Peril at the Top of the World, страница 1
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QUICK NOTE FROM BICK KIDD
Before we launch our latest heart-stopping, nail-biting, globe-trotting Kidd family adventure, I just wanted to let you know that, even though our parents are both back in the picture, I’ll still be the one telling you our awesome tales. My twin sister, Beck, will still be handling the pictures (including the ones that Mom and Dad are back in).
And get this—Mom and Dad have promised to take us around the world again before we grow up: Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Americas, North Pole, South Pole, and all the points in between. Trust me, you’ll remember going around the world with the Kidds for the rest of your life.
Beck says I should add, “Especially if you stand downwind of me.” (Apparently, I reek in ways that are amazingly unforgettable.)
Now, can we get going? We’re kind of in a hurry. Don’t forget—we have a whole world to circle!
There are all sorts of art treasures in Florence, Italy—including the stolen kind.
That’s why the six of us—the entire Kidd family—were crammed into an electric, solar-powered van staking out a garage on a dark cobblestoned street in the middle of the night.
The street was so old and narrow, it was probably built way back in the Middle Ages before the rich Medici family jump-started the Renaissance by sponsoring guys like Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo (the artists, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Mom was behind the wheel. Storm was up front, keeping her night-vision goggles trained on the garage entrance. Dad and our teenage brother, Tommy, were in the back, where you’re supposed to stow luggage. They were both decked out in commando gear: black shoes, black pants, black turtlenecks, and black watch caps (Tommy complained his was giving him a serious case of hat hair).
Beck and I were in the middle seats. As the youngest, we were supposed to “sit still and observe” because this mission could, according to Dad, “go south fast.”
“You guys?” I whispered as Mom and Storm focused on the parking-garage entrance. “This van is powered by solar panels. How’s that going to work at night?”
“Batteries,” said Storm.
“Something you might want to try for your brain,” added Beck.
“Twins?” said Dad from the way back. “Can the chatter, please. We don’t want to compromise our position.”
That’s spy lingo for Don’t get us busted with your loud yapping. Dad and Mom used to work for the CIA, helping to keep America safe. Now we’re on an even more important mission: saving the world’s treasures—and I don’t mean just ancient art and artifacts (or, in Tommy’s case, this “awesome hair gel” he discovered in France).
Sometimes I think Dad and Mom want us to save the whole entire planet!
We were in Italy staking out this particular parking structure because Mom had picked up a hot tip from the pirates who had kidnapped her in Cyprus.
The bad guys kept yakking about smugglers transporting an elaborately decorated 2,600-year-old mummy sarcophagus through Florence.
And it wasn’t empty. There weren’t any wrapped-up pharaoh remains in the ancient coffin, but Mom’s captors said all sorts of precious pottery and sculptures were hidden inside. The “importers” would be handing it off to the “exporters” in this garage.
“EM 429TY,” said Storm from her perch in the passenger seat. “It’s them.”
Storm has a photographic memory, so she’s in charge of memorizing stuff like bad guys’ license-plate numbers. Mom and Dad’s spy friends (the kind of friends with satellites) had been tracking the smugglers’ cargo truck as it made its way into Florence from the Mediterranean seaport of Livorno.
“They’re pulling into the garage,” said Mom as she flipped down her night-vision goggles. It’s still weird seeing her with blond hair. She had to dye it so the bad guys wouldn’t recognize her. Spy stuff. “Their arrival was expected. Two men just came out of the shadows.”
“Let’s roll,” Dad said to Tommy. “Bick? Beck? Mic check.”
Beck and I tapped our chests to activate our supercool tactical headsets.
“Testing, one, two, three…”
“Loud and clear,” reported Mom.
“Tommy and I are going in,” said Dad. “Bick and Beck?”
“Yes, sir?” we said at the same time.
“You two follow us and report back to Mom and Storm. However, you are not, I repeat not, under any circumstances, to enter that garage.”
“You mean ‘Yes, sir’?”
“Good. Okay, Tommy. Charge up.”
Dad and Tommy slid battery packs into their Taser weapons. They didn’t want to shoot any bad guys with bullets, but they’d stun-gun them if they had to.
Mom turned around in her seat.
“Thomas?” said Mom. “Be careful in there.”
Of course, she was talking to both of them: seventeen-year-old Tailspin Tommy and Dr. Thomas Kidd (aka Dad).
But she meant my father particularly, and for good reason.
We’d just found out Dad was alive. We didn’t want to lose him again.
Beck and I followed Tommy and Dad out of the van and crouched behind a row of Vespa motor scooters.
We couldn’t really see what was going on inside the garage.
So we crept closer and found a hiding spot beside a pair of rusty trash barrels.
Things didn’t look so good. In fact, things looked molto, molto male, which is Italian for “very, very bad”!
Tommy and Dad had their hands up over their heads.
“You two idioti don’t know who you are dealing with,” growled a muscular goon who looked like he might be a former member of the Italian weight-lifting team. “The ones we work for are appassionati d’arte. Very serious art lovers. You do not wish to make them your enemies.”
“Of course we don’t,” said Dad. “Our only wish is that you—and those you work for—return that stolen mummy to its rightful owners: the government and people of Egypt.”
“Chya,” added Tommy.
“We do not have time for your noble speeches,” said the guy who was apparently the head goon, waggling a pistol. “Turn around. Massimo? Handcuff them both. Sbrigati!”
“Sì, sì, sì,” said the muscleman named Massimo. He quickly chained Tommy and Dad to a pole in the center of the garage.
Why do bad guys always have chains lying around?
I tapped the chest switch to my mic. “Mom?” I whispered. “The bad guys are handcuffing Dad and Tommy!”
“What should we do?” asked Beck.
“Stay put,” said Mom. “I’m calling for backup.”
“Stay put! The polizia and the carabinieri military force will block the front door with vehicles. They’ll apprehend the suspects when they try to roll out of the garage.”
We watched two of the bad guys take the mummy case out of the first van and load it into the back of an antique cargo truck with Ves
“Careful!” cried Dad. “That sarcophagus is nearly three thousand years old!”
The bad guys ignored him.
“Aprite l’uscita segreta,” the lead goon barked to two of his henchmen. Then he grinned at Dad and Tommy. “We have a secret rear exit.” He tapped a stubby finger on his caveman-like forehead. “Smart, no?”
Uh-oh. That meant they’d anticipated our plan.
One of the bodybuilders thumped a big green button on a box attached to a thick electrical cable. A section of what looked like a brick wall at the far end of the garage rolled up. It was a metal garage door painted to look exactly like bricks.
They have some very good mural artists in Florence.
“Let’s go,” I said to Beck, forgetting that my mic was still open.
“Bickford?” said Mom. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Keeping this whole mission from heading south!” I said, trying my best to sound like Dad.
While the bad guys fiddled with their secret door, Beck and I crouched and then made a dash for the tailgate of the truck where the canvas flap in the back wasn’t tied down.
We hoisted ourselves up and over the tailgate and hid alongside the thousands-year-old coffin.
The engine started up. Gears clattered. With a lurch and a bump, the truck moved out of the parking garage through the secret exit. With us hidden inside!
Where were they taking us?
Mom’s voice was urgent in our ears.
Yep. She was also mad. That’s just about the only time she ever calls us by our full names.
“Where are you two?”
I looked at Beck. She looked at me. The truck hit a pothole or maybe bounced off a curb.
“You tell her,” whispered Beck. “You’re the wordsmith.”
“We’re, uh, um… in a truck. An olive-oil truck. With the mummy.”
“The bad guys drove through the back wall of the garage and—”
“Bickford Kidd, you—”
After some whispered yelling that you don’t really need to hear about, Mom told me what I should do. I raised the side flap and peeked out at the street.
“We’re on the Via Palazzuolo,” I said, reading a sign.
“The polizia and carabinieri have arrived,” said Mom. “They’ve already apprehended the two gentlemen who dropped off the sarcophagus.”
“What about Tommy and Dad?” I asked.
“They’re fine,” said Mom. “You should be seeing them shortly.”
“Do you have your phone?” asked Storm over my headset.
“Make sure the GPS is on.”
“We’ll track you,” said Mom. “So will Dad and Tommy. Hang on, Stephanie!”
That’s Storm’s real name. And Mom’s the only one who can call her that without her eyes turning into dark, threatening thunderclouds, which is the reason we call her Storm.
The truck took a sharp left turn. The mummy slid sideways toward Beck and me. We stopped it with the soles of our tennis shoes so it wouldn’t get knocked around and even more damaged.
Bouncing along, I smelled water. “We’re near the river,” I reported. “I think.”
“Roger that,” said Mom. “We have you on the Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci.”
Then, of course, Storm jumped in with one of her travelogue monologues. “The long boulevard along the Arno River is named after the Italian explorer from Florence who first realized that the West Indies were not, as Christopher Columbus had proclaimed, the edge of Asia but a whole new world. That is why the Americas, North and South, are named after the Latin version of Amerigo’s first name: Americus.”
Yep. Storm could be boring even in the middle of a chase scene.
Suddenly, Dad was in our earpieces too. “Hang on, Bick and Beck. Tommy and I borrowed a pair of Vespas.”
“How’d you get out of the chains?” I just had to know.
“Simple trick I learned by studying the escape artistry of one Harry Houdini,” said Dad matter-of-factly. “I’ll teach you some day. After we recover this Egyptian treasure!”
In case you haven’t figured it out, both our parents are supersmart and have wicked mad skills.
“Here comes Mom!” said Beck. She had lifted up the back flap on the bad guys’ getaway truck.
This was about to get interesting. Fast.
Hey, with us Kidds, things usually do!
The musclemen driving the fake olive-oil truck must’ve realized Mom was on their tail.
All of a sudden, we were making incredibly sharp twists and turns, winding all over Florence. I pulled up the side tarp and saw the terra-cotta brick dome of the cathedral. I also saw a bunch of other orange-brown clay roofs whoosh past. The skyline of Florence made me remember how ancient this city is—more than two thousand years old!
But no matter how many side streets and alleys the bad guys darted down, they couldn’t shake Mom, the cops, or the Carabinieri a Firenze—the military police of Florence.
With our iPhones stuffed in our back pockets, Beck and I had become human tracking devices!
“Attenzione!” shouted the guy in the passenger seat. “Pazzo americano!”
Suddenly, the metal floor of the truck bed started to sizzle and spark with zizzing jolts of vibrating voltage. Beck and I shuddered some.
The driver shrieked like he’d just stuck his finger into an electric outlet. Our fake olive-oil truck skidded sideways and came to an abrupt stop.
Beck and I both shook our heads. Our fizzy brains felt frazzled but we were fine. Beck flipped up the canvas at the rear of the truck and hopped out.
“Cool,” she said.
I hopped out behind her. Somehow, our olive-oil truck had ended up parked in the middle of an outdoor art gallery.
“It’s the courtyard of the Uffizi,” said Beck. “One of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world.”
“An appropriate resting spot for the pharaoh’s sarcophagus,” said Dad, climbing off his motor scooter while the police hauled the two no-neck goons out of the front seat of the truck.
“Tomorrow,” said Mom as she and Storm emerged from their chase van, “this priceless relic will complete its journey home to its rightful owners in Cairo.”
“And we’ll start our well-earned family vacation,” added Dad. “After I have a few words with those two.” He nodded toward the art thieves.
“Hope we didn’t fry you guys too bad,” said Tommy, tucking his Taser back into its holster.
Yep. Tommy and Dad had basically stun-gunned the truck. That’s why the metal had sizzled like that. It was also why my hair was sticking straight up.
I’m not vain or anything, but even I knew this wasn’t a good look for me.
The Egyptian ambassador to Italy helicoptered from Rome to Florence to take charge of returning the priceless antiquities to their proper home.
“We cannot thank you enough, Dr. and Mrs. Kidd,” said the Egyptian ambassador.
“You’re very welcome,” said Mom.
“We sort of helped,” added Tommy with a dimpled grin, probably because the ambassador had brought along his teenage daughter. Tommy was wiggling his eyebrows the way he always does whenever there is a pretty girl within fifteen feet. Make that one hundred feet.
“Then I thank you as well, young Thomas Kidd,” said the ambassador.
“As do I, Thomas,” said his daughter.
“Please—call me Tommy. Or Tom. Just make sure you call me.” He jiggled his hand near his ear like it was a phone.
Dad cleared his throat. “Thomas?”
Tommy took the hint and put his hand down, but not without a wink at the girl.
The ambassador ste
“Well, Farid, now that you mention it,” said Dad, “there is one thing.”
“We’d very much like to talk to the two gentlemen who were attempting to smuggle your treasures through Italy. I suspect they are both pawns in a much bigger chess game and conspiracy. But these two pawns might be able to lead us to the kings and queens.”
“And those little horsey pieces too,” said Tommy. “Those are my favorite.”
The ambassador’s daughter giggled. Storm rolled her eyes. Beck and I tried not to barf.
“Let me make a few phone calls,” said the ambassador. “Arrange an interview between you and these two, as you say, pawns.”
One hour later, me, Beck, Storm, Tommy, and Mom were sitting behind a one-way mirror watching Dad interview the two handcuffed art thieves.
“Do you work for the international art thief Dionysus Streckting?” asked Dad. “If so, you should know that my children recently put him out of business.”
It’s true. Streckting was a major criminal in the stolen-art world. We’d nailed him in Berlin while Dad was busy rescuing Mom in Cyprus.
But instead of being impressed, the two goons laughed.
“Streckting is nothing,” said one.
“We treat him with fishes in his face,” said the other.
“That means they disrespect Streckting,” said Storm, who had memorized all sorts of obscure Italian expressions on the flight to Florence.
The first goon’s smile widened. His teeth (the ones he still had) looked like they were dripping black tar. “I feel sorry for you, Professor Dr. Kidd. You have no idea who or what you are dealing with.”
That might’ve been true. But I had a feeling we were about to find out.