He sighed and packed up his briefcase, gave a nod to the Hawks and left the room. He wandered through the entry hall and upstairs. His room was at the back of the Manor on the east side and had several large windows that overlooked the pond. He had been conducting his business from his room, as well as catching up on his reading. He was particularly anxious to get back to his book today as he knew he would be busy over the next two days answering questions from his law office and giving responses to the submitted guesses by the families here at the Manor.
Eudorra sat down on the couch in the sitting room while her parents unlocked the drawer of the desk and pulled their clues out once more. They opened the new clue and began discussing it. Eudorra almost didn't even bother to listen, but she knew Gilbert would be paying extra close attention to his clue to relay it to her, and she was beginning to wish that this whole week was over. Her head hurt from going through the clues over and over again, and never finding an answer that made any sense. What was Simon trying to do with this puzzle?
"Eudorra, come and look at this, I think you'll be surprised," said her father.
She heaved herself off the couch and stood behind her father at the table, looking down at the clue that lay before him:
Finding clues is not enough,
Reconsider what is right and what is tough,
Inside you will find that there is more,
Even when you feel nothing but poor.
Never give up when the going gets tough,
Decide now to make what you have enough.
Stop and think, you may find what you seek,
Hiding inside, I promise not to peek.
Imagine a place where all can be friends,
Promise me that when all of this ends.
And beneath it was this symbol:
"It looks like some kind of riddle," Eudorra said halfheartedly looking down at the paper.
"It's more than that, it is a crostick!"
"A what?" said Eudorra, still only half listening.
"A crostick! Read it again and see if you notice anything funny about it."
She tried to focus on the poem-riddle, but nothing was clicking. The stress was starting to get to her. She wanted to talk to Gilbert so they could figure out what the roman numerals meant. She read the poem through several times before she was coherent enough to see it.
"The first letter of each line! They spell 'friendship'!" she said finally, and then to relieve some stress, "All our symbols mean friendship."
Whatever her parents had expected, it wasn't this. They were shocked and she could see the wheels churning in their heads trying to compute what she had just said.
"You're sure they all mean 'friendship'?" her mother asked. She nodded. "But how do you know?"
"It was Gilbert, he showed me on Mars Blaster, the game he is always playing. The village where he started had a hut where you could add friends to your chat list, or whatever. It had the same symbol as the one we found in the Chinese puzzle box. If this symbol at the bottom of the poem means 'friendship' too, I'm pretty sure they all do!"
It was sound logic, and it was hard to argue against it.
"So why would Simon want to drive that particular message home?" asked Angela.
Mort shook his head then responded, "Probably because Annabel and I have been at odds for so long, he wanted to make sure I got the message that we should be friends, not enemies."
"But why were you enemies, she seems to be very nice and polite. Especially during the movie last night, she was the very picture of politeness."
"She can be like that." Said Mort, "But she can be very different too."
"What do you mean, Dad?" Eudorra asked.
His face had become grim, but he continued to respond.
"Annabel can be very controlling. She wants things done her way, whether that is the best way to do it or not. She doesn't discuss anything, she just wants to continue doing what she is doing regardless of consequences."
"Were you ever friends?" Eudorra asked.
"We were. It was a long time ago, the first few times we came to the manor we worked together to solve Simon's puzzles. It wasn't until later that we started getting separate clues and competing against each other."
"Do you know why Simon started giving you separate clues?" Angela asked.
"I never thought to ask, I just assumed that was the way he wanted it. To see us compete with each other."
Eudorra, felt this couldn't be the entire reason behind the divide between her father and her aunt. But what else it could be, she didn't know.
"Jared, is there somewhere Gilbert and I can meet without being seen?" Eudorra asked in her bedroom.
She had gotten away from her parents the first moment she could then ran to her bedroom and rang the bell. Rain had been forecast off and on for the next two days. It was just after 2:00 pm and it was already pattering against the window of her room. She had meant to tell Gilbert to meet her in the tree house, but with the rain and no roof on the tree house, her notes would get all smudged and blurry.
Jared's face twisted into a hard frown while he thought, he didn't seem to have an answer until his face suddenly brightened and he said, "The storage cupboard on this floor is secluded, there is a light inside, and it doesn't have anything in it but spare linens and towels which should dampen your voices. I can think of no better place mam. The only problem is that it is on this side of the manor, so getting Gilbert in and out unseen could pose a problem."
"Thank you Jared. I think his parents give him enough reign that he could slip over easily enough. Hopefully we won't need to discuss things for too long, but we really haven't had a chance since Tuesday after we all went out on the pond."
"Very good Miss. Shall I inform Mr. Gilbert of the arrangements?"
"Yes, please! Let me write a note, and you can take it to him immediately." She scribbled a note on a piece of paper and tucked it in an envelope which she then gave to Jared.
Once he had gone, she gathered up her notebook and phone and walked quietly to the linen cupboard. She looked around to make sure the coast was clear, then slipped into the room and turned on the light.
It wasn't a large room, but it would suffice for what she and Gilbert needed. Both walls were lined with shelves full of towels, sheets, and blankets. There was a large laundry hamper next to the door, along the back wall were two small chairs, and a single light shone overhead. The room smelled of mothballs, starch, and laundry detergent. Eudorra closed the door quietly and sat on the floor so she could start spreading her notes out on the chairs.
Annabel opened the envelope clutched in her hand and pulled out the next clue. Sixteen square pieces of paper fell on the table, along with a note.
I know this has been hard for you. This clue is critically important to the rest of the puzzle, and you will want to get with Mortimer and his family to finish this puzzle.
The sixteen cards that come with this clue have to be arranged in the correct order for the message to appear. Read every line VERY CAREFULLY!
Annabel and Terrence flipped all the cards face up and examined them. Gilbert peeked over their shoulders at the cards and quietly snapped a picture of all the cards. A large letter was written in the middle of each card and a small letter was printed on the side of each edge of the card. They all sat staring at the cards for a long time. Gilbert wanted to shout out "Start moving cards around already!!!" But thought better of it.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, they started moving the cards around to try and make some sense of them.
"I can't believe this," Gilbert heard his mother mutter under her breath. He tried to decide if that comment meant the cards or the note instructing her to work with Mortimer and his family.
"How are we supposed to know if we have the cards in the right order?" his father asked. "Is there some secret to solving this clue that we don't know about?"
"No idea," Annabel barked rearranging the cards at a furious pace. She took four cards and rearranged them over and over again until she exhausted every combination. Still not satisfied, she grabbed four more cards and started working through combinations:
"Mom, what are you doing?" Gilbert asked.
"Trial and error, son, trial and error," some puzzles don't have a logical solution, you just have to work through it as quickly as you can."
He watched her rearrange cards in silence for a few minutes, then asked, "What are the smaller letters for?"
"Probably just a distraction," his mother said without hesitation. "Something to make it harder to concentrate."
Gilbert doubted that. He sat down and made up his own cards using the photo he had taken of the originals. Once they were cut out, he started looking, not at the large letters, but the small ones around the edges of the cards. He started by trying to match up the letters with the same letters. Which worked until he started on the second line and discovered many of the cards didn't work because the cards to either side didn't match the cards above them. So there was some kind of 'true' order, but he would need time to figure out what order that was.
There was a knock at the door, and Jared entered the room with a tray of doughnuts. Gilbert looked up and saw Jared give him a very direct nod. Gilbert watched him with a confused look on his face.
"Gilbert, did you want anything else before I refresh the snack bar?" Jared asked lifting a letter, a few inches above the tray and glancing over his shoulder at him.
"Uh... yeah, let me have that cherry soda before you walk off with it!" Gilbert said, getting to his feet, hoping that he sounded fairly natural.
He walked over to the snack bar and grabbed the soda, as well as the envelope. While his parents backs were turned toward him, he quietly opened the envelope and read the note from Eudorra.
Eudorra heard a soft knock on the door and saw the door open just a crack. Gilbert's head poked into the room and when he saw her he quickly entered and shut the door quietly behind him.
"What in the blazes?" he asked looking at the notes she had spread all over the chairs and the floor.
"I've tried to copy down everything we have done since we got here, every clue, every meal, every activity. I'm trying to figure out what Simon's grand scheme was. It certainly couldn't have been as simple as giving us a series of clues that all lead to a symbol with the same meaning. There has to be more than that!"
"I agree, the latest puzzle we received is a dozy! Here let me show you." he said and pulled out his phone. "My parents just too the clue to their room to keep working on it, away from public eyes, so I could slip over here pretty easily."
He showed her the picture he had taken of the clue on his phone:
Eudorra copied the cards into her notes under the "Hawk Clues" section. Then she showed Gilbert the clue that her family had just received and how the first letter of each line spelled: FRIENDSHIP.
"I poured over every clue last night, and I just can't see where this is all headed. The symbols in the hall, the clues that lead us to the symbols, they are all connected, but there's no clear direction!"
"Well, maybe we need to solve our clue then, the note that came with it said that it was critical to solving the rest of the puzzle." He smiled, "It also said that we needed to work with your family to really solve it."
"Meaning?" she asked.
He shrugged, "Maybe we each have half of the final clue, and until our families work together we won't be able to solve the puzzle at all!"
Gilbert pulled out the cards he had copied and they began trying different combinations. Eudorra joined him and tried to understand how the cards were supposed to go together. Gilbert repeated the letter from memory, once again, she copied it into her notebook next to the the cards. She reread the letter several times until she thought she could repeat it by heart.
They were just starting to make some headway on the letter cards when the door suddenly opened. They both gaped up in horror at Annabel, who was carrying a bundle of bath towels that she had intended to put in the laundry hamper. Her jaw went slack when she saw them in the linen cupboard and her eyes burned furiously when she saw the notes all over the chairs and floor.