The Maze of Bones
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Dan understood why she looked guilty. He wasn't an expert at jewelry prices, but he figured that necklace was one of the most expensive pieces in the box. If she kept it, they wouldn't get nearly as much.
"They'll rip us off," he warned. "We don't have time to do it right. And anyway, we're just kids. We'll have to take the jewelry to somebody who can give us cash without asking a lot of questions. We'll probably only get a few thousand -- a fraction of what the stuff is worth."
"We'll need transportation for three people," Amy said uncertainly. "And hotels. And food."
Dan took a deep breath. "I'm going to sell my cards and coins. There's a shop down on the square -- "
"Dan! You've spent years collecting that stuff!"
"It'll double our money. The store will rip me off, but I can get three thousand easy for all of it."
Amy stared at him like he'd dropped in from outer space. "Dan, I think the smoke messed up your brain. Are you sure?"
For some weird reason, he was. He wanted to go on this clue hunt more than he wanted his collection. He wanted to get back at whoever had burned down Grace's house. He wanted to find the secret of the thirty-nine clues. Most of all, he wanted to finally use that stupid passport and make his parents proud. Maybe along the way he'd find new photos for his album. "I'm sure," he said.
Amy did something completely disgusting. She hugged him.
"Gross!" Dan protested.
He pushed her away. Amy was smiling, but she had tears in her eyes.
"Maybe you're not such a dweeb," she said.
"Yeah, well, stop crying already, and let's get out of -- wait, where are we going?"
"Tonight a hotel in town," she said. "Then tomorrow ... I've got an idea about Ben Franklin."
"But you don't have the book anymore."
"I didn't need the book for this. Mom's note said 'Follow Franklin.' Ben Franklin started as a printer here in Boston, when he was a teenager working for his brother."
"So we just look around town?"
Amy shook her head. "That's what the others are probably doing. But we're going to follow where he went next, like follow his life. Benjamin Franklin didn't stay in Boston.
When he was seventeen, he ran away from his brother's shop and started his own printing business in another city."
"So we run away, too! We follow Franklin!"
"Exactly," Amy said. "I just hope nobody else has thought of that yet. We need to book three train tickets to Philadelphia."
"Philadelphia," Dan repeated. The only things he knew about Philadelphia were the Liberty Bell and the Phillies. "So when we get there, what do we look for?"
Amy touched the jade necklace like it might protect her. "I'm guessing a secret that could get us killed."
A mile away in Copley Square, Irina Spasky -- code name Team Five -- was worrying about her poison. She had loaded her fingernail injectors with the usual mixture, but she feared it would not be enough for this meeting.
Back in the Cold War, she and her KGB colleagues used poison-injecting umbrellas, or spray painted toxins on toilet seats. Those were the good old days! Now Irina worked by herself, so she had to keep things simple. The needles extended when she bent back her fingers at the first joint. They were almost impossible to see and caused only a tiny pinprick sensation. The poison would leave her victims very sick, perhaps paralyzed, for many days -- enough to give Irina a good head start in the search. Best of all, the poison was completely untraceable and had no antidote.
Unfortunately, it was slow-acting. Her victims might not show symptoms for eight hours or more. If she needed to incapacitate her enemies quickly, she would have to rely on other means.
Ian and Natalie Kabra were not to be underestimated. Back when they were ten and seven, perhaps Irina could've overpowered them. Now they were fourteen and eleven ... a very different story indeed.
She wandered Copley Square, waiting to spot them. They had agreed on standard antisurveillance tactics, only setting a general area and time for their rendezvous. The storm clouds had cleared. It was a beautiful summer afternoon, which Irina hated. All this sunshine and flowers and children playing -- bah.
She preferred a steel-gray winter in St. Petersburg, a much better climate for espionage.
She bought a coffee from a street kiosk, then spotted Ian and Natalie across the plaza, walking in front of Trinity Church. Their eyes met hers briefly and they kept walking.
Irina's move. She followed them at a distance, checking to see if they had grown a "tail" -- any surveillance, any followers, any possible angles for photographers. After fifteen minutes, she saw nothing. She waited for them to turn and see her.
As soon as they did, Irina turned and walked off. The game reversed. She led them across the plaza, toward the library, knowing they would be watching for tails on her.
If they saw anything, Ian and Natalie would disappear. The meeting would be aborted.
After fifteen minutes, Irina changed course and noticed the Kabras across Boylston Street, still shadowing her. This meant she was clean. No surveillance. The children turned toward the Copley Plaza Hotel, and Irina followed.
They met in the busy lobby, where neither party could ambush the other.
Natalie and Ian looked much too relaxed, sitting across from each other on overstuffed sofas. The little brats had changed out of their funeral suits -- Ian wore a sky-blue polo shirt, beige trousers, and tasseled loafers; Natalie wore a white linen dress that showed off her coffee skin. Their eyes glittered like amber. They were so lovely they made heads turn, which was not a good thing for a secret meeting.
"You attract too much attention," Irina scolded. "You should be uglier."
Natalie laughed. "Is that what keeps you alive, dear cousin?"
Irina wanted to scratch the young whelp's face with her poison fingernails, but she kept her cool. "Insult me as you will. It gets us nowhere."
"True," Ian said. "We have a mutual problem. Please, sit."
Irina considered. She would have to sit next to either Ian or Natalie, and neither was safe. She chose the young girl. Perhaps she would be easier to overwhelm if it came to that. Natalie smiled and made room for her on the sofa.
"Have you considered our proposal?" Ian asked.
Irina had thought of nothing else since the text message came two hours ago on her cell phone, encrypted in an algorithmic code used only by the Lucians.
She nodded. "You have come to the same conclusion as I. The second clue is not in Boston."
"Exactly," Ian said. "We've told our parents to charter us a private jet. We'll be off within the hour."
Chartering a private jet,
Irina thought resentfully. She knew the Kabras' parents from the old days. They were internationally known art collectors. Once they had been dangerous people, important people within the Lucian branch. Now they were retired in London and did nothing but dote upon their children. They let Ian and Natalie do all the traveling, writing them blank checks as needed.
What did these brats care about the thirty-nine clues? This was just another adventure to them. Irina had her own reasons for hunting the treasure -- much more personal reasons. The Kabras were too rich, too smart, too proud. Someday, Irina would change that.
"So," Irina said, "where will you go?"
Ian sat forward and laced his hands. He didn't look fourteen years old. When he smiled, he looked evil enough to be an adult. "You know it's about Benjamin Franklin."
"Then you know where we're going, and you know what we're after."
"You also know," Natalie purred, "that we can't allow the secret to fall into anyone else's hands. As Lucians, we should work together. You should set the trap."
Irina's eye twitched, the way it did when she was nervous. She hated that it did this, but she could not stop it. "You could set the trap yourselves," she said.
Natalie shook her head. "They would suspect us.
You, on the other hand, can lure them to their doom."
Irina hesitated, trying to see a flaw in the plan. "What is in this for me?"
"They're our biggest threat," Ian pointed out. "They may not realize it yet, but they will in time. We have to eliminate them quickly. It'll benefit all of us. Besides, you'll have the Lucian stronghold at your disposal. Afterwards, there will be time to fight each other. Now, we must destroy our competition."
"And the Madrigals?" Irina asked.
She thought she saw a ripple of nervousness cross Ian's face, but it passed quickly.
"One enemy at a time, cousin."
Irina hated to admit it, but the boy had a point. She examined her fingernails, casually making sure that each of her poison needles was primed and ready.
"Does it seem odd to you," she asked slowly, "that the Lucian database contains so little about Franklin?" She knew very well they would have logged into the branch's mainframe, just as she had done.
Annoyance flickered in Ian's eyes. "There should have been more, it's true. Apparently, Franklin was hiding something ... even from his kin."
Natalie smiled coldly at her brother. "A Lucian who doesn't trust his kin -- imagine that."
Ian waved her comment aside. "Complaining about it will change nothing. We need to deal with Amy and Dan. Cousin Irina, do we have a deal?"
The hotel doors opened. A heavyset man in a brown suit strode through, heading for the front desk. He seemed out of place, possibly a security guard or an undercover policeman. It might have nothing to do with them, but Irina couldn't be sure. They had sat here too long. Meeting any longer would be dangerous.
"Very well," Irina said. "I shall prepare the trap." Natalie and Ian rose.
Irina felt relieved and perhaps flattered, too. The Kabras needed her help. She was, after all, much older and wiser. "I am glad we came to an arrangement," she said, feeling generous. "I did not wish to hurt you."
"Oh, we're glad, too," Ian promised. "Natalie, I believe it's safe now."
Irina frowned, not understanding. Then she looked at Natalie -- that pretty little girl who seemed so harmless in her white dress -- and realized the young she-devil had a tiny silver dart gun cupped in her hand, not two inches from Irina's chest. Irina's heart skipped a beat. She had used such guns herself. The darts could carry poisons far worse than she dared keep in her fingernails.
Natalie smiled prettily, keeping the dart gun aimed and ready. "It was so good to see you, Irina."
"Indeed," Ian said smugly. "I'd shake your hand, cousin, but I'd hate to ruin your special manicure. Do let us know when Amy and Dan are eliminated, won't you?"
Amy knew something was wrong as soon as Nellie came out of the rental car place.
She was frowning and holding a thick brown padded envelope. "What is that?" Amy asked.
"It's for you guys." Nellie held out the package. "Somebody dropped it off at the counter this morning."
"That's impossible!" Amy said. "Nobody knew we'd be here."
But as she said it, a chill went down her back. They'd booked the train tickets and the rental car online last night from their hotel, using Nellie's name. Was it possible somebody had tracked them down so fast?