Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (3 page)

BOOK: Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow
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The glyph on his coin represented the Mayan word
be
(pronounced BAY) or, in English,
road
.

For the thousandth time, Jake wondered what it meant. It had to be significant. Turning his back on his sister, he shoved the coin into his pocket and strode stiffly toward his chained-up mountain bike.

He was soon pedaling away. How he wished he would never have to return to this lame school.

But he shook his head.

No, his heart was too full of
one
wish to bother with any others.

One hand lowered to his pants pocket as he pedaled.
He rubbed his palm over the coin through the jeans, shining it like Aladdin’s lamp.

There was room for only one wish in Jake’s heart: to discover what had happened to his mother and father.

It was why he worked so hard.

If he ever hoped to learn the truth about his parents’ deaths—to discover why they’d been killed—he must first become like them. Like father, like son. Follow in their footsteps.

With a renewed determination, Jake lifted out of the seat and fought his bike up the long hill toward home.

Nothing else mattered.

2
AN UNEXPECTED INVITATION

Just the smallest tap…

Jake lay on his belly as the sun baked his back. He had been down in the quarry behind his house the entire Saturday. The slab of rock under him was mostly flat, but by now, every slight bump in the surface had grown into a sharp knob.

His lips were stretched in a hard grimace—not from pain, but from his painstaking concentration.

Mustn’t harm the sample
.

The Paleozoic-era fossil looked like a cross between a squashed crab and some alien spacecraft. He could even make out a pair of tiny antennae.

It was a rare find for the area. It stretched almost three inches long, an outstanding example of
Isotelus maximus
, more commonly known as a giant trilobite.

 

An amazing find!

Jake held a small pick-chisel in one hand and a tiny
hammer in the other. One more good tap should free the fossil from the surrounding rock. He could then take it back to his room and perform a more delicate cleanup under proper conditions.

He positioned the chisel, took a steadying breath, and lifted the hammer. He wanted to close his eyes, but he doubted that would help.

Here we go…

He swung the hammer and—

“CALLING, MASTER JAKE!”

—startled, he struck his thumb a good blow, right on the knuckle.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME?”

The squawks were coming from the two-way radio balanced on a rock near his elbow.

Jake shook his injured hand and rolled to his side. He picked up the radio and pressed the transmit button. “What is it, Uncle Edward?” he asked with exasperation.

“DINNER IS ABOUT TO BE SERVED.”

Dinner?

“AND I SUSPECT YOU’LL NEED TIME TO CLEAN UP.”

Jake glanced to the sky and finally noted how low the sun had sunk and how long the shadows had grown. Lost in concentration, he had not realized how late it had become.

He raised the radio to his lips. “Okay. I’ll be right there.”

He took an extra moment with chisel and hammer to free the trilobite fossil, then pocketed it. Finished, he rolled onto his back, only to find slobbering jowls and a big black wet nose hanging over his face. Hot breath panted down at him. A dollop of drool landed on his forehead.

Ugh.

Jake reached up and pushed the basset hound’s face away from his own. “Phew, Watson. That breath could kill a dragon.”

Jake sat up.

Ignoring the insult, Watson dragged a long wet tongue across Jake’s cheek.

“Yeah, that’s better. Share the germs.”

Still, Jake grinned and gave the old dog a rough scratch behind his floppy left ear, which got the hound’s rear leg kicking happily. Watson, going on fourteen years, had been a part of the Ransom family longer than Jake. Jake’s mother had rescued Watson from a British breeder of foxhounds who was going to drown the dog as a puppy because he was born with a crooked front leg. Watson still
walked with a bit of a limping swagger, but as his mother always said,
It’s the warts that make us who we are
.

Still, bum leg or not, if Watson saw a squirrel, he could take off after it like a furry bolt of lightning. Jake kept a dog whistle handy to keep from losing the hound in the woods. Especially because Watson’s eyesight was getting weaker with age.

“C’mon, Watson. Let’s get some food.”

The last word got the hound’s tail wagging again. His nose lifted in the air, sniffing.
That
sense certainly hadn’t gotten any weaker with age. He probably already knew what Aunt Matilda had cooking on the stove.

Jake stared down at another two fossils he wanted to collect. They would have to wait until tomorrow. The light was getting bad, and he didn’t want to make any mistakes. That’s what his father taught him. An archaeologist needed patience. He heard his father’s voice in his head:
Don’t rush history…it’s not going anywhere
.

Taking that advice, Jake gathered his tools and set off with Watson. He climbed out of the old quarry and headed home.

 

Ravensgate Manor spread ahead of Jake, fifty-two acres of rolling hills dotted by forests of sugar maples and black oaks.

Jake headed down a wood-chip-strewn path. The estate went back generations, to the first Ransom to set roots
here shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He had been a famed Egyptologist, and each generation continued in the footsteps of the founder, all explorers in some manner or another.

As Jake rounded a bend, he spotted home.

In the middle of a sprawling English garden stood a small mansion of stone turrets and timbered gables, of slate roofs and copper trims, of stained-glass windows and brass hinges. Off near the front, a circular driveway of crushed stone led out to the main gate, whose pillars supported a pair of carved stone ravens, namesakes of the estate.

Since his parents had vanished, the house itself had grown more forlorn. The ivy had grown thin and yellowing in patches, a few tiles were missing from the roof, and a section of windowpanes had been patched with tape and board. It was as if something essential had been stolen—from the land, from the house, but mostly from Jake’s heart.

With Watson at his side, Jake headed to one of the back doors. He pushed inside the house to a small red-tiled mudroom, where he knocked the dust from his shoes and patted down his clothes. He hung up his specimen bag and tools on a hook by the door.

A head popped in from the next room. Aunt Matilda. Her wrinkled face was framed by white curls, mostly bunched under a baker’s cap. She didn’t step fully into the room. She seldom did. Aunt Matilda seemed always
too busy to move her entire body into one room.

“Ah, there you are, my dear. I was just spooning up the soup. Best you hurry and clean yourself up.” A small frown of concern tightened the corners of her lips. “And where might that sister of yours be?”

The question was not truly meant to be answered, especially by Jake, because he and Kady seldom kept company anymore. It was merely a complaint to the universe.

“I’ll wash up and be right back down, Aunt Matilda.”

“Be quick about it.” She vanished away, off to oversee the cook and two maids. But her head popped back into view. “Oh, Edward would like you to stop by the library before dinner. Something’s arrived in today’s post.”

Curiosity hurried Jake’s pace. Significantly less interested, Watson wandered off to search for scraps in the kitchen.

The library was just off the main foyer. To reach it, Jake headed down the manor’s central hall that stretched from the back of the house to the front. One wall was hung with oil portraits of his ancestors, men and women, going back to the original Bartholomew with his heavy mustache and sun-squinted eyes, posed next to a camel. Every portrait looked down across the central hall to its own private display cabinet.

Cabinets of Curiosities, his father called them.

Each leaded-glass display contained artifacts and relics from that ancestor’s adventures: beetles and butterflies pinned to corkboard, gemstones and mineral specimens,
tiny bits of pottery and carved figurines, and of course, enough fossils to fill an entire museum, including a tyrannosaurus egg, partially hatching.

Jake turned under the next archway into the main library. Shelves of books climbed two stories, accessible by a pair of tall ladders on wrought-iron rails. The far wall contained a fireplace tall enough to walk into without bending over. A small fire crackled cheerily, shedding a welcoming warmth into the room. His father’s massive oak desk occupied one corner. The remainder of the furniture was a collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas, encouraging someone to collapse into them and become lost in the worlds contained between the covers of one of the books.

Uncle Edward stood beside the desk.

“Ah, there you are, Master Jake,” his uncle said. He turned on a heel. His back was straight, his manner stiff, but his eyes were never cold, even now, when pinched with some slight concern. A pair of small reading glasses rested at the tip of his nose. He held a large yellow envelope in his hand. “This arrived today. Mailed from England. From London’s Blackfriars district.”

“Blackfriars?”

A nod answered him. “One of London’s oldest financial districts. Banks and whatnot.”

Uncle Edward should know. He had grown up in London. In fact, Edward and Matilda were not truly Jake’s aunt and uncle. Their family name was Batchelder. They’d
been friends of Jake’s grandfather and had managed Ravensgate Manor for three generations. It was whispered that Edward had once saved Jake’s grandfather’s life during World War II, somewhere in Africa. But no one would ever tell the whole story.

With no surviving relatives to look after Jake and Kady, Uncle Edward and Aunt Matilda had become the children’s guardians, while continuing to oversee the estate. The pair were as doting as any parents and sometimes as stern. But mostly the entire household seemed to be waiting, holding its breath for the manor’s true masters to return.

Uncle Edward crossed to Jake and held out the sealed envelope.

Jake accepted it and stared down at the top name.

Master Jacob Bartholomew Ransom.

Below it was his sister’s full name.

Jake felt a chill. The last time he had seen his name written in full, it had been on the package with his father’s handwriting, a parcel that still carried a tinge of doom about it.

Now here the name was again, only typed neatly and coldly.

Uncle Edward cleared his throat. “I didn’t know if you would like to wait until your sister returns to—”

Jake ripped the tab and peeled open the envelope. No telling when Kady would return.

Jake heard a low growl behind him. He turned and found Watson stalking into the room. The dog’s hackles were raised and his nose was in the air. Plainly Watson had been scolded out of the kitchen and had come to find Jake for consolation. But his keen nose must have caught wind of the mail, perhaps smelling something only the dog’s keen sense could pick up. Watson approached no closer. He circled slowly with a low growl of warning.

“Hush, Watson…it’s all right.”

Jake shook out the contents. A colorful brochure and a few other items slipped between his fingers and fluttered to the hardwood floor. Watson skittered back a step. Jake did manage to catch the largest sheet of stiff linen paper. It was yellowish and embossed deeply with the blackest ink.

Uncle Edward had knelt down and gathered the loose papers, including a cover letter. He glanced through them as Jake read over the invitation twice.

“There are airline tickets,” his uncle added. “Two. For you and your sister. First class. And what looks like room reservations at the Savoy. A very expensive hotel.”

Jake scrunched his brows and read the most intriguing line. “‘Mayan Treasures of the New World.’”

Uncle Edward unfolded the brochure. Photos of gold and jade objects adorned what appeared to be a museum advertisement for the exhibit. “It’s from the British Museum,” he said. “How very strange. The flight tickets are for the day after tomorrow. Monday. And according to the brochure,
the first day of the exhibit is on that Tuesday.”

We kindly extend a Gracious and Grand

 

Invitation to

 

Master Jacob Bartholomew Ransom

 

and

 

Mistress Katherine Edwina Ransom

 

To Attend the Auspicious Opening of an

 

Exciting New Exhibit at

 

The British Museum

 

London, England

 

Mayan Treasures of the New World

 

Humbly and Sincerely sponsored by

 

Bledsworth Sundries and Industries, Inc.

“Tuesday?” Jake said, noting another oddity. He remembered his talk at school yesterday about the Mayan calendar—and the Mayan prediction for that day. “That’s the day of the solar eclipse. In London, it will be a
total
eclipse.”

BOOK: Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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