Authors: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Tags: #Historical, #Adventure, #Science Fiction, #Mystery, #Young Adult, #Childrens
day, after Riq had finished his assigned work, he ate his lunch near a telegraph machine so he could watch the messages being sent from Britain to various government officials in Spain. He only saw a few of them, but he could tell how carefully worded the messages were. They had to sound eager to get the body back, but not too eager. And of course, they couldn’t actually get the body back until Spain had control of the documents. Everyone who seemed to know about the plan was playing it cool, but he knew better. If this went badly, the Allies wouldn’t recover during this war. Or ever recover, for that matter.
But that night at nine o’clock, he settled in near the pay phone, waiting for calls from Dak and Sera. Riq stared harder at the phone as if that would somehow make it ring. He hadn’t heard from either of them their first night apart, but he hoped to hear something soon. Sera’s part of the plan was crucial and he was going crazy wondering if she’d had any luck. Even worse was knowing that Dak was somewhere behind enemy lines.
Finally, the phone rang once and stopped. After a few seconds, it rang again. That was the signal. It was either Dak or Sera calling him.
Footsteps echoed on the quiet street behind him and Riq kept his head down. There were many officers in this area and he didn’t need to get their attention now. All he wanted was to answer the phone.
“You there,” a man said, addressing Riq. “Why are you out so late? Causing trouble?”
“No, sir,” Riq answered.
“That’s too bad,” a woman’s voice said. “Because we are.”
Even before he turned around, Riq knew who had come. That was Tilda’s voice, cold and harsh. She made porcupines seem cuddly. Riq’s legs turned to mush, and he had to force himself to turn. Tilda stood between two sloppy and unshaven men who were roughly the size of small mountains. Aside from their British uniforms, they looked nothing like soldiers. Although he couldn’t see weapons in their hands, he didn’t doubt for a minute that they had them.
“Answer that phone,” Tilda ordered. “It’s for you, right?”
Riq had almost forgotten it was still ringing, and couldn’t understand why the caller hadn’t given up already. Maybe they were in trouble, or needed help. But as he stared into the black eyes of Tilda and her friends, Riq began to think nobody needed more help at the moment than him.
“Pick up the phone,” Tilda repeated. “And if you say anything I don’t like, you’re going to regret it.”
Riq picked up the phone and, instantly, Tilda was in the phone box at his side, her ear pressed to the outside of the receiver for whatever she could hear.
“Riq!” Dak’s voice came through with a lot of static and sounded far away. “Riq, is that you?”
“Y-yes,” Riq stammered.
“What took you so long to answer? Were you napping while Sera and I had the dangerous jobs?”
Riq gritted his teeth. Sometimes he really hated that kid. “I’ve got problems here, too, you know.”
“Well, unless your problem is that wicked witch of the future, it’s not worse than mine,” Dak said, unknowingly earning Riq a jab in the ribs with Tilda’s pointy elbow. “You won’t believe where I am.”
“I’m sure I won’t,” Riq said. “So there’s really no reason to tell me.” He bit into his last words as Tilda kicked him in the shin.
Beside him, Tilda motioned that Riq should keep Dak talking. Maybe she didn’t know that kid never needed any encouragement to run his mouth.
“Are you okay?” Dak asked. “You sound —”
“Tired,” Riq finished. “And I bet you are, too, since you had to travel all the way to Switzerland today.”
“What? No, I’m not in Switzerland. You know I went to —”
“Quietville.” If Dak couldn’t catch the subtle cues, Riq would try a more obvious one. “You’re at the Keep Your Mouth Closed for Once Hotel.”
“Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin. They gave me a job — oh!” Then Dak realized what Riq had just said. “Oh, uh, I mean —”
Finally, it seemed that Tilda had heard enough. She ducked out of the phone box and motioned at her thugs, who grabbed Riq’s arms and ripped him away from the phone. One of them clamped a hand over his mouth while the other pulled his arms behind his back and held them there.
“Hello?” Dak’s voice could be heard coming from the receiver, dangling by its cord. “Hel-lo!”
Tilda returned to the booth, picked up the phone, and glared at Riq for a moment before she spoke into the receiver. “You know my voice, don’t you, Dak?” Her oily grin widened. “Good. Now, do you want your friend to die?”
It would be okay if I did,
Riq thought, and he hoped Dak would refuse to bargain for his life. Riq knew he was running out of his own time line pretty fast — and missing the last few slides through history wouldn’t make that much of a difference.
But Dak must’ve answered no, because Tilda’s smirk widened again and she said, “Then you will tell me where the Infinity Ring is.”
Riq tried to yell out for Dak not to say anything, but the hand was still covering his mouth. He sat helplessly as Tilda listened to whatever Dak said.
“You have the time-travel device?” Tilda’s tone was doubtful. “An object that could literally hand control of the entire world to Adolf Hitler, and you brought it with you to Germany?”
Whatever Dak said in answer, Tilda wasn’t buying it. “I think you’re lying,” she said. “I think you’re trying to protect your friends. Who has it, Riq or Sera?”
Riq heard Dak protesting when Tilda pulled the phone away from her ear, but her eyes only narrowed in on his. “You remember my friend Anton, correct? He spies on the British when needed, and spies on the Germans equally well.”
A triple spy,
Riq thought. One who had access to both sides of the war, but was loyal only to the SQ.
Tilda added, “Anton and another of our agents, Cleo, have access to that same headquarters. I expect Anton has made his way back to Germany by now.”
Riq’s teeth were clenched so tightly together that he could barely speak. “So?”
“I want you to tell me if Dak has the Infinity Ring. Because if he does, then my next call will be to Anton and Cleo. By tomorrow morning, Dak will be nothing but a distant memory. So, tell me, Riq, does Dak have the Infinity Ring?”
Riq closed his eyes to think. Dak didn’t have the Infinity Ring, so nothing was really gained by lying to Tilda. And he couldn’t let her make that call to Berlin and endanger Dak. But what could he possibly say to buy them all some more time?
He shook his head and then opened his eyes. “Dak doesn’t have the Ring.”
“Then who does?”
Riq tried to keep his voice even and to look straight at Tilda. “None of us have it. The Hystorian of this time period has it.”
“Nonsense,” Tilda said. “The only Hystorian in this area was killed in an air raid in Aberdeen.” She smiled evilly. “I’m from the future, too, remember? You’ve lost your one advantage.” She held the phone back up to her ear and said, “Listen carefully, Dak, because even though you just tried lying to me, what I’m about to tell you is the exact truth. I’ve got Riq, and if you do not tell me where the Ring is this moment, you will never see him alive again.”
There was a long silence while Riq strained to hear Dak’s response on the phone. But he couldn’t hear anything and only knew Dak had answered when Tilda hung up the phone and turned to her thugs. “The girl has it and she’s somewhere in Spain. We need to know exactly where she is.”
“This kid can tell us.”
Riq shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “She typed in the coordinates, and I don’t know them.”
“Will she call?” Tilda asked. Without Riq’s help, she answered her own question. “Of course she will. We just have to be patient and wait for her to get in touch.”
“What about him?” one of the thugs asked, gesturing at Riq.
“We have to keep him alive, for now,” Tilda said. “We might still need his help to get that Ring.”
It was a bad situation. All right, Riq admitted to himself, it was a
situation, but at least Dak was safe, and with any luck he might even find some way to warn Sera.
Or, that was what he thought before Tilda picked up the telephone once more and started dialing.
“Who are you calling now?” the other thug asked.
“Anton and Cleo, our friends in Berlin,” Tilda said. “Maybe we still need Riq alive, but we don’t need Dak.”
in a full-blown panic by the time Tilda hung up on him. She had Riq, and who knew what she’d do to him if things didn’t go her way? She also knew that Sera had the Infinity Ring. The only reason he didn’t wonder if things could get any worse is because he already knew the answer: Even now, things could always get worse.
He needed to help both Sera and Riq, but didn’t have a single idea for how to begin. Obviously, it wouldn’t do any good to call Riq back, and he had no way to contact Sera, or any money to get from Berlin all the way to Spain.
Dak returned to the kitchen and slumped against a wall while he tried to force himself to keep thinking. He had to calm down, because if he panicked any worse, he’d do something crazy like rip off all his clothes and start running in circles, screaming.
Riq was in the most immediate danger. But Tilda would probably keep him alive until she had the Infinity Ring. Riq was smart and strong, and likely had a trick or two up his sleeve. If there was any chance to escape, Riq would find it. And then Riq could warn Sera.
Dak forced his fists to unclench. That wasn’t much to base his hope on, but it was better than nothing. For now, the only thing Dak could do was to try to wedge his way closer to Hitler and make sure that once the fake plans from Mincemeat came through, Hitler would believe them.
Yeah, just as easy as mincemeat pie
Except that there were a few complications. First, Hitler only took advice from the small group of people he trusted. That group didn’t include Dak. Second, only a few people ever got close to Hitler at all, and as far as Dak knew, none of them were eleven years old. And third, if Dak ever did get close to Hitler, he could never pretend to be on Hitler’s side long enough to convince him of anything. The man was too evil, too cruel. Dak knew
much pretending just wasn’t in him.
At some point, Dak must’ve fallen asleep against the wall because he awoke to the sound of a man and woman in the hallway just outside the kitchen. Even through the walls, he recognized Anton’s voice. But it now bore a German accent.
“Tilda said the boy was here!” At that, Dak’s eyes sprung fully open. Instantly, he was wide awake. Wide awake and trapped.
“You know the Führer would not want us roaming around at night,” a woman’s voice said. “We can look for the boy in the morning.”
At one point while he had been on the phone with Tilda, Dak had thought he heard her threaten to send SQ agents after him here in Berlin. But the static had been so thick on the phone, he had hoped he heard wrong. Apparently not. He looked around for a place to hide, but where was he supposed to go? A cupboard?
“Who are you more afraid of?” Anton asked. “Tilda or the Führer?”
Dak asked himself the same question. It was sort of like asking which was the better way to die: by lightning or by getting thrown off a cliff. Neither option sounded particularly fun, and both ended the same way.
“She said that if we don’t catch him, this boy could destroy the SQ.” Anton paused while some closets were opened, searched, and shut again. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this. Back at the Admiralty, one of the kids – the girl – told me she had been to the future, and that everything gets destroyed. I’m worried, Cleo. What if we’re wrong?”
Cleo scoffed at that. “Do you trust three kids more than Tilda, one of our own? She said she can stop the Cataclysm and I believe her. And if we help her, she will reward us well once she’s in control. Now let’s find the boy, and then go after the others.”
“And if the Führer catches us, he will say we are spying against him and have us arrested!” In his nervousness, Anton’s voice was just a touch too loud.
“Be quiet, or we
be caught,” Cleo said. “Let’s check the kitchen. If he’s not there, we can resume the search tomorrow.”
The kitchen. Where he was. Just his luck. They could’ve chosen any of a dozen rooms to search, but of course they chose the one place he was.
Dak darted one direction and then the next, hoping a good hiding spot would pop out at him. But it was too late, and the kitchen door was already opening. So he ducked behind a cabinet and folded himself into the smallest ball he could make. And waited to be caught. From a certain angle, he would be all too visible.
“He won’t be in here,” Anton said. “If he was allowed to spend the night in these headquarters, they’d have given him a bed.”
“But I think this time traveler will be awake tonight,” Cleo answered. “He’ll be snooping around the place.”
Awake, yes. But snooping around a bunker loaded with Nazis? No. Dak considered himself brave, but not stupid.
“Check the back of the room,” Cleo ordered. “I’ll look over here.”
The back of the room. Dak figured the only thing that could’ve made him more obvious back here was if a large blinking arrow somehow lit up over his head. He could see Cleo’s reflection in a metal cabinet between them. She wasn’t much taller than him but was built like a wrestler. Her dark hair was pulled back into a neat bun and her face was pinched with irritation.
“Be ready for when we find him,” Cleo said. “When you see him, just do it fast.”
Dak understood those words. They wouldn’t question him, or give him a warning. There would be no chances for escape and no one would come to rescue him here. They wanted him dead and nothing else.
But then the door opened and a new voice said, “You two, what are you doing up so late?”
The tension in the room shot up so quickly, Dak could actually feel the change in the air.
“Colonel Von Roenne, we were just searching for a — a, uh, lost ring,” Cleo said.
Von Roenne? Dak had heard the name before, but couldn’t quite place it. He reassured himself that if he were not on the brink of being captured, tortured, and likely killed either by the SQ or by the Nazis, that he could probably remember who Colonel Von Roenne had been.
“Whose ring?” Von Roenne surveyed the room until his gaze fell directly on Dak, who quickly waved his hands, silently begging the German not to reveal him. He knew that he must’ve looked scared and alone, but Dak didn’t care if he did. He
scared and alone.
Von Roenne turned back to Cleo. “You can find your ring in the morning. Until then, the Führer does not want people wandering the halls at all hours of the night. Now go!”
“Yes, Colonel,” Anton said, hastily sweeping both himself and Cleo out the door.
Once they had gone, Von Roenne impatiently said, “Well? Come out, boy.”
Dak poked his head up over the counter to find Von Roenne staring back at him, arms folded. He was a thin man whose short, neatly combed hair revealed a deep widow’s peak, and he wore round glasses that gave him a strict, studious look. He didn’t seem to be the type of person who smiled often, but then, his voice was also gentler than Dak had expected from a high-ranking Nazi. At least Von Roenne had sent the SQ duo away. Dak figured his odds of surviving the next few minutes were pretty even.
“I haven’t seen you before,” Von Roenne said to Dak.
Dak said nothing. Mostly because he was sure if he tried speaking, it would come out in some high-pitched squeal of terror that’d wake the entire house.
“Can you tell me why those two were looking for you?” Von Roenne asked. “What might two Nazis want with a young boy working in the kitchen?”
Okay, maybe he wouldn’t scream, but he was also pretty sure his mouth had forgotten how to form actual words. So Dak only shrugged his shoulders and hoped the end would come quickly and painlessly.
“I think you must have played a joke on them and gotten caught,” Von Roenne said. “Yes?”
the joke was getting himself inside the most dangerous place in Germany.
Then Von Roenne smiled, just a little. “I suppose I played a joke or two myself when I was younger. But these are not the kind of people you want to tease.”
“No, sir,” Dak mumbled. Frankly, he was already pretty clear on that fact.
“And remember that you now owe me a favor in return. Do not forget.”
Dak nodded. If there was one thing he would never forget, it was what Von Roenne had just done for him.
“Now, let’s have no more trouble,” Von Roenne said. “Something has been found in Spain, something that might give us a great advantage over the Allies, and there is tension in the bunker. You’ll be smart to stay out of everyone’s way.”
“Yes, sir,” Dak mumbled.
Von Roenne nodded at him, then left the kitchen. Once he’d gone, Dak slumped back down to the ground, exhausted, and never so scared in his life.