"Whoa," he said. "The Lucian crest."
Nellie squinted. "That? That looks like one of those ladies on a trucker's mud flaps."
"No, it's two snakes around a sword," Amy said. "Trust me, if you'd seen the Lucian crest, you'd recognize it."
"There's more," Alistair said. "Look at the paper Franklin is holding. Turn it upside down. There - brushed over with white paint, almost impossible to read."
Dan never would've noticed if Alistair hadn't said something, but when he looked closely, he could see the faint shadow of words on the document in Franklin's hand.
"'Paris,'" he read. "'1785.'"
"Exactly, my dear boy: a painting of Franklin with a key, the Cahill family crest, and the words Paris, 1785. A significant hint."
"I never would've found this," Amy said in amazement.
Alistair shrugged. "As you said, my dear, there are many possible hints, all leading us along the path to the second clue. Unfortunately, we Cahills would rather fight each other, steal information, and keep each other from getting ahead" -- he shifted his weight and winced -- "as my cracked rib and black eyes will testify."
"But who buried all these hints in the first place?" Amy demanded. "Franklin?"
Alistair sipped his espresso. "I don't know, my dear. If I were to guess, I'd say it is a hodgepodge, a collected effort by many Cahills over the centuries. Dear old Grace seems to be the one who wove them all together, though why or how, I don't know.
Whatever the final treasure is, the greatest Cahill minds have gone to a good deal of trouble to hide it. Or perhaps, as in the case of Benjamin Franklin, some of them are trying to lead us toward it. I suppose we will only know for certain when we find the treasure."
"I still believe we must have an alliance," Alistair said.
"Uh-uh." Nellie shook her head. "Don't trust this guy, kiddos. He's too smooth."
Alistair laughed. "And you're an expert on smooth, my teenage babysitter?"
"Au pair!" Nellie corrected.
Alistair looked like he wanted to make another joke at her expense. Then he glanced at her lethal backpack and apparently changed his mind.
"The point is, children, our competitors have decided you are the team to beat."
"But why us?" Amy demanded.
Alistair shrugged. "You've been ahead of the game so far. You have escaped every trap. You were always Grace's favorites." His eyes glittered, like a starving man looking at a Big Mac. "Let's be honest, eh? We all believe Grace gave you inside information.
She must have. Tell me what it is, and I can help you."
Dan clenched his fists. He remembered that video of Grace, how stunned he'd felt when she'd announced the contest. Grace should have given them inside information. If she'd really loved them, she wouldn't have left them in the dark. The other teams were after them now because they thought Amy and Dan were Grace's favorites. But apparently Grace hadn't cared about them. They were just another team in this big cruel game she'd cooked up. The more he thought about it, the more betrayed he felt. He looked at the jade necklace around Amy's neck.
He wanted to yank it off and throw it away. His eyes started to burn.
"We don't have inside information," he mumbled.
"Come now, my boy," Alistair said. "You are in danger. I could protect you. We could search the Catacombs together."
"We'll search by ourselves," Dan said.
"As you wish, my boy. But be aware: The Catacombs are huge. There are miles of tunnels. Most aren't even mapped. You can easily get lost down there. Special police patrol it to keep out trespassers. Some of the tunnels are flooded. Others collapse from time to time. Searching for Franklin's clue in the Catacombs will be dangerous and futile unless" -- he leaned forward and raised his eyebrows -- "unless you do know something you haven't told me. The almanac had a note in the margin. It mentioned coordinates in a box. You wouldn't happen to know what this box might be?"
"Even if we knew," Dan said, "we wouldn't tell you."
Amy touched the jade necklace at her collar. "Sorry, Uncle Alistair."
"I see." Alistair sat back. "I admire your spirit. But what if I were to ... trade information? I'm sure you are wondering about those notes your mother made. I knew your parents. I could explain a few things."
Dan felt as if the air had turned to glass. He was afraid to move or he might get cut.
"What few things?"
Alistair smiled, like he knew he'd hooked them. "Your mother's interest in the clues, perhaps. Or what your father really did for a living."
"He was a math professor," Amy said.
"Mmm." Alistair's smile was so irritating Dan was tempted to tell Nellie to whack him with the backpack again. "Maybe you'd like to know about the night they died?"
The turkey-and-cheese sandwich churned in Dan's stomach. "What do you know about that?"
"Many years ago, your mother -- " Alistair stopped abruptly. His eyes fixed on something across the street. "Children, we must continue this later. I believe you should look in the Catacombs by yourselves. I'll stay behind, as a show of good faith."
"What do you mean?" Dan demanded.
Alistair pointed with his cane. A hundred yards down the street, Ian and Natalie Kabra were pushing through the crowd, hurrying toward the Catacombs entrance.
"I'll hold them off as long as I can," Alistair promised. "Now get underground quickly!"
Amy hated crowds, but the idea of plunging into the middle of seven million dead people didn't bother her.
Nellie, Dan, and she hurried down a metal staircase. They found themselves in a limestone corridor with metal pipes running overhead and dim electric lights. The warm air smelled of mildew and wet rock.
"Only one exit, guys," Nellie said nervously. "If we get caught down here -- "
"The tunnel should branch out soon," Amy said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
The stone walls were etched with graffiti. Some looked recent, some ancient. One inscription was engraved on a marble slab right above their heads.
"Stop, mortals," Nellie translated.
"This is the empire of death."
"Cheerful," Dan muttered.