Normally, as he’d done his past years, Atticus would head to the courtyard fountain and take a nap after exam day. He’d listen to the hum of airships and zeppelins that fly overhead, and the purring of the different science labs on the far side of campus. But today, he couldn’t do that. Atticus needed to find Mike and see what was exactly up with him.
As long as they’d known each other, Mike was never one to skip class for any reason. His parents were wealthy affiliates to Zebulon. If they heard news that their son skipping class for any reason would be a big no-no.
Atticus made his way across campus to Mike’s dorm room. He did their usual “Shave and a Haircut” knock, but just like yesterday there was no response. Instead, he was greeted by Mike’s roommate, Justin Drasken.
Justin was the captain of the school’s tennis club with a still undetermined career path. When Atticus asked where Mike would be, he just responded with an unsure shrug. As far as Justin was aware, Mike left for class this morning like he always did.
Atticus wracked his brain for any place Mike might’ve gone too. He tried his best to use his detective’s intuition and guessed at all of Mike’s usual favorite spots on campus. The bookstore and the western park areas were the places they hung out the most. If Mike wasn’t at either place, then Atticus would have to assume Mike was taking care of business with some of his classes. Perhaps he was making up class time that he missed yesterday or taking other midterm exams early.
He scoured the campus hotspots for Mike and sadly found nothing. Atticus didn’t want to admit it, but he was a bit paranoid. He naturally feared the worst whenever he didn’t know where someone was. Atticus knew that worrying wouldn’t solve anything. Mike would turn up eventually; he just had to be patient.
Atticus made his way to the campus fountain and laid down. As he lay, staring up to the sky, he closed his eyes and began to think of his parents: William and Isabel Whaelord.
His father was a Nevada native with no proper schooling, but a natural gift in clockwork science. He was brash, confident and a bit of a gambler, but a bit of a klutz on his feet. His mother was an immigrant from Mexico who attended college to earn her degree in Plasma Engineering. She was calm, gentle, and very collected. The two complimented each other wonderfully. Atticus was nothing like either of them, but he was happy. They were a perfect little family.
But, six years ago, when Atticus was just ten years old, his parents left for a business trip and never returned. They were both former employees of the Zebulon Corporation but left to try and start their own business. They’d told him they were only going to be gone for a while to meet with some new colleagues, but they didn’t tell him they were going to be gone for six years. They just disappeared, and no one had any idea where they’d disappeared to.
After they vanished, Atticus was sent to live with his grandparents in Boulder City. They refused to talk about the disappearance; Atticus assumed it was just as hard on them as it was for him. The only thing he has to remember his parents is a small locket his father gave him. It was small, brass, with a design on the face of two gears entwined in one another. An “M” was appeared where the gears crossed. On the inside was a picture of the three of them when Atticus was just a baby. His father told him to always keep it close to his heart; if he had the locket they’d always be with one another. Atticus always kept the locket on him. He always kept it snug in his pants pocket, the chain coiled up around his belt loop.
He pulled out the locket and held it close to his heart. The comfort it brought him plus the warm autumn sun quickly lulled him to sleep.
It felt as if Atticus had only closed his eyes for a second before he was quickly shaking awake. His eyes flared open and he saw Brock standing above him.
“Atticus, this is bad!”
“W-what? What’s happened?”
“It’s Mike,” he said. “He’s dead.”
Brock lead Atticus to the far end of the west park area. Normally, it was tranquil and one of the best places to relax, but today it was lined with officers causing a commotion. In the distance, Atticus looked past them and saw a body hanging from a tree: Mike.
Atticus felt a terrible queasy feeling form in his stomach. There was Mike, dangling from the tree. How could this happen? Why would it happen? Atticus didn’t know what to think; his mind was racing with too many questions. He stared at the body, blankly.
He tried to make his way forward but was stopped by a man working on the scene.
“Sorry lad, no students past this point.” The man had a faint Scottish accent and wore a dark brown fedora, long trench coat, a pair of black leather gloves, and a very strange pair of goggles covered his eyes.
“S-sir, that’s my friend,” Atticus said.
“I’m sorry, but rules are rules and I’m not allowed to disclose any information.”
The man began to turn back to the scene and as he did, he removed his goggles. As he did, Atticus caught a glimpse of the man’s piercing emerald eyes.
The detective smiled and turned back around. Atticus was at a total loss for words. Detective McCloud was his idol. He’d previously sent him numerous letters asking about becoming an intern at the police station over the summer, but he sadly learned that you had to be a college student to apply for internships with the Las Vegas Police.
“That’s right,” he said.
“S-sir, I don’t know if you remember, but my name is Atticus Whaelord and I would just like-”
“Whaelord?” McCloud’s eyes beamed with a strange enthusiasm. “You’re the boy who sent me all of those intern letters, right?”
Atticus felt his body tremble. He was in so much shock he didn’t know how his body should react: sadness because of Mike, or excitement because of finally meeting Detective McCloud.
“Y-yes sir, that was me.”
McCloud smiled but then his expression turned solemn. “I’m sorry about your friend, son. I really am.”
“Detective;” Brock spotted Atticus discomfort and sprung into the conversation, “what happened here?”
McCloud looked around for any nearby officers or students. He was not supposed to share any information with civilians until he was given the clear and they knew what was going on. The last thing the police wanted was rumors spread and mass hysteria because one officer blabbed about unconfirmed information.
However, Detective McCloud was part of a completely separate entity from the other officers. McCloud was Zebulon’s head private eye, and since the death took place on Zebulon’s property, he was followed their orders first.
“Well we don’t know much yet,” he said. “Big chief thinks this was just a suicide caused by stress. Too much pressure on a kid too young, ya know?”
“And you don’t think that,” Atticus asked.
McCloud shook his head and said, “Not one bit. This seems oddly suspicious to be just a suicide. I think there is something greater at work here.”
He looked around again, keeping an eye out for any officers that may be in ear shot.
“I don’t want to startle ya,” McCloud said, “but to me this looks like a murder.”
Atticus’ eyes flared up. “Why do you think that, detective?”
“From what I’ve gathered, the boy was a quiet one,” he said. “He didn’t stand out a whole lot, so why would he go out and hang himself for all to see?”
A wave of terror washed over Atticus. The thought alone was too much for him. So many questions began to pop up in his head: Why would someone go after Mike? Did his family have some connections with the mob? And then Atticus thought about what Mike had asked him last night: if he believed in ghosts.
Atticus paused for just a moment as that thought lingered in his head. Mike was not the kind of guy to believe in the supernatural. He believed in science, not magic; so why would he suddenly fear a ghost haunting him.
Perhaps, Atticus thought, Mike was trying to warn him. Perhaps this was just another one of their puzzles that he’d need to solve.
“Detective, Atticus said, “I think you might be right.”
Brock snapped a look at him. “You really think so Atticus?”
McCloud smiled and pulled a fist full of shredded paper from his pocket. “Another thing lad; it seems your friend left behind a note, but as you can see it’s been torn to bits. If this really was a suicide, why would he tear it up?”
“Detective,” Brock said, “I don’t want to be rude, but these sound like a lot of assumptions. Is there any concrete evidence?”
McCloud turned to Brock, his expression a strange mixture between sour and flattery. “This is still a very early investigation, my boy. As of now, assumption is all we have to go on, but once I get some facts under my belt, ya bet I’ll be on it.”
Atticus nodded, but Brock still didn’t seem so sure.
As the two bickered, Atticus peered past and stared at Mike. He wasn’t sure if his mind recognized that Mike was gone or if this was all just a bad dream. He was so out of it he didn’t notice when an officer confronted them and asked them to leave. McCloud tried to vouch for them, but it didn’t matter. Students and staff were to evacuate the area as they cleaned up.
Atticus just continued to stare. As Brock yanked him back, he caught a glimpse of something dangling from Mike’s belt loop. It was small, hanging from a tiny metal chain. It was a brass pendant. As Atticus stared, what he saw made his heart drop. Engraved on Mike’s pendant were two entwining gears, just like Atticus’ locket.
His heart began to beat violently and his breath began to stagger. That symbol was his parents’. One gear his father, the other his mother, and where they entwined was Atticus. When his parents gave him the locket, they said with it he’d never be alone. It couldn’t be just a coincidence that Mike would have the same locket as him. If Atticus wanted to be a detective, he had to abolish the idea of coincidence.
Atticus snapped himself out of his trance. “Pardon me detective, but could I see that note?”
Everyone looked at Atticus.
McCloud shrugged and looked at the tattered pieces of paper in his hand. “It seems a bit too torn for us to use, but it could still be useful to us in some way.”
Atticus felt his heart began to sink, but McCloud gave him a confident smile.
“However,” he said, “I trust ya lad. If you think you can get somethin’ from this, I believe ya.”
McCloud carefully held out the note. Atticus anxiously grabbed it, making sure not to drop a single shred.
“Thank you very much, detective.”
Atticus shook McCloud’s hand and gestured at Brock to follow. He didn’t say anything, but Brock recognized that look. It was the look that said “I need to show you something.” It was also the same look Atticus gave before he went into his detective mode. Whenever Brock saw it, he knew Atticus meant business.
As the two burst into their dorm room, Atticus scattered the confetti onto the ground. Brock gently closed the door behind them before turning to his roommate.
“Atticus, what’s going on,” he asked.
“I can help McCloud solve this case.”
“Case? What case? There’s no evidence this was a murder.”
“How can you say that? Detective McCloud is right, and I know I can help prove it!” Atticus lowered his head and began to assemble the shredded note into a neat little pile. “Brock, I’m gonna show you something I’ve never showed anyone before and I want you to promise that you won’t freak out.”
“Of course man.” Brock knelt down in front of the note. “What’s going on?”
Atticus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He placed his right hand on top of the pile of shredded paper. Nothing happened at first, but that changed rather quickly. A faint chill came into the room and sent a shiver down Brock’s spine. It felt as if something was watching him but he didn’t know from where. As Atticus opened his eyes, an image began to appear on the back of his right hand. At first it looked like a blue and gold mesh, but as the image came more and more into focus, Brock realized it was the Queen of Spades one would see out of a traditional deck of playing cards.
Before Brock even had a chance to ask any questions, the note slowly began to piece itself together. Each of the shredded pieces lined up perfectly almost like a puzzle. In a whisk of a second, the note had completely resembled itself.
Brock was completely in awe. “W-what did you just do?”
Atticus shrugged. “I’m not sure honestly. I where it came from or why I have it, but as long as I can remember, the Queen of Spades allows me to fix broken things.”
Brock was silent for a moment. As he stared at the newly reconstructed note in complete awe, Atticus was afraid he’d made a terrible mistake. He’d just shown his best friend this strange supernatural power that not even he understood. He was afraid he’d just scared away the only other person he had.
But he was wrong. A wide smile brimmed across his face and Brock let out a hearty laugh.
“That’s amazing,” Brock shouted. “My best friend has some magical power to repair anything!”
Atticus felt relieved. He was afraid Brock might think he was some sort of crazy mutant or wizard, but he was just his regular old self about it.
“So,” he said, “what’s the note say?”
Atticus picked up the note and began to read:
“I’ve begun to fear this ghost might be real. I normally don’t believe in these sorts of things, but I just can’t shake the feeling that there is someone always watching me. I’ve been hearing his voice calling out to me and I fear that my mother’s warnings about the locket were right. I’m afraid to leave my room because I know it’ll get me, but I have to risk it. I need to give Atticus my locket.”
Atticus couldn’t believe what he’d read. Their lockets really were linked. Atticus reached into his pocket and gripped his tightly. The cool metal helped calm him down. It gave him strength and reminded him that he wasn’t alone.
“What locket,” Brock asked. Atticus pulled the locket from his pocket and held it out in front of him.
“This locket,” he said. “Mike needed to give me his.”
Brock looked confused, so Atticus tried to explain. He tried to tell him about his parents and the symbol of the entwined gears, but Brock continued to look just as confused.
“I need to get Mike’s locket. I don’t know why, but he needed me to have both of them.”
“Do you have any idea why?”
Atticus shrugged. He didn’t have an idea, but he needed to find out.
He looked down at the Queen of Spades as it slowly began to fade from his hand. He honestly didn’t know what was going on, but he had to do something. Anything would be better than just sitting around. His emotions were getting the better of him and his thoughts were running a million miles an hour, but he had to focus.
However, one thought lingered its way into Atticus’ head and refused to leave. Atticus wondered if this ghost would come after him next. What if, he thought, this ghost attacked the owner of the lockets? What if this ghost is the reason his parents disappeared? It was a long shot, but it was something.
Atticus felt a fire burn deep down inside of him. He was determined to do whatever he could to find this ghost, and nothing was going to stand in his way.