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       Floors, p.15

           Patrick Carman
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  “It’s the Library,” Leo found himself saying, for it was indeed the Whippet Library, where Merganzer came to think, think, and think some more.

  A perfectly silent train made its way around the wide perimeter. There was someone on the train, and Leo knew him right away. He was dressed in black, which was not his normal attire, but it was him, there could be no doubt.

  “Welcome to the thirteenth floor,” said the man. “I hope you like it as much as I do.”

  “Mr. Phipps?” asked Leo, because it was none other than the gardener himself.

  “Thank you for the ghost orchid. I was hoping you might let me have it.”

  “You’re welcome,” said Leo, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

  “And now I have something rather important to give you, something that was left in my care.”

  Leo was so confused and amazed, he just stood in the Library, gawking at the gardener, unable to speak. Mr. Phipps took a leather case out of his black jacket and unzipped it. From inside he pulled a silver chain, and on the end of the silver chain sat the Whippet Hotel’s sole silver key card.

  “Is that …?” Leo began, but he couldn’t finish.

  “Merganzer D. Whippet’s silver key card? The one that unlocks every door, even the many hidden doors? Yes, it is.”

  “Why do you have it?” asked Leo.

  Mr. Phipps took a piece of folded paper from the same leather case and held it with the key card in one hand.

  “You love the Whippet Hotel, don’t you, Leo?”

  “Of course I do.”

  “Then take the silver key card.”

  Leo reached out his hand, not really sure what it meant to have the key, and then took the paper with it.

  “Put the silver key card around your neck and the paper in your pocket,” Mr. Phipps instructed.

  Leo hung the chain around his neck and put the paper in the front pocket of his maintenance overalls.

  “What’s the paper?” he asked.

  “Why, it’s the deed to the Whippet Hotel, of course. Why else would you have the silver key card?”

  “The what?”

  Mr. Phipps looked Leo in the eye and smiled. “Leo Fillmore, you own the Whippet Hotel. At least for the moment.”

  Leo felt as if he might stop breathing. Could it really be true? No, it could not. Something wasn’t right.

  “Who gave you the authority to give me the Whippet Hotel? Only Merganzer can do that, and he’s missing.”

  He hated to say the next part, because he really liked Mr. Phipps.

  “Did you steal the silver key card from Mr. Whippet?”

  Mr. Phipps was a patient man, but there were things to be done and little time to do them in.

  “Climb aboard — we’ve got someplace to be.”

  Leo didn’t know if he could trust Mr. Phipps, but there seemed to be some plan in motion, and he certainly didn’t know of any other way out of the Whippet Library. Stepping into the train car and sitting down, he asked the gardener another question.

  “So you’re the mysterious MR. M.? It’s you who’s been following me and Remi around all this time, scaring us half to death with that finger of yours.”

  “Helping you. And keeping Captain Rickenbacker entertained, which is no easy task, let me tell you.”

  “But why?”

  Mr. Phipps wouldn’t answer as the train followed a track that wound higher and higher until he had to duck in order to miss the ceiling. Or did he? Was the ceiling a hologram, too? It would appear so, because they went right through it and came to a hidden station on the other side.

  “You’ll have to get out of the train now,” said Mr. Phipps.

  Leo stepped out onto a lonely platform, where a set of stairs led up into darkness.

  “Up there, you’ll find your way,” said Mr. Phipps. “He’s a crafty one, so be careful what you say. Good luck.”

  The train pulled away, disappearing down into the Whippet Library, and Leo was alone.

  “I wish Remi were here,” he said, climbing the stairs until his hand bumped up against the ceiling. He pushed and light poured in. If Leo could have seen the world from the other side, he would have watched as a square of grass on the roof opened up and a boy peeked out.

  “Over here, and make it snappy. You don’t want to keep Mr. Frescobaldi waiting.”

  “Mr. who?” asked Leo, stepping out onto the roof and letting the trapdoor slam shut behind him. There was a short man standing before him whom he had never seen before.

  “Come, come,” said the man, waving Leo on. “This way. He’s waiting for you.”

  Leo saw the ducks in the pond, though Betty wasn’t there. He thought about whistling three times fast and calling her, but what good would having a duck by his side do?

  “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are,” said Leo.

  The man hesitated and seemed poised to tell a lie.

  “My name is Milton. Satisfied? Now please, come quickly. This will all be over before you know it.”

  There had always been a small outcropping of trees on the roof in the far corner, away from the pond. In amongst the trees was a stone bench, and on the bench sat Bernard Frescobaldi. He had on a long gray coat with the collar turned up, black glasses, and a black fedora. He was staring out over the city.

  “Who are you and how did you get up here?” asked Leo. Leo didn’t know who these people were, but he didn’t like the idea of two total strangers on the roof of the Whippet. The man in the long gray coat would not turn around, but he signaled with his hand, and Milton came near. Leo watched as they whispered, then Milton delivered the message.

  “We understand that you have the silver key card and the deed to the hotel, and we have an offer for you.”

  Leo was on red alert, and thought seriously about calling Betty or running for the trapdoor. Mr. Phipps was a traitor, probably in on the deal with Ms. Sparks and whoever these two were.

  “You give us the silver key card and the deed,” continued Milton. He coughed, as if the next thing he was about to say was going to hurt. “And we will give you fifty million dollars.”

  Leo’s jaw dropped. Fifty million dollars? He had no idea how much the Whippet was worth, but fifty million would mean … a lot. His dad would never have to work again. He could buy Remi and Pilar a real house. He could go to college. Still, if the Whippet really was his, didn’t he have an obligation to protect it from a wrecking ball and, more importantly, from that awful Ms. Sparks?

  Leo watched as the man in the long gray coat whispered to Milton once more.

  “It’s falling apart, anyway,” Milton went on. “And you don’t know how to run a hotel. We’ll offer fifty million, not a penny more.”

  Little did Leo know that the land the Whippet sat on, not to mention the countless treasures inside, was worth at least ten times that. But the truth was, it didn’t matter. No amount of money was going to get Leo to give up the Whippet Hotel. He’d already made up his mind. He belonged here. He wanted to stay.

  “You’re standing on the roof of my hotel, and I want you off,” he said. “Both of you. I love this place, and you can’t have it.”

  Milton looked stunned as the man in the long gray coat stood up abruptly. He still would not turn around, and Leo had just about had it with whoever this guy was. He whistled three times fast, hoping to get some help from a duck, and then Milton started smiling.

  “I told you this would happen. I told you!”

  Leo whistled three times again, and this time he heard Betty quacking, but she would not come.

  “If you did anything to my duck, you’re in big trouble,” said Leo.

  “Betty is busy,” said the man in the long gray coat.

  “What did you say?” Leo asked, not because he hadn’t heard, but because he had. He knew that voice.

  “She’s laid her eggs and is going to have babies!” yelled the man in the long gray coat, and he threw off his hat, which revealed a wil
d whip of hair that simply would not stay down no matter how hard he tried. He turned — and it was not Bernard Frescobaldi, for there was no Bernard Frescobaldi. It was Merganzer D. Whippet, as it always had been.

  “Merganzer?” Leo gasped, first smiling, then laughing and running and hugging his old friend.

  “The one and only! Me, me, and only me! And did you hear the news? Betty’s having BABIES!”

  It was just like Merganzer to be excited about a duck, but Leo had to admit, the timing couldn’t have been better. There had been a lot of talk about mothers lately.

  Merganzer grabbed Leo by the hand and hauled him down the path of trees, then sat down, clapping his hands. “You see there, she’s built her nest.”

  No wonder Betty had been so cranky all week, Leo thought.

  “Six eggs,” said George Powell, for Milton wasn’t Milton, either; he was George, Merganzer’s oldest and dearest friend.

  “Leo, meet George. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

  “It would seem so,” said Leo, who still didn’t believe any of it.

  Merganzer talked and talked, as Merganzer was known to do, so it was hard to get a word in edgewise. But Leo tried his best.

  “First of all,” Merganzer said, “you passed. You passed, you passed, you passed! I had my doubts, really I did. Ask George; he’ll tell you. I thought you might give up. But you took every thing I threw at you and kept on going. Even that last part, which I simply had to do. You passed that one, too.”

  Leo didn’t quite understand, so George tried to explain while Merganzer went to congratulate Betty.

  “I’ve always stayed away from the hotel, which was by design, because Merganzer knew this day might come, a day when he would have to leave the Whippet and move on to other, more pressing matters. I must say I had my doubts as well, but now that I’ve seen you in action, my doubts have completely vanished. It was one thing to find all the boxes and overcome so very much; we thought you had that in you. But to say no to so much money, when you really could have used it! Well, that was the most important thing. That was why we had to do things the way we did.”

  “But I still don’t understand,” said Leo, turning back to Merganzer. “You can’t mean it. You can’t really want to give me the Whippet Hotel.”

  “Oh, but you’re wrong, Leo,” Merganzer replied. “I do want to give you the hotel. I can’t keep it; too much to do, too many places to go. You’re the only one for the Whippet.”

  “But what about Mr. Phipps or my dad or Ms. Sparks?”

  Even Leo couldn’t believe he’d said her name, but she was the hotel manager, and she had pulled the wool over Merganzer’s eyes for a long time.

  “Leo, listen to me,” said Merganzer. “It’s you, you’re the one. No one else will do. Don’t you see?”

  But Leo didn’t see. He simply couldn’t do it.

  Merganzer took a long silver pen from his coat pocket and held out his hand for the deed to the Whippet Hotel. Leo gave it back to him.

  “We have a lot in common, us two,” said Merganzer. “We both lost our moms too soon. We both want to remember. But there comes a day when we have to move on.”

  Merganzer D. Whippet signed the deed over to Leo and handed the paper back, winking at George as he did.

  “And we both found that a true friend can help carry us through lonely times. Am I right, George?”

  “So right, so true.”

  “Remi,” Leo said, thinking of his new friend and wondering what he must be going through. His mom didn’t have a job and his dad was a no-show. They might not even be able to pay the rent.

  “You have the silver key card now, Leo, and that means you can open any door. Not just the doors in this hotel, but all the doors you’re going to find for the rest of your life.”

  Leo held the silver key card in his hand.

  “Will you be here to help me?” he asked. “It’s an awful lot to look after.”

  “You’ll see me, once in a while. And George, too. Don’t forget — you’ve got lots of help if you know where to look.”

  Leo had some thoughts about that, and suddenly he couldn’t wait to get cracking on all the problems plaguing the hotel.

  “There’s a lot to fix around here,” said Leo.

  “Speaking of which, we have some business to attend to.”

  Merganzer got to his feet and pulled a whistle out of his pocket, blowing it twice.

  “What sort of business?” asked Leo, running up behind him.


  Leo felt a tingle in his toes at the idea of what Merganzer D. Whippet might be talking about.



  If there was one thing Leo could say for sure about Merganzer D. Whippet, it was this: The guy knew how to make an entrance. It began all the way up on the seventh floor, where he donned his hat and glasses. He knocked on all the guests’ doors, and each time he turned away and flipped the collar up on the coat so that his face could not be seen.

  “Is it time already?” one of the guests said. “I trust every thing went as planned?”

  “Yes, every thing, exactly as we planned it,” said George, whom the guest knew only as Milton, Bernard Frescobaldi’s driver. “Meet us in the lobby, won’t you?”

  “I look forward to concluding our business, Mr. Frescobaldi,” said the guest, but Bernard was already gone, down the stairs until he had summoned every single guest to the lobby. He had sent Leo ahead to find his father, and the two maintenance men waited at the bottom of the wide staircase as Merganzer D. Whippet, fully disguised as Bernard Frescobaldi, strode down the steps.

  Ms. Sparks saw him first.

  “Who on earth is that?” she said, one eye on the mysterious man in the long gray coat and one on the front door. She seemed to be pondering whether or not to run, though it was hard to say why. There was something about this man she recognized.

  Merganzer reached the bottom of the stairs as the guests started arriving, some by the main elevator, some by the stairs, all of them curious.

  “I’ll have you know that mornings are my best writing hours,” said Theodore Bump. “You may have just cost me five thousand words. This better be important.”

  Captain Rickenbacker was not a morning person, and he arrived with his red cape tucked into his trousers. “Has anyone made coffee?” was all he said.

  The Yanceys huddled together in their matching black silk pajamas, completely confused.

  LillyAnn Pompadore set Hiney on the floor, where he promptly peed.

  “Pilar!” Ms. Sparks yelled, and it was only after she heard her own voice that she remembered she’d fired the maid the night before. She looked around the room and her eyes landed on Leo. “You, clean that up.”

  “Yes, ma’am,” said Leo, who always carried a can of carpet-cleaning foam and rags in his tool bag, just in case.

  “Is someone going to tell us why we’re here?” asked Mr. Yancey. “If not, I believe I’ll go back to my room. I’d like to make sure nothing gets stolen.”

  It was a jab Leo didn’t like to hear, especially from a paying customer at the hotel he now owned.

  Merganzer had remained quiet, seated in the darkest corner of the lobby, but now he snapped his fingers. His best friend in all the world came down the stairs.

  “George Powell?” said Ms. Sparks. “What are you doing here?”

  Ms. Sparks was alarmed, because Mr. Powell never came to the hotel. She’d only ever seen him in his private legal office seven blocks away, and even then very rarely.

  “Who’s George Powell? You mean him?” asked LillyAnn Pompadore, pointing at the short man arriving at the bottom of the stairs. “That’s Milton, not George.”

  Ms. Sparks smelled a rat, looking at the door once more, and came out from behind the check-in counter.

  “What’s the meaning of this, George?” Ms. Sparks demanded.

  “I believe I’ll let him tell you,” George said, pointing to Merganze
r. When he did, Merganzer threw off the disguise and everyone gasped, for they all knew who it was in an instant.

  “My apologies for gathering you all so early, but I’m afraid it was unavoidable,” Merganzer began without the slightest hesitation. Ms. Sparks was utterly speechless as George Powell unlocked the hotel door and Mr. Phipps came in, back to looking every bit the gardener.

  “I’m only here for a moment and then I must go, this time for good,” said Merganzer. “Just a few loose ends to tie up, then I’m off.”

  “But you’re not Mr. Whippet,” said LillyAnn Pompadore. “You’re Bernard Frescobaldi. And he’s Milton, your driver.”

  “I’m afraid not,” said Merganzer, looking at all the long-term guests. He walked over to Theodore Bump, who had been with the hotel for two years running. As Bernard Frescobaldi, Merganzer had called Mr. Bump on several occasions, offering money for causing chaos at the hotel. Each time, Theodore Bump had refused.

  “Keep writing those books,” said Merganzer. “I’m a very fast reader, you know. I do hope you’ll stay on after I’m gone.”

  “Keep Blop out of my room, and you’ve got a deal.”

  Merganzer glanced at Leo, who nodded.

  “Done,” said Mr. Whippet.

  Leo had finished cleaning up after Hiney by then, and stood next to his dad, wondering where this was going.

  “And you,” said Merganzer, stopping in front of Captain Rickenbacker. “What will the Whippet do if you don’t protect us from MR. M., hmmm?”

  Bernard had called Captain Rickenbacker to the gate on two occasions, asking for dastardly favors, but Captain Rickenbacker had never wavered.

  “You can count on me,” said Captain Rickenbacker, saluting Merganzer enthusiastically.

  Merganzer bent down and picked up Hiney.

  LillyAnn Pompadore had been inching her way toward the door, but when Merganzer picked up her dog, she stopped.

  “Give me my dog and I’ll be on my way,” she said.

  “Ms. Pompadore, you were all too willing.”

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