|by Milford, Kate; Zollars, Jaime (ILT)
When her parents are recruited to help solve a puzzling crime, Marzana assembles a group of unusual kid detectives, including the ghost of a ship captain's daughter, to explore hidden passageways and magical architecture to foil a band of kidnappers. 60,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook. Illustrations.
*Starred Review* Best friends Marzana and Nialla are desperate for an adventure, and given where they live-the Liberty of Gammerbund, a district of Nagspeake populated by former smugglers, thieves, and con artists that's notorious for its culture of secrecy-it's especially surprising that they haven't stumbled across one ever. That is, until a detective, desperate for any lead, brings a puzzling kidnapping case to Marzana's mother (who has a notorious past of her own), and Marzana sees her chance to do some real investigating, particularly when she recruits the perfect team to help uncover clues. Milford returns to the world of Greenglass House (2014) yet again in her latest mystery, a truly twisty brain-teaser filled with puzzles, misdirection, and adventure, all with just the right balance of emotional weight that is pitch-perfect for a middle-grade audience. The author's painterly descriptions of objects and places offer fascinating glimpses into her richly imagined, well-wrought world building, and she manages to give distinctive, multifaceted personalities to all of her characters. Though the mystery is ultimately resolved, Milford leaves enough threads tantalizingly loose, not only as (one hopes) a promise for further adventures, but also as a window into the vast world beyond the story. Milford's Nagspeake stories are always a treat, but this one, with its tight, clever plotting; heartening emotional growth, and dynamic setting, shines extra brightly. While knowledge of the earlier titles would be helpful, it's not essential to enjoying this one. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
Another of Milford's Nagspeake tales, brimful of intrigue, plucky wannabe adventurers, and some suspiciously artful iron. Marzana Hakelbarend and Nialla Giddis are bored. Supremely bored. In the Liberty of Gammerbund, "the place where nothing happens," they stake out even the most innocuous of interactions in hopes of uncovering some dastardly plot—alas, to no avail. A mysterious dinner guest from the city proper, however, upends the Hakelbarends' tranquil domesticity with news that a mayoral candidate's 11-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Marzana's parents don't seem to consider the girl's being held in Gammerbund a possibility, so Marzana, sick of being denied access to her parents' pasts and (mis)adventures, decides to spearhead her own investigation with the help of an assembled six-kid band dubbed the Thief Knot. The offbeat, impassioned narration twists through uncertainties, anxieties, failures, and triumphs at a jaunty clip. Observant readers will delight in piecing together the clues to puzzle out the knots alongside the Knot as these well-drawn individuals grow from awkward semiacquaintances into a close, cohesive team. Colorful supporting characters further populate this complex world. A particular strength is Milford's depiction of parent-child relationships; rather than taking the easy way out and making the parents dead, abusive, or absent, she makes them affectionate, invested enough in their children's well-being to grow livid upon discovering they've been conspiring behind their backs to get involved in a dangerous crime. Marzana is biracial, with a pale mother and dark-skinned father; Nialla presents white; other characters are diverse. A fascinating, intricate tale of friendship and rescue. (Mystery/fantasy. 10-12) Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Where Nothing Happens
THE TWO CONSPIRATORS met as planned at three p.m. at the corner of Cafender and Thomasine Streets, in front of the old iron façade of the Ambrose Bank. Yesterday the façade had been whimsical in design, framing each window and entrance with wrought vines and flowers and bells in the shape of lilies that rang periodically for no apparent reason. Today the iron had dialed down the caprice and reconfigured itself into something more befitting a bank, with big staid columns topped by fussy capitals on either side of the massive main doors. The perfect backdrop for a heist.
The taller girl, her seal-brown hair done in braids, caught the glance of her shorter, pinker accomplice in passing. Then, without a word, she pulled a pair of sparkly green sunglasses down over her dark, deep-shadowed eyes, pushed herself off from the fluted column she'd been leaning against, and strode up the street in the wake of a young man the other had been following. She knew without looking that her partner would follow at a safe distance.
Just as he had every afternoon for the past week, her quarry walked another dozen yards down Cafender Street, then stopped at the outside counter of a café where he purchased his usual (Americano, cream, two sugars). He sat on a bench and sipped his beverage. As he sipped, he watched'surreptitiously, but to the trained eye, his attention was unmissable'the jeweler's shop across the narrow lane.
The tall girl in the green shades strolled over to the counter and bought a cup of decaf with milk and cinnamon, which she carried to a table under the café's awning, where she could see the man with the Americano as well as the shop he was watching so closely. A moment later her friend appeared with her own cup and a basket of steaming soft breadsticks, which she deposited wordlessly on the table between them. The two sat in silence, watching.
The man finished his coffee. He stood up and tossed his cup into a trash can next to the bench.
So far, so normal.
Then something happened that had not occurred before. The man hesitated. Instead of heading off to the right, as he had done each of the past six days he'd been casing the jeweler, he leaned back on the bench and glanced at his wrist. A moment later, in what was clearly an arranged meeting, a young woman the girls had never seen before walked up and sat next to him.
The two adults on the bench looked at each other.
The pink-cheeked girl peered at them over the rims of her tortoiseshell shades. "He's nervous."
The woman spoke. The girls leaned as far as they dared in the direction of the bench and could just barely make out her words. "You ready for this?"
The taller girl grabbed her friend's arm at the same time Tortoiseshell reached for hers.
I think so," the man said quietly, glancing back at the jeweler's. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm ready. You know what you're going to say?"
The woman nodded. "I'm your cousin from out of town, and I'm looking at rings so I can bring my soon-to-be-fiancé back to take a look while we're visiting."
Get her talking."
Won't be a problem. She grinned at him. "Shall we, cousin?"
He nodded resolutely. They stood, and headed for the street. They waited for a break in the passing bicycle and foot traffic, then crossed.
The two girls looked at each other.
Is this going down? asked Green Sparkles in a disbelieving undertone. She glanced at her own watch. "At three p.m., in broad stinking daylight?"
I . . . Tortoiseshell hesitated. "Oh, wow. I think it might. Mars, what do we"
Shhh. Green Sparkles put down her coffee and stared as the man opened the door of the shop for his companion and followed her inside. Both girls scrambled to their feet and nearly fell over their own chairs and several bicyclists in their haste to follow them. All efforts at subtlety gone, they darted to the jeweler's front window, crouched side by side to peer over the bank of red cyclamen flowers in the window box, and watched as the man they'd been tailing and his obviously fake cousin walked up to a pretty redhead who was busy arranging merchandise in a glass case on one counter.
They're just going to? the taller one began.
I mean, they're trying to look like customers, right? her companion finished.
The man and the young woman at the counter exchanged a few words; then he introduced the lady he'd come in with. Green Sparkles frowned. "Looks like they know each other, doesn't it? The guy and the girl who works there?"
Her companion nodded. "Yeah, it does."
That seems less-than-ideal. If you were going to rob a place, you wouldn't go somewhere they knew you well enough to identify you, right?"
I wouldn't, but then I also wouldn't have been so obvious about casing the joint."
Inside, the redhead and the fake cousin fell into deep conversation. After a moment, the redhead began to take rings from a glass-topped display table and arrange them on a piece of black velvet on the counter. The fake cousin made a show of trying some on, and after a moment she even had the redhead popping rings on and off her own fingers. "She's good," Green Sparkles said, shaking her head. "That sidekick, she's really good. Look, she's got the woman who works there acting like they've known each other all their lives and they're just out shopping together."
A second clerk materialized from a back room and began polishing a nearby, already-spotless counter. He probably thought he was playing it cool, but it was obvious to both girls that he suspected the aimlessly browsing young man might be up to something and thought he'd better keep an eye out.
That dude knows something's up," Green Sparkles observed.
No question," Tortoiseshell agreed.
The two women tried on a few more rings each, but they both kept coming back to one particular item. At last, after a final bit of discussion, the redhead wrote a few lines down on a business card and handed it to the supposedly almost-engaged woman. Then the fake cousin pointed across the shop to a different counter, and the two women strolled over that way together.
She's not going to leave all those rings out, is she? Tortoiseshell whispered. "That would be ridiculously careless."
But the redhead did, in fact, do exactly that. The polishing coworker was still there, but he was on the other side of the counter. If the would-be thief was fast, he could sweep up a bunch of diamond rings in a single whisk of his hand and be out the door in a matter of seconds.
Here it comes," Tortoiseshell said. "Get ready."
I was born ready," Green Sparkles muttered back. "Game time."
In three . . . two . . . The countdown died on her lips. Inside, the unobtrusive coworker plucked up one of the rings from the velvet it lay onit was the one the two women had lingered over the longestgave it a fast polish, and popped it in a box, keeping his hands low and almost out of sight the whole time. The 'thief took a credit card from his pocket and passed it clandestinely across the counter. Both men glanced now and then at the two women, but Fake Cousin had managed to position herself and the redhead with their backs to them.
This might not be what we think," Tortoiseshell said slowly as the polishing coworker handed back the credit card, along with the maroon velvet box that now contained a ring. Not a minute too soon, either. The fake cousin and the redhead finished up with whatever they were looking at on the other side of the shop and returned to the man who now held the box behind his back. Fake Cousin took a camera from her pocket. The young man opened the box and got down on one knee.
The redhead squealed loud enough for it to be audible through the window. The man stood, and she threw her arms around him.
Outside, both girls wilted. They looked at each other for a moment. Then, without discussion, they returned to the café across the street.
The door to the jeweler burst open. "She said yes! the young man called to the world. Applause broke out from everywhere except the table where the two girls slumped in their chairs.
Marzana Hakelbarend yanked off her glittery green sunglasses, folded them, and dropped them next to the breadsticks. "We should've known."
Nialla Giddis switched out her tortoiseshell shades for a pair of ordinary glasses with cat-eye frames, then leaned back in her chair and laced her fingers behind her head. "Yep. Know why?"
Marzana let out a deep breath and tried to retroactively spot the clues she'd missed'the clues that should have told her there was nothing nefarious to see here. But as hard as it was to spot evidence of something being off, it was even harder to spot evidence pointing to normal, because normal was just . . . well, normal.
So the guy had looked a bit shifty. A high percentage of people who lived in the city-within-the-city of Nagspeake called the Liberty of Gammerbund were shiftyor had been shifty to one degree or another in a previous life, and hadn't quite managed to shed the sense of having to watch their backs. So that was . . . pretty normal.
I should've known it was nothing because . . . because . . . She spotted it just as the guy and his new fiancée came out of the jewelry store, hand in hand, waved goodbye to the fake almost-engaged cousin, and all but skipped up the street together. He was wearing sneakers, but they were loose on his feet. Rather than tying them, he'd knotted the laces separately, the better to be able to slip them on and off quickly. Marzana's neighbor Mr. Waltersson did that with his shoes, and they went flying off the minute he tried to go faster than his usual amiable shuffle. Marzana saw it happen every time Mr. Waltersson's kid, Griffin, took off down the sidewalk and his dad had to sprint to catch him.
His shoelaces," Marzana finished. "If he were up to something that might involve running, he'd have at least tied them."
Nialla opened her mouth, frowned, and considered their quarry's shoes. "That's a good point. But no. She turned back, shaking her head. "You should've known because we live in the Liberty of Gammerbund, and this is the place where nothing happens. It's where previously exciting people come to live boring lives. If they do anything exciting at all, they do it someplace else. She took a breadstick from the basket and pointed it at Marzana. "A thing you know perfectly well, seeing as how even you had to leave to have an adventure."
This has a very disappointing ring of truth to it," Marzana grumbled.
Nialla reached across the table and patted her shoulder. "Have a breadstick."
I don't want breadsticks; I want jewel thieves!"
Shhh. Nialla put a finger to her lips. "I know, Mars, but breadsticks are all I have to offer right now."
They drained their cups and sopped up the last motes of cinnamon sugar with the last bits of bread. As Marzana shrugged on her backpack, a folded piece of paper dropped onto the table between them. Marzana just had time to glimpse the back of a tall, thin person in an unseasonable trench coat, his or her head covered in a dark beanie, before he or she rounded a bend in the street and went out of view.
Nialla picked up the note and gasped. Marzana glanced down at it: a piece of letter-sized paper, folded four times, with something printed on the inside. Nialla had unfolded it only once, and part of a sentence had been scrawled in blue ballpoint there: if you're really looking for jewel thieves.
The girls eyed each other warily. "No way," Marzana whispered. She held her breath as Nialla finished unfolding the paper. For a heartbeat Nialla did nothing, just stared down at the page in her hands, which was angled in such a way that only she could see it. At last she turned the printed face toward Marzana.
Now Appearing Every Friday
at the Hadley Park Bandshell
Gammerbund's Premier Cover Band
THE JEWEL THIEVES
Playing All Your Favorite Gems from 6 P.M. to 11 P.M.
(Picnic Dinners Available from Raegan's on the lake)
Marzana dropped her head into her hands.
Know why you should've known this would turn out to be nothing? Nialla inquired.
Because no actual jewel thief would be stupid enough to actually write If you're really looking for jewel thieves'on anything?"
No. Nialla folded up the flyer again. "Because this is the town where nothing happens. She tapped Marzana on the forehead with the paper to emphasize each word, then tucked it gently into her clenched fingers. "Not even, apparently, original music."
They left the café and headed out into Cafender Street. "Want to go by Lucky's? Marzana asked.
Nialla brightened. "Sure. The new Quester is supposed to be in this week, I think."
Competition for the title of Crookedest Street in Town was steep in the Liberty of Gammerbund, where a very limited amount of space, centuries of random building on the bones of what came before, and a total lack of planning, even when planning might have been done, had combined to create a labyrinth. Still, Hellbent Street, the location of their friend Lucky's shop, Surroyal Books, was one of the prime contenders. Marzana and Nialla edged between the masses of bicycles overflowing the stands where Hellbent met Wilkens (bikes weren't allowed on Hellbent because of all the blind turns) and strolled up to a door below a faded gold awning decorated with pairs of antlers silhouetted in dark gray.
A familiar cluster of mismatched bells rang as they stepped inside. The store was lit by sconces that peeked out from between the tall, book-stuffed shelves, their old, chipped, and painted glass shades casting warm watercolor light in pools and puddles. The main room also had a register counter, a very tiny coffee counter, a fireplace, and half a dozen chairs scattered about. The fireplace was always hidden behind a pair of iron doors and whatever seasonal decorations trimmed the hearth. Since it was June, there was an elaborate beach scene wherein waves cut from blue construction paper lapped on crinkly brown tissue-paper sand.
The owner, a young blond woman busily shelving from midway up a rolling ladder, glanced over her shoulder and waved. "Hey, you two. Nialla, before you ask: Yes, and it's there. Lucky shifted her armful of books onto one of the wide rungs of the ladder and pointed to another stack on the desk by the register. "Two copies. Knock yourselves out."
Thanks, Lucky. Nialla made a reasonable effort to merely elbow past Marzana rather than flinging her bodily out of the way as she darted for the pile, where two gold-upon-green book spines peeked out from between Harry Potter #5 and The Oracular Records Department: Codifier Z, the latter of which was presently tearing through the local lower schools like a rampant flu bug. Nialla, however, went straight for the green-and-gold books.
Sheand, to an only slightly lesser degree, Marzanawas all about Quester's Crossroads, a series of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure'style tales in which some choices were available only if you solved puzzles, accomplished certain tasks, or discovered certain objects in the story along the way. One book, Quester's Crossroads: The Carry-Witchet, had actually required readers to sacrifice an entire chapter if they wanted to follow a particular plot thread: you could successfully read the hidden, alternate Chapter Six only by cutting out the correct series of words on the even-numbered pages of Chapter Nine, putting those pages with their holes over the odd-numbered pages of Chapter Three, and reading the words that were revealed. Readers who did this wouldn't be able to follow any threads that required any part of Chapter Nine.
But a handful of savvy fans (including Nialla) had discovered that if you reassembled all the words cut from Nine in reverse order, you got a short story set in the world of the book, in which the reader discovered a powerful, ancient bronze key. It was like finding a bit of treasure in a role-playing game that you could use further on in the campaign. The question was: Was this story part of the book's story, or was it just extra, for fun? And if it was part of the storywhich, Nialla had argued, it had to be, because it was literally, physically made up of parts of the talewhere was the prompt that told you when you got to jump from the events of the book into the scraps-of-cutout-words short story? The whole setup of the books was that you read a section, and then at the bottom of the page you were given choices about how to proceed and directions about which page to go to depending on which choice you made. But there were no such instructions at the end of the scrap-world story. Where were you supposed to reenter the main plot? Could you? And what were you supposed to do with that key?
Controversy reigned, because the other thing about Quester's Crossroads was that you could take stuff you collected in one bookpotions, tools, codebooks, assorted magical itemsinto the next one. The author, who everyone figured was a pseudonym for a rotating collection of writers, was silent on the matter. So ever since The Carry-Witchet, there were two schools of thought on how to read the volumes that followed: with the scrap-world key, or without. Unlocked, or locked. And it changed things a lot; reading the books unlocked, there were more scrap-world digressions, more information, and occasionally more special items, but each time you used the key, it required you to sacrifice something. That meant there were parts of the story you simply couldn't have if you wanted to use your key (or any other thing you brought back from the scrap world).
And then the QC-fan community really went berserk when someone discovered that Chapter Three in The Stop-Hole Abbey, the sequel, had the same number of pages as Chapter Three in The Carry-Witchet. For whatever reason, it had occurred to that reader to put the holey pages from The Carry-Witchet over this Chapter Threewhich you couldn't do if you were using the scrap-world key because Chapter Three was a sacrifice chapter if you were reading The Stop-Hole Abbey unlocked'to get an alternate Chapter Three, one that gave you a prompt that finally led to the elusive, it's-there-in-the-Table-of-Contents-but-nothing-appears-to-send-you-there Chapter Eleven.
Quester's Crossroads, Nialla often declared, was bonkers in the most awesome way.
Nialla passed one of the books to Marzana, then went wordlessly over to claim a chair by the fireplace. Marzana started to follow her, then hesitated. The other seat by the hearth was taken by an older kid she didn't know. As Nialla sat examining every detail of the front cover, the other kid glanced up.
Marzana changed course and headed for the little coffee bar instead, where she took as much time as possible getting a bottle of soda out of the refrigerator, dropping two dollars into the honor jar, and popping it open with the bottle-cap opener mounted under the counter.
Meanwhile, over by the fireplace, the older kid was speaking. "I tried with those, but I hated not knowing what I missed in the sacrifice chapters."
Sorry, Nye, Marzana thought, but better you than me.
I get it," Nialla said, examining the table of contents with the air of someone studying a sacred tome.
Feels like they just want us to buy two copies," the other kid said. "Feels like a crappy marketing thing."
I don't think there's a way to do it where you don't sacrifice something at some point," Nialla said distractedly. "I think that's kind of the idea."
The kid refused to take a hint. Marzana steeled herself for the inevitable. She'd seen this before.
But doesn't that drive you"
I am not interested in debating with you whether or not the things I love are crap," Nialla announced in a loud singsong voice, turning the page with a flourish. "Please go back to your own book."
Fine, I was just Nialla stared him down until he turned back to his own reading material, at which point Marzana figured it was safe to join her. As she sat, the kid glanced up again, saw that Marzana had the same book, and visibly debated with himself whether or not to start the conversation anew. Marzana stared down at the cover, focusing on the illustration there: a flourishing marketplace built out of industrial scrap, set within the stone-walled ruins of what looked like some kind of church. At last she felt the kid's eyes shift away from her entirely. Only then did she feel herself begin to relax.
She opened the book at last. Rather than reading, however, Marzana found herself reflecting back on their first effort at finding a real-world adventure.
Nothing happened in the Liberty of Gammerbund. Or, okay, fine, things happened, but nothing exciting. Ever. Nothing, as far as Marzana could see, that would give her anything like the thrill of a caper, which is what she really wanted.
Nothing interesting ever happened in the Liberty, yet this didn't seem like it should be true. And it couldn't technically be true. In any place where this many people lived their lives in such close proximity, some percentage of them had to be up to something. And you'd think it wouldn't be that hard to cross paths with those people. But of course, there was the complicating factor that a high percentage of people in the Liberty of Gammerbund had absolutely been up to something outside the walls, and had come to this enclosed city-within-the-city for sanctuary. It led those folks to be cautious here. They might still get up to things out in Nagspeake proper, but they tended to wipe their feet of all that before they came home.
Exhibit A: Marzana's mother.
Marzana's mother was the quintessential lady with a past. She went by Barbara, but that wasn't her name. She had taken Marzana's father's last name legally but often didn't use it. When she left the Liberty, she took on new monikers as if they were part of her wardrobe: just as different situations or social settings required different dresses, so did they also require different noms de guerre. And you couldn't fault her for her caution; she had been both a thief and a smuggler, and when she'd been a girl not much older than Marzana, already the captain of a hugely successful smuggling crew, she'd had to fake her own death to escape to the Liberty. She and an entire crew of her compatriots, some of whom had come to Gammerbund, some of whom had taken new identities, and some of whom had fled Nagspeake altogether. And when she left the Liberty now, it was generally on the kind of errand that caused Marzana and her dad to order pizza and sit up into the wee hours of the morning over coffee and tabletop games, pretending it was just a father-daughter bonding night and not a vigil.
Outside the walls of the Liberty, the woman who called herself Barbara Hakelbarend was a subversive genius, a folk hero, a cipher. At home she was Marzana's mom, and if she had a few uncommon hobbies, well, so did lots of people around here.
Marzana had seen her mother at work exactly onceonce that she was aware of, anyhow. That had been this past winter. And being part of that caper had been everything Marzana had dreamed. She wanted more.
But Nialla was right. Nothing interesting ever happened in the Liberty of Gammerbund. And poor Nialla didn't even have a parental legend to live vicariously throughnot that Marzana had much material to work with in that department, either. Her mom and dad were big on something called deniability, which depended on Marzana knowing as little about her mother's past as possible. Nialla's parents, though, were ultra-ordinary. The Giddises owned a coffee shop. The biggest excitement of the past year was the day the new fancy espresso machine had almost blown up.
A quiet voice spoke from her side. "You left this on the counter. Lucky set Marzana's soda on the little table beside her chair.
Lucky nodded but didn't leave. She knew how Marzana felt about small talk, so this wasn't going to be that. Marzana closed the book'she hadn't started reading anywayand looked up. "Did you know there's a little group that comes every week and uses the history room for game campaigns? Lucky asked quietly.
Marzana shook her head. "What do they play?"
Risk, right now. Before that was D&D. I don't think they've decided what to do next, but I'm pretty sure this game is winding down. I thought you might be interested in an introduction. The core group is a family of three," Lucky added, breezing past the introduction idea as if she could feel Marzana's hackles already going up. "The kid is an older teenager. Then there's his friend and his friend's sister, who I think goes to Marymead and might be in your grade. Amelia something. Do you know an Amelia?"
There were two Amelias and an Emilia at Marymead Intermediate School. The Amelia in eighth grade was boy crazy to the point where Marzana frankly doubted any big brother would bring her to a game night where another male friend was going to be present. The Amelia in sixth grade was a prodigy at outdoor sports and appeared to require huge efforts of will to sit still in a chair for more than five minutes. Which left Emilia Cabot.
Is it maybe Emilia with an E? Marzana asked.
If it's Emilia, I don't really know her, but I know who she is. Marzana was an introvert. Emilia Cabot, though, was a loner. She was one of the Commorancy Kids: the small community of Marymead students who, for whatever reason, boarded there during the school year.
Well, anyway, they play on Tuesdays at four. No big deal, but if you happened to be here tomorrow, I could introduce you."
Thanks. Marzana opened the book on her lap again and reached for the soda bottle. "I'll think about it."
Lucky gave a wink by way of acknowledgment and departed.
You going to come back tomorrow? Nialla asked without looking up.
I don't know. Marzana loved games of strategy. And as extended social interactions went, they were surprisingly less painful than most. People didn't expect you to make small talk, and games tended to provide clues to help you work out the necessary conversation, which made it much less stressful. Still, there was a lot of treacherous ground to navigate between the point where you were introduced to a possible gaming group and the point where you were safely seated and embarking on an adventure together. And there was no guarantee that, even if she went through all that agony, they'd invite her to join their campaign. "Probably not. It hurt to admit it, especially since a preconfigured adventure would've been better than nothing right now.
You should. Nialla carefully set her book face-down on the arm of her chair. "I need a straightedge."
Yeah. I could really use my X-Acto knife. I can't believe I didn't bring my kit. She got up and headed over to the shelving cart. "Hey, Lucky?"
While Lucky and Nialla assembled the necessary supplies for whatever calculations and/or disassembly the first ten pages of the book required, Marzana turned over the possibility of joining the Tuesday game. But try as she might, she just couldn't picture herself actually doing it. Not any part of it: not the walking in, with or without Lucky, and introducing herself; not navigating the pitfalls of asking if she could play; not successfully being invited to join; not sitting down and taking a turn. No. Nice idea, Lucky, but it never had a chance.
Nialla flopped back down into her chair with a metal ruler and began tearing pages from her brand-new book with surgical precision. Marzana watched her with fascination; the boy who'd spoken up before was staring and turning purple in his effort not to comment.
I can't believe how . . . how ruthless you are with those," Marzana observed. "It kills me every time I have to do anything to them."
Me too," Nialla said, preoccupied. "But if you don't, you only get part of the story. She looked up suddenly. "It's like you, if you decide to come back tomorrow. It's difficult, but these are the adventures we have, and this is what it takes to be part of them."
Marzana rolled her eyes. "I hate when you get philosophical."
I know. Especially when I'm both philosophical and right."
There was no good response to that, because it was true. But Nialla returned to her excision without waiting for an answer, because real friends didn't make you waste words on things you both already knew.
The tearing sound of the next page coming out reminded Marzana that they hadn't actually paid yet. With a sigh, she leaned over into the space between the chairs where they'd thrown their respective bags and fished first Nialla's wallet out of her satchel, then her own wallet out of her backpack. She got up and walked over to the ladder where Lucky was back at work with her shelving. "Sorry to keep bugging you, Lucky, but you'd better take our money before we forget."
It was six before Marzana finally made it home. Usually this would've been cutting it a bit close to dinner, but tonight it turned out she needn't have worried. Her parents had a guest.
The Hakelbarends lived in a part of town called the Viaduct, which was a bizarre little district built above and below a very wide, stone-arched bridge. From any standpoint, the bridge was totally unnecessary. It wasn't exactly a bridge to nowhere, because you could actually go up the broad stone stairs on one side, cross it, and come down on the other, but it didn't really bridge anything. There was no water underneath, nor any transitways; the space inside the arches was taken up by shops that clustered against the supports, leaving narrow arcades for passage through. It would be one thing if the bridge had been constructed of the same old iron as the Ambrose Bank façade. Old iron operated by its own rules, and structures made of it sometimes did appear more or less out of nowhere and apropos of nothing. But the Viaduct was made of limestone and granite. Somebodya whole crew of somebodieshad intentionally put it there. It was as if a civil engineer in an age gone by, when designing the Liberty, had thought, We'll probably want a bridge or two in this place at some point down the line. I'll just stow this one here for safekeeping until we need it.
But very little open space in the Liberty stayed that way for long. Clusters of tall, narrow houses had been built on the span and the shops had moved in below, and three restaurants had set up open-air cafés along the edges of the broad stairs, with kitchens nestled below at ground level.
Marzana's house, Hedgelock Court, was near the center of the span, a particularly tall and narrow specimen with an assortment of odd balconies that poked out here and there like tree fungus, and a turret that overhung the street below it. That street, Crossynge Lane, also happened to be the most direct route from one side of the bridge to the other, which made it the de facto Main Street of the Upper Viaduct.
She let herself in through the door under the turret (there were other ways in and out of the house, some less obvious than others because, well, Mom), went to the combination rack-and-bench by the door to hang up her backpack, and discovered that someone else's coat was hogging her usual peg.
Murmuring adult voices led her past the living room and through a wide arch into the dining room. There was her mother, seated at the far end of the long side of the oak dining table: tall and dark-haired, with eyes perpetually shadow-rimmed, which made her lined face seem paler than it was. There was her dad, deep-voiced and dark-skinned, sitting to her mom's right at the head of the table. He was even taller, tall enough to be seen over the centerpiece of sunflowers and purple grasses, and the room's one window gleamed behind him so that right now he was mostly in silhouette. They were in conversation with a sandy-haired man who sat across from Marzana's mom but had turned a bit in his chair so that his back was to the doorwaya much younger man, if his voice was anything to go by. A stranger, she thought at first, but as the conversation fell away and her parents smiled at her in welcomewelcome, and something else, she thought briefly, filing that impression away to analyze later'the stranger turned and she realized she had met him before. Something in her stomach fluttered. Not because of the person, but because of the memories surrounding him.
Hey, Marzie," her mother said. "You remember Emmett, don't you?"
Sure," Marzana replied. "We met at Greenglass House."
Greenglass House. The site of Marzana's one and only True Adventure.