Hazel awoke with a jolt, certain she had heard her father call her name. She opened her eyes and instantly snapped them shut again. The light streaming through her windows was strong enough to blind her. Where was she? And what time was it?
With one hand shading her face, Hazel squinted cautiously around the room. It was her room, she noted with relief. She was back at home, in the apartment in the city; not in her dormitory at boarding school, and definitely not captive in some musty old tower.
She could see her posters of basketball players and the ball autographed by Rafer Alston, who had made it all the way from the Rucker playground to the NBA. Next to it was her computer, with its basketball screen saver. Against the far wall was the hoop set to NCAA height, and a few feet away was the window she'd cracked last night when she'd failed to grab a rebound. It was her room, all right.
"Hazel! Helloooo? Hazel? Earth calling Hazel!"
A small boy with ruler-straight brown hair stood at the side of her bed, polishing his glasses. Now that he finally had her attention, he placed the spectacles on his nose and peered anxiously at her.
"You were having that dream again," he said. "Weren't you?"
Hazel glared at her brother. She was sweating; her thick hair was plastered to her neck and her forehead felt clammy. Her skin was flushed as red as her hair, and she was tangled up in her quilt.
"What are you doing in my room?" she asked, ignoring Ned's question.
"Have you ever noticed that every time you have that dream, something bad happens?"
Hazel groaned. Why had she ever told Ned about the dream? She'd done it in a moment of weakness after trying to talk to their father about it. A strange look had appeared in Colin Frump's eyes, and he had quickly changed the subject.
"I think if you ask around, you'll find that most people associate nightmares with bad things happening," Hazel replied. "It's called stress, Squirt."
"Actually, I think if you ask around, you'll find that most people have nightmares after something bad happens. You have them before," Ned said, mimicking her tone. "Specifically, you have this one dream. And then something bad happens."
Hazel slumped against the pillows. Ned at nine and a half was widely regarded as brilliant; they had so little in common, they practically spoke a different language. They didn't look much alike either. It wasn't just their hair. About to turn twelve, Hazel was as tall for her age as Ned was short for his. Her eyes were green; his were brown. And while her skin was the color of milk, Ned looked tanned all year long.
"Ned, nothing bad is going to happen," Hazel insisted. Ned raised one eyebrow. He did it because he knew it drove her crazy. Their father could raise one eyebrow too. But try as she might, Hazel could only raise both eyebrows. It was frustrating being the only one who couldn't do it. She suspected her mother hadn't been able to do it either, but Jane Frump had died before Hazel's fourth birthday, and Hazel couldn't remember much about her. She didn't like to ask their father—he always looked so sad whenever her mother's name was mentioned.
"Look, it's the first day of summer vacation . . . school is, like, a hundred miles away, and by the smell of things, I'd say Dad is cooking bacon and eggs for a welcome-home breakfast." Hazel kicked at her covers. She had managed to get one leg free, but the other had a sheet wound around it so tightly, it was a mir-acle her circulation wasn't cut off. "Except for me being attacked by killer sheets, there's nothing bad here," she said. "I'll bet you a month's allowance."
"You can pay me anytime," Ned answered. His voice sounded odd, as if his throat had tightened. "Frankie's the one in the kitchen, and if you actually want to be able to eat the bacon, you better get out there and take over," he said.
Hazel was stunned. "Frankie's in the kitchen?"
Frankie couldn't cook. She lived in the loft just across the hall and helped their father run his art gallery. But she never helped him cook.
"Where's Dad?" asked Hazel.
"Gone," answered Ned.
Ned put his head down and turned away. Hazel could see he was, once again, obsessively polishing his spotless glasses.
"All I can tell you, honey, is that he called me late last night and said something important had come up and he had to catch an overseas flight early this morning," said Frankie. "He was supposed to knock on my door before he called the taxi, but he must have been running late, because by the time I opened my door, he was getting in the elevator. He seemed pretty stressed—when I called his name, he almost dropped one of the paintings he was carrying."
Frankie slid a plate of charred meat and leathery eggs over to Hazel. "I can't understand why my cooking never looks the same as other people's," she said, frowning.
Ned poured the remains of a box of cereal into a bowl.
"I'm not really hungry," Hazel said, trying to avoid looking at the eggs. "Where exactly did Dad say he was going, and when did he say he'd be back?"
"Well, he didn't, dear, that's the thing," Frankie answered, throwing her hands in the air in a gesture the children knew well. "I'm assuming he'll be back in time for your birthday. You know your father. Colin Frump is not a chatty man."
"Yes, but he's not . . . I mean, he's not the sort of person who just goes running off into the night—"
"Or the morning," Ned interrupted.
"—without an explanation," Hazel continued. "He's not . . ."
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Martello Tower by Jennifer Lanthier Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Lanthier. Excerpted by permission.
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