Turtle ran with the Kincaids back to the school building where the track team, six boys in all, was just straggling into the locker room.
Going to Manhattan Friends was considered a privilege and an honor. Turtle had done exceedingly well on a scholarship test in fourth grade and so was able to gain that honor and privilege for free. His grades were excellent—all As except for a B in gym one year—but Turtle had almost no friends. He just didn't have much in common with very many there, and one kid he did like, Romain, transferred back to Switzerland when his parents were fired from their Wall Street jobs. Turtle relished the thought of speaking more with Nick and Nate, especially if it was about whatever he had just seen.
The Kincaids lived on Central Park West in a townhouse five times the size Turtle's grandmother's house. Turtle's one visit to their home was for their 13th birthday party. Their three-story, rich, dark chocolate cake had been decorated with pictures of the twins on each layer that were made of some kind of printed sugar. There was a picture of the twins as babies, then as 10-year-olds on the beach, then a snapshot of them a few years older standing near a castle. When Turtle turned 13, his grandmother had made him a cake from a box with butter frosting, and they blew out his candles and opened the few presents she could afford for him.
Turtle's parents died in a car accident north of the city when he was three. From that moment, all Turtle remembered was his grandmother and their little house in Bay Ridge. His parents were reduced to snapshots in an album that his grandmother sometimes took down from the shelf on rainy mornings. They would flip through the album and remember when they both had families.
After showering with the rest of the team, Turtle made his way into the rowdy locker room. Toweling off, he tried to look uninterested as the Kincaids talked about a video game they had been playing. He didn't interrupt them, waiting instead for the locker room to clear. There were four kids on the benches and a few by the water fountain. It was getting late—chauffeur-driven black cars were already pulling up to pick up the rich kids—and the track team began to clear out.
Nate looked over at Turtle and motioned for him to move closer. The overhead fan echoing in the locker room was loud enough to drown a whisper.
"Stay after," he breathed. "Wait a little."
Once the locker room was empty, Nick and Nate moved their bags over to Turtle's bench and sat down. The coach, Mr. Huff, was in his office with the door slightly ajar. He flexed one thick arm and went back to writing something.
"You're going to keep this a secret?" asked Nick. His face was set and serious. Turtle nodded.
"Seriously," said Nick.
"Yes, I will," said Turtle.
"I don't like this," said Nick. Nate shrugged, opened his backpack, and removed a piece of paper. He pulled on a thin black sweater and then a black blazer while Turtle looked the paper over. Nick was in a button-down shirt and black pants—the school uniform—but Turtle was already in jeans and a T-shirt for the ride home.
The page was about 14 inches square, and it looked like a photocopy of a photocopy, faded and crumpled. It was a map, covered with small squiggles and lines. They spread it out on the bench, smoothing it down and avoiding the wet spots.
"I can't give you this one, but this is a Map. Without this, you can't get onto the train. You'd get lost," said Nate.
Turtle gulped. The thought of roaring through those tunnels, alone and lost, frightened him. He knelt down on one knee for a closer look. The map was a reprint of something much older and hand-drawn. It showed all of Manhattan—a long cigar laced with avenues—Brooklyn and Queens sticking out below and a bit of New Jersey and Staten Island looking like a mini-South America. To first- time visitors, the New York City Subway map already looked like a mess of spaghetti with lines running up and down from Brooklyn into Harlem to the north. But that was nothing compared to this wild map.
YOU ARE READING
Imagine if, right now, clattering underneath your feet was a secret train system that could take you anywhere in minutes. Imagine a trip full of mystery and excitement from New York to Barcelona to the wind-swept coast of Italy to the edge of space...