Shade held his new Samsung phone in one hand and cradled against his chest to keep it out of sight. He stroked its glass face like the cheek of a newborn. “My preciousss,” he whispered. “We loves it.”
“You still have a tablet, too, you know,” said Winston. “It’s not like you’ve gone analog.”
Shade cuddled the device a little tighter. “Don’t talks mean about the precious.”
After spotting and grabbing an available taxi in front of a hotel, Winston had directed them to a supermarket in the Lloyd Center district, on the eastern edge of downtown. They’d topped off at a deli counter with a second breakfast of egg burritos and orange juice, then found new clothes. Shade had insisted on going head to toe in black and orange Oregon State Beavers sweats. Normally, he wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but a University of Oregon Ducks outfit, so obviously no one would recognize him. Winston thought it made him look like a corn dog.
Meanwhile, Winston had gone nearly goth, adding to his current gray sweat jacket and Jack Purcell sneakers with black jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black cap with a white Hurley logo embroidered on the front. He hated being a brand billboard, but at least it matched and hid his white stripes.
They’d hung out in the store until 9:00, then asked for directions to the nearest Radio Shack. It hadn’t taken Winston long to settle on a pair of Galaxy phones loaded with thousands of prepaid minutes, three months of unlimited data use, and an astronomical no-contract price tag. All told, the day had set him back nearly a thousand bucks, and it wasn’t even mid-morning. His mother would be having a conniption if she could see him.
From Radio Shack, it was a quick MAX hop to the library, and Winston was glad to be here. The place was practically a second home for him and Shade, and over the years he’d learned much of its history and holdings. When you had little money but all of the scientific curiosity in the world, what better place to go on a weekend? The Internet had more data, of course, but that wasn’t the same as useful information. There was something magnetic and magnificent about walking through three floors — over seventeen miles — of book shelves. One didn’t have to look for long before finding information that wasn’t online, and that made going to Central Library a bit like a treasure quest.
One by one, the library day porter snapped open the locks on the three iron-gated front doors. It was 10:00.
The boys walked through the foyer and into the marble-pillared grand lobby. Half-domed chandeliers hung from vaulted ceiling sections rimmed in layers of crown molding. Red cherry wood checkout counters flanked the room, beyond which lay the reading room to the left and the children’s section to the right. Winston had grown up in the Internet age, but he still loved the almost palatial, old world feel of Multnomah Central. The Web was great, but in the old world, information formed physical walls and towers, entire mountains of learning under which Winston felt like an ant. He found it humbling and inspiring in a way that the digital world would never duplicate.
Winston and Shade ascended the wide central staircase, fashioned from black marble carved with ornate floral patterns. They climbed to the third floor and at the landing went straight through into Literature & History. Turning right, they walked past several rows of bookshelves and into the Map Room. Sunlight streamed in through spacious windows. On their right, more bookshelves filed away into the distance, but the space before them was dominated by two tables, each long enough to seat twelve people. These were flanked by a pair of waist-high cabinets about eight feet wide and twenty feet long. The cabinets contained dozens of long, slender steel trays, much like a garage tool box, with each column of trays secured by a key lock.
“So we’re looking for the map in the photo?” asked Shade as they surveyed the cabinets.
“Possibly, but I doubt it,” said Winston. “I more suspect it was a clue. The photo in the scrapbook is black and white. Why is that?”
“Because it looks cooler?”
“Not likely. Even in the seventies, color photos were probably easier and cheaper than black and white. Maybe it was to purposefully look older.” Winston set a hand on one of the cabinets. “And where do you find old maps of Portland?”
Winston rubbed at the spot between his eyebrows and gave his friend a weary smile. “Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Shade shrugged. “Hard day?”
Winston picked a table secluded behind the first couple of bookshelves with a window view down onto 10th Avenue. He pulled out the scrapbook from his pack and opened it to the two pictures. They looked the images over, searching for anything they might have missed during their cab ride.
“I don’t get the dirt pile,” said Shade. “Or the Chinese flag.”
“Maybe they were digging their way to China. You know, like the saying.”
Winston had thought of that, but the idea still didn’t trigger any realizations.
“And why is that guy doing a gang sign?” asked Shade. “Did they have gang signs back then?”
“I don’t think that’s a gang sign.” Winston squinted at the photo, concentrating. “He’s pointing at the shovel.”
“Why? And why is he leaning over like that?”
Winston realized that Shade was right. Squatting like that would have been a lot more comfortable if the man had pulled the handle toward himself. “Hold on. I’m gonna go get someone.”
Winston tucked the scrapbook back into his bag and crossed from the Map Room to the main history area. He approached the information desk, where he found a pot-bellied man with gray hair and a goatee sitting behind a computer. He wore an ID badge on a lanyard around his neck and smiled as Winston approached.
“Can I help you?”
Winston set the open scrapbook on the desktop between them. “I’m trying to identify this.” He turned the book around so it was right-side-up for the librarian and pointed at the map tucked under the man’s arm.
“That’s a Michelin map of Portland,” he said. “I’d have to dig through the collection to figure out what exact year it was published. Anything else?”
Winston debated for a moment, then flipped the page over. Paranoia could be healthy, but he also recognized that his odds of finding the Alpha Machine pieces might improve with a bit of outside help.
“I think these two pictures relate to each other somehow,” he said.
Winston didn’t want to give any more away than necessary. “I’m not sure. It’s a puzzle.”
“Like an urban treasure hunt?”
Winston nodded. “Right. A lot like that.”
“I love puzzles. Hmm…” The librarian peered more closely at the images, flipping back and forth between them. “Portland,” he muttered. “Portland map.” Flip. “Streets. Dirt.” Flip. “River. Waterfront.” Flip. “Dirt. Excavation. Construction?”
“The shovel,” Winston prompted.
“And that paper taped to it.”
“Is that the Chinese flag?”
The librarian squinted and pursed his lips. He tapped at the edge of the scrapbook. “Yeah. It is.” He reached for the phone next to his computer and punched three numbers on the keypad.
“What are you doing?” Winston asked, nervous at the thought of more people getting involved.
“We have two people on staff who speak Mandarin. I’m wondering—” He pressed the handset to his ear and said, “Lin? This is Mark in L and H. Do you have a second to look at something for a patron? Yes…great.”
Winston forced a smile as the librarian hung up his phone. “Thanks.”
“Three heads better than two, right?”
A moment later, a slender Asian lady in her forties with a squarish face and bangs nearly covering her eyes approached the desk and smiled at Winston.
Mark showed her the two pictures. “This young man is wondering if these two pictures have something in common with each other, like puzzle clues.”
Lin glanced briefly at the first photograph, then studied the second more carefully. “Well, that’s China,” she said with a soft accent.
“The flag,” said Winston. “We got that.”
“No.” She placed a fingertip on the dirt pile. “That mound. They shaped it into the outline of China. See…” Her finger slid to what Winston had taken to be a stray pile at the bottom of the image. “Hainan Island. Tibet is over here. The capital, Beijing, here. My family moved from Hong Kong before the handover.”
Winston again studied his father and how he crouched beside the dirt, gripping the shovel so unnaturally. “Is there any significance to how that guy placed the shovel?”
“He placed it about where Shanghai would be,” she said.
Mark straightened immediately. “Oh!” Winston and Lin looked at him. “I get it! We get asked by patrons about this all the time. It’s the Shanghai Tunnels — the Portland Underground.”
“Ohhh!” echoed Winston with feigned understanding.
“In the late 1800s,” Mark explained, “tunnels ran under the streets of downtown and connected a lot of the businesses. It was an easy way to get cargo from the Willamette riverfront without running into the hustle and bustle of downtown. Over time, though, criminals took over the tunnels and would use trap doors to grab innocent victims from the surface, especially drunken sailors. Crime bosses sold these people into slave service on ocean trade ships, and it might take them many years to buy their way home.”
“Wow,” said Shade, who had approached silently behind Winston during the discussion. “That would suck.”
“At least, that’s the local lore,” Mark added. “Along with murder, ghosts, and all that. Nobody knows how much of it is true.”
Winston took this last tidbit in with a humorless smile.
Shade said, “I was hoping the clues would lead us to China. Authentic moo goo gai pan is part of my destiny.”
Ignoring his friend, Winston asked the two library workers, “Do you have a map of the Portland Shanghai tunnels?”
The librarian bowed his head in thought. “Mmm, I don’t know.” He spent a moment running different searches through his computer. “Definitely not of the tunnels themselves. But maybe this… Oregon maps are under call number 912.795. Let’s see what we find.”
Lin left them as Mark led the boys back into the map room. Each map cabinet contained four columns of trays. He crouched in front of the third column of the left cabinet and used a key on a stretchy red wrist band to open the lock. Pulling out the drawer, he dug through at least a couple of dozen street maps, each only two or three feet wide.
“This obviously isn’t your Michelin map,” he said. “But I could swear that I once saw an old street map of southwest — oh, here!”
The librarian withdrew one laminated sheet labeled “Downtown Portland, Ore. 1937” and set it on the counter. At first glance, it looked like any other urban grid, with the Willamette River wending up the right edge of the map and a network of blocks and streets all running in perfect ninety-degree angles. The librarian tapped the map key in the lower right corner.
“See how the dotted lines are noted as ‘Tunnel’? That’s the Portland Underground, also known as your Shanghai Tunnels.”
Winston wanted to crow out loud in victory, but he couldn’t risk making a scene. At some points, it was hard to make out the tunnel paths under the other lines and text on the map. Color would’ve helped, but beggars couldn’t be picky. He traced out the several paths leading from the northwest waterfront westward under what was now the industrial district and even farther, continuing south across Burnside Avenue and into the southwest shopping areas. There were some tunnels that ended in clear dotted lines — dead ends — and others that simply stopped being drawn, as if the cartographer hadn’t known whether the tunnel continued or not.
“May I?” Winston asked. He took out his phone and pointed it at the map.
“Knock yourself out,” said the librarian.
Winston motioned for Shade to grab his own set of pictures, just to have a spare copy.
When both boys had finished, the librarian asked, “All done?”
Winston nodded, and the man slipped the map back into the drawer. He was about to slide it shut when Shade said, “Is there anything on the back?”
Winston could’ve kicked himself for forgetting to check.
The librarian shrugged and took the map out again, this time flipping it over. At first glance, the laminated sheet appeared entirely blank, but with a small crow of triumph Shade pointed at the bottom right corner. Two faint, little letters looked to have been scrawled quickly in pencil: CH.
Winston and Shade traded a glance, the latter’s expression clearly asking, Anything?
Winston could feel his face betray something meaningful, but he wasn’t going to give anything away here.
“Done?” asked the librarian.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Winston.
The man locked the cabinet and returned to his desk. Shade and Winston went to the far corner of their table and unslung their packs, phones in hand, already studying the map.
“CH?” Shade asked.
“I’m guessing Claude Hawthorn,” whispered Winston, hardly daring to move his lips.
Winston gave his friend a solemn sidelong glance, much like the man in the fedora. “Mr. A…. My father.”
Shade’s face registered incomprehension, then disbelief and amazement took over his features. “Shut up.”
Winston made no reply.
Shade puffed out his cheeks and shook his head. “Any other asteroids you haven’t dropped on me yet?”
“Maybe one or two, but they can wait. First things first. How do we get into these tunnels?”
They both zoomed and panned around the map photo on their phones.
“I don’t see any entrances marked,” said Shade.
“Me neither,” agreed Winston as he started Web searching. After a minute, he said, “This one group seems to do a lot of tours, and they enter from Hobo’s Restaurant on NW Third.”
Shade started his own searches, and soon enough a big grin spread across his face. “There,” he said. Turning the screen to face Winston, he grandly pronounced, “It was meant to be.”
Winston read the display and sighed. “Of course. 226 NW Davis. Old Town Pizza.”
“And look!” Shade tapped a link named Haunted Past. “They have a ghost named Nina who got ghostified after getting thrown down an elevator shaft into the Shanghai Tunnels. It’s perfect — creepy and tasty!”
Winston estimated that the library was about a dozen blocks from Old Town Pizza, and that was a long haul in plain sight with the FBI looking for them.
“I thought moo goo gai pan was meant to be,” said Winston.
Shade inhaled deeply, as if smelling the pizza from here, and slowly closed his eyes. “My destiny…is flexible.”
Movement caught Winston’s attention. He looked up, expecting to see the librarian in the map room’s entryway. Instead, he found a much younger man of about Winston’s height. He was in his mid to late twenties, with a dark buzz cut and hawkish features. A walkie-talkie, pepper spray canister, and other implements hung from his belt. A black security uniform inflated his thin physique. The guard wore a puffy nylon jacket with the large white letters FSO stamped on the back and across the breast. Winston knew this stood for Facility Security Officer. He recognized the man, but he didn’t think he’d ever heard his name.
The security guard gazed fixedly at Winston and Shade, a curious expression on his face indicating that he might be trying to recall where he’d seen them before. Aware that Winston was studying him in return, the guard walked into the map room, perhaps for a closer look or perhaps because it was just part of his regular route. He nodded at them as he passed their table, and Winston nodded slightly in reply. Just before the guard passed from sight behind a bookcase, Winston saw him start to reach for his pocket.
They heard the guard’s soft footfalls on the carpet grow quieter, then all was still.
Winston stood, careful to lift his chair as he moved it. He bent over, peering through the gaps in the bookshelves at about chest height. Took a step, then another, trying to change his viewpoint. Then he caught the bright glow of the guard’s cell phone screen. He stood in the book stacks, only three or four rows down. The guard raised his phone out of view, and Winston felt sure he could hear whispering.
He grabbed his backpack from the floor and beckoned urgently at Shade to follow him.
“What—?” Shade started, but Winston cut him off by turning his waving hand into a fist. Shade pushed his chair from the table, grabbed his own pack, and followed.
Winston led them back out into the main Literature & Humanities hall, but instead of walking into the open where they would be visible, Winston pulled them behind the first bookshelf to the left, keeping them against the wall. After a few steps, they reached the corner, turned right, and arrived at a door marked “Employees Only.” If the boys kept going, they would arrive at one of the information desks, which Winston knew would be staffed. He definitely did not want to be spotted and have more people know where they were going.
“What are you doing?” Shade whispered near Winston’s ear.
“That guard is calling someone about us,” Winston whispered back. “We have to get out of here right now.”
“Can we run?”
“Risky. The other guard is probably on the first floor. And if he’s calling the cops, the front might already be watched.”
“Then we’re trapped.”
The red LED on the sensor pad next to the Employees Only door caught Winston’s eye. He’d spent enough time in Central to have a pretty good idea where everything was, although he’d never been behind the scenes in staff areas.
Think! Winston commanded himself. What can you do?
Phones? Not much use here. Running options were almost nil. The knives in their packs would be about as useful as their leftover muffins unless they were going to take hostages.
Then Winston thought of the artifacts. He had an alien energy weapon. An image of Luke Skywalker firing his blaster into a door’s control panel to keep out the stormtroopers sprang to mind. Could he open the door if he shorted out the panel?
Winston followed his first impulse. He turned his back to Shade and crouched down. “Remember the long, metal, wiggly tube thing I showed you? Grab that.”
Shade unzipped the top of Winston’s backpack and a second later handed over the device, holding it between his thumb and index finger as if it were a dead rat.
“That thing creeps me out,” he said. “I’m going to call it Vlad.”
Winston didn’t waste time replying as Shade zipped his pack back up.
Gripping the crossbar, Winston set the device’s tips close to the sensor pad. Any employee could tap his or her ID badge to the sensor plate and the door lock would disengage, but they didn’t have a badge or any time to think about how to get one. As pressure quickly mounted in the back of Winston’s head and the metal tips limbered up, he thought about how to roast the lock. How did he control the voltage? And would it even do anything aside from fry the electronics, leave the lock bolt stuck in place, and probably set off an alarm?
What happened then came as a total surprise. Winston knew about augmented reality, when cameras combined with computers and displays in a way that let the user view the normal world but see data and graphics layered on top of it. He even had an app on his phone — or did until this morning — that would show the position of every nearby Starbucks on his screen as he panned around the camera’s view. But this went way beyond Google Glass or anything else he’d read about.
As the tubes gripped the doorway’s sensor pad, he saw something like a schematic diagram start to materialize inside of the door frame. Wiring and circuitry glowed an almost neon blue in sharp contrast to the wall, which started to fade and dim. This seeing two things at once effect was similar to what he’d witnessed in the motel room, but here the blue diagram seemed to crystallize before him, spreading out from the artifact like frost growing across glass. It reached up and across the walls and down through the floor, even to floors he couldn’t see with his regular vision.
It was a geek’s dream. The world suddenly rendered as an electrical network, like being a single cell and seeing the body’s circulatory system branching infinitely off into the distance. If he let his awareness flow beyond the library, he wondered how far he could see. The block? All of Portland? The world?
“Winston?” Shade whispered as he touched Winston’s arm.
He blinked. The blue schematics remained, the real world still muted before him, but his reverie was broken.
Winston narrowed his focus to the sensor pad. He could make out the RF sensor wired into a small circuit board, which led off through a pair of twisted wire cables. A third wire traveled only a couple of inches to the right. That would go to the lock. He had to create a signal that would trigger the lock to disengage.
In only a second or two, Winston’s tinnitus flared in his left ear, loud enough to make him wince. He gripped the crossbar tighter, trying to mentally command the lock to open, just as he had with the Stadlerator 7000.
Open, he thought. Open!
The lock clicked, and the LED turned from red to green.
Winston let out his breath and relaxed. His tinnitus vanished. The device — he wasn’t about to call it Vlad — returned to its usual unmoving shape as Winston lowered it and pulled the door open with his free hand. They rushed through, and Winston tried to close the door softly behind them. When it clicked shut and the lock re-engaged, Winston winced and thought it sounded loud enough to alert every employee on the third floor.
They stood in a small room with linoleum tiling and old, green fluorescent lighting. Before them, an elevator waited, and to the right of this sat the squat, closed entrance to a dumbwaiter. Winston wondered if they could fit in the dumbwaiter, which had to be meant for transporting books. But when Winston saw no call button, meaning it must be operated from the basement, he scrapped that idea.
Only one way out. He hit the elevator call button.
“Where are we going?” Shade whispered.
“Gotta be the basement,” Winston replied. “Cross your fingers for an emergency exit.”
The elevator bell dinged and its doors opened. Winston and Shade jumped inside and hit the control panel’s B button. As the doors started to close, they heard someone jiggle the handle on the outer staff door. Fortunately, no click of the lock followed. No one shouted — yet. In their moment of waiting for disaster, the elevator doors shut and the car began to drop.