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Authors: Roland Smith

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BOOK: Shatterproof
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“I don’t think I mentioned that I had been to the Ahmed Baba Institute,” Amy said suspiciously, drawing herself up to her full height. “Or that I was looking for anything in the margin of the manuscripts.”

“You did not,” the man agreed. “But everybody in Timbuktu knows what you’re after. Did you really think you could fly in on a private jet and not be noticed? Mr. Bazzi called me. And I’m sure he called others, just as I did. If the manuscript is in Timbuktu, it will be found.” He laughed. “Mr. Bazzi has been waiting for your boyfriend to leave so he can search the warehouse himself.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Amy answered automatically. She wondered if Bazzi had seen the kiss, then cringed. She had a real boyfriend, one working day and night at home to help her family. What would he say if he knew? Shame coursed through her.

“Mr. Bazzi is welcome to look for the manuscript whether Jake is there or not,” she said. “So are you, Mr. — ?”

“Tannous,” the man said with a slight bow.

“Mr. Tannous. If someone finds the manuscript, could we buy it from them?”

“For the right price, perhaps. I would be happy to negotiate for you.”

He got on the phone and had a long conversation in what Amy guessed was Koyra Chiini, the local town language. When he finished, he hung up and smiled. “It is all arranged.”

“Is there something we can do for you?”

“If we are successful in procuring the manuscript, I would like a trip for my wife and me to Morocco, where we both have family.”

“Agreed,” Amy said. “My brother and his friend are on the other end of town, looking —”

“Yes, I know,” Mr. Tannous interrupted. “The two boys.” He laughed. “The younger one is claiming to be a student at Harvard University.”

“That part is sort of true,” Amy said.

“Remarkable!”

“I’ll send the Mouse after them.” She needed to warn them about the Wyomings and bring them back. With the twins in town, she didn’t want Dan or Atticus out of her sight.

Amy ran outside to find the Mouse and tell Jake.

“Why are we here again?” Atticus asked.

“I want to pick up some things,” Dan answered as he dodged people and goats in the crowded Grand Marché.

“Like what?”

“That depends on what they have.”

Atticus stopped in the street so Dan was forced to turn around and look at him. The younger boy’s eyes were unblinking behind his glasses. “You’ve been acting kind of strange since the camel head went missing. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I wish you’d stop asking that!” Dan snapped.

Atticus flinched as if he had been slapped. But Dan didn’t care.

Atticus has no idea what’s really going on. How long it’s been going on. Centuries. I need to gather the ingredients and take the formula. It’s the only way to even the odds.

A worried Atticus followed Dan through the crowded market as he stopped at every stall, scanned the items for sale, then moved on to the next stall. “We could probably speed things along if you told me exactly what you’re looking for,” he said.

“It’s hard to explain,” Dan said. “I’ll know it when I see it. What’s this?” He was pointing at a stack of white slabs in different shapes and sizes.

“That would be salt,” Atticus said.

Dan wrinkled his eyebrows. “That’s what it looks like before it goes into a shaker?”

Atticus nodded. “This area is famous for its salt mines. People came here from all over the ancient world to get it. Without salt, they would have died. The Sahara used to be under the ocean, which is why . . .”

Atticus realized that he was talking to himself. Dan had moved on. He found him three stalls down, staring at dozens of open barrels filled with colorful herbs.

“Spices,” Atticus said, keeping it simple so Dan didn’t drift off again.

“I can’t read the snake writing,” Dan said. “Is there anything that says rosemary or mint?”

“Are you making spaghetti sauce for dinner?” Atticus asked. “Wanna go back and get some salt?”

“Very funny. Does he have them?”

Atticus read over the cards tacked to the barrels and nodded. “How much do you want?”

“A couple ounces of each should do it.”

As Atticus spoke to the vendor, Dan idly scanned the crowd and noticed a man he thought he had seen outside the butcher shop. He wore a white robe and a red turban and kept his face covered. Dan couldn’t be sure it was the same man, because half the people in the market were wearing robes and turbans.

Atticus handed him the spices. He put them in his pack and looked to see if the man was still there. He had disappeared.

“Ready to go?” Atticus asked.

“We might as well go up to the roof to see that view Bart was talking about.”

“But the Vesp —”

“Trust me, I haven’t forgotten,” Dan cut him off. “It’ll only take a minute.” He hurried up the stairs.

The second-floor stalls had clothes, cheap jewelry, local crafts, artwork, antiques, and much more aggressive vendors.

“Buy this cheap!”

“Very rare!”

“For your mother!”

Dan went through the crowd quickly, ignoring the pitches, until he came to a stall hung with dozens of beautiful desert scenes. An old man stood in the corner in front of an easel painting. Unlike the other vendors, he barely gave them a second look when they walked in.

“Now you’re an art collector?” Atticus asked.

“Get real.” Dan rolled his eyes. “But I
am
interested in this.” He was standing in front of a large painting of the Ishtar Gate, identical to the one at the Pergamon Museum, down to the compass rose beneath one of the oxen. “See the aurochs on the right-hand side?”

“I see them,” Atticus said. “And I’m surprised you know that word.”

Dan caught the sarcasm, but didn’t blame him. “Everyone knows an aurochs is an extinct kind of oxen.”

“In actuality, it’s not an ox, it’s a giant cow,” Atticus responded. “They were close to six feet tall.”

Dan ignored him. “Look at the giant, uh, bovine on the far right.”

Atticus leaned in. “Whoa! The de Virga compass rose!”

They looked over at the old man. He had stopped painting and was staring at them with intense eyes.

“Do you speak English?” Atticus asked.

“And French, and German, and Spanish, and all the local dialects,” came the man’s calm reply. He walked out from behind the easel, wiping his hands on his paint-stained robe. “You’re the two boys from the private jet looking for the manuscript.”

“How did you —”

The artist waved him off. “Everyone in Timbuktu knows what you’re doing here. I take it you didn’t find it.”

“Not yet,” Dan said. “You painted this?”

“I painted all of them.”

“It must be hard to make a living in Timbuktu as an artist,” Atticus said.

“The only people who make a living at art in Timbuktu are con artists. I paint because I love it. I sell a few pieces here and there, but not the really good stuff.”

“You’ve been in Timbuktu a long time?” Dan asked.

“I came here when I was nine years old. My father was a Persian diplomat and apparently not very popular, because he got sent here. He died when I was ten. My mother remarried into a wealthy local family and we stayed. I think you’ve met my son, Basharat.”

“Bart?” Dan and Atticus said in unison.

“His street name. And you’ve also met my grandson. He is called the Mouse.”

“I’m Dan Cahill and this is Atticus Rosenbloom.”

“I am Mr. Tajamul.” He gave them a slight bow. “You know, my son has been looking for you.”

“Yeah, uh, we . . .” Dan didn’t want to tell him that they had ditched him. He pointed at the painting of the Ishtar Gate. “So, you’ve been to Berlin.”

Mr. Tajamul shook his head. “I haven’t been out of Timbuktu since I was ten. I painted it from photographs.”

“They must have been pretty detailed photographs. I just saw the wall yesterday, and this is a perfect replica, including this compass rose, which I bet most people standing right in front of it would miss.”

“Do you mean Koldewey’s mark?”

“The archaeologist?” Atticus asked.

“When I was a boy he stayed at our house when he was here on digs. He marked all of his discoveries with that compass rose. It wasn’t clear in the photographs, but I knew what it was when I saw it. I’ve seen it before.”

“Where?” Dan asked.

“At the dig outside town,” Atticus said excitedly. “Robert Koldewey was an expert in excavating mud-brick houses, just like my dad!”

“I’ll show you.” Mr. Tajamul walked over to a stack of paintings leaning against a wall. “Here it is.” He pulled a painting out and brought it back to them.

It was a painting of a half-buried town with sand blowing across the buildings. “As you can see, it was a walled city. It was a controversial dig because Koldewey was convinced that the town was of Roman origin. Unheard of in this part of Africa. He believed it was a salt-mining settlement for the Roman Empire.”

“Roman as in Latin?” Dan asked.

“I suppose,” Mr. Tajamul said. “That’s what the Romans spoke.”

He traced his paint-stained finger along the wall and stopped where he had painted the de Virga compass, or Koldewey’s mark.

“Did they find any manuscripts there?” Dan asked. He was nearly bouncing up and down from excitement.

“Not that I ever heard of. The town predates Timbuktu by hundreds of years.”

“But the mark is still there.”

“I’m certain it is,” Mr. Tajamul said. “Koldewey made sure his marks were permanent. He knew what the ravages of time could do. The mark is also on the well in the center of the town. Koldewey died before he finished the dig. I think he knew the well was as far as he was going to get. He always put his mark on the edges, or the boundaries of his digs. He called them
die Fehlerspielräume
.”

“What does that mean?” Dan asked.

A shocked Atticus translated. “It means ‘margin for error.’ ”

Amy and Jake were searching through the five percent of manuscripts that Mr.
Tannous had not digitized when Bart walked into the library. Alone.

“Where are they?” Amy asked.

“I was hoping they were here with you,” Bart said.

Jake jumped to his feet. “You were supposed to watch them!”

Bart shrugged. “Difficult to watch two boys who do not want to be watched. The Mouse will find them.”

Amy grabbed her pack and stood up. “No, we’ll find them. We’re going now.”

BOOK: Shatterproof
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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