Chapter 1. A Death at the Needle
WE ONLY HAVE A FEW HOURS, so listen carefully.
If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger. Sadie and I might be your only chance.
Go to the school. Find the locker. I won’t tell you which school or which locker, because if you’re the right person, you’ll find it. The combination is 13/32/33. By the time you finish listening, you’ll know what those numbers mean. Just remember the story we’re about to tell you isn’t complete yet. How it ends will depend on you.
The most important thing: when you open the package and find what’s inside, don’t keep it longer than a week. Sure, it’ll be tempting. I mean, it will grant you almost unlimited power. But if you possess it too long, it will consume you. Learn its secrets quickly and pass it on. Hide it for the next person, the way Sadie and I did for you. Then be prepared for your life to get very interesting.
Okay, Sadie is telling me to stop stalling and get on with the story. Fine. I guess it started in London, the night our dad blew up the British Museum.
My name is Carter Kane. I’m fourteen and my home is a suitcase.
You think I’m kidding? Since I was eight years old, my dad and I have traveled the world. I was born in L. A. but my dad’s an archaeologist, so his work takes him all over. Mostly we go to Egypt, since that’s his specialty. Go into a bookstore, find a book about Egypt, there’s a pretty good chance it was written by Dr. Julius Kane. You want to know how Egyptians pulled the brains out of mummies, or built the pyramids, or cursed King Tut’s tomb? My dad is your man. Of course, there are other reasons my dad moved around so much, but I didn’t know his secret back then.
I didn’t go to school. My dad homeschooled me, if you can call it “home” schooling when you don’t have a home. He sort of taught me whatever he thought was important, so I learned a lot about Egypt and basketball stats and my dad’s favorite musicians. I read a lot, too—pretty much anything I could get my hands on, from dad’s history books to fantasy novels—because I spent a lot of time sitting around in hotels and airports and dig sites in foreign countries where I didn’t know anybody. My dad was always telling me to put the book down and play some ball. You ever try to start a game of pick-up basketball in Aswan, Egypt? It’s not easy.
Anyway, my dad trained me early to keep all my possessions in a single suitcase that fits in an airplane’s overhead compartment. My dad packed the same way, except he was allowed an extra workbag for his archaeology tools. Rule number one: I was not allowed to look in his workbag. That’s a rule I never broke until the day of the explosion.
It happened on Christmas Eve. We were in London for visitation day with my sister, Sadie.
See, Dad’s only allowed two days a year with her—one in the winter, one in the summer—because our grandparents hate him. After our mom died, her parents (our grandparents) had this big court battle with Dad. After six lawyers, two fistfights, and a near fatal attack with a spatula (don’t ask), they won the right to keep Sadie with them in England. She was only six, two years younger than me, and they couldn’t keep us both—at least that was their excuse for not taking me. So Sadie was raised as a British schoolkid, and I traveled around with my dad. We only saw Sadie twice a year, which was fine with me.
[Shut up, Sadie. Yes—I’m getting to that part. ]
So anyway, my dad and I had just flown into Heathrow after a couple of delays. It was a drizzly, cold afternoon. The whole taxi ride into the city, my dad seemed kind of nervous.
Now, my dad is a big guy. You wouldn’t think anything could make him nervous. He has dark brown skin like mine, piercing brown eyes, a bald head, and a goatee, so he looks like a buff evil scientist. That afternoon he wore his cashmere winter coat and his best brown suit, the one he used for public lectures. Usually he exudes so much confidence that he dominates any room he walks into, but sometimes—like that afternoon—I saw another side to him that I didn’t really understand. He kept looking over his shoulder like we were being hunted.
“Dad?” I said as we were getting off the A-40. “What’s wrong?”
“No sign of them,” he muttered. Then he must’ve realized he’d spoken aloud, because he looked at me kind of startled. “Nothing, Carter. Everything’s fine. ”
Which bothered me because my dad’s a terrible liar. I always knew when he was hiding something, but I also knew no amount of pestering would get the truth out of him. He was probably trying to protect me, though from what I didn’t know. Sometimes I wondered if he had some dark secret in his past, some old enemy following him, maybe; but the idea seemed ridiculous. Dad was just an archaeologist.
The other thing that troubled me: Dad was clutching his workbag. Usually when he does that, it means we’re in danger. Like the time gunmen stormed our hotel in Cairo. I heard shots coming from the lobby and ran downstairs to check on my dad. By the time I got there, he was just calmly zipping up his workbag while three unconscious gunmen hung by their feet from the chandelier, their robes falling over their heads so you could see their boxer shorts. Dad claimed not to have witnessed anything, and in the end the police blamed a freak chandelier malfunction.
Another time, we got caught in a riot in Paris. My dad found the nearest parked car, pushed me into the backseat, and told me to stay down. I pressed myself against the floorboards and kept my eyes shut tight. I could hear Dad in the driver’s seat, rummaging in his bag, mumbling something to himself while the mob yelled and destroyed things outside. A few minutes later he told me it was safe to get up. Every other car on the block had been overturned and set on fire. Our car had been freshly washed and polished, and several twenty-euro notes had been tucked under the windshield wipers.
Anyway, I’d come to respect the bag. It was our good luck charm. But when my dad kept it close, it meant we were going to need good luck.
We drove through the city center, heading east toward my grandparents’ flat. We passed the golden gates of Buckingham Palace, the big stone column in Trafalgar Square. London is a pretty cool place, but after you’ve traveled for so long, all cities start to blend together. Other kids I meet sometimes say, “Wow, you’re so lucky you get to travel so much. ” But it’s not like we spend our time sightseeing or have a lot of money to travel in style. We’ve stayed in some pretty rough places, and we hardly ever stay anywhere longer than a few days. Most of the time it feels like we’re fugitives rather than tourists.
I mean, you wouldn’t think my dad’s work was dangerous. He does lectures on topics like “Can Egyptian Magic Really Kill You?” and “Favorite Punishments in the Egyptian Underworld” and other stuff most people wouldn’t care about. But like I said, there’s that other side to him. He’s always very cautious, checking every hotel room before he lets me walk into it. He’ll dart into a museum to see some artifacts, take a few notes, and rush out again like he’s afraid to be caught on the security cameras.
One time when I was younger, we raced across the Charles de Gaulle airport to catch a last-minute flight, and Dad didn’t relax until the plane was off the ground, I asked him point blank what he was running from, and he looked at me like I’d just pulled the pin out of a grenade. For a second I was scared he might actually tell me the truth. Then he said, “Carter, it’s nothing. ” As if “nothing” were the most terrible thing in the world.
After that, I decided maybe it was better not to ask questions.
My grandparents, the Fausts, live in a housing development near Canary Wharf, right on the banks of the River Thames. The taxi let us off at the curb, and my dad asked the driver to wait.
We were halfway up the walk when Dad froze. He turned and looked behind us.
“What?” I asked.
Then I saw the man in the trench coat. He was across the street, leaning against a big dead tree. He was barrel shaped, with skin the color of roasted coffee. His coat and black pinstriped suit looked expensive. He had long braided hair and wore a black fedora pulled down low over his dark round glasses. He reminded me of a jazz musician, the kind my dad would always drag me to see in concert. Even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I got the impression he was watching us. He might’ve been an old friend or colleague of Dad’s. No matter where we went, Dad was always running into people he knew. But it did seem strange that the guy was waiting here, outside my grandparents’. And he didn’t look happy.
“Carter,” my dad said, “go on ahead. ”
“Get your sister. I’ll meet you back at the taxi. ”
He crossed the street toward the man in the trench coat, which left me with two choices: follow my dad and see what was going on, or do what I was told.
I decided on the slightly less dangerous path. I went to retrieve my sister.
Before I could even knock, Sadie opened the door.
“Late as usual,” she said.
She was holding her cat, Muffin, who’d been a “going away” gift from Dad six years before. Muffin never seemed to get older or bigger. She had fuzzy yellow-and-black fur like a miniature leopard, alert yellow eyes, and pointy ears that were too tall for her head. A silver Egyptian pendant dangled from her collar. She didn’t look anything like a muffin, but Sadie had been little when she named her, so I guess you have to cut her some slack.
Sadie hadn’t changed much either since last summer.
[As I’m recording this, she’s standing next to me, glaring, so I’d better be careful how I describe her. ]
You would never guess she’s my sister. First of all, she’d been living in England so long, she has a British accent. Second, she takes after our mom, who was white, so Sadie’s skin is much lighter than mine. She has straight caramel-colored hair, not exactly blond but not brown, which she usually dyes with streaks of bright colors. That day it had red streaks down the left side. Her eyes are blue. I’m serious. Blue eyes, just like our mom’s. She’s only twelve, but she’s exactly as tall as me, which is really annoying. She was chewing gum as usual, dressed for her day out with Dad in battered jeans, a leather jacket, and combat boots, like she was going to a concert and was hoping to stomp on some people. She had headphones dangling around her neck in case we bored her.
[Okay, she didn’t hit me, so I guess I did an okay job of describing her. ]
“Our plane was late,” I told her.
She popped a bubble, rubbed Muffin’s head, and tossed the cat inside. “Gran, going out!”
From somewhere in the house, Grandma Faust said something I couldn’t make out, probably “Don’t let them in!”
Sadie closed the door and regarded me as if I were a dead mouse her cat had just dragged in. “So, here you are again. ”
“Come on, then. ” She sighed. “Let’s get on with it. ”
That’s the way she was. No “Hi, how you been the last six months? So glad to see you!” or anything. But that was okay with me. When you only see each other twice a year, it’s like you’re distant cousins rather than siblings. We had absolutely nothing in common except our parents.