39 Clues - 05 - The Black Circle (6 page)

BOOK: 39 Clues - 05 - The Black Circle
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stairs and turned a hard right. They passed under a tall archway and hung a left,

ending up in front of a roped-off hallway."This is it," said Amy. She ducked under the

rope and Dan followed. Another turn to the left and they arrived in an open, dimly lit

room.It was as if they'd stepped back in time to witness a murder. Everything from the

night of Rasputin's death was meticulously re-created. There were sculptures and

pictures, and best of all, two rooms with life-size wax figures."There he is," said Amy.

In a room behind a yellow rope, Rasputin was sitting down at a table, eating the

poisoned cakes that had been set before him."Come on, Dan. The trail leads to

Rasputin. I'll check his pockets."62"I'll check under the table."Amy braced herself and

then reached into the thick black robes, her face just inches from Rasputin's wax head

with its bushy beard and fixed, staring eyes.A deep Russian voice behind her said, "You

have made a grave error in coming here."* * *Dan tried to stand up from under the

table and banged his head, sending saucers and cups clinking in the quiet room."Come

away from there, both of you."Dan recognized the voice immediately."Irina! What are

you doing here?""Children do not outsmart me in my own country."Dan looked at Amy

and tried, without much luck, to read her frightened face. Did you get anything?"Come,

show me what you have found," said Irina. "I do not plan to hurt you."Even in the

shadowy light, Dan could see Irina was in her usual cheerless mood. He didn't trust her

for one second."I think we'll stay right here if you don't mind," said Amy."Suit yourself.

But you do not leave without answering a few questions. And you will give me what you

have found."63Dan didn't have the map NRR had given them, and he wondered when

Amy was going to spring it on Irina. What's she waiting for?"Who is helping you?"

asked Irina. She deliberately toyed with her fingernails, and Dan flinched at the

reminder of the poison they contained."No one's helping us. We're just smarter than

you are," said Dan, his eyes on his frozen sister."You think I didn't see the snake? You

think I didn't hear everything you said on the train from Volgograd? You're not so

smart, little man."Dan started. She's tailed us since Volgograd?!"You believe someone is

trying to help you? Ridiculous!" continued Irina. "It's a trap! If you persist with this

game, it will only lead to disaster. This person you are following? They will kill you once

you've done their bidding."Like you tried to kill us in Paris? thought Dan. He spotted a

butter knife on the table and wondered if it would do any good to grab for it. If only he

had real ninja moves."I ask you once more. Who is helping you?""Here," said Amy,

finally emerging from her trance. She held out the map. "This is what we just found.

You can have it. I haven't even looked at it yet. But can we at least share the

information?"Irina snatched the paper from Amy's hand and held it open in the soft

light of the room. She let out a furious hiss.64"It is worse than I thought," she warned,

raising her arctic eyes to the children. "You two are in grave danger. You must believe

me. Tell me! Who is helping you?!"For a second, Dan was almost taken in. He couldn't

possibly trust her, and yet ... something in her face registered a different kind of

distress.The moment passed in a flash, and Irina reverted to her typical grim resolve.

She took a step toward Dan and Amy and curved one hand, her fingernail injectors

gleaming menace."He didn't give us a name," said Dan. "We're following a lead, that's

all. But if you don't share that piece of paper with us it's over. We'll lose the trail. Just

tell us what it says and we'll go!"Irina seemed almost satisfied. "If this person contacts

you again, don't listen to him. He will kill you in the end. You must leave Russia and

never come back. If you do not believe me, it is not my fault. But it is your death."Irina

backed off, shoving the map into her coat."Let's go, both of you. March!"Dan and Amy

hustled out of the exhibit with Irina close behind. She barked out directions until they

reached the main entrance. Irina tapped out a code on her phone, held it up to an

electronic alarm on the wall, and the huge wooden door clicked. She ushered Dan and

Amy out into the cool night.65Once on the street, Irina hesitated, then seemed to make

up her mind. "That map leads to secrets people would kill to protect," said Irina. She

shut the door and started walking away. "Leave now, alive. Someday you'll thank

me."Dan and Amy watched her leave with open mouths, feeling like two small fish that

have watched a great white shark swim by. Then they came to their senses and hustled

along the canal in the opposite direction. When Dan was sure they'd lost Irina, he put a

hand on Amy's arm."Did you find what NRR wanted us to find?"He held his breath. If

Amy hadn't discovered anything hidden on Rasputin, they were at a dead end."I got it,"

said Amy. "And that's not all. There was something about the exhibit that's got me very

curious. I think we're one step closer to figuring out who NRR is."Amy reached into her

pocket and pulled out the next piece of the puzzle.66CHAPTER 7Amy was fine with a

little bit of luxury if the opportunity presented itself, but the Russians took decadence to

a whole new level."How did I ever let you talk me into this?" she asked, staring at a

grand piano in the middle of their hotel suite. They'd taken the risk of hailing a cab,

after which Dan had held up his Visa gold card and said, "Take us to the best hotel in

St. Pete's."They'd arrived at the Grand Hotel Europe, one of the fanciest hotels in all of

Russia. But as they entered the $2,000-a-night suite, Dan decided it wasn't up to

snuff."What a rip-off!" said Dan. "Sixty-eight thousand rubles and there's no pinball

machine?"Dan raced from room to room, past all the expensive furniture and paintings.

"They don't even have a big-screen TV or a Coke machine!""It has two nice big beds

and unlimited room service. Works for me," said Amy, rubbing a small item67between

her fingers. It was the object she'd discovered in Rasputin's pocket at the palace: an

oblong wooden token painted with a coat of arms and a set of words:WHERE HE

LOOKS NO MAN SHOULD FEARCRIMINALS BE NOT PUNISHED HEREShe'd understood

the words right away, a reference to one of her favorite books. Criminals be not

punished here had to mean Dostoevsky's classic Crime and Punishment. Amy loved her

books big and sprawling, and this thing was a doorstop.It was Dan, with his keen eye

and incredible memory, who had recognized the coat of arms. The Russian guidebook

had a whole section on heraldry. He'd correctly identified this one as belonging to

Omsk, the very place the Holts were headed. Too bad they were being tailed by the

Kabras.Amy pulled out Nellie's phone and charger and searched for an outlet. They'd

been too busy to contact Nellie, and the growing guilt had been knotting Amy's

stomach for hours."I can't believe we let her worry about us for the entire day and

night. For all she knows, we're still out looking for doughnuts in Cairo."When she

glanced over, she saw that Dan was on the hotel phone dialing room service. He had a

giant68English-Russian menu spread across his lap. Amy shook her head as she

plugged in the phone and watched the little screen do its start-up dance."You don't

have PB and J on the menu, either? Rich people food is no fun!" said Dan. He'd also

asked for orange soda, chocolate chip cookies, and onion rings."I'm calling Nellie," Amy

interrupted. "Do you want to listen in?""Hang on," said Dan. He hung up, grabbed his

laptop and the power cord, and joined Amy on the floor. The two of them sat next to

each other, the wall outlet between them."All this beautiful furniture and we're sitting

on the floor. What's wrong with us?" asked Amy."I guess we're not too good at living

the high life. Good thing. Wouldn't want to end up like the Cobras."Amy couldn't help

thinking Dan had fallen under the spell of a Visa gold card pretty quickly."Dan, look at

this. She's got messages."The voice mail light blinked green on Nellie's phone. Amy

pressed the RETRIEVE button and activated the tiny speakerphone."You have seven

new messages," a female voice offered.Amy pressed the 7 key and the first message

came through, although it was a bad connection and they couldn't catch the entire

thing."If you guys ... CALL ME! It's taking a long ... get those doughnuts. The hotel

number is ..." The69message crackled so badly at the end they couldn't decipher the

rest.Five more messages were of equally lousy quality, all from Nellie, her voice

becoming more concerned with each effort to reach them."She's going to kill us," said

Dan."You got that right," Amy agreed.She clicked to retrieve the last message. It wasn't

from Nellie."Call in for a status report," said a man's whispery voice. "We haven't heard

from you."Dan and Amy stared at each other."Do you know who that was?" asked Amy.

"It's not a voice I've ever heard, have you?""No," Dan said, and shook his head hard, as if trying to knock a bad thought out of it. They stared at each other for a second, and

then Amy deliberately changed the subject."I hope Nellie is okay. I'm worried about

her.""I wonder how Saladin is doing," said Dan, a glint of concern rising in his

voice."Let's e-mail her instead of calling," said Amy. "Just let her know we're okay. That way we don't have to worry about her freaking out on us. I'm not sure I could handle

that right now.""And we'll tell her to take good care of Saladin," said Dan.They jumped

online and found a string of e-mails from Nellie that sounded a lot like the

phone70messages she'd left. She was careful to let them know that Saladin was doing

just fine, dining on fresh fish from a Cairo marketplace and taking long naps in the

hotel room."You see there?" said Amy. "Saladin is doing great." Amy took the laptop

and banged out a short message.Dear Nellie, We stumbled onto a trail we couldn't turn

back from. Before we knew it, we were on our way out of Cairo and into Russia. It all

happened really fast. We know you probably can't come get us, but don't worry-- we're

okay. No problems so far. Please take good care of Saladin. We promise to check back

in tomorrow morning. Please don't worry-- we're fine! Amy and Dan."How's that?"

asked Amy."I think it'll do the trick. Send it."Amy clicked the SEND button. At least

Nellie would know they weren't dead."We should send something to Hamilton, too,

don't you think?" asked Dan.Amy had almost forgotten. Of course! The trail led into

Siberia next, right where Hamilton Holt would arrive by early morning on the

Trans-Siberian Railway. She started typing out a message as Dan retrieved Hamilton's

e-mail address from their backpack.71Hamilton - Your tarn. We've found the next item

and it leads right to where you're going. When you get to Omsk, look for a statue of

Dostoevsky. He's a famous Russian writer, so if you ask around you shouldn't have any

trouble locating him. Here's the important thing: You have to figure out what

Dostoevsky is looking at. Follow his eyes. Whatever he's staring at is the next thing on

our hunt. Our guess is it will lead back toward us. Let's stay ahead of the competition!

Call our cell when you figure this out. Amy and Dan."It's ringing," said Dan. Nellie's

phone was vibrating softly on the carpeted floor. Dan looked at the screen."It must be

Nellie. She must have been sitting by a computer just waiting for us to contact her.

That's good, right?"But Amy wasn't so sure. She was exhausted, and the man's

whispering voice from Nellie's phone seemed to reach for her. Call in for a status report.

We haven't heard from you."Let it ring," she said. "Let's get some sleep."* * *When

Dan woke up, Amy was gone. For a split second he freaked out, running back and forth

between rooms until he saw the note stuck to the post of his bed.72Gone out to find us

some new clothes in the hotel lobby. Ours are getting gross. Back in a flash. Order

breakfast, sleepyhead.Dan breathed a huge sigh of relief. Looking at the clock, he saw

that it was already after nine in the morning. He did a quick mental calculation. If NRR

was to be trusted, they only had ten hours left before "the room" would close, whatever

that meant.By the time Amy returned from the lobby carrying two shopping bags, Dan

had already taken a shower and called in a colossal order from room service. He

emerged from the bathroom in a fog of steam, wearing a plush white bathrobe and

slippers."Just once we should get to keep these," said Dan. His words were garbled

with foam as he brushed his teeth with a complimentary toothbrush."If only we had

room in our backpack. See if Hamilton Holt sent us an e-mail.""You mean Hamilton

Dolt, don't you?" Dan laughed."Well, we're stuck with him now," said Amy, digging into

the bags in search of something to wear. "Better make the best of it."Dan tossed his

toothbrush into the sink and joined Amy at the bags of clothes."They've got some nice

stores down there. I charged it all to the room." Amy grinned. "I'm starting to get the

hang of this."73Everything from new underwear to jeans and shirts came tumbling out

of the bags. They retreated to their own rooms, dressed quickly, and met at the

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