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       Floors, p.8

           Patrick Carman
 
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  Leo didn’t want to talk about the Central Park Room.

  “It’s not your box. You shouldn’t have opened it.”

  “But you told me to go get it,” Remi pleaded, all the excitement gone out of his voice at the thought of upsetting Leo.

  “I didn’t tell you to open it. You shouldn’t have done that.”

  “I was only trying to help.”

  Leo looked at the mess of wires and blown fuses before him and knew he couldn’t possibly fix the air-conditioning in less than half an hour. After that, he’d have a little time — maybe an hour — in which to disappear in the labyrinth of the hotel.

  “It’s okay,” he said, trying to let go of something he really did think was his and his alone. “Just ask next time.”

  “Next time?” said Remi, his old zing returning. “You mean there are more boxes in this place? Awesome!”

  “We’re supposed to bring a duck,” said Leo, thinking it would be the perfect errand for Remi and Blop while he finished the electrical work. “Go to the roof and get Betty — she’s the smartest of the bunch. Then meet me at the door to the Central Park Room. We’re going in.”

  “Yes!” cried Remi. “You hear that, Blop? We’re going in!”

  Leo went back to work on the wiring, pulling crystal fuses and electrical tape out of his maintenance bag. While Remi went up the duck elevator, he told Leo what was inside the blue box.

  “Trains and tracks, mostly,” said Remi.

  “Trains?”

  “I know, weird, right? There’s not a train in Central Park, but it says right on the inside of the lid: ‘Enter through Central Park on five, under the arrow.’”

  “Have you been to Central Park before?” asked Leo. He had set the two-way radio on a ledge, pushing the button when he needed to while his hands worked quickly at the wires and fuses.

  “Sure, I’ve been to the park. Who hasn’t?” said Remi. He asked Leo why Blop was being so quiet.

  “If he blows through ten thousand words in under an hour, it usually shuts his voice chip down for a little while. You must have had quite a chat this morning.”

  “Oh yeah, we talked about every thing. He’s my travel buddy.”

  Leo could imagine Remi in the small elevator, sitting on the floor with Blop on his lap in the cardboard box. The two boys were like secret spies making their way through a hidden world, not knowing what they’d find around the next corner.

  “‘Under the arrow,’” said Leo, running electrical tape around a bunch of red and yellow wires. “I don’t know about any arrows in the park. We might have to do some searching to find the entrance.”

  “I’m at the roof,” said Remi. “But Betty won’t get in. She’s in a bad mood. Should I bring a different duck?”

  Leo thought about wandering through Central Park with a robot, a duck, and a buddy, and he thought better of the idea.

  “I think we can manage without Betty this time,” said Leo, screwing in the last fuse and throwing the electrical switch. A whirling noise ensued, and Leo knew the air-conditioning was back up again. He was a free man, at least until his dad found out he’d finished fixing the AC in record time. “Head back down and knock on the door. I’ll open it from the inside.”

  “How’re you gonna do that?”

  Leo didn’t answer. It was best if only he and his dad knew about some of the undisclosed ways into the rooms in the hotel. Merganzer had been clear about this when he’d hired Clarence Fillmore: Some places were known only to the few, the proud, the maintenance men.

  Leo swung by the Cake Room on six and knocked on the door, hoping no one would be in. His hopes were dashed when Jane Yancey answered. She had frosting on her nose.

  “Took you long enough,” she said. Jane had attitude to spare as she bit into a cupcake and talked with her mouth full, spitting crumbs all over the floor. “We were boiling in here. My dad’s going to get a refund.”

  “Can I come in and check a couple of things?” asked Leo.

  Leo was surprised to hear Mr. Yancey’s voice from inside, sounding exasperated.

  “Let him in, honey. The boy’s got work to do.”

  Jane Yancey stepped aside begrudgingly, wiping frosting on her pink tank top. The room was cooling down fast as Leo entered, thinking about how he’d never actually seen Mr. Yancey. The guy was like a ghost, normally off at some meeting. All he knew for sure was what Ms. Sparks had told him: Mr. Yancey was a zillionaire, into precious metals and oil reserves, and not to be bothered.

  The room itself was breathtaking, full of huge models of wildly decorated cakes and candies, which could be climbed and slid down and played on. Here and there were glass doors, behind which were rooms filled with real cakes and treats, all replaced by the restaurant staff every morning.

  “Do you mind if I check the walk-ins?” Leo yelled toward the bedroom, hoping Mr. Yancey would come out and introduce himself.

  “Be my guest, but don’t let Jane in there. She’s had enough treats for one day.”

  Jane scowled as Leo stepped into the cooler. When he came back out, Mr. Yancey was standing next to his daughter.

  “Her mother’s out shopping, spending all my money,” he said. Leo was immediately struck by how dark the man’s appearance was against the bright colors of the room: black suit, black hair, black shoes, a black coffee mug. He was a big man with a big face and a balding head. Leo could imagine him on an oil rig, barking out instructions, and wondered if that was where he’d gotten his start. Mr. Yancey looked to Leo like he belonged in dirty flannel shirts and thick work pants smudged with black oil, drilling into a thousand feet of earth, searching for treasure.

  Leo had forgotten to turn off the two-way before entering the room, and to his horror, Remi’s voice filled the Cake Room.

  “Okay, Leo, where are you? Not funny. Blop is waking up.”

  “Hey, I know that voice,” said Jane Yancey. “It’s the goofy kid from the lobby. What’s he doing? And who’s Blop?”

  Leo started for the door as Mr. Yancey watched him curiously.

  “Everything’s tip-top,” he said with a nervous smile. “But if you have any problems, you know how to find me.”

  Leo was out of the room before Jane Yancey could ask him any more questions, but she turned to her father, her arms folded over her chest.

  “Those two are up to something.”

  Mr. Yancey, for his part, sipped his black coffee and wondered how much Leo Fillmore really knew about the Whippet Hotel. He shrugged and went back to his room, saying over his shoulder, “Don’t get into any trouble until your mother gets back.”

  But Jane Yancey had a better idea, and soon she was out the door without Mr. Yancey having a clue.

  The fastest way down to the fifth floor was the main staircase, so Leo ran down it, nervous about having Jane Yancey chase after him. When he arrived at the door to the Central Park Room, Remi was gone.

  “Oh, great, just what I need.”

  Leo didn’t have a key card for the door, and it was a bit of a trick getting in through the maintenance tunnel from where he stood. He pulled out the radio just in time to hear Jane Yancey’s voice from up the stairs.

  “Maintenance Man?” She had followed him, as he’d suspected she might, and it wouldn’t take long for her to arrive on five and start asking all sorts of questions.

  Without warning, the door to the Central Park Room flew open and Leo heard Blop’s voice.

  “Ah, Mr. Fillmore, welcome to the park. We’ve been expecting you.”

  Leo darted inside and the door closed silently behind him. He didn’t have to ask Remi how he’d gotten in, because Remi was holding a green key card in his hand. He’d made off with it while Ms. Sparks was away and the front desk was unmanned.

  Not bad, thought Leo. Not bad at all.

  There came a knock at the door, Jane Yancey for sure, but the two boys ignored her pleas and began walking.

  “I know you’re in there! Let me in!” she screamed from t
he hall.

  “She will prove troublesome,” said Blop, rested and full of words again. “Very common for a six-year-old, particularly if you spoil them.”

  Leo saw that Remi had brought the blue box with him, carrying Blop in the pocket of his red jacket, from where the robot peeked out inquisitively.

  “One good turn deserves another,” said Leo, thinking of how Remi’s key card had gotten them into the room. Opening up his maintenance bag, Leo pulled out a squashed cupcake, which he had snuck out of the cooler in the Cake Room.

  “Nice!” said Remi, setting the blue box down and sliding off the lid. He broke the treat in half as they settled over the box and gazed inside.

  “This Merganzer guy was a little wacky,” said Remi, handing half the cupcake to Leo. Both boys were starving, and the cupcake vanished in one bite each.

  “You have no idea,” Leo tried to say, but it came out oo av oh ieeaa as he tried to speak through a mouthful of cake. Remi thought it was hilarious and started laughing, then rolling around on the floor in hysterics. Leo joined in and they were both sharing a good laugh, which unfortunately Jane Yancey could hear from the other side of the door. She marched away, determined to ruin their lives or die trying.

  When Leo and Remi calmed down, they looked inside the box and found that it was filled with the most intricate model train set either of them had ever seen. There were rolling hills, tunnels, trees, and a farm. The train engine itself was the size of Leo’s thumb, with two silver cars behind it.

  “Watch this,” said Remi. He reached inside and pushed a tiny lever forward and the train started to move. Leo wished he’d been the one to see this first, but watching the miniature train make its way around the box was so magical, he could hardly stay mad.

  “What does it mean?” Remi asked as the train continued round and round.

  “There’s only one way to find out,” said Leo, standing up and looking out over the Central Park Room. “We’ll have to find the train and climb aboard.”

  Remi smiled, frosting in his teeth, and the two boys started laughing again. Then they started walking.

  An arrow was hidden somewhere in the Central Park Room, and it wouldn’t be easy to find.

  CHAPTER 9

  THE CENTRAL PARK TRAIN

  I love this hotel,” said Remi. He and Leo were standing in front of Balto, a statue of a dog staring out over the rest of the room. The real Central Park sat on 843 acres in Manhattan, but Merganzer had crammed every last attraction into one floor of the Whippet. For that reason, Balto was only about two inches tall. As the boys leaned in and looked more closely, Blop regaled them with the story of the extraordinary sled dog.

  “If you’d have told me when I woke up this morning I’d be standing in a shrunken Central Park listening to a robot tell me about a two-inch dog,” said Remi, “I’d have said you were loco. How in the world did anyone ever build this?”

  “You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Leo, thinking of the Room of Rings, the Pinball Machine, the Cake Room, and so much more that Remi hadn’t seen yet.

  “I believe you,” said Remi. “From what my mom told me, the rooms get weirder, the higher you go.”

  Leo didn’t want to spoil the fun and give too much away, but Remi was right. The seventh, eighth, and ninth floors were bizarre, to say the least.

  “Let’s keep walking, see if we can find that arrow.”

  The winding path the two boys were on was sunk into the floor so that the model lay all around them at belly-button level. They could reach out and touch whatever they wanted, and Leo imagined Merganzer doing just that. He could see his old friend placing a tree here, a statue there.

  Real water flowed under arched bridges, and the Lake was strewn with tiny boats and wobbling ducks. There were fountains, the Great Lawn, the Central Park Zoo, skating rinks, a carousel, baseball fields, and tennis courts. Leo stopped in front of the statue of Alice in Wonderland, thinking he might have seen an arrow, but he was mistaken.

  “Is it just me, or is it getting dark in here?” asked Remi.

  “My sensors say yes, undoubtedly,” said Blop. “Switching to reserve power.”

  As if there were a quickly moving sunset, the room was growing dim as they approached Belvedere Castle.

  “Look there, it’s a boy and his mom,” said Remi. “The only two people in the park, right?”

  “It’s Merganzer,” said Leo. “And that must be his mom.” He could tell by the wild hair they both had, the way it flipped up in the back and looked like the feathers on the head of a merganser (the duck, not the person).

  Stars filled the ceiling and the castle lit up as the room went completely dark. A moon appeared, bright and round, and shadows filled the room. The lights on the baseball fields came on, hundreds of tiny lampposts glowed yellow, and the sound of a distant train filled the room.

  “Where’s it coming from?” asked Remi. The sound was every where and nowhere at once. But Leo had grabbed Remi by the shoulder, staring off into the dark with fear in his eyes.

  “Someone’s in here with us,” he said. In the darkest corner of the room, a shadow worked the controls, changing the lights, making the moon come up.

  “Who are you?” asked Leo . He was too afraid to move, but he began to wonder if they’d found Merganzer hiding in the Central Park Room.

  The train whistle blew and Leo jumped. Lights began to dance on the Great Lawn, spinning and circling like fireflies.

  “What’s happening, Leo?” asked Remi. He was an adventurous boy, but this was getting scary.

  “He’s trying to help us,” said Leo.

  “Who’s trying to help us?”

  “I don’t know, but look.”

  The lights on the Great Lawn had started to settle, gathering together to form words. Leo and Remi read them silently, and when they did, the words burst into tiny flames and the room was light once more.

  The sound of the train was gone, and so was the shadow.

  Leo said the words to Remi. “Every arrow needs a bow.”

  Both boys had been to Central Park enough times to know what it meant right away. It had to be Bow Bridge, the most famous bridge in the park, which stretched across the Lake.

  Blop went full throttle about all the bridges in the park, for there were many, and for once Remi wished he could get the robot to be quiet. It was no time for detailed information about why they used cast iron to build bridges in the park and how the Bow Bridge, built in 1862, had been photographed about a billion times.

  “If you put him facedown, he’s harder to hear,” said Leo. Remi picked Blop out of his jacket pocket and turned him upside down, dropping him back inside. His wheels spun back and forth with a whir, but his muffled tin voice dropped into the background.

  When they arrived at the Bow Bridge, Leo was the first to spot the hidden arrow. Under the arch, near the water, a cluster of ducks was staring.

  “There it is,” said Leo.

  “It makes me wonder if there’s an arrow under the real bridge,” Remi pondered. “I’ll have to get a boat and see next time I go there.”

  Leo smiled at this idea, because he’d been thinking the same thing. Maybe the two of them could go together once all the mysteries of the hotel had been solved.

  Leo reached over the grass and the trees and took hold of the gold-plated arrow, which was about the size of a toothpick. He pulled and nothing happened.

  “Try pushing it in,” said Remi, who was impatient by nature.

  Leo tried and, again, nothing happened.

  “Let me have a try,” said Remi, reaching past Leo to grab the little arrow.

  “No, I can do it,” Leo said. He’d missed opening the blue box and he wasn’t about to let Remi open a secret room in his hotel.

  Leo and Remi both reached for the arrow at once, but Remi got there first. Leo, in his frustration, tried to push Remi’s hand aside. When he did, the arrow snapped off in Remi’s hand.

  “Now look what you’ve done!”
said Leo.

  Remi had always been a daring, energetic boy, but he was also tenderhearted, his confidence easily shaken.

  “I’m sorry, Leo. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I just got so excited.”

  Leo turned back to the Bow Bridge, his frustration made worse by the fact that Remi didn’t fight back. Remi turned to Blop for comfort, pulling him out of his red jacket pocket and asking him for help.

  “Blop, how do we find the train?”

  Blop’s head spun back and forth as he scanned the park, the Lake, the bridge. He seemed to be thinking.

  “The ducks have turned, which is very odd indeed. Might that be of interest?”

  Leo, a glimmer of hope returning, moved in close to the ducks. It was true; they had all turned, their miniature heads now facing the other side of the bridge.

  “Remi,” said Leo. “Give me the arrow.”

  Remi handed the toothpick-size arrow, the tip of which had been broken off, to Leo. He leaned in, too, and saw what Leo saw.

  “A bull’s-eye! No way!” Remi yelled. He was so excited, in part because he realized the arrow was meant to be broken off, but even more because the rupture between him and Leo had been repaired. All was not lost after all!

  Leo stuck the arrow in the center of the bull’s-eye and stepped back as a hole opened up in the ceiling over their heads.

  “Better move back — I’ve seen this happen before,” warned Leo.

  Remi was a perceptive listener, and as the ladder shot down out of the ceiling, he thought he heard something else from the other end of the room.

  “So cool!” he said, because it was, and then he added, “I think someone might be trying to get in here.”

  Leo stayed very still and listened. Someone was fumbling with a key card in the hall, trying to get the door open. Leo looked at Remi and put a finger to his lips, then he started up the ladder double time.

  When Jane Yancey finally got the key to work, she opened the door to the room only a crack, hoping she would catch Leo doing something he shouldn’t be doing, and be able to turn him in. She thought she heard a swishing noise, but she couldn’t be sure. The room had turned completely dark, and she opened the door wide, proud of herself for sneaking downstairs and making off with the key while no one was in the lobby. I’m a crafty girl, she thought to herself. She let the door go as she searched for a light switch, not realizing the door was on a spring, and it slammed behind her.

 
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