Chapter 1: Headed North 1 HEADED NORTH JOE
LET’S JUST GET ONE THING straight. I do not have a fear of heights. Frank had been looking at me out of the corner of his eye, going totally older brother on me the whole flight because my knuckles had been white on the armrests since we took off, but what did he expect? It was windy! There was ocean everywhere! And a ton of the flight involved going over Canada, which meant if we went down, it was straight into the wilderness. I didn’t think being a little nervous was unreasonable.
The second we landed, I jumped up, nearly hitting my head on the luggage compartment above us.
“Settle down, Joe,” said Frank.
“You settle down!”
My heart was pounding in my chest, not because I was afraid of heights, remember. Just because I was a guy who liked to take precautions.
I glanced out the window at the airfield, reminding myself that we were flat on the ground, and exhaled. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
“It’s okay,” said my brother. He looked completely fine—I mean, utterly unconcerned by totally possible risks.
We waited in the plane for what felt like forever, until finally, it was time for those of us near the back to deplane. Frank and I got our bags and shuffled through the little aisle. I about thwacked an old lady in the face with my duffel bag and had to double back to make sure she was all right.
She was. I hadn’t clipped her, thankfully.
Frank strode ahead of me on the jetway, and we waited for our parents to meet us, then together made our way into the Anchorage, Alaska, airport.
It was… small. Not that crowded. Nothing like the airports back east.
“Whoa,” I said. “Would you look at that?”
Inside a huge plexiglass case in front of us was the biggest bear I had ever seen. He was taxidermized, brown and bushy, standing on his hind legs, his massive paws and Wolverine-style claws out, frozen mid-roar.
“You know,” said Dad, coming up behind us and about making me jump out of my skin, “that bear’s the biggest grizzly ever taken in the United States.”
“Really?” said Frank.
“Yup. I read up on it last time we came through. They say when he was found, he had the remains of two people in his belly.…”
“A man-eater,” I whispered reverently. Suddenly the bear seemed even bigger and the plexiglass case felt thinner. It wasn’t fear I was feeling—not exactly. Just awe.
Not my usual reaction in an airport, unless there’s a Caribou Coffee selling pastries near the gate.
“You know that’s a tall tale as well as I do, Fenton Hardy.”
We all turned around to find Ed Adenshaw behind us, smiling big and wide. My dad’s face split nearly in half with the force of his matching grin, and my mom started to bounce on her feet. Frank and I had known the Adenshaws and their daughter since we were little, and our parents had known them a lot longer than that. Mom and Ed’s wife, Jacqueline, had gone to school together. The rest was history, or so they liked to remind us every time they were together—which wasn’t often. Alaska and Bayport weren’t exactly close together. Ed had always seemed a little larger than life to us as kids, mostly because he was. He told stories like no one else did, and laughed longer, ate more, sang louder, and danced harder. He did everything big. He was broad-shouldered and had short, sharply cut black hair, bronzed skin, and eyes that crinkled when he smiled. He didn’t look as tall now as he had when I was four years old and they’d come to see us, but even so, he had an energy about him that made me want to stand a little straighter, be a little more impressive, too.
“A tall tale?” Dad replied. “No way.”
“Sure it is. That bear is two hundred pounds under the record for a taken grizzly.”
“And its supposed victims?” asked Frank, eyeing the bear warily.
“Not true.” Ed hoisted one of my mom’s bags up on one of his shoulders and one of my dad’s on the other. “Grizzlies look big and bad, but all those teeth and claws are for eating berries and fish. Maybe human garbage, if they can get to it. But almost never people, not unless they’re starving. That guy look like he was starving to you?”
He did not.
“I knew it,” I said. “I knew there weren’t man-eating bears in Alaska.”
Ed gave me a wink. “I didn’t say that.”
I raised my eyebrows at Frank, and we made our way out of the airport.
This was going to be one wild spring break.
The parents chatted the whole way to the Adenshaws’ place, which left Frank and me to talk in the back seat of the truck. Or we would have if Frank didn’t have his face buried in his phone. “No work this week,” I said. “Remember?”
“I’m not working!” Frank protested. “I’m—”
“Texting your girlfriend.”
“She’s not my girlfriend, Joe. She’s just, well, someone I like.”
“Uh-huh.” Ever since Frank had summoned up the courage to ask Charlene Vale, reporter for the Bayport High News, to the movies, they’d been going nonstop—texting, talking on the phone, liking each other’s stuff on social media, hanging out. They sure seemed like an item to me. I’d been looking forward to having Frank all to myself this week. We could just be us again, have some real brotherly bonding time.
It was going to be strange not having any cases to solve, though. Before we left Bayport, we’d promised our parents. We were on vacation to a place I could barely remember; I’d been so little last time we came. This week was for friends, family, and enjoying Alaska.
From what I’d already seen, it was pretty gorgeous—mountains jutting up into the ice-blue skyline, water everywhere, air so clear that just breathing it didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to drink it.
“What’s the first thing you wanna do while we’re here?” Frank asked.
I shrugged. “Check out a tide pool? Do the polar bear plunge?”
Frank snorted. “It’s not the right time of year for the polar bear plunge.”
“Still. That water’s gotta be cold.”
Mom had told us about the charity event where a bunch of people go splashing around in the ocean in the middle of winter when the water’s at its coldest. It sounded completely bananas.
I was so in.
I was still thinking about how much the ice-cold water would hurt when we rolled up the old paved road to the Adenshaws’ place. Their house sat on a rocky coast, framed by moody clouds and the ocean in the background. The white scalloping, wood, and flowers reminded me of a little gingerbread house.
Dad whistled. “Nice new place you got here, Ed.”
The house I remembered visiting was on the Adenshaws’ ancestral land in Sitka, Alaska, which was a few hours to the southeast and a heck of a lot warmer. They’d moved up here to Anchorage a few years ago. Job stuff.
“You liking it here?” Dad asked.
Ed shrugged. “Yeah. It’s been good so far. Jacqueline’s still not over having to move off Tlingit land. But when opportunity knocks…”
The Adenshaws were Tlingit (Jacqueline) and Haida (Ed), and I remembered Mom and Dad talking about the move here being a little tough for them. Especially because their old place had been in Jacqueline’s family for years. I think her sister lived there now. Or her brother, maybe? Anyway, this new place was amazing, right on the water. It looked like they had a bunch of land, too. An old wood fence ran two posts up from the ground, bordering their property, and it went so far back into the trees that it disappeared. It looked like we weren’t going to need a mystery while we were up here to stumble into an adventure.
When we pulled up to the house and jumped out, the cool salt air hit me right away. It didn’t quite smell like it did back home.
I hugged my jacket around me and tried not to look like I was freezing. Sure, it was Alaska, but it was April.
Ed pushed through the front door, and Jacqueline and my mom flung themselves at each other. It had been years. Frank walked right up to Jacqueline and held his hand out to shake hers, but I hung back a little. It was always kind of embarrassing meeting adults who’d known you when you were young enough that they might have changed your diapers. Jacqueline looked between Frank and me. “My gosh, I can’t believe how big you’ve both gotten.”
I smiled. “Hi, Mrs. Adenshaw.”
Then she and Ed waved us into the house.
It was super homey—blankets everywhere, amazing Native art on the walls alongside family pictures, and books all over the place. I wondered which member of the family was the big reader. Maybe all of them. There was a fire going in the stone fireplace in the living room, even in April!
“You all remember our daughter Kate,” Jacqueline said.
“Of course,” Mom replied, stepping forward to wrap the girl who’d come out to greet us in a hug. Dad joined in, and they did the same adult cooing Kate’s parents had done about Frank and me.
I remembered Kate from the last time our families had gotten together. She was around the same age as me and had been kind of gangly, with short, straight black hair and a couple of teeth that hadn’t grown in right and—
“Hey,” she said, tipping her chin up at us.
Frank flashed her a big smile. “Kate! Wow, last time we saw each other, I’m pretty sure you were in a crayon-eating phase.”
“And you were into picking your nose.”
He sputtered. “Well, we all grow.”
She raised her eyebrow. “Speak for yourself.”
Frank scratched his head. “Come again?”
“I’m just saying, do you see any Crayolas around here?”
Frank chuckled, and soon enough, her parents joined in. And then my parents were laughing. But I wasn’t.
I just stood there like a fish, my mouth hanging open, heart beating all the way up in my throat.
Kate’s hair wasn’t short anymore. It fell all the way down to her waist. And her teeth fit her mouth just fine. She had dimples, and… whoa. I blinked.
I was starting to sound like Frank.
Kate looked at me. “And you. Do you talk?”
“W-what?” I stuttered. “Uh…”
The awkward silence was unbearable. I could feel it on my skin. But I had no idea how to break it. Thankfully, just when I was sure I’d bolt from the room rather than embarrass myself any more, Frank elbowed me in the ribs and broke the spell. What am I doing? I can talk to a girl.
“Uh, right,” I managed to get out. “No.”
“You don’t… talk?” Kate said slowly.
“I mean, yes. I do.” Maybe I should have bolted when I had the chance.
Kate looked at Frank, who just shrugged, then back at me. I stood there staring at my toes, hoping I’d sink down beneath the floorboards.
“Well, that settles that, I guess,” she said.
“Sure,” Frank replied, eyebrow arched.
Kate took a couple of steps toward us, and sweat broke out on my upper lip. I could totally feel it in my armpits. It was a good thing I’d put on extra deodorant for the airplane.
“So,” she said, “my parents were saying you guys solve mysteries…?”
“Yeah,” Frank answered smoothly. He’d picked up from my wide eyes and desperate gaze that I probably wasn’t going be the best conversationalist at the moment. “We’ve gotten into a tight situation or two.”
We’d done a lot more than that. Back home, my brother and I were the ones to call if you had a case that needed solving, though admittedly, some folks hadn’t always been thrilled about us poking around. Still, that was Frank. Proud of himself—of us—but humble.
“And Jacqueline tells us that you’re a falconer,” Dad said, jumping in.
“Sure am,” Kate said, smiling, bright and blinding.
I blinked. “A what?”
Had I heard her right? “A… a real live falconer? Like the ones you read about in fantasy books?”
“Sure,” she said, shrugging. “Except falconry isn’t fantasy to me. It’s my real life. I’ve got my own bird, and she’s the fastest one I’ve ever seen.”
“Wow,” I said.
She studied me for a moment. “Actually, I haven’t taken her out today. If you guys want to come with me while I fly her, I guess that would be all right.”
My jaw dropped. That sounded awesome. I jumped in before Frank could say anything to ruin the moment. “Yes. Yes! Wow, yes, absolutely.”
Kate’s eyes lit up. Frank slid a look at me. Maybe the enthusiasm had been… a little much.
“I mean, uh, yeah, sure. That would be okay.”
Kate laughed. “Cool. We can head out after dinner.”
Mom and Dad accompanied the elder Adenshaws into the kitchen, and a moment later, I heard the sounds of the opening and closing of cabinets followed by the sizzle of a frying pan. Frank and Kate followed. I was starving but was the last one to leave the living room. I was too busy catching my breath.
I didn’t care if I did sound like Frank. Kate Adenshaw was gorgeous, funny, and an adventurer, like us—not to mention, she was a real live falconer.
Boy, was I in trouble.