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       Floors, p.9

           Patrick Carman
 
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  She felt she was not alone.

  “Hey, Maintenance Man! You get out here right now! Stop trying to scare me!” she screamed, but now she wasn’t so sure. Maybe the maintenance man hadn’t entered this room. Maybe she should get out, fast, and never come back.

  Jane Yancey got hold of the handle and threw the door open, afraid to look over her shoulder and see someone chasing her.

  She couldn’t be sure, but as she ran down the hall, Jane thought she heard the sound of a distant train.

  “Oh no,” said Remi. “I’ve done it again.”

  “Done what?” Leo asked. Neither of them had made it up the ladder before it shot back up into the hole, taking them with it. The hole had closed and they were in Merganzer D. Whippet’s secret Railroad Room.

  Remi wouldn’t say, and Leo began to feel as if he’d made a mistake being so upset about the arrow.

  “It’s okay, Remi. You were right. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry about the arrow. I’m sorry.”

  Remi seemed to perk up as he looked at the train waiting to be boarded. They were standing on a platform, the train was marked with a number 5, steam pouring out from under its wheels like it wanted to go but wouldn’t leave without them.

  “I left the blue box behind,” said Remi, wincing at the sound of his own words.

  “Oh,” said Leo. “That is bad.”

  “I know, I know — I blew it. I should never have set it down. Someone else might find the box, and then what will we do?”

  But Leo was worried about something else entirely. Without the box they didn’t have the model, which meant they’d have to figure out how to get out of the room themselves.

  “I didn’t get a very good look inside,” said Leo, trying to put a good face on things. “Do you remember anything that might help us?”

  “Not really. I mean, it was a train. There were lots of tracks and tunnels.”

  Not helpful, thought Leo. He was beginning to think inviting Remi into things had been a mistake, but then Remi had an awfully good idea. He pulled Blop out of his pocket.

  “Blop, this is important, okay?”

  “Important, yes. What is it?”

  “Did you get a good look inside the blue box?”

  Leo and Remi held their breaths as Blop’s little head turned back and forth between the two. Clearly the robot wanted to please Leo and Remi. He didn’t want to let them down, and they were happy to find that he did not.

  “It’s the donuts you want, that’s the trick,” said Blop.

  “What do you mean? What donuts?” asked Leo.

  Blop’s head twisted around and faced the train.

  “Climb aboard and I’ll show you.”

  Leo scratched his head and looked at the train. It was small, more like a roller coaster, and looking around the room he saw that the course it would take was filled with banks and sharp turns, ups and downs, tunnels and bridges.

  “Wow, thanks, Blop! You totally saved us!” said Remi. Turning to Leo, he added, “Which car do you want?”

  Leo wasn’t sure they could trust Blop, but he wanted to, and he was glad Remi was the courageous type. He’d have hated to drag an unwilling participant onto a train bound for who-knew-where.

  “I’ll take the back car, you take the front,” said Leo.

  “You got it,” Remi answered, setting Blop in his jacket pocket and climbing over the rail into the train car. Leo jumped into the last car and had a feeling of déjà vu. There was something familiar about the inside of the box he sat in, but he couldn’t quite place it. There wasn’t time to give it much thought, because the engine on the train began to lurch forward on the tracks. When it did, Leo spied the seat belt in his train car and the light went off. He knew this car, and so he knew he’d better speak up.

  “Put on your seat belt, Remi! You’re going to need it!”

  The engine was taller than the two cars behind it, with a small round window in the back. Leo and Remi were sitting in the open air, and it was Remi who realized something first.

  “Leo?” he said as the train pulled out of the station.

  “What is it?”

  “Someone is driving this train.”

  Leo’s heart raced as he looked past Remi and saw the round window in the engine car. It had fogged up, like the frosted glass in the Room of Rings, and someone was writing a message with their finger.

  Hang on.

  Leo’s knuckles went white against the sides of the car as his grip tightened, and then the train shot out of the station so fast, it felt like Leo’s face had been blown off.

  Remi howled with laughter, his jet-black hair fluttering in the wind as the train rounded the first tight turn and flew over a bridge. It was a rough ride, both boys being hurled back and forth in their cars as they entered the first of three dark tunnels. Before they knew it, they were coming back into the station, which pleased Leo, because he expected the train to stop so they could get off.

  This was not to be.

  After the third time around, Leo and Remi both began to realize they weren’t getting off the train unless they figured out what in the world they were supposed to do. It crossed Leo’s mind that they might never get off the train.

  “I’m going to hold Blop up in the air!” yelled Remi. He’d turned back to Leo, grinning from ear to ear.

  “What? Why?!” Leo fired back.

  Remi didn’t answer as he spun back around, pulled Blop out of his pocket, and held the small robot over his head.

  “Don’t drop him!” Leo said, half expecting Blop to catch in the wind and nail him in the forehead as he flew by.

  Around and around they went, no one speaking, all three of them watching. It was a surprisingly quiet and smooth ride, like a roller coaster on rails of Jell-O, and both boys took note of the route: two bridges, three wild turns, four ups and downs, three dark tunnels.

  “Have either of you ever ridden a carousel?” Blop asked as they rounded a corner.

  Leo and Remi both answered yes.

  “So you’ve grabbed the dragon rings, then?” asked Blop. Remi didn’t know what this meant, so he looked at Leo, who shrugged.

  Up and down, over a bridge, and through a tunnel they went, rounding the station for the fourth time.

  “Many carousels have the dragon ring feature,” Blop continued, “which works like this: As you pass the dragon, you take the ring out of his mouth by hooking it with your finger. Every time a ring is taken, a new one appears. Take the gold ring and you get a free ride.”

  “Sounds fun, but what’s it got to do with the train we’re on?” Leo asked.

  “The dragons are in the tunnels, or so says the blue box,” said Blop.

  Remi howled with delight, very happy that he’d given Blop a good long look inside the blue box. Even Remi hadn’t seen the tiny dragon heads in the tunnels.

  “Here comes a tunnel now!” Remi yelled, dropping Blop into his jacket pocket and leaning out of the car as the world went dark.

  But it was useless. The tunnels were so dimly lit, they couldn’t see anything — at least not until Leo took his flashlight out of his pocket.

  “I’ll point the light,” he yelled. “You grab the rings!”

  When they came to the second tunnel, Leo shone the light on the walls and there it was — a magnificent dragon head, its mouth open, a ring hanging from its teeth. Remi took off his seat belt and leaned far out of the train car, so far that he nearly tumbled onto the tracks. His finger caught the ring and it popped free. There was a short pause as the train went by, then the dragon breathed a stream of fire, lighting up the tunnel with an orange glow. Leo had to duck below the flame in order to avoid having his hair set on fire.

  “It’s white!” Remi said.

  “If Blop is right, we’ll need a gold ring,” Leo answered.

  Around and around they went, collecting rings from the fire-breathing dragons, one in each tunnel. Every time a ring was taken, a new one appeared, until Remi had nine rings in his pock
et. Through the station, up and down, over the bridge, and heading into the first tunnel — this time the ring was gold, as they’d both hoped.

  “That’s the one you want,” said Blop, gazing out from his perch in the red jacket. “The gold ring is always the winner.”

  “Don’t miss it!” said Leo, worried that the entire system would reset and they’d need to start over. He was starting to feel sick from all the times around the track and wanted to get off the ride more than ever.

  Remi leaned out as they entered the darkness, Leo’s flashlight guiding the way, the gold ring within his reach. But this time, he leaned too far.

  “Remi!” yelled Leo.

  Pointing the flashlight at Remi’s car, he saw his friend dangling along the tracks as they flew by. The only thing holding Remi and Blop in the car was Remi’s tennis shoe, which had caught on the door. They exited the first tunnel as Remi’s red jacket flapped in the wind and he tried, without success, to grab hold of the train car door. All nine rings flew out of his pocket, bouncing along the tracks behind them.

  “Take my hand!” Leo yelled, unbuckling his seat belt and holding out his arm. A sharp right turn was seconds away, and Leo knew if he didn’t get Remi in time, his shoe would come loose and Remi and Blop would go flying into the trees.

  “Come on! Grab my hand! Now, Remi!”

  Remi held his hands over his head just as they entered the turn and the shoe came unhooked from the train car. Leo had Remi by the hands, and as they rounded the sharp turn, he was nearly pulled out of his own car. Remi flew wide through the air, like a trapeze artist holding on to a partner. When the track turned straight again, Leo pulled hard and Remi tumbled into the second car, knocking Leo onto the floor.

  “I lost it!” yelled Remi, pulling Leo up onto the seat by his overalls. “I lost the gold ring!”

  But Remi needn’t have worried, because the gold ring was safely held in Leo’s hand.

  “I have it,” he said. It was big, about as wide around as a billiard ball, and Remi thought it looked like a ring fit for a giant. There was a string attached to the ring, and attached to the string was an envelope the size of a postage stamp.

  The train was nearing the second tunnel, and as it did, both boys saw flames.

  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Leo. The dragon in the second tunnel was breathing a steady stream of fire that filled the darkness. Without warning, the two cars began to tilt backward, until they locked into place with Leo and Remi lying flat on their backs, staring at the ceiling of the railroad room.

  “What’s happening?” Remi asked, looking to Leo for help.

  “No time for seat belts; just hold on as tight as you can!”

  When the train engine neared the tunnel, it cut the cars loose, racing through the fire all by itself. A hole opened in the floor, but Leo and Remi couldn’t see it.

  “Double Helix time!” yelled Leo.

  “What do you mean, Double Helix time?” Remi yelled back.

  The two cars dropped into the hole, missing the dragon flames by inches, and careened down the center of the hotel.

  “Awesooooooooooooome!” Remi howled, for he’d never been on the Double Helix before.

  “I knew I recognized these cars,” Leo said, trying his best to hold on as the Double Helix spun them down five stories. Or was it six? The Double Helix lurched to a stop and Remi banged his head on the padded rail.

  “Are you okay?” Leo asked worriedly.

  “Are you kidding? Best hour of my life!” said Remi. He looked around the dark space and added, with grave concern, “Where’s Blop?”

  Both boys checked the jacket and the floor of the train car, but Blop was nowhere to be found.

  “He must have flown out of your pocket in the Railroad Room,” Leo said.

  Remi looked like his dog had run away, his cat had been hit by a car, and his mother had grounded him for a week.

  “What if he’s smashed to pieces? What if we never find him?”

  Leo was worried, but in a way, he was a little bit relieved to have left Blop in the Railroad Room. Merganzer D. Whippet built things tough, and Leo was sure Blop was rolling around, talking to the trees and the bushes and the grass.

  “Don’t worry. Blop is a very sturdy robot. We’ll find him.”

  Remi brightened just a little. “You think?”

  Leo put a hand on his buddy’s shoulder. “Trust me, we’ll find him.”

  Remi took a deep breath, nodded a couple of times, and seemed to regain some of the excitement he’d lost.

  “I’ve never known the Double Helix to stop below ground,” Leo said, glancing from side to side. “I think we’re under the Whippet.”

  Both boys got out and stood next to the car, looking up into the tunnel they’d just fallen through. They were standing at the bottom of the shaft, where a ladder led up to a metal-grated landing.

  “That’s the lobby right there,” Leo said, pointing up. “But we’re ten feet below that.”

  Leo scratched his head and looked at the gold ring. He noticed the postage stamp–size note tied with a string, and he was just about to take a closer look when Remi whispered.

  “There it is.”

  “There’s what?”

  Leo followed Remi’s gaze into the corner of the shaft. It was the same size as the others, but this one was bright green.

  They’d lost a robot, but they’d found the third hidden box.

  CHAPTER 10

  THE FIELD OF WACKY INVENTIONS

  No matter how hard they pulled on the wooden cover, Leo and Remi could not get the green box open. They were afraid of breaking whatever was inside, so rather than smash it against the wall, they carried it up the metal ladder. Leo went first, holding the box, and Remi followed, which was how Remi saw the message first.

  “Something’s written on the bottom.”

  When they reached the landing, Leo lifted the box over his head and read the words.

  I won’t open all alone.

  “What do you think it means?” asked Remi, feeling in his jacket pocket and wishing, badly, that Blop were hiding there.

  “Maybe if we slide all three boxes together, this one will open,” said Leo.

  “That’s a great idea!”

  They opened the orange door that led back into the lobby, but only a little, and saw Remi’s mom sitting at the front desk. Leo left the green box behind and they crept out, bruised and battered, then shut the orange door behind them a little too loudly.

  Remi’s mom turned in their direction and tilted her head, staring curiously at the two boys.

  “Ms. Sparks isn’t back yet?” asked Remi, trying his best both to distract his mom and to act like nothing very exciting had happened in the past hour.

  Pilar looked at her disheveled son and wondered why his hair was standing up wildly on top of his head.

  “Leo, are you keeping my boy safe? I hope you’re staying out of trouble.”

  “Oh yes, ma’am. Very safe,” said Leo, thinking as he said it that he’d almost allowed Remi to fall out of a moving train.

  “I’d like to ride that thing sometime,” said Pilar, staring at the closed orange door. There was no hiding the fact that Leo and Remi had just ridden the Double Helix, but she didn’t seem to mind, switching to a different topic. “Jane Yancey says you tried to scare her. Is that true?”

  Remi jumped in. “She just wants to follow us around and bug us to death,” he said. “You know how spoiled she is.”

  Pilar put her finger to her lips and looked across the lobby toward the Puzzle Room. “Mr. Phipps is in there with Captain Rickenbacker. You know how he can be.”

  Leo knew, all too well, that Captain Rickenbacker was a terrible gossip who loved to entertain himself by stirring up trouble. If he’d heard them, he’d surely tell Mr. Yancey what they thought of his daughter for the pure plea sure of seeing the sparks fly.

  “Shoo,” said Pilar. “Ms. Sparks will be back at five o’clock sharp. I want you
back at that door before she gets here.”

  Remi nodded his agreement and hurried off with Leo, glancing back at the door to the Double Helix and wishing they didn’t have to leave the green box behind.

  “It’s a very small letter,” said Remi. “We’re going to need a magnifying glass.”

  They had arrived in the empty basement and opened the tiny envelope tied to the gold dragon ring.

  “I’ve got just the thing,” said Leo, going to one of the many toolboxes in the basement in search of a lens that had once been part of a pair of reading glasses. Mr. Phipps had bought the glasses at a thrift store, thinking they might help his reading, but they’d only given him head aches, so he’d passed them on to Leo.

  As Leo passed by the call center, he saw a note left by his father with a list of jobs to do.

  Leo,

  Things still falling apart faster than I can fix them! Can’t hail you on the walkie-talkie (remind me to fix that). Find me in the maintenance tunnel on four if you need me, otherwise head up to seven to see Ms. Pompadore as soon as you can. Trouble with the fish.

  Dad

  PS. Check on Betty. She’s acting odd.

  “What’s it say?” asked Remi. Leo had carried the note back with him to where Remi sat on the cot.

  “I’ve got some work to do, and it sounds like Betty might need another walk.”

  Remi didn’t seem to mind.

  “I can walk the ducks if you need me to. I just wish we could get our hands on those boxes.”

  It was true; they were losing boxes almost as fast as they were finding them. The purple box was tucked safely under Leo’s cot, but the blue one was in the Central Park Room, and the green one, which they hadn’t even opened yet, was sitting in the first car of the Double Helix, which gave Leo an idea.

 
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