The King's Puzzle, Book 1 (Angus Wolfe adventures, #2) by Ian Wilson by Ian Wilson - Read Online

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The King's Puzzle, Book 1 (Angus Wolfe adventures, #2) - Ian Wilson

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Brown

Chapter 1

Monday, January 31, 2011

A yelp in the forest sent shivers along 16-year-old Angus Wolfe’s spine. Okay, we’ve found the tree stumps from the bonfires. That’s good enough for today. Let’s get back to the truck.

Not so fast. Amanda Webb, eight months his senior, brushed her lips on his.

Drawing back, Angus peered among the pines, which were tinged orange by the sun.

Amanda’s eyelids fluttered open. It’s only a dog, silly. Her voice was edged with huskiness. Are you frightened of dogs?

Studying Amanda’s face, framed by chestnut brown hair, Angus shook his head.

So what are you afraid of, my birthday kiss? Amanda leapt onto a charred stump. She held her arms out, balancing her slender frame. "At least give me something in return for dragging me into the woods. All for some train that stopped here in 1939."

"A Royal Train."

Whatever. Amanda’s amber eyes flashed in the dying light. She checked her watch. Your clock runs out with your 16th birthday. That gives you six and a half hours. Jumping down, she grabbed a mittful of snow and rubbed it into Angus’s brown hair. Maybe that’ll shock you into action. Then again, it makes you look like Bozo the Clown. Not appetizing in the least.

I guess I need a haircut. Angus smoothed the strands, then cocked his head.

You need more than a haircut. Man up, Angus, or I’ll entertain other offers.

I’m afraid—

Of?

The hairs rose on the back of Angus’s neck. Coyotes.

Huh?

I’m afraid of coyotes.

Pulling a flashlight from his pocket, Angus flicked the beam around. It came to rest on a pair of yellow eyes and gleaming fangs ten yards away.

Amanda sucked in her breath. Ooh. He’s a big one. She clamped onto Angus’s elbow with her mitted hands.

The coyote slinked closer, feet padding on the snow, tail drooping. Angus thrust out his arms to ward it off. Get back up on the stump.

Amanda scrambled to the highest point. By the flashlight’s beam, they watched the coyote dart forward and then draw back, nose to the ground, drool dripping from his mouth.

They were at Carley, a hamlet in the hills of Medonte (Meh-DAWN-Tay) Township in Ontario. It was about a 20-minute drive west of Angus’s home, in Orillia, and situated on a Canadian Pacific Railway line. He hadn’t heard of the place until reading a letter from Buckingham Palace a few hours earlier. The missive told a story about his late grandfather, Duncan, making a puzzle for His Majesty King George VI. That had been in 1939, when Duncan was ten years of age. It was news to the Wolfe family. Apparently, Duncan had promised to meet The King during a Royal Train stop at Carley, but failed to keep the rendezvous. That perplexed Angus. He wondered why his grandfather had kept the matter a secret.

Invoking birthday privileges, Angus had coaxed Amanda to explore Carley with him. They’d traipsed the hillside where a crowd had gathered for the Royal Train on May 22, 1939. That day of the year was Amanda’s birthday, she’d pointed out. A better time than January 31 to search for tree stumps.

With ears peaked, the coyote stared at Angus. Shadows of pack mates emerged from among the trees. Amanda’s phone, the only one they had with them, was dead. Her grandfather, Big Jim, would be oblivious to their plight. He was sitting in his pickup truck at a railway crossing five hundred feet away.

You okay? Angus’s voice quavered.

No, I’m not. Amanda sounded on the edge of hysteria. She teetered on the stump behind Angus, clutching his shoulders. A horn sounded in the distance. Granddad. She shrieked. "Granddad. Help."

He won’t hear you. Not with the engine running and heater going. Shockwaves rippled through Angus’s nerves as he felt Amanda’s terror through her grasp. He watched half a dozen coyotes tighten around them in a ring, yelping and howling. Darting his eyes about for something tall enough to climb, he spotted a pine that towered over the forest. Its lowest limb was seven or eight feet off the ground. Start backing toward that tree.

Trembling, Amanda eased off the stump. Angus handed her the flashlight. He grabbed a branch from the snow, extending it toward the coyotes to protect their retreat. Step by step, they walked backwards. Against human opponents, Angus’s black belt in Karate might have given him confidence. Wild animals were a different story. Snarling, the lead dog sank his teeth into the limb, then wrenched it from his hand. But Amanda had reached the pine.

Taking the flashlight, Angus crouched. Get on my shoulders, then hang onto the tree. She stepped up, teetered for a moment, then twisted sideways to hug the trunk. He drew to his full 5’-6 height. The coyote slunk back. He thinks I’m twice as big. Now, you need to jump for that branch."

I can’t reach it. And I won’t leave you here, Wolfie.

Never mind. Leap off my shoulders, like we do in the water.

But it’s too high.

"Listen to me, Miss Webb. You have to do it. You’ve only got one try. Put your mitts in your pockets. You need to grip. I’ll count to three, then you jump."

Angus flexed his knees. Amanda lost her grip on the tree. She shrieked, then dug her fingernails into the bark.

Okay. One more time. Angus watched the lead coyote advance with head tilted toward Amanda. "One, two, three, jump." He sprang upward.

Vaulting off Angus’s shoulders, Amanda clawed the branch with one hand and dangled. The coyotes moved underneath her, noses pointed upward. By her facial contortions, Angus knew her strength was ebbing. Her arm straightened. He watched her feet lower to within snapping distance. She flung her free arm skyward—and seized the limb.

Angus watched Amanda swing like a pendulum. She bucked her legs, trying to hook the branch with the toes of her boots. A coyote sprang and latched onto her ski jacket. The dog dangled by its teeth, tail brushing the ground. Her fingers strained. Angus lunged at the animal, arms outstretched and bellowing. The coyote dropped to the snow with a snarl. Heaving her legs, Amanda locked her ankles around the limb.

Rotate yourself around. Angus pressed back against the tree, watching the pack and Amanda. She hooked an elbow over the branch, then a knee. Panting, she rolled her body on top of the limb, then edged toward the trunk.

The horn beeped again from the direction of the railway crossing. Amanda wailed. "Granddad, please come. Granddad." Her voice gurgled and died in her throat.

With hanging tongues, the coyotes crept closer to Angus. He considered his options. At 145 lbs., he probably outweighed the lead dog by a factor of three, and wouldn’t shy away from a one-on-one fight. A pack was another matter. Maybe he could disperse them. He yelled and lunged. They padded away, then turned back. The leader sprang, snapping his jaws and warming Angus’s face with his breath.

Amanda screamed. Help. She cupped her hands and raised the volume. "Help. The terror in her voice curdled Angus’s blood. Then she spoke in a normal tone. Wolfie, do you have the noisemaker in your pocket?"

I do. Angus felt a ripple of optimism cascade through his insides. Here, catch. He tossed the flashlight upward. Its beam corkscrewed through the darkness into Amanda’s hands.

While Amanda flicked the light in and out of the lead coyote’s eyes, Angus drew an orange cartridge from his pocket. It was mounted on a pen-like device. He aimed at the beast, then snapped the launching spring. Sparks traced a line through the dusk, ending near the coyote’s paws. The snow exploded in a geyser. A blast equivalent to that of a Roman candle reverberated through the hills.

The coyotes slinked back into the evergreens. For half a minute, it seemed as if they’d lost their nerve. Then they re-advanced. Angus screwed his only replacement cartridge into the noisemaker. When the lead dog attacked him, he planned to fire the explosive down his throat.

The beast lowered his nose and growled. Angus drew back the spring. The coyote sprang. In a freeze-frame, the animal hovered in mid-air, legs outstretched and teeth bared. The dog never made contact. From Angus’s left came a flash of orange. A bullet whistled through the air. Then a blast rang his eardrums. The impact propelled the coyote across the snow. It writhed for a moment, then expired in a heap. The remainder of the pack dissolved into the forest. Angus smelled gunpowder.

A burly man clutching a rifle and a lantern emerged from the trees and shouted. Amanda. Angus.

Granddad. Amanda dangled from the tree, then dropped to the snow.

Big Jim’s whitish hair fell across his face. He set down his firearm and lantern, then embraced Amanda. When you didn’t come after I beeped the horn, I got annoyed. When you didn’t come the second time I honked, I grabbed my gun. And when I heard the explosion, I knew there was trouble.

Allowing his leg muscles to give out, Angus slumped onto the snow. As he leaned against the tree, its bark indented his shoulders. Spasms rippled through his body. Taking off his gloves, he watched his fingers shaking. He laid his arms on clusters of needles shaken loose by Amanda. He looked up at the stars and inhaled the pine-scented air. All was quiet. There were no snarls, no howls, no yelps. Big Jim walked over to him.

Angus extended his hand. You saved my life.

Happy Birthday. Now let’s get out of here.

Chapter 2

Watching Big Jim trundle away through the snow, Angus settled into a trance. He jumped