The team walked into a sizable conference room. Down the center was a large rectangular conference table surrounded by office chairs. The teens knew as soon as they entered that they were in big trouble. What they saw sent shivers down their spine.
Chef, Goodwrench, and Miss stood at the other end of the room, staring at Team SoNaR with looks of pure contempt. Chef was now clothed in full military garb; Goodwrench, who now had a visible tattoo of an eagle on his left forearm, was dressed in outdoor wear; and Miss, who had let her dark hair down for the first time since the quest began, was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Worst of all, they were standing around an aging scientist who was tied to the chair in which he sat.
Maddy instantly recognized her grandfather. “Grandpa! What’s going on?”
Before he could respond, Chef covered Isaac’s mouth with his hand.
“That’s none of your business,” Miss replied smugly.
Maddy instantly filled up with a hatred and anger she could not contain. “We trusted you!”
Miss stared at Maddy with malice in her eyes. “That was your mistake.”
“Hurry up,” Goodwrench urged. “Let’s get what we’re here for and get out of here.”
Miss never let her gaze leave Maddy. “I’m going to get straight to the point. Hand over what you just pulled out of the safe or else your grandfather will die. Your choice.”
Shaken, Maddy looked to the twins for help. Unfortunately, they were so taken off-guard by the recent turn of events that they couldn’t think what to do. Full of fear, Maddy turned back to her grandfather’s captives.
“Why are you doing this?”
Miss sneered. “Just hand it over.”
“But,” Maddy stammered, “I thought you...”
“Were on your side?” Miss laughed. “Sorry sweetie. Now give me the envelope or else.”
Miss nodded to Chef. He pulled out a knife and held it to Isaac’s throat. Isaac squirmed, trying to free himself from Chef’s grasp. Chef held on tighter, causing Isaac to gasp for breath.
“Give it to them,” Corbyn whispered in Maddy’s ear. “It’s not worth it.”
Maddy realized there was nothing she could do. She slid the envelope down the table. “It’s been nothing but trouble for us anyway. Now let my grandfather go.”
Chef suddenly cried out pain. “He just bit my hand!”
Enraged, Chef punched Isaac in the face. Isaac’s upper lip began to bleed.
“No!” Maddy screamed. “I gave you the envelope! Let him go!”
Isaac stared defiantly at his captors. Ignoring his swelling face, he said, “You’ve got what you want. Get out of here and don’t ever let me see your face again…Sarah.”
Chef moved to hit Isaac again but Sarah put her hand up to stop him. “No need. Isaac’s right.” She bent down and put her face inches from Isaac’s. “We’ve got what we came for. Thanks for being too blind to see what was going on right in front of your face…boss.”
Isaac stared angrily at his secretary. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You…are…way…too…trusting…is…what. And now you’ll pay for it.”
Isaac said nothing.
Sarah stood and smiled wickedly. “Put it this way: my mother’s been dead for over eight years.”
A flash of recognition entered Isaac’s eyes.
“That’s what I thought.” Sarah was now in control. “The day I convinced you to let me leave this dump made the rest so easy. Tricking Maddy into starting the quest. Hijacking the helicopter in Colorado Springs. Pretending to be the housekeeper. Calling you about my mother. It was all so easy.” Sarah smirked. “And you know what?”
“That you’re sick?” Isaac struggled to believe he had been deceived so easily.
“Actually, I was going to thank you.” Sarah pointed to Team SoNaR. “You had those brats do all the hard work. And now I’m going to benefit.” Sarah got back in Isaac’s face. “So thank you,” she sneered.
Isaac licked blood off his lip. “What’d you do with the real helicopter staff?”
Sarah laughed. “They’re vacationing in your sister’s basement. Can’t have them getting in the way, can we?”
What? Maddy thought in horror. Aunt Janet is in on this?
J.J.’s anxiety was overwhelming him. “Seriously, Sarah. We need to go. Open the envelope. Make sure the secret’s in there and let’s go. Janet’s waiting.”
“And what makes you think I’m not going to call the cops and have you arrested before you get to my low-life sister’s house?” Isaac challenged.
“Simple.” Sarah opened the flap of the envelope. “This is the only copy of the secret, isn’t it?”
“You know the answer to that,” Isaac replied flatly.
“Exactly. If you so much as breathe a word about what’s happening, I will disappear with it way before any cop finds me. Then what?” Sarah acted thoughtful. “Maybe I’ll destroy it. Maybe I’ll sell it to the highest bidder. Maybe I’ll post it online. Sky’s the limit.” Sarah got back in Isaac’s face. “Is it worth the risk?”
Isaac tried to remain brave in front of his former secretary. He failed miserably and admitted defeat.
Sarah removed the paper from the envelope. “It’s settled then. We get out of here clean as a whistle and you return to your miserable little life. Sounds like a win-win to me. Doesn’t it, boys?”
Isaac looked down. He was powerless and knew it.
But his granddaughter wasn’t about to give in so easily. “You won’t get away with this.”
Sarah looked up and raised an eyebrow. “You really want to try me right now?”
Maddy said nothing.
“Then shut your mouth.” Sarah returned to looking at the paper. She suddenly threw it down on the table in a fit of rage. She turned to Maddy, venom in her eyes. “What’re you playing at?”
Maddy pretended not to know what Sarah was talking about.
Sarah’s voice was calm and direct. “Where is the secret?” She held the paper up. “This is not it.”
It was true. Maddy had attempted to give Sarah the last clue instead of the secret. She hoped Sarah wouldn’t have noticed.
Sarah grabbed Sam’s knife and held it to Isaac’s throat again. “Where is it?”
Maddy’s planned backfired. By attempting to pass the final clue off as the secret, she had made things far worse. Maddy now felt as hopeless as her grandfather did.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” she said weakly while opening up the team’s backpack.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sam asked suspiciously.
“I’m getting the real secret,” Maddy said.
Maddy pulled the sealed envelope out and held it up. Though down, she was not yet out. She refused to go down easily. “You want it?” she asked bravely. “Untie my grandfather first. Or else I’ll shred this before you ever get near it.”
Back on the first floor of EIS, Phil was reading a golf magazine at his station.
Sure’s been a slow day today.
As if on cue, he looked up. Two men, one noticeably taller than the other, were standing in front of him. He didn’t recognize either one of them.
“Can I help you?”
“We need in,” replied the shorter man. “It’s urgent.”
“Whoa. Wait just a minute there, fella. No one tells me to let them in without giving me a good reason.”
The man flashed an identification card with the EIS logo. “Does this work?”
Phil was taken aback. “I know everybody that works here,” he said. “You guys new or something?”
“Something like that. Let’s just say I’m an acquaintance of Isaac’s. Now let us in.”
Phil nodded and buzzed the two men in. They hurried away down the hall. Phil returned to thumbing through his magazine.
Sarah stared at Maddy with disdain. “You are in no position to tell me what to do, you little brat.” She pressed the knife deeper into Isaac’s throat, drawing blood.
Maddy stood her ground. “Is that so? All I have to do is shred the paper inside this envelope and your payday will disappear forever. Is that what you want?”
“And I’ll kill your grandfather! Is that what you want?”
Maddy calmly pressed her point. “I said, let my grandfather go. Or I will destroy the secret.”
“Just do it,” J.J. urged Sarah. “We don’t have time to mess around with this.”
Sarah hesitated but finally gave in. “Fine. He’s of no concern to me anyway. Sam, untie him.”
Sam complied then forcefully shoved Isaac to the ground. Isaac rubbed the pain out of his wrists.
Sarah smirked at Maddy. “You happy?”
“Very.” Maddy threw the envelope onto the middle of the table.
“Maddy, don’t!” Isaac screamed. “You don’t know what you’re—”
Sam kicked him straight in the ribs, doubling him over in pain. “You’ve said enough, old man.”
Sarah ignored Isaac’s groans. She started to walk over to the grab the envelope but never made it. Just before she reached it, the door to the conference room burst open. The taller of the two men who had just entered the building barged in and shut the door behind him.
“Don’t you even think about touching that,” he ordered Sarah.
Sarah stopped in her tracks, confused about what was going on.
What the—? Maddy thought in horror.
The man picked up the envelope for himself. Maddy gasped in terror. Corbyn and Aaden moved to protect their best friend from the intruder.
“Who do you think you are?” Sarah sneered.
The man replied coolly. “That’s for me to know. Let’s just say I’ve spent way too much energy keeping those kids away from this. I can only assume you’re doing the same?”
Sarah glared back, saying nothing. While the exchange was occurring, Team SoNaR moved away from the man and had a secret conversation of their own.
“How did he find us and get in here?” Aaden whispered, dumbstruck.
Corbyn’s voice trembled. “I thought he gave up on us after we left him in the cave.”
K-1 had yet again tracked Team SoNaR down. He looked away from Sarah and spoke directly to Maddy.
“Thought you’d seen the last of me, didn’t you?”
Maddy was in too much shock to respond.
“That’s all right.” K-1 shrugged. “Considering our…interactions…this week, I wouldn’t expect you to have anything nice to say about me. It’s no matter though. Things are finally working out as they’re supposed to.”
Just then, the door to the conference room burst open again. In walked Mr. Zhang. With a scowl, he took in his surroundings. Isaac was down on the floor in the fetal position with Sam and J.J. standing over him. Defending the secret a few feet to his left was K-1. Halfway across the room was Sarah, visibly livid. And trapped together in a nearby corner were Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden.
Sarah’s eyes brightened. She pointed at K-1. “He has the envelope. Get it!”
K-1 smiled. Calm, he walked over to Team SoNaR. Despite what they had been through the past week, the teens had never been as afraid as they were at that moment.
Maddy began to cry. Can we trust no one anymore?
Mr. Zhang heard Sarah’s orders, but did not advance.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Sarah shouted. “Get that envelope before he does something to it! Now!”
Before Mr. Zhang could get the envelope so it could be turned over to Janet, K-1 did something with it that was truly unexpected.