They followed Frau Bodner into another room, this one like an enormous safe. The guard followed. She punched in a number on a screen, and a wall of numbered boxes slid silently aside. Another wall of boxes slid forward. Frau Bodner walked to one of the boxes and motioned to Fiske. She placed her key in the lock, and Fiske placed his. They both turned the keys, and the box slid outward.
It was bigger than Amy had imagined, the size of a small overnight case, only narrower. It was made of metal. Frau Bodner carried the box to the far wall. A series of steel doors ran down its length. She swiped her card outside one of them.
They followed her inside the small room. There was a table, several chairs, and bottled water and glasses on a silver tray.
“You may take as long as you like,” Frau Bodner said. “When you are finished, press this button. The security officer will alert me, and I’ll usher you out.”
Fiske thanked her, and she nodded and left, the door clicking shut behind her.
The box sat in the middle of the table. They stared at it.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if it was full of priceless jewels?” Dan whispered. “Or gold bars?”
Amy eyed the box. “What are you, a pirate? We already have plenty of money.”
“There’s nothing like a couple of gold bars for authenticity, though. I could make one into a necklace. Jonah Wizard would be soooo way jealous….”
Amy looked over at Dan. Was he babbling because he was nervous or because he was excited? It was almost like he was enjoying this. Didn’t he want to be back in Attleboro, sitting in their living room? She sure did.
Fiske sat down in a chair, grabbed the box, and slid it toward himself. He took a breath, then opened it.
Amy leaned forward. The only thing in the box was an envelope addressed to Fiske in Grace’s handwriting.
Fiske picked up the envelope, opened it, and took out a sheet of paper. He placed it flat on the table so that they could all read it at the same time.
“Amy,” Dan said, poking her. “Do us a favor? Don’t go all emo on us.”
“I’m not crying,” Amy said, dabbing at her eyes. “But the note … it’s so sad.”
Fiske looked in the box again. He tapped at it. “But where’s the ring?”
They bent over the paper again. Amy reached out and touched it. Seeing Grace’s handwriting always made her choke up.
“‘The circle of devotion,’” she whispered.
Suddenly, Dan snorted.
Amy looked up, annoyed. “Don’t get all sarcastic. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s sappy,” Dan said. “And Grace wasn’t sappy.”
Amy opened her mouth to protest, but Fiske looked at Dan, his blue eyes keen. “He’s right. Go on, Dan.”
Dan stared down at the paper. “This is a code. Grace didn’t write like this, all poetic and sentimental. She said what she meant. ‘All my yearning’? Give me a break!”
“It’s the ring!” Amy burst out. “The circle of devotion!”
“Look at the first letters of ‘all my yearning,’ ” Fiske said. “They’re slightly darker.”
” ‘A M Y,’ ” Dan read. He looked over at Amy. “Oh, no, not again!”
Amy sniffed as a tear rolled down her cheek. ” ‘Amy now comes to this,’ ” she read. “That’s what she meant.”
“You’re the next Madrigal to protect the ring,” Fiske said.
“Yeah,” Dan said. “We just have to find it.”
” ‘Compass points,’ ” Fiske murmured. “Why —” Suddenly, he stopped when a light flashed red and began to blink. A siren wailed behind the door.
They heard a brisk knock at the door, and it opened to reveal the security guard. “Excuse me,” he said with a German accent. “Armed gunmen have broken into the bank. We must leave immediately!”
Thieves … or Vespers?
Either scenario wasn’t good, Dan decided.
“Hurry!” the guard said as Fiske stuffed the paper in his pocket and closed the box.
When they reached the corridor, they turned toward the elevator, but the guard spoke quickly. “No! There is another elevator that can bring us to the underground garage.” He spoke rapidly in German into his radio.
They ran down the corridor. Dan felt his heart banging against his chest. It was like a weird flashback to the Clue hunt. Only they weren’t being chased by Cahills but by strangers with guns. He wasn’t sure if it was incredibly cool or just incredibly scary.
All he knew was that he wasn’t bored.
And that was a weirdly satisfying feeling.
The security guard moved quickly and efficiently. He swiped his card at the elevator bank but his eyes darted back down the corridor. He checked his belt, nervously touching the gun holster and a device that might have held pepper spray. Dan hoped it wasn’t his first day.
The elevator doors opened and they hurried inside. The guard reached out to hit the button for the garage. As he did, his cuff slid up, and Dan saw part of a tattoo on the inside of his wrist.
Something fluttered in his memory. As the elevator whooshed downward, he searched for it. The inked image was a symbol of something … but what?
I know it, I know it, I know it …
Some ancient symbol he’d seen in China? A strange character he’d glimpsed in Japan or Korea? Or what about some ancient Egyptian god?
Whatever it was, it was making him uneasy.
“This is crazy!” he burst out. “What if they’re down there, waiting for us?” Amy looked at him strangely as he turned into a freakazoid. “You can’t protect us!” he shouted, grabbing at the guard’s arm.
“Chill, it’s under control!” the guard said irritably as he shook him off.
Chill? Would a Swiss guy say that?
This time the cuff slid farther back. And Dan was staring into the goofy face of Dinger, the purple triceratops that was the mascot of the Colorado Rockies baseball team.
Why would a German-accented Swiss security guard have a tattoo like that?
The elevator floors ticked off. Dan wrestled with his instincts. The guy could have gone to college in the States. But it wasn’t adding up.
Dan shot a look at Amy, a look that said something about this isn’t right.
Her eyes went wide. The elevator was shooting down to the parking garage, and he had a feeling that when the doors opened, they wouldn’t be met with a parade.
Well, if the guy was a security guard, he’d just have to forgive him.
Dan inclined his head toward the red emergency stop button. Amy nodded. He grabbed the tote bag from Fiske and upended it. The guidebook thumped to the floor, distracting the guard just as Amy leaped forward and hit the stop button.
The elevator jerked to a halt. They all staggered. Dan had been waiting for just that. He slipped the tote bag over the guard’s head. He heard the muffled cry of the guard, but he had exactly one instant of surprise to work with, and he used it. He smashed his foot into the back of the guard’s knee, and the guy lost his balance and fell on his knees, letting out a howl. He reached out blindly and with one hand tried to get the canvas bag off his head, but with the other he grabbed Dan by the throat … and squeezed.
Dan clawed at the hand. He felt enormous pressure and enormous pain. He saw Amy slamming her fists against the guard. It was like hitting a mountain.
Fiske doubled over. Was he hurt? Then he drove downward, slamming a tightly rolled newspaper into the back of the guard’s neck. To Dan’s amazement, the guard hit the floor. The pressure on his throat eased.
“Whoa, dude!” Dan choked. “Are you a CIA agent in disguise?”
“Amazing the things you learn in the Cahill family,” Fiske said, sitting down on top of the guard. “Now, can you tell me what’s up?”
“I think he’s a Vesper.” Quickly, Dan explained about the tattoo and how the guy had said “chill.” It sounded lame suddenly, with an unconscious man lying on the floor.
Fiske looked up at Amy. “Amy, can you hit a floor? Anything high will do. We’d better get off this elevator.”
Amy hit the top floor. When the elevator began to move, Fiske swiftly reached down and took the gun.
“Awesome,” Dan breathed.
Then Fiske took the pepper spray and waited until the doors opened. He lifted a bit of the tote bag, sprayed it in the guy’s face, and walked out. “He’ll have a good cry when he comes to.”
Amy reached back into the elevator and punched every floor on the panel. It would be a long trip down.
“I hope you’re right,” Amy said to Dan.
“He’s right,” Fiske said. “It adds up. He made a mistake in German — he used du instead of Sie when he spoke into that transmitter. Dan just has faster reactions than I do.” Dan grinned, and he and Fiske gently knocked their knuckles together.
The gray-carpeted hall was empty. They walked cautiously past a suite of offices. To their surprise, they could see people working quietly.
“What’s going on?” Amy whispered. “Don’t they know what’s happening?”
“Maybe the alarm malfunctioned,” Dan said.
“This is an executive floor,” Fiske said, peering at the nameplates. “This guy is a vice president.”
“And here’s the president of the bank,” Dan said. “We might as well go straight to the top.”
They opened the door and walked in. Two assistants sat at twin desks on either side of a double door with gigantic steel knobs. Both men were dressed in gray suits. Both wore their blond hair cropped short. Enormous paintings in cool tones of silver and gray hung on the walls. The only splotch of color was the deep blue of Lake Zurich below.
“May I help you?” The man on the left addressed them.
The guy looked perfectly calm. This was getting weirder and weirder.
“I’m Fiske Cahill, an account holder here. We were just going through our safe-deposit box when a guard told us there were armed thieves in the bank —”
“Who were on their way up to that floor—” Dan interrupted.
“And then we realized he was one of them, so we wrestled him to the floor —”
Both assistants’ eyes were on them now.
“We have received no security alerts,” the first one said. He primly adjusted his silver-framed glasses.
Fiske took out the gun and slammed it on the desk. That got their attention.
“I think this belongs to the bank,” he said.
The silver-framed glasses guy licked his lips. “I think you’d better see Herr Duber.”
“Good call,” Fiske said.
Within seconds, the door opened, and a tall, gray-haired man nodded at them. He, too, seemed fashioned of metal. Silver hair, silver glasses, steel-gray eyes.
“What is it, Bruno?” he asked testily.
The blond man in the glasses gestured at them and shrugged, as if to say he wasn’t responsible for the three crazy Americans in front of him.
“They have a story about a bank heist, like an American film.” He gave a disdainful smile.