"You have met my granddaughter." Grette Neal's fluency in English was smooth, but the Danish accent was evident. Unlike her granddaughter.
Gray glanced between the pale elderly woman and the dark girl. There was no family resemblance, but Gray kept silent on this matter. He had more important matters to clarify.
"Yes, we've met," Gray said. "In fact, it seems I've met your granddaughter twice today."
"Ah, Fiona's curiosity will get her in real trouble one of these days." Grette's chastisement was softened by a smile. "Has she returned your wallet?"
Gray's brow wrinkled. He patted his back pocket. Empty.
Fiona reached into a side pouch of her pack and held out his brown leather wallet.
Gray snatched it back. He remembered her bumping into him as she left to get the coffee. It had been more than impatient rudeness.
"Please don't take offense," Grette assured him. "It's her way of saying hello."
"All his ID checked out," Fiona said with a shrug.
"Then please return the young man's passport, Fiona."
Gray checked his other pocket. Gone. For the love of God!
Fiona tossed the small blue chapbook with the U.S. eagle on the cover.
"Is that everything?" Gray asked, patting himself down.
"Again, please excuse my granddaughter's exuberance. She gets overly protective sometimes."
Gray stared at the two of them. "Would either of you care to explain what's going on?"
"You've come to inquire about the Darwin Bibel" Grette said.
"The Bible," Fiona translated.
Grette nodded at her granddaughter. The slip of tongue plainly revealed some anxiety about the object.
"I represent a buyer who might be interested," Gray said.
"Yes. We know. And you spent all day yesterday questioning others about additional items for bid at the Ergenschein Auction?"
Gray's brows rose in surprise.
"We are a small community of bibliophiles here in Copenhagen. Word travels quickly among us."
Gray frowned. He had thought he'd been more discreet.
"It was your very inquiry that helped me decide to submit my Darwin Bible to the auction. The entire community is stirred up by the growing interest in Victorian-era scientific treatises."
"Making it a good time to sell," Fiona said a bit too firmly, as if this were the tail end of a recent argument. "The flat lease is a month past—"
Her words were waved away. "It was a difficult decision. The Bible was purchased by my father in 1949. He treasured the volume. There are handwritten names of the Darwin family, going back ten generations before the illustrious Charles. But the Bible is also of historic interest. It journeyed with the man on his around-the-world trip aboard the HMS Beagle. And I don't know if you knew this or not, but Charles Darwin once considered entering the seminary. In this one Bible, you find the juxtaposition of the religious man and the scientist."
Gray nodded. Plainly the woman was attempting to intrigue him. Was all this a ploy to get him to pitch into the auction? To get the best price? Either way, Gray could use that to his advantage.
"And the reason Fiona followed me?" he asked.
Grette's demeanor grew tired. "My apologies again for the intrusion. Like I mentioned before, there has been much interest of late in Victorian-era memorabilia, and it is a small community. We all know some of the transactions have been…shall we say…if not across the black market, then definitely the gray."
"So I've heard rumors," he said coyly, hoping to tease out more information.
"There have been some buyers who have reneged on bid prices or paid with illicit proceeds, bounced checks, et cetera. Fiona was only trying to protect my best interest. And sometimes she goes too far, falling back on talents best left behind." The woman raised a single scolding eyebrow at her granddaughter.
Fiona suddenly found the floorboards of particular interest.
"There was one gentleman a year ago who spent an entire month searching through my files of provenance, the historical records of ownership." She nodded to the wall of file cabinets. "Only to pay for the privilege with a stolen credit card. He showed particular interest in the Darwin Bible."
"So we can't be too careful," Fiona said, emphasizing again.
"Do you know who this gentleman was?" Gray asked.
"No, but I'd remember him if I saw him again. A strange, pale fellow."
Fiona stirred. "But a fraud investigation administered by the bank traced his trail through Nigeria to South Africa. That's as far as it could be followed. Bloody bastard covered his tracks."
Grette frowned. "Language, young lady."
"Why such diligent investigation for a bad debt?" he asked.
Fiona again found the floorboards fascinating.
Grette stared hard at her granddaughter. "He has the right to know."
"Mutti…" Fiona shook her head.
Fiona glared at him, then away. "He'll tell others, and we'll get half the price for it."
Gray held up a hand. "I can be discreet."
Grette studied him, one eye narrowing. "But can you be truthful…that I wonder, Dr. Sawyer."
Gray felt himself scrutinized by both females. Was his cover as secure as he hoped? The weight of their combined gazes made his back stiffen.
Grette finally spoke. "You should know. Shortly after the pale gentleman absconded with the knowledge here, there was a breakin at the shop. Nothing was stolen, but the display where we normally showcased the Darwin Bible was picked and opened. Fortunately for us, the Bible and our most valuable items are kept hidden in a floor vault at night. Also, the police responded promptly to the alarm, chasing them off. The burglary remained unsolved, but we knew who came after it."
"The sniveling prat…" Fiona mumbled.
"Since that night, we've kept the Bible in a safe-deposit box in a bank around the corner. Still, we've been vandalized twice this past year. The culprit bypassed the alarm, and the place was ransacked each time."
"Someone was searching for the Bible," Gray said.
"So we supposed."
Gray began to understand. It wasn't just monetary gain that was the deciding factor in unloading the Bible, but also to relieve themselves of the burden. Someone wanted the Bible, and eventually the pursuit might escalate into more violent means to gain possession of it. And that threat might pass on to the new buyer.
From the corner of his eye, Gray studied Fiona. All her actions were done to protect her grandmother, to protect their financial security. He noted the fire in her eyes even now. The girl plainly wished her grandmother had remained more reticent.