Disclaimer: I don't own 39 Clues.
"But Mum, I why do I have to spend my whole summer there?" I asked. Mum tapped her nails nervously on the steering wheel when she heard that question for the umpteenth time.
"I told you already. I have to go to a family business trip. You know how important this is to me, don't you?" I pressed my lips together trying not to get angry and stared at the Massachusetts landscape roll by.
As noon neared, we finally arrived at Grandma Cahill's 'house.' It was more like a mansion, really – four stories, huge front garden, tall metal gates surrounding the property, and a front view of the house that just makes you want to say 'Woah'. Long story short, it would never be described as a house in my dictionary. Mum punched in the security code and provided her fingerprint to the machine before the gates slowly opened.
"Well, welcome to Grace's mansion, James. What do you think?" She smiled at me, anxious to see my reaction. I stared at her.
"This was the house you grew up in? The exact one?" I never thought we were ever rich. Of course, we didn't have any debts or money problems but still, I didn't expect this.
"Yup, the exact one."
"How come I never saw her?"
Mum bit her lip and didn't answer.
As mum's car pasted the gate, she gave a honk as a last good-bye. Weakly, I waved back.
Grandmother tugged my hand, and I looked up to her face. Her auburn but grey-streaked hair and wrinkle face were typical on an old woman, but there was something different about her from all the other elderly. Although she carried a cane, her back looked completely straight and strong, and she didn't look fragile at all. When she smiled at me, I saw a twinkle in her eye.
"Why don't we go inside, James? I'll show you to your room." Seeing my lack of enthusiasm, she squeezed my hand and added, "I still have some of my brother's old videogames here that you might enjoy. Don't worry. You'll have an adventure here." She strolled inside without another word.
I sighed. I never wanted to come here, but Mum had no choice with her sudden 'family business trip'. For as long as I could remember, Mum traveled around the world on her 'family business trip' every summer. Sure, she spent some time with me during the break, but it's usually only a few days. I usually stayed with the neighbors, but they moved away recently, and Mum doesn't trust me with anyone else, so I'm stuck with Grandmother Cahill, whom I only saw once in all of my fourteen years of living according to Mum. If Dad was here, things would be different.
Dad. Boy, if he was here I wouldn't have to go to an old lady's house filled with boredom and torture. I never met him in my life and my parents never married. But from what I could squeeze out of Mum, he didn't walk away voluntarily. For all I knew they could've been engaged, and then he died.
Picking up my bags, I walked into the huge mansion and followed Ms. Amy Cahill, the grandmother I never knew existed.
The first week wasn't half bad, if not awesome. Grandmother was loads of fun, and her huge library, her enormous mansion, and Great-uncle Dan's old videogame collection kept me busy for most of the time.
Sometimes, I would wonder around the house with Mercy, Grandmother's rather intelligent cat, and look at one of the many exotic things that seem to be all around the house. There were ninja and samurai swords from Asia, guns of all sizes and shapes (with no bullets in them, of course), beautiful paintings on almost every wall, dangerous weapon with sharp points, and many more. She was never annoyed when I pulled something down and instead proceeded to tell me everything she knew about it.
I found it strange, though, that every time I was looking for her, she was usually in her office reading an important looking document, talking to a 'friend' in a hush tone, or writing something. Grandmother never said anything about it, always changing the subject whenever I brought up.
Also, there were no photographs at all, not even one.
"James, will you be ok if I go out for a few hours? I have few errands I have to run. Don't get into any trouble ok?" Grandmother had said this morning when I was still in bed at seven in the morning, an ungodly time. After receiving a sleepy nod from me she left.
I walked around the top floor looking at everything, Mercy following my every step. Today, I had almost the whole house to myself and I planned to use it.
I entered a small, partially empty room when I noticed Mercy seemed a bit agitated, but I shrugged it off. She was a strange cat from the beginning anyway. A bookshelf about six feet high stuffed with books leaned against the opposite wall to the door, and a piano sat near it. Some test tubes lay forgotten in a corner. Two paintings, one of Winston Churchill and the other of George Mallory, hung on opposite walls, facing each other. Otherwise, the room was empty.
I picked up Mercy to pet her, trying to calm her down, but she wriggled out of my grasp and leaped neatly onto the piano bench. Her fur a little ruffled, she looked like a black fur ball with green eyes. She gave her chest a few embarrassed licks before staring at me with those uncanny eyes. Sometimes I think she self-appointed herself as my nanny.
Turning my attention to the bookshelf, I gazed at all of the books. None of them were in alphabetical order. Ella Enchanted; To Kill a Mockingbird; Maximum Ride; Lord of the Rings; Janet Evanonich; Eli Whitney – an Autobiography; Toyotomi Hideyoshi; Mother Teresa; Luke Evermont – an Extraordinary Leader; Jefferson – the Third President; and so on. They all seem to be placed in a particular pattern: E, T, M, L, J. I ran my finger along the spines when I found a book that didn't belong there. The title of that red book with golden letters was Starflare Tower.
Pulling it out, I nearly fell to the floor from the sudden weight of the book. I stumbled to the piano bench and dropped it down next to a sleepy looking Mercy.
"Look was I found, Mercy! Isn't it strange that it's so heavy?" I asked, scratching her behind the ears. Slowly, she opened her eyes to see what I was talking about and let out a hiss. She batted my hands away from the book and placed two black paws on it protectively.
"Blimey! What's gotten over you, girl? Ow!" I held my arm. Mercy had scratched me. Luckily, it wasn't that deep or serious, but it still stung. "What was that for? Come on, Mercy. Let me see that bloody book!" For that, I earned another short scratch. "Ok, ok, ok! No cussing. I get it. Just give it here!"
Five minutes later I managed to wrestle her from the book by grabbing her by the scruff and held her an arm's length away from me to avoid getting anymore decorative red marks. "Sorry Mercy, but you asked for it. I'll give you some red snapper later. Now stop that racket!"
Mercy hissed in reply and continued struggling. I threw her out of the room, knowing she wouldn't be hurt and then quickly slammed the door shut. Outside, I could hear her yowling at the top of her lungs. I ran my hand through my blond hair like I always did when I was nervous or frustrated. What was wrong with that cat?
Walking back to where the book was, I opened the cover and saw the title page.
In the year of our Lord 1507, a terrible fire
Revenge above all
Ingenuity above all
Strength above all
Arts above all
Behind the title page, all of the rest of the pages were glued together. Someone had cut a neat square in the middle and placed some sort of machinery in the empty space. No wonder the book was so heavy. Among the mass of wires and metalwork, there was a small button. Like the innocent dolt I was, I pressed it.
Letting the breath I had been holding out, I relaxed. I didn't know what I was expecting- an explosion or alarm maybe?
Making a mental note to ask Grandmother about this, I closed the book and laboriously put it back to its original spot. The bookcase wobbled a bit. Startled, I took a few steps back before giving it an experimental pull.
Soundlessly and smoothly, it swung open to reveal a door. I stared at it in shock until I felt some weight on my right shoulder. I turned to see Mercy's green eyes staring back at me.
"You're not going to try to kill me again, are you? Wait. How did you get back?" I asked her like she really understood. Mercy just gave me a meow in return and rubbed her check against mine. "Fine," I huffed. "Don't tell me."
Looking at the door, I wondered what was behind it. I hesitated before getting out my paper clip and hair pin to pick the lock. "Grandmother won't be mad at me for this, will she, Mercy? You know her better than I do." All I received for an answer was a swish from her tail, and taking that as a no, I concentrated on the task at hand.
I've always had an unusual talent for picking locks and cracking codes. By age nine, I've figured a way to pick all of the locks in my house. Of course, I wouldn't do it without permission. It was illegal, and my conscious didn't sit well at the possibility of being in trouble with the law. The only reason why I was trying picking this lock was that there was a very small possibility of Grandmother prosecuting her own grandson.
This lock, however, was absolutely stubborn. It seemed to be a cross between two types of locks, and it took me about five minutes or more than the usual few seconds. Finally, I got the door to open, no thanks to Mercy who was shaking my arm and tickling my neck.
Wooden stairs lead up into the darkness. Maybe this was the way to the attic?
Inhaling a deep breath, I walked through the dark tunnel before I could chicken out. Soon, I was engulfed by the darkness right after I made a turn. The air was clean and scentless unlike the musty, thick air I was expecting. One of my hands ran along the wall as I walked to guide me around the turns while the other was outstretched in front of me to prevent myself from bumping into something.
Reaching another door, I opened it. Maybe it was the slightly different sound of my shoes landing on the ground, the way the air felt, or something else, but somehow I knew I was in a large room.
After giving me a last bat on the head, Mercy leaped from my shoulder and bounded off somewhere. I could faintly hear her paws hitting the stone floor as she walked off somewhere.
"M-mercy?" I hated how my voice sounded weak and high pitched. "Mercy, where are you girl?"
Suddenly, the lights came on and blinded me. Once my eyesight adjusted to the brightness, my jaw almost dropped.
I was in a room that looked like a secret agent hideout. Several huge screens hung on a wall and a couple of complicated looking machines were just below them. There was door to the right that led to who know where and another one to the right. Why couldn't my attic be like this awesome?
On the floor right in front of me, four coat of arms were painted in a circle with a fifth one, a plain black shield with a white C in the middle, in the center. I saw the four more colorful ones before in Grandmother's den. Did she know about this place?
"Meow." I looked down to see a black cat sitting near my feet, looking up at me innocently. I leaned down and scratched her under her chin.
"You know about this place didn't you? Did you turn on the lights for me?" Mercy purred and rubbed against my ankles. I took that as a yes and sighed. "Let's go back before Grandmother finds us here. Do you think you can turn the lights off?"
For another hour or so, Mercy took a nap on a couch as I browsed through Grandmother's library, or Grace's library as she called it.
Reaching at the top shelf with difficulty to grab a relatively thick book, I accidentally knocked over a box which narrowly missed my head as it made its way to the floor. With a crash when it hit the ground, the top fell off and a bunch of photographs fell out and scattered on the floor.
Bending down, I started to pick them up when I took a peak at one of the old photos. A handsome, tan man in a tux with black hair and amber eyes smiled at me. His redheaded bride stood next to him, also smiling. Both of them looked like they were around their late twenties.
"That's me and your grandfather Ian on our wedding day." I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard her voice. Looking up, I could see Grandmother gazing fondly at the picture. She kneeled down next to me and took the picture from me, tenderly brushing at where Grandfather was with her thumb like she could actually feel him through the picture.
"I've been looking for these you know, so not, you're no in trouble," she said winking at me, and I blushed a bit. "Isn't he so handsome? You would have liked him if you knew he him. You're enough like him. He died just before you turned ten," Grandmother whispered, then forced a cheerful expression on her face. "Why don't we go through these somewhere more comfortable, hm?"
Soon we were both sprawled on the couch thumbing through the pictures with Mercy lying on Grandmother's lap, demanding to be petted. At every picture, she pointed out who's who and explained what was going on, saying things like, "That's Fliske, my great-uncle. I miss him terribly.
"You see that woman with the nose ring and weird looking hair dancing with that guy? That's Nellie, our au pair. You should taste some of her cooking. It's amazing.
"Do you see how Dan has both of his hands behind his back? Natalie handcuffed them together after the last time they took a picture together. It was either that, or shooting him in the bum with a poison dart.
"That bride over there is Sinead, my favorite cousin. She was like a modern Einstein in girl form. You can only imagine what her children were like. I barely understood what they were saying when they were talking about anything related to science, and that was when they were eleven!
"You know Jonah Wizard, right? The famous musician? Well that's him right there when he was still into that gangster act of his. Weird, eh? Sometimes I forget how he would act like before his wife transformed him.
"Ha! I remember taking this picture! It was blackmail for… Well, never mind that, but doesn't he look ridiculously cute with that teddy bear? I never knew why he wouldn't let me show anybody this. I think it has something about hurting his manliness or something.
Grandmother's eyes started to glaze over, and I started to panic. Although I wasn't that gullible, I had heard somewhere that sometimes when the elderly was too obsessed with the past, they'll think they're in the past, and I wasn't going to take any chances.
"Do you have any picture with Mum in them, Grandma?" I asked hurriedly.
Her eyes brightened and twinkled at me again. "Of course! They're in this house somewhere. I'll go find them."
Five minutes later, we were giggling over Uncle William and Harrison's and Mum's baby pictures. After we finished Mum's college pictures, I started to appear along with my cousins Alex, Margaret, Charlie, and Fred. From that point on, it was only Grandmother giggling (and cooing) while I blushed crazily whenever any of my baby pictures appeared.
I felt butterflies in my stomach as I ran my hand through my hair. Great-uncle Dan and Great-aunt Linda were coming to dinner, and I really wanted them to like me. Grandmother had warned me to not let him corrupt me.
When I met him, though, I don't think that would be possible. And I might have been scared of him.
Uncle Dan had a full set of grey hair although he was the younger sibling and the same jade green eyes as Grandmother. He must have been at least six feet tall by the way he was looking down at me. He raised an eyebrow at me. "Well? Are you the Mini Cobra Jr.? You looked enough like him."
His wife, whom time had been much kinder to, slapped his arm lightly. "You're scaring the poor child!"
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Dinner had been a bit awkward for me, and apparently, I was the only one who felt it. The adults were having a rather good time, especially Dan. He absolutely loved poking fun of me. Although I knew it was just a light jab, I couldn't help but be a little defensive.
What happened after dessert, though, was different.
"So, sport," Dan started with a twinkle in his eye when Grandmother and Aunt Linda left the table for the kitchen. "Now that they think we don't get along, how well can you keep a secret and sneaking around?"
Finally warming up to the elderly but childish man and forgetting Grandmother's warning, I grinned.
Five mini explosives full of whip cream ready to be burst, some duct tape, and an absolutely innocent looking fourteen year old boy going into the kitchen to get a glass of water later, I met up with Uncle Dan in the living room.
"So? How did it go?" He asked like a hyper little child. Seeing my smirk, he gave me a thumbs-up and ushered me come closer to him. He held up a small device that looked suspiciously like a remote control. "You see this? At a touch of a button, those whip cream booms will explode. The minute you see your cream-covered grandmother or your great-aunt, run. Got it? Care to do the honors? Ready?
"3, 2, 1. Go!"
Grinning like a maniac, I pressed the button.
Crack. Crack. Crack, crack. Crack. Crash!
"DDDDDAAAAANNNNN!" two sets of high-pitched lungs screamed both belonging to furious women.
"Oh my gosh, that was awesome!" I choked out.
"You bet! We should do this more often!" Uncle Dan said in between laughs. We high-fived each other.
At that moment, the door was slammed open by two women covered with whip cream with murderous in their eyes. "Daniel Authur Cahill. James Robert Cahill. You two are in big trouble!"
Uncle Dan paled considerably, and I started to shake a bit. "Time for Plan B, James. RUN!"
And we ran like our lives depended on it because who said it didn't?
I began exploring the 'Cahill Command Center' whenever Grandmother was off somewhere. And of course, Mercy felt the need to follow me up there.
I've found labs filled with test tubes and colorful liquids, a gym around the corner, a weapons room with guns, spears, and dart guns, and an office with a bunch of papers.
Painstakingly, I went through the files after fully exploring all the other rooms, but they all seemed like they were in some sort of code. Frustrated, I threw the file in my hand in back into its cabinet and reached for the last file.
Instead of the usual scribbles and meaningless words, smiling faces stared back at me. I recognized the girl with auburn hair as Grandmother. And there was Grandfather, Great-uncle Dan, Great-Aunt Natalie, genius inventor Sinead Starling, famous sports star Hamilton Holt, and famous superstar Jonah Wizard. Everyone looked somewhere in their teens. On the bottom right hand corner, someone had written down in neat cursive 'Christmas, 4th Cahill Reunion'.
By the end of the summer, I had a great time. I learned all about the Cahills, and after passing the Test at age fourteen just like Grandmother, I was now an official active Madrigal agent. Grandmother, my branch leader now, showed me so many things and told me about the 39 Clues.
Even little Mercy was tied to this Cahill business. She was a specially trained cat, who would enter enemy strongholds if it was too dangerous for Grandmother to, carry a camera on her collar, attack enemy agents, and prevent anybody from finding the entrance from finding one of our strongholds.
Summer after summer, I spent my free time under Grandmother's careful supervision trying to be the best agent I could. Although I knew I would never be the best field-agent, I made an excellent informative one. I was one of the most valuable informative agents under 21 by the time I was 19.
Mum was so proud of me; my whole branch and family was.
Dad would too. Robert Darcy, one of the best agents in Madrigal history who died in fire, would be proud of his son.
At age 21, I rarely get to see Grandmother anymore between missions, work, and college. So once I found out my train would be going through Attleboro, I quickly called her, telling her I'm passing through.
As the train moved steadily towards the mansion I've grown to love, I eagerly looked out the train window, hoping to get a glimpse of her. I might as well see her as much as I could before she's… gone.
Bit by bit through the tree tops, I saw the roof of the Cahill Mansion and then the whole thing. Up ahead, there was a little group of people standing on the Cahill property.
I held my breath when I saw her. She had brought the whole family: Mum, Great-uncle Dan, Great-aunt Linda, Uncle William and Harrison and their wives, and Mercy. Grandmother stood, back straight and confidant, a few yards away from the rail as she waved at the train. At first glance, she really looked like she was entirely confidant, but I could spot that slightly shy smile.
For every train car that passed, Grandmother gave at least one waving and blew kisses; she had no way of knowing which compartment I was in and I doubt she saw me wave back.
Soon, she was only a tiny dot in the background.
Shifting back into a more comfortable position, I was completely satisfied for the moment.
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