Calla did not need to look at her phone while texting, so she actually saw it happen. One moment the road in front of the car was more or less clear, except for Ponpet’s standard killer gridlock. The monumental stone triumphal arch commemorating her grandfather dominated the traffic circle they were stuck in.
Then, flicking into existence like the special effect in a movie, was a totally odd man. In a long black coat and tall hat, he looked something like the young Abraham Lincoln. Chocky slammed on the brakes, flinging all the passengers against the Plexiglas panel that separated the limo’s front and back seats. “Azu abap!” he swore.
Car horns blared. Her middle-aged maid Nanna clucked warningly. Calla keyed, “gtg!” and dropped the shiny insect-green phone into her backpack. “Wow! Did you hit him?”
Almost in the moment of stopping her personal bodyguard Mr. Lia was out of the front seat, his right hand inside the front of his dark blue suit jacket. The khaki-clad cops in charge of herding the traffic around the monument circle leaped into action, blowing whistles and waving other cars to pass on around them. Drivers leaned on their horns, or powered down their windows to curse in lurid Jalanese profanity that Calla was not supposed to know. At the sight of the limo and Mr. Lia the cops milled in confusion. Calla hopped out too, so that things would stay calm. “It’s me, officers,” she said with a smile. In her light blue school uniform and blazer she looked quite un-dangerous.
“Miss Ang!” “It’s Calla Ang!” Nervous grins and nods of greeting met her all around.
“Miss Calla,” Mr. Lia said in a voice of steel. “This may be a kidnap attempt. Please get back in the car.” Although he was neither tall nor wide, he seemed to become both in the effort to shield her from possible gunfire.
Calla ignored this, and so did Nanna, who had followed her — her job was to be the mother hen and stay with Calla at all times when she wasn’t at home or safe in school. “Who is this guy?” Calla asked. “He’s not Jalanese.”
“Definitely he’s not,” Nanna said. “Look at him, he’s a foreigner. An American, maybe. Does he speak American?”
Two cops were frisking the stranger, patting him down for weapons and yelling at him in Jalanese. The hat had fallen off, rolled into the next lane, and gotten squashed by a truck. English was a popular second language in Jalanese secondary schools, but probably none of the cops here were fluent in any language but their own. “Let me try,” Calla said. Switching to English she said loudly, “Hello! How are you?”
“Thank the Lord!” the stranger exclaimed. It was English all right, but heavily accented in a way she could not identify. “Lassie, what is this place?” He rolled bright blue eyes at her but was unable to move, surrounded by cops.
“You are in the center of Ponpet, which is the capital of the Southeast Asian nation of Jalanesia,” Calla said, taking care to speak clearly. “Who are you, and where are you from? How did you get here?”
To her surprise, and everyone else’s discomfiture, the foreigner threw up lanky black-clad arms and yelled, “I did it. Proof, proof positive! Ha ha — Darwin will never live this down. He’s been wrong all this time, and I’m right!” For a moment or two he whirled in place like a black windmill before the cops pinned him again.
“Sunstruck,” Nanna diagnosed. “Look how red he is. We had better get him into the cool.”
“A foreign maniac, probably a terrorist,” Mr. Lia said, also in Jalanese. “Jail. There are high-security cells in the basement at police headquarters.” With swift expert hands Mr. Lia emptied out the stranger’s pockets.
While he did this Calla said in English, “What is your name, sir? Your country?”
“Reverend Josiah Garamond Wragsland, at your service, miss. I am a subject of the Queen, a citizen of the British Empire.” He was grinning so joyfully he hardly seemed to notice being manhandled. “What year is this, lass? Eh, I can tell it’s not 1867.”
“1867? You’re kidding, right? It’s 2010.” Suddenly Calla really saw him: the funny long dark coat, the flowing mane of crisply-curled reddish hair and clownish sideburns, the way he gaped at the cars and the neon, the thick black shoes. “Oh my gosh!” Switching to Jalanese she rapped out, “Mr. Lia — show me what’s in his pockets.”
“No obvious bomb or explosives,” Mr. Lia admitted grudgingly. “But we’ll test it all.” He displayed a leather-bound notebook, a flat metal case that held two stubby handrolled cigarettes, a thin pocket knife, and —
“Let me see that,” Calla said. It looked like an economy-sized box of matches. But when she slid it open she saw the wooden matches were large and odd. They had a pungent chemical smell. On the wooden side the matchbox read, “Lucifers.”
“A time traveler,” she said, in English. “You know, I think you’re telling the truth.”
“Of course I tell the truth. I’m a clergyman, in the Church of England.” Wragsland was still chortling with glee. “Ah, I know what! If this is the capital, lass, then take me to your leader. What is your name, child? I can’t go on addressing you as lassie.”
“My name is Calla, Calla Ang,” Calla said repressively. She did not much care for being called ‘child.’ And this must be the first person she had ever met who didn’t know who she was. Well, it would be good practice for Yale or Princeton — college would be full of people who would not know her or her country. “My grandmother is Madame President of Jalanesia.”
“Excellent. Let us go to her.”
In the face of this naïve and giddy optimism Calla could only smile. Grandma sees nobody, she wanted to say — you want Uncle Bingo. But Grandma had been so gloomy this year, really down in the dumps. Would it do her good, to have to decide something? They could always fall back on Uncle Bingo, or Mr. Lia’s plan to toss Wragsland into a high-security cell. When Calla thought of her uncle’s green-clad elite bodyguard corps she did not think that a daffy time traveler would go down well with them. “Sure,” she said impulsively. “Get in the car — let’s go.”
Although he pretended to only speak Jalanese, Calla always suspected Mr. Lia understood more. And here was proof, when he immediately burst out, “Impossible, Miss Calla. In a closed car — with you? Far too dangerous.”
“You can hold onto his papers and stuff,” Calla said. “Does he look like Bruce Lee? And, I know — he can sit in back between you and Nanna. I’ll sit in front with Chocky, with the partition closed.”
“And locked,” Mr. Lia negotiated reluctantly. “And the house guards will meet us in the driveway at Orchid House.”
Calla waved an approving hand. “Mister — Father — what is your proper title, sir?”
“Reverend,” the stranger said. “Charmed to meet you, miss. Are you in school?””
“I am in eleventh grade at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School,” Calla said. “If you will sit here beside my maid, we can be on our way.”
At her nod the cops let Wragsland go. He straightened his collar, pulled his shirt cuffs down inside the black pipestem coat sleeves, and awkwardly clambered into the back of the limo. Mr. Lia broke off his volley of commands to the cops and reached in to snap the Plexiglas barrier shut and lock it. “Tell him, Miss Calla, that the slightest error on his part will be fatal.”
Calla nodded her understanding and admiration — Mr. Lia wanted Wragsland to think that nobody else here understood English. She repeated Mr. Lia’s words to the stranger, adding, “Please sit still until we arrive. I will be sitting in front.”