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Call it instinct, intuition, or just plain street smarts–whatever it was sent a tingle down Murphy's spine. The clicking noise caused him to leap off the seat of the roller-coaster car as fast as his six-foot-three-inch frame would allow. He sailed over the back, clutching the seat with both hands. As his feet landed on the bumper that ran around the car, he hunkered down and held his breath.
It was not a moment too soon. A rush of wind tousled his hair as two eighty-pound blocks of cement smashed into the seat where he had just been sitting.
Another millisecond and I would have been dead, he thought. How do I keep getting into things like this?
It was one of those days when everything inside of Murphy said Don't go to work. It was too beautiful a day to be inside a classroom teaching biblical archaeology. As he reluctantly gathered his papers and stuffed them into his briefcase, the words of Mark Twain echoed in his mind: Do something every day that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
Murphy never tired of the scenic drive to school and the campus of Preston University. There was something deeply attractive about the lush greenery of the South and the beauty of the magnolia blossoms. Parking his car in the teachers' lot, he meandered up the tree-lined walkway toward his office near the Memorial Lecture Hall. The smell of jasmine in the air filled his senses.
Students were sitting under the trees. Some were studying, but most were just talking with their friends. One group tossed a Frisbee back and forth. Murphy recalled his days as a student. Life was so much simpler then. They don't even realize how great these years are.
The unbidden image of Laura swept across his mind, the moments of joy and laughter they had shared during their marriage. Those happy years before she had been murdered by Talon. The pain tore at his insides, and a sigh escaped his lips. He shook the memories away, unwilling to let the grief overwhelm him.
He reached his office, opened the door, and groaned. His desk was stacked high with student test papers and book reports that needed to be reviewed. I think I'll delegate those to Shari. She'll hate me, but isn't that what assistants are for? Doing all the jobs you don't like?
Shari had been in the laboratory for almost an hour. She was peering through a microscope at an envelope when Murphy entered.
"I know, I know. You're wondering what I'm doing here so early."
Murphy smiled a Cheshire cat grin as he looked at Shari. Her very light complexion and sparkling green eyes contrasted her black hair. The ponytails coming out from each side of her head were hanging down, almost covering the microscope. She had on her favorite white lab coat.
"I know you love it here," he said. "Maybe I should move in a bed and then you won't have to go home at night."
She looked up at him and wrinkled her nose. "Like you don't get involved in your work!"
"Who, me?" Murphy set his briefcase down. "What are you looking at?"
Shari sat up with a guilty look on her face. "Oh, just something that came in the mail for you."
"For me? Why are you looking at my mail through a microscope?"
She smiled, with a twinkle in her eye. "I'm just trying to protect you."
"Protect me from what?"
"From what I think might be inside."
"This all sounds very mysterious. What are you talking about?"
"I think it's a letter from your admirer," she said with a smirk.
"Let me guess. Does my admirer's name start with an M?"
"Not bad, Doc, for so early in the morning."
Shari handed the letter to Murphy. "I was comparing this handwriting with some of the other letters you've received from your deranged admirer. They're the same."
Murphy held the envelope up to the light and saw what looked like a three-by-five card inside.
"So why don't you open it?"
Murphy smiled. Shari was forever curious about anything that might be mysterious. He opened the envelope, took out the card, and began to read.
Row, row, row your boat gently around the lake
Walk and talk and have a piece of cake
Ride, ride, ride the trolley
Be sure to stop and visit Molly
Dance, dance, dance the choo-choo
Visit the zoo and casino too
Round, round, round you go
Don't be depressed by the big tornado
Search, search, search and find
Be sure not to lose your mind
Seek, seek, seek, like a mouse
You may even find a fun house
"So much for poetry!" said Shari. "What in the world do you think he means? Maybe he's finally lost it."
"Well, Methuselah is strange, eccentric, even sadistic . . . but he's not crazy. His clues and riddles have led us to many archaeological finds in the past." Murphy stroked his chin, lost in thought. "He must have some new trophy for us to search for."
"Can you make heads or tails of this one?"
Murphy ran his fingers through his brown hair and paced around the room. Shari just smiled and watched her boss. She knew it was best not to disturb him once the mental wheels were in motion.
Murphy went to his computer and got on the Internet. Shari stepped behind him and watched dubiously as he typed in the words "Amusement Parks." After another fifteen minutes of searching, he turned to her.
"I think I may have the answer to the riddle."
"Well, pray tell, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Don't keep me in suspense."
"The first clue for me was the word 'trolley.' At the turn of the century, one of the main modes of transportation in larger cities was the electrical trolley line."
"So? What does that have to do with the rest of the riddle?"
"Hang on to your ponytails. It says here: Electrical companies in the early 1900s charged the trolley companies a straight fee for the use of electricity. Regardless of the number of people that rode the trolley, the electrical fee was the same. Owners of the trolleys tried to devise a way to get more customers to ride. The plan they settled on was to build amusement parks at the end of the trolley lines. This would encourage more travel and generate more revenue. Not a bad idea, huh?"
"I think maybe you're off your trolley this time."
"Cute, Shari. Just hear me out. The phrase 'visit Molly' is the key to the riddle. In 1910, Lakewood Amusement Park was built at the end of the trolley line in Charlotte, North Carolina. At that time it was three miles west of the city. Its design was similar to that of Coney Island and it became one of the most attractive parks in the South."
"How do you know all of this?"
"Who is Genevieve Murphy?"
"My grandmother. She used to live in Charlotte and I would visit her in the summers. She would tell me stories about growing up in the South. One of her stories was about a trolley park with a lake. I remember her talking about riding on a roller coaster. She loved it. She would ride it two or three times each time she visited the park."
"Go on, I'm still listening."
"Lakewood Park had a lake with rowboats–Row, row, row your boat gently around the lake. Walk and talk and have a piece of cake. The lake had a walkway around it with concession stands. They also had a half-mile-long roller coaster formerly called the Scenic Railway. Its nickname was Molly's Madness. My grandmother sometimes referred to it as 'riding old Molly.' The park also had a merry-go-round that could seat a hundred people. They had a shooting range. They had a petting zoo. They had a dance hall that was over part of the lake, and they had a casino. All of those attractions tie in with Methuselah's riddle."
"What about being depressed by the big tornado?"
"I think that's the clincher, Shari. In 1933, the Great Depression bankrupted Lakewood Park. People didn't have money to spend on rides and games. In 1936, a large tornado hit the area and trashed the park. The heavy rains that followed washed out the dam and caused the lake to overflow. Repairs were never made, and the park closed for good."
"Bummer. Is there anything remaining from the original park today?"
"No. I believe they built over that area years ago. There is one thing, however. There were rumors that the owners of the park were in the process of constructing an underground amusement area in the form of a fun house. It was supposed to have rolling barrels, slides, roller bridges, a human roulette wheel, a maze of mirrors, and a ride called the Tunnel of Fear."
"And all of that was going to be built underground?"
"That was the rumor. Maybe they did build it but didn't open it to the public. Maybe that's what the phrase Seek, seek, seek like a mouse–you may even find a fun house means. Methuselah is telling me to look for something. Probably old building records that date back to the 1930s. The fun house may still be there somewhere underground in Charlotte."
Shari recognized the glint in Murphy's eye. "You're not really going to try and find out, are you? Need I remind you that Methuselah has tried to kill you on a number of occasions?!"
"I know, I know. But his clues have helped us find the golden head of Nebuchadnezzar, Noah's Ark, and the famous Handwriting on the Wall. I'm curious as to what new archaeological find he might lead us to."
"That's just the problem. You're too curious."
She might as well have been talking to the wall. His mind was already made up.
Murphy's alarm sounded at 5:00 a.m. He moaned a little and shut it off.
Well, time for a new adventure.
He wanted to get up early enough to have breakfast and make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Raleigh to Charlotte. He had called the day he received Methuselah's riddle and found out that the Hall of Records opened at nine in the morning.
No telling what the old coot has in store for me, he thought. I'd better be prepared.
Murphy loaded his backpack with water, a knife, a hatchet, a first-aid kit, a compass, some rope, and a few other items. He looked around the room trying to think of anything else he should bring along.
Laser, he thought.
He went to the closet and pulled out a black, five-foot-long by one-foot-wide, impact-resistant case that contained Laser. He opened the case and smiled. His hand glided across the laminated carbon-fiber-compound bow. Instinctively he checked the draw system of cables and eccentric pulleys mounted at the limb tips. They gave him the power to shoot an arrow, as straight as a laser, at up to 330 feet per second.
This may come in handy. Who knows what Methuselah is up to this time?
Ever since Murphy was a teenager, he'd been interested in archery. It was a precise discipline and he had become a serious bow marksman. His perfectly aimed arrows would shoot like tiny guided missiles at their target. Laser had helped him on more than one occasion–even against one of Talon's falcons in the Pyramid of the Winds.
A dozen arrows, he thought. That should be enough.
The trip to Charlotte gave Murphy time to think. He cringed as he remembered how Methuselah pitted him against a lion in the warehouse building in Raleigh. He still had the scar on his shoulder as a reminder. Then there was the Cave of the Waters, where he'd almost drowned trying to save the two German shepherd puppies. And the time when Methuselah cut the cable he was walking on over the Royal Gorge in Colorado. Oh, yeah, and the rattlesnakes that dropped on him in the Reed Gold Mine.
Methuselah is one very strange man, he thought. He must sit awake nights dreaming up these traps for me. And I just keep playing the game his way, risking my life to try to solve his riddles. So who's the crazy one?
Murphy stopped first at the main library. He spent an hour looking through old newspaper clippings from the Charlotte Gazette. He was about to quit when he saw a small article dated April 12, 1929.
TUNNEL OF FEAR
Jesse P. East and Roland Kalance, owners of the Lakewood Park and Trolley Company, have planned a new attraction at their park. It is to be called the Tunnel of Fear. It will be a ride only for the brave of heart. It will be part of a new underground fun house. Construction will begin in September and should take no longer than a year and a half to complete. This reporter has been told that the construction cost may mount to an astounding $53,000.
Murphy took a deep breath. Well, Methuselah said to "Search, search, search and find."
Murphy spent the next four hours in the county Hall of Records, mostly working his way through the endless red tape and the frustration of government bureaucracy. He had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act with a number of different people before he finally got to look at some plans.
He gradually realized that the names of streets on the old maps were not the same as the current ones. He asked one of the clerks to assist him.
"Mr. Murphy, as far as I can tell, Lakewood Park used to be located between what is now called Lakeview Street and Norwood Drive to the north, Parkway Avenue to the east, and Parkside Drive to the south."
"Do you have any idea what is now in that area?" asked Murphy.
"Well, my map indicates an electrical substation and what looks to be about ten warehouse units where the lake was. They are north of Parkside Drive. There are now four large warehouse buildings south of Parkside. They would have been outside of the lake."
Murphy smiled. "I get the impression from these old building plans that the fun house that Mr. East and Mr. Kalance were supposed to build would be located under one of those new warehouses. Right?"
The clerk examined the 1929 plans. "I think you may be correct. Look over here on the west side of the fun house. It looks like a shaft was to have been dug into the ground. If they did build it, that's how the workers got in and out while they were digging out the area. It was to become the entrance from the casino down to the fun house."
"Do you have any idea if they ever completed the project?"
"That was about sixty-five years ago. I wasn't even born yet," said the clerk as he sifted through some old and yellowing papers.
"Here's a note from one of the inspectors, a Mr. Fritz Schuler. He indicates that most of the project was completed. All they had to get was a final inspection, but it was put off due to insufficient funds to complete the project."
Murphy smiled to himself.
"That seems to be all the information we have. I hope this has been helpful to you, Mr. Murphy."
"Yes, you've been a great help. Thank you for your time and patience."
From the Hardcover edition.