Chapter 23

It was an elegant meal for a kid. Candlelit tables, in a room full of leather upholstery and charbroiled steaks. Flossie Beemis, stretched languidly across the ebony grand piano, sang sultry songs about walnut trees and fluttered her lashes at Ari, while Finbar Fenker, in a waiter’s tux, presented him with a sterling silver dome covered dish. Finbar lifted the lid with a flourish, to reveal an artistically arranged meal. In the center, a baked apple, brimming with raisins. And at four points corresponding to north, south, east, and west, were gears, sprockets, and springs, roasted to perfection.

Ari stared at the plate.

“It’s what you ordered sir,” said waiter Finbar with a cackling laugh. “It’s what you ordered.”

Ari snapped awake and stared at his bedroom door in confusion. Uncle Ellery! Uncle Ellery had won the boxing match! He didn’t need to find Dewey’s compass anymore!

Ari jumped out of bed and into clothes. He practically fell down the stairs and into the deli. Uncle Ellery was off his feet during store hours for the first time Ari could remember, while Seamus Angus and one of the teenage cashiers handled customers.

The bruise on Uncle Ellery’s cheek had turned more colors than Ari had ever seen on a person.

“Do you want more ice for that?” asked Ari.

“Probably won’t help,” replied Uncle Ellery, “But why not?”

Ari got a plastic bag and went to the freezer for ice. Several pieces slipped from his hand onto the floor, and Ari squatted to pull them out from under the freezer. The paint on the wooden floor here, like in other high-traffic areas around the store, had rubbed away from use, revealing the bare wood and some black markings underneath. Black markings? Ari bent down for a closer look. A letter maybe? Why had he never paid attention to this before?

“Do we have paint remover?” asked Ari, tossing the bag of ice to Uncle Ellery.

“In the basement,” replied Uncle Ellery looking at Ari quizzically. “But what are you doing to my floor?”

Ari barely heard him. He flew down the basement stairs and rummaged among some cans of paint in the corner. Strip-o-matic read the label on one can. Ari charged back up the steps with the can and grabbed some paper towels from behind the counter.

“Gonna redo the floor, are yeh?” chuckled Mr. Fitzanderson who was clomping down the canned goods aisle with his four-pronged cane, filling a basket with pickles and applesauce.

Ari dabbed some remover onto a paper towel and rubbed vigorously at the turquoise paint to reveal more of the black shape underneath. “I’ll repaint it, I promise,” he assured Uncle Ellery who was watching with raised eyebrows. The black shape was unaffected by the paint remover, but as the turquoise over it wore thin, it became clear that the shape was an elegant curly W.

“It’s compass markings,” insisted Ari. He glanced excitedly around the store trying to scout out the likeliest locations of east, north, and south. “If west is the freezer, north must be…”

“Over by the chips,” said Arden, who had just walked into the deli. “It can’t be much farther back, or you’d run out of space for east.” She paused for a moment, and handed Uncle Ellery the bag of ice which he had not yet put to use. “I came to see how your face is,” she said. “You need to use this.”

Uncle Ellery forced a painful smile, and applied the ice to his cheek.

Arden targeted a spot on the floor in front of the tortilla chips. “Right here,” she said. “Start right here.”

Ari rubbed paint remover all around, giving the floor a polka-dot pattern of bare wood patches.

“There!” cried Arden as he rubbed near the pretzels.
An N was emerging, as curly and clear as the W had been.

“How weird,” said Ari. “There must be one in all four corners.”

“Which is why,” added Arden, “Jolene…I mean Miss Samms, called this place Jolene’s Four Corners.”

“Okay,” said Ari, admiring the newly exposed N. “It should be easier to find east and south now.”

“We don’t need to find east and south,” Arden said. “Got some string?”

“Catch!” said Seamus Angus, tossing a ball of string from behind the deli counter. Mr. Fitzanderson chuckled as the cashier rang up his pickles and applesauce. “Kids these days!” he said. “What’ll they think of next?”

“All we need to find,” said Arden, “is the compass rose. So if we run a string from the N, and another string from the W, the right angle where they meet has to be the rose!”

“That would be great,” agreed Ari, eyeing the layout of the deli, “if the string weren’t running into shelves every four feet.”

“We’ll get close,” insisted Arden. She tore a bit of packaging tape from the deli counter and and taped a string end to the N. Then she draped the string over the canned goods and stopped in the middle of the store. Ari did the same from the W, and their strings crossed right under the deli counter booth where Uncle Ellery was sitting.

“Paint thinner,” requested Arden.

Ari rubbed a bit here and there under Uncle Ellery’s feet. “Maybe we don’t have a right angle,” he suggested. They each grabbed a string and adjusted a bit, then rubbed some more.

“Red,” said Arden suddenly. “Look, it’s red there!”

It was a tiny, triangular tip of red, brightening up the bare patch in the exact spot where Dewey had been tapping his cane on the night that Ari first saw him in the deli. Arden grabbed some more paper towels off the counter, and they both rubbed away turquoise paint until they could see that the shape materializing on the floor was a sort of starburst in shades of red and gold, about the size of a lunchroom tray, with rays radiating north, south, east and west.

“It’s the rose alright,” said Ari. “So now…we have to look under it.”

“Find something to pry up the floor!” said Arden excitedly.

“No and no,” cut in Uncle Ellery. “That’s a negative. I have no clue what you’re looking for, but trashing the floor, as creaky as it is, is not an option.”

“But Dewey’s treasure is under the rose!” insisted Ari.

“Dewey’s treasure, eh?” said Uncle Ellery with a facetious wink. “I take it you mean Dewey Daylatch.” He chuckled. “I’m sure it was a common activity in those days to bury treasure in floorboards, but…very fortunately…we happen to have, in this very building, a completely uninsulated basement. That means, that if you go downstairs and look up, if there’s something under this floor, you’ll see it.”

“Go Ari!” insisted Arden. “I’ll tap on the rose up here, so you’ll know where to look!”

Ari scuttled down the wooden basement stairs one more time. The basement was lit by bulbs mounted on the ceiling with strings to pull, and he also grabbed a flashlight from a peg on the stairway wall. Arden had begun to tap on the rose above, so he followed the knocking sound, pulling lights on as he went.

Arden’s rapping was now right over his head, above a stack of boxes full of paper supplies. Ari switched the flashlight on, and shined it at the ceiling above him. At first he saw nothing but the usual wooden joists, spaced every sixteen inches, with subfloor running above them diagonally. Electrical wires were tacked to the joists in running bundles, and besides that, there seemed to be nothing but cobwebs.

But Arden kept rapping, and he stared a little harder until he made out a protrusion on the side of the joist just overhead…like a box, about the size of a grapefruit. It was the same wood and color as the ceiling, and very hard to see until he shined the light straight at it.

“There’s something here!” he yelled, hoping his voice traveled through the floor above. He knew it did when he heard Mrs Stoutling–no doubt refreshing her onion bagel supply–say “More trouble Ellery? I certainly hope it’s not mice!”

“No mice, Mrs. Stoutling,” Ari heard Uncle Ellery reply. “My nephew’s in the basement looking for…supplies.”

Then he heard light footsteps hurrying down the basement stairs, and seconds later Arden was staring at the ceiling too.

“I’ll get a ladder,” said Ari. He pulled a paint-splattered aluminum step-ladder over, and spread its legs under the mystery box. Then he climbed to just above the last safe rung and tugged sharply on the box. To his surprise, it pulled away from the joist with a squeak, and he found himself holding a small wooden crate with nails sticking awkwardly out of it.

“Bring it upstairs,” urged Arden. She scampered up the stairs ahead of him, and he followed more slowly, afraid to shake or drop the box.

“Okay,” said Ari, placing the box gently on the table in front of Uncle Ellery. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” He pried the lid off with the help of Uncle Ellery’s screwdriver to reveal a wadded up (and possibly used, Arden observed,) silk handkerchief. Under that, another handkerchief, this one wrapped around an object. As Ari gently unrolled the second handkerchief, flashes of blue and yellow glinted from the jewels bedecking a tarnished silver disc-shaped object.

“Dewey’s compass,” said Ari, though he’d been certain all along that that was exactly what he’d find. He pressed a tiny button on the side, and the lid flipped up to reveal the compass’s mother-of-pearl face, and its gently bobbing needle pointing straight at the pretzel shelf.

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