VS KNOW ABOUT BULLS EYE ... GO TO WHITE
HOUSE AM … FIND GSP ...
A pause. Was that all of it?
The Morse code resumed:
TORCH IS MORE THAN IT SEEMS ...
She peered out, waiting breathlessly for the rest. More flashes came, and her wrist jumped to action. But no — it was merely the message repeating.
At last, the motor swelled and the small craft began to move off.
Come back! she wanted to scream. What does it all mean?
A final burst of code:
PROTECT THE RING AT ALL COSTS
“What ring?” she said aloud. But the boat was gone.
She had no idea what any of it meant, but one thing was certain: The people on that boat believed they were communicating with James Cahill.
Grace had not lived to the ripe old age of thirteen without realizing that there was something special about Father’s family. Her parents had told her and Beatrice how Cahills had shaped human history for centuries. Some of the most famous people of all time were cousins — Shakespeare, Mozart, Abraham Lincoln, and even Babe Ruth. Secret words had passed between her parents in whispers — Lucian, Janus, Tomas, Ekatarina, and one that seemed especially mysterious, Madrigal. There was also a number that kept coming up — 39. It had been Father’s football number at Harvard, but Grace suspected it meant much, much more.
Grace didn’t know the specifics of Cahill business — just that James and Edith Cahill had been up to their necks in it. But now she suspected that when Mother died, James had abandoned his Cahill responsibilities along with his children. The people on that boat were trying to communicate with an agent who had dropped out. Another vital role was going unfulfilled.
She stared at the cryptic words on the pad. The message made as much sense to her as Fiske’s childish burbling. VS — somebody’s initials? No, then it would be VS KNOWS. This was VS KNOW. So the Vs had to be a group of people. But who?
BULLS EYE — a direct hit. In a war, that could mean almost anything. GO TO WHITE HOUSE. Surely not the one where the president lived?
AM — as in morning? Or that could be initials, too. Also GSP. Were these people or things? More confusing still, TORCH and RING — two random items.
She opened her bedroom door and stepped out into the hall. Beatrice would know what to do. She was two years older, and Beatrice was the one their parents had been grooming for a major role in the Cahill family. Grace had only been included when it turned out that her sister had no stomach for flying lessons.
Beatrice always had a fuller understanding of the sudden trips their parents used to take on urgent Cahill matters. Maybe she could decipher the strange communication.
“Bea?” She peeked into her sister’s room. “Are you asleep?”
“I was,” came the reply. No one expressed annoyance more thoroughly than Beatrice Cahill. And she had plenty of practice at it. Everything annoyed her.
“I have to show you something.” Grace told her sister of the boat that had come, flashed its message, and disappeared just as abruptly. “Here — I’m turning on the light.”
Blinking in discomfort, Beatrice sat up in bed and examined the paper Grace proffered. “It’s gibberish.”
“Gibberish doesn’t come in Morse code,” Grace insisted. “It was meant for Father.”
“Anybody with a message for Father should know that he hasn’t lived here for more than a year,” Beatrice retorted.
“Not if it’s a Cahill thing,” Grace argued. “The family is scattered around the world. Father might have been keeping in touch with them some other way. You understand more about Cahill business than I do.”
“I understand enough about Cahill business to stay well out of it,” Beatrice said caustically. “There’s nothing about that lot that interests me.”
“Maybe this is about the war! What if Father and his contacts could help put a stop to it?” Nothing would take precedence over that. Millions had died already, and the conflict only seemed to be spreading.
“Whatever it is you think you know about Cahills, let me set you straight. Our family has wasted centuries playing foolish games, stabbing each other in the back and reading all sorts of meaning into meaningless things. If one more coded message shows up for Father, I think I’ll scream.”
Grace stiffened like a pointer. “There were others?”
Her sister shrugged derisively. “I don’t waste my time trying to decipher every moonbeam.”
“But, Beatrice,” Grace pleaded, “you’re the one Mother and Father chose to share the secrets of our family with. Don’t you want that?”
“What I want,” Beatrice said firmly, “is to be a regular, normal person. The Cahill world isn’t normal. I intend to ignore the whole thing. And if you know what’s good for you”— she cast her sister a sharp look — “you’ll follow my example. Now, go to sleep!”
Grace looked into her sister’s eyes. There was another emotion there, concealed by Beatrice’s perpetually sour face.
She couldn’t decipher the message any more than Grace could. But one thing Beatrice did understand was that high stakes meant high risks. She wanted no part of the Cahill world because it scared her to death.
Grace withdrew, more disappointed than angry. As usual, there was no talking to Beatrice, who was an immovable mountain when she made up her mind about something.
She looked around at the sumptuously furnished home. Their villa in Monte Carlo was spacious and luxurious, with vast banks of windows that, in daylight, provided breathtaking views of both the mountains and the sea. It had cost millions, and it was only one of five similar residences James Cahill owned around the globe. The wealth alone spoke of their family’s power, but money was only part of the story. The huge house was filled with artworks and artifacts Mother and Father had collected on their extended travels. These hailed from all continents — from every remote corner of the map. Perhaps Beatrice could ignore all this proof of the Cahills’ special role in human history, but not Grace. The world was in chaos. Father had taken himself out of the picture, and his elder daughter had chosen to do likewise.
The mantle must fall to Grace.
I have to do this myself.
Her eyes traveled to the paper and her resolve mingled with unease. Willingness to do something wasn’t the same as knowing what needed to be done.
She set her jaw. Her mother’s death; her father’s disappearance — these were things beyond her control. Her immediate family was unraveling, but this part of it — her parents’ involvement with the Cahill clan — could still be saved.
If she could decipher the cryptic message.
The question remained: How?
Madame Fourchette was in a towering rage. “What shall I say to your father when you grow up ignorant, you silly girl?” the tutor shrilled. “Why can you not be more like your sister?”
“Impossible,” Grace said blandly. “Beatrice is one of a kind.”
“Beatrice has done her assignment, and you have written not a single word! I will have the reason why!”
There was a reason, not that Grace was going to share it with Madame. For the past week, her every waking moment — and even her troubled dreams — had been devoted to trying to make head or tail of the message from the mystery boat. She had scoured the villa’s extensive library and even begged entry into the larger one at the Prince’s Palace, home of the ruling Grimaldis. As far as she could figure, there was absolutely nothing to connect people called Vs, a bull’s-eye, the White House, morning, a torch, and a ring. As for GSP, that was the most baffling part of all. She could not seriously believe that her father was being directed to find a German shorthaired pointer, the Georgia State Patrol, or a green spotted puffer fish.
“As I suspected, you have nothing to say for yourself,” Madame Fourchette told her sternly. “Since you cannot seem to write your essay, you will instead write five hundred times ‘I must complete the schoolwork assigned to me.’ At once, s’il vous plaît.”
Grace felt a headache beginning to gather behind her eyes. The thought of all that mindless scribbling when there was important work to be done made her both angry and depressed.
As she descended the spiral staircase, she heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the entrance hall. Fiske, no doubt, destroying yet another priceless piece of art. Where was Giselle? The answer came from the radio in the parlor — music from the BBC in London. The governess enjoyed English programming much more than she enjoyed trying to control a one-year-old wrecking crew.
Grace sat down at the table and scribbled out three quick lines. Great. Only 497 more to go. She was about to begin line 4 when the music stopped in mid song.
“We interrupt this program for a news bulletin. The Allied invasion of North Africa has begun. Yesterday morning British and American troops landed at Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca in a three-pronged attack known as Operation Torch. The Casablanca force, under the command of American general George S. Patton …”
The report went on, but Grace had heard enough.
George S. Patton — GSP!
Operation Torch. And Casablanca — that was Spanish for white house! The Morse message hadn’t been about the White House in Washington at all! Father was being sent to Casablanca to seek out General Patton, who was commanding Operation Torch!
It was bizarre, and yet from a Cahill point of view, it made perfect sense. If Ben Franklin, Napoleon, and the Russian royal family could be Cahills, why not George Patton? And surely the general would be able to decode the rest of the message — the Vs, the bull’s-eye, and the ring.
Her heart pounded with the exhilaration of discovery, but the feeling soon turned to despair. Father was completely out of reach. By the time she could pass this information on to him, Operation Torch would be in the history books. Could she get in touch with General Patton? How? Through the American embassy maybe?
Oh, sure. The US military will put an invasion on hold and call up a general on the say-so of a thirteen-year-old girl.
The dilemma nearly tore her in two. Now that it was clear that the Morse code message was connected to Operation Torch, who knew how vital Father’s mission might be? If the Cahills were as powerful as Grace had heard, it could turn the tide of the entire war! And then millions would be spared the kind of suffering Grace’s family had known.
The world needed Father, and he was nowhere to be found.
She stopped short, frowning. No, that wasn’t quite true. The world needed a Cahill — and Father was not the only one. Grace was a Cahill, too.
What am I thinking? I’m not in charge of saving the planet! I’m thirteen years old! I’m not even allowed out of the house without permission!
Casablanca was hundreds of miles away, across the Mediterranean. It was difficult to reach under the best of circumstances. Right now the place was under attack. She’d never get there. And even if she did, she’d probably be killed.
The feeling that came over her at that moment caused her to put down her pen and stand up behind the mahogany table, shoulders squared. It was the deep sense that, against all logic, she belonged in this fight. It was her place to be there, no matter what the consequences.