Foot traffic flowed around him as the city woke. Behind him, a cadaverous shop owner was icing down a stack of street-side crates and slapping out a selection of fresh fish: Dover sole, cod, sand eel, and the ubiquitous herring.
The smell finally drove him from his post by the canal. He headed out, extra attentive to his back trail.
Perhaps he was being too paranoid, but in his profession, such a neurosis was healthy. He fingered the dragon pendant around his neck and continued into the city.
After several blocks, he felt secure enough to pull out a notepad. Written on the first page were items of particular interest, set for auction that afternoon.
A copy of Gregor Mendel's 1865 paper on genetics.
Max Planck's books on physics: Thermodynamik Irotn 1897 and Theorie der
Warmestrahlungfrom 1906, both signed by the author.
3. Botanist Hugo de Vries's 1901 diary on plant mutations.
Gray had annotated as much information as he could about these items, from his research yesterday. He jotted down the latest item of interest.
4. Charles Darwin's family Bible.
Flipping the notebook closed, he wondered for the hundredth time since flying here: What was the connection?
Perhaps it was a puzzle best left to someone else at Sigma. He thought about having Logan run some of the details past his colleagues Monk Kokkalis and Kathryn Bryant. The pair had proven to be experts at piecing together details and constructing patterns where none existed. Then again, maybe there really was no pattern here. It was still too early to tell. Gray needed to gather a bit more intelligence, a few more facts, especially about this last item.
Until then, he'd leave the two lovebirds alone.
9:32 P.M. EST WASHINGTON, D.C.
"It is true?"
Monk rested his palm on the bare belly of the woman he loved. He knelt beside the bed in orange-and-black Nike sweatpants. His shirt, wet after his evening jog, lay on the hardwood floor, where he had dropped it. His eyebrows, the only hair on his shaved head, were raised in hopeful expectation.
"Yes," Kat confirmed. She gently removed his hand and rolled out the other side of the bed.
Monk's grin grew broader. He could not help it. "Are you sure?"
Kat strode toward the bathroom, wearing only a pair of white panties and an oversize Georgia Tech T-shirt. Her straight auburn hair draped loose to her shoulders. "I was five days late," she answered sullenly. "I took an EPT test yesterday."
Monk stood up. "Yesterday? Why didn't you tell me?"
Kat disappeared into the bathroom, half closing the door.
He heard the water turn on in the shower. He circled the bed and crossed to the bathroom doorway. He wanted to know more. She had dropped the bombshell when he returned from his jog to find her curled in bed. Her eyes had been swollen, her face puffy. She had been crying. It had taken some coaxing to discover what had been troubling her all day.
He rapped on the door. The noise was louder and more demanding than he intended. He scowled at the offending hand. The five-fingered prosthesis was state-of-the-art, chock full of the latest in DARPA gadgetry. He had received the hand after losing his own on a mission. But plastic and metal were not flesh. Rapping on the wood door had sounded like he was trying to batter it down.
"Kat, talk to me," he said gently.
"I'm just going to take a quick shower."
Despite her sighed words, Monk heard the strain. He peeked into the bathroom. Though they had been seeing each other for almost a year now and he had his own drawer in her apartment here, there were limits of propriety.
Kat sat atop the closed toilet, her head resting in her hands.
She glanced up, plainly startled at the intrusion. "Monk!" She leaned to the door to push it the rest of the way closed.
He blocked it with his foot. "It wasn't like you were using the bathroom."
"I was waiting for the shower to warm up."
Monk noted the steam-fogged mirror as he entered. The chamber smelled of jasmine. A scent that evoked all manner of stirrings inside him. He stepped and knelt again before her.
She leaned back.
He placed his hands, one flesh, one synthetic, atop her knees.
She would not meet his eyes, head still hanging.
He pushed apart her knees, leaned between them, and slid his hands up along her outer thighs and cupped her bu**ocks. He pulled her to him.
"I have to—" she started.
"You have to come here." He lifted her and lowered her to his lap, straddling him now. His face was a breath from hers.
She finally met his eyes. "I…I'm sorry."
He leaned closer. "For what?" Their lips brushed each other's.
"I should've been more careful."
"I don't remember complaining."
"But this sort of mistake—"
"Never." He kissed her hard, not in anger but in firm assurance. He whispered between their lips. "Never call it that."
She melted into him, her arms entwining behind his neck. Her hair smelled of jasmine. "What are we going to do?"
"I may not know everything, but I do know that answer."
He rolled to the side and lowered her down to the bathroom rug beneath him.
"Oh," she said.
Gray sat in the cafe opposite the small antiquarian shop. He studied the building across the street.
sj/elden B0GER was stenciled on the window, rare books. The bookstore occupied the first floor of a two-story row house topped by a red-tile roof. It appeared identical to its neighbors, lined one after the other down the street. And like the others in this less affluent section of town, it had fallen into disrepair. The upper windows were boarded up. Even the first-floor shop was secured behind a steel drop-gate.
Closed for now.
As Gray waited for the shop to open, he eyed the building more clinically, sipping what passed for hot chocolate here in Denmark, so thick it tasted like a melted Hershey's bar. He searched beyond the boarded windows. Though the building had faded, its Old World charm persisted: owl-eyed dormers peered out from the attic, heavy exposed beams crisscrossed the upper story, and a steep pitch of the roofline stood forever ready to shrug off a long winter's snowfall. Gray even spotted old scars below the windows where flower boxes had once been bolted.
Gray contemplated ways of renovating the house back to its original glory, rebuilding it in his head, a mental exercise balancing engineering with aesthetics.
He could almost smell the sawdust.
This last thought suddenly soured the daydream. Other memories intruded, unbidden and unwanted: his father's woodshop in the garage, working alongside him after school. What usually started out as a simple renovation project often ended up in shouting matches and words too hard to take back. The warring had eventually driven Gray out of high school and into the military. Only lately had son and father found new ways to communicate, finding common ground, accepting differences.