Beatrice usually scared her to death. Even Dan looked impressed.
"Watch your place, young lady!" Beatrice warned. "Do the responsible thing or else!"
"Or else what?" Dan asked innocently.
Beatrice's face turned bright red. "Or else, you little upstart, I will disown you and leave you to Social Services. You will be penniless orphans, and I'll make sure no Cahill ever helps you again! This whole business is absurd. You'll take the money and wash your hands of my sister's ridiculous scheme for finding the -- "
She stopped abruptly.
"Finding the what?" Dan asked.
"Never you mind," Beatrice said. With a shock, Amy realized Aunt Beatrice was scared.
"Just make the right choice, or you will never have my support again!"
She marched off. Amy looked at Dan, but before she could say anything, Mr. McIntyre rang a little bell. Slowly, the wrangling and arguing in the Great Hall died down. The assembly took their seats.
"It is time," Mr. McIntyre said. "I must warn you that once the choice is made, there is no turning back. No changing minds."
"Wait a moment, William," Alistair Oh said. "This isn't fair. We know almost nothing about the challenge. How are we to judge whether it is worth the gamble?"
Mr. McIntyre pursed his lips. "I am limited in what I can say, sir. You know that the Cahill family is very large ... very old. It has many branches. Some of you, until today, did not even realize you were Cahills. But as Madame Grace said in her video address, this family has been instrumental in shaping human civilization. Some of the most important figures in history have in fact been Cahills."
Excited muttering filled the room.
Amy's mind was racing. She'd always known the Cahills were important. A lot of them were rich. They lived all over the world. But shaping human civilization? She wasn't sure what Mr. McIntyre meant.
"Historical figures?" Mr. Holt bellowed. "Like who?"
Mr. McIntyre cleared his throat. "Sir, you would be hard-pressed to name a major historical figure in the last few centuries who was not a member of this family."
"Abraham Lincoln," Cousin Ingrid shouted out. "Eleanor Roosevelt."
"Yes," Mr. McIntyre said simply. "And yes."
A stunned silence fell in the room.
"Harry Houdini!" Madison Holt shouted.
"Lewis and Clark!" her sister, Reagan, suggested.
"Yes, yes, and yes," Mr. McIntyre said.
"Oh, come on!" Mr. Holt yelled. "That's impossible!"
"I agree!" Uncle Jose said. "You're putting us on, McIntyre."
"I am completely serious," the old lawyer assured him. "And yet, all the previous accomplishments of the Cahill clan are nothing compared to the challenge that now faces you. It is the time for you to discover the greatest secret of the Cahills, to become the most powerful members of the family in history -- or to die trying."
Amy felt something cold and heavy in her stomach, like she'd swallowed a cannonball.
How could she be related to all those famous people? How could Grace possibly have thought Amy could become more powerful than them? She got nervous just thinking about it. There was no way she'd have the courage for a dangerous quest.
But if she and Dan didn't accept the challenge ... She remembered Beatrice clutching their arms, telling them to take the money. Beatrice would find a way to steal their two million dollars. Amy wouldn't be able to stand up to her. They would go back to their dreary little apartment and nothing would change, except Grace would be gone. No weekend trips to look forward to, nothing to remember her by. Amy never thought anything could be worse than when her parents died, but this was. She and Dan were totally alone. The only way out was this crazy idea that they were part of a great historical family ... part of some mysterious contest. Amy's hands started to sweat.
"Embarking on this quest," Mr. McIntyre was saying, "will lead you to the treasure.
But only one of you will attain it. One individual" -- his eyes flickered across Amy's face -- "or one team will find the treasure. I can tell you no more. I do not, myself, know where the chase will lead. I can only start you on the path, monitor your progress, and provide some small measure of guidance. Now -- who will choose first?"
Aunt Beatrice stood. "This is ridiculous. Any of you who play this silly game are fools. I'll take the money!"
Mr. McIntyre nodded. "As you wish, madam. As soon as you leave this room, the numbers on your voucher will become active. You may withdraw your money from the Royal Bank of Scotland at your leisure. Who's next?"
Several more stood up and took the money. Uncle Jose. Cousin Ingrid. A dozen other people Amy didn't recognize. Each took the green voucher and became an instant millionaire.
Then Ian and Natalie Kabra rose.
"We accept the challenge," Ian announced. "We will work as a team of two. Give us the clue."
"Very well," Mr. McIntyre said. "Your vouchers, please."
Ian and Natalie approached the table. Mr. McIntyre took out a silver cigarette lighter and burned the million-dollar papers. In return, he handed Ian and Natalie a manila envelope sealed with red wax. "Your first clue. You may not read it until instructed to do so. You, Ian and Natalie Kabra, will be Team One."
"Hey!" Mr. Holt objected. "Our whole family's taking the challenge! We want to be Team One!"
"We're number one!" the Holt kids started chanting, and their pit bull, Arnold, leaped into the air and barked along with them.
Mr. McIntyre raised his hand for silence. "Very well, Mr. Holt. Your family's vouchers, please. You shall be Team ... uh, you shall also be a team."
They made the trade -- five million-dollar vouchers for one envelope with a clue, and the Holts didn't even bat an eye. As they marched back to their seats, Reagan bumped Amy in the shoulder. "No pain, no gain, wimp!"
Next, Alistair Oh struggled to his feet. "Oh, very well. I can't resist a good riddle. I suppose you may call me Team Three."
Then the Starling triplets rushed forward. They put their vouchers on the table and three million more dollars went up in flames.
"Da," Irina Spasky said. "I, also, shall play this game. I work alone."
"Hey, yo, wait up." Jonah Wizard sauntered forward like he was pretending to be a street punk, the way he did on
Who Wants to Be a Gangsta?
Which was kind of ridiculous since he was worth about a billion dollars and lived in Beverly Hills. "I'm all over this." He slapped his voucher on the table. "Hand me the clue, homes."
"We'd like to film the contest," his dad piped up.
"No," Mr. McIntyre said.
"Cause it would make great TV," the dad said. "I could talk to the studios about a percentage split -- "
Mr. McIntyre insisted. "This is not for entertainment, sir. This is a matter of life and death."
Mr. McIntyre looked around the room and focused on Amy.
"Who else?" he called. "Now is the time to choose."
Amy realized she and Dan were the last ones undecided. Most of the forty guests had taken the money. Six teams had taken the challenge -- all of them older or richer or seemingly more likely to succeed than Amy and Dan. Aunt Beatrice glared at them, warning them that they were about to get disowned. Ian was smiling smugly.
Perhaps you weren't as important to the old woman as you thought, eh?
Amy remembered what his annoying sister, Natalie, had said:
Grace just knew they weren't up to the challenge.
Amy's face felt hot with shame. Maybe the Kabras were right. When the Holts turned her brother upside down, she hadn't fought back. When the Kabras insulted her, she'd just stood there tongue-tied. How could she handle a dangerous quest?
But then she heard another voice in her head:
You will make me proud, Amy.
And suddenly she knew:
This was what Grace had been talking about. This was the adventure Amy was supposed to take. If she didn't, she might as well crawl under a rock and hide for the rest of her life.
She looked at her brother. Despite how annoying he was, they had always been able to communicate just by looking at each other. It wasn't telepathy or anything, but she could tell what her brother was thinking.
It's a lot of money, Dan told her.
A lot of awesome baseball cards.
Mom and Dad would want us to try, Amy replied with her eyes.
This is what Grace wanted us to do.
Yeah, but a Babe Ruth and a Mickey Mantle...
Ian and Natalie will hate it, Amy coaxed.
And Aunt Beatrice will probably blow a gasket.
A smile crept across his face.
I guess Babe Ruth can wait.
Amy took his voucher. They walked to the desk together and she picked up Mr. McIntyre's lighter.
"We're in," she told him, and she sent two million dollars up in smoke.
Dan felt a dizzy rush, like the time he ate twenty packs of Skittles. He couldn't believe how much money they'd just thrown away.
Ever since he was little, he'd dreamed about doing something that would make his parents proud. He knew they were dead, of course. He barely remembered them.
Still... he thought if he could just accomplish something amazing -- even cooler than making the ultimate basebal card collection or becoming a ninja lord -- his parents would somehow know. And they'd be proud. This competition to become the greatest Cahill sounded like the perfect chance.
Plus he liked treasure. And it was a real bonus that Aunt Beatrice's face turned completely purple as she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Now the Great Hall was empty except for the seven teams and Mr. McIntyre.
After a tense silence, the old lawyer said, "You may open your envelopes."
RIP, RIP, RIP.
The clue was written in black calligraphy on crème paper. It read:
The fine print to guess,
Seek out Richard S___
Mary-Todd Holt screeched. "That's all we get?"
"Ten words," Eisenhower Holt muttered. "That's -- " He started counting on his fingers.
"Roughly $500,000 per word," Alistair Oh supplied, "since your family gave up five million dollars. I got a bargain. Each word only cost me $100,000."
"That's stupid!" Madison Holt said. "We need more clue!"
"Richard S -- ," Ian mused. "Now who could that be?" He looked at his sister, and they both smiled like they were sharing a private joke. Dan wanted to kick them.
"Wait a minute." Jonah Wizard's dad scowled. "Did everyone get the same clue?
Because my son insists on exclusive material. It's in his standard contract."
"The thirty-nine clues," Mr. McIntyre said, "are the major stepping stones to the final goal. They are the same for each team. The first one, which you have received, is the only one that will be so simple."
"Simple?" Alistair Oh raised his eyebrows. "I'd hate to see the difficult ones."
"However," Mr. McIntyre continued, "there are many paths to each clue. Hints and secrets have been buried for you to find -- clues to the clues, if you will."