Hazel pursed her lips, as if she regretted raising the subject. “Never mind. ”
That made Leo even more curious, but he decided it might be better not to press her. He knelt and cupped a handful of white sand. “Well…one problem solved, anyway. This is lime. ”
Hazel frowned. “The whole beach?”
“Yeah. See? The granules are perfectly round. It’s not really sand. It’s calcium carbonate. ” Leo pulled a Ziploc bag from his tool belt and dug his hand into the lime.
Suddenly he froze. He remembered all the times the earth goddess Gaea had appeared to him in the ground—her sleeping face made of dust or sand or dirt. She loved to taunt him. He imagined her closed eyes and her dreaming smile swirling in the white calcium.
Walk away, little hero, Gaea said. Without you, the ship cannot be fixed.
“Leo?” Hazel asked. “You okay?”
He took a shaky breath. Gaea wasn’t here. He was just freaking himself out.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, fine. ”
He started to fill the bag.
Hazel knelt next to him and helped. “We should’ve brought a pail and shovels. ”
The idea cheered Leo up. He even smiled. “We could’ve made a sand castle. ”
“A lime castle. ”
Their eyes locked for a second too long.
Hazel looked away. “You are so much like—”
“Sammy?” Leo guessed.
She fell backward. “You know?”
“I have no idea who Sammy is. But Frank asked me if I was sure that wasn’t my name. ”
“No! Jeez. ”
“You don’t have a twin brother or…” Hazel stopped. “Is your family from New Orleans?”
“Nah. Houston. Why? Is Sammy a guy you used to know?”
“I…It’s nothing. You just look like him. ”
Leo could tell she was too embarrassed to say more. But if Hazel was a kid from the past, did that mean Sammy was from the 1940s? If so, how could Frank know the guy? And why would Hazel think Leo was Sammy, all these decades later?
They finished filling the bag in silence. Leo stuffed it in his tool belt and the bag vanished—no weight, no mass, no volume—though Leo knew it would be there as soon as he reached for it. Anything that could fit into the pockets, Leo could tote around. He loved his tool belt. He just wished the pockets were large enough for a chain saw, or maybe a bazooka.
He stood and scanned the island—bleach-white dunes, blankets of grass, and boulders encrusted with salt like frosting. “Festus said there was Celestial bronze close by, but I’m not sure where—”
“That way. ” Hazel pointed up the beach. “About five hundred yards. ”
“How do you—?”
“Precious metals,” Hazel said. “It’s a Pluto thing. ”
Leo remembered what she’d said about gold being easy. “Handy talent. Lead the way, Miss Metal Detector. ”
The sun began to set. The sky turned a bizarre mix of purple and yellow. In another reality, Leo might’ve enjoyed a walk on the beach with a pretty girl, but the farther they went, the edgier he felt. Finally Hazel turned inland.
“You sure this is a good idea?” he asked.
“We’re close,” she promised. “Come on. ”
Just over the dunes, they saw the woman.
She sat on a boulder in the middle of a grassy field. A black-and-chrome motorcycle was parked nearby, but each of the wheels had a big pie slice removed from the spokes and rim, so that they resembled Pac-Men. No way was the bike drivable in that condition.
The woman had curly black hair and a bony frame. She wore black leather biker’s pants, tall leather boots, and a bloodred leather jacket—sort of a Michael Jackson joins the Hell’s Angels look. Around her feet, the ground was littered with what looked like broken shells. She was hunched over, pulling new ones out of a sack and cracking them open. Shucking oysters? Leo wasn’t sure if there were oysters in the Great Salt Lake. He didn’t think so.
He wasn’t anxious to approach. He’d had bad experiences with strange ladies. His old babysitter, Tía Callida, had turned out to be Hera and had a nasty habit of putting him down for naps in a blazing fireplace. The earth goddess Gaea had killed his mother in a workshop fire when Leo was eight. The snow goddess Khione had tried to turn him into a frozen dairy treat in Sonoma.
But Hazel forged ahead, so he didn’t have much choice except to follow.
As they got closer, Leo noticed disturbing details. Attached to the woman’s belt was a curled whip. Her red-leather jacket had a subtle design to it—twisted branches of an apple tree populated with skeletal birds. The oysters she was shucking were actually fortune cookies.