include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Problems in Prague by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

JJ Bennett: Junior Spy


Problems in Prague


By Alba Arango

Copyright © 2018 Alba Arango


All rights reserved.


Published by Sapphire Books

P.O. Box 753842

Las Vegas, NV 89131


Distributed by Smashwords


This book is available in print at most online retailers.


Book Cover by Bukovero


Library of Congress Control Number: 2018905164

ISBN: 978-0-9903943-9-6


This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

BOOKS BY ALBA ARANGO


Chapter 1


Maggie and I raced through the courtyard, trying to catch up to the pretty Russian spy. I only wanted to ask her a few questions, but the way she took off running when she saw us a few minutes ago made me think she wasn’t exactly there for sightseeing. I decided we should follow her and find out what she was doing here at the Castle.

She disappeared behind a long tan, two-story building. Turning the corner, we found ourselves on a deserted winding pathway where a bright yellow sign stood ominously, probably saying something in Czech about how we weren’t supposed to be back there. Ahead of us, a blur of blonde hair vanished behind a tall gray structure.

We turned the corner and slowed down, trying not to make too much noise. I was pretty sure we were in an area of the Prague Castle where tourists weren’t exactly welcome. Soon a large, white, and tan brick, square tower came into view. No trace of the spy, or anyone else, for that matter.

Maggie pulled out the notebook from her backpack and thumbed through it quickly. “That must be Black Tower.”

“Which isn’t really black,” I said. “Whatever. Come on. Let’s see if she went in there.”

The only way to get into the tower seemed to be from the two-story white building next door. We snuck up to the door and tried to open it. Locked. A little bit further down we found a partially open window. No way would an adult be able to squeeze through there, but two twelve-year-old kids could. I looked at Maggie and she nodded.

She pulled her long black hair back into a ponytail, then bent down on hands and knees so I could stand on her back. After wiggling my body through the small opening, I fell on the floor inside, and then found a chair to put under the window so I could stand on it and pull Maggie through.

Once in, we examined the room. A modern desk complete with a high-tech computer stood along the left wall, and two fancy red chairs and a small round table sat alongside the other.

“Let’s go.” Maggie moved through a doorway into the next room. “I have a feeling she went this way.”

“You have a feeling?” I followed closely behind her. We were both sneaking around like the way they did in cartoons, although somehow, I doubted that made us any more invisible.

“Call it woman’s intuition.”

“Great. Considering you’re still just a girl, I’m not getting my hopes up too high.”

She turned around, giving me an evil glare. I started to grin then stopped when the look of evil began turning into anger. At dinner yesterday, Maggie had warned me about her temper.

“I’m just kidding,” I said quickly. “You’re probably right. Check it out.”

I pointed to a giant steel door in front of us. It had an ultra-modern electronic lock, the kind with a numbered keypad, and some type of scanner. The Black Tower had to be on the other side.

Maggie calmed down the moment she saw the door. “How do you suppose she got inside?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Suddenly, the sound of a door opening behind us stopped our conversation. Two men’s voices came from the other room, and they were getting closer.

“Hide!” I whispered and dove behind a black leather swivel recliner. Maggie crawled underneath the desk next to the steel door.

The voices grew louder and the two men walked into the room. They were speaking loudly to each other in Czech. Why did everyone in Slavic countries always sound like they were yelling at each other when they spoke? For a moment I wondered if that was what Americans sounded like to them. Then the fear of getting caught returned. I watched their feet from underneath the recliner. Their black shoes were shiny and the bottoms of their pants seemed like they were probably part of a uniform. Great, I was about to be arrested by the Czech police. I contemplated how many years I’d get for trespassing, and if they served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Czech prisons.

It sounded like one of the two men punched in the electronic code. I took a chance and snuck a peek. The man raised his right thumb and pushed it onto the scanner. The door clicked opened. I ducked down again and saw one set of feet disappear through the doorway while the other set remained in the room. The steel door closed slowly and an eternity passed. Well, maybe only about two minutes. Then it opened again and the two feet walked back out. The men resumed their conversation and left the room. Another thirty seconds and I heard the sound of a door from the next room opening and closing. Then, silence.

I crawled away from the safety of the swivel chair. The building was empty again. “Maggie? You okay?”

“Better than okay.” She sprang up from underneath the desk. “We got our way in.”

She smiled broadly as she bent down to show me the ruler she had wedged into the doorway, blocking the steel door from closing all the way. I recognized the ruler from our lessons earlier. She must have had it in her backpack.

“Genius,” I commended her. She was one smart kid.

Pushing the door open, she motioned for me to follow her inside. Once in, she put the ruler back down so we’d be able to get out.

We studied our new surroundings. An old stone staircase wound up the center, and on either side were dozens of tiny rooms with no windows. The ones we could see were filled with boxes and filing cabinets.

Maggie flipped through her notebook. “The Black Tower was used mostly as a prison back in the day.”

I started climbing the staircase. “That explains the tiny rooms and no bathrooms.”

“Um, eww.” Maggie closed her notebook and followed me. “Now they just use it to store archeological things.”

“Like Indiana Jones stuff?” I looked back at her.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, like Indiana Jones stuff, except real.”

Our footsteps made no noise on the stone staircase. We climbed about six or seven floors then stopped to catch our breath. I looked down at Maggie, two steps away from me, when I noticed a small body topped with blonde hair coming out of one of the rooms about twenty steps below us.

“Ivana!” I yelled and pointed.

Maggie whirled around in time to catch the blue-eyed spy look up, and surprised to see us, take off down the stairs.

We ran down the old staircase as fast as we could without falling, but the Russian girl was faster. By the time we got to the bottom floor, she was standing in the doorway holding up the ruler. Maggie and I froze.

Ivana studied us curiously, then smiled. “I did not know the CIA had a P-CIA,” she said in her thick Russian accent. “But no matter, you are no match for the P-KGB.”

With that, the blonde spy hopped through the opening, slamming the door on her way out. Maggie and I ran to the giant steel door and tried to open it, but it was locked tight. The electronic key pad and fingerprint scan made it impossible for us to even try to hack through. We pounded and yelled for help, but it was no use. We were stuck inside the Black Tower.

Maggie whipped out her cell phone. No service. She closed it and turned to me, her face bright red. “She stole my ruler.” She took in a deep breath to help calm the anger.

I ran my fingers through my hair, totally freaking out. This was a catastrophe. We snuck into a secret, Czech government building and managed to get ourselves trapped. Once the guys in uniform came back, we’d be found, arrested, and in a heap of trouble. Slumping down on the floor, I leaned my head back against the door. “How am I ever going to explain this to Dad? He’s gonna kill me.”

Maggie sat down next to me. “No he’s not.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because my mom will kill us first. We were supposed to meet her in front of the gift shop five minutes ago. She’s probably out there right now wondering where we’re at. And if you think my temper is bad...” Her voice trailed off, but I got the point.

I closed my eyes. My mind flashed back to yesterday when I first saw the blonde Russian spy. I should’ve realized she was trouble from the moment I met her.


*****


Dad worked as a “computer tech” for the CIA. Whenever the US government had “computer problems” overseas, they called in my dad to help. At least that’s the story he told me. But, I knew better. Dad was some kind of spy, no doubt about it. He simply wasn’t allowed to tell me. So I played along. Ms. Hernandez was my new tutor, hired by the CIA so Dad didn’t have to send me off to school. I just met her, and her twelve-year-old-daughter, Maggie, here in Prague a couple days ago.

Yesterday morning, we were all standing outside the Ruzyne-Prague Airport, waiting for our ride to pick us up. Dad kept running his hands through his dark brown hair and rubbing the sides of his gold wire-rimmed glasses, things he only did when he was totally stressing out. Whatever was going on in Prague had to be really bad.

Bored out of my skull, I decided to abandon my group to go use the bathroom. I was just about to walk into the men’s room when a hand grabbed my arm and spun me around. The person staring at me was most definitely the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life. She looked to be about the same age as me, and her blue eyes shimmered under the lights of the airport. Pale blonde hair fell over her left shoulder.

“Моё судно на воздушной подушке полно угрей.”

My eyebrows shot up in surprise. “What?”

She looked at me with an equally confused expression.

“I’m sorry,” I said and grinned. “I don’t speak...whatever you speak. Do you know English?”

She seemed disappointed. Her forehead creased. “Sorry,” she said with a strong accent. “My problem. I mistook you for someone else.”

“Oh. My name’s JJ. What’s yours?” I gave a half-smile and nodded once, trying to look as cool as possible.

She studied me for a moment, like she was unsure what to do. The smell of flowery perfume floated into my nostrils, sending my head spinning. “Ivana,” she said after a pause and flashed me a half-smile in return. Before I could say another word, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

When I walked out of the bathroom a few minutes later, I noticed Ivana talking to some other kid. He was about my height, with brown hair just like mine. Only difference was he had green eyes instead of my dull brown. The two of them glanced over at me and started laughing. As they turned away arm in arm, Ivana glimpsed back at me for a moment, then the two of them vanished into the masses.


*****


Now that same good-looking, blue-eyed girl had deliberately locked me in an old prison to die, or worse, to answer to my dad. I sighed, opening my eyes again. Note to self: learn how to read people better. Pretty does not always equal nice.

Maggie flipped through her notes. “The Black Tower got its name from a big fire they had in 1541. I guess the walls were black for a long time and the name just kind of stuck.”

I wasn’t really in the mood for a history lesson—actually, I was never in the mood for a history lesson—but right now, it was just comforting to hear her voice. At least I wasn’t stuck in here alone.

Maggie’s previous words echoed in my mind… and if you think my temper is bad. I shook my head, trying to clear the images of what Ms. Hernandez and my dad were going to do to us. Time for a distraction before I went completely mental. “Okay, Maggie, since we’re stuck in here anyway, let’s go check out the room Ivana was in. Maybe we can get some idea of what she was doing in here.”

My friend agreed and we climbed back up the old staircase and found the door we had seen the Russian girl walk out of. Luckily, it wasn’t locked. We entered the room and flipped on the light switch. The place was small with a low ceiling and filled with bookshelves, each lined with books of all shapes and sizes. Some were bound in leather, some in paper, but they all had one thing in common –they were covered in a heavy layer of dust. It smelled stuffy, like my Grandma’s old attic.

Maggie’s eyes scanned the hundreds of books. “How do we know what she was looking for?” She began walking around.

I bit my lip in thought. Then, it hit me. “Don’t touch anything!”

She froze. “Why not?”

I walked over to one of the bookshelves and pointed. “Look at the dust. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s been in this place in years.”

“No one but our dear Russian friend.”

I nodded. “Exactly. So, all we have to do is find a shelf where the dust looks like it’s been messed up, like a book has been moved.”

We split up, searching each bookshelf carefully, trying not to move any dust around. Finally, Maggie let out a squeal of delight. “Over here!”

She pointed to a shelf where one of the books had obviously been dragged out of its place and returned.

I took the book out carefully. It had a dark red leather cover and wasn’t very thick. My index finger traced the gold embroidered words on the front. “The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.”

Maggie glanced over my shoulder at the cover. “I wonder why the Russians are so interested in it. I bet you could pick it up at a library or find it online.”

I shrugged. “Maybe there’s something special about this particular copy.” I skimmed through it. Other than the fact that the pages were kind of yellow, it seemed normal, just like any other book. I flipped back to the inside cover. There was an inscription.

“What does it say?” Maggie asked.

The black ink of the writing was pretty faded, but it was in English.

Dearest Josef, May the blessings of the saints enrich you. Look to Phillip’s hand and Bartholomew’s hat for help. From the hands of the devil may you flourish. With love and flimflam, Kangsly.

I looked at Maggie. “Who’s Josef?”

She shrugged. “Who’s Kangsly? And what the heck is a flimflam?” She took out her notebook and copied the inscription word for word. Later we could do a search on the net and see if we could figure out who these people were. Assuming, of course, we weren’t lined up in front of a firing squad hired by our parents.

After carefully putting the book back, we walked down the stairs and banged on our prison door a few more times, yelling at the top of our lungs. Nothing. We finally sat down, our backs against the giant steel door, waiting for the arrest we knew would come.


Chapter 2


As Maggie read through her notes again, I casually examined our surroundings. Even though the outside of the tower looked like it belonged in medieval times, the inside was very modern. The track lighting on the ceiling really illuminated the place. Next to the lights were smoke detectors. I guess they weren’t taking any chances on Black Tower becoming black again. That gave me an idea.

I jumped up and started exploring the walls. Maggie put her notebook away and stared at me.

“What are you doing?

“I have a plan.” After a few moments, I found what I was searching for, a fire lever. Crossing my fingers, I pulled it down. A loud siren rang, emergency lights flashed around us, and best of all, the door clicked open. Maggie jumped up and followed me into the next room. Voices sounded outside and we hid behind the leather recliner.

Uniformed men rushed into the room, then ran into the tower. Maggie and I jumped up and scurried into the next room, hoping to get out before anyone saw us. Just then, three more uniformed men rushed in. One of the officers grabbed us by the arms and began yelling at us. We were caught inside of a secured government building and about to be arrested. I had to think fast.

“We heard the sirens,” I lied as best I could, forcing my lip to quiver like I was scared, which, of course, I was. “We just came in to see if anyone needed help.”

The police guy holding us mumbled to me in Czech. He sounded annoyed. One of the other men patted his arm and said something to him. The officer nodded and let us go. The other man turned to me.

“Go, now,” he said in broken English. “No help.”

We ran out of there as fast as we could, and kept running through the deserted streets until we found the courtyard. There, in the center, stood Maggie’s mom holding a bag of souvenirs, looking very upset.

“This might be ugly,” Maggie said as we ran over to her.

“Where have you two been?” Her voice was a cross between anger and relief.

“Sorry, Mom. We thought we’d go explore some of the streets, but then we got lost.”

I didn’t want Maggie to lie to her mom alone, so I chimed in. “Then, there were these sirens and people running all over the place. It was crazy.”

Ms. Hernandez heaved a big sigh. “No more venturing out on your own. This city is very large and it would be extremely easy for you to get lost.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s time for us to go. We still need to finish your lessons before dinner. Your father called and said he would meet us downstairs at seven.”

After our afternoon lessons, which included discovering that the word flimflam meant deceit, Maggie and I had a little free time. Since neither of our cell phones had strong reception at the hotel, we took the laptop down to the lobby, found a secluded couch, and logged into the Internet. First, we did a Google search for Josef, which turned out to be another way of spelling Joseph. There were about fifty million sites with the name Josef. That really didn’t help us much.

We had better luck with Kangsly. There was only one entry for Kangsly on the Internet.

Andrew Kangsly,” Maggie read out loud, “was an American defector in the early nineteen fifties. He was believed to have stolen CIA property and disappeared in September of nineteen fifty-two. Geez. No wonder he signed his name ‘with love and deceit.’ He died in nineteen fifty-three in a car accident in Prague. His will left all his money to communist Russia, known then as the Soviet Union.”

“Hold on,” I interrupted her. “Go back to that first page of Josefs that we saw.”

Maggie complied and I ran my finger down the computer screen. “Here. Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-nineteen twenties until his death in nineteen fifty-three.”

“Nineteen fifty-three,” Maggie repeated. “The same year that Kangsly died?”

I nodded. No way was that a coincidence. “We have to get this information to my dad. I bet whatever Kangsly stole from the CIA is what brought Dad out here. The problem is I can’t tell him how we found the information. He’d ground me forever for breaking into a Czech government building.”

Maggie smiled. “I have a plan.”

That night at dinner, the four of us sat at a square table in the hotel café. Ms. Hernandez ordered us a meal that I understood to be something like beef with dumplings. I looked at Maggie who nodded once. Time for the plan.

“Hey, Mom,” Maggie said as she played with the lettuce on her salad plate. “Did you know that the Black Tower at the Prague Castle is now used to store stuff?”

“Really?” she answered while buttering her roll. “When did you learn this?”

“Today, before we got lost.”

My turn. “Yeah. We met this kid who wanted to practice his English. He told us all about the Black Tower and the stuff they keep inside there. It’s crazy. I guess whenever the government finds stuff they think might be important, they store it away in there until they need it.”

“That’s very interesting,” Ms. Hernandez said, sounding impressed that we had actually learned something during our disappearance.

I picked up a roll from the basket and sliced it open slowly. “They even have some American stuff in there. There’s a bunch of old props from some movie that was filmed here. And they got a trunk of old American money that was buried near some castle. Oh, and books or something from a guy named Kingsly or Kangsly, I can’t remember. Anyway, I guess this guy was like an American traitor or something and he died here in Prague, so they got his stuff locked up in there. Cool, huh?”

Ms. Hernandez agreed, but I kept my eyes on Dad. His face paled and he quickly excused himself. He had his cell phone out before he even got to the lobby. I turned to Maggie and winked. Her plan worked perfectly.

Dad came back saying something had come up and that he had to leave right away. He told me not to wait up. I nodded.

Our food came and turned out to be really good, but the portion was way too small. We shouldn’t have cancelled Dad’s, I could’ve totally eaten that one too.

Maggie didn’t like the dumpling much. She said it tasted like lard. Finally, after trying to fix it with salt, pepper, and some weird green stuff on the table, she dumped it on my plate and grabbed another bread roll. “Mom, what’s the P-KGB?”

Ms. Hernandez laughed. “Where did you hear that?”

“On the Internet. I don’t remember what site, but they mentioned something about the CIA and the P-KGB. What is it?”

Her mom shook her head. “I guess they really do print anything on the Internet. The P-KGB is a silly rumor the KGB started back in the nineteen eighties.”

“What’s the KGB?” I asked, wishing I had a big fat cheeseburger on my plate.

“That is Russia’s version of the CIA. Well, not modern Russia, Old Russia, as in the communist Soviet Union. They created the KGB soon after we created the CIA. They were bitter rivals.”

“So what’s the P-KGB then?” Maggie asked.

A grin spread across her mom’s face. “In the early nineteen-eighties, a rumor began to spread that the KGB was training children as spies, a group known as the P-KGB. Ребенок is the Russian word for child, thus the P in P-KGB. They claimed that these ‘kid spies’ were most effective and could wander around anywhere without getting questioned because they were just children. It was so silly, as though children could do the work of spies.”

She seemed completely convinced that the P-KGB never existed. But Ivana was real. The more I thought about it, the more the P-KGB made sense. Maggie and I broke into a locked Czech government building and got caught, and no one even questioned us. We could’ve taken anything we wanted from there and nobody would’ve noticed. Maybe the Russians had the right idea after all.


The next morning, I walked down to join Maggie and her mom for breakfast.

“Did you see my dad this morning?” I asked as I grabbed a croissant from the bread basket.

Ms Hernandez nodded and took a sip of coffee. “He said he would probably be gone all day again.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“He said something about visiting churches.”

I wondered what churches had to do with Kangsly’s inscription. Oh, well. Dad was smart. He’d figure this out.

Like yesterday, the morning was spent with boring school work, although science was a little more interesting today. Ms. Hernandez taught us about the astronomical symbols and how they interacted with the calendar year. After lunch, she announced we were going on another field trip but warned us that we were on probation.

Maggie and I both promised to be on our best behavior. The taxi dropped us off near a street that was off-limits to cars. Crowds joined us as we made our way to the jam-packed street with only pedestrians. People were looking up, pointing and taking pictures. I followed their gaze to the coolest clock I had ever seen.

“Whoa,” was all I could say.

Maggie whipped out her cell phone to take a picture. “That is like, by far, the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen in my whole, entire life.”

Ms. Hernandez also took a picture with her camera. “It’s called the Prague Orloj, or Prague Astronomical Clock. If you look at the black outer ring of the clock, it tells the current time, which I believe is now almost three o’clock. The moving inner circle is the zodiacal ring and tells of the sun’s place in its eclipse. The four statues next to the clock represent four things considered very bad at the time the clock was created –vanity, greed, death, and their enemy of the time, the Turks.”

“The statues are kind of creepy,” Maggie said as she snapped a few more pictures with her cell. She’s such a girl.

I smiled. “I think the statues are wicked awesome.”

The crowd started getting thicker. Everyone was staring up at the clock and holding up their cameras.

“What’s going on?” I asked Ms. Hernandez, as a teenage Japanese tourist stopped in front of me, frantically searched his backpack, and pulled out a video camera.

“Just keep your eyes on the clock. You’ll see.”

I held up my cell phone to video tape whatever was about to happen. At three o’clock exactly, the four statues next to the clock began to move and the two windows above the clock opened. Statues from inside began moving by the windows, looking at us, then moving away.

“Those are the twelve apostles,” Ms. Hernandez explained.

After the apostles left, the windows closed and the clock chimed three o’clock. I closed my cell phone. “That is totally going on You Tube tonight.”

A couple of American college girls stood next to us, flipping through the pictures they had just taken on their digital camera. One, who was on crutches, held the camera up really close to her face.

“I wonder if that’s St. Bartholomew. He’s like the only one that might be holding a knife in his hands. Mom said I should say a special prayer to him and maybe he’ll help my ankle heal faster.”

“I don’t know,” the other girl answered, “they all look kinda creepy to me. Let’s just go to a cathedral and you can pray to him there.”

The girls walked away but something they said had caught my attention.

“Bartholomew was an apostle?” I asked.

“Yes,” Maggie’s mom answered. “He was one of the twelve.”

“Who were the others?”

Ms. Hernandez took a deep breath. “Let’s see if I can remember them all. There’s Simon Peter and Andrew, they were brothers. James and John, they were also brothers. Phillip and Bartholomew, they were friends...”

She continued listing them, but my mind was already whirling. Phillip and Bartholomew were apostles. That was probably why Dad was visiting all those churches. The inscription said to look to Phillip’s hand and Bartholomew’s hat for help.

I pointed to the clock. “When was this clock made?”

Ms. Hernandez thought for a moment. “Back in the fourteen hundreds, I believe.”

“Are there any others like it?”

She shook her head. “The legend holds that the government of Prague had the eyes of the clock’s creator destroyed so he couldn’t make another.”

“Aww,” Maggie said. “That’s so mean.”

Dad needed to know about this. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed his number. It went straight to voice mail. Right. If he was in the middle of visiting churches, he wasn’t going to have his phone on.

Suddenly, through the crowd, I spotted the Russian guy from our hotel lobby. He was looking up at the clock, talking into his cell phone. I slammed my phone shut, remembering the last time I had seen him.


*****


The four of us had just checked into our hotel. Our parents gave us a little bit of free time before dinner, so Maggie and I decided to take my laptop downstairs to use the Internet. As we waited for the computer to warm up, I told Maggie about my strange experience earlier with the pretty girl outside the bathroom at the airport.

She frowned. “Do you remember what she said?”

“It sounded like this, ‘Moio sudno na vozdusnoy poduske polno ugrey.”

She listened to it carefully. “I’m pretty sure it’s Russian.”

“How can you tell? Do you speak any foreign languages?”

“I speak Spanish, duh. But I do know a little French, Italian, and Russian.”

“Really?” I said, impressed. The only foreign language I knew was Klingon, and I’m not sure I would actually brag about that to anyone.

She shrugged. “Yeah. We’ve moved around a lot. Come on, let’s put your blonde friend’s sentence into Google translator.” She typed the Russian words into the computer. Finally, the English translation came up: My hovercraft is full of eels.

Maggie looked at me with one eyebrow arched. “Are you sure that’s what she said?”

I nodded, explaining the uncanny ability I had to remember spoken words.

She frowned. I guess it did sound kind of crazy, but I knew what I heard. Suddenly, Maggie’s expression changed. Her eyes grew big and she seemed surprised.

“Listen,” I said trying to convince her I wasn’t a total freak, “I know―”

“Shh,” she hissed, motioning for me to shut up. Her eyes narrowed like she was trying to concentrate on something. A few seconds later, she got up, grabbed my hand, and led me to a different couch. She sat down and peered around, nervously.

“Are you okay?” I asked, starting to get a little nervous myself.

She moved in closer to me and lowered her voice. “Do you see that guy over there? The one sitting on the chair kind of by where we were sitting?”

I saw the man she was talking about. He was probably in his forties, with a thick black moustache, and held a newspaper in his hands. His clothes were from some decade long past, like the nineteen-eighties. I think my dad actually wore that same suit to his senior prom.

“Yeah,” I said and shrugged. “What about him?”

“I just heard him tell someone on the phone that his hovercraft was full of eels.”

I looked at Maggie and rolled my eyes. “Ha ha. Very funny. I get it. You don’t believe that I can actually memorize conversations, but—"

She clamped her hand over my mouth. “Shut up. I’m serious. He sat down, pulled out his cell phone, and said, ‘my hovercraft is full of eels’ in Russian. Then he listened for a moment and said something like, ‘I arrived and will follow.’ Then he closed his phone.”

I stared at Maggie, trying to figure out if she was pulling my leg or not. She actually seemed sincere. But that didn’t make any sense.

“Maybe that’s some kind of weird Russian greeting,” I said, not really believing it myself.

She glared at me like I was stupid. “Really? ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’ is the new ‘hello’ in Russian?”

“All right,” I conceded. “You’re right. But what are the chances of two random people saying the same bizarre expression?”

Just then my dad and Mr. Schmidt walked out of the elevator. They didn’t notice us sitting on the couch. Neither did our Russian stranger. But, as soon as Dad and his contact walked outside, the mysterious man put down his newspaper and followed.

“Come on.” I grabbed Maggie’s hand and ran for the front door.

We stepped outside and looked around. My dad had already reached the Embassy and was just about to walk in. The Russian guy watched from a distance, then sat down on a bench, near the front of the Embassy. He was a spy, no doubt about it. And he was tailing my dad. And just to really make things crazy, if that man was a Russian spy, then so was Ivana, the pretty blonde girl at the airport.


*****


And now the man tailing my dad was here, in front of the astronomical clock, less than thirty feet away from me.

I grabbed Maggie’s hand, pretending to do the wave with her while motioning with my head toward the big Russian spy. Maggie saw him and her eyes grew wide.

Pointing at the clock, I laughed. “Hey, Maggie. Phillip and Bartholomew were friends. Maybe someday they’ll make statues of us inside a clock.”

Maggie understood. “Yeah, but with our luck, they’ll forget to put in the windows.”

We both did our fake laughs. Ms. Hernandez shook her head.

“Mom,” Maggie said sweetly, “can JJ and I go explore a little. Please? I promise we won’t go far.”

“We’ll be back in like an hour.” My eyes were pleading.

She looked at our begging faces and sighed. “Oh, very well. But, I expect you both right here, in front of the clock, in one hour, or no more field trips. And don’t go too far. Stay close.”

We promised and turned around.

“We have to get inside there,” I said as we made our way toward the clock building. “I’d bet a million bucks that Russian dude is here for the same reason. Whatever those saints are hiding, we’ve got to get to it first.”


Chapter 3


The clock tower was, of course, locked. But, it also happened to be attached to the old Town Hall which was open to the public. Hoping to find a way into the tower, Maggie and I followed the dozens of people walking into the historic town hall. We moved to the wall inside we believed to be adjacent to the tower. It had pictures of the clock and tons of stuff to read all over it.

In the center of the pictures stood a door. Maggie and I casually walked over and tried to open it, but it was locked. Unlike the Black Tower, this one looked like a typical hotel room door requiring a key card. Somehow, we had to get on the other side of that wall and into the clock tower before the Russian guy did.

We hovered around, pretending to study the pictures, trying to come up with a plan. Finally, after about ten minutes, a small, frail man in a wrinkled brown coat walked up. He pulled a key card out of his front pocket, unlocked the door and disappeared.

Five minutes later, he emerged. When he slipped the card back into his front coat pocket, I knew I had to act fast.

I walked toward him and tripped myself over my own foot. After falling hard into the man, I apologized earnestly while my hand slipped into his pocket and grabbed the key.

He stood me up by grabbing the front of my T-shirt and said something which I guessed was making sure I was okay. I smiled and he nodded then walked away.

Maggie was wide-eyed when I joined her. “Wow. That was pretty crazy. Where’d you learn to do that?”

I looked around. With nobody paying attention to us, I used the card and opened the door. “Don’t you ever watch spy movies?”

“Apparently not as many as you,” Maggie said as she followed me inside. She shut the door behind us. “Now what?”

“We’ve got to figure out how to get up to those apostles.”

We tiptoed down the hall toward the front of the building where we figured the clock was. There were two doors on our path, one led to a janitor’s closet and the other to a supply room. Soon the hallway turned left and we found yet another door, but this one was different. It was large and had a sign on it which said something in Czech that neither Maggie nor I understood. It also had a key card lock.

I raised the key I had borrowed from the skinny guy outside. “Here goes nothing.”

A click sounded and the door opened.

“We need to hurry,” Maggie said as we walked inside. “I’m starting to get this feeling, like we’re on a time schedule or something.”

“You’re probably just worried about standing up your mom again.” I made sure the big door locked behind us. “Look, there’s a staircase. That’s probably the way up to the clock.”

We climbed the stairs slowly, hoping nobody would be up there. I was pretty sure a fire drill wasn’t going to save us if we got caught in here.

The room at the top of the stairs reminded me of an attic with a very low ceiling. An adult would have to duck to walk around, but fortunately, neither of us was really tall so we didn’t have to worry about that. Maggie found a light switch and turned it on. Boxes were piled all around the walls. I opened one up and it was full of bottles of rubbing alcohol. Another box had oil. A third box held washcloths.

“This must be where they store the cleaning stuff.”

“Over here,” Maggie said, pointing to a rope dangling from the ceiling.

I walked over while she pulled on it. A part of the ceiling opened and a ladder slid down and touched the floor. “Great,” I said as I shook the ladder to make sure it was sturdy. “An attic within an attic. This is weird.”

An eerie grinding noise filled the air.

“What do you think is up there?” Maggie asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I don’t know. But we’re about to find out.”

I took a step up the ladder. It creaked a little but would hopefully hold my weight. Maggie fell in right behind me and we made our way up.

The room at the top had an odd smell, like a mixture of moth balls and wet wood, and it was completely dark.

“Search for a light switch,” I ordered as my hands began exploring the wall next to me. The strange sound came from all around us.

Suddenly, the room got bright. Maggie had found the switch.

I jumped back. “Whoa!” There, underneath us, were the inner workings of the clock. The gears were unlike anything I had ever seen before. They were huge. The inside of the clock was literally the size of a 7-Eleven and it was also the source of the loud grinding sound. We were standing on a platform about ten feet long and fifteen feet wide. If we had walked any further in the dark we would’ve fallen into the gears. I needed to remember to start carrying around a flashlight.

“Look.” Maggie pointed to a board about two feet wide crossing on top of the clock’s inner workings like a catwalk. On the other side were the apostles. She stepped on the board and began crossing over the giant turning gears.

“Be careful,” I said looking down. One wrong step and she’d be a goner.

“Like I wasn’t gonna be?” She had her arms out to keep her balance, like a tightrope walker. A few seconds later, she jumped off the board onto another platform. “Okay, your turn.”

I soon joined her and we began our examination of the apostles. They were separated into two groups of six, each in a circle in front of a window. I walked over to the group on the left; Maggie took the one on the right.

“Like I said before, these are super creepy,” Maggie commented.

This time, I had to agree. They were not full statues—none of them had legs. Basically, the sculptor had only made the top half of the apostles since that was all people would be able to see from the street below. It was pretty amazing the detail that went into each one. Some had beards, some had shaggy hair. All of them had gold halos around their heads. They might have looked wicked cool from the outside, but in here they were absolutely ‘super creepy.’

“Which one is Philip and which is Bartholomew?” Maggie asked as she carefully walked up to one apostle.

I shrugged. “The inscription said to look in Phillip’s hand, so let’s just look at all their hands first. One of them has to be hiding something.”

“What if Josef already came and took it?” She fumbled around one apostle’s hand, which was holding an axe. Most of the apostles were carrying something.

“Then why would the Russians be searching for it now?”

Dust filled the air as we went from apostle to apostle trying to find whatever Kangsly left behind. My eyes teared up and I had to wipe my nose on my shirt a few times. Thankfully, we were both wearing jeans and colorful T-shirts so if we got a little dirty, it wouldn’t be that noticeable. Maybe we should have brought some of the cleaning supplies from those boxes downstairs with us.

After a few minutes, we both started feeling a little uncomfortable. Aside from the fact that each of the apostles seemed to be staring right at us as we moved around them, the statues were over five hundred years old and here we were touching and poking at them. This had to be wrong on so many levels, and totally against the law. There was no doubt we’d be in serious trouble if we got caught.

Finally, I came to two apostles each holding a cross. I ran my fingers around the first one’s hands, making sure to feel for any hidden crevices. Nothing. I turned to the next one, and once again, moved my fingers around his hands. This time, I found something. Stuck between his left hand and the cross, carefully hidden, was a small tube containing an old piece of paper.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-21 show above.)