“I’ve seen a lot of movies, and I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to work,” said Clue Restacks to her tiny partner.
Mr. Mouse was investigating the top part of the fireplace mantle in the abandoned mansion. He and Clue were searching for a rumoured secret passage. Currently, he was ignoring her reasoned argument.
“You know what? Here. I’m just going to do it,” said Clue. She grabbed the breasts of the statue supporting the mantle and pushed.
With a satisfying click, they moved.
There was a rusty grating sound as the back of the fireplace began to lift.
“You see? It’s always the boobs!” she said, revelling in victory. Mr. Mouse continued to look on, unimpressed.
The wall caught at the top of its movement revealing a small, empty room. Clue looked at it, dumbfounded. “They were supposed to be here!” she shouted. “What’s that all about?” she looked at Mr. Mouse. She could swear he was grinning at her.
“You shut your hole. So the secret room doesn’t go anywhere. At least I found it,” she told him. “I guess our lead was wrong.”
Mr. Mouse sauntered over to the other side of the mantle. He disappeared over the edge and Clue heard another click. Mr. Mouse reappeared back on the top just as a second wall in the secret chamber began to slide towards Clue, opening into a dark hallway beyond the fireplace.
Mr. Mouse jumped on her shoulder and looked into the new tunnel. Clue scratched his head. “Ok, you win. But you’ve got to admit that a secret passage behind a secret passage is a pretty good way to keep something hidden.”
She amplified the light in the hall with her powers and stepped inside the fireplace. Both doors shut behind her as she crossed into the unknown.
“This must lead under the house,” whispered Clue as they cautiously walked down the brick-lined tunnel.
Part of being able to control light, wind, and heat meant that Clue could move without getting covered in the many cobwebs filling the passage. A light breeze in front of her kept them away. That didn’t mean she couldn’t have a little fun, and somehow the little white mouse on her shoulder got covered in them.
They came to the end abruptly, rounding a corner to a set of heavy wooden doors. Clue pushed them gently. They weren’t locked and opened to a much smaller room than Clue expected. In the middle, on a platform, was her objective.
Two golden masks sat propped up on a display. Though Clue had been told that they had come from the Oak Island Money Pit, she didn’t really believe it.
Each mask was about a six inches tall and covered with intricate markings. From her research, She’d found that no one had been able to translate these before the masks had disappeared into private hands.
Clue suspected that the owner had installed the masks here in secret and died before revealing their location. The mansion’s current owner had heard rumours of treasure on the property and hired Clue.
All in all it was a pretty easy payday for her, just a couple of weeks of research and an afternoon looking for the secret door.
She grabbed the masks and chucked them into her pack. She kept an eye out for collapsing boulders, but that was just the movies talking again.
“Alright, Mr. Mouse, let’s get out of here. I need a bath.”
Mr. Mouse, still covered in cobwebs, glared at her.
The message she received when she arrived home was a strange one.
The client told her that he suspected he was being followed and that he wanted Clue to make the transfer of the masks in a public place.
He’d chosen that night’s hockey game for the meeting.
“Great. I hate hockey,” said Clue.
Mr. Mouse was excited. He loved it.
“You would,” she told him.
She got to the game late, despite Mr. Mouse’s frenzied scampering. The score was already three to one and the home crowd was going wild.
“At least no one will be paying attention to us,” she said.
She made her way to the seats. They were good ones. Front row center in the upper deck.
Her contact was already there.
“Anybody following you?” he asked with a mouth full of hot dog.
“No, I think we’re good,” she replied.
“Have you got the…” he turned his head around, scanning the crowd before he finished. “Masks?”
“Yeah, they’re right here,” she said, reaching into her bag.
“Wait!” he told her, grabbing her arm. “Wait for the intermission. You can pass them to me on the concourse.”
She brushed him off, slightly annoyed at his elementary-school spy games. But he wrote the check so she’d do what he said.
The rest of the period? half? whatever? seemed to take ages to Clue. She fidgeted and drank her beer. At least she had beer.
Then, with seconds left on the clock before Clue could hand over the masks and get out of there, the home team scored again to make it four to one going into the third. Everyone in the stadium stood up and shouted.
And then instantly froze. The sudden silence was deafening.
Clue looked around, in shock.
Every person in the stands and on the ice was still, locked in whatever pose they’d just assumed.
“I believe you have something of mine, Miss Restacks,” boomed a disembodied voice.
It was a voice Clue hadn’t heard in more than a year, but one that haunted her almost every night in her dreams.
It was Jackson Fortune’s voice.
Jackson Fortune, the man who had tried to take over the world with the help of aliens. Whose powers, though different, were stronger than Clue’s.
The man who had killed Mr. Mouse.
Clue didn’t think. She just ran.
With everyone paralysed, it was easy work to make a move. She ran past the beer carts and kiosks in the hall and then down the stairs and through a door marked “Employees Only”. Now she was alone, deep in the bowels of the arena.
But she didn’t have a plan.
“Slow down,” she told herself. Here in the concrete basement she was relatively free from Fortune’s influence, his control over living things. She knew she had a good chance of repelling his mind-control as well. Her goal of revenge on Mr. Mouse’s behalf kept her motivations firmly centered on someone else, thus denying Fortune a grasp on her brain.
She worried about Mr. Mouse, though. He had just a little bit of murder in his eyes.
Clue understood. Getting killed and resurrected via alien technology probably wasn’t a walk in the park, but did it make him susceptible to control?
“I wonder if Fortune is after the masks? That would explain our employer’s strange plans to meet here. He must have been acting under Fortune’s influence to lure me into the open. If that’s the case them I’m going to assume that Fortune is somewhere in the building. He knew we’d be here because he set up the drop.
She felt in her bag for her car keys, which had settled at the bottom, underneath the masks.
Clue had a funny feeling that she was missing something very important.
The two adventurers spent the next several minutes sneaking down cinderblock hallways and through jumbled storage rooms in the direction of the car park. She could vaguely hear the sounds of a full arena above and knew that Fortune must have released his hold on the rest of the people. She didn’t want to run into anybody in case their eyes and ears weren’t their own.
She and Mr. Mouse made it to her car. She jumped in to the dark blue Maserati and started the engine.
She exhaled a sigh of relief as they made it out of the garage without witnesses.
She didn’t get far, however, before she saw flashing lights in her rear-view mirror. She looked down at the speedometer and realized she was doing almost twice the limit. She kicked herself for losing concentration.
She pulled over, intent on taking her ticket as quickly as possible and then properly making her escape.
Clue watched the officer approach her in the mirror.
“Good evening. How’s it going there? I’m Officer King. The reason I stopped you was for speeding. You were doing eighty in a fifty.”
“Yeah, I just realized that, sorry,” said Clue.
The policewoman looked at the car suspiciously. “Is this your vehicle?”
“What do you do?” She asked Clue.
“Um, I’m a private investigator.”
The woman in uniform noticed something inside the car. Her hand went to her gun.
“Do you mind explaining to me what you’ve got on the seat there?”
Clue looked where she was indicating. One of the masks had slipped part way out of her bag on the passenger seat.
“Those are part of a case I’m working.”
“Okay, well, I’ve got a report here of a burglary of two gold masks matching that description. You’re going to need to step out of the vehicle.”
Mr. Mouse poked his head out of the console bin. Clue motioned for him to stay down out of sight. Fortune must have thought ahead in an attempt to track her down again. It made sense. He’d made the report. Then he’d only have to monitor the police officers’ minds to find her.
Clue got out and moved to the passenger side. She noticed a tree’s branches blowing in the wind.
Except there was no wind.
The branches began to snake towards the police officer.
Clue had to move fast. She tackled the woman before she could react. Clue was able to grab the officer’s gun. The branches were still coming.
“You need to get in the car. Now,” she commanded.
Clue hustled Officer King into the vehicle with her. She slammed the door just as a tree limb smacked the window.
Clue scrambled over to her seat, and then hit the gas.
She tossed the gun back at a very confused police woman.
“Look, I can explain this. I can. I think we’re in the clear now. “
Officer King pointed the gun back at Clue.
“Stop the car.” It wasn’t a request.
Clue slammed on the brakes. Instantly, the car started rocking with hits from roadside trees.
“What’s going on?” cried the officer.
“I’ll tell you. But we need to get out of here. It’s not safe. You have to trust me.”
The officer didn’t have to think too long. She just been given her gun back and now trees were attacking her. She decided the driver was the least of her worries. “Go,” she told Clue.
Clue hit the pedal again and the rear end fishtailed as the tires sought traction on the grass that was overgrowing the road.
“Hold on,” said Clue.
The car careened through the city. King provided support by directing Clue through the intersections.
Fortune had locked on to Clue and his controlled zombies began to walk into the road in front of the car. Clue had to swerve around them. She didn’t think about what she’d feel like if she hit one.
“What are they doing?” asked King.
“It’s not them. We need to get someplace away from people. Away from anything alive. Do you have any ideas?”
“You might think this is crazy, but what about the library? It’s after hours so no one is in there. It’s the biggest empty building I can think of.”
“Okay.” Clue turned the steering wheel hard to the right, and the car slid sideways.
“Two blocks ahead and then another right,” said the officer.
They reached their destination in a hurry. The following horde of plants slowed as the now-demolished Maserati descended into the underground parking. Eventually Clue and her passenger were too far from a source for the vegetation to follow.
The car slowed to a stop. Clue leaned over the console and extended her hand.
“Clue Restacks,” she introduced herself.
“Sydney King,” said the cop. “Clue’s not your real name is it?”
Mr. Mouse popped his head out of his hiding place.
Sydney King screamed.
“A mouse! Get it away from me!” she hollered.
“Relax,” said Clue. “He’s with me, his name is Mr. Mouse.”
Sydney wasn’t buying it. She scrambled to open her door.
Mr. Mouse wasn’t exactly helping, either. He resented being screamed at and was advancing towards the terrified woman with exaggerated menace.
Clue grabbed him and stuffed him in her pocket.
“Not now,” she warned him. She turned to Sydney. “You were just kidnapped at gunpoint and attacked by shrubs, but you’re afraid of a mouse?”
“I don’t like mice,” confirmed Sydney.
“Geez. Blondes,” Clue whispered to the mouse.
“Alright, he’ll stay with me. Let’s get out of here. We’ll get upstairs and I can explain what’s going on,” she told Sydney.
Clue told her new acquaintance about what she did and a brief summary of the year since getting her powers.
Sydney had been taking notes and consulted her pad for a recap. “So let me get this straight,” she said, “You got powers from some kind of crazy chase through Rome?”
“Yes,” confirmed Clue.
“Then you met some sort of whacked out criminal sailor who had similar but not the same powers who wants to take over the world?”
“And he killed your mouse, who was then brought back to life by aliens?”
“Have you seen the aliens again?”
“How many other people have powers like the two of you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is this guy back to get you now?”
“I think he’s after these masks.”
“Why does he want the masks?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmpf,” said Sydney. “And you said he froze an entire stadium full of people?”
“Yeah,” said Clue.
“Why didn’t he just take you down at home? He was inside your brain in the jungle. You haven’t exactly been keeping a low profile, either.”
“I knew it!” said Clue. “I knew it was strange that he needed me in the open.”
“I think what we need to find out is what is so special about these masks. That may help narrow down what this Fortune is up to.” Sydney King flipped the page in her notebook. “Tell me what you know about them.”
“There’s not much to it, really. Most of my research was about where they might be. I traced their path from three owners back. They dropped out of sight for awhile but I pieced together some evidence that they’d been sold again to an anonymous buyer.
“I found that this buyer was, in fact, the first owner on record who had bought them back in secret. He seems to have died soon after and the house where I found them was then left vacant for almost a decade. They were in a secret vault that the family hadn’t known about but had been a local legend among the workers who built it.”
“Strange that he would buy them back in secret,” Sydney commented. “Do you know where they’re from?”
“Well, there’s the official story, and then there’s what I think,” said Clue. “Officially, they’re very old and were recovered from the Oak Island Money Pit. Do you know it?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Sydney said. “Big treasure supposed to be buried in some booby-trapped hole?”
“Right, but the masks coming from there doesn’t make sense. First off, I don’t think the original owner had been anywhere near there. If he had been around or involved in any way and they’d pulled out those masks, why wouldn’t he have stayed around and tried to find more treasure? And second, the Pit is on a small island. Nothing could have happened there without the locals talking. There are three hundred years of stories about that place, and golden masks aren’t in any of them.”
“So what’s your theory then?” asked Sydney.
“Based on the crispness of the markings, I think they’re much newer. And I think there’s a second pit.”
“Why is that?”
“In everything that he did, this guy covered his tracks twice. He sells the masks, and then he secretly buys them back. He hides them in his house behind not one, but two secret passageways, and he promotes an origin based on a classic mystery. I think the story about the pit is a hint that we need to look for a pit because, yes, they came from a pit, just not the pit he lets on. He’s hiding a truth within a truth,” Clue concluded.
“Do you think that could have anything to do with why Fortune wants the masks now? Or maybe why he tried to lure you into the open?” Sydney asked.
“I don’t think we’ll know until we find the second pit and whatever else might be in it,” said Clue.
“We are in a library. Maybe we can check the old records for some leads,” said Sydney.
Mr. Mouse watched Sydney King quietly. He wasn’t happy about having another person on the team, certainly not one with a fear of mice. But he was pragmatic. If she turned out to be useful, then she could stay.
“The original owner’s name was William S. Lamar. We should probably look into any other land he owned or if there are any records about his travels,” Clue directed. “His family was influential in the founding of the city, so we should have a decent chance finding something in the old newspapers, at least.”
Several hours later, as the sun began to rise outside, Sydney gave up.
“Either he was good at keeping out of the news, which makes sense, or he never went anywhere or did anything interesting,” she said. “There’s nothing here.”
Clue agreed. “I think we must be looking in the wrong place.”
She went to the window and looked outside. There was no evidence that anything strange had happened the night before.
“How nice of him to clean up after himself,” she said to no one in particular. The only hint as to what happened would be a totalled Maserati in the parking garage.
“Do you think the insurance company will buy our story?” she asked Mr. Mouse.
He didn’t answer. He’d wanted a Ferrari to begin with.
“Does he talk or anything?” Sydney asked from across the room.
“No. He’s just a regular mouse, but I can tell what he wants most of the time. He’s usually in a better mood, though.”
Clue came back to the table.
“If Fortune’s tidied up outside that may be good for us. I have to limit my powers in the city so people don’t notice something strange is up. I wonder if he feels the same way?” she said.
“Didn’t you say he froze a whole building full of people? And it’s not like there weren’t any witnesses last night. I mean, I’m involved now, too, because I got caught up in the middle of it,” countered Sydney. “He’s not subtle.
“So we can’t just walk out into the street,” she continued. “We need to have a plan. I don’t want to get my head bashed in by a tree or to get attacked by a flock of pigeons.”
“I especially don’t want that.”
At that moment Mr. Mouse jumped out of Clue’s pocket and calmly walked out the door.
“Oh no, not again,” Clue said. She worried Fortune had taken control of her friend.
Mr. Mouse stopped and looked back. He showed no signs of being under Fortune’s influence.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” said Sydney.
“See, he’s not so bad,” said Clue with relief.
“Where are we going?” Sydney asked.
“I don’t know,” said Clue. “But he’s figured something out.”
“So we’re just going to let the mouse decide where we go next?” asked Sydney, not happy with this development at all.
“He’s usually right,” responded Clue over her shoulder as she grabbed her bag with the masks and followed Mr. Mouse out the door into the parking garage.
Mr. Mouse led them back to Clue’s wrecked car. He crawled inside and onto a piece of paper on the floor. Then he stood up on his hind legs and waggled his tiny paws around.
“He is kind of cute, I suppose, for a mouse,” Sydney admitted.
Though he didn’t care for being called cute, Mr. Mouse began to feel like Sydney King was somebody he could probably get along with. So long as she stopped saying “for a mouse”.
Clue reached down for the paper he’d indicated. On it were some notes she’d made during her research of William Lamar’s mansion.
“Do you think we’ll find something there?” she asked him.
Sydney thought for sure she saw him nod. She hadn’t really stopped to think about how strange this all was.
“We’re going to check out Lamar’s mansion again,” said Clue. “Are you still in?”
Sydney considered her options. She didn’t appreciate somebody trying to kill her, and now she wanted to solve the mystery of the golden masks. She’d caught the treasure bug.
“I’m in,” she replied.
“Great,” said Clue. “You don’t happen to have a less destroyed car around here, do you?”
A little while later they’d picked up Sydney’s car from the police station. She’d managed to explain away her evening’s absence and abandoned car sufficiently enough that they’d let her go home to rest. She had no doubt that there was an expectation that she answer more questions later.
They drove to Lamar’s property.
Sydney got the heebie-jeebies just looking at it.
“We’re going to have to be thorough. I don’t think there’s anything else in the secret passage, but let’s check there first,” said Clue. “If nothing turns up in there, we’ll have to go through all the rooms.”
“I’ll follow you,” said Sydney.
Once again Clue entered the old house. It felt different this time. Like they weren’t supposed to be there, or they were being watched. She half expected the old eye-holes-cut-out-in-the-painting gag to come into play.
She pumped up the light to compensate.
“Whoa! Is that you?” asked a squinting Sydney.
“Yup. This is what I can do,” said Clue. “Also, this –,” she snapped her fingers and created a small storm of electricity in her hand. “Or this –,” she motioned her other hand and a gust of wind blew the door shut from across the room.
“Other things, too,” she said.
“That could have helped us in the car chase,” said Sydney.
“Probably. But public, remember? I didn’t want to accidentally hurt somebody.”
“Well, I carry a gun. Sometimes you have to use what’s available, when you can’t control the situation. Think about it,” said Sydney.
“Yeah, sure,” said Clue unconvincingly.
Sydney dropped the matter.
“Where’s the passageway?” she asked instead.
“Over here.” Clue led her to the mantle.
“Oh, ok, I see. It’s the boobs, isn’t it?” asked Sydney.
Clue smiled. “Sort of.” She activated both switches and stood aside as the walls opened up.
She had the uncomfortable sensation of being right back where she’d started.
“Wait a second,” Clue said. “And stand back.”
She concentrated and a powerful wind blew up from inside the passage carrying all the dust and cobwebs out with it. “Now we’ll be more comfortable.”
They went in, walking slowly and examining every inch of the walls, ceiling, and floor.
It took them much longer to reach the mask room this time, but they still had nothing to show for their searching.
A half-hour later, they’d searched that room, too.
“There’s nothing else here,” said Sydney.
“We’ll have to go back and check the rest of the house,” said Clue.
“Do you think there are any more secret passageways?” asked Sydney.
“No. I had to look at the plans pretty close to even find evidence of this one. There was nothing else in the rumours or writings about this place to suspect more than the one.”
“Do you have any idea what we should be looking for, then?”
“Since the house is empty, usually I’d think we’d have the best luck searching for a hollow in the floors or wall. Perhaps something buried in the basement. But that almost seems too simple for what we’ve seen from Lamar. If there is actually something else still here, I’d bet it’s hidden someplace far sneakier. We’ve got to think like him.”
Sydney got out her notebook and reviewed the case.
“We’re here because we’re looking for a treasure pit that you believe exists because he works everything as a double-blind. So if we’re looking for a location, then we’re most likely searching for a map of some kind. His M.O. means we’d be looking for an encrypted message within that map,” she concluded.
“So, step one, find something map-like in here,” agreed Clue. “That doesn’t narrow down a location, though.”
They split up and began searching the rooms. Clue ran between them and investigated quickly, by instinct. Sydney was slower, methodically checking walls and floors in a grid-like pattern.
They both arrived in the entry hall with the same conclusion.
“Still nothing,” said Sydney.
“We’re missing something,” said Clue.
“I don’t know about you, I’ve been all over this place and all that’s left is empty rooms and bare floors,” said Sydney.
“Empty rooms …,” Clue repeated quietly.
“When you look at a house what do you see?” asked Clue.
“Rooms?” said Sydney. “I just said that.”
“Rooms and floors,” said Clue, now getting excited. “A floor plan! A map of the house! Somehow that’s it. We just need to figure out where it leads us. The answer is somehow in the architecture of the house.”
“Wait a second,” said Sydney. “I have an idea.” She went to the front of the house. Set into the granite floor just inside the front doors were the staggered letters “W” and “S”. “Look,” she said. “I thought these were just his initials, but they’re also arranged as two points of a compass.”
Then she began sketching in her notebook.
“I think we’re on to something. Here is an outline of the bottom floor of the house. It looks pretty normal, but if I draw the upstairs walls over top, what does this look like to you?”
“The rooms are offset. It’s a pretty regular grid. It looks like roads and intersections,” suggested Clue. “Give me the paper.”
Clue added a compass rose in the corner, orienting it with reference to the initials on the floor.
“You’re forgetting something,” she told Sydney. Then she reached over and drew a dotted line representing the secret passageway. At the end, where the mask room was, she drew an “X” with a flourish.
This trail ended outside the borders of the mansion. “If we can find out where these roads are, I think we’ve got a great chance to find pit number two,” said Clue.
“They have to be close by,” said Sydney. “If we can’t find a record of Lamar’s travelling very much, and no one noticed him gone for long periods he must have had to been able to get there in a timely fashion from here.”
“The oldest streets around here are downtown. Back in the day you didn’t have to be far away to have privacy. Not too many people around then,” said Clue.
Sydney looked at the sketch. “Yeah, look, see where the upstairs bedroom wall jogs to the left, there? That must be Boundary Street and the curve of the staircase is down where it crosses College. “
“This is a pretty small scale,” said Clue. “If that’s Boundary and College, and this one is Inverness, then this distance away …,” she trailed off as she traced the dotted line of the passage. She pointed at the X. “Then that’s about three blocks east of Dumbarton and Junction.”
They looked at each other.
“It’s at the zoo,” said Sydney.
Clue checked her watch. “It’s open for a few more hours, but if there’s a chance we run into Fortune we can’t risk having people around who might get hurt. We’ll have to wait and check it out tonight.”
Later that evening, the adventurer, cop, and mouse stood outside the gates of the closed and darkened zoo.
Clue set down the bag with the masks. At this point, they’d been almost too much trouble. Plus, they were heavy. She looked at Sydney.
“Have a flair for the dramatic, do we?” she said.
Sydney had stripped all the badges off of her black police uniform. That, combined with her gun belt, projected a rather striking figure.
“Are you sure you don’t want to add a ski mask? Cover up all that blonde hair? Clue continued.
“What? I’m used to wearing it. If I’m going to start breaking in to things, I might as well be comfortable.”
“Alright, here we go,” said Clue.
She started to hike her leg up over the first bar of the gate.
“Wait,” said Sydney, “Here. Easier.” She pulled a pouch out of her pocket and within seconds had picked the lock.
The gate swung open.
“Do you have to do absolutely everything the hard way?” she asked Clue.
“Stuff it,” was the reply.
“This place is huge,” said Sydney. “Any ideas where we’d find a pit everyone’s missed for the last hundred years?”
“Not really. And if it was filled in, then our chances aren’t good. Remember, too, Fortune can control animals. If we have to get close to any, be careful.”
“Maybe this wasn’t a good plan to show up here right away,” said Sydney.
“I’m beginning to agree with you,” said Clue. “I’ve been on the run since the arena. I don’t like it, but if we have a chance to get Fortune, then it’s worth doing.”
Mr. Mouse stuck his head out of Clue’s pocket. He agreed.
“Gah!” said Sydney. “I keep forgetting about him.”
Mr. Mouse took a running leap and jumped from Clue to Sydney’s shoulder. She shuddered and tried not to freak out.
“See, he likes you,” said Clue.
“I’m not so sure,” said Sydney, trying to watch him from the corner of her eye. “I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
They started walking through the deserted zoo. It was one of the city’s prime tourist attractions and had a world-wide reputation for its abundant exhibits. Unfortunately, that made finding evidence of a lost treasure pit difficult.
They tracked past various cages and pens. The darkness was made more eerie by the fact that many of the animals were nocturnal and their movements and calls were unfamiliar and creepy.
“There should be a new building right around the corner that houses North American forest animals,” said Sydney, looking at a guide map she’d swiped at the entrance.
“Great, that’ll be—,” Clue cut herself off.
There were no North American forest animals around the corner. There was no building, either.
An enormous empty gouge in the ground lay spread out in front of her. Construction equipment was strewn about. Suspended over the middle was a crude derrick and scaffold.
“Do you see this?” she asked Sydney.
“Yeah, seems like an awfully fancy building just for squirrels and deer and whatnot,” replied Sydney.
“What?” said Clue.
“If I wanted to see raccoons that badly I’d probably just leave my trash out. They probably don’t need a big glass facade like that, or the flatscreens.”
“You don’t see the pit?”
“You don’t see the raccoons?”
“It’s Fortune,” said Clue. “He’s already been here.
Clue pointed at the muddy site. “Just over there is a massive digging operation. There is no new building, that’s a projection in your head.”
“One that I thought was rather clever.” Clue heard Fortune’s voice. “Hello ladies, welcome to my newest project.”
“Ok, I can hear him,” whispered Sydney, “but I’m still seeing the forest building.”
“I’m sorry,” said Fortune. “That illusion is no longer necessary.
Sydney’s mirage melted away quickly. She, too, saw the dig site. “Wow,” she said.
“I’m glad you could make it Miss Restacks, and even faster than I’d anticipated. You are so very tenacious. Now if only you’d be so kind as to hand over the masks we can get to work here and extract the third.”
Fortune made his entrance from behind a large crane on the edge of the site opposite Clue and Sydney.
“You look a little crispier than last time,” Clue said.
That was true. Fortune still showed terrible scars from his last encounter with Clue.
“What do you mean about the third one?” asked Sydney.
“Of course I mean that there is a third mask, buried here in William Lamar’s little hole, Miss King. And Miss Restacks will help me to retrieve it.”
“I won’t,” said Clue.
“Why do you think I led you here if not to help me?”
“You didn’t lead me to anywhere. I found this on my own.”
“Ah, yes, just as I thought. And your defiance is exactly why my plan worked.”
“What do you mean?”
“He knew,” said Sydney. “Mr. Mouse knew!”
Fortune laughed. “He seems much healthier than when we met last. I’m very happy for you.”
“Shut up,” said Clue through gritted teeth. “Tell me why I was led here.”
“Miss King, would you care to explain?” Fortune offered.
“Clue, I think Fortune played you. Think about it. You said he was in your brain when you were in the jungle. He knows where you lived, he knows everything about you. He’s had a year to get you but he hasn’t. When you were in the arena, he froze everyone. Everyone! Why wouldn’t he just get one person to stab you, to take the masks off you then? Why didn’t everyone turn on you?
“That’s why Mr. Mouse left the library. He realized that as powerful as Fortune is, if he wanted anyone dead, they’d be dead.” She concluded.
“Very good. A fine deduction,” Fortune clapped sarcastically. “Miss Restacks, your friend here is playing Sherlock to your Watson. She is, of course, correct. I knew you’d never help me willingly, but if you thought you were coming on your own, making your own decisions, well, that’s different, isn’t it?”
“What do you need me for?” asked Clue.
“You know about the pit. I found out about it some time ago. There is a third mask that will work with the others to solve a minor problem I’m working on. Unfortunately, Mr. Lamar was very clever. He booby-trapped his cache—a snare that I have regrettably tripped. Despite my best efforts, I need Miss Restacks’ singular talents to turn back the tide, if you will.”
“There’s a tunnel, or series of tunnels, like on Oak Island, isn’t there?” said Clue. “They lead to the sea and are flooding the pit. You can’t find a way to stem the current.”
“Yes,” said Fortune.
“Well, you’ve got me here, but I’m not helping.”
“That was the incorrect answer,” said Fortune.
He moved his hands slightly and a number of vicious animals moved out of the darkness into a ring around Sydney. Plants rose up from the ground and restrained her wrists and ankles.
“You think you’ll get lucky twice with your partners?” he asked cruelly. “I don’t have a problem killing this one, too.”
A bear lurched closer to Sydney, the movement spurring the other animals to close in, as well. The circle tightened significantly.
“Clue?” Sydney’s voice was quiet and afraid.
Clue activated her powers, a whirlwind spun up forming a barrier between Sydney and the predators.
“You really must work on being less predictable, Miss Restacks,” cackled Jackson Fortune. He raised his finger.
“Oh no,” said Sydney before her eyes went glassy. Her hand pulled the gun from her holster and pointed it at her own head.
“Let’s not do anything we’ll regret later, hm?” said Fortune to Clue.
The wind fell away.
“Now, if you please,” was the command.
Clue did not have any other options. There was no way she could get to Fortune before he could make Sydney pull the trigger.
She closed her eyes and tried to sense the underground water she was to block. She felt the underground slipways and pushed the water back out to sea. The pit emptied quickly and remained dry.
Fortune’s hand moved again and Sydney slowly walked towards the scaffolding and began to climb down, all while keeping the gun steady.
Clue gasped, and struggled to hold her concentration on the water. She looked at Fortune, who was smiling.
“Surely you didn’t think I was going to go down there?” he said.
There was a tense standoff as the two stood at opposite ends of the yard and watched each other, each also keeping control of their powers at the same time.
Sydney returned to the surface carrying an irregular muddy shape. She handed it blankly to Fortune.
Then he addressed Clue again, “The others, please. Throw the bag to me.”
“Why?” said Clue. “You’ll kill her, anyway. These are my insurance. Release her or I’m coming with you. That’s your choice.”
Fortune considered his options briefly. “Yes, perhaps your presence will yet prove useful. Come then, we must be going.”
Clue made her way across the excavation area. She kept a light screen of electricity about her in case Fortune tried anything. She kept her head on a swivel, alert for any wandering carnivores Fortune might still have stalking around just out of sight.
She’d made it to within an arm’s reach of Fortune when Mr. Mouse made his move.
The daring mouse leapt from Sydney’s pocket where he’d been concealed and launched himself at Fortune’s burned face. He clawed and bit at the eyes and nose.
Fortune bellowed and clutched at himself, trying to knock Mr. Mouse away. He dropped the third mask during the fray. Clue ignored it and instead tackled the gun out of Sydney’s hand.
Clue could just make out Mr. Mouse clinging by his teeth to Fortune’s cheek before the centripetal force of Fortune’s shaking head overpowered his jaws and flung him in a high arc out into the mud.
Clue felt something heavy land on her back and realized that a jaguar had pounced on her. She raised the electric shield, but the mud and wet animal interfered with it somehow and it snapped and overloaded as both she and the cat were thrown in opposite directions.
By the time her eyes had cleared from the bright flash of feedback, Fortune was gone. And he’d managed to get away with all three masks. Clue had dropped her pair sometime during the fight.
She crawled to Sydney, who was just regaining herself after Fortune’s possession.
“Are you okay?” Clue asked.
“Yes,” replied Sydney. “That was unpleasant.”
She looked around. “What happened? Where’s Fortune?”
Clue filled her in on the last few minutes.
“Why didn’t he kill us while we were both down?” asked Sydney.
“I think Mr. Mouse messed him up pretty bad. I think Fortune grabbed the masks and took off without thinking about it too much.”
At the mention of his name, Mr. Mouse appeared beside Clue. The brown mud camouflaged him perfectly with the ground and Clue could only see a sparkle of light reflecting off of his beady eyes.
“Good job, partner,” she told him as she scooped him up.
“Thank you, too,” said Sydney to the little rodent. She held out her hand to him. He hopped over and crawled up to her shoulder and nuzzled her neck.
They both looked at Clue.
“Cute,” she admitted. “Now what about stopping Fortune, for real this time?”
“I have an idea,” said Sydney. “You said he dropped the mask at one point?”
“Yes, right over there,” Clue pointed.
Sydney went over and studied the ground. “Come check this out,” she called.
The fallen mask had left an impression in the soft earth. Clearly visible was the outline, as well as imprints of the pattern of lines that matched the other two masks.
Sydney got out her notebook and quickly drew the impression beside her sketches of the originals.
“I think the lines match up between the masks,” she said. “Do you think it’s another map?”
Clue looked at the drawings. “Seems to be. And I’ll bet you a dollar that the start is right here.”
Sydney hesitated, and squinted at the pictures once more. “Wait a second,” she said. “I think you might owe me a dollar.”
She tore the individual images from her book and arranged them together in a row. “They line up all right, but it’s not a map. Look.”
The lines on the masks spelled a word.
“Look how they connect. Without having the third you’d never see it,” she said.
“We’ve got to catch up with Fortune.” said Clue. “Now we might have a chance. Good catch, Syd.”
The trio ran back to Sydney’s car and set a course for the airport.
As they raced through traffic, Sydney cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably. “I need to talk about what happened back there.”
“It’s ok,” said Clue.
“No. It’s not. I let you down. He got to me. I won’t be able to help you when we find him.”
“Look,” said Clue. “If we don’t stop Fortune, people will die. Whatever he’s planning will kill somebody, I promise you that. If you can remember this, and fight for it, you’ll be ok. He won’t be able to touch you.”
“Thanks,” said Sydney. She was quiet for a moment. “So, do we even try to come up with a plan this time, or is rushing in going to be our style from now on?”
“Our plan this time is simple,” said Clue. “We make an entrance. Anything after that is a toss-up, anyways.”
They made it across the city in record time. Sydney slowed the car as they got close to Douglas International Airport. “We can’t do anything to tip off airport security.”
“I agree. We can use your badge to get past the gate. After that, we need to get to the most remote part of the ramp with the oldest structures where we will hopefully be less conspicuous and in the right ballpark of whatever it is the masks lead to.” said Clue.
Sydney managed to bluff her way past the guard and they made it through without raising any alarms. Then they drove around the field on the perimeter road. At the farthest end from the terminal was a small village of ancient hangars, saved for their historical significance in the founding of the airport. A marker explained they’d been built soon after the first plane had landed at the field in 1910.
“There,” said Clue.
They exited the car with caution. So far nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Clue ducked reflexively as a 747 flashed overhead on final approach.
“Loud,” said Sydney.
“It’s good for us. We can use the engine noise as cover,” said Clue.
Together she and Sydney crept from one hangar to another. Mr. Mouse kept a lookout over Sydney’s shoulder.
The Sydney stopped and pointed. A weathered and faded sign over the most remote hangar displayed the same staggered “W S” from William Lamar’s mansion.
Clue charged her fists and Sydney drew her gun as they approached the door.
Clue looked at Sydney, who nodded back. She was ready. They waited for another plane to fly overhead.
Then Clue summoned a gust of wind and ripped the giant bay doors off their tracks.
“Don’t move, Fortune!” she shouted.
Jackson Fortune looked up casually. “Oh dear, Miss Restacks, it seems you’re too late to stop me.”
He stood before a huge device that looked to Clue like a massive generator. A lattice of wires and pipes took up at least half of the hangar. In the middle of the machine was a facade with the three golden masks mounted to it.
Fortune gave each one a half turn and threw a jaunty salute to Sydney and Clue.
“Farewell, ladies. Better luck next time!”
Then he pulled a lever and an odd blue sphere of plasma grew from the center of the device and enveloped him.
“Come on!” shouted Clue. “Run!”
The she sprinted the last few feet towards the expanding azure cloud. Sydney grabbed Mr. Mouse off her shoulder and ran, too.
Both crossed the barrier a split second before it collapsed in on itself.
They found themselves in the middle of a tranquil, sunny field, standing beside the same strange contraption they had just seen. Someone seemed to be in the process of building a shed around it.
“Are you alright?” Sydney asked Clue.
“Yes. How’s Mr. Mouse?”
Sydney opened her cupped hands. Mr. Mouse was nonchalantly rubbing his ear. “He’s fine.”
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Douglas Aerodrome,” said a voice from behind the shed.
Clue looked around. “No, we were just there.”
“Let me guess,” said the small, moustached man who appeared from behind the shanty. “You just walked in to a bright blue ball.”
“Yes,” said Sydney. “How did you know?”
“Because I invented it. And because the year is 1910.”
Sydney sat down. Clue took a step forward.
“That’s a time machine?” she said.
“Indeed, it is. My name is Bill Lamar, and you are?”
“Clue. Clue Restacks.”
He looked at her and grinned slightly.
“Not your real name, is it?”
“And you, little lady?” He addressed Sydney, who was still sitting on the ground. “Allow me to help you up,” he offered, as he held out his hand.
“Sydney King,” she said, feeling somewhat bashful. Bill Lamar was kind of cute.
Suddenly Clue became serious. “We followed a man though the portal. Have you seen him? Big guy. Messed up face.”
“No, I haven’t,” said Lamar.
“He came through right before us. Are you certain?” she said.
“How long before you?” Lamar asked.
“A few seconds, maybe, not long.”
“Did he enter the same sphere as you?”
“Yes, he started it and was standing right next to the machine.”
“Ok,” said Lamar. “Then you’ve got about an hour before he shows up.”
“Why is that?” asked Sydney.
Lamar began to explain.
“The time machine is not entirely precise. You can set a rough date, but it’ll get you within about a week, plus or minus. That’s for main targeting. After that you’ve got to deal with the individual jump. Anything in the center of the sphere as it expands will end up together at the destination. The further from the center you are, the further apart in time you will be at the end of the ride, relative to anything from that jump.
“Being near the edge has a sling-shot effect, if you will. If you are traveling back in time, objects on the edge will arrive sooner. If you go forwards in time, you’ll get snapped later and arrive after an object from the center does,” he explained. “From one side of the sphere to the other the difference is about two hours in arrival times. If he was at the center, it will be around sixty minutes.”
“How are the masks important?” Sydney asked. “They’re why this man we’re looking for has been after us.”
“The masks are right here,” said Lamar, leading them to the other side of the structure. “They’re the keys to initiate the temporal reaction.”
Sure enough, on closer inspection, the three masks were set into perfectly matched sockets on the side of the control panel.
“Why gold? And why masks?” asked Sydney.
“Gold, because it was needed to conduct the right amount of energy to the lens, and masks, because, well, why not be a touch whimsical? It’s a time machine, after all.”
“You’ve done an awful lot of work on this, haven’t you?” said Sydney.
“You are right. I’ve jumped many times to cover my tracks. I’ve had to dig a few pits, then obscure the ownership of the masks, lay down plans for someone to perhaps find my work were something to happen to me. I had to make it difficult enough to ensure that whoever did find the machine would be intelligent enough to use it properly. By the way, what year did you come from, anyway?”
Clue told him.
“I’ve been there, too,” he said.
Sydney then changed the topic. “You’re pretty good at planning, aren’t you? Clue and I, we’re not, so much. We don’t have long before the worst person you’ll ever meet shows up. Can you help us stop him? This time we should be the ones who are prepared.”
“Sure thing,” said Lamar. “I can’t say no to a pretty lady like you.”
Sydney blushed again.
She and Clue quickly explained to the inventor Jackson Fortune’s particular dangers.
Lamar thought for awhile, and then offered a cunning proposal. “If we can catch him as he arrives here with a well-timed portal we could trap him in a loop between the moment he left your time and now. That would be the easiest way to defeat him.” He hesitated.
Clue sensed there was more to the story. “But?”
“There is an unpleasant element to this proposal. Any activation of the device after that would break the loop and free him at any point in time between now and then. “
“Any activation, like the three of us getting home,” said Clue.
“That is correct. You would be trapped here.”
“What about just sending him someplace he won’t matter? Like to get eaten by a dinosaur or to fight a caveman or something?” asked Sydney.
“Unfortunately this device can only transmit to a place that the machine already exists. I cannot go back beyond the first day I activated it,” said Lamar.
“What about to the future?” said Clue.
“Theoretically, yes, since the machine would exist in the future. But in our current timeline it will be destroyed soon after the date you came from,” said Lamar.
“Do you know why?” asked Sydney.
“No, I only know that because I have not been able to travel beyond that year,” said Lamar.
“Why don’t we just shoot him?” said Sydney abruptly. “We know where he’s going to be. We know we’ll have a window of a few seconds as he gets his bearings. This may be the first time we don’t need a complicated plan.”
Lamar looked at Clue for her opinion.
Clue looked at Mr. Mouse. She knew his decision. “I like it,” she said.
“How long have we got?” she asked.
Lamar consulted a battered pocket watch.
He was right.
Mr. Mouse noticed it first. He twitched his nose as he detected a faint burning smell in the air. He squeaked once.
“Got it,” said Sydney, on whose shoulder he was still perched. She drew her pistol and pointed it towards the machine.
Clue stood still, focused on reacting with whatever support should be needed.
Lamar consulted some dials on the machine. “Should be in that direction,” he said, gesturing.
There was a hum of energy from the machine, a harsh buzz that amplified to a roar. At the peak of the crescendo it stopped suddenly.
Jackson Fortune materialized.
Sydney pulled the trigger immediately.
Fortune dropped. She kept firing until the gun began to make empty clicks.
She’d spent all of her ammunition.
They all relaxed abruptly as the adrenalin surged out of them. The job was done.
Clue moved towards the fallen body.
She was stopped by a wall of razor-edged grass.
“I control life, Miss Restacks! Did you forget that?” she heard Fortune’s evil voice pronounce.
He raised himself up off of the ground. “And don’t be so foolish as to think I wouldn’t have anticipated your blonde friend’s suggestion.”
He turned to Sydney. “Such violent thoughts in someone so beautiful. Tsk. Tsk. I may have been on a boat for a long time, but I know what a bullet-proof vest is.”
He continued. “Now, Mr. Lamar? Mr. William Sherman Lamar? I’d like you to come with me. I have some plans for your future.”
“I should think not,” said Lamar. He drew slightly closer to the time machine.
“As you wish,” said Fortune. “I can just as easily kill you and use your machine by myself. I may not be able to produce any more wonderful inventions, but I am sure that I could get by with control over time itself.”
Roots began to emerge from the earth at Lamar’s feet. The first one to reach him found his ankle and coiled tightly around it.
“You will have a difficult time without this!” said Lamar as he reached into the guts of the machine and tore out a component.
He threw it into the middle of the field where it shattered on impact with the ground. “That was the power-cycling crystal, without it, you won’t find anything with enough electricity to power the machine until they build the Hoover Dam in twenty-five years.”
Fortune flew into a rage. “Die!” he screamed. A root reared up and stabbed Lamar in the back. He kept standing as the wood skewered him.
“Clue! We’ve got to do something,” shouted Sydney.
“Mr. Mouse, go!” Clue called to him.
Mr. Mouse dashed for the machine’s controls.
Sydney drew her taser and fired directly into Fortune’s neck as he was distracted by Mr. Mouse.
The grass and roots around them collapsed as Fortune lost control.
Clue waited for Mr. Mouse to get to the machine as she tried to stop Lamar’s bleeding.
Sydney kept cover over a prone Fortune.
Mr. Mouse climbed up the front of the apparatus and rotated the golden keys one at a time by running to the edge of each mask and dangling off, letting his weight turn their perfectly balanced pivots.
Then he hurried back to Clue.
“Ready?” she asked Sydney.
Clue blasted the machine with a massive lighting strike. The now-familiar blue bubble began to expand and wash over the grassy runway and everyone on it.
Clue recognized the modern airport. Just across the fence she could see the car she and Sydney had arrived in. There was crime tape around the mangled hangar doors. She must have arrived some time after they’d left.
The distraction passed quickly, and she leapt into action, again. Lamar was on his back at her feet. She pulled out her phone and called an ambulance.
“Hold on,” she told Lamar. We’re going to get you help, you’re going to be ok.”
Moments later Sydney arrived, still pointing her taser towards the hangar with the now-smoking machine.
She was faster to come around following the jump. “Where’s Fortune?” she asked. “He was closer than you or me, he would have arrived first.”
“I don’t know,” said Clue. “He wasn’t here when I came back. If he’d gotten here first he’d have ambushed us like we did to him. I think I fried him with the lightning.”
“I hope so. Is Bill ok?” Sydney ran to him and cradled his head in her lap. He managed a faint smile.
“I’m sure with the best modern medical care I’ll recover, pretty lady,” he told her.
Two days later, Clue, Sydney, and Mr. Mouse arrived at the Hospital. Mr. Mouse kept his head down, though. Hospitals don’t like mice.
They walked to Lamar’s room.
“We had a heck of a time getting you in here, you know,” said Clue. “According to your records you should be about a hundred and fifty years old.”
“I am, somewhere.” He grimaced and then coughed.
“Are you alright?” asked Sydney.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine. A pinch of medicine and then I’ll be back to my own time and out of your hair,” he said.
“Um, about that,” said Clue. “Your machine got a little bit torched on our return trip. And if it doesn’t work in 1910, then fixing it now won’t help you, will it?”
“I suppose not,” he said, realizing. “I guess I’ll be around to bother you a little longer, then.”
“That’s actually what we wanted to talk to you about,” said Sydney.
Mr. Mouse jumped to the bed with something in his mouth.
Lamar took the business card and read it.
“Restacks, King, Lamar, and Mouse. The Troubleshooting Company.”
“Interested?” asked Clue.
“I certainly am,” he said.
Sydney hugged him. “Yes!” she exclaimed.
Mr. Mouse sat back and wondered what it was going to feel like to be the team leader.
Clue noticed him and scratched him behind the ear.
Alright, he conceded to himself.
Clue Restacks, Mr. Mouse, and The Troubleshooting Company will return in “The Ice Fortress”