"The Bible might be safer in a private collection in America," Grette said. "Such troubles might not pass over the proverbial Pond."
Gray nodded, reading the sales pitch behind the words.
"Did you ever find out what so possessed the stranger to pursue the Bible?" he asked.
Now it was Grette's turn to search off into the distance.
"Such information can only make the Bible more valuable to my client," Gray pressed.
Grette's eyes flicked to him. Somehow she knew the lie behind his words. She studied him again, weighing something more than just the truth of his words, looking deeper.
At that moment, Bertal shambled into the office, nosed longingly at a set of tea cakes beside the kettle on the desk, then crossed to Gray's side and slumped to the floorboards with a sigh. His muzzle came to rest atop Gray's boot, plainly comfortable with this stranger to their shop.
As if this were enough, Grette sighed and closed her eyes, and whatever hard edge softened. "I don't know for sure. I only have some suppositions."
"I'll take what you can give."
"The stranger came here looking for information regarding a library that was sold piecemeal after the war. In fact, four such items are up for auction this afternoon. The de Vries diary, a copy of Mendel's papers, and two texts by the physicist Max Planck."
Gray was well aware of the same list on his notepad. They were the very items that had sparked special attention among the questionable entities. Who was buying them up and why?
"Can you tell me anything else about this old library collection? Is there any provenance of significance?"
Grette stood and stepped toward her files. "I have the original receipt from my father's purchase back in 1949. It names a village and a small estate. Let me see if I can find it."
She moved into a shaft of sunlight below the back window and pulled open a middle drawer. "I can't give you the original, but I'd be happy to have Fiona photocopy it for you."
As the old woman rustled through her files, Bertal raised his nose from Gray's right shoe, trailing a rope of drool. A low growl burbled from the dog.
But it was not directed at Gray.
"Here it is." Grette turned and held out a sheet of yellowed paper in a plastic protective sleeve.
Gray ignored her extended arm and concentrated on her toes. A thin shadow shifted across the patch of sunlight where Grette stood.
Gray leaped toward the sofa, reaching for the old woman.
Behind him, Bertal barked sharply, almost masking the crackof glass.
Gray, still reaching, was too late. All he could do was catch Grette Neal's body as the front of her face dissolved in a shower of blood and bone, shot from behind by a sniper outside the window.
Gray caught her body and pitched down to the sofa.
Through the shattered rear window, two distinct pops sounded along with the shatter of glass. Two black canisters jetted into the office, struck the far wall, and clattered down, bouncing.
Gray leaped off the sofa, shouldering into Fiona. He shoved her bodily out of the office and around the corner.
The dog scrambled after them.
Gray half carried Fiona behind a sheltering bookcase as twin detonations ripped through the office, blasting apart the wall in a fiery explosion of plaster and splintered wood.
The bookcase toppled over, crashing into its neighbor and leaning precariously. Gray sheltered Fiona under him.
Overhead, texts burst into flame and fiery ash rained down.
Gray spotted the old dog. He had moved too slowly, hobbled by the bad paw. The concussion had slammed the poor dog into the far wall. He did not move. His fur smoldered.
Gray shielded Fiona from the sight. "We have to get clear."
He pulled her shocked form from under the leaning bookcase. Flames and smoke already filled the back half of the shop. Overhead sprinklers burst with tepid sprays. Too little, too late. Not with this much tinder on hand.
"Out the front!" he urged.
He stumbled forward with her.
Before them, the outer security gate crashed down, sealing the front door and window. Gray noted shadows fading to either side of the barred gate. More gunmen.
Gray glanced behind him. A churning wall of flame and smoke filled the back of the shop.
They were trapped.
11:57 p.m. WASHINGTON, D.C.
Monk drowsed in that happy place between bliss and sleep. He and Kat had moved from the bathroom floor to the bed as passion dissolved to soft whispers and even softer touches. The sheets and comforters were still knotted around their naked forms; neither was ready to untie themselves, not physically, not in any way.
Monk's finger traced the curve of Kat's breast, lazily, more in reassurance than arousal. The smooth arch of her foot gently caressed his calf.
Nothing could ruin this—
A piercing warble erupted in the room, tensing them both.
It rose from the side of the bed, where Monk had dropped his sweatpants…or rather had them yanked off him. The pager was still clipped to the elastic waist. He knew he had switched the device to vibration when he returned from his evening jog. Only one manner of call broke through that mode.
On the other side of the bed, from the nightstand, a second pager burst with a matching clarion call.
They both pushed up, eyes meeting with worry.
"Central command," Kat said.
Monk reached down and grabbed his pager, dragging his sweatpants up with it. He confirmed her assessment.
He rolled his feet to the floor and reached for the phone. Kat sat up next to him, pulling the sheets to cover her bare br**sts, as if some manner of decency was necessary to call into central command. He dialed the number for Sigma Force's direct line. It was picked up immediately.
"Captain Bryant?" Logan Gregory answered.
"No, sir. It's Monk Kokkalis. But Kat…Captain Bryant is here with me."
"I need you both back at command immediately."
Logan filled him in tersely.
Monk listened, nodding. "We're leaving now," he finished and hung up.
Kat met his gaze, brows pinched together. "What's wrong?"
"No. I'm sure he's fine." Monk climbed into his sweats. "Probably having a great time with Rachel."
"It's Director Crowe. Something's happened in Nepal. Details are sketchy. Something about a plague."
"Has Director Crowe reported in?"
"That's just it. His last report was three days ago, but a storm had closed off communication. So there was not too much concern. Then the storm broke today, and still no communication. And now there're rumors of plague, death, and some uprising out there. Possibly a rebel attack."