At the end of the block, Irina crossed the street and ducked inside a wrought-iron gate. She walked up to a large marble building that looked like an embassy or something. Dan hid behind a gatepost and watched as Irina punched a security code and went inside.
"Look at the gate," Amy said.
In the center was a gold-lettered sign that read:
INSTITUT DE DIPLOMATIE INTERNATIONALE
INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY
[proofreader’s note: the left side of the sign shows a sword with two snakes curled around it]
"The Lucian crest!" Dan said. "But what’s an institute for, um, whatever that means?"
"I guess it’s like a school for ambassadors," Amy said. "But don’t you get it? That’s just a cover. You remember what Jonah said? Paris is a Lucian stronghold."
Dan’s eyes lit up. "This must be their secret base!"
Amy nodded. "The question is what do we do?"
"We go in," Dan said.
"Right. Without the security code?"
"5910. I watched her punch it in."
Amy stared at him. "How did you — never mind. Let’s go. But be careful. They probably have cameras and guard dogs and stuff."
They squeezed inside the gate and ran up the front steps. Dan punched in the code.
The door opened easily. No alarms went off. No guard dogs barked.
"Weird," he muttered. But it was too late for second-guessing. They slipped inside the Lucian base.
The entry hall was bigger than their whole apartment. The floor was polished marble and a chandelier hung from the ceiling. A set of black doors stood in front of them. On the left, a spiral staircase led up to a balcony.
"Look." Dan pointed above the doors. A surveillance camera was sweeping the room.
It was angled away from them, but it wouldn’t be for long.
Then he heard voices from behind the double doors — someone coming in their direction.
"Quick!" He ran for the stairs. Amy looked like she wanted to argue, but there was no time. She followed him up.
Dan’s heart pounded. He’d always thought it would be cool to play burglar and sneak into someone’s house, but now that he was doing it for real, his hands were sweating.
He wondered if the French still threw burglars into rat-infested dungeons. He’d seen something like that once in a musical Grace took them to.
They sneaked along a second-floor hallway.
"I don’t get it," Dan whispered. "Irina must be a Lucian. Benjamin Franklin was a Lucian. Does that mean Franklin was one of the bad guys?"
"Maybe it’s not that simple," Amy said. "Look."
Painted portraits hung along the walls — Napoleon Bonaparte, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, a few others Dan didn’t recognize.
"More famous Lucians," Amy guessed. "Not necessarily good or bad. But definitely a lot of powerful people."
"And we just invaded their house," Dan said.
They passed a row of heavy oak doors, all of them closed. One was labeled LOGISTIQUE. Another read CARTOGRAPHIE. The last door on the right read ARSENAL.
"Dan, no!" Amy whispered, but she was too late to intercept him. Dan opened the arsenal door and slipped inside.
A little late, he considered that it might not be a good idea to enter a room full of weapons if there was already someone in there. Fortunately, there wasn’t. The arsenal was about thirty feet square and full of amazingly cool stuff: crates of cannonballs, racks of knives, swords, canes, shields, and umbrellas. Dan wasn’t sure about the umbrellas, but he figured they did something besides just stop the rain.
"We shouldn’t be here!" Amy hissed.
"Gee, you think?" Dan picked up a shoebox-size wooden crate full of glass tubes with copper wires twined around the tops. "Hey, it’s one of those Franklin batteries, like in the museum."
Amy’s eyebrows furrowed. "What’s it doing in an arsenal?"
"Don’t know, but I’m collecting it!" Despite Amy’s protests, Dan stuffed the battery in his backpack. It fit because the pack was pretty much empty. The only other thing he had in there was the picture of his parents, wrapped in its plastic sleeve, which he’d decided to keep with him for good luck.
A Styrofoam egg carton caught his eye. He opened it and found a single silver orb with little blinking red lights. "This is cool, too!" He dropped it into his backpack.
"What? They’ve got plenty of other stuff, and we need all the help we can get!"
"It could be dangerous."
"I hope so." He was admiring the shurikens and thinking he might take some of those, too, when a door slammed somewhere down the hall.
"Better know what she’s doing," a man said in English. "If she’s wrong — "
A woman responded in French. Both voices faded down the corridor.
"Come on," Amy insisted.
They poked their heads out to make sure the hall was clear, then sneaked out of the arsenal and deeper into the building. At the end of the hallway was another balcony, this one looking down on a big circular room. What Dan saw below reminded him of a military command center. There were computers along the walls, and in the middle of the room was a conference table that seemed to be one huge flat screen TV. Irina Spasky was alone, leaning over the tabletop. Stacks of papers and folders sat next to her. She was punching commands on the tabletop, making images zoom or shrink. She was looking at a satellite map of the city.
Dan didn’t dare speak, but he locked eyes with Amy.
I want one of those, he told her.
Amy’s expression said
They crouched behind the balcony rail and watched as Irina commanded the map to zoom in on different locations. She checked the
Poor Richard’s Almanack book, then got out a pad of paper and jotted something down. She snatched up the book and the pad and hurried out of the room — back toward the main entrance.
"Amy, come on!" Dan straddled the railing.
"You’ll break your legs!"
"Hang from the edge and just drop. I’ve done it off the roof at school a million times. It’s easy."
He did. And it was. A second later, they were both at the conference table, staring at the image still flickering on the screen: a white targeting icon hovering over one particular spot in Paris. The address glowed in red letters:
23 Rue des J
Dan pointed to a ribbon of blue surrounding the dot. "That’s water. Which means that little blob she was targeting must be an island."
"The ?le St-Louis," Amy said. "It’s on the Seine River right in the middle of Paris. Can you memorize that address?"
"Already done." Then Dan noticed something else — a photograph sitting on top of Irina Spasky’s files. He picked it up and felt sick to his stomach.
"It’s him." Dan showed Amy the photo — an older man with gray hair and a black suit, crossing the street. The photo was fuzzy, but it must’ve been taken in Paris. Dan could tell from the yellow stone buildings and the French signs. "The man in black is here."
Amy paled. "But why — "
A voice came from somewhere down the hall:
" — j’entends des mouvements. Fouillez le batiment."
Dan didn’t need to speak French to know that meant trouble. He and Amy ran the other direction, down another hallway.
"Arretez!" a man yelled behind them. Immediately, alarms started blaring.
"Oh, great!" Amy said.
"This way!" Dan turned a corner. He didn’t dare look behind them. He could hear their pursuers getting closer — boots pounding on the marble floor.
"Bars!" Amy warned.
The building’s automatic defenses must have been activated. Right in front of them, a set of metal bars was descending from the ceiling, cutting off the hallway.
"Slide into third!" Dan yelled.
"What?" Amy demanded, glancing back at the security guards. Dan ran forward and hit the ground like it was a waterslide, slipping under the bars. "Come on!"
Amy hesitated. The bars were getting lower — three feet off the ground, two and a half feet. Behind her, two burly guys in black security guard outfits were closing fast, armed with nightsticks.
She dropped and started crawling under the bars. Dan pulled her through just as the bars clanged against the floor. The security guards grabbed at them through the bars, but Dan and Amy were already running.
They found an open door and ducked into a parlor.
"The window!" Dan said.
A metal mesh curtain was closing over the glass. It was already halfway down. There was no time to think. Dan picked up a bust of Napoleon from the coffee table and threw it through the glass.
He could hear the guards in the hallway shouting over the wail of alarms.
Dan kicked the remaining glass shards away. "Go!" he told Amy. She crawled through and he followed, pulling his left foot out just before the metal curtain clamped against the windowsill.
They ran through the garden, climbed the iron gates, and raced across the street.
They ducked behind the purple ice cream van and slid to the ground, breathing hard.
Dan looked back, but there were no signs of pursuit — at least, not yet.
"Let’s not do that again," Amy said.
Dan’s blood was racing. Now that he was out of danger, he realized how much fun he’d just had. "I want an arsenal! And one of those computer-screen tables. Amy, we need to make our own secret headquarters!"
"Oh, sure," Amy said, still breathing hard. She pulled some change and bills out of her pocket. "I’ve got about two hundred and fifty-three euros left. You think that’ll buy a secret headquarters?"
Dan’s heart sank. She didn’t have to be so mean about it, but she was right. They were burning through their money fast. He didn’t have much more than she did.
They’d given most of it to Nellie for travel expenses, but it still wasn’t much. If they had to fly somewhere else after Paris … He decided not to think about it. One thing at a time.
"Let’s get back to the Métro," he said.
"Yes," Amy said. "Back to Nellie. She’ll be getting worried."
Dan shook his head. "No time, sis. 23 Rue de Jardins. We have to find out what’s on that island, and we have to get there before Irina!"
Meanwhile, inside the ice cream van, the Holts were strangling each other.
Madison was on Hamilton’s back, hitting him over the head with a box of Fudgesicles.
Their mother, Mary-Todd, was trying to pull them apart. Reagan and Arnold, the pit bull, were playing tug-of-war with a package of Eskimo Pies. Eisenhower, the weary leader of the family, bellowed, "Stop it! Company, FALL IN!"
Hamilton and Madison separated and snapped to attention, dropping the Fudgesicles.
Mary-Todd brushed herself off, glared at her children, then fell into line. Reagan held the Eskimo Pies in present arms stance. Arnold rolled over and played dead.
"Right!" Eisenhower growled. "I will not have this family killing each other over frozen dairy products!"
Reagan said, "But, Dad-"
"Silence! I said you’d get ice cream after we finish the mission. And we are not finished until I get a report!"
Madison saluted. "Dad, permission to report!"