"This here is the tourbillion, and that's the hairspring back there. And this over here is called the escapement." He gestured to a little anchor-shaped arm that swung like a pendulum, clicking as a tiny-toothed wheel turned beneath it. "That's what makes that ticking sound you hear." The little gear struggled against the anchor. After a second it built up enough force to turn one click, swinging the pendulum, and then it stopped again. Struggled, turned, and stopped.
"Each time it goes around a little bit, a second goes away."
"Where?" I asked, as the pendulum swung again. And again.
He winked at me. "It escapes. That's why they call it that. Escapement."
I barely blinked as it swung and swung again. I think I believed that if I watched closely enough, I could figure out where they were headed.
Sometimes I just sat and listened to the watch ticking. Each tick was another second less before my mother returned. Each tick was another second older that I grew. Each tick was another word that I scribbled into the many notebooks that Mr. Humnor gave me.
I wasn't a writernot yet, of coursebut I wrote. From the days before my feet could touch the linoleum floor beneath my seat, I had been jotting little things down about the odd parade that flowed through Terminal B: passengers, pilots, and the people waiting to greet them. I began doing this so that I could tell my mother about all the things she'd missed while she'd been gone. Every day I saw so many new people, rushing through the terminal to one place or another while I remained still. For all my hours spent in Terminal B, I'd never flown on an airplanenot once. I wondered where all the people kept escaping to, like those little seconds inside my watch. But in between arrivals and departures, I got bored, and sometimes I made people up, to see if my mother could detect the false woman in a pink blazer, with the hamster in her carry-on luggage, among the actual transient citizens of Terminal B.
Not long after receiving the gold watch, I wrote my very first book, a mystery I called The Pink Packet Thieves, twenty-two pages in length, including illustrations. It concerned an unnamed boy detective who is summoned by the Chief of the Airport Police to discover who has been stealing all the pink packets of artificial sweetener from the various restaurants in the terminal. The boy detective cleverly conceals himself in a trash can and lies patiently in wait for the criminal mastermind to appear. All day long, the boy endures the garbage that the travelers are heaping unknowingly onto his head. He is resolute and, indeed, the long wait pays off. By the light of the full moon, the boy detective spots two suspicious figures sneaking around. The boy detective confronts the shadows and discovers they are Xavier and Yvette D'Argent, a wealthy brother and sister who are new in town and who confess that they have been stealing the artificial sweeteners to feed a horrible addiction that they developed during their idle youths in Paris. (I had learned a few things from eavesdropping on Mrs. De Santos, talking about her sons.) In the end, the boy detective is moved by their tale and agrees to keep their secret, in exchange for the return of the sweetener, a promise that the thievery will cease, and assurances that both siblings would consult their parents about treatment options. Just as the story appears to come to a wholesome conclusion, however, the boy detective recalls his earlier sufferings in the trash can. Then, on the next page, he is seen telling the Chief of the Airport Police that he has been unable to find the culprits, and he walks away with the stolen sweetener in a black suitcase. A brief epilogue reveals that the boy detective then sells the pink packets on the black market, retires for good, and that the newly cured Xavier and Yvette become his best friends, now that he is as wealthy as them.
Excerpted from The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Copyright © 2013 by Kristopher Jansma. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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