The Maze of Bones Page 12


"It was horrible," Amy said. She told him everything -- from the secret library in Grace's mansion right up to the man in black in the museum and the Starling triplets going ka-boom.

Mr. McIntyre frowned. "I called Jefferson University Hospital. The Starlings will survive, but they're in bad shape. They'll be recovering for months, which puts them out of the race permanently, I fear."

"It was the man in black," Dan said. "He set that trap for us."

Mr. McIntyre's eye twitched. He took off his spectacles and polished them with his tie, his nose casting a shadow across the side of his face. "This explosion... from your description, I'd say it was a sonic detonator. Very sophisticated, designed to stun and cause only localized damage. Someone knew what they were doing."

"How do you know so much about explosives?" Dan asked.

The old man focused on him, and Dan got the sudden feeling he hadn't always been a lawyer. He'd seen things in his life -- dangerous things. "Dan, you must be careful.

This explosion was almost the end of the race for you. I had hoped to stay out of the competition. I must not be seen as partial to any one team. But when your grandmother's mansion burned down ... well, I realized just how much of a predicament I'd put you in."

"That's why you sent us the black light reader?"

Mr. McIntyre nodded. "I'm concerned by how much the other teams are targeting you. They seem determined to put you out of commission."

"But they failed!" Dan said. "We got the second clue. Nobody else has it, right?"

"Dan, what you found is merely a lead to the second clue. Make no mistake, it is a good lead, and I'm glad the black light reader was useful. But it is by no means the only lead. Other teams may find different paths toward the next clue. Or, if they believe you have useful information, they can simply follow you, as the Starlings tried to do, and take the information from you."

Dan felt like kicking the wall. Every time they got a break, something bad happened, or it turned out they weren't nearly as close to the next clue as he'd thought. "So how do we know when we find the actual second clue? Is it going to have a big sign on it -- CLUE TWO?"

"You will know," Mr. McIntyre said. "It will be more ... substantial. An essential piece of the puzzle."

"Great," Dan grumbled. "That clears it up."

"What if Nellie's right?" Amy's voice quavered. "What if this is too dangerous for a couple of kids?"

"Don't say that!" Dan cried.

Amy turned to him. Her eyes reminded him of broken glass. They had that shimmering, kind of fragile look. "Dan, we almost died. The Starlings are in the hospital, and it's only the second day of the contest. How can we keep up like this?"

His throat felt dry. Amy had a point. But could they just walk away? He imagined going to Beatrice and apologizing. He could reclaim his collection, go back to school, have a normal life where people weren't trying to trap him in fires or blow him up every few hours.

Mr. McIntyre must've seen what he was thinking because the old man's face paled.

"Children, no. You mustn't consider it."

"We -- we're just kids," Amy stammered. "You can't expect us -- "

"My dear, it's too late!" For a moment, Mr. McIntyre sounded really panicked ... terrified that they'd back out. Dan didn't understand why. Then the old man took a deep breath. He seemed to collect his nerves. "Children, you can't go back. Your Aunt Beatrice was furious when you disappeared. She's talking of hiring a detective to find you."

"She doesn't even care about us!" Dan said.

"Be that as it may, until she officially turns you over to Social Services, she will get in legal trouble if anything happens to you. If you return to Boston, you'll be sent to foster homes. The two of you may not even be put together. There's no returning to your old life now."

"Couldn't you help us?" Amy asked. "I mean, you're a lawyer."

"I'm helping too much already. Occasional information is all I can give."

Dan's ears pricked up. "Information like what?"

Mr. McIntyre lowered his voice. "One of your competitors, Jonah Wizard, is preparing for an overseas journey. I fear you will run into him quite soon. He and his father made first class reservations in New York this morning."

"Where are they going?" Dan asked.

"If you think about the information you found, I think you'll know."

"Yes," Amy said. "I do. And we're going to get there first."

Dan didn't know what she was talking about, but he was glad to see her looking angry again. It was no fun giving Amy a hard time when she was crying.

Mr. McIntyre breathed a sigh of relief. "So you'll carry on. You won't give up?"

Amy looked at Dan, and they came to a silent agreement.

"We'll keep going for now," Amy said. "But, Mr. McIntyre, why are you really helping us? You're not helping any of the other teams, are you?"

The old lawyer hesitated. "In the Franklin Institute, you said you warned the Starlings they were in danger."

"Of course we did," Amy said.

"They wouldn't have done the same for you."

"Maybe, but it seemed like the right thing."

"Interesting ..." He glanced toward the street. "I can say no more. I must -- "

"Please," Amy said. "One more favor." She uncovered Saladin's cat carrier, and suddenly Dan realized why she'd brought it.

"Amy, no!"

"Dan, we have to," she said. "It isn't safe for him." He was about to argue, but something stopped him. He thought about dragging the poor cat up that air vent in the fire, then making him sit through the train ride stuffed in a cat carrier. What if Saladin had been in the museum explosion with them? If the little dude got hurt, Dan would never forgive himself. "All right," he sighed.

"Is that Madame Grace's cat?" Mr. McIntyre scowled. "How did you -- "

"He escaped the fire with us," Amy said. "We were hoping to keep him, but... we can't where we're going. It wouldn't be fair to drag him along. Could you keep him for us?"

"Mrrp."

Saladin gave Dan a look like You can't be serious.

Mr. McIntyre had pretty much the same expression. "I don't know, my dear. I am not, well, an animal person. I had a dog once, Oliver, but -- "

"Please," Amy said. "He was our grandmother's. I need to know he's safe."

The old lawyer looked like he wanted to run, but he took a deep breath. "Very well. For a little while."

"Thank you!" Amy handed him the carrier. "He only eats fresh fish. Red snapper is his favorite."

Mr. McIntyre blinked. "Red snapper? Ah, well ... I'll see what I can do."

"Mrrp," Saladin said, which probably meant something like I can't believe you're leaving me with an old guy who doesn't know I like red snapper.

"Children, you should go," Mr. McIntyre said. "Your babysitter is getting impatient. Just remember what I said before. Trust no one!"

And with that, William McIntyre retreated down the street, holding Saladin's cat carrier out to one side like it was a box of radioactive material.

As they walked back to the car, Amy said, "We're going to Paris."

Dan was thinking about Saladin, and his ears were still ringing from the museum explosion, so he wasn't sure he'd heard her right. "Did you say Paris ... like in France?"

Amy brought out Sinead Starling's cell phone. The photo of the Benjamin Franklin letter was still on the screen -- the secret message a fuzzy yellow scrawl in purple light.

"When Franklin was really old," Amy said, "he was the American ambassador in Paris.

He was working on a peace treaty to end the Revolutionary War. He had a house in a place called Passy, and all the French thought he was like a rock star."

"They treat fat old guys like rock stars in France?"

"I told you, Franklin was world famous. He was into philosophy and he liked parties and al sorts of ... French stuff. Anyway, the secret message said he was leaving Paris, right? The letter was dated 1785. I'm pretty sure that's the year he came back to America. So he was leaving something behind in Paris."

"Something that broke up his clan," Dan said. "That's what asunder means, right? You think he was talking about the branches of the Cahills?"

"It's possible." Amy twisted her hair. "Dan, what I said earlier... I don't really want to give up. I'm just scared."

Dan nodded. He didn't want to admit it, but the man in black and the explosion had kind of freaked him out, too. "It's okay. We have to keep going, right?"

"We don't have a choice," Amy agreed.

Before they reached the curb, the door of the Toyota flew open. Nellie marched over to them, one earbud still dangling from her ear. She held up her cell phone like she was going to throw it at them.

"Guess what?" she said.

"I just got a voice mail from Social Services in Boston!"

Amy gasped. "What did you tell them?"

"Nothing yet. I'm waiting for your big amazing explanation!"

"Nellie, please," Dan said. "We need your help."

"They're looking for you!" Nellie shrieked. "Your aunt doesn't even know where you are, does she? Do you know how much trouble I could get in?"

"Throw away your phone," Dan suggested.

"What?"

She sounded like he'd just told her to burn money -- which of course Amy had already done that week.

"Pretend you didn't get the message," he pleaded, "just for a few days. Please, Nellie, we need to get to Paris and we've got to have an adult."

"If you think for one minute I would -- Did you say Paris?"

Dan saw his chance. He put on a sad face and sighed. "Yeah, we were going to buy you a ticket to Paris, plus your pay, and a free hotel room and gourmet meals and everything. But, oh, well..."

"Nellie, it's just for a couple more days," Amy said. "Please! We weren't lying about the scavenger hunt. It's really important to our family and we promise we'll be careful! Once we're done in Paris, you can do whatever you think is best. We'll swear that it wasn't your fault. But if we go back to Boston now, they'll take us away to a foster home. We'll fail the scavenger hunt. We might even be in more danger!"

"And you won't see Paris," Dan added.

He wasn't sure which argument was most effective, but Nellie slipped her phone into her pocket. She knelt so she was looking them in the eyes.

"One more trip," she said. "But this could get me in huge trouble, guys. I want your promise: Paris, and then we get you home.

Deal?"

Dan was thinking that they had no home to return to, but he crossed his fingers behind his back and said, "Deal."

"Deal," Amy agreed.

"I'm going to regret this," Nellie muttered. "But I might as well regret it in Paris."

She marched back to the car and got in the driver's side.

Dan looked at his sister. "Urn ... about money. I figure we've got enough for three one-way tickets.

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