Chapter 1

Break In


Books and paper lay about the floor like a tornado blasted through the living room. Mom was on the sofa, trembling. Dad stood beside her with a hand on her shoulder. Police officers walked in and out of the room, taking notes, checking for fingerprints.

If this were a break-in, would’ve the thieves have at least taken the TV, or the old record player, or Mom’s Russian stacking dolls on the mantle.

What had these creeps been looking for? Some of Dad’s students might’ve broke in to find answers to the latest test. Not likely, but nothing else made sense.

A pot-bellied officer slumbered over. His nametag read Parker.

“Hey,” Officer Parker said. “You alright?”


“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Martin Tramble.”

“How old are you, Martin?”

“Twelve, and two hundred and fifteen days.”

One of Officer Parker’s eyebrows arched. “That’s awfully specific.”

That’s because numbers could be trusted. And right then, all kinds of numbers flashed in my thoughts: six police officers, thirty-seven books, and fourteen steps to my bedroom.

I remember the cat attack like it was yesterday. That was when some of my fears reared their ugly head. Then the teasing came. What kind of kids teased someone with gashes up and down their arms? “Only kids with no brain,” Dad had said. That was about the time Dad presented my Rubik’s Cube as a seventh birthday present. Solving that thing had done miracles for my nerves. Then I found counting things and reading anything under the sun worked too.

“You seem older,” Officer Parker said. He scanned the ruins of the living room. “Don’t worry about this, probably just some kids playing around.”

Don’t worry about home being ravaged by strangers––strangers who might still be lurking? Officer Parker put on a little smile, but he wasn’t the least bit funny.

“Do kids usually enter a house in the middle of a school day and wreck a place and not take anything?” I said.

Something large flashed past the back window.

“Did you see that?” I pointed across the living room, through the kitchen, and the backyard.

“We have all kinds of officers out there,” he said. “You are very observant.”

If there was an Understatement Of The Year Award, then I’m nominating Officer Parker, one of Philadelphia’s finest.

Officer Parker dug into his shirt pocket and handed over a business card. “You reach out if you hear of anything. I find kids to be more observant than adults, if you know what I mean?”

“Yeah. That’s true.”

Officer Parker eyes me funny, a look I was used to.

Jared ran into the house wearing his football uniform, sweating, his hands clutching his head. He gave a brotherly nod before hurrying over to Dad to figure out what was going on.

The worst vision invaded my thoughts, sending an irritating tingle along the scars on my arms. I could see my figurines, sailing instruments, and the Rubik’s Cube were shattered and strewn around my room.

I raced past Jared, Mom, and Dad, bolted the steps, and flung open my door.

My Civil War soldiers faced off on the top shelf of my cabinet. Below that, Caesar’s tenth legion stood in formation, and down another shelf, Washington, Madison, and the other Revolutionary statues hadn’t moved an inch. My Rubik’s Cube sat on its spot on a small table beside the bed and Granddad’s replica pirate ship sailed on my desk.

As my breathing retuned to normal I did a final check of my desk and closet. Nothing had been touched.

I put Officer Parker’s card on my desk and grabbed the bronze cube. The thing was only half the size of my Rubik’s Cube but weighted ten times more. Someone must’ve spent a lifetime making the hieroglyphic-like symbols on each side. Despite scouring the library (the best place on Earth) for books related to sailing and pirates, Granddad’s old cube remained a mystery.

The cube had been just one of the treasures in the box that Dad gave me after Granddad suddenly died. Dad didn’t know anything about the cube or the other stuff, and he was too busy to be bothered. The only thing Dad did know was that us Trambles had pirate DNA from hundreds of years back, and the box of things had been passed down from generation to generation.

I set the cube inside my desk, along with my compass, magnifying glass, and an iron chest pin that was shaped like a pirate ship, with masts and all. I locked the desk and stuffed the key into my pocket.

I chill of the worst kind flittered over my skin as I thought about the thugs ransacking our house. If Mom hadn’t come home early from work the jerks might’ve taken all my treasure, or destroyed it. The thought of Mom walking in to see two massive, shadowy figures staring her down before fleeing out the back creeped me out.

I rubbed the prickly from my arm, but nothing was going to rid this anxiousness.

There was only one safe place now.