism after all.”
Jane finished the last breadstick and wiped her hands on her shirt. “So, Plato gave you the hint that there was a round mirror on the ceiling of the observatory dome. Astronomers are a kinky bunch, aren’t they?”
“I’ve heard they do their best work at night.”
“Yeah, but then it would be dark and they wouldn’t be able to see anything in the mirror, right? What good is that?”
“Hmmm. You couldn’t see anything in the mirror anyway except yourself. It wasn’t big enough. You had to stand right under it to see into it.”
Jane pointed a barbecued chicken wing at her. “Where was this? The spot under the mirror where you could see yourself, I mean.”
“Where that bust of Plato used to stand before it went to the city museum. I was standing right there before we had to leave.”
“Hey, maybe the treasure’s buried there under the floorboards. We could get a power saw and—nah, we’d have to see the snakes again.”
“Don’t talk about that. Not now, not ever.”
“There wasn’t anything wrong with the floor that I could tell—no cuts or hinges or X marks. It wasn’t unstable when I stepped on it. It doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m never going back in there, treasure or no.” Daria shut her eyes and shivered again. “Damn, I’m never going to get over that.”
“Then we really are at a dead end.” Jane dropped the bones of the chicken wing on her plate. “No pun intended.”
“I hate you.”
Jane passed a box across the table. “Last of the fried mozzarella sticks?”
Daria reached for it. “Sure, thanks for—” She groaned and flipped the empty box behind her to the floor “—nothing. You need professional help, or I do for hanging out with you. We should look in the phone book under brain transplants.”
“Paid you back for punching my shoulder in the car,” said Jane, unsuccessfully trying to hide a smirk. “Speaking of payback, maybe Edwin Barrington was telling us that we’re the real treasure, sort of a self-esteem lesson like Mr. O’Neill’s after-school class. The mirror’s telling you that you need to realize your actuality, stand up proudly and proclaim, ‘I am.’”
“Maybe I could take both you and Quinn in for brain transplants at the same time and get a discount. No, forget it. I’d need undiseased brains to replace both of yours, and I’ll never find anything like that in this asylum of a town.” Daria picked up a pizza slice and eyed it, trying to decide if she was too full to continue.
“You think maybe the astronomers used that mirror to fix their ties before they went out on dates?”
“It was too high up. And they couldn’t really have used it, anyway. The bust of Plato would have been in the way. There was barely any room for anyone else to be there.” She paused to remember the quote on the pedestal: Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.
“Maybe they used it to see if Plato needed dusting on top.”
“Then it’s useless with Mister Republic gone.” Daria looked across the kitchen, her gaze unfocused. “If that mirror and Plato together were supposed to be a clue, no one would ever get it now, with the bust taken out and put into the museum.”
Jane reached for another cheese fry. “Well, you just said the bust took up the whole view in the mirror anyway, so if the mirror was pointing to the bust, no one would have gotten the clue to—” Her eyes widened and her voice trailed off “—to begin . . . with.”
Daria and Jane stared at each other in shock. Their mouths fell open to reveal their half-chewed food.
“The lawyer with the gun,” said Jane. “That lawyer, he said—”
“—he said the trail turns cold at the observatory,” Daria finished, voice rising. “It peters out! No one got it! It’s Plato!”
They jumped to their feet, almost knocking over their chairs. “But that sculpture isn’t even that good a piece!” Jane shouted, hardly aware of what she was doing. “It’s no Rodin original! The Luna marble’s worth more than the bust is!”
“Maybe the bust isn’t the treasure!” Daria shouted back. “Maybe it’s the pedestal!”
“But that’s not worth all that much, either! It’s just a big block of granite!”
Daria grabbed her head, trying to think. “Could something be hidden inside it?”
“It can’t be completely hollow! You couldn’t make a very big hole in it without someone noticing it didn’t weigh as much as they thought it should!”
“A little space, then, just a little space—but where would it be?”
“We can’t tip the pedestal over! It weighs more than both of us put together, three times over! And the movers would have found a door on the bottom anyway when they took it to the museum!”
“Then under the bust! Pick up the bust and maybe there’s a hole in the pedestal under it!”
“But the bust isn’t attached to the pedestal! Wouldn’t they have discovered a hole in the top when they moved it to the museum? How could you put something valuable into the bust or the pedestal and still cover up the opening so no one would ever—”
It hit them both like a thunderbolt.
Daria grabbed an old pair of sneakers her mother used for yard work, and moments later they were in Trent’s car, tearing down the street in the twilight and squealing to a rolling stop at every stop sign.
“I can’t believe it!” Daria had both hands clamped over her face. “It was right in front of us! Right in front of us! I looked right at it!”
“How are we going to get that bronze plate off?” Jane said, hunched over the steering wheel. “It could be bolted or cemented on!”
“I have my Swiss Army knife! I think the plate was screwed on! I don’t remember!”
“There might be a crowbar in the trunk!”
“We can’t go into a museum with a crowbar!”
“I’ll pretend it’s a walking stick or a backscratcher! Who’ll notice?”
“Jane! We can’t go into the museum and take the plate off that pedestal, anyway! It’s not our property! We’ll go to jail for sure! What were we thinking?”
“Let’s look at the plate and the pedestal and the bust when we get there, and if we’ve got something, we’ll call Mrs. Barrington and tell her! Do you have her card?”
Daria searched her jacket pockets. “Here! I’ve got it! I’ve got her card! Okay, we’ll look at the bust and everything, and then we’ll call Mrs. Barrington! Stop sign! No! Don’t run the stop signs!”
The museum was still open when they arrived just before nine o’clock. Other than the car for the museum’s evening manager, their’s was the only vehicle in the lot. After Jane parked crookedly across two spaces and hit the curb hard enough to jar their teeth, the girls got out and hurried for the entrance.
“Look normal!” Daria warned, a wild look in her eyes and her long brown hair blown in all directions.
“I still think we should bring the crowbar!” said Jane.
“We’re not going to jail for a damn statue!”
They shoved the glass door open and stumbled inside, trying not to dash down the aisle as they made their way toward the little museum’s main room.
“The museum closes in fifteen minutes!” called the woman at the front desk, looking up from her paperback book. “No horseplay!”
“Okay! We won’t be long!” Daria cried as she and Jane turned a corner into the main room. They broke into a run until they reached the far corner where the white bust and its gray pedestal once stood.
The girls gasped in horror.
The bust and pedestal were gone, as was the entire exhibit about the observatory. Hanging over the empty space was a sign: REMOVED FOR REPAIRS—LOOK FOR OUR NEW EXHIBIT IN SEPTEMBER!
“Repairs?” said Daria wildly. “What repairs?” They ran back to the front desk.
“I told you, no horseplay!” said the museum lady with a frown.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Jane in a hurry. “We were looking for that sculpture of Plato that was in the observatory exhibit. Where did it go?”
“We had it removed today to fix the floor underneath that big granite base,” said the lady, irked at being interrupted in her reading. “We’ve sent out Plato to be refinished. He’ll be back in two weeks.”
“What about the pedestal?” asked Daria. “The big granite thing that—”
“Oh, that we got rid of,” said the lady. “It was too heavy for the floor and—”
“You got rid of it?” said Jane in a strangled voice. “You got rid of it?”
“Well, what’s wrong with that? Mercy, you’d think I’d just told you that—”
“Where’s the pedestal?” Daria pleaded. “We have to—we have to read the plaque on it for a project!”
“History class!” Jane put in. “For summer school! We either get it tonight or we’re doomed! Toast! Kaput!”
The museum lady put down her book and gave the girls an incredulous look. “You’re doomed? What kind of class is this for?”
“History!” gasped Daria. “Lawndale history! Please, the teacher will kill us if we don’t get this information!”
“Seriously kill us!” said Jane. “He’ll chain us to concrete blocks and throw us in Chesapeake Bay! And then we’ll have to repeat his class in the fall!”
“My goodness, that can’t be true! Well, the pedestal’s out back by the dumpster, behind the museum. A quarry truck is coming by tomorrow to pick it up and have it broken up into—”
The two ran out the front door and around to the back of the museum at lightning speed. The gray granite pedestal stood in an alley next to a dumpster, under a street light.
“They threw it out!” cried Jane. “I can’t believe it! It’s ours now! We can take it! It’s trash, and trash is finders keepers!”
“We don’t need the whole pedestal!” Daria shouted, already down on her knees before the bronze plate. “It’s got screws!” She dug into her pockets for her Swiss Army knife, pulled it out, and snapped open the flathead screwdriver blade. Six screws fixed the bronze plate with Plato’s quote to the rock behind, but the screw heads appeared worn and corroded. Jane checked over the rest of the pedestal but found nothing amiss.
“I hope nobody got here first about fifty years ago,” Daria said. She stuck the screwdriver in one of the screw-head slots and began to turn it. The screw didn’t move. She gritted her teeth as she applied more pressure, which did the trick after a moment. The long screw came completely out after many turns, and Daria tossed it aside.
opened in the back of the museum. “What in the world are you girls doing?”
called the museum lady. “You get away from there! That belongs to the museum!”
“You threw it out!” cried Jane as Daria worked. “We’re claiming it, and the law says it’s ours! If we don’t get this project in, our teacher will kill us and we’ll never get out of this hick town and go to college and have real lives and real jobs and die happy and her mom’s a lawyer and we’ll sue you for everything! It’s ours now! Get over it!”
“I’m calling the police!” the museum lady shouted back. She went back inside after looking over the girls once more.
The third screw head snapped off entirely when Daria tried to turn it. She swore and began working on the fourth screw.
“Hurry up!” Jane said, near panic. “That twerp is going to call the cops! I can’t believe it! I hate this freaking town!”
“I’m hurrying! I’m hurrying!”
“I’m going to get the car! Be right back!” Jane took off like a flash.
The fourth screw was stuck tight. Swearing violently, Daria tried the fifth screw. The head snapped off like the third one. The plate was coming loose and pulling away from the pedestal. Daria dropped the knife and tried to work her fingers behind the plate, but another screw had to come off first. The sixth screw was immovable, too. Daria tried to work a knife blade behind the plate as a lever, but after two tugs the knife blade snapped off. She jumped to her feet and kicked the pedestal in frustration, forgetting that she did not have her boots on.
When Jane drove the car by and got out, Daria was sitting on the ground, fighting back tears. “I think I broke my big toe!” she snapped, holding her sneaker-wearing foot in agony. “I almost got the plate off, but the screws are stuck!”
Without a word, Jane went around back of the car and opened the trunk. A moment later, she ran over with a crowbar in her hands as Daria got up on one foot, favoring the other. “Screw this crap!” Jane snarled, and she jammed one end of the crowbar behind the plate and pulled down. The two last screw heads snapped off and the bronze plate fell to the asphalt with a loud clatter.
Where the plate had been was a carefully carved square hole that went back into the granite base. Filling the hole completely was a metal box with a leather handle in front. Speechless, Jane stepped back, crowbar in hand.
“Oh, my God!” Daria cried. Despite her handicap, she got up and hopped over to reach for the handle. Jane moved in to help her, and they carefully pulled the box free of the pedestal. Flattened cotton padding came out with the box and fell to the ground. The box was cubical in shape, steel in color under the streetlight and over a foot across in every direction. It was heavy but did not rattle. Stamped on the box below the handle, next to a padlocked clasp, were the words:
PROPERTY OF EDWIN RANDOLF BARRINGTON
CAUTION: CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE
Barely able to keep from jumping up and down, Daria and Jane held the box between them and shrieked, “We did it! We did it! We did it!” in a very out-of-character way until Daria’s glasses almost came off. They recovered sufficiently to take the box to Trent’s car, set it on the trash-covered floor in back, along with the bronze plate from the pedestal, and then get inside the car as quickly as possible, which Daria did with a pronounced limp.
“Let’s go to Mrs. Barrington’s!” said Daria, fastening her safety harness as Jane fired up the engine.
“Don’t you want to open it first?” said Jane, pulling back into the alley and heading for the street again. “We found it! It’s ours! We get to see what inside before anyone else!”
Given the limitless trouble through which they had gone to get to this point, Daria found it difficult to argue with this point. Plus, as best as she could recall, the box was indeed theirs, since they’d taken it from material clearly thrown out as garbage. She could not recall the specific case that proved they could do this, but she knew it existed: anyone leaving garbage out could not claim it was stolen if it was exposed to the public in such a way that anyone could get it.
Jane whipped the wheel around as she pulled into Saturday night traffic and stamped on the gas. “Where to?” she said with a note of urgency. “Come on!”
“I don’t know! We—you—that—augh, I hate this! My house! We have locks on the doors!”
“And leftover pizza!”
“Not if Dad wakes up before we get there. Let’s go—but stop at the stop signs this time!”
“Ten-four, little buddy! You watch for bears while I put the hammer down!”
Daria’s excitement faded. She turned to her companion with a sour look. “Stop the car and let me out.”
Jane grinned but did not stop, except at the stop signs. When they reached Daria’s house, they found themselves too excited to eat, so they skipped the leftovers they had abandoned earlier and made for the garage to get bolt-cutters, then went for the stairs, straight for Daria’s room. Daria’s right big toe was throbbing, but this wasn’t the time to worry about it. Her father was still asleep on the sofa, her mother was still at work, and Quinn was still on her date. Conditions for uninterrupted alone time could not be better.
Breathless, the two girls shut and locked Daria’s bedroom door behind them, then knelt on the carpet with the box between them. Jane used the bolt cutters to remove the padlock. No other locks were visible.
They put their hands on the lid of the box—but Jane held it down just a moment longer. She closed her eyes. “I wish for a hundred billion dollars, ownership of the Guggenheim, and a personal trainer to massage my feet and bring pizza on demand—oh, and world peace,” she said. She opened her eyes and looked at Daria. “Your turn.”
“Um, I wish for . . .” I already have what I’ve wanted most—a best friend to share my life. You. “Okay, let’s open it.”
“Hey! What did you wish for?”
“That this doesn’t turn out to be a replay of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault,” said Daria testily. “Let’s get this over with.”
“On the count of three—one, two, two-and-a-half . . . three!”
Chapter Twelve: The Earth and the Moon in the Palm of Your Hand
The metal lid of the steel box scraped open, hinges creaking. Though Daria expected to see something on the order of a brick with a sarcastic note about wild goose chases attached to it, padding was the first thing she saw inside the box, layers of cotton sandwiched between sheets of cracking brown paper. Daria and Jane gently removed the material and set it aside. Underneath was a lacquered wooden box about eight inches square, surrounded on all sides by more padding. A small, engraved brass plate was attached to the top of the box. The girls turned their heads and read:
HEAD OF JULES VERNE
THIRD MAQUETTE, MAY 1908
The words had barely sunk into Daria’s stunned consciousness when Jane gave a queer gasp. “Me!” she pleaded, her voice almost a squeak. “Let me! Me! Please!”
“Okay,” Daria whispered. Jane reached down with both hands and lifted the heavy wooden box free, setting it on the carpet. The lid had a simple deadbolt latch that Jane opened with trembling fingers. She lifted the lid, gently pulled out the cloth-wrapped object inside with both hands, set it on the carpet, and undid the old twine holding together the wrappings.
The white cloth fell away to reveal a dark metallic face, the bronze casting of a bearded man’s head about six inches high, almost identical in appearance to the head of the statue in Village Green. The casting clearly showed the marks of the fingers and tools that had worked the original clay or plaster model from which the casting’s mold had been made. Even fingerprints were visible here and there. The delicate features of Verne’s face were extraordinary, more than lifelike even without exacting detail. A faint smile hovered on the bearded man’s lips, and his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret.
Jane almost touched the face with her fingers, but at the last moment her hands slowly scooped under the cloth and she lifted the sculpture into her hands, turning it one way and another. When she turned it over and looked at the bottom, a simple signature made with a tool was revealed in the bedroom light:
The spine of the “d” curved over the “o,” exactly like the signature Daria had seen in the library book on Rodin that Jane had checked out.
A wet drop struck one side of the white cloth. Daria looked up as Jane moved the bronze head from under her eyes, then bowed her head and sobbed.
Daria hesitated to say anything out of both shock and respect for her friend, but she had to know. “Did he make that himself?” she whispered, remembering Jane’s comment days earlier that Rodin preferred working in bronze himself, leaving marble to his assistants.
Shoulders quaking, Jane nodded and continued to cry. Daria’s gaze went to the maquette. She hardly believed it was true. In the hands of her friend was a completely unknown sculpture hand-created by Auguste Rodin. Moreover, it was the ultimate proof that the statue in Village Green was a masterwork overseen by the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo. To call the bronze face priceless was a gross understatement.
At that moment, Daria realized with a start that if she and Jane had not figured out the clues and rescued the steel box that very night, by the following morning it and all its contents would have been crushed into ruin and nothingness. Horror overwhelmed her, and her mouth grew too dry to swallow. Edwin Barrington, you fool, your stupid game almost cost you everything you tried to preserve. You forgot how much things change, how the world never stays still. Your treasure should have been in a museum.
And now it’s ours—but it was almost no one’s.
Daria’s gaze went back to the metal box. It was then she noticed the box wasn’t yet empty.
Her breath caught in her throat as she reached over and pulled the steel container close, looking down into it. When she removed the rest of the padding, something was wrapped in white cloth near the bottom of the box. Feeling a sense of unreality creep over her, she reached in and took the object out, leaving alone the padding below it. The cloth-wrapped object was solid and about the size of a large hardbound book, longer in one direction than the other and just over two and a half inches thick. Oblivious to her friend’s state and her throbbing big toe, Daria laid the package on her thighs and slowly unwrapped it.
Inside were two hardbound volumes in pristine condition, as perfect in appearance as if they had just come off a press. The red-brown covers felt rough in Daria’s hands even through the thin cloth, and her vision overflowed with the gold light reflected from the gilded cover of the topmost book: an intricate pattern of vines and roses inside a box of geometric shapes. The scent of old paper and ink filled the air. Printed in elaborate gold lettering within a great circle in the center of the pattern were the words:
DE LA TERRE À LA LUNE
Dumbfounded, Daria opened the cover of the top book, the cloth still covering her fingers. She read the title page, her high school knowledge of French put to its ultimate test. Les Voyages Extraordinaires, read the highest line, its meaning clear enough. It summed up the last three days quite well. Her gaze dropped to the rest of the page.
It was From the Earth to the Moon, printed in Paris by Hetzel in 1868, the first-ever illustrated version of Verne’s great work. It predated every English version and came out only three years after the novel’s first publication. She remembered reading about this edition in the past few days. As she researched all she could about Jules Verne and the space-travel novel that had captured Edwin Barrington’s heart, and she had wondered what it would be like to own an old volume of it, to turn the pages and read, to see the original art inside.
And now she held an unblemished, first-edition copy of it in her hands.
Her gaze closed in on a crooked notation in ink that ran over part of the drawing of the Moon on the title page. She raised the book in her hands to read it, finding the writing crabbed but legible, then took off her glasses and held the inscription only inches from her eyes to see it as clearly as possible.
Mars 12, 1905
Her heart caught in her throat. Verne had died on March 24th of that year, after his diabetes worsened only a few days after signing this book, years before Rodin began working on his statue. The book Daria held could easily have been one of the last he signed, if not the very last, before he passed away at his home.
Unable to speak, Daria looked down at the second volume: AUTOUR DE LA LUNE read the gilded letters. Round the Moon was the sequel to From the Earth to the Moon. The date of publication was 1872, another first illustrated edition in a matching cover to the first book.
And Jules Verne’s name, home city, and date were inked on the title page of that book, too, in his own aged hand. In her mind’s eye, Daria saw Edwin Barrington presenting the books to his beloved author, saw an old, plump, white-bearded man in a loose black suit smile kindly at an American fan, offer a few modest words, and set his pen to a page, only days before his death. Verne must have been grateful for a visitor to have signed two books when he was so ill with diabetes. And then the kindly old man with the marvelous imagination was gone, and there was no one to replace him, ever.
Her reddening face hurt terribly. Her eyes filled with tears. Consumed with grief, Daria carefully set the two books aside, took off her glasses, and wept with Jane.
A half-hour passed before the girls found the other papers in the bottom of the box—the contract Rodin signed with Edwin Barrington, to make the statue for a staggering sum of money; the written replies Verne made to fan letters Barrington had sent him; original photographs of both Verne and Rodin that Barrington had apparently taken himself; and several yellowed pages on which Jules Verne carefully diagramed the voyage of the American spaceship from the Earth to the Moon and back, with the mathematics to back it up—and a few notes about a third novel he had sometimes considered, in which the Americans did land on the Moon instead of going around it.
And there was the handwritten letter from Mr. Barrington, addressed to To Whom It May Concern, explaining the curious quest he intended to set up in the Baltimore suburb of Lawndale where he lived with his family, the quest that was now complete. The steel box had held a treasure trove of objects and documents for which museums and libraries would have gladly gone to war to have as their own, for which the academic world would have proclaimed a holiday to study.
In time the two girls put their treasures away with care and pushed the box under Daria’s bed. They then sat together on the carpet, side by side, their backs to the bed. Their red, unfocused eyes stared at the opposite wall.
“I can’t believe it,” said Daria. “I absolutely cannot believe it.”
“I can’t believe it either,” said Jane, “but I’m starved.”
“I can believe that,” said Daria.
Making sure the box was invisible to the casual viewer looking under the bed, they got up and left the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind them as they went downstairs to the kitchen. Daria’s father was still snoring on the couch before the TV. Daria’s mother and sister were still out. Emotionally exhausted, the girls sat down at the kitchen table and picked at the leftover food.
“I can’t believe it,” said Daria for the tenth time.
Jane licked her fingers. “I can’t either,” she replied.
“What do you think we should do?”
“I have no idea.”
“You’re staying over?”
“Unless you throw me out.”
“No. Safety in numbers.”
Jane looked up from the crumb-filled box that once held the chicken fingers. “You mean in case someone with a silencer on his gun breaks in and demands the box?”
Daria nodded. “I’ll offer to give him you in exchange for leaving me and the treasure alone,” she said in a deadpan tone.
“Ah. Unless he asks me first, in which case he gets you.”
“You really think he’ll come by? Do you think he knows where we are?”
Daria shook her head. “How could he? I don’t believe he’s been following us around everywhere we go, though it does seem like it.”
“He did pretty well finding us at the observatory.”
“Yeah.” Daria looked away, deep in thought. “He knew that there was a treasure somewhere. I don’t know how he knew, but he did.”
“I have a question of my own,” said Jane, elbows on the table.
“What are we going to do with that stuff? We can’t keep it here and we especially can’t keep it at my place. I thought about a safe deposit box in a bank, but those get robbed now and then. I can’t stand the thought of losing any of that. I’ve never been so frightened of losing a material thing like that in my life, except my lucky silver dollar.”
“I didn’t know you had one.”
“I don’t anymore. I lost it.”
“Oh. I was thinking more about what we were going to tell Mrs. Barrington.”
“I wasn’t sure we should tell her anything, but she is nice, and she did help us, and she did help the art museum. And there’s the reward, too, but we’d have to explain everything to get it, and I don’t know if I want to.”
Daria put her elbows on the table and ran her hands through her hair. “We could use some legal advice, but getting my mom involved would be a disaster, at least in her current frame of mind.”
“We do own that stuff, right?”
“Well . . . I was thinking about that. There are some ifs. If Edwin Barrington donated the granite pedestal to the observatory for keeps, to go with the bust, and if the observatory donated the pedestal and bust to the museum, so that the museum was the true owner of the pedestal when they threw it out, then yes, we own the treasure. Even if one of those ifs isn’t right, we might still win out in court. I looked it up a long time ago when we lived in Highland, so if I decided to raid someone’s garbage for something valuable, no one could argue about it with me.”
“Why were you raiding people’s garbage?”
“There wasn’t anything else to do after school. People threw out the most interesting stuff. I found a lifelike rubber rat once.” A half-smile appeared on her lips. “I decided to give it to Quinn.”
“You naughty little Santa, you. Did she like it?”
“Not under her pillow, no. Mom and Dad put us in separate bedrooms after that.” The smile deepened. “That was the gift that kept on giving.”
“So,” said Jane, sitting back in her chair, “assuming we do own that stuff, what do we have to worry about? Aside from someone with a gun taking it away from us.”
“Other than having our parents take it away from us, which I’m seriously afraid would happen, the gun outcome is exactly it. I’m not comforted that our stalker is Mrs. Barrington’s lawyer. They could be a good cop, bad cop team. She smiles, and he cleans up. This whole situation makes me incredibly nervous, and—”
Both girls jumped when the telephone rang. Daria picked up the handset from where she’d left it on the table. “Morgendorffers,” she said into the receiver.
“Daria,” came her sister’s voice over the line, “I’m going to stay at Sandi’s tonight. My idiot date got into a fight at the dance, and Sandi said she’d give me a ride back to her place.”
It nettled Daria that Sandi, a girl just out of ninth grade, had her driver’s license already, but she pushed the issue aside. “At the moment, I’m the only person here besides Jane who’s awake,” she said, “but as I’m not technically an adult in this house, I can’t give you permission to do anything. You’ll have to take your chances with Mom and Dad tomorrow like everyone else.”
“Oh, fine, whatever. Is Mom still at work?”
“I think so, but she’s been hitting the java again.”
“Great. That’s all I need, a high-speed power rant. Ask Dad if I can stay out overnight, but make sure he’s still half asleep when you do. Oh, not that you would actually know this, but what was with all those sirens downtown a while ago?”
Time seemed to slow down. “All the sirens?” Daria repeated, glancing at Jane.
“Yeah. Police cars went flying by here, lots of them, heading downtown. Did somebody rob a bank, or what?”
The museum! The Lawndale Historical Society Museum is downtown! That damn lady really did call the cops! “Uh . . . Quinn, I haven’t the faintest idea what that was. I gotta go.”
“Whatever.” The line clicked off.
Shocked, Daria set the handset aside and stared at Jane. “Quinn said the police are going all over town right now. I think that lady at the museum turned us in.”
Jane slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh, no! If anyone saw the license plate—I left the car in your driveway with the rear end facing the street!”
“The garage!” Daria jumped to her feet and ran for the garage door. “Bring it into the garage and I’ll shut the door to hide it!”
The panicked rush lasted only a few minutes, by the end of which Trent’s car was pulled in beside the Morgendorffers’ Lexus and sealed in. “I’ll explain everything to Mom later,” said Daria. “I hope I can do it from here and not juvenile detention.”
“We should call Mrs. Barrington,” said Jane glumly. “If we tell her we’ve solved the whole mystery, maybe she’ll call off the police and we won’t be charged. They might listen to her if she can explain what really happened.”
Though Daria tried, she could not think of anything better to do. “All right,” she said, equally glum. “And we may as well tell her the whole truth, even if we don’t want to. If the law’s on our side and that stuff upstairs is ours in the clear, Mom will back us up—after she’s had her fun with me on the rack.”
“But you didn’t do anything wrong!” protested Jane. “At least I don’t think you did. Did you? And can I do it, too?”
“Mom goes by suspicion of guilt, not actual proven guilt.” Getting more depressed by the moment, Daria picked up the handset, pulled Mrs. Barrington’s card from her pocket, and dialed the number to her Crewe Neck home. “It’s really late, but we may as well get this over with.”
The girls sat down at the debris-laden table again while Daria waited for someone to pick up on the other end. She glanced at the kitchen clock and grimaced. “It’s after ten. She might get really—”
The other end picked up. “Barrington’s residence,” said an older woman’s voice.
“Mrs. Barrington?” said Daria, speaking quickly. “Listen, this is Daria. I spoke with you Thursday about the statue? Listen, my friend and I figured out who it was, and we have all the proof. You’re not going to believe—”
“Excuse me a moment,” said the woman on the other end. Her voice became more anxious as she spoke. “I’m sorry, Miss—Miss Daria, but I’m not Mrs. Barrington. I’m her housekeeper. Mrs. Barrington . . . isn’t in right now.”
“Oh! Um, do you know when she’ll be back? I really have to talk to her. This is very important.”
“Goodness, we don’t know when she’ll be back. She left to go into town earlier tonight, and do you know, someone shot her!”
Time, which had slowed down before, came to a screaming stop. “Someone shot her?” Daria said, her voice rising. Jane looked over, startled.
“Yes! Can you believe that? It’s the most dreadful thing! She got a call from someone at the museum, and she went down there to talk with someone, and I don’t know what happened after that!”
This can’t be happening! “Is she still alive?”
“I hope so! Lord, I am so upset! The police said they took her to the hospital. Several of us on the staff here are going over to visit her tonight.”
“Okay,” said Daria. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“No trouble, we’re just—oh, wait a moment. What did you say your name was?”
Daria blinked. I never gave her my full name! Holy crap! How did she—
“Are you Daria Morgendorffer?”
“Y-yeah, yes I am.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. In all the confusion, I almost forgot. A Mister William Marston called here a little while ago to say he’s looking for you and a Miss Jane Lane. He said it was very important. Can I have your phone number in case he calls back again?”
Chapter Thirteen: Like a Bullet from a Gun
The girls hit upon a plan of action after several minutes of agonizing discussion conducted in whispers while hiding from the windows. Not knowing how much time they had left until someone with a silenced pistol appeared at the front door, they moved with great speed. Fifteen minutes later, their preparations complete, Jane stayed in Daria’s room while Daria woke her father from his slumber, put a caffeine-laden Ultra-Cola can in his hand, and sent him off in the Lexus retrieve her mother—whom Daria suspected was merely in a deep, post-caffeine slumber at her paper-covered desk at the law office.
“I still don’t see why you want me to look for her,” her father grumbled as he got into the Lexus, unhappy that he wasn’t still dozing on the couch. “I’m sure Helen’s just continuing her little affair with her photocopy and fax machines, ignoring the needs of ole’ Jakey just like she does every weekend, and if she thinks for one moment that ole’ Jakey is gonna take this kind of treatment lying down, well, she’s—”
“Dad, just go get Mom, okay?”
Her father squinted, looking around the garage near his car. “Hey, is that my spare tire against the wall over there? And what’s that other car doing here? That isn’t one of our cars, is it?”
“Just go, Dad!”
Daria walked outside the garage as her father left, hoping that a stalker would focus on her instead of following her dad. Mere seconds after Jake’s Lexus disappeared down the street on its way to the offices of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, Daria and Jane locked up the house and got into Trent’s car, placing the steel box on the floor between Daria’s feet. They buckled in, then Jane started the car—and gave her companion in the passenger seat a careful look-over.
“We’re going to make it, amiga,” said Jane in a determined tone. “We’ve got a hell of a lot of pizza left to eat in this world before they drag us off the stage.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Daria, gripping the door handle with white knuckles. “I’m not scared.”
“That’s good to know. Are you cold, by any chance?”
“Because you’re shaking like a Bobble-Head in an earthquake.”
Forcing herself to calm down, Daria gave Jane an insulted look. “I am not. And where do you get those weird sayings, anyway?”
“Chat rooms on the Internet. Seriously, are you okay?”
“Sure, sure, I’m just . . . I . . .” A thousand words caught in Daria’s throat. Am I okay? Am I okay? No, I’m not okay! A killer’s hunting for us, and a bullet could come through the window and blow off my head at any moment! I’m not okay—but what about you, Jane? What if something happened to you—if a bullet hit you, not me? You’re the best friend I could ever have. I can’t imagine what life would be like without you. I don’t care how scared I am, I hope if one of us has to die tonight, it’s me. I want you to live. This is really bad. I should say something. I should tell you how much you’ve meant to me. I should say what I really feel for once. If I don’t say it and something happens to you, I’ll never be able to live with myself. I think I will. I’ll do it.
Teary-eyed, Daria opened her mouth.
“Don’t get too weird on me,” Jane warned, eyeing her best friend. “Tonight’s been weird enough already.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything weird,” Daria said, grateful to have been pulled back from the edge. “I was going to say . . . um, we should get more fried mozzarella sticks when this is over. Lots of them, with extra sauce. To celebrate.”
“As long as you’re buying,” Jane said. “You ready?”
Daria nodded her head once. “Life was pretty boring till now. Sure, I’m ready.”
“Good. Then, as Thelma told Louise at the Grand Canyon, let’s not get caught.” She grabbed the spare garage-door remote Daria had found and pushed the button. The double-wide door began to grind up behind the car.
“Hit it!” said Daria as soon as the door was high enough and she saw the driveway was clear. Jane backed the car rapidly out into the street, threw it into gear, and took off. She made several sharp turns as she headed out of the subdivision, moving at a quick tempo but trying not to do anything to attract attention.
They swung northeast to avoid the delay at Seven Corners and a well-known local speed trap, heading for Cranberry Commons Mall to get across town. Traffic was moderate for a warm Saturday night as shoppers went home and party-people came out. As their car pulled up to the traffic light in front of the now-closed mall, Daria began to think things might work out after all. No sign of a killer anywhere, just a peaceful, normal night in Lawndale, thank heav—
“That didn’t take long,” Jane said in a flat voice, glancing at the rear-view mirror. “Get your head down.”
“What?” Daria started to turn in her seat and look back, but she thought better of it and scooted down as far as her seat belt would allow. “What’s wrong?”
“Somebody was waiting for us down the street from your house. As soon as we got on the road, he turned his headlights on and pulled out. He’s been following us ever since. I can’t tell what kind of car it is.”
Daria felt her blood turn to ice. “Where is he now?” she whispered. “Is it that lawyer?”
“Two cars back, and I can’t see into the car to tell.” The light changed, and Jane gunned the engine and turned right, passing the mall’s parking garage. “I don’t think I can lose him between here. Too much traffic around.”
“Just keep going. Maybe he won’t try anything with so many witnesses around.”
“Assuming he actually cares about that.” She glanced in the mirror again and accelerated. “Damn.”
They had the green light at a large intersection and continued down the boulevard, passing cars when the opportunity came. “Where’s that car?” said Daria. She tried to make her voice sound normal, but her throat was too tight.
Jane frowned. “One car behind us. I was going to take Westbridge to get to the hospital, but now I think I’m going . . . to . . . go . . . right!” Jane hit the brakes and spun the wheel, making the tires scream. She hit the gas halfway through the turn. The car fishtailed before roaring away. Pushed back into her seat, Daria smelled scorched rubber and engine smoke. “Where are you going?” she asked, completely confused.
“I think I can lose ‘em,” said Jane. “I’m taking Hyden eastward past the observatory over to Seven Corners, and then through to Duffy. We’ll cut through the executive park and get to Cedars of Lawndale that way.”
“Seven Corners? Why are you going through Seven Corners?”
Jane gritted her teeth. “You’ll see,” she said. “Stay down and hang on. And brace yourself in case we get hit about a dozen times in a row.”
Jane glanced in the mirror, then looked at the street ahead. “Just stay down, okay?”
It struck Daria then that by making her hide, Jane was protecting her, possibly at risk to her own life. Anyone looking into the car would see only Jane as a target—and only Jane would get shot. Ashamed of her fear, Daria pushed herself up in the seat so her entire head showed. It terrified her to be so visible, but it was better than letting Jane take a bullet on her own.
“Hey!” cried Jane, glancing at her in irritation. “Get back down!”
“I’m not a coward!” Daria retorted. “I don’t care if he sees me!”
“Well, I care, because I can’t see the damn traffic coming from the right through your thick skull when I’m trying second by second to figure out where to go!” Jane responded sharply. “Keep your head down, Morgendorffer!”
Unable to argue against that kind of logic, Daria sunk down in her seat again, fuming and frightened. What the hell kind of friend am I to let her talk me into this? I should let that damn assassin-lawyer see me, too! How can she be more heroic than I am? She winced: Actually, it’s pretty easy for her to be more heroic than I am. I’m a coward when it comes to guns. It’s amazing I haven’t peed myself yet, I’m so scared.
Even as she thought about that, however, Daria felt courage course through her veins. Her fear melted; her shivering stopped. She knew then what she had to do. If they were being chased by the man who shot Mrs. Barrington, she had only one chance to save Jane. She’d have to wait until they reached Seven Corners, and then—
Her left hand went down and curled around the handle on the old steel box, getting a solid grip and lifting it slightly from the floor. Her right hand crept toward her seat-belt release latch.
“Crap,” Jane muttered, her voice rising. “There are two damn cars after us! One’s right behind us, and the other’s coming up on my left!”
That settles it. I love you, Jane. You are my best friend, and you are going to live, no matter what else happens . . . even if it kills me. “Are we at the intersection yet?” Daria asked, afraid that she might sound afraid.
“Almost.” The car began a turn to the left, the direction Daria remembered Hyden Avenue curved just before coming into Seven Corners. She tried to remember what the surroundings were at the dangerous intersection, recalling only that the observatory was far to the left. It wasn’t worth planning much, she decided. The geography didn’t matter. Not even her aching big toe mattered. Jane mattered, and only Jane.
“The whole freaking intersection’s blocked!” Jane cried, staring ahead at the traffic. “Some son of a bitch had a wreck!” She braked to a stop that threw Daria forward into her safety harness, then back into her seat. Jane looked wildly around. “One of the cars is right behind us, and the other’s coming up—”
Now! Daria popped the seat belt buckle and grabbed for the door handle, jerking back and shoving out hard to throw the door wide open. “Go to the hospital!” she shouted at Jane, then nearly fell getting out of the car as the steel box banged into her legs. She regained her footing and slammed the door as Jane shouted for her to get the hell back in the car. Other car doors opened behind her as she ran for the median as fast as she could go. A woman’s shrill cry rose: “Get her! She has a metal box! It’s the treasure!”
Without looking back, Daria jumped the curb and fled over the narrow, grassy median directly for the next highway. She hardly noticed that her toe hurt or she’d banged her shoulder into the car door while getting out. On the other side of the median was Duffy Street, which also fed into Seven Corners, and beyond that a wider median with trees, beyond which was Etienne Parkway, another contributor to the Seven Corners nightmare. Beyond Etienne was a dark, broad woodlot. What lay beyond that, Daria did not know or care.
She spotted a southbound car approaching on Duffy out of the corner of her eye, pulled up short to avoid running into it as she left the median, then ran straight across the highway between two northbound cars, heading for the second median. A man shouted “Freeze! Hey, goddammit, freeze!” behind her. Her legs flashed up the low rise of the new median and she dodged into the thin line of trees filling the middle of the grassy strip. She was running down the other side when she heard a sharp echoing gunshot and a crack! that went right over her head in the night.
Terror rioted in her veins. She forgot everything else and dashed across Etienne in mindless panic, almost hit by a northbound car whose driver slammed on the brakes and leaned on the horn only after passing her. Reaching the other side, she jumped over a narrow drainage ditch and ran up a slope into the dark and waiting trees. Her big toe was beginning to throb, and the box was clumsy and hit against her thighs even when she held the handle with both hands. A second shot rang out, snapping into the trees near her and ricocheting away. She did not think she would ever stop running.
Once in the tree line, Daria crashed through undergrowth that raked her legs and hit tree branches that slapped her face, almost knocking her glasses off. She wished she’d put on her boots before leaving the house and had worn jeans instead of her skirt, but it was far too late to change now. Forced to slow down to keep from running into tree trunks, she concentrated on getting as deep into the woods as possible, hoping to lose her pursuers. It was hard not to pant from the effort. She had never felt so terrified and alone in her life. She wished Jane was there with her, but was glad Jane wasn’t.
Angry shouts came through the trees behind her. One of the people chasing her was a woman, with at least two men. One man cursed because he did not have a flashlight, but the woman screamed at him to keep going. In the moonlight filtering down through the branches, Daria saw a descending creek bed and ran along it, forced to watch her footing. The shouting voices were still coming on behind her. The box was terribly heavy and getting heavier, hurting her hands. She thought she had been running now for hours. The creek bed went on and on forever.
Ahead, the scenery changed. She was almost at the other side of the forest, and a cleaning lay beyond the trees. I might make it, she thought. If I keep going like this, I just might—
A flashlight beam swept through the woods around her. Startled, Daria looked away from the creek bed as she ran. An unseen rock turned as her right foot came down on it, wrenching her ankle sideways. White-hot pain shot through her. She shrieked as she fell, banging down on her chest into rocks and fallen tree limbs and thousands of dead leaves, twenty feet short of the tree line and the open field beyond.
The wind knocked out of her, she lay in a daze and tried to collect herself. Breathing filled her lungs with stabs of agony. Voices closed in behind her. She tried to get back on her feet, but her right ankle was a knot of fire. Her chest, arms, and legs ached where they’d struck stone or wood in the fall, but nothing hurt her like her foot.
And then she realized her glasses were gone. Everything was a chaotic blur. Pushing aside the pain, she felt for her glasses in the dead leaves and rocks and branches. Nothing. She whimpered, sweeping her hands left and right. “No!” she whispered. “No!” Without her glasses, she was—
A flashlight beam played over her. “There she is!”
Her hands bumped into the steel box, near her hip. She pulled it toward her and tried to lift it to cover her head. She didn’t want to be shot in the face.
Someone ran up, aiming a flashlight at her. “Don’t move!” a man shouted.
“Don’t hurt me, please!” Daria cried, eyes closed. “Don’t hurt me!”
The woman cursed and came up behind the man who towered over her. “We’re over here!” the woman shouted at someone else. “Dale, get over here!” Daria prayed her death would be over before she knew it.
Someone stepped close, and the steel box was jerked out of her hands. “Oh, my God,” said the woman a moment later. “This is it. This was Barrington’s box! It’s got to be it! Those damn kids found it after all!”
“She gave us a good chase,” said the man standing over her with the too-bright flashlight. He seemed to be aiming something at Daria in his other hand, but she could not see it clearly. She had a good idea what it was, though. Instinctively, she put out a hand to shield herself, knowing it would do no good when he pulled the trigger.
“I’ve waited years for this,” said the woman, kneeling on the ground with the box. Her voice sounded familiar somehow.
“We all have,” said the man. “Hope whatever’s in it isn’t all smashed up from when she dropped it.”
“I’ll kill her if it is,” growled the woman, who took a tool out of her pants pocket and began working on the gym-locker padlock Daria had stuck on the box latch.
Someone else crashed through the trees and came over, brushing himself off. “Goddamn briars tore my pants!” he swore. “Look at this! Look at my shirt! I could kill the little bitch for making us run around at night like this!”
“Stand in line,” said the woman. “Damn it, this is a new lock. They’ve already opened it.”
“Should have brought your flashlight,” said the man standing over Daria, but he wasn’t talking to her.
“Batteries were dead,” said the other man. “Threw it away. Just shoot the little bitch and get it over with.”
“Not yet,” said the man standing over her.
“She better not have taken anything out of here,” said the woman with the box. “I’ll have it open in just a moment.”
They’re going to shoot me. They really are. Daria hesitated, then slowly lowered her upraised hand. The knowledge that it was over took away her fear. She would die in a few moments, but it was okay. Her plan had worked. Jane was safe, the friend who had given so much to her. It was time to give it all back.
Daria spit a leaf fragment from her lips and looked around, unable to make out details. “Who are you?” she asked, trying to ignore the hellish pain in her right foot.
“Shut the hell up,” said the man who was angry about his pants, and he called her an ugly name that no one had ever called her before.
“Doesn’t matter who we are,” said the man standing over her, face hidden by the flashlight’s brilliance. He did not sound familiar at all. Neither did the other man.
And it struck Daria then that none of these people was Mrs. Barrington’s lawyer, Marston, the man with the silencer. That made no sense. Where the heck was he? “Were you looking for the treasure of the statue, too?” she asked.
“Been looking for it for ten years,” said the man standing over her. “Little group of us got together, figured out almost everything except where it was. It was in the pedestal, wasn’t it?”
Daria nodded. It didn’t matter if she told the truth. She felt like talking. “The mirror in the observatory showed me where the treasure was.”
“The mirror? What mirror?” said the woman, turning toward her. Daria placed her then. It was the lady who’d been working the front desk at the town museum, when Daria and Jane had recovered the treasure.
“The mirror on the dome of the observatory,” Daria continued. “It reflected down on the spot where the pedestal was. The quotation on the bronze plate, the thing Plato said, it showed me how to figure it out.”
“The plate that you and your friend were taking off the pedestal?” said the lady. “That told you what to do? How could that be? That didn’t make any sense at all!”
Damn, they know about Jane! “Yes,” said Daria quickly. “It said to look up, so I looked up, and there was the mirror. I had it after that. You didn’t follow the directions on the plate. The girl who was with me, she didn’t know what was going on. I had to do everything. She’s not very smart. I knew what it was, though, so I got it. That other girl doesn’t know anything. She just had a car, and I needed a car to get around.”
“So you got the treasure old Ed Barrington hid,” said the man standing over her. “It was in the pedestal that was sitting in the museum all this time.” The flashlight swung around to the woman, who looked up from her work on the box and gasped and tried to shield her eyes. “It sat under your nose all this time,” said the man with the light, “And you didn’t even know it. All this time.”
“God damn it!” the woman snapped, “Don’t you start—”
An ear-splitting shot rang out, almost deafening Daria. The sound echoed everywhere through the forest. The woman fell back on the box, then raised an arm and tried to speak. Her arm trembled—then she let out her breath as her arm fell to her side. Her legs fell apart with her feet crossed, and she did not move.
“What the hell?” said the other man in shock. “Leo, what did you—”
“Sorry about your pants,” interrupted the man with the gun, turning.
The first shot caused the man with the torn pants to jerk back to the left, arms flailing out. A second shot, and the man collapsed. A sucking gurgle came out of his throat. He tried to get up again.
The third shot knocked his head back, and he went down flat and still into the leaves as the gunshot’s echo crackled back and forth between the dark trees. Daria stared at the out-of-focus dead man, unable to believe what was happening.
The flashlight came around to her again. She raised a hand—she couldn’t help it—and squinted. She did not want to shut her eyes, though. It didn’t matter where he shot her.
“I was never good at sharing,” said the man with the gun. He stepped back, picked up the box from beside the dead woman, and crouched down with it near Daria’s feet. The light aimed at the box. The man put aside the black revolver he held, but not near Daria. “You know what I’ll do if you try to move, don’t you?” said the man.
Daria nodded and stayed still.
He put the light down, too, then pulled something from his shirt pocket and lifted the padlock and stuck the something into the keyhole. He twisted it around. The padlock clicked. He pulled it off and threw it aside, then flipped the latch and opened the box, lifting the light to look inside.
After a moment, the man reached into the box and picked an object out.
It was a paperback Reader’s Digest. The steel box was full of them. They had been in a stack on a shelf in the Morgendorffers’ living room, gathering dust. They fit very well into Edwin Barrington’s old strongbox, every one of them.
The man dropped the magazine back into the box and rubbed his chin. “A decoy. This was a decoy.” He inhaled deeply, as if tired, and said, “You’re pretty smart.” He did not say it in admiration.
A few seconds later, he picked up the gun and flashlight and stood up, aiming the light down at Daria’s face. She didn’t squint now. She didn’t even raise her hand. This was it. Make it quick, please make it quick.
“Where did you put the treasure?” said the man. He put the flashlight under one arm, keeping it aimed at her.
Daria said nothing, filled with dread. She knew he wasn’t going to make it quick.
The man did something with the pistol, then reached into a pocket and pulled out a handful of small metallic things that clinked together. “Cops are probably on the way ‘cause of the gunfire,” he said as he began to reload the weapon. “I’ll have to move fast. Before I go, though, I’m going to put a few more bullets into you, in places that won’t kill you right away. They’ll hurt real bad, though, real bad. The only thing that will stop it is if you tell me where you hid the treasure.”
Tell you—and let Jane and my parents get killed? She looked up at him, her nerve hardening. She hoped that she would see her friend and family again, one day in the future on the other side. She said nothing.
He snapped the pistol shut, locked it, and aimed it down at her abdomen. She cringed and tried to curl up to protect herself, but her foot turned wrong and she gasped in agony. The pain was so great she could hardly think.
“Last chance,” he said quietly. “Where is it? One . . . two . . .”
She heard a flat snap, and a crack went through the trees at the same moment the man with the gun doubled over and dropped his flashlight. His gun went off and put a bullet into the ground a yard away from Daria’s head. He fell to the ground by her side, making an agonized groan as he tensed all over—and then let out his breath and lay still.
Daria did not dare move. She could barely hear over the deafening whine in her ears, but she heard the footsteps crunching up behind her through the dead leaves. She turned to look, but she couldn’t see anything but a man-sized blur.
“You okay?” asked a voice in the darkness.
It was the lawyer with the silencer, William Marston. She waited for him to shoot her, too.
He walked up, the silenced pistol in his right hand and a powerful flashlight snapping on in his left. “Heard everyone talking over here,” he said. The flashlight swept around, taking in the bodies and the box full of digest magazines. “Quite a party,” he said, and he knelt on the ground beside Daria and looked her over. “Are you hurt?”
“M-m-my foot,” she stuttered.
He checked her ankle and whistled. “You’re not going anywhere.” He put aside the pistol and unclipped a two-way radio from behind him, on his belt. “I was afraid this would happen. Mrs. Barrington had me to look out for the two of you. ‘Fraid I didn’t do as good a job of protecting you from the jackals as I’d wanted. The police are looking for you, too. I’ll bring ‘em over and get you to the hospital.”
“Who are you?” Daria asked.
“Me?” He hesitated before clicking on the radio. “I’m Mrs. Barrington’s third cousin, like I said. Not a lawyer, though. Private detective. We were looking for the treasure, too, but finders keepers. Congratulations on that. Mrs. Barrington would like to see what you got, if you don’t mind, once everything is settled down and she gets out of the hospital herself. Right now, let’s get you out of here and get your foot looked at. Not a fit place for a young lady to be running around in the middle of the night.”
Daria nodded, overcome with relief. He wasn’t going to shoot her. She was going to live after all.
Marston started to use the radio, then frowned, aimed the flashlight to one side. He reached down into the leaves by Daria’s right arm. “Are these yours?” he asked, handing something to her.
Chapter Fourteen: All’s Well That Ends? Well . . .
After the police brought Daria to the overcrowded Cedars of Lawndale emergency room, the hospital staff contacted her parents at her mother’s law office and got the permission and insurance information required to put her right foot in a brace and give her crutches. The call also caused her mother go ballistic and her father to have an anxiety attack once the circumstances of Daria’s injury were made clear. Though sitting several feet from the telephone, Daria was mortified to hear her mother shout, “We’ll be down there as soon as we get our clothes on!” The doctor who called her parents had trouble keeping a straight face thereafter.
Once she was fixed up, the Lawndale police questioned Daria for fifteen minutes. She answered all but one of all their questions truthfully. There wasn’t much for her to do after that but lie on an uncomfortable bed in a side room of the ER and listen to doctors and nurses shout, adults argue, and children cry in the rooms around her. The police had told her Jane was in custody downtown, which worried her a great deal, and Mr. Marston was in police custody, too, which worried her less though she said during the questioning that she owed him her life. The police also had Edwin Barrington’s strongbox, the borrowed Reader’s Digests, and Trent’s car.
And the city morgue had the bodies of the three treasure hunters.
I’m glad I couldn’t see too well what happened, she thought, shivering on the hospital bed. I’m glad I’d lost my glasses. I’m glad I have 20/800 vision. I hope I don’t have nightmares about this. I hope the reporters remember I’m a minor and don’t use my name in the newspaper tomorrow.
No one would give her information about Mrs. Barrington’s medical condition, yet another cause for worry—and in no way because the reward was at stake. Daria regretted suspecting the nice old lady of bad intentions, and she hoped Mrs. Barrington pulled through, whatever happened.
At 11:47 p.m., Daria’s parents arrived, made a huge fuss over her, and were questioned separately by the police before her mother and father could interrogate Daria themselves. The family was allowed to leave at 12:35 a.m. to pick up Jane at the police station and go home. Trent’s car would remain impounded until Monday morning, when the police lot opened.
“We’re going to talk when we get home,” said her confused, exhausted, and distracted mother, driving her SUV through town with Daria riding shotgun and Jane in a back seat. “We’re going to talk all night if we have to in order to get to the bottom of this, unless you want to confess to anything serious before we get there.”
Silence briefly reigned.
said Daria at last. “I didn’t finish my paper on the nameless statue downtown
and my deadline is up.”
“I confess that I helped her with her paper,” said Jane. “That’s why she didn’t finish it.”
“Maybe we could start this whole paper-writing process over again tomorrow,” Daria said. “I think that the giant strawberry would be the perfect topic for the next—”
“That’s enough!” snapped Daria’s mother. “I can’t believe you two were running around in the middle of the night being shot at by—I can’t believe you were on this crazy wild goose whatever—and I can’t believe that—I just can’t believe that you two were—what in the hell were you doing out—”
“Mom!” cried Daria, pointing. “Red light!”
The SUV squealed to a stop at the intersection just in time.
“Let’s talk after we get home, okay?” Daria said anxiously.
“All right,” her mother agreed, wobbling in her seat, “we’ll talk then, but the very second we get home, we’re going to—to—” Her mother leaned back her head and yawned for several seconds.
“The light’s green,” said Daria.
“I know! I stopped the car, didn’t I?” said her mother irritably.
“Green means go, Mom.”
“What? Oh. I knew that!”
Jake’s Lexus was already parked in the garage. Helen pulled in beside it, bumping into some rakes leaning against the garage wall and knocking them over. “Dammit,” she grumbled, getting out of the car and looking disoriented. “We’ll pick them up tomorrow. Let’s go in and get—get—” She yawned again “—dammit, I forgot what I was saying.”
Daria negotiated the steps from the garage into the kitchen with difficulty because of her crutches, but Jane helped her up. Her drowsy mother put off the big discussion about the night’s events until the following morning, then remembered she had to get into work early and said they’d do it once she got home from work Monday night, unless she had to work late again. After her parents went to bed, Daria and Jane waited for several minutes in the kitchen, then went to the garage and opened the trunk of the Lexus. When they pulled out the false bottom of the trunk and exposed the spare tire compartment, there before them were the treasures from Edwin Barrington’s strongbox, carefully wrapped and packed where no one would think to look.
“For all this,” said Daria, leaning on her crutches and looking down at the treasures, “we almost got our frigging heads blown off.”
As they had agreed to do before leaving the house the last time, neither girl had told the police that the strongbox contained anything other than the note Edwin Barrington had left. Jane had kept the note rolled up in an inner pocket of her red jacket, meaning to give it to Mrs. Barrington. Someone must have taken whatever else was there, they had both said during police questioning, with appropriate looks of disappointment, but they figured they could at least collect the thousand-dollar reward from Mrs. Barrington for having proof in the letter of the statue’s subject, creator, and potential value. Daria asked if she and Jane could keep the strongbox, note, and bronze plate with Plato’s quotation on it, but the police said the items were being held as evidence for now.
“Remember what we were talking about before you woke up your dad and sent him off?” said Jane in a low voice. “All that stuff about nothing lasting forever, and we didn’t know how long we could hang on to these things before they got broken or lost or stolen or whatever, and how hard it was going to be to keep custody of this stuff from your parents and possibly mine, too, and how we needed to think of a responsible thing to do to protect all this?”
“Yeah,” said Daria without enthusiasm.
“Maybe we should try calling Mrs. Barrington again and do that thing.”
Daria looked into the trunk with a sad expression, as sad as the one Jane wore, and she nodded. They slowly closed the trunk and went back into the house. Expecting nothing, Daria dialed the Barrington home again. On the second ring, someone picked up.
“Olivia Barrington speaking,” said a tired, elderly woman.
“Mrs. Barrington?” said Daria, startled. She recognized the voice. “This is Daria, Daria Morgendorffer. Did I wake you up?”
“Oh! Daria!” Mrs. Barrington became more animated. “Good heavens, I heard you were in the hospital, too! William called and told me about it! Are you all right?”
“I’m okay. Hurt my ankle, but nothing worse. Maybe some poison ivy, too. Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m mostly all right. Someone took a shot at me tonight and gave me a little scratch on my side. I’m afraid I’m more in mental shock than anything else. I didn’t really think I had any enemies, but I guess we learn differently, don’t we? Did those bad people hurt you? I was so afraid when William called that you had been badly injured. I can’t believe this silly quest has caused so much—”
“Mrs. Barrington? Excuse me. Mrs. Barrington, I think it would be better if we could talk directly. We—” Daria glanced at Jane, who glumly nodded her head “—my friend Jane and I, we have something for you, something very important. We have what those people were hunting for, and we want to give everything to you as quickly as possible—right now, if we can do that. I can’t promise you we’ll still have it all if we delay any longer.”
“What . . . are you sure?”
“Unfortunately, I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. I hate to ask, but can you meet us now?”
“Well . . . I suppose I can. Where did you want to meet?”
“I know it’s terribly late, but can you have someone drive you over to my house? I live at eleven eleven Glen Oaks Lane. Jane and I will be waiting at the window, and we’ll come outside when we see your car. My parents are asleep. Are you able to come?”
“I can if I don’t tell my doctor I was running around in the middle of the night. My chauffer will drive me over. I have a white Lincoln Town Car. Daria, my dear, are you really sure you want to do this?”
“Mrs. Barrington, Jane and I are minors. We can’t legally keep these things if our parents decide to take them from us. I don’t know about Jane’s folks, but if my parents get hold of what we’ve found, they’ll sell them at auctions in no time. There’s no telling who will get them, and Jane and I don’t have the resources to properly care for these things. Worse, if word gets out that we have this stuff, we’ll be overrun with thieves and killers and treasure hunters and God knows what else. We’ve done as much as we humanly can to protect what your father left behind. We can’t do anything more.” Daria took a ragged breath. “It kills me to say this, but it’s better if you take them from us as soon as possible, meaning right now.”
“Oh, dear. Wait just a moment.” After a pause, Mrs. Barrington said, “I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
“Thank you. We’ll be waiting.” Daria hung up, and the two girls sat in silence in the kitchen for a little while.
“Are you okay?” Jane asked at last.
Daria shrugged. “I’m okay.”
Jane swallowed. “You ran off to draw the bad guys away from me, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what to say,” Jane said, blinking back tears. “I sent the cops from the wreck at Seven Corners after you, but I was so scared that those guys with the guns had—I heard those shots, and I was so—so—”
Daria looked up. “If you want something to say, just say you’ll buy pizza and mozzarella sticks for me next time we go out.”
Jane smiled even though tears ran down her cheeks. “I could say that, but I could also say you were a complete idiot.”
“I guess you could.”
Their hands reached out and found each other. After a moment, the girls leaned forward in their seats and hugged each other tightly.
“Don’t get weird on me,” Jane warned after a minute. “This is just a hug.”
“Oh, bite my ass.” Daria then started to giggle. Jane caught the giggles, too, and they finally had to muffle their laughter so as not to awaken Daria’s parents upstairs.
Twenty-five minutes later, Daria and Jane stood by the street outside next to a white Lincoln Town Car. Mrs. Barrington’s assistants carefully loaded the treasures into the car’s trunk in cardboard boxes. Daria handed over a photocopy of Edwin Barrington’s original letter, which Daria had made on her mother’s fax machine earlier than evening in her parents’ bedroom. She had made several other copies for herself and Jane.
“I am capable of paying you for these, once I have them appraised,” said Mrs. Barrington, sitting in the back seat of her car. She had a large bandage wrapped around her waist under her blouse. (“It looks worse than it actually is,” she said upon her arrival.)
“We decided to settle for the thousand in reward money,” said Jane. “Daria’s parents would take her share of any big money if they found out, and I have nowhere to put mine. Five hundred dollars, we can spend that on whatever we want over the summer. It’s better than nothing, but better than too much, too.”
“We’ll spend it if my parents ever let me out of the house again,” Daria muttered.
Mrs. Barrington wrote out a five hundred dollar check for each of them. “Go back inside and get your sleep,” she said as she handed them out. “You’ll need it once the reporters get hold of this story. Trust me, I know from long experience.”
They made their goodbyes, with Mrs. Barrington promising to keep in touch. A half hour later, the girls were in Daria’s bedroom, lights out, unable to sleep.
“We’ll get up tomorrow and regret this,” said Jane. “We’re probably the most stupid people on Earth for giving all those things up.”
“Probably. At least we’re not in politics.”
“Yeah.” Jane sighed. “I’m glad we did it anyway.”
“Yeah.” A long pause. “Goodnight, amiga. ”
The article on the triple homicide, referring to Daria and Jane only as nameless female minors, made page one of the Monday Lawndale Sun-Herald. Daria and Jane read the report with care. Her father stayed home from his consulting office in a show of raw macho courage, to defend his daughter and her friend from vengeful criminals, though he spent a lot of time peeking out of windows and wondering if he should call the police whenever pedestrians walked past their house. Daria’s sister said she brought shame on the family and refused to speak to her, an unexpected blessing for which Daria was grateful.
The paper did say that William Marston, a private detective involved in the shootings, was held overnight for questioning but had been released. No charges were being filed at present, though a thorough investigation of the incident was promised. A connection between the triple shooting, the statue in Village Green, and the Barringtons was briefly noted, but the police gave no details.
Of the three individuals who died in the shootings, the two men had long criminal histories. The shooter was an ex-boyfriend of the woman he later killed. They had all been under the impression that Daria had valuables in the box she carried, which turned out to have magazines instead. The shooter was also suspected of firing shots at Mrs. Olivia Barrington earlier in the evening, apparently when she came to the museum to meet with the evening receptionist and barely escaped an attempt to kidnap her. Bystanders took Mrs. Barrington to Cedars of Lawndale while the trio of would-be kidnappers escaped.
“How did they find us, though?” asked Jane. “I don’t understand how they found us so quickly. The one car was just down the street, but I don’t know who that was, the bad guys or Marston or what, and I don’t know how whoever it was found your house.”
Daria opened her mouth to answer. The doorbell rang. Her father cried, “I’ll get it!” from the living room and dashed over to peek out the spy hole.
It was the police again, with a warrant to search the house. Daria’s mother came over after her husband called her at work, a scene took place in which many legal threats were made but nothing was really done about them, and the police left hours later after finding nothing.
“Are you two sure you don’t have anything else to tell me?” demanded Daria’s mother once the police had left.
Daria and Jane exchanged looks.
“I’m pregnant,” Daria said.
Daria’s father sat down on the floor in astonishment. Her mother narrowed her eyes, unmoved.
“We’re getting married before the baby comes,” Jane added, taking Daria’s hand, “but I think we’ll have to have the ceremony in Sweden.”
“In your dreams,” said Daria, pulling her hand away.
Daria’s mother looked daggers at them both, then shook her head and left to go back to work.
“You were just kidding about the baby thing, right?” asked Daria’s father once his wife was gone. “And about getting married—isn’t there a cheaper place to fly to than—”
“Oh! Right! Ha, ha! Great one, kiddo!”
Jane looked at Daria with profound disappointment. “But you said—” she began.
“Don’t, ” Daria warned, allowing her father to escape with his sanity intact. The girls then retired to Daria’s room to reflect on the week’s events, finally deciding that they would never know the answers to all their questions about their adventures. They also agreed to take the checks from Mrs. Barrington, which they’d hidden inside their boots, and cash them as soon as possible to get going on their summer spending spree at local bookstores, art supply shops, theaters, and pizza restaurants.
Their lack of knowledge lasted only one day longer, after Jane’s brother Trent came back from Baltimore and went downtown to pick up his car from the impoundment lot. He found an envelope in the front seat with Daria and Jane’s names on it, which he gave to Jane and which Jane shared with Daria that evening.
Daria and Jane,
Please accept my apologies for the trouble through which you’ve been put in the last few days. Olivia and I have known for some time that certain unsavory individuals have been trying to find Edwin Barrington’s possessions, harassing and abusing others besides yourselves who were on the trail. We are more grateful to you for your superb assistance than you can imagine, and Olivia assures me that your tremendous work will be further rewarded in due time.
Knowing the old observatory was the end of the trail for most who sought Barrington’s treasures, I got permission from the local university to set up a few simple infrared and pressure sensors in the parking lot to warn me by radio if anyone drove up there. I neglected to tell you that I have a part-time job as a security officer for Lawndale State, in addition to my investigative work. When you parked your car at the observatory that time we found ourselves involved with the indigenous reptile population, I was in the neighborhood and drove up to see what was the matter. Drug addicts and thrill-seeking teenagers have unfortunately gathered at the site in the past, as well as the snakes, and when I found your car, I was concerned for your safety. You appeared quite frightened to see me, though, and I apologize for getting off on the wrong foot with you once more. It seems to be a habit we need to break.
Before I went into the observatory, courtesy of the keys the university gave me so I could conduct my job, I placed a miniaturized GPS tracking device under the passenger seat of your car, so I could find you if need be. I knew the three jackals who were after the treasure would also be on the lookout for other hunters such as you, and I feared for your safety. On the night when chaos broke loose, the jackals learned of your license plate from the one of their number who worked at the museum; unable to find you then, they sought Olivia instead, thinking she had already been given the treasure by you. When it turned out she had not, they tried to kidnap her, wounding her as she fled.
I learned of the shooting and went as soon as possible to your house, Daria, to see if you and Jane were home. (I knew Jane’s home to be uninhabited—how I knew, Jane, I shall not say, though finding it was simple once I knew the license number of your brother’s car.) When the two of you left, I followed. To my surprise and horror, I soon found that your car had been spotted by the jackals and was being followed by them as well. You know how things went after that, I believe. I wish very much you could have been spared the awful events that followed. If either of you have sought counseling, Olivia has offered to cover the medical expenses if you contact her about it.
I have retrieved my tracking device and am leaving this note for the two of you, in hopes it will clear up any lingering issues you have about what happened. Having fulfilled my obligations to Olivia and yourselves, I am taking a vacation in a location I shall not name, in hopes of letting the excitement generated by this matter to die down on its own.
Again, I emphasize that Olivia remembers all the help you have been to her. The items you recovered will eventually be put on display in the art museum there in town, which is far more secure than the local historical museum.
If you wish your names to be used in connection with the display of the treasures, or with Olivia’s planned announcement of the true nature of the statue in Village Green, please contact her as soon as possible. If you wish to remain anonymous, contact her about that as well. Your wishes will be respected in any event.
I remain your servant,
The girls called Mrs. Barrington shortly after they read the letter. They then went to the nearest pizza restaurant and ordered all the appetizers they could stand, and then some, feeling a desperate need for comfort food.
“Here’s to the anonymous life,” said Jane in a wistful voice, raising her glass of Ultra-Cola. “Here’s to not having reporters and killers muck up our lives. And here’s to a very boring, very uneventful summer to come.”
“Let us hope so,” said Daria. They clicked glasses and sadly imagined their grand adventure was over at last.
They were dead wrong, of course.
At the end of June, the police closed their investigation into the triple homicide and gave the strongbox, letter, and brass nameplate back to Daria. She and Jane in turn gave the items to Mrs. Barrington. The memory of what they had given away was too painful for them to want any reminders of it. They had been as noble as they could be. There was no sense rubbing it in forever after.
Daria’s mother abandoned all further attempts to force her eldest daughter into special educational projects for the remainder of the summer, seeing how dismally the first such project had turned out. The main highlight of the rest of the summer came when Daria accompanied Jane, Trent, and others to the Alternapalooza concert in Swedesville but failed to get there in time to see the concert. Daria got a chance to talk with Trent alone, obtaining mixed results as far as his suitability as a future romantic partner.
The adventure itself proved very useful in detailing a story she wrote for an eleventh-grade English class. In the tale, two young friends try to discover the secret of an old painting, only to be gruesomely killed by an axe-wielding maniac in the basement of an art museum. The story had the desired effect in frightening the teacher into insomnia when he read it late at night, causing him to sleep through classes the following day, which all students agreed was the most productive time they’d ever spent in Lawndale High School.
And then there was the announcement in early September, when Olivia Barrington presented newly discovered documents and materials belonging to her late father that proved the statue in Village Green was a masterwork by Auguste Rodin, depicting the famed French science-fiction and adventure writer, Jules Verne. Shocked, the mayor and town council of Lawndale put a twenty-four-hour police cordon around the statue to protect it, arranged for the statue to be properly cleaned, and then (realizing the enormous cost in protecting the statue from harm thereafter) donated it to the Lawndale Art Museum, where it was eventually moved and erected intact in the museum’s central rotunda. Lawndale became famous in the art world as a result, and it also became the annual meeting place of two Baltimore-area sci-fi fan conventions.
Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane were present as spectators at the grand opening of the rotunda, with the white-marble figure of Jules Verne appearing to stride forward off his pedestal in search of the future. Or so Jane put it.
“I think he’s going in search of a less brain-dead community,” said Daria.
“That shouldn’t be a difficult task,” Jane responded. She looked up at the statue and swallowed. “I wish Mrs. Barrington had been here to see it.”
Daria nodded agreement. She felt her eyes burn with tears. Mrs. Barrington’s brief visit to Cedars of Lawndale on the night of the shootings produced evidence that she had cancer, in an advanced stage. She lived until the end of September, two weeks before the grand opening, and died peacefully at home.
Daria and Jane left the museum in a somber but satisfied mood. The miniature bust of Jules Verne and the two first-edition volumes were on permanent display with all the other treasures Edwin Barrington had left to the ages, for two adolescent girls to rescue. The girls felt they had accomplished something with their lives beyond what most people would ever achieve, and that for them was more of a reward than money could be.
Two years passed.
“To college,” said Jane, sitting in a booth at Pizza King the evening after their high-school graduation. She lifted her carbonated beverage in a toast. “I can’t wait!” She lowered her cup before tapping it into Daria’s. “What do you think we’ll find when we get there?”
“Hmm,” said Daria. “That the students are shockingly ignorant, the professors self-centered and corrupt, and the entire system geared solely to the pursuit of funding?”
Jane thought. “Mmm, yes. You know that thing I said about you getting soft?”
“I take it back.” They raised their glasses again and clinked them together high over the table, then lowered them and drank.
“I remember when we did this on our first summer vacation together,” said Jane, putting her cup down. “Remember? After we solved that statue mystery? We had a little toast for that right here in this booth.”
“Right after we gave up our rights to be billionaires,” said Daria in a sour voice. “How could I forget.”
“Yeah, but it was still the right thing to do.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself each time I think about it, right before I bang my head into a wall.”
“Oh, don’t do that,” said someone else.
Daria and Jane turned as one to look up at the man walking over to their booth. “Daria Morgendorffer?” said the man, who carried two thick manila envelopes and wore a Hawaiian shirt, straw hat, shorts, and sunglasses. “Jane Lane?”
“If this is about vacation properties in Florida—” Daria began.
“No, not at all,” said the man. He deposited the two large envelopes on the table between the two young women’s plates and pizza slices. “Best regards from a departed friend.” Raising two fingers to the tip of his sunglasses in salute, the man turned and left the restaurant, watched by two surprised pairs of eyes.
“That’s how you serve a subpoena with style,” said Jane. She looked at the envelopes with a dubious gaze. “Now, if only I could remember what it was I did to deserve this.”
“The packages aren’t ticking,” said Daria.
“Electronic timers never do,” said Jane.
Daria sighed in resignation and picked up the envelope with her name on it. “If worse comes to worst, at least I’ll get out of paying for dinner.”
“Not if I open mine first,” said Jane, who reached for her envelope.
Daria worked her thumbnail under the flap and opened her envelope first. Inside were numerous neatly typed documents and folders with red covers. On top was a cover letter. She got to the second line before she looked up in shock in the direction the man in the Hawaiian shirt had gone.
“That was Marston!” she cried. “William Marston!”
Jane was out of her seat in a second and running for the door, but Marston had already vanished. She returned to find Daria staring bug-eyed at the cover letter. “Something wrong?” she asked.
Daria was temporarily speechless, so Jane had to resort to reading her own letter. In seconds, she was speechless, too.
“I can’t believe it,” Daria gasped after a minute. “Olivia had a strongbox that couldn’t be opened until the day we graduated high school. The lawyers opened it today.”
“She named us in her will,” whispered Jane. “The funds are payable on the day after we graduate high school, if we’re both of legal age.”
“Identical trust funds, one for each of us, for college and graduate school or any other use as we see fit. Doesn’t say how much we get, though. Wait a moment.” Daria thumbed through the paperwork until she came to the answer. At least, Jane assumed it was the answer her friend had found, judging from Daria’s wide-eyed intake of breath, followed by an ear-splitting scream. A pity no one had a tape recorder. It would have made an excellent wake-up call.
Two blocks away from Pizza King, William Marston smiled to himself when he heard the shriek and the delirious noises that followed. Olivia would have been pleased. She had so loved rewarding bright, motivated young people. Her quest was truly over. Daria and Jane’s adventures in life, however, had just begun.
He checked his watch. If he hurried, he could make the airport before his layover ended. “All work and no play,” he said to himself as he hailed a cab and continued on to Maui.
Author’s Notes II: The idea for the story came to me when I was staring at the map of Lawndale in The Daria Diaries and noticed the sidewalks of Village Green formed a curious symbol. The rest was history. Daria’s past experience as a ninth-grade fashion photographer in Highland, Texas, comes from her appearance in a Beavis and Butt-head episode, “Sporting Goods.” The layout of Lawndale in the story follows the map in The Daria Diaries, mixed with elements from the TV show. The library’s description is from “See Jane Run,” and it is placed at the “north” (high on the page) end of High Hills Park. If you look closely at the map of Lawndale, you will find the observatory at Half-Moon Hill (my name for the location) as described herein. The placement of Lawndale outside Baltimore comes from a March 2005 interview with Glenn Eichler, conducted by Kara Wild. The full text of the interview is available at:
The tiny crossover involving Tofu Hut, run by either Akbar or Jeff, comes from Matt Groening’s The Big Book of Hell, page 67 (congrats to Roentgen, who guessed it). The tinier crossover with “Bloom County” (“turnip twaddlers”) was discovered by Greystar. The episode, “You’re No Fun Anymore,” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is detailed in: The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: All the Words, pages 84-95. For what it’s worth, J. K. Rowling is an admitted Monty Python fan, and various jokes from the series are woven into her Harry (*cough* Harold *cough*) Potter books.
Original: 08/06/05, modified 09/26/05