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The Maze of Bones

The Maze of Bones

Page 2


Joe figures. Even the mom looked like she should be shaving and chewing on a cigar.

"I hope you losers took a good last look around the house," Madison said. "You're not going to be invited back here anymore, now that the old witch is dead."

"Rawf!" said Arnold the pit bull.

Dan looked around for Beatrice, but as usual she wasn't anywhere near them. She'd drifted off to talk to the other old people.

"Grace wasn't a witch," Dan said. "And we're going to inherit this place!"

The big brother, Hamilton, laughed. "Yeah, right." His hair was combed toward the middle so it stuck up like a shark fin. "Wait till they read the will, runt. I'm gonna kick you out myself!"

"All right, team," the dad said. "Enough of this. Formation!"

The family lined up and started jogging toward the grave site, knocking other relatives out of their way as Arnold snapped at everyone's heels.

"Is your head okay?" Amy asked guiltily.

Dan nodded. He was a little annoyed Amy hadn't helped him, but there was no point complaining about it. She always got tongue-tied around other people. "Man, I hate the Holts."

"We've got worse problems." Amy pointed toward the grave site, and Dan's heart sank.

"The Cobras," he muttered.

Ian and Natalie Kabra were standing by Grace's coffin, looking like perfect little angels as they talked to the preacher. They wore matching designer mourning outfits that complemented their silky black hair and cinnamon-colored skin. They could've been child supermodels.

"They won't try anything during the funeral," Dan said hopefully. "They're just here for Grace's money like the rest of them. But they won't get it."

Amy frowned. "Dan ... did you really believe what you said, about us inheriting the mansion?"

"Of course! You know Grace liked us best. We spent more time with her than anybody."

Amy sighed like Dan was too young to understand, which Dan hated.

"Come on," she said. "We might as well get this over with." And together they waded into the crowd.

The funeral was a blur to Dan. The minister said some stuff about ashes. They lowered the coffin into the ground. Everybody tossed in a shovelful of dirt. Dan thought the mourners enjoyed this part too much, especially Ian and Natalie.

He recognized a few more relatives: Alistair Oh, the old Korean dude with the diamond-tipped walking stick who always insisted they call him Uncle; the Russian lady Irina Spasky, who had a twitch in one eye so everybody called her Spaz behind her back; the Starling triplets -- Ned, Ted, and Sinead, who looked like part of a cloned Ivy League lacrosse team. Even that kid from television was there: Jonah Wizard. He stood to one side, getting his picture taken with a bunch of girls, and there was a line of people waiting to talk to him. He was dressed just like on TV, with lots of silver chains and bracelets, ripped jeans, and a black muscle shirt (which was kind of stupid, since he didn't have any muscles). An older African-American guy in a business suit stood behind him, punching notes in a BlackBerry. Probably Jonah's dad. Dan had heard that Jonah Wizard was related to the Cahills, but he'd never seen him in person before. He wondered if he should get an autograph for his collection.

After the service, a guy in a charcoal-gray suit stepped to the podium. He looked vaguely familiar to Dan. The man had a long pointed nose and a balding head. He reminded Dan of a vulture.

"Thank you all for coming," he said gravely. "I am William McIntyre, Madame Cahill's lawyer and executor."

"Executor?" Dan whispered to Amy. "He killed her?"

"No, you idiot," Amy whispered back. "That means he's in charge of her will."

"If you will look inside your programs," William McIntyre continued, "some of you will find a gold invitation card."

Excited murmuring broke out as four hundred people leafed through their programs.

Then most of them cursed and shouted complaints when they found nothing. Dan ripped through his program. Inside was a card with a gold-leafed border. It read:

Dan and Amy Cahill are hereby invited to the reading of the last will and testament of Grace Cahill Where:

The Great Hall, Cahill Manor

When:

Now

"I knew it!" Dan said.

"I assure you," Mr. McIntyre said, raising his voice above the crowd, "the invitations were not done randomly. I apologize to those of you who were excluded. Grace Cahill meant you no disrespect. Of all the members of the Cahill clan, only a few were chosen as the most likely."

The crowd started yelling and arguing. Finally, Dan couldn't stand it anymore. He called out, "Most likely to what?"

"In your case, Dan," Ian Kabra muttered right behind him, "to be a stupid American git."

His sister, Natalie, giggled. She was holding an invitation and looking very pleased with herself.

Before Dan could kick Ian in a soft spot, the gray-suited man answered. "To be the beneficiaries of Grace Cahill's will. Now, if you please, those with invitations will gather in the Great Hall."

People with invitations hurried toward the house like somebody had just yelled "Free food!"

Natalie Kabra winked at Dan.

"Ciao, cousin. Must run collect our fortune." Then she and her brother strolled up the drive.

"Forget them," Amy said. "Dan, maybe you're right. Maybe we'll inherit something."

But Dan frowned. If this invitation was such a great thing, why did the lawyer guy look so grim? And why had Grace included the Kabras?

As he passed through the main entrance of the mansion, Dan glanced up at the stone crest above the door -- a large C surrounded by four smaller designs -- a dragon, a bear, a wolf, and two snakes entwined around a sword. The crest had always fascinated Dan, though he didn't know what it meant. All the animals seemed to glare at him, like they were about to strike. He followed the crowd inside, wondering why those animals were so mad.

The Great Hall was as big as a basketball court, with tons of armor and swords lining the walls and huge windows that looked like Batman could crash through them any minute.

William McIntyre stood at a table in front with a projector screen behind him, while everybody else filed into rows of seats. There were about forty people in all, including the Holts and the Kabras and Aunt Beatrice, who looked completely disgusted to be there -- or maybe she was just disgusted that everybody else had been invited to her sister's will reading.

Mr. McIntyre raised his hand for quiet. He slipped a document from a brown leather folder, adjusted his bifocals, and began to read: '"I, Grace Cahill, being of sound mind and body, do hereby divide my entire estate among those who accept the challenge and those who do not.'"

"Whoa," Eisenhower Holt interrupted. "What challenge? What's she mean?"

"I am getting to that, sir." Mr. McIntyre cleared his throat and continued: '"You have been chosen as the most likely to succeed in the greatest, most perilous undertaking of all time -- a quest of vital importance to the Cahill family and the world at large.'"

Forty people started talking at once, asking questions and demanding answers.

" 'Perilous undertaking'?" Cousin Ingrid shouted. "What is she talking about?"

"I thought this was about money!" Uncle Jose yelled. "A quest? Who does she think we are? We're Cahills, not adventurers!"

Dan noticed Ian and Natalie Kabra exchange a meaningful look. Irina Spasky whispered something in Alistair Oh's ear, but most of the other spectators looked as confused as Dan felt.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please," Mr. McIntyre said. "If you will direct your attention to the screen, perhaps Madame Cahill can explain things better than I."

Dan's heart did a flip-flop. What was Mr. McIntyre talking about? Then a projector on the ceiling hummed to life. The shouting in the room died down as Grace's image flickered on the screen.

She was sitting up in bed with Saladin on her lap. She wore a black dressing gown, like she was a mourner at her own funeral, but she looked healthier than the last time Dan had seen her. Her complexion was pink. Her face and hands didn't look as thin.

The video must've been made months ago, before her cancer got bad. Dan got a lump in his throat. He had a crazy urge to call to her:

Grace, it's me! It's Dan!

But of course it was just an image. He looked at Amy and saw a tear trickling down the base of her nose.

"Fellow Cahills," Grace said. "If you are watching this, it means I am dead, and I have decided to use my alternate will. No doubt you are arguing amongst yourselves and giving poor Mr. McIntyre a hard time about this contest I have instituted." Grace gave the camera a dry smile. "You always were a stubborn bunch. For once, close your mouths and listen."

"Hey, wait a minute!" Eisenhower Holt protested, but his wife shushed him.

"I assure you," Grace continued, "this contest is no trick. It is deadly serious business.

Most of you know you belong to the Cahill family, but many of you may not realize just how important our family is. I tell you the Cahills have had a greater impact on human civilization than any other family in history."

More confused shouting broke out. Irina Spasky stood up and yelled, "Silence! I wish to hear!"

"My relatives," Grace's image said, "you stand on the brink of our greatest challenge.

Each of you has the potential to succeed. Some of you may decide to form a team with other people in this room to pursue the challenge. Some of you may prefer to take up the challenge alone. Most of you, I'm afraid, will decline the challenge and run away with your tails between your legs. Only one team will succeed, and each of you must sacrifice your share of the inheritance to participate."

She held up a manila envelope sealed with red wax. Her eyes were as bright and hard as steel. "If you accept, you shall be given the first of thirty-nine clues. These clues will lead you to a secret, which, should you find it, will make you the most powerful, influential human beings on the planet. You will realize the destiny of the Cahill family. I now beg you all to listen to Mr. McIntyre. Allow him to explain the rules.

Think long and hard before you make your choice." She stared straight into the camera, and Dan wanted her to say something special to them:

Dan and Amy, I'll miss you most of all. Nobody else in this room really matters to me.

Something like that.

Instead, Grace said, "I'm counting on you all. Good luck, and good-bye."

The screen went dark. Amy gripped Dan's hand. Her fingers were trembling. To Dan, it felt like they'd just lost Grace all over again. Then everyone around them started talking at once.

"Greatest family in history?" Cousin Ingrid yelled. "Is she crazy?"

"Stubborn?"

Eisenhower Holt shouted. "She called us stubborn?"

"William!" Alistair Oh's voice rose above the rest. "Just a moment! There are people here I don't even recognize, people who may not even be members of the family. How do we know -- "

"If you are in this room, sir," Mr. McIntyre said, "you are a Cahill. Whether your surname is Cahill or not doesn't matter. Everyone here has Cahill blood."

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