Martin racked his brain for something clever to say. Isabel was finally in Chicago, sitting right next to him in the car, and his mind had dissolved into a black hole. When she arrived an hour earlier from Spain, his stomach did this funny flip thing. Weird. After all, it was only Isabel, and only three months since they’d been together in Peru. But she seemed different, older somehow, with her honey-colored hair pulled up on top of her head instead of the usual braid down her back.
“You brought your scooter, right?” Martin asked.
“No. My dad surprised me with rollerblades for my birthday last week. They’re way more fun.”
“Cool,” Martin said. “I have a present for you at home.” He hoped she would like the Chicago Red Sox ball cap he bought her.
“Thanks.” Isabel’s face filled with excitement. “My mom gave me a digital camera.” She pulled it from her backpack. “It zooms in close, and if I push this button, it’s a wide angle lens. And it makes videos. We can film each other skating.”
“Awesome.” He took the camera from her. “I know this really great skate spot downtown, and we can go to the Navy Pier and Shedd Aquarium. Fourth of July they have huge fireworks over Lake Michigan.” He moved the camera around until Isabel came into focus on the tiny screen. Click.
“Don’t forget your birthday,” Dr. Hobbs, Martin’s mom, chimed in from the driver’s seat. “One more week and you’ll be a teenager too. We’ll have a big party.”
“Mom. It’s not like I’m five and want a party.”
“I guess you don’t want any presents,” Isabel said. “Or cake.”
Martin grinned. “Well, maybe a couple of big, expensive presents.”
Isabel shrugged. “I was going to give you a Ferrari, but now it’s too late. Oh, I almost forgot, I got my ears pierced for my birthday too.” She put a hand up to show off the tiny gold hoops hanging from her lobes.
Martin winced. “Didn’t it hurt?”
“Only this much.” Isabel reached over and pinched his arm.
“Ouch!” Martin rubbed the spot. “That’s what I mean.”
Isabel laughed. “You can’t be a baby about it.”
Dr. Hobbs parked the car in the staff lot at the Field Museum of Natural History. “I hope you don’t mind, Isabel, but we promised Dr. McMillan we’d bring you by to say hello, then we’ll head home.”
“That’s great,” Isabel said.
Martin jumped out and grabbed his skateboard and helmet from the trunk. “Wait ‘til you see my new tricks.”
Isabel grinned. “Show me.”
He threw down his board and gathered speed along the walkway, twisting into a front side 180, jumping over a cement bicycle rack, and manualing on his back wheels for a good five feet—every trick perfectly executed. He spun around ready to bask in Isabel’s admiration, but she was deep in conversation with his mom.
“Hey, did you see?” he called out.
“Oh, sorry,” Isabel said, catching up with him. “Your mom was telling me about your sister’s trip to Florence next month.”
Martin raised his eyebrows up and down. “Jenny’s still completely in love with Paolo.”
Isabel giggled. “She must be so excited. I can’t wait to see her.”
Their parents had worked on an Inca archaeological excavation in Jalca, Peru, the previous year where Martin’s older sister Jenny had met Paolo, and Martin and Isabel had become good friends. During their six months together, they had discovered an amazing secret about the Incas and solved the mystery of disappearing artifacts. This extraordinary time had created a special bond. Isabel put a hand on Martin’s arm. “¿Va bien tu Español?”
He scrunched his shoulders. “Pretty good. I mean muy bien.” He hated speaking Spanish with her. She always corrected his pronunciation. And he always got it wrong.
“Martin got an A in Spanish,” Dr. Hobbs said. “We’re so proud of him.”
Martin raced up the museum stairs to the first landing of the entrance. “Hey, watch this.”
“Be careful,” Dr. Hobbs said.
“Don’t worry. I’ve done it a million times.” Actually, he could only remember twice, but he’d made it both times—sort of. He hadn’t fallen anyway. Only four little steps to clear.
He waited for the area to empty, drumming his fingers on the end of his skateboard. A woman frowned at him and hurried up the stairs, holding the hands of two small children. An elderly couple slowly negotiated their way down the steps. He stared across the Lake Michigan shoreline to the Navy Pier and the huge Ferris wheel’s slow revolution. The hot, humid air closed around him. He hated contemplating a jump. The distance suddenly appeared farther than he remembered.
At last the stairs and walkway cleared. Martin threw down his board, pushed off across the landing, and lifted into an ollie that sent him airborne over the stairs. Out of his left eye, he glimpsed a figure running up the path from the lakefront trail. For one crucial second, he lost his concentration. His board scraped the edge of the last step and tipped forward, throwing him to the ground. A sharp pain wrenched his right ankle as his foot twisted sideways and under. Flat on his back, he stared up at the hazy sky.
“Do you need help?” a man asked, his words clipped. He leaned over Martin, his intense blue eyes squinting through skinny, black-framed glasses. A blond ponytail hung down one shoulder. Before Martin could muster an answer, the man glanced at his watch and took off, sprinting up the stairs.
Isabel squatted down, “Are you okay?”
“Thank heavens you had on your helmet.” Dr. Hobbs stooped to help him sit up.
“Mom, I’m fine.” He shook her hand off his shoulder. Why did she treat him like a little kid? It was too embarrassing. He rubbed his ankle and grinned at Isabel. “I always land that jump. That guy threw me off.”
“It was a great jump,” Isabel said. “Except for the fall.”
Martin stood and stepped gingerly on his foot, cringing with pain. He took off his helmet and handed it to his mom, running a hand through his damp tangle of hair.
“Wait a minute,” Isabel said, placing a hand gently on his arm, “I’ll help.
”He rolled his foot in circles. “It’ll be okay.” But he let Isabel support his arm as he hobbled up the long stairway.
He limped into the museum and pointed to the enormous dinosaur skeleton in the center of the main hall. “That’s Sue, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the largest, best preserved anywhere,” he said. “And down that way are Egyptian mummies. I can show you later.”
“Let’s not wear Isabel out her first day,” Dr. Hobbs said as she pushed the elevator button. “Dr. McMillan is so thrilled about the Treasures of Thailand exhibit. It opens Friday.”
Martin stepped into the elevator, relieved to find the burning in his ankle easing. “My dad organized it with this guy, Dr. Sommat, who owns a lot of the stuff. My parents met him when we lived in Thailand.”
His stomach tightened as the doors closed. For the past few months since they’d returned from Peru, he’d been having a recurring dream. It started with him trapped in an elevator, punching buttons, then without warning, the elevator plummeted into oblivion. He would wake covered in sweat, calling out for his dad. But it was stupid to worry about a crazy dream.
“The exhibit includes pieces from Mr. Sommat’s private collection and the National Museum in Bangkok,” Dr. Hobbs explained. “Dr. McMillan has wanted…” She stopped short as the overhead lights flickered twice and extinguished. The elevator lurched to a halt, the motor letting out a low, creaking groan. Then silence.
“What the heck?” Martin’s voice came out sounding like their dog Max’s squeaky toy.
“It must be the hot weather,” Dr. Hobbs said. “Push the emergency button.”
In the dim glow of the tiny emergency lights, Martin studied the control panel. “There’s an alarm and a call button.” He punched both of them twice. Nothing happened.
“One time my friend Marina and I got trapped in the elevator at my apartment in Madrid, and it took over an hour for the fire department to get us out,” Isabel said, slightly breathless. “Marina was crying and…”
“The museum has a backup generator,” Dr. Hobbs interrupted. “We’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Martin pushed the emergency buttons three more times. The faint echoes of muffled voices and shuffling steps drifted from the museum halls. Martin thought his heart might explode from pounding so hard. He pushed the button again. Why wasn’t the alarm going off? Who was supposed to be monitoring it? He punched again and again, calling into the small speaker, “Hello. We’re stuck in the elevator.” Nothing. When would someone realize what had happened and rescue them? How much oxygen did they have left? He grew warm and slightly dizzy.
“Dr. McMillan was so happy to get back from Peru in time for the exhibit opening,” Dr. Hobbs continued, as if their earlier conversation had never been interrupted. Although, Martin noticed her voice was an octave higher than normal.
“Is this man from Thailand famous?” Isabel asked.
“He’s a successful businessman and related to the royal family.”
“Mom, do you have to talk about this right now?” Martin clenched his hands at his sides. “Don’t you understand we’re stuck in an elevator?”
Isabel’s hand rested on his arm. “It will be fine, Martin. Nothing is going to happen to us.”
The lights sputtered on and off, and a low pitched whine rose. The elevator car jerked up and down, stopped, and jerked again. And again. Each time Isabel let out a short, gasping, oof! An eerie screeching sound came from overhead. And the elevator began to fall.