Chapter 16

By the time Ari got outside after the last school bell, Arden was already sleuthing around the gigantic trunk of the old black walnut tree.

“Maybe there’s something here,” she said looking it up and down. “Initials carved in the trunk, a secret opening in the base…something.”

“I think we have to climb it,” said Ari. “That’s what the rhyme says.”

Arden looked into the treetop uncertainly. “The lowest branch is twenty feet up,” she said.

“But the lowest branch used to be lower,” Ari reminded her. “Dewey probably thought someone would get here sooner.”

Arden stared doubtfully at the tree. “Did you bring a monkey?” she asked.

“No,” said Ari, “but I brought something.” He set his backpack, which was bulging at the seams, on the ground and pulled out a hefty coil of rope. Then he rummaged more deeply and removed a small blue handweight. “It’s Uncle Ellery’s,” he said, doing a few bicep pumps with the weight. “Only 3 pounds though. Small enough to throw.”

“It’s worth a try,” replied Arden. “It works in movies.”

Several teachers wandered out of the school building, glancing curiously at the two kids with a pile of rope.
“Tug of War?” asked Mr. Blouncy the gym teacher.

“Pigeon Scouts,” replied Arden, with feigned earnestness. “We’re learning knots.”

They waited a half hour longer, dutifully pretending to practice their knot-tying, until Miss Jasper, the chief custodian, locked the front door and left with a nod.

“Okay,” said Ari. He tied one end of the rope tightly around the middle of the blue dumbell, and took a few steps back from the tree. “Here goes.” With a strong heave, the dumbell flew halfway to the branch before colliding with the trunk and falling back down. Ari and Arden jumped back to avoid the falling weight.

“Let me try,” said Arden, after Ari missed several more throws. “This,” she said, nodding at the dumbell, “is Finbar Fenker, and that,” she said looking at the branch, “is the moon.” With a whoop, she wound up and flung the dumbell skyward, where it paused mid-arch, just above the branch, and dropped heavily to the other side, dangling several feet out of reach.

“Jiggle the rope,” said Ari. They each grabbed a piece, and jiggled, just until the dumbell dropped to within reach. Ari untied the weight and knotted the two ends of the rope together.

The climb up was tricky, and took longer than Ari had imagined. Every time he forgot to grab both pieces of rope at the same time he slipped down a foot or two. But by keeping his feet firmly planted against the tree trunk, and hoisting himself up the rope bit by bit, he was finally close enough to wrap his legs and freshly blistered hands around the branch.

“See anything?” shouted Arden.

“Not yet,” replied Ari. He examined every piece of the tree he could see from there, but nothing seemed at all unusual.

“I’m coming up,” said Arden.

“Ok,” said Ari, “hang on.” He knotted the rope under the branch, so Arden could climb up with out so much slipping.
She swung her leg over to straddle the branch, then examined the palms of her hands in dismay. “Ouch,” she said simply. Then she looked around. “Maybe we’re supposed to be able to see something from up here that we can’t see on the ground.”

Ari shook his head. “I see the schoolyard, and that’s about it. Maybe you could see town in Dewey’s time, but it’s blocked by trees now.”

“Maybe we’re not high enough,” Arden said. She squinted at the sky, then she looked suspiciously at the ground, startled by how far away it suddenly seemed. “But I sure hope we’re almost high enough.”

Ari climbed to the next branch, and then two more. There were still no markings on the trunk, and the tree’s thick foliage completely obscured any view of town.

“Could he have written something on the building?” Arden called up.

The school’s brick wall was close to the tree trunk–almost within reach. But Ari saw no writing, or anything else unusual.
“Could he have replaced a brick with this tile?” called Arden.

“What tile?” yelled down Ari.

“This tile,” she replied, pointing at the school wall. “There’s a tile here, instead of a brick.”

“Let me see,” said Ari, carefully coming down to the lowest branch. Arden was pointing at one of the bricks on the school wall which was not a brick at all. It was smooth and glazed. And more orange than red. There was a flower, which popped out slightly from the tile’s surface, in the center. “It looks like a rose.”

“Yeah, it’s a rose,” agreed Arden. “And it says something underneath that I can’t read from here.”

“I can get closer,” said Ari. He straddled the branch and scooted slowly toward the wall.

“No fair killing yourself,” said Arden nervously.

“Don’t worry,” replied Ari. “I’m not that anxious to talk to Dewey again.”
The branch was stout, and only swayed a bit as Ari inched his way closer to the building. “It says…wait a minute.” He edged forward a tiny bit more and squinted at the tile. “It says…under the rose.”

“Under the rose?” demanded Arden. “We’re supposed to pry that tile off the wall?” She stared appraisingly at the tile. It looked sturdy and appeared to be mortared into place. Somehow, chiseling at the old school wall didn’t seem like what Dewey would’ve had in mind. “No,” she said finally. “The clue is ‘under the rose.’ It’s telling us where to go next.”

Ari gave the tree branch a frustrated kick. “We’re supposed to go under the rose? Where’s the rose?”

“It’s going to make some kind of sense,” Arden insisted. “It will come to one of us. Just like the graveyard did.”

Ari looked unconvinced.

“It will,” Arden repeated reassuringly. “We’ll think of something by Friday. Founders’ Day, remember? No school. We can spend all day looking.”

Ari nodded. “Let’s get the heck out of this tree.”

Getting down would have been a simpler matter than climbing up, had it not been for the blisters, which rubbed and burned the whole way down. By the time she reached the ground, Arden was so preoccupied with inspecting her hands that she was unprepared for the sudden appearance of two of Wilton Daylatch’s motorcycle-riding security guards, looming beefily on either side of Ari.

“So kids…” said the shorter one as he gave his knuckles a loud crack. “What was in the tree?”

Ari slid from between them and tugged at the rope. “The rope’s still here,” he said. “Climb it yourselves.”

“That’s not a very thorough answer,” replied the Daylatch guard. He clicked his tongue in disapproval. “Are you sure that’s what you meant to say?”

“Yeah,” said Ari. “Arden, let’s go.”

“May I make a suggestion?” said the oily voice of Wilton Daylatch, as he pushed his security guards aside to fix his narrow gaze on Ari and Arden. “Stubborn Soffits are nothing new to me. You don’t foolishly suppose that your uncle has any chance of winning this fight, do you?”

Ari glared back, but said nothing.

“Perhaps,” continued Daylatch, “you’d feel more cooperative if you considered that Dudge can fight clean…or Dudge can fight dirty. As dirty as I say.”

“Or maybe,” said Ari, “There won’t be a fight at all.”

Arden was tugging insistently on his arm, and Ari was in complete agreement. He could hear the guards’ repetetive knuckle-cracking, and feel the burning gaze of Wilton Daylatch on his back as he turned away. A rough hand grabbed his shoulder and jerked him back around.

“Mr. Daylatch wants that compass,” snarled the tall security guard, “you get me?”

“I get you,” said Ari. Arden tugged harder. They turned and hustled across the schoolyard, toward town.

“He scares me,” said Arden, as they headed up Spoke Street.

“Don’t let him,” Ari replied. “That’s how he gets people to do what he wants.”

She nodded, and turned down South Street, while Ari made his way back to the deli.

At closing time Ari wiped the counters and took out the trash. Uncle Ellery looked tired, and Ari wondered if he’d been working out instead of sleeping.
“I’ll lock the door,” said Ari, taking the key ring from the hook above the cash register.

But the door swung open before Ari reached it, and Wilton Daylatch stepped into the deli. He placed a spidery elbow on the counter and assumed an absurdly casual posture.
“Change of plans,” said Daylatch with a cool smile that showed his dark, skinny teeth.

Uncle Ellery stopped wiping off the meat slicer and fixed Daylatch with a questioning gaze.

“I’m afraid circumstances have forced my hand,” began Daylatch. “The fight date has been moved. To Friday.”

Ari thought immediately of the ring being set up at Town Dock Park. Had Daylatch planned this change in date all along? Or was it because he was afraid that Ari and Arden were close to finding the compass?
“You can’t just go messing with the rules like that,” protested Ari.

“Of course I can,” replied Daylatch. “They’re my rules. I can do whatever I want with them.”

Ari fought the urge to lob a pickle jar at Daylatch’s head, and said, “What’s the point of this fight anyway? Why not just take the store if you have all the papers and everything?”

Uncle Ellery answered before Daylatch could reply. “Two reasons. Daylatch likes watching any two people try to kill each other. And…,” Ellery continued, “…he’d get special pleasure out of watching me get pounded.”

“Why?” asked Ari.

“Our student-teacher relationship used to be a little tense,” replied Uncle Ellery.

“Think whatever you like,” snapped Daylatch, “I just hope you’re ready on Friday. Because I can assure you–Dudge is.”

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