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They'd thought their goal, at least, was the same: Win. Beat everyone else to the final prize. But no, Amy thought bitterly. We're younger, poorer, and more ignorant--and it's not enough for us just to beat everyone else to the prize. For us to win, we also have to make everyone else forgive and forget five hundred years of backstabbing, in fighting, double-crossing and How could anyone forgive or forget that?
We can't win. Not the way we're supposed to. Why'd we even bother coming here? Since they were on the twelfth floor, all 5 they could see was a patch of gray sky.
Doesn't it ever stop raining? He'd run around the room, delightedly calling out the names of every new object he discovered -- "Stationery! It was like he'd turned into a grumpy old man about seventy years early. For a moment, Amy thought she would say, You're right, kiddos. It never stops raining in London, and this clue hunt is insane.
I'm only twenty years old, and you aren't even my real family. I'm going home. Then she shook her head, her black-and- blond-dyed hair flaring out. I promised your grandmother--" "She's dead," Dan said in the same old-before-his-time voice.
Back in Jamaica, they'd counted all those deaths as reasons to complete the Clue hunt. Lester had been an innocent bystander, drawn into things only because he'd been willing to help. Irina was a former enemy who'd given her life to save Amy and Dan. And the children's parents had gone to their deaths trying to save a single Clue from falling into the wrong hands.
What did any of those deaths mean if Amy and Dan didn't keep trying? Nellie looked from Amy to Dan as if she could read their minds. Can't you see in your mind's eye how everything can come full circle? Some of the words are underlined--that might mean something. Can't you see in your mind's eye How everything can co me full circle? Something tickled Amy's mind, but she ignored it. Doesn't matter, she thought. He sounded just as cranky as Dan. Nellie bent down to push the lever that set him free.
But Saladin didn't rub against her leg in thanks. He stiffened and growled low in his throat. And then he sprang straight toward the window. She glanced quickly to see if the window was open--it was, but there was a screen. Saladin, mid- leap, hissed at it. No, he was hissing at something beyond the screen, perched on the window ledge outside.
It was a monkey. Amy blinked. And then, in spite of everything, she grinned. The monkey reminded her of one of her favorite books set in London: The Little Princess, where a monkey homesick for India climbed across the rooftops to visit a lonely girl who was also homesick for India. And then the monkey led to her finding a new family, even though her parents were dead Amy's grin faded. Fiction, she told herself. Something else that isn't true.
Anyhow, this monkey wasn't carrying treats. He was baring his teeth at Saladin, slamming his hand against the screen. He must have had something sharp in his hand --just his claws? Or a knife? The monkey sprang over Saladin, dropping 8 to the floor. And then in three quick bounds, he was at Nellie's side. He leaped up and snatched the paper from her hand. That's ours! She dived for the monkey, trying to snatch the paper back. But the monkey darted away.
He jumped up from the couch. He must have forgotten he still had his backpack on because he just fell forward, missing the monkey by a mile. The monkey skittered sideways toward Amy. She scrambled up and darted to the right. The monkey darted to the left. Saladin jumped down from the windowsill, as if he thought he and Amy could corner the monkey together. The monkey easily sprang past them. He turned around once he reached the windowsill again. He grinned and nodded up and down, making a kee-kee-kee sound.
She rushed toward the windowsill. The monkey only laughed harder. Then, just as Nellie reached for him, he tossed a coinlike object into the room and plunged out the window, He was gone. With their only lead.
It was some sort of thick metal, stamped with a fancy script "K" on each side. The Kabras had become Dan and Amy's worst enemies in the Clue hunt. They were filthy rich -- and pure evil. He rushed to the window, getting there just a few steps ahead of Amy. The monkey was several stories below them now. He had the paper rolled up in his 10 teeth and was climbing down a rope suspended from the roof.
While Dan, Amy, and Nellie watched, the monkey reached the ground and scrambled across the sidewalk. Then a pair of hands reached out of a waiting limo and scooped up the monkey.
The door shut; the black limo sped away. She pronounced the name carefully, as if every syllable hurt. It does, Dan thought. He didn't ask how Amy thought she could recognize Isabel's hands from twelve stories up. Isabel had murdered Amy and Dan's parents.
She'd tried to murder Amy and Dan themselves back in Indonesia, and threatened them with death in Australia and South Africa. Then there were all those times she'd sent her nasty children, Ian and Natalie, to attack them.
Back in Korea, the Kabra kids had tried to leave Amy and Dan to die in a collapsed cave. When someone has been so incredibly cruel and awful to you so many times, you develop a sixth sense about them. You know when they're around. Dan was just as certain as Amy that those had been Isabel's hands. Dan turned away from his sister because he couldn't stand seeing the agony on her face. He wished he could run after Isabel, beat her up, throw her in jail, take back everything she'd taken from them.
But he was an eleven-year-old kid. He didn't have much to work 11 with. The best he could do was to hock up a huge glob of phlegm and spit it out the window. He aimed precisely toward the speeding limo. Getting spit on her limo --that's the least she deserves.
The advantage of having an au pair who was only twenty was that sometimes she thought and acted like a kid herself. But then she put on a stern face. He was glad of the distraction. He thrust the "K" coin into Nellie's hand. I promise, I'll hit it on the first try.
Now what? Was someone trying to steal his backpack? Right off his back? Dan whirled around. It was only Amy. Sometimes he wondered how they could be related. She was shy; he was a chatterbox. She liked books and quiet libraries; he liked noisy video games and any sort of joke that involved burping or farting.
Still, there had been times -- 12 especially during this Clue hunt--when Dan felt like he and Amy were practically the same person, thinking the same thought at the exact same time. Now was one of those times. He lowered the backpack so Amy could get the laptop out faster.
She handed him the cord. He plugged it into the wall while she plugged the other end into the computer. While they waited for the laptop to fire up, she gave him a pen and a piece of hotel stationery from the desk. He'd let her explain. But in Jamaica, Dan and Amy had found out that the Madrigals were really the good guys.
The way-too-good guys, Dan thought. The ones who think we can end this all holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" around a campfire someplace. They're nuts! She sounded distracted. The computer had booted up now, and she was logging on to the Internet. But if we can't win the Madrigal way, the least we can do is make sure the Kabras don't win instead. The words hung in the quiet hotel room. This, finally, was something Dan could hold on to.
Everything the Madrigals wanted was too big and slippery: peace, love, forgiveness Dan hadn't even been able to keep those goals in his mind during a single uneventful plane ride. He would never be able to look Isabel Kabra right in the eye and say, "I forgive you.
It would have to be. That was the best that Dan could hope for. The rain kept falling outside, harder now. The room stayed gray. Nellie was shaking her head, her expression grim. Then Nellie, irreverent as ever, grinned. She lifted the "K" coin Dan had given her toward her mouth. They seem to have completely reenergized the scrappy Cahill kids, who are just seconds away from figuring out their latest lead, thanks to Dan's photographic memory and Amy's amazing research skills. Exact, that is, except for Dan's sloppier printing.
He did indeed have a photographic memory, which had already saved them many times during the Clue hunt. He was sure he'd gotten everything right, even the underlining.
He handed the paper to Amy and turned to Nellie. She had no doubt that in a few moments they'd turn around with some brilliant deduction. And then they'd announce that they needed to depart immediately for some dramatic location. Personally, Nellie was hoping for Stonehenge. She'd always wanted to see that. But maybe not on this trip -- Nellie wouldn't want to have to explain to some proper British authority why her two charges were rappelling down such a major landmark. That's how these Clue hunt adventures often turned out.
It had been amazing -- and a little scary--to watch 15 the transformation in Amy and Dan over the course of the past month. Nellie tried to remember what she herself had been like at eleven or fourteen. Eleven was the summer she'd done nothing but hang out at the local swimming pool, right?
And fourteen was the year she'd gotten her nose pierced. Not directly-- Nellie didn't meet Grace until later. But opportunities had begun falling into Nellie's lap the year she started high school. For a kung fu "scholarship. For more advanced classes than she'd signed up for at school, with demanding new teachers who seemed to care way too much about a certain girl with a pierced nose and multicolored hair sitting at the back of the room. It had taken Nellie a long time to figure out where all those opportunities came from.
But now Nellie saw that Grace had changed her life completely. And Grace was one of the good Cahills, Nellie thought. What could someone like Isabel Kabra do to people like me if she's in charge? Nellie fingered the "K" coin Dan had handed her.
It had seemed just like a coin toss --random luck- -that Grace had chosen Nellie to be Amy and Dan's au pair. But in Jamaica, Nellie had found out that her family had been linked to the Cahills for generations. In her own way, Nellie had been as fated to take part in the Clue hunt as Amy and Dan. Nellie kept fingering the "K" coin. And then she wasn't thinking about families or fate. Amy sprang forward. But this place is so yikes-worthy, I forgot about the key. C'mon, let's explore.
Amy lowered her voice to a whisper. The other strongholds were full of people. Don't be a weenie. He couldn't resist the array of genius and ingenuity before him.
Holograms shimmered, LEDs flickered. Over in a corner, a machine began to clatter, spitting out ticker tape, just like in an old movie. Blueprints of inventions projected down one wall. He charged down the gallery, calling back, "Oh, man.
Thomas Edison was a Cahill! How cool is that? The lightbulb! While Dan circled Robert Fulton's design for a steamboat, 35 she stared at a schematic of a submarine weapons-delivery system. Dan let out a whoop. Eli Whitney was an Ekat.
It seemed to suck all the energy in the room. We invented the bicycle! As she grew closer, she realized that it wasn't a curtain but a wall of shadow that was somehow created by a machine aiming light -- or was it the absence of light? How was that possible? Elias Howe, you rock! Ahead of her was a white screen.
As soon as she approached, it was activated. It took her almost a full minute to understand. At first, it was just blueprints flashing on the screen. Then numbers. She heard Dan crowing something about the internal combustion engine. She pressed her hands to her mouth.
Dan was right outside the shadow. We changed history! Another stream of images began. Dan walked through the shadow curtain. There were more photographs to come in the slide show. Amy yanked Dan back into the brightly lit gallery. I want to see! You don't want to see how we figured out a poison gas delivery system to kill millions.
Except for the small scar under his eye, which stayed white. It was how he looked when he was really upset. She should stop.
But she didn't. Does that rock? For the first time since he was a tiny kid, she had set out to make her brother cry. Which was funny, because she was the one who wanted to wail.
She wanted to stamp her feet. She wanted to scream. But her eyes were dry. Embedded in our DNA? I mean, where would we be without Edison? In the dark, that's where. Anyway, we don't know what branch we're in.
We only know we're Cahills. If I had to choose a branch based on the bad guys, I wouldn't want to be part of any of them. Why would Grace want us to know that we were connected to so much evil? But Grace She loved us, Danny. Or, at least I thought so. What do you mean? She didn't leave us anything. She just lumped us in with all the rest of the Cahills. He expected Amy to leap to Grace's defense like she always did. It annoyed him, but he depended on it, too.
There was this whole huge thing in her life, and we didn't know. Being a Cahill was so much a part of her. How could we have known her, really known her, if we didn't know that? McIntyre told us to trust no one. What if that includes She hated saying these things. She hated thinking them. But she couldn't stop now. She kept trusting people who weren't worth it, and how dumb was that? Ian had played her for a sucker, and she sure had cooperated.
If she was going to win this contest, she had to wise up. She was showing me how real research was done. So that if I had to go into a place like that, I wouldn't be intimidated. What did she do after we went to the aquarium, Dan? I thought it was a game. And why would she want us to know it? Already we've lied and cheated and stolen to get here. We've basically turned into criminals. She knew her little brother was trying to distract her.
He was afraid of what she was going to say. But she had to say it. He'd had enough of this new Amy. He wanted to shake her until the old one came back. He could hardly remember his parents. Grace was all he had when it came to memories of feeling safe. Amy couldn't take that away from him. He never told his sister to shut up. He could call her a dweeb or a loser or a pain, but he never told her to shut up. They weren't allowed to say those words to each other. It had been a rule their parents had, and even if he couldn't remember their saying it, Amy could.
But he wanted her to shut up. If he could have without looking like a baby, he'd put his hands over his ears. He could see by her face that she knew she'd gone too far. But his sister had suddenly turned into a district attorney. Think about it. We were just lucky that Nellie could come with us. Did Grace expect us to travel around the world by ourselves?
Put us in horrible danger? If she loved us, wouldn't she have wanted to protect us? And what about the branches of the family? She 40 must have known which one we belong to. Everyone else knows their branch. The Horrible Holt family knows that they belong to the Tomas. Even Natalie and And he who shall not be named. We're just His voice shook.
It was okay for him to wonder why Grace hadn't left them some kind of message. He'd been angry at his grandmother, too. But for Amy to say that Grace had been some kind of monster grooming them for this It couldn't be true.
Something inside him would break into pieces if it was. Sometimes he had felt left out when Grace was still alive. Amy had been more like Grace, interested in history and museums. But now it was like she was speaking every dark thought he ever had since Grace's funeral. That wasn't what Amy was supposed to do. She was supposed to defend their grandmother. If Amy didn't believe in Grace anymore, what did they have left He turned around, his eyes burning.
He walked away. Amy stayed on the floor. She touched her jade necklace, the one she never took off that had belonged to Grace. She felt a sick sensation inside. Something hollow was there that hadn't been before. It was the absence of something she'd depended on -Grace's love. She's not with me anymore. Her head in her hands, she heard Dan's footsteps echo as he walked down the gallery, trying to put distance between them. The noise stopped. A long silence made her lift her head.
Dan had walked all the way down to the third gallery. He stood in front of a vitrine, unmoving. Something about the tension in his shoulders made her instantly alert. He didn't answer. She rose and walked toward him. He stood in front of three vitrines lined up in a row. Each held an identical statue of the lion-headed goddess Sakhet. The statues were only about eight inches high and appeared to be made of solid gold.
Only their eyes were different. One glittered with green stones, one with red, one with blue. Each statue floated and revolved in a pool of white light. She forgot the argument for now. The statues looked as coldly beautiful as jewels. He placed a finger on a touch-sensitive panel. A hologram appeared. It was a diagram of the Sakhet. It revolved to show a cross section. A drawing appeared on the screen. Dan touched the screen. They crossed to the next Sakhet. Again, Dan touched the screen.
She knew Carter was a famous archaeologist. Later, in , he would go on to find King Tutankhamen's tomb. No one has been able to figure it out. They think they're maps of tombs. But they don't match with any that have been discovered. There could be another one out there. And I believe my nephew might have it. Dan wondered. He didn't see a door anywhere. It was like he'd just appeared out of nowhere. I thought it might be my nephew.
What a pity not to see him. I was looking forward to it. He thought about the locked exit door. If they had to run, where would they go? He saw Amy's glance dart beyond Bae. She was looking for a way to escape, too. Bae's weird grin grew wider, as if he'd smelled their fear.
I designed it myself. Bae's grin vanished. They don't realize this has nothing to do with my own glory -- I designed it for all Ekats. Nevertheless, 45 am I wrong to point out that it was I who had the foresight to buy this hotel? It was I who had the vision? Cairo always had an Ekat stronghold, but it was nothing like this. A shabby house found for us by Howard Carter back in , when he was searching for the second Sakhet. During the Second World War we had to hide the objects here and there, and I saw the wisdom of building a better stronghold.
No one else understood the great need. It took me years. And as technology advances, I make improvements. This is as good as a museum, don't you think?
Such a fitting tribute to the many geniuses of the descendants of Katherine. Dan felt a chill shudder through him. It was like having a close-up view of a shark's eyes. Right before he opened his jaws and cut you in two. Such a brilliant mind and such a silly man. She might be cornered, she might be scared, but she wasn't going to let this evil guy push them around.
I promised my dear departed brother I would watch out for him. When Alistair was younger, he had such promise. He was the one to discover how to open the third Sakhet. Then he goes off to become an inventor, and what does he invent? A tasteless, indigestible piece of frozen cardboard masquerading as food! Bae leaned on his cane. Money is not a sign of achievement. Not to the Ekats. That's why we're superior to the others. What do we value?
Not power, like the Lucians, or physical strength, like the Tomas. Not even the cleverness of the Janus. It is something greater. And channeling it to usefulness. That remark was not worthy of you. Ekats are not evil. They are not good. They invent. They challenge. They lead. Some lives lost? Those are 47 petty concerns. What is important is the discovery. The invention. Do you understand? You know that what makes us extraordinary can sometimes make us dangerous.
Your ancestors are proof of that. It is your job to learn from their mistakes as well as their triumphs. Isn't that true? But at last he'd made sense. He took another step toward them, holding out one arm in a genial way. They backed up again. No way did Dan want to get close to this evil, ancient dude.
Instead, it was a total creep-out. We should be allies. You've come far on the search for the thirty-nine clues, but we all need help. How about a simple exchange of information?
I will tell you what I know of the great Sakhet mystery. You will tell me the whereabouts of my nephew. I know he is fond of you. Bae inclined his head. I will show you trust, and you will do the same, I am sure. Our glorious ancestor Katherine, 48 the queen of ingenuity, left Europe for Egypt.
Can you imagine what kind of courage it took for a woman to travel alone in the early part of the sixteenth century? We know she came to Cairo and purchased three small statues of Sakhet. One had ruby eyes, one lapis, one emerald. She then disguised herself as a man and left Cairo. We know she met up with a family of tomb robbers and hired them to take her on a trip up the Nile.
She hid each Sakhet, and each one hid a secret. It's no accident that Katherine chose a goddess. She believed she was never given her due as a woman. And she wasn't. That horrid little Lucian, Napoleon, instructed his scholars to keep their eyes peeled for any statue of Sakhet. Some think he decided to invade the country in order to obtain it.
Napoleon wasn't known for his intellect. Bernardino Drovetti. He was the one who identified the Sakhet. It was in Napoleon's private collection. The Ekats made numerous attempts to steal it. Finally, Drovetti thought he could keep it safe if he shipped it off in a collection he donated to the Louvre Museum. Bernardino Drovetti -- could he be the "B.
He pronounced the statue a fake and was able to get it from the museum. He smuggled it back to us for study. Right under Drovetti's nose! We found the first piece of the puzzle. One you didn't know about. Drovetti sent it to a palace. Bae took a few steps toward the second Sakhet. Amy and Dan were forced to move, too, or they'd be standing close to him. The word got out, and many Cahills came to Egypt in hopes of finding one. We prefer to work behind the scenes.
It wasn't until Howard Carter made it his business to search that we found the second. Tomb after tomb, excavation after excavation. He was in competition with Flinders Petrie. Bae nodded. Carter found it. Here, this one, with the emerald eyes. There was just one problem. The statue is solid. We cannot find a way in. It is identical to the others, but there is no secret catch. We know this for certain. So what is the answer?
There must be. I myself, since I was a young man, have searched and searched. I haunted shops in Cairo, I searched through every auction catalog, I visited every black-market dealer. And then one day I found the third. We've failed at such a crucial point. We've run computer modeling and written programs to solve the mystery. There are hundreds of tombs out there that haven't been discovered yet. Any one of them could be the one. It could be that we misinterpreted Katherine's hint. Or perhaps she had a fourth Sakhet as a backup.
It's impossible to say. He seemed out of breath. If he has a Sakhet, they will welcome and honor him. I can retire a happy man. But we've had our differences. He's too proud to let me help him. But I must. For his sake, and the sake of the Ekaterinas.
He stepped toward them again. Tell me where I can find my nephew. Was she actually buying this? Her eyes looked soft. He tugged at her elbow, making her back up. He was suddenly wary of being within striking distance of that cane. Dan stared back at him, never dropping his gaze. Bae moved astonishingly fast. He flipped his cane around and aimed it at the far corner of the ceiling.
From one of the faceted jewels, a laser shot out. They heard a soft whisper. A vitrine the size of a small room slammed down from above. They realized too late that Bae had maneuvered them into a specific spot. They were trapped inside four walls of unbreakable plastic with no door. She'd throw herself into a gulag if she could. She deserved icy weather, thin blankets, one rotten turnip for supper. How could she let two amateurs, two children, give her the slip? And if she had to eat another falafel, she'd gag.
You couldn't find a plain boiled potato anywhere in this crazy country. Enough with foreign food. Enough with the tourist disguise. Underneath it she wore a plain black T-shirt from the Gap. A little secret known only to her -- she did love that American Gap. T-shirts in every color! She sat in a chair in her cheap hotel room and looked down at the crazy traffic. She pressed a finger against her eye, which had started to twitch.
She had to think. She had almost had those kids, twice, and she'd lost them! Was she slipping? She wanted back on her home ground. She had done some operations in Cairo when she was with the KGB. She didn't operate well here. The people 53 were too friendly. If you asked someone for directions, they'd walk with you and take you there. And it was so hot. Soon the snows would be covering the steppes in Russia, and here it was well over ninety degrees.
She turned the ceiling fan to the highest setting. She had another pair of brats on her hands -- Ian and Natalie Kabra. They were supposed to be working together, and those two know-it-alls kept trying to double-cross her.
Now they were in Kyrgyzstan, not answering their cell phones. She'd finally had to resort to calling their parents. And she never liked to talk to the Kabras.
They had a history together, and she trusted them even less than their kids. Those two. Geniuses, but stupid. Just like their parents. Their parents Irina shook her head, trying to rid herself of the memory. She never thought about things she couldn't change. Things in the past. Except suddenly, here in Cairo, she found herself thinking about Grace Cahill.
It had been years ago that the Lucians had called a top-level meeting to discuss the Grace Cahill problem. They knew Grace had collected many Clues. She seemed to have a genius for it. Even the Lucians had to admit that. She had to be stopped. It was Irina who had come up with the idea of the alliance. Just a ruse, of course. But it could be a way to get close to Grace, to learn something.
Irina had 54 offered herself to be the go-between. The cheese in the mousetrap. She had met with Grace. Alone, and face-to-face. The conversation had been short. It was clear that Grace hadn't believed Irina for a moment. You're trying to play me for a fool, but it is you, Irina, who is the fool, Grace had said. You offer an alliance as a ruse instead of a reality.
It is the curse of the Lucians to think they can do everything alone. Irina had walked away furious. Nobody called her a fool. Talks resumed on the Grace Cahill problem. Plans discussed and discarded. Overtures to others. Shaky alliances agreed to in order to attack a shared problem. All to the good. Horribly wrong. Grace's daughter and son-in-law had lost their lives in that fire. She would never forget the day of the funeral. Irina knew it was not her place to go, yet she couldn't stay away.
It hadn't been to gloat, no matter what Grace thought. Grace's face had been so white and still. The loss other beloved daughter, her treasured son-in-law, the tragedy of her orphaned grandchildren -- she had seemed years older. She moved like an old woman and her eyes held limitless grief. Her hands shook as she tossed roses onto the caskets as they were lowered into the earth. She wanted to say, I walked the streets of Moscow like a ghost.
I lost my soul, I lost my heart. She wanted to say, They think that grief is noisy, Grace. They think you'll cry and wail. But I know that grief is as silent as snow. I too have lost a child. She said none of these things. Her memories were her own. She had sealed them off.
The only relic of that time was an eye that twitched when she was under emotional stress. That day she had blamed Grace for forcing her to recall her memories.
She had been brusque and chilly. She had said to Grace, "Fate has no scruples. These things happen. She'd heard her own words echo and been shocked at their coldness. She'd wanted to turn back.
She'd wanted to show compassion, to be a person with blood in her veins. But she hadn't. Instead, she had felt Grace's contempt run over her, like wave after wave from the cold Bering Strait. Then, in a flash, contempt turned to suspicion. Irina had not been able to meet Grace's eyes. So, to say the least, she had been surprised to be invited to Grace's funeral.
It was only when she knew the other Cahills were invited that she decided to go. All those ancient hatreds. And Grace as the puppet master. Had Grace set a trap that she couldn't see? Who was the cheese? Who was the mouse?
What is your plan, Grace? You always had a plan. Those grandchildren -- why did Grace include them? They couldn't possibly beat the rest of the Cahills for the Clues. They were years behind in knowledge and training.
Too late to catch up. They had been lucky so far. Only that. Two children without anyone to help them, running on fear and loss The things I've known. The things I've seen She felt her eye twitching.
She clapped a hand to her face, trying to halt the shivering nerve. The past was past. Except here she was in Egypt, and everywhere she turned, the very air seemed to whisper that the past was very much alive After all these years of hating museums, he'd turned into a permanent exhibit. Dan pressed his palms against the wall. We don't know anything. Maybe they'll call the police He owns the hotel.
They're not going to do anything. She had been in worse spots, she told herself. But somehow this Plexiglas cube made her feel panicked. Like she was a thing on display, not 58 a person. She tried to take a breath.
Losing his breath was a real issue for him. Amy straightened her shoulders. She wasn't going to lose it. She'd freaked out in front of Dan before, and she wasn't going to do it again. The thought rose and she batted it away.
The panic eased a little. She could do this. She knew now that the trick to being brave was not thinking of the worst thing that could happen. It was a weird thing -- if you acted brave, you could almost feel brave. She'd just have to work at it. As hard as she could. But no howl of dismay came from the other room. Nellie pushed open the door. The room was empty. A robe lay on the floor next to a broken umbrella. The kids had flown the coop. Who could blame them? They were in a five-star hotel, and they wanted to explore.
Nellie flopped 59 on a sofa and gave herself up to a luxurious perusal of the room service menu. Twenty minutes later, she'd plowed through quite a bit of the delicious assortment of small dishes called meze. But even with the last bites of sabanikhiyat, she realized that her stomach was more full of worry than spinach. Something was up.
It had taken her way too long to realize it. Alarm bells should have been clanging way before this. She was getting sloppy. Blame it on hunger or jet lag, but there was no excuse. You've got some explaining to do if you don't kick your brain into overdrive, Nellie. She had been schooled not to show panic, so she didn't. She sprang up and inspected the room.
For the first time, she took note of the robe on the floor by the door. At first she'd assumed that it was Dan's usual sloppy habits, but when she studied it again, she realized that the way it was lying meant that someone had flung it off in a hurry. While standing facing that connecting door Nellie sprang forward. She examined every inch of the door.
Then she looked at the broken umbrella on the floor. And everything suddenly made sense. Her heart squeezed. Just clapping her eyes on them gave her a nice rush of relief.
But how was she going to get them out of there? She had to keep them calm. Amy heard the slap of flip-flops and whirled around. The fear in her eyes turned to relief. The cube must have been wired for sound. Nellie took a bite of her pita. Uh, notice something? She had tucked his inhaler in her robe pocket in case he needed it. But it would be better if he didn't. Nellie took another bite. Even while she chewed, she assessed the situation with a cool glance.
Saladin appeared and brushed against her ankles. This could be a way for me to keep tabs on you. It's, like, a method. He's the one who put us in this thing. What did he do, arm wrestle you? She tapped it with a fingernail. Nellie slapped the pocket of her robe.
She reached into her pita, then bent down and fed it to Saladin. Saladin licked his cat lips and began to rub against Nellie's legs, begging for more. Nellie scooped out another blob of hummus. She looked up at the corner again.
She aimed and fired the blob up at the ceiling. One of her many skills, besides making the best grilled cheese sandwiches on the planet, was perfect aim. Saladin followed her gaze.
Go get it! Saladin leaped up on a vitrine. He gathered himself to spring. He flew up to the ceiling and landed on the metal fretwork that held the lighting system.
He casually stepped to the end of a beam, leaped over to the circuit, and began to lick the activator. The cube shuddered a bit, then slowly began to rise. The beam will reactivate. She snatched her foot away just as Saladin lazily jumped to the floor and the cube slammed back into place. Amy stood and dusted off her knees. That was a major hint.
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