Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Friday, February 1, 2013


rick brant rick brant rick brant rick brant rick brant rick brant



This is a Rick Brant adventure based on the  characters of the original Rick Brant series written by Peter Harkins and Hal Goodwin and published by Grosset &Dunlap. This story is meant to fit in between the books THE LOST CITY and SEA GOLD,  as if it had been written in the late 1940s.

 In this full-length thrilling novel, Rick and Scotty travel up to Hudson Bay as guests of the Canadian Wildlife Service to test Rick's new tracking collar system on the famed Hudson Bay area
polar bears. Strange events begin to plague the boys even before they leave New Jersey, and once in Canada they are shadowed at every turn by the mysterious La Mort Rouge, the inexplicable 'Red Death', resulting in an outcome so unexpected, so beyond the scope of their imaginations, that the boys must summon every last ounce of their courage and resolve to master it.
This adventure takes place during the Christmas holidays in the ferocious subzero weather of the Far North.

Final chapters coming ....

Online now:


Chapter Three: THE BIG SNOW
Chapter Four: THE RED DEATH
Chapter Thirteen: THE STORY IN THE OLD JOURNAL - in process now!
Chapter Fourteen: SECRETS OF THE RED DEATH - coming!
Chapter Fifteen: THE CALL OF THE WILD - coming!


all current chapters available at this alternate site:

a Rick Brant fanfiction adventure

Chapter Three: THE BIG SNOW
Rick Brant gazed out the window of the passenger plane at a world of whiteness. The seemingly endless forests of northern Minnesota were laden with snow and rolled on as far as the eye could see under a clear blue winter sky. Far ahead toward the north, however, that same sky was darkening threateningly, and Rick knew they were flying toward a severe winter storm that was battering central Manitoba.

He turned to Scotty, who was sitting next to him. "You can already see that blizzard up north. I hope we're able to land in Winnipeg before the storm hits the city."

The stewardess on the Canadian airliner had advised them earlier of the possibility of turbulent weather ahead.

Scotty shifted in his seat to peer out the window. "You can say that again. Otherwise we'll have to fly back to Minneapolis-St. Paul and wait it out there. That would really mess up our plans."

Rick nodded. "And even if we do land in Winnipeg, we probably won't be able to take the connecting flight up to The Pas. We may be stranded in the city."

Scotty grinned. "In The Peg," he laughed, reiterating the city's nickname they had learned from the stewardess. He tapped the page of the travel guide he was reading. "Winnipeg is a bona-fide big city and cultural center, plopped right in the middle of the Canadian prairies and filled with people of all nationalities from all over the world. And there's a huge French quarter across the Red River in St. Boniface, peopled largely by the Metis, descendants of the early French voyageurs

"We may get to see more of it than we planned," Rick said, as he watched the darkening northern skies. "Depending, of course, on how big this Big Snow really is."

They had also learned from the stewardess that blizzards were called Big Snows in Manitoba, and that sometimes they could last for days. The boys were fervently hoping that the storm would not impede their progress north and delay their arrival at Churchill on the Hudson Bay coast.

Early that morning, after a bouncy boat ride on the wind-whipped Atlantic from Spindrift Island to Whiteside Landing, Rick's dad and Hobart Zircon had driven them to Newark Airport. Arrangements were made to service the Piper Cub and store it in a hangar until the boys' return. They had arrived home late from the police headquarters in Newark the night before and hadn't got much sleep, up late finalizing preparations. Then, saying goodbye to Mrs. Brant, Barby, Dismal the dog, and the other scientists had not been easy. They hated to miss even a few days of the holiday season at home!

With their luggage and the tracking system equipment safely in the passenger plane's cargo hold, they had flown from Newark to Chicago without mishap, catching a snooze here and there and often squirming in their seats because of the bruises they had sustained the day before. In Chicago they had transferred to the Canadian plane which was now taking them to Winnipeg. From there, the plan was to transfer to a small plane manned by a bush pilot from the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources and fly north to The Pas, a small mining and lumber town in central Manitoba and gateway to the vast Hudson Bay north country. They would spend the night there and fly on to Churchill in the morning.

That is, if the Big Snow didn't ground them in Winnipeg or Minneapolis-St. Paul!

Scotty read aloud from the travel guide. "'St. Boniface is the largest French settlement in North America outside of the province of Quebec.' Some of the sites to see are the big St. Boniface Cathedral and the Louis Riel grave and home. He was the half-breed Metis leader who became 'The Father of Manitoba'."

"We'll have to check them out if we get stranded," Rick said. "But I sure dread the idea of being stuck in town riding out a blizzard."

It was a short while later when the boys and other passengers were informed that the plane had crossed the border into Canada and was now flying over southern Manitoba. A light snack was served, and Rick and Scotty had sandwiches and cokes. They had eaten a quick early lunch in Chicago during the turnover there.

"What's the weather situation in Winnipeg?" Rick asked the amiable young stewardess.

"The storm is quickly approaching the city," she answered in low tones. "So far it looks like we'll be able to land. However, if you have a connecting flight, forget it. All departures have been canceled."

Scotty gave a grim smile. "Just our luck. We're supposed to go further north. A pilot was flying down to pick us up from The Pas."

The girl in the crisp stylish uniform smiled. "You'll have to get used to Canada's bilingual nature. That's a French name, pronounced 'the paw', not 'the pass'." Then she shook her head. "And that pilot surely won't be able to fly down to Winnipeg from the north country. The Big Snow has been battering that part of the province for two days now. You'll have to remain in town until it's all over, or perhaps you can get a train north. That is, if the tracks are clear," she added, as she turned her attention to a fellow passenger.

Rick grumbled ominously. "I guess even the trains get bogged down in these parts."

Scotty pointed to a paragraph in the travel guide. "Severe blizzards can dump six to ten feet of snow on the Manitoba interior. We may be stranded here until New Years."

Rick punched Scotty's arm. "No way. Come hell or high water - or even ten feet of snow - nothing is going to stop us from getting back home to Spindrift Island for Christmas!"

But it was soon apparent that the airliner was meeting up with the bad weather, and the gray gloom that surrounded the plane as it descended to lower altitudes for its approach to the city sobered the boys considerably. Blusterous winds buffeted the craft and at times air pockets caused it to bounce along like a pebble skipping over water. Both Rick and Scotty were experienced fliers, in big planes and small, but they nevertheless fastened their seat belts along with the other passengers.

The stewardess quickly cleared away the snack trays and plates, then fastened herself into a seat at the front of the rocking cabin.

"Try to remain calm," she advised the others over her shoulder. "This is just turbulence we are experiencing as we come down from the higher altitudes. Landing has been cleared for us and all should go smoothly, although it certainly won't feel like it! We'll be in Winnipeg in about twenty minutes."

Scotty held onto the arms of his seat. "This is like riding out a typhoon in the Pacific!"

"You know," Rick gritted back, "I always feel a little safer in an airplane when I'm the person flying it."

Scotty raised his brows and smirked. "I am so glad you're not flying this one, buster. It's a little out of your league, don't you think?"

Rick affected an insulted look. "Humphh! If I were flying this kite, I'd take it back up over the clouds and scoot all the way up to The Pas. And I mean 'The Paw'! And I'd do it all blindfolded."

"I'll blindfold you, all right," Scotty jeered. "And gag you, too. We'd probably run out of fuel and crash-land in a muskeg swamp. We'd have to rent a dog sled and huskies and mush it up to Hudson Bay. They'd make us honorary Eskimos for all our trouble."

Rick digested this and a grin split his face. "Now that sounds like a great adventure. Heck of a lot more fun than what happened yesterday in New Jersey. Stick with me, pal, and you'll find some excitement."

"Tell me about it." Scotty stiffened as the plane took an especially hard knock. "Guess I sure learned that in the rocket launch contest and again last summer in Tibet. But do you really think anything out of the ordinary can happen here ... in Canada?"

Both boys burst out laughing.

"I think everything out of the ordinary can happen to us, anywhere," Rick chuckled.

Then, suddenly, he let out, "Whoa -oa -oa -oa!"

The airplane was falling straight down at an incredible speed while still maintaining its horizontal position. Several of the passengers shouted and screamed. Then, just as suddenly, there was a terrific impact, as if the plane had hit solid ground. There were more cries and shouts and a loud "Yikes!" from Scotty.

But the plane continued on its bumpy way as if nothing had happened.

The stewardess turned back to the passengers. "That was just a rough air pocket, everybody. Don't worry, everything is all right. We'll soon be home at The Peg."

She was right. A few minutes later the descending airliner shot out of the clouds into a whiter but even more interminable gloom of thick falling snow. Rick could vaguely make out some lights ahead, the big city of the Canadian plains in the thrall of the Big Snow.

"Definitely not ideal landing conditions," he muttered.

"But a whole lot better than going back to Minnesota," Scotty put in, as the plane steeped and headed down to Stevenson Airport.

The boys held on grimly, hoping for a safe landing, and when the wheels touched down smoothly on the tarmac cheers of exultation erupted from the passengers.

Rick and Scotty let out a few war whoops of their own.

"Now that's what I call delivering the goods," Rick sighed in satisfaction.

Scotty eagerly agreed. "This pilot sure knows how to earn his paycheck!"

As the plane taxied slowly to a halt, Rick looked out the window, trying to penetrate the darkness of the heavy blowing snow. But there was nothing to be seen except shadows. The stewardess unstrapped herself and, after a few encouraging words to the passengers, went to the forward cabin to confer with the pilot. When she returned a few minutes later, the passengers were unfastening their seat belts and getting together their carry-on bags.

"The airport is closed because of the storm and all flights are canceled," she told them. "Thank goodness we were able to land, but all further incoming planes have been rerouted. Of course, there are still people inside to help you, and you can check with the ticket clerks if you had connecting flights. They'll tell you when to call for updates on flight schedules. A bus will be available to transport you to the downtown hotels so you do not have to remain stranded at the airport. The storm is a severe one, but it may blow over and move east into Ontario by tomorrow noon."

Rick's brows twisted in consternation. "Looks like we'll have to hole up in town. What will we do about our equipment?"

"We'll have to store it here at the airport until we make further plans," Scotty figured. "We may have to take a train up to The Pas. Let's check inside. The Department of Natural Resources may have left us a message."

They stood to file out with the other passengers, but as the door was opened onto the portable staircase that had been rolled into place, gusts of wind and snow blew wildly into the cabin.

The stewardess grinned sheepishly. "You'll all feel much better when you are safely back at home or downtown in one of the hotels. You are all excellent fliers! And those of you who are visitors, I welcome you to wonderful Winnipeg. Unfortunately, you won't be able to see much of her until the snow stops!"

Once inside the airport building, the boys brushed snow off their caps and coats, then lined up with some of the other passengers at the ticket counters. They didn't have to wait long. The various problems of the travelers were attended to with great efficiency, and soon Rick was asking one of the clerks if a message had been left for him about his connecting flight.

"Yes, indeed," the man responded, flipping through some memos on the counter. "Here it is, to Mr. Rick Brant from the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources at The Pas. The pilot, of course, could not fly down to meet you today. There was so much snow up north that they will not be able to lift off until later tomorrow at the earliest. They suggest you try the CNR to see if any trains are running up to The Pas."

The clerk placed the memo on the counter top and jotted a phone number on it. "Here is their number. But I doubt that any trains will be going north. They'll have to clear the tracks through the lake country and up to central province where several feet of snow fell. But they do it efficiently and you'll probably be able to get a train by tomorrow noon if Winnipeg itself doesn't get totally buried."

"Thanks," Rick said. "I'll give them a call. We're transporting some equipment with us. What can we do about it until we know our next move?"

"Just let me have your cargo receipt number and we'll hold the equipment until we hear from you. If you do get a train out, we can deliver your cargo to the CNR station for you."

"Hey, that's great," Scotty beamed, as Rick took out the cargo ticket from his wallet and handed it to the clerk. "Sure makes the inconvenience a lot easier."

"I'm beginning to like Canada a whole lot already," he added a minute later as he and Rick made their way to the luggage pick-up area. "The people here seem to know exactly what to do in an emergency like this."

"Big Snows are pretty common here," Rick suggested. "Guess they've had a lot of experience."

The boys picked up their traveling bags and headed to a bank of phone booths where Rick called the Canadian National Railroad office.

"All trains north of Dauphin are canceled until track clearance is completed in the wake of the storm," he was told by the voice on the wire. "Please call back in the morning. By then we may know at what time through trains to The Pas will be departing again."

Rick hung up and related the news to Scotty. "Looks like we have to spend the night in town. We may as well take the bus downtown and get a hotel room."

Scotty nodded in resignation, but then his eyes lit up. "And how about dinner in St. Boniface? I could sure go for some of that fancy French cuisine."

"Great idea. That is, if we can get over there. Who knows? The whole town may shut down as this blizzard sets in."

But if Rick expected Winnipeg to roll up and go to sleep because of the storm, he was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. There was an unexpected amount of traffic on Ellice Avenue as the airport bus made its way downtown on the busy Saturday afternoon. There were hundreds of bundled-up pedestrians hurrying up and down the sidewalks, heads bent against the ruthless wind and blowing snow.

"Brave souls, aren't they?" Rick murmured, watching the residents go about their business despite the severe weather conditions.

Scotty furrowed his brows. "It might not keep me and you inside, but a blizzard like this at home in New Jersey would shut down the whole state."

A woman sitting in front of them laughed hardily and turned to look at the boys. "Americans! How nice to see you, boys. I live in Miami, where it never snows at all. This storm is terrifying me!"

Rick recognized her from the airliner and the line at the ticket counter in the airport. "Hello there. What brings you all the way up here from Florida at this time of year?"

"I'm visiting my aunt in Swan River for Christmas. I haven't seen her since I was a little girl. I just telephoned her from the airport and she said they had four feet of snow overnight. Just imagine! I hope to take the train up there tomorrow. By then I'll probably need a sedative!"

"We'll be on the first train north, too," Scotty told her. "All the way up to The Pas."

"That's another hundred miles past Swan River," the woman said. "You boys are certainly headed for the wilds."

Rick nodded. "You can say that again. From The Pas we're going to Churchill on Hudson Bay."

"Churchill? My gosh! Watch out for the polar bears. My aunt sent me a postcard from there a few years ago. She wrote that those big white bears come right into town."

Rick smiled to himself. It was those big white bears that had brought him and Scotty up to this frigid part of the world in the first place, and he was looking forward to trying out The Barby Bear Tracker on them. He hoped they'd be able to reach their destination without too much further delay and soon be able to commence the experiments.

The woman introduced herself to the boys as Mrs. Jane Fisher, a widow who had lost her husband in the war. She was surprised to learn that Scotty had served in the Pacific.

"You certainly don't look old enough, young man," she said to him, "but thank you for the sacrifice you have made for our country. And thank God you made it back home in one piece. I get very blue at holiday time without my husband around, so this year I've come to spend it with my aunt. I was born here in Winnipeg and lived in the North End until I was five years old. Then my folks moved to Florida and we became U.S. citizens. I vaguely remember the cold and snow and I probably lived through a couple of these Big Snows. But this is the first time I've been back to Manitoba since my childhood."

The bus had now reached the downtown area and shadowy shapes of big civic buildings, hotels, and department stores came into view. Traffic snarled and stacked up as they approached the corners of Portage and Main, the city center, and Mrs. Fisher told them that the famous corners were popularly billed as 'the windiest spot in North America'.

"And here I thought Chicago was the windy city," Scotty scoffed.

The friendly woman's eyes twinkled. "Try walking around Portage and Main on a windy day and you'll change your mind about that - so they say."

The boys did indeed have to hold onto their caps as they stepped off the bus into winds that stormed the corners with the power of freight trains. Rick lugged their bags and Scotty aided Mrs. Fisher as they hurried into the Royal Alexandra Hotel.

"Whew!" Scotty brushed snow off his coat sleeves in the elegant lobby of the Edwardian-era hotel, now gaily festooned with Christmas decorations. He grinned at Mrs. Fisher.

"How many Winnipeggers get blown away every year?" he asked in jest.

The woman responded snappily. "No one really knows for sure because they are never seen again. They blow all the way over to western Ontario and get lost in the bush!"

Rooms were secured at the front desk and the boys politely declined Mrs. Fisher's invitation to join her for dinner in the hotel dining room.

"Scotty wants to go to St. Boniface," Rick explained, "to sample the French cuisine. He's quite a connoisseur of fine foods."

"Well, good luck getting there, boys. Normally you could hike right over the bridge, but in this weather you might get blown off. Don't miss the cathedral on Tache Avenue. That's one thing I do remember from my childhood. It's lovely."

They took the elevator up to their rooms and made plans to meet with Mrs. Fisher and some of the other stranded travelers in the lobby later in the evening. Rick and Scotty's room was comfortably furnished in the old-world tradition and its windows looked out onto Main Street, the Red River, and St. Boniface beyond. But in the gloom of the blizzard hardly a thing could be seen except the dim shapes of buildings across the way.

"Who was Alexandra?" Rick asked, pulling some items out of his bag. "The woman they named this hotel after? Does it say anything about her in the travel guide?"

Scotty plopped down on one of the beds and stretched out his long frame as he paged through the booklet. "The hotel is listed in here, but it doesn't give any historical information. Hmmm, could it be one of those Russian princesses from the early part of the century - the Romanovs?"

Rick's brows knit in thought. "Queen Victoria had daughters. Maybe one of them was Alexandra. It's more likely they'd name a hotel in Canada after an English princess than a Russian one."

"Let's wager a bet on it," Scotty suggested.  "When we go out to eat, we can ask the clerk in the lobby who Alexandra was."

"Speaking of dinner," Rick said, with a forceful clearing of his throat. "You'd better get those two hundred pounds of yours off that bed and back on your feet. It may take us a while to get over to St. Boniface, and I can feel my stomach grumbling already."

Scotty grinned at the ceiling. "Mine always grumbles, day and night, day in and day out. The darn thing never seems to get enough. Only problem is, it feels great to be laying down like this. I'm still sore from yesterday and sitting cramped up in airplanes all day sure didn't help."

Rick snapped his suitcase shut. "Suit yourself. I'll go eat French food by myself."

Scotty was back on his feet in a flash. "I guess I can endure a few aches and pains in the pursuit of the perfect meal!"

The boys freshened up, pulled on their heavy coats, caps, and gloves, then hurried back down to the lobby. Scotty walked over to check out the elaborately decorated Christmas tree set before a bank of windows looking out to Main Street while Rick went up to the front desk to ask about the Alexandra of the hotel's name. When he joined Scotty a minute later by the heavily adorned tree, his face wore a chagrined expression.

"We were both wrong," he almost whispered. "But don't tell Mrs. Spencer, our history teacher. She'd bop us both. We should've known."

"What? Who was she?"

"She was Princess Alexandra of Denmark and she married Edward VII, Queen Victoria's son who was the King of England during the first decade of this century."

Scotty pondered a moment, rubbing his chin. "Oh sure, the Edwardian era."

"Right. She was King Edward's queen consort, a queen by marriage only, but always a princess. We should've remembered. We studied all that British lineage earlier in the school year."

Scotty smiled tolerantly. "Come on, boy genius. We can't remember everything about every royal we study. Besides, it's just not as interesting as electronics and science, which are far more important anyway. At least you guessed English. I was way off with Russian."

Rick's face brightened. "Right. My guess was closest to the correct answer. Does that mean I win the bet?"

"Sure, and the winner gets to pay for dinner."

Rick laughed and pounded Scotty's shoulder. "Yah, right. Since when does the winner pay? Let's get a move on, pal. The Big Snow awaits our return into its midst."

It seemed that the relentless wild gusts of wind roaring down Main Street would surely blow the boys down, or perhaps up and away, but they were lucky enough to hail a taxi within a couple of minutes after foraging out into the storm.

"St. Boniface," Rick told the driver. "The cathedral. We'd like to see that first."

The man frowned as he pulled away from the curb. "Sightseeing in this weather, eh?"

"You bet," Scotty replied. "We're from the States and will probably never get another chance to visit Winnipeg." He twitched his nostrils in anticipation. "And I can smell that delectable French food way on this side of the river."

The taxi driver chuckled. "Spoken like a true tourist. Try La Petite Maison on Provencher Boulevard. It's right around the corner from the cathedral. M'sieur LaPierre has quite a reputation with the American diners."

The car turned onto the Water Street bridge that crossed the Red River to the city of St. Boniface. The boys peered out the windows but could see only vague impressions of the frozen winding waterway that had played such an important part in the settling and development of western Canada. Soon they were driving through St. Boniface on Provencher Boulevard, and the taxi made a quick right turn onto Tache Avenue and pulled up in front of the famous cathedral.

The driver smirked, raising his brows. "Are you sure you fellas want to get out here?"

Rick looked at the wind-driven snow outside the car and shrugged his shoulders. "Yep, we're on our way up to Churchill, so we'd better be able to handle this."

"It'll be good experience for Hudson Bay," the driver agreed as Scotty paid him the fare. "But in weather like this, tourists usually aren't running around out and about."

Scotty let out a loud guffaw after he and Rick had stepped out of the taxi and slammed the doors behind them. "Oot and aboot!" he hooted, mimicking the cabby's accent. "Did you know, Mr. Brant, that tourists in Winnipeg usually are not running around oot and aboot in weather like this?"

Grinning, Rick slapped Scotty on the back. "Relax, Max. That's just Canadian for 'out and about'. Which, if we had any sense, we wouldn't be! Just imagine, we had the nerve to complain yesterday when we were tied up in the cold by the river in New Jersey. That was nothing compared to this crazy weather."

Scotty pulled on his thick gloves. "Right. But today we are not tied up, and we're properly dressed for the cold. Hey, look at that awesome cathedral. No wonder it's a famous tourist attraction."

The boys trudged across the snow-covered lawns leading up to the huge twin-towered cathedral that soared far up into the sky. Between the bell towers was a triple-arched entryway, above which loomed an enormous round stained-glass window that glowed ever-so-slightly in the almost impenetrable gloom. Under the entrance arches were spruce and pine trees festooned with rows of colorful lights, in their midst a life-sized manger scene with the newborn infant, Mary and Joseph, the three Wise Men, and all the attentive stable animals.

Rick was impressed far more than he would have expected, moved by the eerie atmosphere and soaring architecture. "It almost beats St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, don't you think?"

"Pretty close," Scotty agreed. "I'll bet the interior is beautiful, too. According to the travel guide, this is the fourth St. Boniface Cathedral. The original was just a log building, and it was the first church in western Canada and the Red River settlements."

Rick saw that Scotty was almost totally covered with snow. "You look like a big snowman," he laughed. "Let's see if we can go inside for a moment or two and get out of this storm."

The boys hurried under the center arch, past the pungent evergreens and manger, and pulled open the massive front doors which swooshed closed behind them from the force of the wind as they entered the vestibule. Suddenly, all was quiet, as the thick old walls shut out the roar of the Big Snow.

"Wow," Scotty whispered, spinning around. "This place sure is swell."

Beautiful cut and scored stone and thick rich timbers formed the vestibule which was lined by statues of the saints in both directions leading to the bell towers. A mellow glow from banks of flickering votive candles lit the way and the solemn hush of silence sent chills up the boys' spines as they brushed snow from their caps and coats.

Ahead, through elaborately carved open doors, could be seen the nave of the enormous church. A center aisle, lined by rows of pews on either side, led, underneath a towering and vaulted ceiling, up to a raised sanctuary and altar. It was flanked by statues of angels and saints and dimly lit by dancing candles and stained-glass windows. Christmas evergreens, adorned with twinkling lights and banked high with brilliant crimson poinsettia plants, clustered the sanctuary.

"Gosh," Rick breathed. "Mom and Barby would sure love to see this place."

Scotty pulled off his cap. "It's wonderful. Makes you feel kind of humble."

Rick pulled off his cap, too. But he couldn't help the chuckle that escaped his lips. "And to make you feel humble," he whispered, "it's really got to be mind-boggling."

Scotty smiled at the remark, but he didn't respond as he stepped forward tentatively, feeling somewhat breathless. Rick followed, a hand on his chest in awe. There was the sweet smell of incense in the air and, mixed with the heady scents of the candles and evergreens, it seemed to the boys that they had truly stepped into another world, far away and far apart from the one they had left outside in the snow.

Then, suddenly, the miracle of silence within the awesome cathedral was shattered by an angry shout and the click-clack of heels on the old stone floor!

Rick and Scotty spun to their left, in the direction of the startling sounds. Two figures rushed through the archway in the base of the bell tower on that end and hurried down the vestibule in the heat of an argument. Rick felt himself almost pulled off his feet as Scotty dragged him into the shadows behind a large statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the prostrate crucified Jesus in her arms.

"But, mon Pere, you cannot .... sacre! You cannot allow this to continue!"

The angry words were spoken by a boy their own age, dressed in a fur cap and a red and black checked mackinaw. His accent was heavily French and there was unmistakable outrage in his pleading tones.

He was addressing a priest, middle-aged and bearded, and wearing flowing monk-like robes. He was walking quickly in front of the boy, obviously not wanting to hear what the young fellow had to say.

"Arret! Arret!" he spat back to the boy. "You must stop this interference into matters that are not of your concern, Pierre! You do not understand that about which you speak. You are just a boy, interfering in the world of men. I pray that you drop this matter!"

"Mon Dieu!" the boy exclaimed, grabbing the priest by the arm as they both rushed on. "You have involved my uncle in this. He could lose everything he has worked so hard for all his life. It can harm me, too. I will be disgraced at the English Academy. It is wrong, Father Jacques. It is wrong!"

The priest shrugged off the boy's hand and stopped before the big front doors. He pushed one open and gusts of wind and snow shot in, billowing his robes and causing the candles in the vestibule to flicker wildly.

He pointed out the door. "Go, Pierre! Sortir! And do not come back unless you wish to attend Mass and pray. I will not speak to you of this matter again!"

The candlelight illumined the boy's face as Rick and Scotty cringed back against the wall in the shadows. His expression was so intense that they could feel his deep emotion across the space that separated them.

Fury overtook him and he shouted at the priest. "Grace a Dieu! I will not remain silent and allow my uncle and myself to come to ruin. I will stop you, mon Pere. This cannot be! I will not allow us to be destroyed by ... by ... La Mort Rouge!"

And with that, he stormed angrily out into the blizzard and the priest hurriedly pulled the door shut, muttering to himself as he brushed flakes of snow from his robes. He turned, poker-faced and angry, staring straight ahead, and strode quickly through the doors into the nave of the cathedral. His quick footsteps echoed in the empty church as he hurried down the aisle toward the altar.

Rick pushed himself away from the wall, his heart pounding. He could have touched the priest as he had rushed by.

He whispered to Scotty, "Jeez, what do you think that was all about?"

Frowning, Scotty blew out a tense breath. "La Mort Rouge! The Red Death. The smallpox plague. Barby spoke of it last night, remember?"

"Yes, but the disease itself is all but eradicated from this part of the world now."

"But she said the people up this way can still be superstitious about it and its legends."

Rick nodded slowly. "Obviously. But this has to be something different. Something big, and bad. That boy is really scared it can harm him and his uncle."

He gaped around at the vestibule in the flickering candlelight, with its life-like statues frozen in pious, dramatic poses. He looked at the Virgin Mary's face and saw the pain in her eyes, and he shuddered. Something was wrong, very wrong. In this place of good and beauty, they had witnessed something that could pertain only to bad and evil.

"Scotty!" Rick hissed. "We've got to help that boy. Let's hurry out and catch up to him. We can't let his life be ruined by this La Mort Rouge - whatever the heck it might be!"