Excerpt: Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer

Tiernay West stalked through the forest, silent as the great cats of the African plains, deadly as the fabled Royal Assassins of Arakistan. With the eyes that had gotten her dubbed “Little Eagle,” she scanned the verdant undergrowth, searching for the treasure hidden within.

Some motion made her pause. The shifting of a leaf, a scent upon the humid wind– With a single fluid motion she was up among the branches of an ancient oak. Adjusting her hat against the slanting sun, she settled in to watch. To wait.

* * *

“Tiernay! Tiernay, come out here this instant!”

I remained hidden among the branches of my favorite oak, not moving, not breathing. Well, trying not to breathe. You’d think that if Houdini could stay underwater for four minutes, if T.J. Redstone could conceal herself in the airless tomb of Arakistan’s Hidden City for nearly a quarter hour, I could hold my breath long enough for Mom to cross the backyard.

I tried to breathe out slowly, through my nose, the way T.J. did when hiding behind the curtains of the Arakistani ambassador’s chambers, waiting for him to reveal the location of the Lost Amulet of Kazir. But instead my breath came out in a noisy rush, through my nose and my mouth and probably even my ears. I shifted among the branches, sending autumn leaves crackling to the ground.

Mom looked sharply up. “Tiernay Markowitz, what are you doing up there?”

“Tiernay West,” I said, all need for stealth gone. “My name’s Tiernay West.” Why is it so hard to get people to call you what you want?

Mom sighed. She enjoyed sighing, especially around me. “West is not what it says on your birth certificate.”

“That’s what it says on the covers of Dad’s books.”

“It’s a pseudonym, Tiernay. That’s different.” Mom and I’d had this discussion before.

“You changed your name after the divorce. Why can’t I change mine?”

“When you’re eighteen, you can do whatever you want. Until then, you’ll do as I say.”

But I didn’t want to wait until I was eighteen to do cool stuff. I wanted adventures now.

“Right now,” Mom went on, “I say you’re to get down here and put on some decent clothes. Or have you forgotten we’re meeting Greg for dinner in less than an hour?”

Of course I hadn’t forgotten. Why else would I be hiding?

“Tiernay …”

“All right, all right.” I climbed down a few branches, then jumped to the ground. My landing wasn’t quite worthy of the great cats of Africa , but it was close. I only scraped one knee. And my hat — broad-brimmed and woven from pale straw, a gift from Dad when he visited the Amazon to write The River’s Secret — stayed on my head, as all true adventurers’ hats do.

“Tiernay, be careful!” Mom shouted, as if I were still up in the tree, and not right there beside her. “One of these days you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“I’m always careful,” I said, as I stalked past her across the yard and toward the house.

Just like T.J. Just like Dad.

* * *

The trouble is, Mom doesn’t understand about adventuring.

She and Dad used to argue about it all the time, back when they were still married. Dad travels a lot, researching his books, and Mom complained she never knew when he was going to run off to Bangkok , or Marrakech, or Algiers .

This isn’t like the old days, when adventure waited at every turn — when the world was still filled with unscaled mountains and undiscovered ancient cities. Most people don’t even call themselves adventurers anymore. They’re anthropologists, or journalists, or gentlemen of leisure. But there’s more adventure out there than most people think, if you know where to look.

Just ask T.J. Redstone. Well, you can’t ask her, because she’s the heroine of Dad’s books. But if you could, that’s what she’d tell you. Her business cards even say “Professional Adventurer” on them.

But don’t ask Mom. Mom’s idea of an adventure is leaving Connecticut long enough to catch a Broadway play or attend a business meeting in Manhattan . Or maybe trying to get me to ballet class each week. Though I’m better about ballet, now that Mom’s letting me take karate, too.

Either karate or ballet would have been better than dinner with Greg.

Don’t ask me about Greg, who’s more interested in talking about theater and classical music than ancient cities or secret passages. Or about his son, Kevin, who hardly says anything to anyone. Or about the whole idea of Mom having boyfriends.

I climbed the stairs to my room. Books and clothes and homework papers lay scattered about. A map of the world had fallen from the wall, and one corner was caught in my underwear drawer. A half-eaten tuna sandwich and a can of root beer sat on my desk. Mom said once that looking for anything in my room was like digging for buried treasure. I’d vowed never to have a clean room again.

I flopped down on my bed. Across from me, my bookshelves were half-empty. Most of the books were on the floor — books about adventurers like Lawrence of Arabia and Captain Cook and Ernest Shackleton. A couple of battered T.J. novels were on the bottom shelf, along with my map collection. The top shelf had Dad’s travel books; he writes travel guides as well as T.J. stories, though they’re not as interesting.

If Dad were here, we wouldn’t be heading to some fancy dinner, that’s for sure. We’d be exploring the streets of Manhattan with a metal detector, or hunting for ancient artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or maybe just braving Dad’s cooking, made with secret spices that taste a little like the black stuff at the bottom of the pot. But these days I only see Dad holidays and summers, which isn’t nearly often enough. Mom says that’s not much less often than I saw him before, given all those research trips. But adventurers like Dad and me have to travel — another thing Mom doesn’t understand.

More T.J. books were piled on my bed. So was a pile of clothes, Mom’s idea of what I should wear to dinner with Greg. A skirt. A silky blouse. Tights and shiny black dress shoes. T.J. Redstone wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt and dress shoes. She probably wouldn’t be caught alive in them, either. But when Mom sets out my clothes, the dress code is non-negotiable.

I went into the bathroom to clean my scraped knee. Then I peeled off my jeans and sweatshirt and changed, even though the tights itched and the shoes pinched my feet. Mom talks about being practical a lot, but there was nothing practical about the outfit she’d set out. The shoes even had heels, making me feel weird and wobbly as I walked.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay could never have scaled Everest in these shoes. I doubt Dad could even have caught a plane connection at Heathrow Airport in them.

“Tiernay! They’re here!”

I brushed my tangled hair into a pony tail, grabbed my hat, and stumbled downstairs. I no longer had the grace of a creature of the African plains. I didn’t even have the grace of a minor housecat.

I followed Mom out to Greg’s car. He always seemed to be changing cars; this one was a sort of shiny gray. He stood by the front passenger door, dressed in a suit the same shade of gray, complete with tie. Sometimes I think he chooses his cars to match his clothes. Not like me; most days my socks don’t even match. Mom used to complain about that, until I mounted an expedition to find out where the missing socks went. I didn’t find out, but I did learn that when someone puts up a sign that says “Guard Dog on Premises,” they probably mean it. After that, Mom decided that mismatched socks were better than rushing me to the emergency room. I told her the bloody gash in my knee came from jumping the fence and not from the dog, but she didn’t listen. And she says I suffer from an overactive imagination.

Greg opened the car door for Mom, then for me. I slid into the back seat; it was made of the sort of plush material you’re always afraid to spill things on.

“Hi,” Kevin mumbled, not looking up from the other side of the seat. Dirty blond bangs fell into his face. He wore a suit and tie, too, but he didn’t seem to care.

“Hi,” I muttered back, staring out the window as the car started up. If Kevin wasn’t going to talk to me, I wasn’t going to talk to him, either. In the window’s reflection, I saw him take out a video game.

I watched the sun set and the streetlights flicker on, wondering whether I could jump out the door and make my getaway. Probably not, in these shoes.

At least the ride was quick. A valet took our car, and I waved him off, the way I imagined T.J. would before venturing into a hotel to inquire about local guides. Mom glowered at me. Then she saw my hat, and she glowered harder. But at least she didn’t say anything. She rarely did in front of Greg.

We walked inside. The restaurant was dimly lit, meaning no one would have seen how I was dressed anyway. The waiter pulled out our chairs and set napkins in our laps.

“What a lovely place you’ve chosen,” Mom said.

“Even if we can’t see anything,” I added.

Kevin shrugged. “It’s only food. What’s to see?”

“May I get anything to start you off?” the waiter asked.

Greg glanced at the wine list. “A bottle of your best Bordeaux for me and the lady.”

“I’ll have–” I began.

“A Coke,” Mom said firmly. She probably still remembered the last time we’d gone out, when I tried to order Rattlesnake Venom. Mom took one look at the ingredients and said I wasn’t old enough to drink it. Then she took another look and said she wasn’t old enough to drink it, either. She said it probably wasn’t made from real rattlesnakes, anyway.

“A Coke,” I agreed. As the waiter wrote this down, I added, “In a wine glass, please. With a touch of lemon. Shaken, not stirred.”

Mom rolled her eyes, but the waiter smiled. “A Coke for the gentleman as well?” He nodded toward Kevin.

“No ice,” Kevin said. “And no lemon. I’m allergic.”

I looked at Kevin with sudden respect. “What happens if you eat lemons?” I asked in a hushed voice. If my best friend Jessie eats peanuts, she could die instantly .

Kevin shrugged, as if imminent death meant nothing to him. “I get really sick. And I barf up the lemons.”

“Oh,” I said, trying not to let my disappointment show. I wondered what it’d be like to go adventuring with deadly allergies. Probably it wouldn’t matter, unless food got scarce. Then you might have to decide between instant death by lemons, or slow death by starvation. Or you could just eat fried crickets. Dad says fried crickets are pretty tasty, especially with a good dipping sauce.

The waiter left menus with us and departed. I opened mine; it was mostly written in French. For a moment I thought it wouldn’t matter what I wanted, because I couldn’t read anything. In Dad’s books, T.J. Redstone knows seventeen languages. Dad himself knows at least six or seven. I know two, if you count Pig Latin.

But below the French descriptions, in smaller, italicized type, were English descriptions. And the moment I read them, I knew I’d found true adventurer food.

“Cool!” I said, just as the waiter came back with our drinks. He’d added not only lemon, but also two cherries and a slice of lime. He set my Coke — in a wine glass — down in front of me and nodded gravely. I nodded back.

I sipped my drink slowly, seriously.

Kevin got a wine glass, too, one with nothing but Coke in it. He stuck in his straw and started slurping. He never could have moved undetected through the Hidden City .

“May I take your orders?” the waiter asked.

“The prime rib for both of us,” Greg said, indicating him and Mom.

“With a side of your cheese-stuffed mushrooms,” Mom added.

Kevin didn’t even glance at his menu. “I’ll have a hamburger. No ketchup.”

“Are you allergic to ketchup, too?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “Why take any chances?”

Adventurers live to take chances. Clearly, Kevin was no more of an adventurer than Mom.

“And for the young lady?” the waiter asked.

“I’ll have the steamed mussels,” I said at once. “With a side order of fried squid. And an appetizer of…” I scanned the menu. “Snails.”

Mom choked on her drink, but Greg only chuckled. “The escargot are excellent,” he said.

The waiter took our orders and left. Mom and Greg started talking — about Mom’s PR business, about Greg’s architecture firm, about some computers that had been stolen from my school.

Kevin kept slurping his Coke. I kicked the legs of my chair, stared into my drink, and hoped the food would arrive soon.

Around me, people at the other tables talked in quiet voices. Something about Wall Street and stocks at one table, about a new movie at another, about buried treasure at a third.

Buried treasure? I sat up straighter, listened closer.

“Every town has a story like this,” a woman said. “Out west it would be bandits fleeing the posse with their ill-gotten gains. Here it’s Revolutionary War patriots on the run, forced to bury their gold in some cave when the English got too close. Never mind that Connecticut ‘s not exactly riddled with caves. The legend says the gold’s still out there, waiting to be discovered by some sufficiently percipient soul.”

“That’s me!” I said. Greg raised a curious eyebrow in my direction.

“Just a legend,” a deep-voiced man said, as if legends were scarcely worth bothering with.

A lesser adventurer might have let that deter her. But I knew better. The best adventures always begin with legends that no one believes.

I set down my glass, got to my feet, and strode straight to the table where the couple sat.

“I’m your man — umm, woman,” I said.

The man looked up from his wine glass. “Excuse me?”

“If there’s lost treasure to be found, I’m the one to find it.” I bowed deeply, sweeping my hat out in front of me. “Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer — at your service.”

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