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Mariko Takashi and the Case of the Living Dinosaur

Year 1, Book 3

Blast from the past.

Alvaro Jameson spends a day off from high school to visit his local natural history museum. During his tour, he discovers that a fossilized dinosaur egg has gone missing. He fears that a magic user is stealing artifacts, so he calls in his high school’s Witch Mariko Takashi, his partner in solving supernatural crimes. When the museum gets locked down, Alvaro and Mariko uncover a plot that a reanimation Witch is bringing back to life prehistoric creatures. Will the two survive an onslaught of dangerous monsters and save their city?

 

You can order this book on Amazon.com as a trade paperback and a Kindle ebook, on Barnes & Noble as a trade paperback, or through virtually any North American retailer by using the ISBN 978-0999231128.

Field Trip (Sample Chapter)

Alvaro Jameson pressed the camera icon on his cell phone’s screen, and his smiling visage reflected back. He took a selfie standing in front of a giant copper sculpture of a dinosaur femur, turned green from years of oxidation. He made sure to get enough of the front of the King Memorial Natural History Museum behind the art, as its brick and steel exterior was a marvel of modern architecture.

Hughes High School, where Alvaro was only a freshman, was closed today due to a lack of water at the facility. Today was also a discounted day for kids through grade twelve, so Alvaro ventured across town on public buses to arrive at the museum. This week was the only week that the touring exhibit of Charles Lyell’s original writings would be in his city.

Alvaro wanted to see the nineteenth-century’s geology texts for himself. Lyell popularized the science of uniformitarianism, the concept that geological processes happen at the same rate throughout time. He had published many works regarding the principles of the Earth and its history. Like all greats from centuries ago, not all of their ideas turned out to be completely valid, but they were the giants upon whose shoulders many scientists later stood.

Alvaro also had an extra credit assignment from his biology class that could be completed this semester by visiting the museum and answering questions related to the permanent anthropology exhibits. Today was an excellent day for him.

He posted his selfie to his social media accounts with the caption, “DIG THIS!” Wearing a smug smirk, he locked his phone’s screen and placed it back into the clear messenger bag hanging from his shoulder. The museum had bag restrictions, only transparent containers below a certain size could be carried around.

He got in line behind a class of fifth graders from Poe Charter Elementary School, as their matching red shirts said in white block lettering. Ahead of them was another group, again with matching shirts–blue this time–who was picking up their admission wristbands and getting their tour guide.

Alvaro’s phone vibrated at his side. He fished it out of the messenger bag and unlocked the screen.

His friend Matias Gonzalez had posted a reply to his image, “LAME!” The tiny avatar that accompanied the post, to show off who had made it on the network, had Matias in his basketball uniform. He had not chosen a more recent photo even though the season had ended.

It also was a reminder of Alvaro’s previous paranormal case, when two changelings had infiltrated his school’s basketball team to find the magical portal linking Earth to the monster realm from where the changelings came.

Alvaro returned his attention to his phone, then typed a simple reply, “J?” This was his shorthand for the word “jealous.”

Within seconds, he could see that one of his friends was replying to his comment. He waited a few seconds, then the emoji of a thumb’s down showed.

“Don’t you have some sportball thing to do?” Alvaro replied.

Another few moments passed. The line of students moved up. Alvaro stowed his phone in his messenger bag and took out his wallet to pay for his entrance fee. The young man, college-aged, pale, and with light brown hair and eyes, attached the paper wristband to Alvaro’s right wrist. With a small device, the cashier then scanned the QR code encased within the T. rex skull drawing with the museum’s logo beneath.

Alvaro’s phone vibrated the bag against his hip again. He pulled the device out and unlocked it. The new post came up right away. Matias had replied, “Nah, out with your girlfriend with the blue hair. XOXO”

Alvaro accidentally witnessed Mariko Takashi, his high school’s protection Witch, using magic to stop a gremlin invasion. She was punished for allowing a normal human, someone the magic users of the world called Null for their lack of attunement, to witness magic and monsters. Her father, a powerful wizard himself, stripped her of almost all of her magical powers until she could prove to be responsible again. She had to partner up with Alvaro to solve any supernatural crimes and monster attacks at their school and surrounding area.

Mariko resented being with him as she saw Alvaro as an awkward nerd, especially when he fawned over the idea of magic and otherworldly creatures. When there were no cases to solve, she avoided him at all costs.

Alvaro typed a reply, “If you mean Mariko, I haven’t seen her in over two months. She’s not my girlfriend.” He stowed his phone and looked over at the gift shop, waiting for the class in front of him to finish getting their introductory talk from their young tour guide. He rushed over to the entrance of the store, past the display of trade paperbacks of famous dinosaur books like The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

Being the week of Valentine’s Day, there was also a display of special greeting cards. Alvaro searched through the inventory, finding the ones marked for Mother, and picked a few out to read. One of them had a painting of the Grand Canyon and a script-typeface message inside remarking how the recipient’s wonder surpassed even that of the natural monument.

He chose this one to purchase, just as his phone vibrated against his side. With the card and envelope in his left hand, he withdrew his cell phone and unlocked it with his right.

Matias had replied to his last comment with, “Cuz she’s been with me!”

Alvaro groaned and replaced his phone in his messenger bag. He did not want to bother with Matias trying to get under his skin. Just as he was about to checkout, he spotted a reflective illustration on a card in his peripheral vision.

The drawn Tyrannosaurus rex was cartoonish and trying to look apologetic, with short arms unable to reach its face. The text hanging above its head read, “Some Rex Can’t Be Fixed,” and on the inside, “Happy Valentine’s Day from Your Favorite Klutz.”

Alvaro chuckled to himself. It was perfect to give to Mariko. She constantly berated him for being clumsy and nerdy, but after their last case he felt that they were closer to becoming friends.

He went to the cashier and paid for his items, then set them between papers in his messenger bag. Strolling out to the foyer, he saw that the class from Poe Charter was just queuing to go on a tour. He groaned and took a seat on a wooden bench near the entrance to the gift shop.

From his past experience at the museum, Alvaro knew that trying to enjoy the exhibits while grade school kids were gathered around was infuriating. They would talk over the tour guide, would run around and bump into him, and would stand in his way when he was viewing something. While he waited for the class to pass through, he took out the cards he just purchased and wrote notes in each and signed them. For Mariko’s card, he wrote a silly joke and signed his name in katakana. Since she had been born in Japan and her first language was Japanese, she would be able to read the symbols.

The last student disappeared through the hall leading to the main foyer of the museum. Alvaro put the cards into their respective envelopes and slipped them back into his messenger bag. He retrieved his pass and walked to the podium at the entrance to the exhibits.

The young female volunteer manning the hall punched a bone-shaped hole at the bottom of Alvaro’s pass. He thanked the museum worker, stowed the pass into his bag and headed inside.

His sneakers squeaked with each step on the wood flooring, echoing off the brick walls leading him into the heart of the museum. Adorning each side of the ten-foot-wide hall were the names and organizations for those who donated money to the original construction of the museum and its expansions and permanent exhibits. Alvaro ignored these, keeping his head forward for the forty feet until the passage opened into the expansive foyer.

There Tracy stood, towering over him by more than fifteen feet. She was situated in a lunging pose. Her muzzle wide open with pointed teeth each longer than Alvaro’s fingers. Stretching out far behind her, balancing her forward stance, was a tail that was almost as long as the rest of her body. One massive, clawed foot was in the air, the other planted on a marble pedestal, its toes wide apart, while her tiny arms sliced at the air.

And those empty eye sockets...

Alvaro swore that she was staring at him.

Through him.

But she was a cast skeleton of a T. rex who died around sixty-seven million years ago and her bones had mineralized. The fossil was dug up decades ago and studied, recast, and displayed in museums throughout the world. Alvaro pulled out his phone and took photos of the towering giant, imagining how the theropod would have been when it was roaming the earth as the apex predator of its time.

Many of the younger students had gathered around the base of the dinosaur, while a tour guide was describing the probable life the tyrannosaur had. Some of the students ran about, some screamed, and their chaperones tried their best to corral the kids to little avail.

Alvaro walked around the round foyer, almost two hundred feet in diameter. He viewed the smaller displays between the skeleton and the curved walls, trying to keep some distance between himself and the students. One of the kids raced away from the group and bumped into his bag. Alvaro sighed and straightened the strap over his shoulder.

A display of various shark teeth, from a couple of inches long to almost a foot tall, demonstrated the natural history of these oceanic killers. Arranged in semicircle rows, much like how they would have been found in the jaws of the creatures who grew them, the fangs had tiny cards in front of each with its corresponding species name. These teeth were from a personal collection which had been donated to the museum.

Another display had a slab of stone with multiple trilobite fossils embedded in it. The flat, broad exoskeletons–with rib-like lines down its length–of these ancient crustaceans left impressions in soft seabeds until the ground hardened to retain the shape of their forms. The bedrock had millions of years of history in its layers, with several of these creatures’ impressions overlaying each other. Just like Tracy, this fossil was a recast of a famous excavated find.

The next display was of a tiny dinosaur’s tracks, a bird-like gait in a line on the fossilized slab. There was a photo included inside the glass of a microscope image showing the impressions that the scales of the theropod made in the mud before it hardened. This, too, was a recast.

Alvaro noticed, as he continued around the outside, that much of their exhibits were casts and not original fossils. He knew that these cost the museum less, and did little to distract from what the fossils were intending to show. He still wished that he could see more original fossils in his hometown.

The kids, led by their tour guide, were getting closer to his position, so Alvaro tried to keep ahead of them. He made it to a display showcasing a clutch of four eggs each almost as large as Alvaro’s head, browned from their fossilization and protective resin. They were arranged around in a circle, almost touching near the center. He took a photo of the exhibit before he had to move out of the way of the kids racing forward into his path.

Alvaro decided not to stay around the group and ventured down the nearest passage away from the foyer. He had hoped that the guide would lead the group through the visiting exhibit first, keeping them occupied for at least half an hour in the opposite wing of the museum.

The hall that he traveled down led to the permanent exhibits. On his right was the archaeological history of early southeast Asian peoples. Beyond that, past the outward bow of the hall leading to the cafeteria at the rear of the museum, was the human evolution exhibit and gallery of Neolithic art.

He waited for a minute at the first display in the Asian exhibit, a look at some of the remaining items from the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro. To his surprise, the students were right behind him. He excused himself while parting the sea of inattentive students, heading back to the foyer.

He heard commotion off to the side of the circular room. A female voice was calling for security, and Alvaro stopped in his tracks. He checked himself over to make sure he did not accidentally catch an artifact on his clothes or bag.

He saw two guards burst out of a security door across the foyer. Alvaro walked toward Tracy and watched the racing men cross the floor. They gathered around an older woman in a business suit who stood next to the display of dinosaur eggs. They were joined by a young man in a museum shirt and khaki slacks, all four looking into the glass protecting the exhibit.

Alvaro craned his neck to try to see what they were looking at. No glass was broken that he could see, nothing strewn on the floor. But there was something faint, a dark violet aura flowing outward at the front of the display. He lowered his glasses down his nose and the purple glow disappeared.

The eyeglasses that he wore had a rare isotope of chromium in the glass of its lenses. On his first day of high school, he saw a glow around a red-headed Mariko Takashi who wandered into his classroom. Alvaro followed her after the period had ended until he happened upon the school’s old bomb shelter where she was walking inside. Underground, he saw while using those glasses spiraling white flames, a devilish gremlin, and Mariko trying to trap the creature with her magic. The gremlins were all returned to the realm of monsters, a world ethereally connected to our own. After the case was over, Mariko’s father, a powerful wizard himself, sent Alvaro to an optometrist who worked with Wizards to get better quality glasses with the same isotope in the lenses.

Now two supernatural cases in, he had yet to see anything that caused a violet aura, not even the black magic of the Witch Jimmy Worth, a thorn in both Alvaro and Mariko’s sides at their high school.

Alvaro got closer, trying to see why the staff was inspecting the case. He opened the camera app on his phone, held it up and angled it to take a shot over the shoulders of the guards. He snapped the photo and caught the attention of a member of security.

“You’re going to have to stay back,” the thirty-something male guard said, trying to block Alvaro’s view. One of the staff, the lady whose voice matched the one who called for assistance, stepped up to usher Alvaro out of the way. A maintenance man, dressed in brown with black leather boots, carried a folded screen out of the nearby “Employees Only” double doors. Another staffer helped him set the portable wall up to block off people gawking at the activity.

Alvaro stepped away and went down the hall toward the geology and Lyell exhibits. He scrolled through the contacts on his phone and clicked on Mariko’s name. He leaned his shoulder against the wall and put the phone to his ear.

After two rings, the deep voice of Mariko’s adopted father, Mr. Towers, answered. Alvaro asked for Mariko then was put on hold. After a minute Mariko picked up the phone.

“What is it now?” she asked.

“I think something happened here at King Museum. I don’t know what I was looking at.”

“Bones, right?”

“Well, eggs. Dinosaur eggs.” Alvaro realized after he said this that Mariko was being sarcastic.

“Then why are you calling me?”

“The staff here is in a frenzy trying to keep people away from the display. I caught a glimpse of it and saw a purple circle on the glass.”

“Okay, purple. That’s good of you, Alvaro.”

“What does it mean? What magic causes purple auras?”

Mariko paused. “You saw a purple aura?”

“Yes. I don’t think that the staff here can see it.”

“No, they wouldn’t.” Another pause. “It’s probably nothing, Alvaro. Maybe someone just toying around with powers while they’re bored at the museum.”

“So what do I do now?”

Mariko laughed. “Like I care. Just go see the exhibits and stop bothering me.”

Alvaro lowered his phone, and switched over to his photos app. He enlarged the last picture he took. Then he realized what the concern was about.

He put the phone back to his ear. “Mariko, would the purple magic be able to teleport one of the eggs out of the display case?”

Mariko paused again. “Okay, Alvaro, this means a lot to you. I’m going to contact someone at the museum. Go back out to that main dome area–”

“The foyer?” Alvaro said, interrupting her.

“Okay, the foyer. Go back out there. Someone will meet up with you. Got it?”

“Mariko, should I be worried?”

“I don’t care. Just go wait. It’s probably nothing.”

She hung up the phone. Alvaro looked at the screen in his hand. The photo app came up, redisplaying the image of the three eggs, with the clear space where the fourth once sat.

He wondered why a magic user would want to teleport a single fossilized dinosaur egg.