39 Clues - 05 - The Black Circle (9 page)

BOOK: 39 Clues - 05 - The Black Circle

turned right."Off the main road," she mumbled, seeing Dan and Amy turn off the

highway. "You two are full of surprises."A few minutes later, Irina had unexpectedly

caught up, finding herself on a one-lane dirt road. She no longer needed the satellite

viewer because she was quickly overtaking the small car. She hadn't intended to get so

close to Amy and Dan, and she certainly didn't want them spotting her. But the road

was narrow, with plowed-over fields on both sides, and she had a big car. What was

worse, the blue car had stopped and was turning around.This will be complicated,

thought Irina as the little car zoomed closer. It was going way too fast, as if the97driver

was planning to slam right into her front grill. Irina threw her car into reverse and

began backing down the dirt road."Stop, you maniacs!" she screamed. Her car

fish-tailed violently, caught the edge of a big rock, and spun out into the thick, tilled

farmland.The blue car buzzed up to Irina and screeched to a halt. Its driver was a

gray-bearded man whose smile revealed a missing front tooth."Who gave you this car?

Where did they go?" Irina screeched in Russian, rolling down her window.The man

nodded with some enthusiasm, which made Irina wonder if he had understood her

questions. She peered into the empty backseat."Tell me, you idiot!" Irina screamed.The

name-calling seemed to upset the driver and his smile evaporated. "Americans," he

began. "Gave me ten thousand rubles plus the car in exchange.""Exchange for what?"

yelled Irina."My truck," said the man."What color was the truck? Which way did they

go? Skazhi!"Irina should have known better than to hound an old Russian farmer. He

was not amused by her angry tone, and he stared into the farmland as if he were made

of iron.Irina reached into her pocket and pulled out a small revolver. Her eye was

twitching furiously, but when she turned back to the car it widened in shock. The

old98farmer had slammed his foot down on the gas pedal, shooting a plume of dust

and mud through her open window.Chunks of farm road flew into Irina's face. She

threw her car into gear and hit the gas, but the soft tilled earth she'd backed into gave

way and her rear wheels dug in.She was stuck.Irina coughed and spit, trying to clear all

the mud from her mouth. The gunk in her eyes and mouth wasn't nearly as bad as the

awful truth.I've lost them.* * *"Do you think we've lost her for good?" asked Dan. It

had been his idea to enlist the help of the farmer walking along the dirt road. Dan's

backpack full of money was coming in handy in more ways than he could have

imagined."I have no idea, but I don't think I can stay in here much longer. Tiny Tim's

trunk is like a mailbox and your feet stink.""I hate to break the news, but it's your feet

that stink, not mine," said Dan.Amy sniffed."Actually, I think it's the farmer. He needs a

bath."Tiny Tim slowed to a crawl and turned a hard right. A few seconds later it

stopped and the trunk popped open.99"You pay now?" asked the farmer."We pay now,"

answered Dan, crawling out of the trunk and peering around him. Amy came out next

and ran for the driver's seat before Dan could beat her to it. She caught his eye in the

rearview mirror and stuck out her tongue.When Dan got in the car after paying the

farmer, he made his broccoli face."Next time, let's get help from someone who hasn't

been walking around in cow manure all day," said Amy. They rolled down the windows

and Amy hit the gas as the old man wandered into the open farmland, counting his

rubles.Amy was pushing Tiny Tim as fast as it would go, straight for the airport in St.

Petersburg. She assumed they'd need to visit one of the two non-Siberian places left on

their hunt: Moscow or Yekaterinburg.As the little car strained along, Dan juddered in his

seat, holding the honey-colored stone Amy had discovered in Alexei's closet. It was an

oval, about two inches around and flat like a skipping rock.[Proofreader's note: The

writing on the rock says M,S -> 52 with 4 broken bones underneath.]100"No

way this thing was missed all those years," said Dan. "NRR had to put it there for us.""I agree. I just wish what was inscribed made more sense. He's not making it easy on

us.""No kidding."Dan looked carefully at each of the elements on the stone and tried to

piece them together. It was just the kind of thing he should be able to figure out."A pile

of bones, the number fifty-two, an arrow, and the letters M and S separated by a

comma. Cryptic to say the least.""Is the arrow pointing toward the M and the S or away

from them?" asked Amy."Away from them," answered Dan. "And the bones, now that I

get a better look at them, are cracked. These are broken bones."Amy slammed on the

brakes way too hard and Tiny Tim swerved along the shoulder of the road. Cars honked

from behind and Dan came inches from smacking his head against the

windshield.Drivers passed by, screaming abuse and honking their horns. Amy tried to

catch her breath; the near accident had really shaken her up."You almost sent me

through the windshield!" Dan yelled.Then his eyes lit up and he turned to his sister. "My

turn to drive?"Fifty yards up was a tree-lined side road that looked much more calm

than the two-lane highway. Amy put101Tiny Tim into low gear, crawled to the turn, and

drove another hundred yards before swinging a U-turn and parking on the side of the

road. She'd finally calmed down enough to talk."S-s-sorry about that. Obviously, I'm not

ready for prime time behind the wheel. We need to retire this thing before someone

gets hurt. But here's the good news -- I know what the message means. Where's the

guidebook?""Can I drive now?" Dan asked again."Not a chance.""Come on! Let me drive! Please!"Within the space of thirty seconds, Dan asked if he could drive nine more

times before finally handing over the guidebook. Amy flipped to Siberia, to a picture

she'd seen with a caption that had interested her."Okay, check this out. A long time

ago, back when they had labor camps in these Siberian outposts, they put a lot of the

political prisoners to work on this one road. It was long. I mean really long, and it was a

grueling job. Sometimes, when prisoners dropped dead on the job, they'd use their

bones in the road itself.""The Road of Bones," said Dan. "That's a little bit unpleasant even by my standards.""And totally real. See?"Amy held out the picture, which showed

men with shovels and spades standing in the middle of nowhere with a long white road

sprawling out behind them.102"Hamilton is going to love this. The Road of Bones! You

can't make that sort of thing up.""The M and the S in the stone, that has to refer to

Magadan, Siberia. It's one of the three places we have left to go.""And the arrow points

away, toward the pile of bones. So if someone were to start in Magadan and drive,

what, fifty-two miles down the Road of Bones, they might find something?""Precisely,"

said Amy.Dan held the stone in the light once more and looked at all the parts

inscribed. It added up. Broken bones, the number fifty-two, the arrow pointing away

from M, S."We better call Hamilton," said Dan.Amy dialed Nellie's cell phone and hoped

Hamilton would be standing by, not goofing off or having a big brawl with the Kabras.

He answered on the first ring."That you, Amy?" Hamilton answered. "I hope you have

something for us to do. My dad is getting so bored he's throwing rocks at the birds. He

thinks we're on a wild goose chase.""Not even close!" said Amy. "And you're doing a

great job. We've got to get you to Magadan as fast as we can.""Well, then, you're in

luck," said Hamilton. "What do you mean?""We had to clear out of Omsk. That place

was un-Holt friendly in the extreme. So I figured what the heck, chances are I'm

probably needed in Magadan103next anyway. It was the only other place you gave me

to go. We hopped a plane last night and we're already here. The Kabras followed us,

though. Those guys are like a wad of gum on your shoe. They keep getting a free

ride.""Hamilton! You're a genius!" said Amy. "Finally someone noticed." Amy put

Hamilton on the speakerphone. "So where am I going? Give me the news," Hamilton

said.Dan did the honors, after which Hamilton just about blew a gasket."No way! This

thing is real? The Road of Bones? Sweet! Dan, you are SO jealous. Don't even pretend

like you're not."Dan was so frustrated he wanted to jump out of his underwear. He

couldn't drive Tiny Tim, he couldn't go to the Road of Bones. He was being iced

out!"Getto work, Hamilton," said Amy. "We'll be standing by for your next lead. And

don't take the Kabras lightly. They're ruthless -- they'll do anything to stop you.""The

Hammer is on the job. I'll be back in touch." The line went dead.Dan stewed in the

front seat while Amy tried to get up enough nerve to start Tiny Tim again. They were

either going to Moscow or Yekaterinburg. Either way, they were getting very close to

the end of the hunt, and not a minute too soon. The clock was down to eight hours and

counting.104Amy jumped as the phone vibrated in her hand. Number unknown.

"Hello?""Hi, Amy. It's Ian. Been thinking about me?" Ian with the silky voice that sent chills down her spine."What do you want? Wait -- how did you get this number?""I'm

worried about you. You're in way over your head, love. You should be careful who you

trust.""I can check you and your sister off my list! And don't call me love!""Look, Amy, I've been trying to play nice. You and Dan are fun to chase, but there's something you

should know.""What's that?" said Amy. She covered the mouthpiece and told Dan who

it was. Dan stuck his finger down his throat and started fake puking."You're hopelessly

behind," said Ian. "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but lots of clues have already

been found, including the one you're looking for.""You're lying!" said Amy. "You don't even know where we're going. Yeah, I know all about it. You're stuck out in Siberia

somewhere. Well, here's a little surprise for you, Ian. You're three thousand miles from

where you need to be."There was a slight pause on the line, then a classic Kabra laugh,

sly and almost imperceptible.105"Oh, Amy. If only you knew the truth. You can't say I

didn't warn you."The phone clicked off, and Amy started up Tiny Tim. She was so angry

she jammed on the gas and spun the tires, her fear of driving a distant memory."He's

lying. They don't have any more clues than we do, right, Dan?"But Dan wouldn't meet

her eyes. For the rest of the drive they were both completely silent.106CHAPTER

10"This way," whispered Reagan Holt, "stay low or they'll see us coming."Against all his natural tendencies, Eisenhower Holt crept along as quietly as a mouse. His huge frame

was much more suited to tackling someone from behind and beating the tar out of

him."Do you see anyone?" he asked."No. I think they went this way."Reagan was

peering around the corner of an aqua concrete building that hadn't seen a fresh coat of

paint in fifty years. She and her father were tracking two people down a potholed street

lined with decaying buildings."Where did they go?" boomed Eisenhower Holt. "They're

like cats, those two!""Dad, will you please keep it down? Don't you know the meaning

of the word whisper?"Eisenhower Holt was about to retort when he and Reagan were

jumped from behind. The bigger of the two attackers landed on Eisenhower's back, put

an107arm around his neck, and wouldn't let go. Reagan and a smaller assailant rolled

around in the dirt while Eisenhower spun in a great circle, his captor's legs swinging in

the air behind him."Sneak attack! I told you to zip it!" yelled Reagan. She was in a

serious fight, punching and kicking from below a girl her exact same size."I'll save you!"

said Eisenhower."Too late," said the person on his back. "I got it!""And that's the game!" said Mary-Todd, throwing her hands up as she appeared from out of nowhere.

"This round goes to Hamilton and Madison. Nice job on the switchback."Mary-Todd Holt

pulled out a well-worn pocket-size journal and made a notation."You're falling behind in

the standings, sugar maple. You can do better."Eisenhower had flopped down on al

fours, his usual move when he'd lost the flag. Hamilton, Reagan, and Madison jumped

on board. When Eisenhower stood up again, he shook with all his might until his

children fell off in a pile at his feet."I keep telling you," fumed Reagan, "you need to be quieter. We'll never catch up if you can't learn to stalk like a cat.""Look at the size of

these guns!" yelled Eisenhower, pointing to his preposterously bulging biceps. "It ain't

easy keeping these guys still. They like to fight."108"My dad is a dork," said Reagan.

"Someone help me, please."Eisenhower pulled Hamilton aside, threw an arm around

him, and began walking. The father and son were like two buildings, big and solid."Did

you hear from them yet?" asked Eisenhower. He knew it was past time for a father-son

chat, but somehow they never went quite as planned."Just a few minutes ago," said

Hamilton. Already the boy was looking defensive. "They told me where to go. I think

we're getting close.""We're putting an awful lot of trust in you on this deal. It would be

a monumental disappointment if they were tricking us.""No way, Dad. This is the real

deal. I'm sure of it.""You better be. You fail, the whole family fails. And you know how I

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