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‘The Black Circle’ takes the adventure to Russia

The latest Al's Book Club pick is "The Black Circle," the fifth installment of the "39 Clues" multimedia series. Read an excerpt and join the adventure, which finds siblings Amy and Dan Cahill unraveling a mystery at the State Kremlin Palace.
/ Source: TODAY books

Siblings Amy and Dan Cahill take on a challenge in their grandmother's will to find 39 clues scattered around the world in order to learn about the source of their family's power. In the fifth book of the "39 Clues" series, "The Black Circle" by Patrick Carman, the adventurers find themselves in Russia, still unraveling a mystery. An excerpt.

Chapter 12
All the doors into the theater were locked, but it was only a few minutes before a maintenance worker emerged, pushing a garbage can on wheels. Dan saw the opportunity they needed and shoved Amy into the man’s path. When she hit the cart, Amy caught her foot on the metal wheel and flew forward onto the marble floor.

“You little monster!” she said, turning beet red and forgetting for a moment that she was visiting one of the more opulent concert halls in Europe, disguised as an adult.

When she got up, the man was wearing a cramped smile, trying not to laugh. He mumbled something in Russian that Amy felt sure meant “hopeless klutz,” then wandered down the long corridor, shaking his head.


Amy looked every which way, straightening her ridiculous wig and glasses, but there was no sign of her brother.

“Pssst. Over here,” said Dan.

Amy turned around and saw that a door to the theater was open just far enough for Dan’s goatee to poke out at her.

“Get in here before someone sees you.”

Amy backed up slowly as a group of women walked past, chatting quietly in Russian. By the time they’d disappeared, Amy had her back against one of the two doors. Dan grabbed her by the arm and yanked her inside.

“What’s taking you so long?”

Amy scowled at her brother. First he pushes me, then he pulls me. Now he gets all over my case.

“You’re starting to annoy me,” she said, gearing up for an epic brother-sister argument. But when she turned toward the stage, her anger melted away. Amy loved the theater almost as much as she loved books, and the State Kremlin Palace was a stunner if ever she’d seen one. The stage was set with blue lights shining down as night descended on the scene. There were scale model buildings and a Russian-style church deep in the background. It was breathtaking from where they stood, like a scene from a fairy tale in which Anastasia came back to life and Rasputin roamed the woods.

Long rows of seats lined the middle of the theater, all of them empty, awaiting theatergoers who wouldn’t arrive until evening.

Dan led the way into the darkness along the back wall of the theater. “The balcony’s up there, so the stairs can’t be too far. This place is gigantic. It must hold at least six thousand people.”

They could hear a door opening as they crept onto the stairs, which were hidden behind a curtain. Amy put her finger to her lips, then looked back to see that a security guard had entered. And what was worse, he had a giant German shepherd on a leash.

Dan waved Amy along and soon they were at the top of the gilded stairway, down a short hall, and standing in Balcony Box 4. Dan began searching for row number three, then tried to imagine what D1 meant. He hadn’t got that far in his thinking before Amy could tell he was stumped. She crouched down low, peering over the edge of the balcony. The dog was guiding the guard closer toward the stairs.

“He’s coming this way!” said Amy.

She crept over to Dan, and they both looked at the scribble of numbers and letters on the piece of paper again.

“There are three Ds—D1, D2, D3. Maybe they refer to doors?”

“Could be,” said Dan. He whispered all the letters and numbers again. Sometimes it helped to say things out loud. “SKP BAL BOX4 R3 D1 45231 D2 45102 D3 NRR.”

“Hurry, Dan! That dog is serious business. It sounds angry and hungry. You know what that means—”

Dan walked along Row 3 and sat down.

“What are you doing? This is no time to sit around! Do something!”

“I am,” said Dan. “I think I got this.”

“You think you got what?” Amy said nervously. She was searching on the floor for a button or a lock, anything that might get them away from the approaching guard dog. “Look for some dials or a hidden panel. Make yourself useful!”

Dan calmly got up and sat in the next seat over, seat number 5 in the row. He’d been in seat number 4. Then he got up again and sat in seat number 2.

“Seriously, Dan, you’ve lost your marbles.”

“I don’t think so,” he whispered. “45231 might be the order in which a person has to sit in the seats in Row 3. Let me finish.”

He sat in seat number 3, then moved right up next to Amy.

“If something doesn’t happen when I sit down, we’re in big trouble.”

He took a deep breath and plopped down in the seat. There was a soft snick behind a curtained wall at the rear of the balcony.

“I think you did something,” whispered Amy. She could hear the German shepherd sniffing at the top of the stairs now.

Dan and Amy moved quietly to the rear of the balcony and pulled back the red curtain. One of the panels had slid open an inch, revealing a black seam of darkness behind.

“Kto tam?”

Amy nearly jumped out of the balcony at the sound of the guard’s voice. He was right outside, about to enter, as Dan slid the panel open just enough to glide through. Amy followed and the curtain dropped. She slid the panel shut.

The German shepherd whined and sniffed, searching everything in the balcony, including the curtain. But the dog didn’t find anything. Dan and Amy had vanished.

“I guess we follow the lights,” said Amy.

They were in a long, narrow corridor with runway lights embedded in the center of the floor. The walls and ceiling were black, so that it felt like walking in the midnight sky along a line of stars. They snaked back and forth for fifty feet and came to the end.

“Looks like an elevator,” said Dan. “D2—door number two.”

Amy nodded her agreement in the darkness. A row of five elevator buttons, each round and circled in red, glowed softly against the black wall.

“Remember the order?” asked Amy. Dan stepped up to the bank of buttons and began pushing them one at a time. First the 4, then the 5, then the 1, 0, and 2.

The doors opened with surprising speed and Dan jumped back, accidentally clocking Amy in the arm with his elbow. The entire back wall of the elevator was covered with a giant portrait of the Kabra family. Ian looked particularly smug.

“They really think a lot of themselves, don’t they?” said Dan.

“You said it,” agreed Amy.

They glanced at each other, and Dan could see that Amy’s hands were trembling again. She had a lot on her plate, being the older of the two, always having to be the responsible one. Dan felt an unexpected twinge of guilt. “We’re doing okay, you know,” he said.

Amy started to smile, but just then the elevator began to plummet. She grabbed a rail and held on for dear life. Dan wasn’t so lucky. He rolled around on the floor of the elevator until it came to an abrupt stop, the doors opening once more.

“I’m starting to think this place is haunted,” said Dan. There was something about being way underground that scared Dan, like he was trapped in a mine shaft and the air was running out. “How far belowground do you think we are?”

Amy didn’t answer. Her eyes were locked on the monstrous gothic door that stood twenty feet in front of them down a cavelike passageway.

“This is so Dungeons and Dragons,” said Dan.

“It’s D3, the last door. Dan, I think we found him. We found NRR.”

“We’ve discovered a lot more than that. I think we just found some sort of old stronghold.”

Amy walked out of the elevator and Dan followed until they stood before a door of iron and wood with an ancient set of dials set into its surface. There was only one problem. The writing on the dials was in Russian.

“Give me the guidebook,” said Amy. Dan unzipped the backpack and handed the book to Amy. She thumbed through the pages, trying to remember. . . .

“Here! This is it. It’s zero to ten written out in Russian and English.”

Dan leaned over and glanced at the page. The passage was dimly lit at best, but he could see the strange Russian letters.

“Are we sure about this?” asked Dan.

Everything about their Russian journey had smelled like a trap, and now they’d entered some sort of secret lair from which they might not be able to escape. But none of that mattered to Amy, and she was pretty sure it didn’t matter to Dan, either. Come alone, as your parents did. The words thrummed in her mind, driving her forward.

“What if Mom and Dad were here?” she whispered. “They could have stood right here, trying to figure this out. It’s like they’re calling us.”

Dan nodded.

“That’s exactly how I feel,” he said.

“You want to do the honors?” asked Amy.

“You bet I do,” said Dan. He scanned the list for a few seconds and went to work on the dials.

“Four . . . Five . . . One . . . Zero . . . Two.”

When the last dial was turned, the lock clicked open and the door slid back on its hinges with a grinding sound of old metal. A female voice echoed quietly from behind the door.

“Come in. I have been expecting you.”

Excerpted from "The 39 Clues #5: The Black Circle" by Patrick Carman. Scholastic Inc. Text copyright (c) 2009 by Patrick Carman. Reprinted by permission.