The Turtle Dragon was one of Las Vegas’ most popular casinos and that’s because it was one of the few places that allowed students and minors to come in and relax. It doubled as a soda shoppe and because it was so close to so many schools, it was easy for students to stop by after class.
Now, that’s not to say that was the only reason for its success. It was a marvelous work of architecture. The Turtle Dragon was owned by an older Chinese couple with a desire to spread a positive image of their culture across the U.S. Sadly, the Las Vegas chamber of commerce feared that it would be a bit too bland, so they asked them to up the décor. As a result: it became a bit stereotypical, but people loved it none the less.
The entrance resembled the head of a giant golden dragon and all around the exterior were decorative red and black turtles. Flashing plasma lights decorated the building to make it stand out from the other casinos and restaurants nearby, but it’s big attention getter was that the dragon head would shoot fire straight into the air from its nostrils every so often.
But that was just the outside. Inside, the casino was split into its two halves: the gambler’s hall and the soda shoppe. The gambler’s hall was littered with slot machines of all shapes and sizes. Card tables with Chinese characters painted onto the trim in gold paint littered the area. Chugging along the walls was a small steam train designed to look like a small dragon that would occasionally bellow steam, and patrolling the floor were small clockwork horses that would pick up any loose trash left behind by patrons.
The soda shoppe was just as highly decorated as the rest of the casino, however it was geared to a much younger audience. The music of Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra filled the dining area; the walls were ornamented with photographs and portraits of famous actors and celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, and Audrey Hepburn as opposed to the traditional Chinese decorations.
However, the pièce de résistance was a colossal cylindrical drink fountain in the center of the room. But, what made this fountain so special was that it was fully automated and you got to watch the machine make your drink before your very eyes. Normally, a clerk would have to make your drink for you, but for just a quarter, the machine would construct your drink and you’d get to watch all the gears and arms make it with pinpoint accuracy. Was it a bit unnecessary? Most likely, but was it a delight to watch? Most definitely.
As the two made their way into the shoppe, Atticus spotted Camila sitting at a table by herself, her nose crammed in a book. He made his way to join her, but Brock abruptly stopped him.
“Whoa, you said you were meeting a friend to help study.”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Camila Valencia? She’s our valedictorian!” Atticus shrugged. Brock smirked and said, “Y’know, I could leave if you don’t want me around.”
“Why would you think that,” Atticus asked. “Do you not like her?” Brock laughed and slapped Atticus on the shoulder. Atticus stared at him confused but decided to laugh alongside of him.
The two made way to the table. About halfway, Camila looked up and her face beamed with delight. She jumped up and waved to Atticus who awkwardly smiled and waved back.
“Sorry we’re a little late,” he said.
“We?” Atticus gestured to Brock who did his best imitation of Atticus’ silly wave. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought it would just be the two of us.”
Brock laughed again and said, “I told you so! I’ll leave you two be.”
“N-No, it’s okay,” Atticus stammered. He had to think quickly. What would Brock say if he was in his position right now? “I-I’m helping tutor Brock in history as well.”
Brock glared at him wickedly. He snorted and turned back to Camila, a wide smile plastered across his face.
“Yeah, sorry, my history grade is in the toilet and I asked Atticus if he could help.”
“Oh, okay.” Camila looked down at the table disheartened.
“It’ll be okay,” Atticus assured. “Why don’t we get some food and then we can get down to studying.”
Brock rested his face in his hands and shook his head. “You’re so clueless.”
The tree sat down and ordered their food from a little device that looked a bit like a typewriter at the end of the table. It was a wonderful little thing: you punched in your order exactly the way you wanted it, and a little receipt would print out. Then, a waiter would come by, snag it, take it to the kitchen, and then once the cooks were all done preparing it, the waiters would bring it right to the table. No hassle. No mix-ups.
“So, Camila,” Brock said, “what’s your deal? You’re our class valedictorian right? So why do you need help in history? Don’t you already get A’s?”
“Getting A’s isn’t the point. I’m actually not all that smart,” she said. “In our history class, I was the last one to finish the exam. That’s how I’ve always been.” She sighed and said, “my papa used to call me ‘Señorita Tortuga’ when I was little.”
“Mrs. Turtle,” Atticus said.
Camila nodded. “I’m surprised you knew that, Atticus.”
“I learned a bit of Spanish from my mom,” he said.
“Hold on a minute,” Brock chimed in, “you just want to be faster at being smarter?”
She shrugged and said, “I guess.”
“Talk about a try hard,” Brock scoffed.
“Hey, no need to be rude,” Atticus said. “People think in all sorts of ways. Some faster than others.”
“Easy for you to say,” Brock said. “Mister detective over here thinking at the speed of light.”
Camila looked at Atticus. “What’s do you mean, detective?”
“You know, like an investigator,” he said. “That’s what I’m studying for. I want to join the police force as a detective.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Camila said smiling. “So does that mean you’re like Sherlock Holmes? Are you really good at riddles?”
Brock smiled and smacked Atticus on the back. “This boy here is brilliant with puzzles,” he said. “No hints or help required.”
Atticus blushed. “I’m not that good.”
“Stop being so humble,” Brock teased. “It’s okay to take pride and show off every now and again, you wuss.”
“I don’t think so,” Camila said. “I think it’s far more satisfying when someone humble beats a braggart.”
Brock nodded and said, “I guess you’re right. Nose rubbing is way more satisfying.”
Camila shook her head and turned to Atticus. “So, if you really are good, answer this: What’s red and smells like blue paint?”
“Red paint,” Atticus said with a smirk. “Was that it?”
“No, that was a test.” Camila gave Atticus a sinister smile. “How about this: Thirty white horses on a red hill. First they chatter, then they stamp, they shiver, then they stand still. These horses, what are they?”
Atticus pursed his lips and steepled his fingers. Dozens of answers flew through his head. He took every word into consideration: white, horse, thirty, red, hill, chatter, stamp, shiver. A proper riddle has every word matter. For a moment, Atticus thought he was stumped, but that thought didn’t last long.
“White on a red hill,” he said. “Chattering and shivering? They’re teeth.”
Camila’s mouth fell agape. “I don’t believe it. You got that so quickly.”
“I told you so,” Brock said. “He’s the best.”
Atticus felt the blood rush to his cheeks. “Enough about me,” he said. “What about you Camila? What do you want to do after graduating?”
She blushed and sank into her seat. “To be honest, I’m still not sure yet.”
“Geez, so picky,” Brock teased.
Camila sighed. “My parents want me to go into the sciences: plasma or steam. But, I don’t know if that’s what I want to do.”
“Well, what do you like doing,” Atticus asked.
Camila shrugged. “I like to read.”
Brock nodded and asked, “What are some of your skills?”
“Memorization,” she said instantly. Camila pulled out her book, Treasure Island, and passed it to Atticus. “I have a photographic memory. Not metaphorically, but literally. I remember everything in that book.”
Atticus looked a bit bewildered.
“Let me prove it,” she said. “Give me a page and paragraph. I can recite it perfectly. I promise.”
He opened the book: page 64. Then he picked a paragraph: third from the bottom. Atticus gave Camila the info just like she asked.
She shut her eyes. It was silent for a while, maybe twenty seconds or even a minute, but then Camila said, “I could hear their feet rattling up our old stairs, so that the house must have shook with it. Promptly afterwards, fresh sounds of astonishment arose.”
Camila opened her eyes. “Want me to do it again?”
Atticus looked down at the book and read the passage. Sure enough, she had recited it word for word. That’s not possible, he thought. Nobody is that good are they?
Brock snagged the book from his friend’s hands and read the paragraph.
“How did you do that,” he asked. “You couldn’t have studied that one line in hopes that someone would pick it, would you?”
Camila giggled and said, “I told you. I remember everything.”
“That’s intimidating,” said Atticus.
“Well, everything I see,” Camila said. She pulled out a notepad from her bag. “I can’t remember everything I hear, so I’ll jot down whatever I need into this notebook. Then I have something visual to help me.”
“Well there you have it,” Brock said. “An incredible memory. You can apply that into a lot of jobs!”
Brock and Atticus looked at one another and started throwing out careers that they thought Camila would like:
Camila laughed at all the suggestions. It was sweet of them trying to help her. “Thank you boys, I think I get the idea.”
“Oh, a librarian!” Atticus shouted. “You like books and reading, and librarians need good memorization skills. You need to know which books are in and which ones are checked out. You need to know where they are located, and for students, you need to know what books could help them with their school work.”
Camila smiled. “That’s not a bad idea. Thank you, Atticus. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Atticus smiled back.
“Now,” Camila said turning to Brock, “what about you?”
“Me? That’s easy,” he said. “I’m going to be a psychologist. I want to help people whose injuries are in their mind, not on their body.”
“That’s very noble,” Camila said. “Not what I expected at all.”
“Really? What did you expect?”
“Circus clown,” Atticus chimed in. “Maybe an attractive table leg.”
Camila began giggling uncontrollably and nearly spit out her drink. Atticus couldn’t help but feel a little proud of himself. He usually didn’t say things that made people laugh. That was always Brock’s thing.
Brock glanced at Atticus and smiled. “Y’know, I was really thinking about that that table leg position, but I don’t get along with my coworkers. They’re a bit too stiff for me.”
Camila continued to laugh. Her eyes were tearing up and her face was turning a bright red.
“But, I’m boring,” Brock said. “Atticus is the really exciting one. He’s helping Detective McCloud solve the murder of Mike Nelson.”
Atticus glared at him and whacked his arm. Brock was laughing, but Atticus was not amused.
Camila’s giggling fit came to a stop when she heard that. She wiped her eyes and all of her attention turned to Atticus. “Really? But the police say Mike just committed suicide.”
Atticus shook his head and said, “The police are wrong. Both I and the detective know it.”
“And you’re actually working with him,” she asked.
Atticus nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Atticus smiled and felt blood rush to his cheeks. However, talking about Mike suddenly got Atticus’ head racing a million miles an hour. Thoughts and clues began rushing to his head. He got to thinking about Mike’s last words: the ghost haunting him. He thought about Professor Varnum vanishing from class and the Nelson’s reaction to their son’s death. Somethings would piece together, while others were still looming overhead. He had to think of everything and how it all tied together. Like a good puzzle, everything mattered. He just had to get the whole story and to do that he had to start from the beginning.
Atticus shot up to his feet and said, “Have them cancel my order. I need to go.”
He picked up his school bag and began to head out, but Brock jumped up and cut him off. “Hey, what’s going on.”
“I’m looking at this all wrong,” Atticus whispered.
Brock sighed and pulled him aside. “What are you talking about?”
“The puzzle pieces are aligning in my head,” he said. “I’ve been too on edge. Now that I’m more relaxed, it’s like all the fog in my head is gone.”
“That’s great,” Brock said, “but why not just do all this later?”
Atticus shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t lose this vibe. Detective’s instinct, y’know.”
Atticus ran back to Camila. “I’m so sorry, but I’m gonna have to-”
Camila raised her hand and shushed him. She gave him a gentle smile and said, “It’s okay. You go do what you need to.”
“Thank you so much.” Atticus smiled. “Why don’t we reschedule?”
“That’d be wonderful. Why don’t we talk about it after class tomorrow?”
Atticus nodded, a smile pasted to his face, and then bolted out of the soda shoppe. He needed to head back to Fortuna Prep as soon as possible. He knew it was rude, but he didn’t think much of it. Besides, Brock understood the issue, and Camila seemed okay. He had important questions that needed answering, like how Varnum is connected to the Nelsons and why they wanted their son murdered.
Hey, just a reminder everybody: The full version of Spring-Heeled Jack is going to be released this Saturday (January, 30th)!