"Even you, Mr. McIntyre?" Natalie Kabra asked in her silky British accent.
The old lawyer flushed. "That, miss, is beside the point. Now, if I might be allowed to finish -- "
"But what's this about sacrificing our inheritance?" Aunt Beatrice complained. "Where's the money? It's just like my sister to come up with some foolishness!"
"Madam," Mr. McIntyre said, "you may certainly decline the challenge. If you do, you will receive what is under your chair."
Immediately, forty people felt around under their chairs. Eisenhower Holt was so anxious he picked up Reagan's chair with her still in it. Dan discovered an envelope under his, stuck on with tape. When he opened it, he found a green slip of paper with a bunch of numbers and the words ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND. Amy had one, too. So did everybody in the room.
"What you now hold is a bank voucher," Mr. McIntyre explained. "It shall only be activated if and when you renounce your claim to the challenge. If you so choose, each of you may walk out of this room with one million dollars and never have to think of Grace Cahill or her last wishes again. Or ... you may choose a clue -- a single clue that will be your only inheritance. No money. No property. Just a clue that might lead you to the most important treasure in the world and make you powerful beyond belief..."
William's gray eyes seemed to settle on Dan particularly. "... or it might kill you. One million dollars or the clue. You have five minutes to decide."
Amy Cahill thought she had the most annoying little brother on the planet. And that was before he almost got her killed.
It all started when Mr. McIntyre read their grandmother's will and showed them the video.
Amy sat there in shock. She found herself holding a green slip of paper worth one million dollars. A challenge? A dangerous secret? What was going on? She stared at the blank projector screen. She couldn't believe her grandmother would do something like this. The video must have been made months ago, judging from the way Grace had looked. Seeing her on the screen like that had stung Amy worse than salt in a cut.
How could Grace have been planning something this huge and not have warned them in advance?
Amy never expected to inherit much. All she wanted was something to remember Grace by -- a keepsake, maybe one piece of her beautiful jewelry. Now this ... she felt completely lost.
It didn't help that Dan was jumping around like he needed to go to the restroom.
"One million dollars!" he squealed. "I could get a Mickey Mantle rookie card and a Babe Ruth 1914!"
His tie was crooked, which matched his crooked grin. He had a scar under one eye from when he'd gone commando-raiding at seven and fallen on his plastic AK-47.
That's just the kind of little demon he was. But what Amy really resented was how comfortable he seemed, like all these people didn't bother him.
Amy hated crowds. She felt like everyone was watching her, waiting for her to make a fool of herself. Sometimes in her nightmares, she dreamed she was at the bottom of a pit, and all the people she knew were staring down at her, laughing. She'd try to climb out of the pit, but she could never make it.
Right now, all she wanted to do was run up to Grace's library, close the door, and curl up with a book. She wanted to find Saladin, Grace's Egyptian Mau, and cuddle with him. But Grace was dead, and the poor cat... who knew where he was now? She blinked tears out of her eyes, thinking about the last time she'd seen her grandmother.
You will make me proud, Amy,
Grace had said. They'd been sitting on Grace's big four-poster bed, with Saladin purring next to them. Grace had shown her a hand-drawn map of Africa and told her stories about the adventures she'd had when she was a young explorer. Grace had looked thin and frail, but the fire in her eyes was as fierce as ever. The sunlight turned her hair to pure silver.
I had many adventures, my dear, but they will pale next to yours.
Amy wanted to cry. How could Grace think that Amy would have great adventures?
She could barely muster enough courage to go to school every morning.
"I could get a ninja sword," Dan kept babbling. "Or a Civil War saber!"
"Dan, shut up," she said. "This is serious."
"But the money -- "
"I know," she said. "But if we took the money, we'd need to keep it for college and stuff. You know how Aunt Beatrice is."
Dan frowned like he'd forgotten. He knew good and well that Aunt Beatrice only looked after them for Grace's sake. Amy always wished Grace had adopted them after their parents died, but she hadn't. For reasons she never explained, she'd pressured Beatrice into being their guardian instead.
For the last seven years, Dan and Amy had been at Beatrice's mercy, living in a tiny little apartment with a series of au pairs. Beatrice paid for everything, but she didn't pay much. Amy and Dan got enough to eat and a new set of clothes every six months, but that was it. No birthday presents. No special treats. No allowance. They went to regular public school and Amy never had extra money to buy books. She used the public library, or sometimes she'd hang out at the second-hand bookshop on Boylston, where the staff knew her. Dan made a little money on his own trading collectible cards, but it wasn't much.
Every weekday for seven years, Amy had resented Grace for not raising them herself, but every weekend Amy just couldn't stay mad at her. When they came to the mansion, Grace gave them undivided attention. She treated them like the most important people in the world. Whenever Amy got up the courage to ask why they couldn't stay with Grace all the time, Grace just smiled sadly.
There are reasons, dear. Someday, you will understand.