Bones of the Sun God
One week later
1 SINGLED OUT
SAM BROKE OUT IN A sweat as all eyes turned in his direction. Behind him, he heard Andrew Fletcher snickering. They hadn’t been friends since Sam beat him to a spot on the four-man rowing team.
“I said come here, Force.”
Mr. Stevenson’s voice filled the classroom, and yet he hadn’t seemed to speak very loud at all. Sam got to his feet, wondering if voice projection was a skill they taught at teachers college. He pushed in his chair, taking care not to scrape the legs on the floor. It was one of Mr. Stevenson’s pet peeves. No point in making the situation worse than it already was.
Mr. Stevenson watched Sam approach, holding the
note distastefully between two fingers. He waved it in the direction of the nervous junior who had delivered the message. The boy understood the meaning and scuttled for the door.
As Sam got to the front row, Mr. Stevenson screwed up the piece of paper and tossed it into the wire basket in the corner of the room. It was a good shot, no rim. Sam hoped the mutterings of appreciation breaking out around the room might be enough to snap the teacher out of his foul mood. But they weren’t.
“Settle down,” Mr. Stevenson growled. “If you are not Mr. Force, then you should be attempting this!” He waved the black marker in his other hand at the algebra equation scrawled across the whiteboard.
“But you, Mr. Force, have been summoned to the headmaster’s office.”
Sam heard Andrew Fletcher mutter something from the back of the class.
“An urgent matter, no doubt. Can you think of anything important enough to warrant the interruption of your lesson in Advanced Algebra?”
Sam assumed he wasn’t meant to reply, but he could think of hundreds of reasons to interrupt Advanced Algebra. For him, math ranked even higher than bathroom cleaning on his list of hated tasks at his boarding school.
“Well?” Mr. Stevenson pointed the marker at Sam accusingly.
“No, sir,” Sam replied.
For a moment the man regarded him with the same look he’d given the headmaster’s note, then he jabbed his marker at the door. “Off you go, then.”
As Sam left the room, Mr. Stevenson spoke again, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“You’ll have a lot to catch up on, Mr. Force. See Mr. Fletcher this evening. He can take you through the work you’ve missed.”
Sam grinned as he heard Andrew Fletcher’s muttered protests. He wouldn’t make a very good study partner, but it served him right. As Sam walked down the deserted corridor, he reflected on his teacher’s words. Mr. Stevenson was right. You weren’t called for during class unless it was very important. So what was he walking into?
THE LONG OAK BENCH CREAKED as Sam sat down. Looking around the office, with its floor-to-ceiling oak panels, old paintings, and grandfather clock, Sam realized that nearly everything in the place was creaky. That included Miss Ingle, the headmaster’s secretary. According to one of the boarders, whose older brother had also attended St. Albans, Miss Ingle
had been at the school since it was founded. Sam didn’t think that was possible. It would mean she was . . . He couldn’t work it out—maybe he could have if he’d paid more attention in algebra—but he knew it would make her very old.
St. Albans was a grand school, if you were into that sort of thing. Huge old oaks and big stone buildings covered with moss dotted a well-manicured lawn. Sam thought it belonged in England, fifty years ago, not modern-day Boston. Not that Sam had ever been to an English boarding school. He could hardly remember anything about England. His last trip to that country had been over five years ago, before his parents died. No, not died, he corrected himself—disappeared.
Five years ago, Sam’s life changed forever when his parents were murdered. He’d been left to spend summer vacations in Cairo, with his uncle Jasper, and the rest of the year at St. Albans School for Boys.
But in July, everything changed again. In just a few days he had uncovered a conspiracy involving pyramids around the world and the famous Ark of the Covenant. He had learned his parents were involved, but more important for Sam, he’d been given hope that they were alive. His world had turned upside down, but almost as quickly as it had changed, he’d
had to go back to being a schoolkid. It was impossible. Not with what he knew.
After his Egyptian adventure, he’d been desperate to keep going, to stay on the trail of his parents. But days had passed by with no progress. His uncle convinced him to return to Boston—a temporary situation, he had promised Sam, until he was able to get the appropriate resources in place. That had been six long weeks ago. Even Mary, who had been so keen to help him solve the mystery of his parents and the secret behind a worldwide network of pyramids, had lost interest. After Sam had returned to Boston, they had been in touch almost every day via e-mail, as they researched the information they had uncovered in Egypt. But in the last couple of weeks, things had changed. Her messages were less frequent, and the subject matter had become routine stuff about school and music. It was as if she had put their adventure behind her and moved on.
But Sam couldn’t. Not while there was still hope his parents were alive.
Sam had a nagging feeling that his summons to the headmaster’s office was to do with the events in Egypt. Since his return, he hadn’t felt the same about anything, especially schoolwork. His grades were dropping almost as fast as his bangs. And both had become a source of tension.
St. Albans liked its boys’ hair to look as well-groomed as its lawns, and both were cut often. Sam’s hair had already grown beyond an acceptable length when he returned from Egypt. It had been one of the first things the head teacher had commented on: “Be sure you’re front of the line when the barber visits this weekend, Force,” he had commanded. After that, it had become a thing for Sam.
He found an excuse to miss the barber’s school visit that weekend, and the next visit a few weeks later. In the outside world, Sam’s hair would not have even received a second glance, but within the pristine walls of St. Albans he began to turn heads. It was a small thing, but to Sam it had become a symbol of defiance. A personal reminder that he didn’t belong there anymore. Not when there were so many unanswered questions waiting for him in the outside world.
By the time the door to the headmaster’s office opened, Sam had prepared himself for a showdown about his hair. So he was totally unprepared when the two men inside greeted him with a round of applause.
The headmaster was clapping politely, but the man beside him looked like he was about to cry with joy as he slapped his small hands together so fast they were a pink blur. He was a short man, but anyone looked short next to the towering Mr. Billington, St. Albans’s headmaster.
“Come in, Sam, have a seat,” Mr. Billington said. He immediately sat down, looking relieved to have an excuse to stop clapping.
Sam eyed the chair in front of him, but the short man darted forward, gripped his hand, and started shaking it with the same energy he’d put into his clapping.
“Mr. Force, St. Albans’s best-kept secret, I think. How very, very exciting.”
Very confusing, more like it, Sam thought as he watched his hand being pumped up and down. The man spoke with an accent, and something about him was familiar. Then Sam placed it. He was St. Albans’s music teacher, Mr. Ber-something.
“Mr. Beroduchi has just received an e-mail informing us of your success, Sam,” the headmaster said, holding up a printout. At the top, Sam saw an old-fashioned logo.
“Yes, yes,” said the overexcited music teacher. He reached across the desk, grabbed the e-mail from the headmaster’s hand, and waved it triumphantly in Sam’s face. “My dear boy. Why did you keep your talent from me . . .” He glanced at the e-mail. “Well, no, this explains why. But, my boy, I can’t tell you how excited I am to find a pupil with an interest in opera.”
Sam had no idea what was going on. He studied the hyped-up music teacher, then the headmaster, searching
for a sign that it was a stupid joke, but Mr. Beroduchi interpreted the look in a totally different way.
“Come now, Sam, the time for modesty is over. Now that you have fulfilled your dream.”
“Yes, Sam.” The music teacher waved the e-mail in the air again. “Your acceptance into the Shonestein Opera Academy Scholarship Program.”
The headmaster cleared his throat to get Sam’s and the music teacher’s attention. “Come now, Mr. Beroduchi.” He motioned to the chairs in front of this desk. “Why don’t we give Sam a chance to collect his thoughts. He must be overwhelmed by the news.”
“Overwhelmed” wasn’t the word. “Freaked-out” was more accurate. Sam sat, and the beaming music teacher pulled his chair close to Sam and continued his excited chatter.
“When I first read the e-mail, I was shocked, to say the least. I had given up hope of finding a student who has my passion for the art of opera. Don’t worry, my boy.” The teacher thumped Sam’s shoulder with the same force he had put into his handshake. “The e-mail mentioned your reluctance to make your love of opera known.”
“Yes,” the teacher replied. “Your concern that you
might not be good enough. Your desire to prove to yourself that you can compete on the world stage by submitting an audition to Shonestein’s Scholarship Program.” The beaming teacher eased up on the shoulder patting as he turned to the headmaster. “We must share this good news with the school, Mr. Billington.”
“Yes, we must do that,” the headmaster agreed. Sam could see Mr. Billington wasn’t as swept up in the moment as the music teacher. Fair enough. Opera? Wasn’t that something fat old men did? There was a good reason Sam hadn’t recognized Mr. Beroduchi straightaway. In his time at St. Albans, Sam had had nothing to do with the music department. He had zero interest in learning anything musical, and, until that moment, the music department had shown zero interest in him.
“Perhaps, Mr. Billington,” the music teacher said, “we could entice Sam to give us a performance before his departure.”
Sam’s mouth dropped, and his mind scrambled, but before he could form the most basic excuse, the headmaster stepped in.
“Regrettably, that won’t be possible. Mr. Force is required to leave this evening.”
“Ah yes, of course,” said Mr. Beroduchi.
“This evening? Where?” asked Sam.
“Why, Switzerland, of course,” said Mr. Beroduchi. “To the Shonestein Academy. The details are all in an e-mail that was addressed to you.” He took another piece of paper from the headmaster’s desk, and thrust it into Sam’s hand. It had the same fancy logo at the top. “This three-week course could set you on a path to operatic stardom, my boy.”
Sam’s head spun. Three weeks in Switzerland?
He tried to keep calm, but it was impossible.
Three weeks in Switzerland. At an opera academy he’d never heard of. When Sam couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.
Sam knew exactly what this e-mail was, and he needed time to study it.
He received a final supersized handshake from Mr. Beroduchi before being dismissed. A glance at the grandfather clock, as he hurried past the historically old secretary, told him he was about to be late for rowing training, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Sam slowed and read the letter, then studied it line by line, letter by letter. By the time he reached the minivan that would take him to training, he’d found the hidden message. It was a trick his uncle had taught him, using the first letter of each line. But Jasper wasn’t behind this. Sam knew the author of this e-mail because she had put the initial of her first name on the last line.
It wasn’t a prank.
Sam was holding his get-out-of-jail-free card.
Today I am thrilled to confirm your scholarship with us. This is an honor you really should be quite proud of. As you may be aware, for an opera singer you’re unusually young, but we were impressed by your audition tape, and our teachers see advantages in launching your operatic future as soon as possible. To that end, we would like you to join us in two days’ time in Switzerland.
May I suggest you pack and prepare for your departure. It is booked for this evening. Your documents are at the airport information desk in your name.
May I wish you well and say how happy I am to line up this chance for you.