His dad nodded. “There’s something I didn’t tell you last night. I, uh, saw you talking to the little man you called Rutger. I saw for myself he was real. And the whole thing about those gnats. I can’t get that out of my mind. Then there’s the letter from Alaska. I know you don’t know anyone up there.” He shook his head. “It’s a lot of evidence, son. A lot.”

“So you—”

His dad held up a hand, cutting off Tick. “But that’s not why I’m convinced.”

“It’s not?”

“No.” His dad leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Tick, I’ve known you for thirteen years, and I can’t think of a time when you’ve ever lied to me. You’re too smart to lie, too good of a person. I trust you, and as I looked into your eyes as you told me this crazy story, I knew it was true. Now, I wanted some time to think about it and such, but I knew.”

Tick wanted to say something cheesy and profound, but all that came out was, “Cool.”

His dad laughed. “Yeah, cool. I can feel it deep down that this is important and that you were chosen to help because you’re a special kid. There’s always been something almost magical about you, Tick, and I think I knew that someday your life would take a turn for the unique. We’ve never really talked about it, but I’ve always felt like you had a guardian angel or some kind of special gift. These letters and clues and all this weird stuff has to be related somehow.”

Tick didn’t really know what his dad was talking about, and didn’t care—he was too excited about finally having someone nearby who knew what was going on. “So you’ll help me figure it out?”

“Now, maybe I can help a little here and there with the riddles but”—he pointed a finger at Tick—“you better believe I’m going to be the toughest bodyguard anyone’s ever had. All this dangerous stuff scares me too, you know?” He reached out and gave his patented bear hug, then leaned back. “So where do we go from here?”

Tick shrugged. “I guess we just keep getting the clues and hope we can figure everything out by May sixth.”

His dad scratched his chin, deep in thought. “Yeah . . .” He seemed doubtful or troubled.


“I was thinking maybe this M.G. guy expects you to be a little more proactive. You know, dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on.”

“Dad, I can tell you’re thinking really hard ’cause it looks like you might bust a vein.”

His dad ignored the joke. “You have two weeks off from school for Christmas, right?”


“And I have plenty of vacation time . . .” He paused. “But what would we do about your mom? I don’t want her involved in this. She’d worry herself to the deathbed quicker than she can make a batch of peanut-butter cookies.”

“Dad, what are you talking about?”

His dad’s eyes focused on Tick. “I think we should do a little investigating.”


“Yeah.” He reached out and squeezed Tick’s shoulder. “In Alaska.”

By the next evening, Edgar had it all arranged, in no small part due to his clever and cunning mind, he kept telling himself. After using the Internet to discover that Macadamia, Alaska, was only three hours’ drive from where his Aunt Mabel lived in Anchorage, everything fell into place. Edgar hadn’t seen his aunt in years, and his mother had told him awhile back that Mabel’s health wasn’t doing so well. She’d stayed in Alaska even after her fisherman husband died over a decade ago, insisting that her failing heart, hemorrhoids, and severely bunion-infested feet would make a move impossible.

The plan was set, the tickets purchased, the rental car reserved.

In ten days, just after Christmas, Edgar and Tick would fly to Anchorage, Alaska, for a three-day visit with Aunt Mabel.

Lorena had grilled Edgar on how crazy it sounded to go on vacation on such short notice, but Edgar played it cool, claiming he’d been thinking about his aunt ever since Tick had gotten the letter from Alaska. And the winter break gave them the perfect opportunity.

He also used the excuse that because the tickets were expensive, only two people could afford to go. Plus Tick had been a baby the last time he had seen his great-aunt, so he didn’t know her at all. Kayla was too young to appreciate the trip, and Lorena and Lisa seemed more than pleased to not have to go to a bitterly cold land of ice and snow in the middle of winter when the sun would only peek above the horizon for a couple of hours a day. Finally, Edgar pulled out all the stops, asking Lorena if she really was in the mood to hear Mabel tell her the fifty top things she’d done wrong in her life.

Lorena kissed Edgar and told him to have a good time.

When Edgar told the news to his aunt over the phone, she almost blew up his left eardrum with her shrieks of excitement. Of course, she soon settled down and told him to be sure and bring lots of warm clothes, to remember his toothbrush, to have earmuffs for baby Atticus, and about one hundred other pieces of advice.

All in all, the plan fell into place quite nicely.

Edgar only hoped that once they got to Alaska, Mabel would quit talking long enough to allow them to investigate the town of Macadamia.

Someone had sent that first letter.

And Edgar meant to find out who.


An Odd Christmas Present

Tick had felt so relieved that his dad believed his story and wanted to help, the whole Alaska expedition didn’t really hit him until the next day when his dad told him he’d bought airline tickets. His dad seemed to think they could find out who mailed the original letter and get more information from him or her. Tick thought a trip to Alaska seemed plenty exciting all by itself, and he could barely stand having to wait ten more days.

Every day of Christmas vacation, Tick and Sofia exchanged e-mails, finally getting into a consistent groove of answering questions and learning more about each other. Tick could tell Sofia was feisty and confident—not someone to mess with unless you wanted a nice kick to the shin, or worse. She was also very smart, and Tick rarely noticed a language barrier. He felt like they were similar in many ways and he found himself liking her very much. They even played chess online, though it took almost a week to finish one game because of the time difference.

Sofia was the first to figure out the last piece of the fourth clue—the first letter of the special place. At first, Tick worried they were violating some rule by helping each other with the clues, but Sofia pointed out that none of the letters said they couldn’t. In her opinion, the guy in charge should be impressed they’d had the initiative to seek out others and collaborate.