Antiques: The Barter Building Book One by Steven & Margaret Larson by Steven & Margaret Larson - Read Online

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Antiques - Steven & Margaret Larson

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1

The padlock dial turned smoothly beneath my fingers. I could sense the subtle catches as it moved over the internal mechanism.

When I was six, I thought my Uncle Max was a genius. He was always helping me solve a new puzzle. His favorite things were combination padlocks, and he showed me how they worked. When I caught on he gave me a pat on the back, a big grin, and said, Attaboy! I was hooked.

For my 8th birthday he gave me this padlock with a customized feature that let me reset its combination randomly. My task was to figure out the new sequences. I got pretty good at it and carried it with me most of the time. It helped me think.

Noah leaned back on the park bench, eyes closed, earbuds attached, and music filling his brain. We'd been friends since first grade. We were fourteen now and high school was right around the corner, but I hadn't given much thought to it yet.

Noah already had plans in place. He was going to be a geologist, and had even picked out his college.

My future was foggy. Dad expected me to follow in his footsteps and be a mechanic. If I didn't come up with something practical, I'd end up working with Dad at his garage, just two miles from home. He owned it, ran it, and was the best mechanic in Wheatfield County.

He'd say things like, Son, you can't go wrong learning how to repair a car. I wish my Dad would have had his own garage when I was your age.

Cars were okay, but I was more interested in locks. I just wasn't sure how to make a career of them.

My school counselor was fond of telling me, Young man, you have a bright future. Expand your horizons. Try something new.

The first number fell into place on the lock and I reversed the dial direction, searching for the second.

A shout broke the stillness.

Wait 'till I get my hands on you, Danny!

Noah never looked up. A girl wearing a ball cap pounded around the corner and slid to a stop in front of the antique store. She was about our age. Her hand clenched a rod. It was smaller than a baseball bat and when she swept it around, a light flashed off the end. She didn't seem to notice me. No surprise there. I was used to being invisible.

She flung open the door. Another bright flash winked from the end of the rod as she darted inside, and the door slowly closed behind her.

Twin Rivers was a small town, but we had our own legend. Not world famous folklore like the Loch Ness monster, but every bit as enticing for the local residents. Our town had a mysterious girl who carried a baton with a jewel on the tip and a treasure map hidden inside. She appeared every ten years or so and was known as the River Maiden.

Another shout startled me.

Where are you, you little troll?

Around the corner appeared another girl our age. I nudged Noah. He looked up and immediately unplugged his phone. He was fully aware now.

Katelin, he said.

Her searching gaze caught and locked onto Noah. She crossed the street to confront him. Even agitated she was stunning. Her skin was like a Greek goddess, golden brown without any blemish. Her long dark hair had been pulled back in a ponytail and several strands had escaped and now draped in loose spirals on her neck.

Her dark eyes narrowed. I don't suppose you were awake enough to notice which route that obnoxious little juvenile took?

Noah shrugged, his expression one of bewilderment mixed with admiration.

She let out an exasperated sigh. Danny?

Danny was a well-known nuisance. At ten years old, he already had a career goal and was busy pursuing the art of being a private investigator. I wasn't sure what mischief he had been up to, but he had obviously given Katelin the slip. Somehow the girl with the baton had taken Danny's place in the chase.

What secrets has Danny uncovered this time? I asked.

She turned, finally noticing me. Never mind. I just need to talk to him.

What juicy bit of information could Katelin be protecting? She was new to town, but without much effort she was rapidly moving up the popularity scale.

Noah rallied and stood to his feet. I didn't happen to see Danny, but my guess is he's at Frozenbog. He gave her his winning smile.

Over the years I had watched him use that smile with unfailing success. But to my amazement, the Greek goddess didn't fall under his spell.

And why would he be there? she asked, her tone tinged with doubt.

Noah shrugged. They sell food, especially ice cream. Where else on this street would a ten year old boy go? He took her arm, leading her across the street. Even if I've guessed wrong, ice cream sounds like a good idea.

Katelin let herself be led up the street. I trailed along behind. The storefront signs for the Barter Building shops had clearly been designed for tourists: Katz Fiddle, Counterclockwise, Antiques, Forgotten Treasures, Alexandria's Trove.

Noah steered Katelin toward Frozenbog. The ice cream shop was the inspiration of Eric Baardsson, a native of Twin Rivers. Above the door swung a sign picturing a long boat plowing through mounds of ice cream. In the ship's prow stood a Viking, who looked a lot like Eric, waving a steaming cup of hot chocolate instead of a sword. I could almost feel the cold air.

Eric had graduated from business school and somehow managed to convince the bank that Frozenbog was a profitable idea. From what I could see he was doing pretty well. Noah was probably his best customer. The food was good enough, but Eric created the best homemade ice cream this side of Asgard. Noah opened the door to Frozenbog and followed Katelin inside, but ice cream wasn't on my mind.

I paused in front of Antiques. Sunlight reflected off the tinted window. My own distorted and ghostly reflection looked back at me from among the artifacts inside the showcase.

Of course the girl hadn't been carrying a mythical baton. That was just folklore, but I was curious to see what it was that had caused all the commotion.

My counselor's words came back to me. Try something new.

Well, I'd never visited the past.

CHAPTER 2

My fingers closed around the cold doorknob. It turned easily. I stepped inside, the clang of a cowbell announcing my entry.

Overhead a fan slowly stirred the heavy air with a click, click, click of the blades. The air felt stale. It smelled of used books, worn leather, and ancient wooden furnishings. Even the light felt worn and dim. An ornate brass cash register sat at one end of a rough wooden counter.

The floor creaked under my feet, and a door in the back opened. The girl stepped out and I recognized her. Anna Midsummer.

I could see how Katelin might have thought she was chasing Danny. Anna's hair was blonde, almost white like Danny's, but she was a bit taller and a whole lot prettier.

There was no sign of the baton. She must have stashed it somewhere.

She frowned at me as if working out a math problem. Your name is TJ isn't it?

JT, I said.

She nodded. Sorry. I'm Anna.

It was my turn to nod. So, you're interested in antiques? I said.

Music, she said.

Isn't the music store a couple doors down? I asked.

She smiled good-naturedly at my lame humor. I'm taking music lessons from Walter Jensen, the owner of this building. She shrugged. Actually the owner of the whole block.

It was my turn to smile at her attempt at humor. The building was the whole block. Originally it was just a warehouse before the front section had been converted into stores.

When we were little, Noah and I had spent hours talking about the wondrous things that could be in the warehouse. We imagined it as a huge vault that was the entrance to a gold mine, or a science lab where spies developed new technology, or a storage place where the government was hiding a UFO. The possibilities were endless.

The floor behind her creaked and a figure appeared in the shadows near the back. White hair floated around his head like a halo. The figure shuffled into the light taking the form of an old man. He wore a plaid shirt and a rumpled brown sweater that hung down over baggy pants the color of weathered tree bark.

Walter was as ancient as some of the oak trees in the park. He probably planted some of them. I'd seen him around, but our conversation never went beyond good morning. I couldn't believe that in this heat he was wearing a sweater.

He grunted. When the bell rang I thought it was that art woman coming back to complain again. I never should have rented to her.

Marta Vanchev, Anna said, but he didn't reply.

Wrinkles deepened on his lined and weathered face as he studied me with intense blue eyes. I felt pinned to the floor like a laboratory specimen.

Well Anna, he said, is this a new member of our ensemble or is he campaigning for president of your fan club?

Anna blushed and looked flustered.

He turned back to me. What brings you into the past?

I stammered. I...I was looking for...someone...

Seems you have found more than one, he said. However, Anna's time is spoken for at the moment. He turned and shuffled back the way he came. I'll run through the first movement of Tchaikovsky, Anna. Try to be in your place by the time the flute comes in. The door closed softly behind him.

Who were you looking for? she asked.

Who and what. I toyed with the idea of bluntly asking about the baton, but I heard voices outside.

I pointed to the door. That's Katelin with my friend Noah Bonner, I said. She's looking for a kid wearing a ball cap similar to yours.

Anna snatched the hat from her head releasing her short blonde curls. A bass cello started playing mournful notes from the back room. She stuffed the cap behind the counter. The cowbell clanged.

There you are, Noah said. We checked every store on the block looking for you. We didn't expect you to be in here.

Katelin wrinkled her nose. Things don't change much in here over time.

Anna stepped from behind the counter. She looked Katelin in the eye. This store sells pieces of history.

That's one way to look at it, Katelin said under her breath. She turned to Noah. "We've located JT, but there's no sign of Danny. I'm leaving. I'm going to plan something uncomfortable for that meddling little interference. She headed for the door.

Noah sprang into action. Let me get that for you. He reached around and opened the door. The cowbell rang again, clashing with the cello.

Noah flashed me a grin as he followed her out.

I need to get back to my lesson, Anna said. She started to leave, hesitated, and then turned back. Is that a padlock you're holding?

Too late I realized I was still holding the padlock and thumbing the combination without thinking about it. She must think I was a real dope.

I held it up trying to look normal and forced a smile. It's a combination lock, I said. Instead of shoving it in my pocket, I kept talking. I reset the combination at random and see how long it takes me to open it. I turned the dial with my thumb, the last number clicked into place, and the lock popped open.

Her eyes widened and she stood there staring at me. She probably thought I was crazy. I slid the padlock through a side belt loop and snapped it into place.

Do you pick locks too?

My face felt hotter than it had outside in the sun. I'm studying to be a locksmith, I said.

Of course, she said with a smile. She turned and took several steps, hesitated again, then looked back. There's a concert in the park tonight.

You're playing? I asked.