The Ship of the Dead

Page 4

Alex turned over the photo, maybe hoping to find a secret note on the back. The last time we’d been in this office, we’d found a wedding invitation that way, and it had led us into all sorts of trouble. This time, there was no hidden message—just blank brown paper, which was a lot less painful to look at than the smiling faces of my dead relatives.

Alex put the picture back on the shelf. “Annabeth doesn’t care what you do with the house?”

“Not really. She’s got enough going on with college and, you know, demigod stuff. She just wants me to let her know if I find anything interesting—old photo albums, family history, that kind of thing.”

Alex wrinkled his nose. “Family history.” His face had the same slightly disgusted, slightly intrigued expression as when he’d kicked the dead wolf. “So what’s upstairs?”

“I’m not sure. When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed above the first two floors. And the few times I broke in more recently…” I turned up my palms. “I guess I never made it that far.”

Alex peered at me over the top of his glasses, his dark brown eye and his amber eye like mismatched moons cresting the horizon. “Sounds intriguing. Let’s go.”

The third floor consisted of two large bedrooms. The front one was spotlessly clean, cold, and impersonal. Two twin beds. A dresser. Bare walls. Maybe a guest room, though I doubted Randolph entertained many people. Or maybe this had been Emma and Aubrey’s room. If so, Randolph had removed all traces of their personalities, leaving a white void in the middle of the house. We didn’t linger.

The second bedroom must have been Randolph’s. It smelled like his old-fashioned clove cologne. Towers of musty books leaned against the walls. Chocolate-bar wrappers filled the wastebasket. Randolph had probably eaten his entire stash right before leaving home to help Loki destroy the world.

I supposed I couldn’t blame him. I always say, Eat chocolate first, destroy the world later.

Alex hopped onto the four-poster bed. He bounced up and down, grinning as the springs squeaked.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Making noise.” He leaned over and rifled through Randolph’s nightstand drawer. “Let’s see. Cough drops. Paper clips. Some wadded-up Kleenex that I am not going to touch. And…” He whistled. “Medication for bowel discomfort! Magnus, all this bounty belongs to you!”

“You’re a strange person.”

“I prefer the term fabulously weird.”

We searched the rest of the bedroom, though I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Pay special attention to my papers, Randolph’s will had urged. I doubted he meant the wadded-up tissues.

Annabeth hadn’t been able to get much information out of Randolph’s lawyers. Our uncle had apparently revised his will the day before he died. That might mean Randolph had known he didn’t have long to live, felt some guilt about betraying me, and wanted to leave me some sort of last message. Or it might mean he’d revised the will because Loki had ordered him to. But if this was a trap to lure me here, then why was there a dead wolf in the foyer?

I found no secret papers in Randolph’s closet. His bathroom was unremarkable except for an impressive collection of half-empty Listerine bottles. His underwear drawer was packed with enough navy-blue Jockeys to outfit a squadron of Randolphs—all briefs, perfectly starched, ironed, and folded. Some things defy explanation.

On the next floor, two more empty bedrooms. Nothing dangerous like wolves, exploding runes, or old-dude underwear.

The top floor was a sprawling library even larger than the one in Randolph’s office. A haphazard collection of novels lined the shelves. A small kitchenette took up one corner of the room, complete with a mini fridge and an electric teapot and—CURSE YOU, RANDOLPH!—still no chocolate. The windows looked out over the green-shingled rooftops of Back Bay. At the far end of the room, a staircase led up to what I assumed would be a roof deck.

A comfy-looking leather chair faced the fireplace. Carved in the center of the marble surround was (of course) a snarling wolf’s head. On the mantel, in a silver tripod stand, sat a Norse drinking horn with a leather strap and a silver rim etched with runic designs. I’d seen thousands of horns like that in Valhalla, but it surprised me to find one here. Randolph had never struck me as the mead-swilling type. Maybe he sipped his Earl Grey tea out of it.

“Madre de Dios,” Alex said.

I stared at him. It was the first time I’d ever heard him speak Spanish.

He tapped one of the framed photos on the wall and gave me a wicked grin. “Please tell me this is you.”

The picture was a shot of my mother with her usual pixie haircut and brilliant smile, jeans, and flannel camping shirt. She stood in the hollowed-out trunk of a sycamore tree, holding a baby Magnus up to the camera—my hair a tuft of white gold, my mouth glistening with drool, my gray eyes wide like What the heck am I doing here?

“That’s me,” I admitted.

“You were so cute.” Alex glanced over. “What happened?”

“Ha, ha.”

I scanned the wall of photos. I was amazed Uncle Randolph had kept one of me and my mom right where he’d see it whenever he sat in his comfy chair, almost as if he actually cared about us.

Another photo showed the three Chase siblings as children—Natalie, Frederick, and Randolph—all dressed in World War II military uniforms, brandishing fake rifles. Halloween, I guessed. Next to that was a picture of my grandparents: a frowning, white-haired couple dressed in clashing 1970s-style plaid clothes, like they were either on their way to church or the senior citizens’ disco.

Confession: I had trouble telling my grandfather and grandmother apart. They’d died before I could meet them, but fro

m their pictures, you could tell they were one of those couples that had grown to resemble each other over the years until they were virtually indistinguishable. Same white helmet-hair. Same glasses. Same wispy mustaches. In the photo, a few Viking artifacts, including the mead horn that now sat on Randolph’s mantel, hung on the wall behind them. I’d had no idea my grandparents were into Norse stuff, too. I wondered if they’d ever traveled the Nine Worlds. That might explain their confused, slightly cross-eyed expressions.

Alex perused the titles on the bookshelves.

“Anything good?” I asked.

He shrugged. “The Lord of the Rings. Not bad. Sylvia Plath. Nice. Oh, The Left Hand of Darkness. I love that book. The rest…meh. His collection is a little heavy on dead white males for my taste.”

“I’m a dead white male,” I noted.

Alex raised one eyebrow. “Yes, you are.”

I hadn’t realized Alex was a reader. I was tempted to ask if he liked some of my favorites: Scott Pilgrim or maybe Sandman. Those were fabulously weird. But I decided this might not be the right time to start a book club.

I searched the shelves for diaries or hidden compartments.

Alex meandered over to the last flight of stairs. He peered upward and his complexion turned as green as his hair. “Uh, Magnus? You should probably see this.”

I joined him.

At the top of the staircase, a domed Plexiglas hatch led to the roof. And on the other side, pacing and snarling, was another wolf.

“HOW DO you want to handle this?” I asked.

From his belt loops, Alex pulled the golden wire that served triple duty as fashion accessory, ceramic-cutting tool, and melee weapon. “I was thinking we should kill it.”

The wolf growled and clawed at the hatch. Magical runes glowed on the Plexiglas. The beast’s facial fur was already smoking and charred from previous attempts to bust in.

I wondered how long the wolf had been on the roof, and why it hadn’t tried to gain access another way. Maybe it didn’t want to end up dead like its friend downstairs. Or maybe it was single-mindedly focused on this particular room.

“It wants something,” I guessed.

“To kill us,” Alex said. “Which is why we should kill it first. You want to open the hatch or—?”

“Wait.” Normally I would’ve been all in favor of killing a glowing blue wolf, but something about this animal bothered me…the way its cold dark eyes seemed to be looking past us, as if searching for different prey. “What if we let it in?”

Alex stared at me like I was crazy. He did that a lot. “You want to offer it a cup of tea? Maybe lend it a book?”

“It has to be here on a mission,” I persisted. “Somebody sent those wolves to retrieve something—maybe the same something I’m looking for.”

Alex considered. “You think Loki sent the wolves.”

I shrugged. “Loki’s gonna Loki.”

“And if we let the wolf in, you think it might make a beeline for whatever it’s hunting.”

“I’m pretty sure it isn’t here for the irritable bowel medicine.”

Alex loosened his checkered tie even more. “Okay. We open the hatch, watch where the wolf goes, and then we kill it.”

“Right.” I pulled the runestone pendant off my neck chain. Jack grew into sword form, though he felt heavier than usual, like a kid having a meltdown on the floor of a department store.

“What is it now?” He sighed. “Can’t you see I’m dying of a broken heart?”

I could have pointed out that he was incapable of dying, and he had no actual heart, but I thought that would be mean. “Sorry, Jack. We have a wolf to deal with.”

I explained to him what was going on.

Jack’s blade glowed violet. “But Riptide’s razor-sharp edges,” he said dreamily. “Did you see her edges?”

“Yeah. Great edges. Now how about we prevent Loki from launching his mighty death ship and starting Ragnarok? Then maybe we can arrange a second date for you and Riptide.”

Another heavy sigh. “Wolf. Roof. Hatch. Got it.”

I glanced at Alex and stifled a shriek. While I wasn’t looking, he’d transformed into a large timber wolf.

“Do you have to turn into animals behind my back?” I asked.

Alex bared his fangs in a canine grin. He snout-pointed toward the top of the

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